A Lasting peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) would be a wonderful thing for 70-million Congolese, for the whole of Africa and, lest they be forgotten, for international taxpayers who are forking out $1.4bn a year for peacekeeping alone.
Monday night’s African summit in Pretoria, about peace and security in the DRC and the wider Great Lakes region, only lasted a few hours. But understandably it boosted President Jacob Zuma’s stature and it raised several hopes.
African presidents who have not seen eye to eye for two decades about the causes and culprits of the regional conflict appear to be a little closer. The M23 rebels, one of the armed parties which have rendered life in eastern Congo almost unbearable, is a defeated force today and has agreed to start talking with President Joseph Kabila’s government in faraway Kinshasa.
To add to the official list of positives, the United Nations (UN) can claim successes for its biggest peacekeeping force, the 19,850-strong Monusco. A new “enforcement” mandate, and well-armed contingents from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi have made Monusco a game-changer in the region.
Nevertheless, sceptics have a better track record than true believers when it comes to Congo. They want hard proof that the DRC has turned the corner.
Has the regular army, the FARDC, really changed its spots and put its history of brutality behind it? Any return to the rapes and pillage of the very recent past will destroy all hopes of peace in the east.
Will Rwanda and its Spartan president, Paul Kagame, give peace a chance in neighbouring DRC? Or will they follow their survival instincts and sponsor another ethnic Tutsi force to replace M23, as the latter replaced the CNDP in 2012?
Monusco and its FARDC allies must swiftly reassure Mr Kagame by dealing with the Rwandese Hutu rebels in eastern Congo, who helped to commit the 1994 genocide.
Mr Kagame’s absence from the Pretoria summit was more than pointed. The explanations delivered by Rwanda’s close ally, the US, were unconvincing. Like Israel, Rwanda lives with the raw memory of genocide, and will not hesitate to use extreme force against those neighbours it believes are a threat. A unified DRC, with a functioning, joined-up government in the east, is not necessarily what Mr Kagame dreams of.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, another of the DRC’s hostile neighbours, told the summit that the Congo had failed to sort out its problems since the assassination of its iconic prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, in 1961. The body language of several of Mr Kabila’s ministers showed what they thought of Mr Museveni’s version of history.
And so to President Kabila. After Pretoria he appears to be sitting more comfortably than at any time since he took office in 2001, succeeding his assassinated father, Laurent-Desiré, on the unconstitutional basis of parentage. Subsequently he has gained electoral legitimacy and the strong support of both South Africa and the African Union. The UN has thrown its diplomatic and military weight behind him.
The DRC’s size — it is the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa —and its colossal mineral wealth make it worth fighting for. Only last week, Mr Zuma went to Kinshasa to sign a treaty to develop the $80bn Inga hydropower project. By contrast the entire DRC government budget is just $3.5bn, much of it financed by foreign donors.
This unjustifiable disconnect, between private wealth and public poverty is just one of the problems that the DRC’s government needs to fix without delay. Yet again, far better governance is the only way.