Peace Near, but So Far

Ugandan soldiers withdrawing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sept. 28, 2001.

The complex, multinational war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has many causes, but one thing is certain—its natural resources and the money they represent are at the center of it. So it was fitting that money, albeit other people’s money, took center stage as the long-awaited inter-Congolese dialogue got haltingly off the ground on Oct. 15 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Foreign donors had given at least US$3 million toward the cost of running the peace process, but apparently much of that was used up in the two-year preparation for the meeting. So there wasn’t enough money left to feed and lodge the 300 representatives expected in Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union. As a result, Sir Ketumile Masire, Botswana’s former president, who is facilitating the peace talks, scaled the Addis session back to around 80 delegates. And none of the key players—including DRC President Joseph Kabila and the leaders of two main rebel movements—showed up, according to news agencies covering the talks.

With money running dry and the main actors absent, Masire faced a major challenge: "To save the process from total collapse," as Johannesburg’s Business Day put it (Oct. 15). Johannesburg’s weekly Sunday Independent (Oct. 13) said one way of doing this might be to discuss technical details in Addis Ababa—such as the representation of various fringe groups—and delay discussion of the real issues, such as a new constitution, disarmament of fighters, and elections.

In Kinshasa, the pro-government L’Avenir (Oct. 16) struck a dire note about prospects for peace. "The backdrop is already in a dialogue that will be just another talk-fest," L’Avenir wrote. "The only result of the dialogue may be a resumption of the war." Kinshasa’s independent biweekly The Post (Oct. 6), sounded less alarmist, but still cautious. "Peace is so near, yet so far!" The Post commented.

Recounting how Kabila had made several diplomatic sorties from Kinshasa in the days before the Addis Ababa meeting, the newspaper wrote: "The president is running like a give peace a real chance—a peace that is as elusive as it is desired."

But peace isn’t entirely up to the Congolese, as Business Day pointed out. The government has to take into account the interests of its military backers—Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe—while the rebels are supported by Rwanda and Uganda. "Officially, the [government] allies say their ‘intervention’ is to defend Congo’s sovereignty," the paper commented. "But [it] has become a lucrative business opportunity, too....The Kinshasa government just parcels out more chunks of Congo’s mineral wealth....An end to the conflict...could signal the beginning of the end to this revenue stream," Business Day concluded.

With all these issues and interests at play, there were reports from Addis Ababa that the dialogue might check out of Ethiopia and reconvene in South Africa, which originally offered to play host and can afford to do so.