Only in the Alice in Wonderland world of war-torn eastern Congo would the withdrawal of M23 rebels from Congo's eastern provincial capital of Goma be cause for major celebration. The truth is that the retreat is just the latest chapter in a long story involving competing mafia-like political and military alliances controlled by leaders in the capitals of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, all of whom justify their actions in terms of national security concerns to mask economic and political interests. Sometimes these competing elites fight each other and sometimes they cooperate for control of lucrative resources such as land, livestock, minerals, and timber.
The opportunity that the rebel withdrawal presents should not be squandered by leaving the resolution of the conflict solely to these three governments while ignoring the root causes and the real representatives of the local communities most affected by the bloody conflict in eastern Congo. The time has come, finally, for a real international peace effort -- the kind that actually has a chance of ending the deadliest war the world has witnessed since World War II. This week, the biggest guns are once again assembling to re-divide the pie -- this time in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, where peace talks are beginning between the main combatants.
By global standards, the effort to construct a credible peace process for Congo is manifestly derelict, and has only condemned that country to further cycles of devastating conflict. Each time that Rwandan-backed Congolese rebels with shifting acronyms have taken or threatened Goma over the past decade, hasty backroom negotiations have produced deeply flawed deals that have reduced the military pressure on Congolese President Joseph Kabila's weakened government and permitted the Rwandan-backed rebels to administer strategic eastern zones and oversee taxation and resource looting. When one looks behind the occasional United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for an end to violence, the international diplomatic response is exposed as shockingly ineffective -- perhaps even violating the Hippocratic Oath's command to "do no harm."
An entire semester's curriculum could be built around Congo as a case study for how not to run a peace process. Every item on any conflict resolution 101 checklist has been violated or neglected. But I'll limit myself here to the seven sins that are most responsible for dooming the chances of an enduring peace.
First, the latest non-transparent peace initiative has been largely left to the three actors who have benefited most from the absence of the rule of law: the leaders of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. As in previous processes, the interests of rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda will be represented overwhelmingly by Kigali and Kampala.
Second, these backroom deals have led in the past to short-term security arrangements that address none of the economic and political root causes of the conflict -- a pattern that is repeating itself in the current effort. Previous deals have involved total impunity for war criminals, poorly conceived plans for integrating rights-abusing rebels into the Congolese army, and secret deals outlining governing arrangements.
Third, diverse stakeholders from civil society, political parties, and even other armed groups such as local self-defense militias have virtually no role in the negotiations, effectively silencing grassroots Congolese voices.