THE United Nations (UN), the African Union and the regional leaders who signed a peace and security agreement for the chronically unstable eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo can feel a degree of satisfaction but they must resist the temptation to bask in self-congratulation.
The hard work of implementing the accord has only just begun and analysts fear it could drag on for months.
First on their list of priorities has to be the deployment of a neutral intervention force, originally mooted at a meeting of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) last November, following the fall of the city of Goma to the rebel M23 group.
Before troops can be sent into the field, key hurdles have to be scaled: the 4,000-strong force’s precise mandate, its command and control structure and its relationship with Monusco, the UN peacekeepers whom the rebels waltzed past with barely a shot fired in anger.
On top of this, a new UN Security Council resolution will have to be sought. It will meet in New York on March 5.
President Jacob Zuma told the leaders gathered in Addis Ababa on Sunday that the deployment of a neutral force was essential. "SA further welcomes the proposal for an intervention brigade as a realistic option to bring security to the eastern Congo within the shortest time frame," he said.
The agreement commits the Congolese government to reform its dysfunctional security and governance institutions and obliges neighbouring countries to refrain from interfering in each other’s affairs. It makes no mention of an intervention force, or brigade, but that is the real objective.
The urgent need for troops with a stronger mandate than that of Monusco, the UN’s biggest peacekeeping force with 17,000 personnel, was stressed by Roger Meece, the mission’s head, at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday.
He said that the traditional UN peacekeeping model, based on a post-conflict environment, was inadequate because the situation in parts of the Congo "is much more and too often one of active conflict". This sentiment was echoed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who was in Addis Ababa to witness the signing of the peace deal.
"As you know, Monusco is a peacekeeping operation," he told the assembly. "This new force I hope and I believe will be a peace enforcing operation."
Monusco’s failure to prevent the rebel advance four months ago has left some bad blood. A diplomat from the Great Lakes region said there was a widespread feeling within Africa that the UN peacekeepers dismally failed in their mission to protect Congo’s citizens and to prevent a resurgence of conflict after decades of on-off fighting.
The key issue still to be resolved is whether the new force of troops from Sadc (Southern African Development Community) countries will have a separate mandate from Monusco or if the mission’s mandate will be revised.
Another sticking point is the chain of command and control.
"Those countries expected to contribute troops to the force have expressed a strong desire for a separate command structure, different from that of Monusco," said Solomon Dersso of the Institute for Security Studies.
Rwanda and Uganda are keen for the ICGLR to maintain control of peace and security activities in the region and are opposed to Sadc encroachments, diplomats said. But Tomaz Augusto Salomão, Sadc’s executive secretary, told Business Day that the neutral force will be under the control of Tanzania, a member of both Sadc and the ICGLR.