Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NO EU Force for the DRC

So, just like that, the hope of dispatching a European Union force to eastern DRC has ended. Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, whose country had pledged to contribute troops within any European force, acknowledged after talks with European counterparts in Brussels that there was little appetite for such a mission.

"My feeling at this time is that it is not possible to mount a European mission at the moment," De Gucht told a news briefing after consultations.

"No country is willing to take a lead. Secondly, most of the countries say they are overstretched, firstly in Afghanistan but also in Iraq, so they have no troops ... available," he added.

All this makes me wonder just how much France and Belgium really wanted to send troops in the first place--as opposed to claiming they wanted to. With Gordon Brown and Ban Ki-moon in favor of the idea, who opposed it? Liechtenstein? How is it that the ex-colonial powers of England, France, and Belgium couldn't muster 3,000 troops among them? All this maneuvering carries a whiff of cynicism; whether it was or not, it certainly had the effect of wasting valuable weeks.

One wonders, also, whether any outreach was made to Obama's transition team. Surely the Europeans could count on the future Obama administration to provide logistical and financial support. Unless, of course, it was the Obama team that nixed the proposal, what with Iraq and Afghanistan being the more pressing concerns . . .

So now what? There is a UN Security Council mandate to send 3,000 more troops to the Congo under MONUC's auspices, but Kabila has already rejected India's proposal to provide the additional troops, despite it being the only country to have volunteered. It could take months to assemble a viable force. Meanwhile, General Nkunda seems to be in complete operational control in northern Kivu, meeting almost no resistance wherever he chooses to go.

The squelching of the EU proposal means that Nkunda has several months to operate freely in eastern Congo before MONUC forces arrive in numbers sufficient to contest his control. My sense is that Nkunda has three ambitions: protect and retain the grazing lands of Masisi and Rutshuru, which are the "ancestral" home of the Banyarwanda Tutsi; make as much money as he can for himself and his Rwandan patrons by selling off Congo's tin and gold; and force Kabila to the bargaining table, to be recognized as an equal.

While Nkunda has won a few extra months, the underlying dynamics for him are not good. He's still viewed in the West as an egregious human rights violator and plunderer. The MONUC force, when it finally arrives, will see its primary mission as eliminating the CNDP (although it will claim to be opposed to all rebel groups). Kabila can afford to wait, but Nkunda's best bet is to use the next few weeks to make his case that the Banyamulenge Tutsi are truly endangered. He should press for a political solution that takes special account of Congolese Tutsi political, economic, and land rights, and that provides him with a privileged and guaranteed position as their leader.

Somehow, though, I don't think he'll settle for that.

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