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Economic History/Development Studies, U. of Natal <Moored@nu.ac.za> [In August 2000, Dr. David Moore (University of Natal) interviewed Jacques Depelchin for Southern Africa Report (Toronto)*. H-AFRICA is grateful to David and SAR for permission to publish a modified version--editors] 'Towards a People-Driven Peace Process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?' An Interview with Jacques Depelchin,' by David Moore Readers of the Canadian _National Post_'s August 21 online "Congo in Crisis" series have a better understanding of the Democratic Republic of the Congo than most (aside from thinking that Frantz Fanon may have changed his name to Fritz posthumously). However, for many observers, diplomats and purported peacemakers, the wars in the DRC are just too hard to understand. Are the "rebels" genuine or Rwandan and Ugandan proxies? Who are the "Mayi-Mayi" anyway? What about those rumours that Rwandans are actually releasing interhamwe prisoners from their gaols into South Kivu: how could so-called "Tutsis" from Rwanda, who are supposed to be allied with their ethnic kin, the Banyamulengwe in Kivu, be doing such a thing? How can Uganda support both the "second generation Mobutuists" under Jean-Pierre Bemba in the north and Professor Wamba dia Wamba's group of radical democrats in the Rally for Congolese Democracy - who in any case one would think would be more comfortable teaching history at the University of Dar es Salaam than leading a revolutionary movement in a corner of the north-eastern Ituri province? What are the causes of the Ituri war between pastoralist Hema and agriculturalist Lendu? How does it fit into the dynamics between the academic revolutionaries and the Ugandans said to be the "Hemas'" cousins (which means, in many ethnically conditioned minds, that they are lumped in with the "Tutsi" empire builders)? Why is the RCD split in two, with the Rwandans supporting Emile Ilunga's militarist faction - which has substantial control over Goma and Bukavu and is at war in their hinterlands? Can it be true that Rwandan businessmen are actually trading arms for interahamwe gathered minerals? Why have the Ugandans and Rwandans gone their separate ways: what happened in Kisangani to cause their divorce? What about the Ugandan, Burundian, Angolan, and Sudanese rebels? Where do the Lord's Army millenarians, UNITA's professional guerrillas, the two (or more?) "Hutu" rebel groups from the second "Hutu-Tutsi" problem country, and an Islamic state-at-war fit in? Is it true, as some analysts write, that the Great Lakes region is embroiled in a post-modern/post-Cold War war that is leading to an eternity called a "war mode of production" rather than purging all the contradictions of colonialism and misled independence? In this post-colonial purgatory, who are the big foreign powers involved? What are their motivations? What is the USA waiting for: does it really want the Congo carved into peaces so it can be more easily exploited? Will it do anything to spoil French aims? Remembering its sorry Somalian story, its stains from the do-nothing days in pre-genocide Rwanda, and its too-hasty support of Kabila's early days, does it just want to avoid a big mistake and let its (metaphorically) blue-eyed strong-men (ie Rwanda's Kagame and Uganda's Museveni) who say all the right things about neo-liberalism and democracy (sometime, sometime) do what they want? What kind of societies at the bottom of its empire does the USA want? Maybe it just does not know. What does roly-poly, sad-eyed Laurent Desire Kabila desire? Is he capable of knowing his needs? He was nearly a hero when, with Uganda's and Rwanda's support, he appeared to fill the expiring Mobutu's vacuum in 1997. Then, helped by the Rwandans' crusade against the Interahamwe, and allied with some eastern Banyamulenge (often called "Tutsis" themselves, having come to the Congo from Rwanda in the late 19th century) he appeared to satisfy the needs of actors ranging from Washington realpolitikers to radical Kinshasa democrats and Kigali soldiers. Soon, though, he alienated all three groups. The Congolese democrats, struggling since Mobutu opened democracy's doors a little in 1992, were shut out even more than before. The Americans, their allies, and a host of big mining corporations, were snubbed by Kabila's reneging on billions of dollars worth of contracts signed as he marched to Kinshasa. The Rwandan-Banyamalenge alliance fell out with him because the interahamwe problem was not solved: indeed, it looked as if Kabila was turning against them. By mid-1998 all three turned against him: there are suggestions that the Rwandans planned a coup to coincide with "Tutsis" rioting in the east. Kabila's Rwandan backers changed their minds about their erstwhile ally and mounted a fierce offensive against him - from a military airport just to Kinshasa's west. If Angola and Zimbabwe hadn't stepped in, he would have been wiped out. Now he and they are allied with the interahamwe and, in complex ways, with lots of other fighting groups in the bush. The Congolese don't know who to hate most: their latest kleptocrat - who has just appointed all the members to his new "parliament" - or the invaders? The war works for Kabila as long as that confusion reigns - and he can reign as the biggest warlord in the war economy. Now, the latest session of the Lusaka Accord talks has failed. Both SADC and the UN are sitting on their petards, awaiting Kabila's whims - or the fancies of Rwanda and/or Uganda. The _National Post_'s recent series noted that Che Guevara's Congolese diaries register disappointment with Kabila. In other parts of his journals, he wrote disparagingly of the fighting capabilities of Congolese soldiers. (Before putting him on a pedestal it should be noted that he had no great success in Bolivia!). Rather than hoping for better soldiers, though, perhaps one should think that the peaceful proclivities of Guevara's would-be guerrillas are positive. Aside from the minority of people involved in fighting, most Congolese want peace. In that sense, the scene is not complicated at all. Fifty million people want peace. A few want war. If a leader of the Wamba dia Wamba group within the Rally for Congolese Democracy is right, a new people's logic of peace negotiations must be allowed to take root if that desire for peace is to be realised. Jacques Depelchin - an economic historian, university professor and pedagogical innovator who was working to revamp the DR Congo's public education system before joining the RCD - thinks a destructive state logic has led to the disastrous outcomes of the Lusaka Accord. That trajectory must be replaced by a people-to-people dialogue building both peace and democracy from the ground up. If that new logic could be boosted to a good start, a substantive transformation might finally take hold in the DR Congo. Towards the end of August David Moore interviewed Depelchin for the _Southern Africa Report_ about some of his attempts to get a new democratic logic under way. DM: Why you think the Lusaka Accord talks have failed? Depelchin: The primary factor is President Kabila himself. He has refused to go along with the agreement. Ever since he signed, he has been complaining about one thing or the other while at the same time violating the Lusaka Agreement. Of course, the agreement has faults. Some go back to what we would call the state of the rebellion against the state. After all, the people in the Congo were rebelling because Kabila was turning his back against the process of democratisation, so the peace everybody was expecting did not occur. The Accord's timetable is another example of why these things don't work. Given the Congolese situation it was clear that it couldn't. The concept of the timetable itself is flawed: unless this or that happens nothing can be done. So the UN says it cannot deploy troops unless the treaty conditions are acceptable. With that kind of situation Kabila has room to create the kind of problems allowing him to prevent deployment. Yet we have always said that the issue is not one of peacekeeping troops. You can't have peacekeeping troops on the ground when the conditions for actually building and making the peace aren't there. The framing of the Lusaka agreement has not taken this into account. DM: What might be some conditions to reinvigorate discussions at a different level and towards building peace? You have been involved in negotiating a peace process between the pastoralists and the agriculturalists - the Hema and the Lendu - in Ituri province near Bunia. Perhaps some of the experience you've gained there could be expanded more broadly. Depelchin: This is not just from my own experience, but from others. But when we went to Bunia we had to bring down a conflict fundamentally involving the Hema and the Lendu. (Although it's an oversimplification to reduce it to those two ethnic groups, they were the two main protagonists.) We simply went to those who were most interested in seeing that peace should return. We discovered that the majority of the people wanted the war to end. We felt that the question of who was responsible for the war and where the blame should be put should be handled later, because you will never reach an agreement if you get bogged down on figuring out who is to blame. We combated that. Also, the emphasis was on going toward the people most likely to gain from the process. During the conflict's height there was a great deal of news coverage, but nobody talked about that process. Sure, there are still people being killed, unnecessarily, here and there - there are sellouts - but in the end we can say that the conflict has died down. In Angola there is a process involving initiatives from religious groups. The notion is anchored in the idea that people really wanting peace should get together. All protagonists - including UNITA and government representatives - would come on board eventually. It is interesting that the process takes place under the logic of the population, or of the people, as opposed to a logic rooted in state to state negotiation and then down to the bottom. To look beyond the UN - not to put down all the efforts involved in bringing about the Lusaka agreement! - over the last few years, whether it is the Lusaka Agreement or the DRC or Angola, and compare those stumbling failures to the Mozambican case, one can distinguish between processes with a logic rooted in the state and another rooted in ensuring that the people most likely to benefit from the agreement are put in the process. It even affects how the representatives organise the discussions. I think this is really what is going to happen. Sure, in Mozambique government representatives were essential in the process, but what was central was that the government's concern was to make sure it responded to the majority of the population's desires. DM: A state logic involves Rwanda, Uganda and other states seen by many Congolese as the war's perpetrators. There is an internal logic of rebellion but many Congolese see the rebels as other states' proxies. Can one get beyond that dichotomy? Can armed opposition groups talk to unarmed groups, as the Accord proposes? Depelchin: True: in this case regional states involved make that process more difficult. But if you really look - whether in Rwanda, whether in Uganda, in Kampala, in Angola, whether in Zimbabwe, in Congo - you find that everyone wants to see an end to this war. The majority is very, very, very tired of war. People just want to see it end. If these were peoples' governments they would follow Mugabe's route at the end of the Mozambican civil war. That is to say, "let's make sure that you really respond to the wishes of the majority of the population." So while that inter-state logic is true, that difficulty is only one of appearance. Those state signatories should really make an effort to make satisfy the wishes of the majority. In that sense, today's Angolan internal process is leading to a national dialogue. It's a new initiative based simply on people saying, "listen, let's get all the protagonists together to discuss fundamental issues keeping us at war and let's put an end to that war." It's what we have tried to do. During social reconstruction and reconstructing peace, we are working for processes, not individuals. The processes are fundamentally Congolese. We turn to peace, the rebuilding of society, of the state, on the basis of democratic prescriptions on the state. These are fundamental. The state logic continuing to wreak havoc on the people is a colonial inheritance: this is often overlooked. Regardless of the accommodations we have made, these are conquest states. Colonial and conquest states are organised to divide and rule people. They create the very conditions we see today. The Great Lakes Region crisis is an exacerbation of that kind of rule. It's not a question of saying so and so is at fault. The leaders in the region must take stock and decide that conducting low-intensity warfare against their own population must end. For whom? For the benefit of their own population. DM: There's much talk about a "global civil society" alternative to an international state logic. What initiatives could global actors other than the United Nations and states play in facilitating a process like you advocate? Clearly, there are many Congolese desiring to get together at a level other than states, but lack the means. What international organisation of people could facilitate a dialogue? Depelchin: One has to be very, very careful. In Mozambique or the inter-ethnic conflict in Ituri, the key to a successful exercise is that it's rooted within the area and the population with most to gain from peace. That is fundamental. Unless that view is taken then we will continue turning around peace conferences here and there, with nothing happening. Back to Mozambique, the initial objective was to have the whole negotiation process occur in Mozambique or another African country. It didn't happen but that was the objective. In Angola, people on the ground are taking hold of the whole process. Those who have resources and their organisation's mandate must push for those things and help those Angolans. In the DRC there are lots of initiatives. The conditions must be created so all the local population within their own areas can come together at the centre of the whole process, bringing about what everyone really wants to see happening. That can happen in a global way, but only if it's anchored and rooted in people in the areas most needing these things. DM: Che Guevara's Congo diaries say that the Congolese aren't good fighters. That can be a very positive thing: many Congolese say, "we are a peace-loving people." You seem to be leaving the military or armed option, going toward something re-instigating a peace process. Why have you changed your thinking about these things? Depelchin: Our August 1998 political declaration says we took up arms as a last resort to make Kabila understand the Congolese crisis could only be resolved politically. In our statements regarding Kisangani [where in mid-1999 a group in the RCD split from Wamba dia Wamba and joined the Rwandans, instigating a war between the two groups] we said this is the eleventh war in the Congo since 1959. These wars have never resolved the question of getting a sustainable democratic regime in place. This is the crisis of the Congo. There are two camps or lines regarding the question of militarisation. One says the crisis is political. It must be resolved politically. We must not resort to military means to resolve the contradiction. It also says that we do not have to get into Kinshasa to bring about transformation. The process of democratisation takes place as the rebellion goes on. That is one reason why many people did not like Professor Wamba's leadership in Goma. People said democratisation can not take place during war. That view can be traced to Mobutu and Kabila. It leads to rule by coup d'etat following coup d'etat. That process has to be transformed. The Congolese people have learned one thing over these last few years: they know very well what they no longer want. Yet it is much more difficult to begin building what they want. That is what we are trying to do in the area we control. We involve the population in dialogue. After all, how can one say you are going into the National Dialogue without allowing people to exercise that very method? We are making the public treasury function, transforming the public administration into something of the population, for the population, by the population. This requires a series of dialogues day in day out so that people can internalise what we understand by dialogue. Then people can resort to dialogue to resolve any kind of issue - including those solved by life and death in other situations. DM: The outside world only sees the logic of armed force. It's obvious various movements have different dynamics across the country. One has to get underneath to see some of these processes. Depelchin: I repeat and emphasise: the central issue is which group responds to peoples' needs, not just simply in speeches and declarations? Concretely on the ground, which one makes things the population wants to see? That is the only way people are mobilised. Sooner or later it is not how many troops you have that counts, but whether the population supports the position and the processes in which your group is engaged. We have seen precisely this at work, although propaganda is going on - people trying to push Professor Wamba aside allege all kinds of things. But people will eventually ask why the group without military force comparable to the others has withstood those trying to eliminate it. We were supposed to be eliminated in Kisangani last year. Over the last few weeks in Bunia all kinds of efforts have been made by the people against the process of democratisation - who say "first of all let's get to Kinshasa." That is the mentality of the coup d'etat. We feel that's over, it's something of the past. We must get out of that mentality. As long as you stick with what the population wants, you are likely to emerge as the leader it wants. DM: Small groups from all sides benefit from the political economy of war. Who benefits in this one? What process makes people aware of who benefits? What can break the cycle? Depelchin: I can respond generally. It would require an international investigation to specify the pillaging of the Congo's resources - the names and so on. The UN has proposed that. It would be a welcome exercise. However, remember that this is not the first time our resources have been pillaged. It was underway during colonial occupation. Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost states that 10 million Congolese disappeared simply because the process of pillaging the country took precedence over their welfare. That can only be genocide, although Hochschild refuses to use the term. Any war situation benefits a mafia - people organised to take advantage of the resources of Angola, Congo etc. It is not a policy of our ally, Uganda, to engage in that kind of pillaging. They have always been very, very unambiguous: they state they are in Congo in solidarity. The Congolese cannot organise their resources now, so Uganda says they are helping organise the exploitation of resources so that Congolese can begin to take care of themselves. DM: Are you making progress? Depelchin: I think that if everybody tried to go in the direction of which I have spoken, we would move, however slowly, but we would move forward. Copyright (c) The Author, 2000 ------------------------------ * Southern Africa REPORT 427 Bloor Street West Toronto, ON M4X 1P9 Tel. (416) 967-5562 Fax (416) 922-8587 Email: email@example.com http://www.web.net/~tclsac/s