There has been renewed hope for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this week. A series of military victories by the Congolese troops (FARDC) has resulted in the surrender of the M23, a rebel group that was created in 2012 in response to what they considered the non-implementation of a peace deal reached in 2009.
The victory can be explained through a combination of factors including: reforms of the Congolese army, which have led to some improvements in troop effectiveness; robust assistance from the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) of the UN, who planned and conducted operations with the FARDC; and the non-intervention of Rwanda in support of the M23. The rebel group for its part has said it will disarm, opening up space for a political settlement. Talks have been on-going in Kampala between M23 and the DRC government since January, with reported advances in recent months but without producing a final agreement. Those talks are likely to end today (8 November), with or without a deal being reached.
But while one chapter of the war may be over, what does the future hold for peace?
Despite celebrations in Goma and Kinshasa, for the Congolese people, military victory over the M23 does not immediately mean peace. There are still 2.6 million people displaced, and some 40 armed groups - both domestic and foreign - present in the Kivu and Ituri regions. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF-Nalu) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in particular are of concern for neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, and understandably so. There were reports of FDLR presence alongside the DRC government troops taking Rumangabo and Kibumba, close to the Rwandese border. If those reports are true, this is a very dangerous situation that could yet lead to regional escalation, as highlighted in the warning on 28 October 2013 from the US envoy to the Great Lakes, Ross Feingold, and the US State Department. In addition, there have been fears of violent reprisals against perceived 'M23 collaborators', which could lead to attacks against Congolese Tutsi.
The situation on the ground is still very fragile, and long-term peace can only be achieved through addressing underlying causes and drivers of conflict. The presence of the UN intervention brigade can dissuade activity of armed groups still present in eastern DRC, and counter key threats to civilians and stability posed by these groups (notably the FDLR). But structural reforms need to be put in motion, including strengthening the on-going efforts to reform the army to make it a more effective instrument to provide security for citizens while eradicating corruption and abuse.
Moreover, the joint summit of two regional blocs (the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the Southern African Development Cooperation), which just finished in Pretoria, was an important opportunity for regional leaders to discuss and agree on the next steps to implement their commitments under the Peace, Security and Collaboration Framework Agreement (PSCF), offering a platform for dealing with both Congolese and regional drivers of conflict. This would also require addressing the local drivers of violence in eastern DRC by making much stronger efforts to link the PSCF to bottom-up peace initiatives undertaken by civil society actors in DRC and the wider region.
In the longer term, peace in DRC also requires its government to undertake effectively and in good faith its commitments under this framework, including key structural governance and security sector reforms, and create the conditions for the national oversight mechanism to function effectively. The authorities should also ensure that armed groups do not commit acts of revenge, which could flare up the fighting.
As I said in my previous blog post, stability in DRC requires a shared vision and approach among the key national, regional and international actors, to ensure this framework agreement finally leads to sustainable peace.