The rebel faction that has proved the most demurring element in recent peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic (DR) of Congo has finally signed a cease-fire. Tuesday's signing in the Zambian capital of Lusaka represents a significant easing of tensions in a year-long civil war that has involved much of the continent. While leaders of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), all of whom were present in Lusaka on Tuesday, represented the last warring faction to sign the accord, questions persist as to the real chances of success of the agreement.
The United Nations (UN) and Organization of African Unity (OAU) brokered peace settlement was first agreed upon on July 10 by the countries directly involved in the conflict: Laurent Kabila's DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola. The primary rebel faction other than the RCD, the Congolese Liberation Movement led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, signed the document on August 1. Aside from a cease-fire, the peace settlement calls for the formation of a joint military commission, the deployment of UN military liaison officers, a three-month political dialogue and free elections. According to the BBC on August 31, the UN is anticipating a future deployment of 25,000 peace keeping troops in DR Congo.
The final endorsement of the RCD came when rival leaders of the rebel movement, Rwanda-backed Emile Ilunga and Uganda-backed Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, reached a compromise whereby all 50 leaders of the movement would sign the accord, thereby sidestepping questions as to who was the real leader of the movement. The conflict over leadership had been responsible for the group's unwillingness to sign the accord previously.
DR Congo is a focal point of tension on the African continent. Aside from those countries directly involved in the war, refugees from the conflict have flooded neighboring countries. Many other prominent countries, such as Libya and Sudan, have taken a stand in the conflict or worked towards negotiating a resolution. Often the conflict adversely affected other conflicts in Africa, such as the Eritrean/Ethiopian war and the civil war inside of Sudan. A stable cease-fire in DR Congo would mean a return of refugees and the closing of a particularly costly battlefront, both in terms of military expenditures and propaganda, for the many countries involved. Lasting peace in DR Congo could very well signal a new era of amicable relations in Africa, as warring countries see the benefits of peaceful negotiations. And many are confident that Tuesday's agreement is a significant stepping stone towards such a peace. Speaking to Zamibia's The Post on August 31, Zambian foreign affairs deputy minister Valentine Kayope said the cease-fire paves the way for lasting peace in DR Congo.
But the cease-fire remains undermined by the expressed doubts of the rebel leaders and the embattled psychology of the soldiers themselves. In an interview Monday with the Post, RCD second vice president Moise Nyarugabo said the rebels "doubt Kabila's commitment to peace," and that Kabila only signed the accords because he had no other choice militarily and because he thought the rebels would not be able to come to an agreement. According to the Post, the rebels insist Kabila is losing favor with his international supporters and have called for an end to foreign intervention in DR Congo.
The rebels are reportedly wary of any external influence, even of Rwanda and Uganda who have supported their movement, according to the Post. While rebel attempts to take the conflict out of the hands of regional interests could by itself serve to ease tensions, international pressure has been a prominent factor in the reconciliation of warring factions in DR Congo. The embattled perspective of ground forces in any conflict often makes it difficult to peacefully resolve a conflict without international pressure. An August 28 editorial in Jeune Afrique by Bachir Ben Yahmed points to the danger of military buildups in areas known for their propensity towards unilateral military action, such as Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The editorial warns that military action even after a negotiated settlement is likely. "What is left for these soldiers to do when the prospect of power is denied to them?" Yahmed asks.
If the rebels see Kabila as weak or uncommitted to peace, it remains to be seen whether they can stifle their propensity towards violence by sticking to the accords they signed Tuesday in Lusaka. International pressure, especially in the form of a UN sponsored peacekeeping force, is imperative in ensuring lasting peace in a country given to solving its differences by violence. But if a true power-sharing arrangement is not reached after the three month negotiating period set by the recently signed accords, the situation in DR Congo could once again turn ugly, but this time with the UN caught in the middle.