Big Victory as M23 Surrenders, But Not an End to Congo’s Travails

This week, almost a year after the March 23 movement (M23) briefly occupied Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a series of joint operations between the Congolese army and the UN peacekeeping mission’s intervention brigade finally led to a decisive victory over the rebel group. While this represents a military success for both the Congolese army (FARDC) and the UN peacekeeping mission’s (MONUSCO), it remains unclear if this can be seen as a turning point in the DRC’s conflict conundrum, as underlying issues remain unaddressed, such as the persistent threat posed by other militias, and the need for more thorough security sector reform (SSR) and credible disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR). 

Key Conclusions

  • M23 ceases to exist as a politico-military movement, defeated by the FARDC and MONUSCO
  • This victory strengthened President Joseph Kabila ahead of an announced government reshuffle
  • This renews confidence in the Congolese army
  • This is the first success story for MONUSCO’s offensive intervention brigade
  • Other rebel groups such as FDLR, Mayi Mayi Sheka, or ADF are possible next targets
  • For now, peace remains elusive in light of the over fifty other armed groups still in the DRC
  • The situation demands continuous attention and increased commitment to avoid past failures 
  • Resolving land and identity issues, as well as issues around institutional reform, political dialogue, and reconciliation, is vital to peacebuilding in the region


For about 18 months, the M23 rebel movement represented the strongest military threat to the central government in Kinshasa. Led by Sultani Makenga and the now-detained Bosco Ntaganda, the group dominated the government army units who acted at its bidding. This culminated in the rebels taking Goma on November 20, 2012, while the FARDC troops collapsed southwards. The UN was exposed to hefty critique that its peacekeeping mission did not prevent this, and in response, the UN Security Council set up a new resolution (S/RES/2098) that added an “intervention brigade” (FIB) intended to “neutralize [all] negative forces [i.e., armed groups]” to its existing peacekeeping mission. 

Kinshasa reacted by streamlining its troops and command structures in North Kivu. François Olenga took over the helm of the Congolese land forces, replacing Gabriel Amisi, whose shady track record had been revealed by the UN Group of Experts. On the ground, Lucien Bahuma and Mamadou Ndala, two commanders more vigorous than their predecessors, took the lead of the FARDC’s counter against M23. 

Tired of Suffering, Ugandan Women Turn to Peacebuilding: Interview with Rose Othieno

As the UN pushes to include more women in peacebuilding, the challenges facing Ugandan women range from finding the time to finding the courage to get involved, said Rose Othieno, Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution of Uganda. 

“Even some fellow women would say, ‘But how could she be doing that?,’” Ms. Othieno reported, adding that women have always been quietly contributing to peacebuilding, but “outright, [it] has not been a common practice, and therefore, it is still not very easy.”

But Ms. Othieno said she helped motivate women by telling them it will help them suffer less. “They see the negativity of the practice [of violence], so it was easy to convince the women to start preaching the peace, singing songs, talking directly with the people who were involved in disarmament. Of course, the problem is not totally solved. But, we really believe that a lot has been done because of the participation of women in disarmament.” Ms. Othieno spoke of Ugandans Betty Bigombe and Stella Sabiiti as role models.

Ms. Othieno said that peacebuilding must involve disarmament. "You realize that part of the hindrance to bringing sustainable peace was this issue of a lot of proliferation of illicit small arms and their misuse. So, we saw it fit to bring in this issue of small arms and light weapons, where we joined the associations, the networks for small arms and light weapons at the international, regional, and local level, where we are members to advocate for disarmament." 

"And we saw that in many of the communities where these arms were heavily available—especially the pastoral communities, which were a little bit backward and semi-arid, so they depended a lot on livestock— the perception they had—because it’s not true—[was that] they thought that they needed small arms to protect their animals, and even raid more if the stock had been depleted."

Ms. Othieno and her organization also examined policy issues around weapons and domestic violence “because, there is a lot of domestic violence in other forms, but once it's armed with a gun, let alone a knife or anything, it's very, very deadly.” 

“Like, when licensing these guns—there should be consultations with the family members, especially the spouses, and also look into the character of the person applying for the license to see if they are either violent, or they are likely to be violent, or, have they ever taken part in violence? And such a person wouldn't be issued the license.” 

“When it comes to issues of consulting with a spouse, comes to all the gender things we are talking about, and the masculinity where, in some societies, they still feel if the gun is for the protection of the family, then the head of the family has the right to decide what to do. And you don't know whether these people always decide the right things.”

The interview was conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Visiting Fellow at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Transcript (edited)

Andrea Ó Súilleabháin: I'm here today with Rose Othieno, Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution (CECORE) of Uganda, an initiative of people working together to prevent and resolve conflicts through alternative and creative means. Rose is an experienced peacebuilder who has served as an expert in the International Conference of the Great Lakes region. She is active in the women's coalition, advocating for women's voices to be heard in peace negotiations between the government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Rose is also a member of the Institute for Inclusive Security's Women Waging Peace Network.

In Uganda, a woman leader, Betty Bigombe, has been a central figure in peace negotiations with the Lord's Resistance Army. In your opinion, Rose, has this influenced other women to get involved in peace activism? 

Rose Othieno: Yes, it has. Maybe just to go back a step before Betty Bigombe, there were other women who had been on this kind of initiative before, one of them being my cofounder of the Center for Conflict Resolution, Stella Sabiiti, who has been engaged in peace work since the '80s and then in the early '90s—really very instrumental. And that is why we founded this organization, the Center for Conflict Resolution, for the very reason that, at that time, not many organizations were looking into the issues of peacebuilding. At that time, many of the organizations were for relief, development initiatives, and most of the local ones are only now beginning to look at the issue of human rights, but with the lens of accusations—so-and-so is violating rights. And a lot of them said, “Well, something must be going wrong so, let’s look at what peacebuilding is all about.” 

How Disarmament in Africa Got More Complicated

Africa is ground zero in the international debate on controlling the small arms and light weapons trade. For more than a decade, diplomatic activity to contain arms and ammunition transfers has been animated by a concern with instability and contagion generated by the continent’s many wars. Leading think tanks, research groups, and advocacy organizations have repeatedly drawn attention to the way the burden of armed violence in Africa is a product of low-tech assault rifles and anti-personnel land mines. 

The intensity of diplomatic activity to deal with small arms trafficking is remarkable when compared with the glacial pace of more conventional arms control negotiations. In 2001, United Nations member states agreed to a Program of Action (PoA) to contain illicit trafficking of arms. A rash of regional and bilateral agreements, most of them politically (rather than legally) binding, soon followed. And then, in 2013, a new Arms Trade Treaty was signed by over 110 countries and called for more stringent standards in the arms trade, including over assault rifles and ammunition. 

The vast majority of these efforts call for robust controls on the export, import, and brokering of small arms and light weapons. They also emphasize harmonization of standards and the sharing of information. Their focus is overwhelmingly on reigning in the "supply" of arms and ammunition in order to prevent their illicit diffusion. This supply-side bias is evident in many of the arms control efforts in Africa. For example, state signatories to the so-called Nairobi Protocol on the Prevention, Control, and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons routinely call attention to the importance of transparency over arms exports and imports.

There is a persistent assumption implicit in much of the debate and action on small arms and light weapons control, including in Africa. It is taken for granted that Western (and more recently Eastern) powers are responsible for the lion's share of arms shipments to the continent. Routinely singled-out as among the largest distributors are the United States, China, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Iran, and some members of the European Union, especially Belgium, France, and Germany. It follows that weapons produced by these foreign powers are being brokered to nefarious state and non-state actors in Africa, and fuelling the continent’s wars.

Many of Africa's diplomats argue that the regulation of small arms and light weapons transfers must begin (and potentially end) by shutting off the tap from the West and East. According to the 2011 Small Arms Survey, at least 22 non-African countries were known to have supplied arms, munitions, and parts to the continent over the previous decade. As a result, the emphasis in arms control negotiations is often on controlling the hardware–from the point of manufacture to its export and import and arrival to the end-user. Not surprisingly, less attention is devoted to the dynamics of supply or demand in Africa itself. 

Who Pays for Peace?

Peacekeeping is far less costly than war—the 2012-13 United Nations peacekeeping budget was less than half of one percent of the world military expenditure in 2010. Already with 15 peace operations around the world, UN peacekeeping continues to be in high demand. Yet, as economies struggle to fully recover from the global financial crisis, countries that pay more of the peacekeeping budget have let the UN Secretariat know that it will have to “do more with less,” meaning the number of missions and tasks for peacekeepers will increase, but without a commensurate increase in resources. 

Comparatively little research has been done on key questions of peacekeeping finances, such as, how is peacekeeping funded? Which countries foot the bill, and how does that affect peacekeeping policy? And importantly, in a time of great demand for UN peacekeeping, are the peacekeepers currently being forced to “do more with less?” 

How is peacekeeping funded, and how does that affect peacekeeping policy?

The UN peacekeeping budget is estimated at $7.3 billion for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which is less than half of one percent of world military expenditure in 2010. As of June 30, 2012, the most expensive missions as a percentage of the total UN peacekeeping budget are UNAMID (22.9%), MONUSCO (20.1%), MINUSTAH (10.8%) and UNMISS (9.2%). 

While troop contributions to UN peacekeeping missions are purely voluntary, all member states must pay assessed contributions. UN peacekeeping is financed by a scale of assessments reviewed every three years. The peacekeeping scale of assessments is based on a complicated formula that takes into account the relative economic wealth of member states and roles in the UN Security Council, among other things. Discounts are provided to developing states, the costs of which are then absorbed by a surcharge on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5). The P5 are required to pay this premium because of their “special responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” The Security Council’s P5 are all among the top ten financial contributors.   

States such as the US, Japan, and the UK are traditionally classified as “financial contributors” as they provide higher assessed contributions to the total UN peacekeeping budget (and not necessarily many troops). The assessment level for the United States, at 28.3626% in 2014, around US$2.1 billion, is the highest. States such as Nigeria, India, and Pakistan are often classified as “troop contributors,” providing larger troop and police contributions to UN peacekeeping missions, are assessed at a lower assessment rate (some major troop contributors are assessed the minimum rate of 0.0001%). 

UN negotiations on peacekeeping increasingly divide along “troop contributor” and “financial contributor” lines, and the two groups have very little overlap – in 2013, not one top 15 financial contributor is also a top 15 troop-and-police contributor. This particular dynamic is said to have had a polarizing effect on peacekeeping policy negotiations, as these two groups may have different interests. China (19th largest troop-contributor country) and Brazil (20th) may be the member states with some claim to both categories, as they also pay the 6th and 26th highest assessment rates, respectively. 

Key Global Events to Watch in November

At the start of every month, the Global Observatory posts a list of key upcoming meetings and events that have implications for global affairs.



Peace & Security

  • November 1: Iraqi Prime Minister Visits Washington to Talk Security in the Region
    As the conflict in Syria spills over surrounding borders, the threat from al-Qaeda-linked militias is increasing in western Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will meet with President Obama on November 1 to discuss the issue. 

    Officials from the Obama administration have said the US will sell military machinery, including Apache helicopters, and share information to assist with the growing threat. The meeting of heads of state prompted a letter to Mr. Obama from a number of US senators that claims Prime Minister Maliki’s “mismanagement” of affairs directly contributed to the increasing violence. 

  • November 1: Demolition of Chemical Weapons in Syria Enters Final Phase 
    The 100-member team charged with monitoring and destroying Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons enters into the third stage of its work this month. Now that the deadline for destroying production facilities has been met, the next charge is to begin retrieval and destruction of the weapons. The Syrian government and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons must agree on a detailed plan of destruction by November 15. The work is scheduled to conclude in June next year. President Assad’s administration has seemingly cooperated thus far, but the next phase is likely to be a lot more challenging. Meanwhile, peace talks slated for November 23-24 look tentative at best (see below).
  • November 6-8: Meeting of the Working Group on Trafficking in Persons, Vienna
    As part of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, this is the fifth session of the working group on trafficking in persons will cover topics such as how to reduce demand by fostering public-private partnerships and identifying factors that drive trafficking in persons, and forms of exploitation not normally associated with human trafficking. 
  • November 7-8: Meeting on Iran’s Nuclear Program with P5+1 and Iran, Geneva
    Diplomacy between the foreign ministers of P5+1 countries and Iran in the last weeks may foreshadow the end to a decade-long dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. However, recent reports indicate Iran as yet continues its most controversial activity: uranium enrichment to a level close to that needed for bombs. Diplomats in Geneva will try to get Iran to cease its uranium enrichment program in exchange for a slackening of sanctions on Tehran. 
  • November 11-13: Meeting of the Working Group on the Smuggling of Migrants, Vienna
    Supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air is the basis of this working group’s second session. As recent tragedies underline the need to address this issue, this working group is focused on how to investigate the factors unique to smuggling of migrants while maintaining rights of the migrants themselves. Meeting topics include multilateral, cross-border information sharing, investigative techniques, and the establishment of multi-agency centers.          
  • November 23 (tentative): Geneva II Peace Talks, Geneva
    Conflicts between Washington and Moscow over Syrian opposition representation could delay the start of peace negotiations for up to a month, according to Arab and Western officials. The talks were slated to begin in Geneva on November 23, aiming to resolve two and a half years of civil war that has claimed 100,000 lives and displaced millions. President Assad has said that no political solution would be possible as long as international powers continue to support rebel fighters. In the meantime, Amnesty International reports that hundreds fleeing the violence are being turned back at the borders of surrounding countries.    
  • November 20- 28: Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, The Hague
    This regular meeting of states parties to the Rome Statute will cover many issues related to the International Criminal Court, not least state cooperation and the court’s relationship with Africa following Kenya’s threat to withdraw in September. (The ICC recently pushed Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial back to February, 2014). At the meeting, a by-election will also be held for one of the eighteen regular judges of the court, to replace Anthony Carmona, who was elected president of Trinidad and Tobago last March.
  • Also of Interest:

    • November 25: International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 

Toward Gender-Sensitive Peacebuilding: Interview with Isabelle Geuskens

When women peacebuilders working in local communities wanted to bring in men to participate in gender-sensitive conflict resolution, no one listened at first, said Isabelle Geuskens, Executive Director of the Women Peacemakers Program. "We were not really listening, because we felt women's empowerment is about women!" But, she said, the women were concerned that "the men are dismissing [UN resolution] 1325 and gender as a women's issue."

"And men are still not understanding the gendered nature of violence and armed conflict," she said. "So, we started thinking about how can we get more men engaged. We started looking more deeply at the gendered nature of violence, and how masculinity plays a role in this. So, it’s really through the call from women that we started designing what could 'engaging men' mean. But also, what does a gender perspective on war and peace from a masculinities perspective look like?" 

Ms. Geuskens said women peacebuilders are often able to avoid thinking in terms of win-or-lose. "They will go more easily into win-win," she said. "[They] don't see compromising as a failure," though she added that not all women bring in a new perspective.  

But those who do, she said, "will not separate [peacebuilding] from everyday life issues. So, they will look at the economic factors. They will look at the political factors, of course. But also, do they have access to healthcare?"

However, Ms. Geuskens said good peacebuilding can cut across gender. "I have to say, people come with their hearts, their minds, their skills. They come with commitment. There are difficult conversations, but usually people are quite constructive, and I've seen empowerment happen on both sides... I think human beings tend to be quite alike, if we give them the chance to be." 

About UN resolution 1325, which requires parties in a conflict to respect women's rights and to support their participation in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction, she said, "Implementation is very difficult, because I think we tend to look at change in a very instrumental way. We tend to want to make boxes that we can tick to add more women. But changing the cultures—I'm not just talking cultures in countries of conflict, but actually the cultures all over the world and in institutions that make decisions about war and peace. They haven't fundamentally changed."

"In the end, 1325 I feel is about more than adding women. It’s about the practice and working towards ending wars. And that is about asking critical questions about patriarchy and the way we are dealing with violent conflict."

The interview was conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Visiting Fellow at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Andrea Ó Súilleabháin: I'm here today with Isabelle Geuskens, Executive Director of the Women Peacemakers Program in The Hague. Since 2002, the Women Peacemakers Program has provided non-violence training to 1300 people in over 24 countries, from Afghanistan to Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a focus on including women and men in their work toward gender-sensitive peacebuilding. 

In addition to this work with peacebuilders around the world, Isabelle is involved in monitoring developments around the Security Council's women, peace and security resolutions and their global implementation.    

Isabelle, you’ve said that women are among the first to cross the lines between divided communities. From your extensive work with women peacemakers, what do women add to peace processes in communities and on the national level?

Isabelle Geuskens: First of all, women bring a different perspective. Not always, because women can be patriarchal as well, but many women peace activists don't think necessarily in "win or lose." They will go more easily into win-win. [They] don't see compromising as a failure. I'm not saying here, now, that women are natural peacemakers, born like that, but I think there is something in women's socialization process that has contributed to these capacities in women. I think that could also be something for men, because it's obviously related to socialization.

What we've seen in our programs is that women have a much broader concept of what peace and security is. They will not separate it from everyday life issues. So, they will look at the economic factors, they will look at the political factors, of course. But also, do they have access to healthcare? They might even not distinguish so much between what's happening in a so-called peaceful country... they make the link between what happens to them in a peaceful country and conflict countries— so-called [peaceful], because women do experience domestic violence in peaceful countries. Women are afraid to walk the streets at night. So, I think women bring a whole different definition of what peace and security is.

With Democracy, One Size Does Not Fit All: Interview with Alfred de Zayas

“There's no one single model of democracy, but we can all agree on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Alfred de Zayas, the United Nations independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, adding that the modalities of applying the universal declaration "can be country to country adjusted according to the cultural diversity, the traditions of those countries.”

According to Mr. de Zayas, it’s not the label of democracy that is important. “What is crucial is this correlation between the will of the people, the needs of the people, and the governmental policies that affect them.” 

He said he has a particular interest in the Switzerland model of direct democracy, “But since democracy is a concept that is new and in certain countries there's no tradition of democracy, you cannot impose it top down…you have to be patient; you cannot force it.” 

“I think that all the African countries are making considerable progress toward democracy. It should not come from the West. I really object to the arrogance of some who think that we can export democracy. It must be homegrown so that you own it, so that you feel ‘this is us.’” 

Mr. de Zayas believes democracy can help people hold governments accountable for how their national resources are spent. "One of the problems in many countries, unfortunately, is that national resources are being squandered, are being wasted in the military. Most African countries really do not need a large military. They certainly do not need state-of-the-art planes or state-of-the-art tanks and more weapons. It is really a crime to spend tax money instead of putting it into education, putting it into healthcare, to put this money into weapons. That fuels not only wars—that's evident—but it also fuels corruption...When government squanders money, and it does not use it for what the people want and what the people need, then these authorities should be made to account, and there should be no impunity."

Mr. de Zayas believes that the direct democracy model could be applied at a global level. “I believe that a world parliamentary assembly, or if you want, a United Nations parliamentary assembly could be established,” which he said could be linked to the UN charter as a consultative party. 

He questioned whether the General Assembly is able to speak for the people. “The General Assembly is made up of a 193 states' members and observer members,” he said. “But who sits in the assembly? It’s governments. It's ambassadors. And to what extent do these 193 ambassadors really represent their constituencies?” 

“You know and I know that there is a huge disconnect between power and the people,” he said. He pointed out that many countries are democracies in name but are essentially lobby democracies, “and they cater to special interests, cater to corporations, cater to the oil industry, etc, and they don't really cater to citizen A or citizen B."

"You have the opportunity once every two years or every four years to put a little cross on the ballot box, but democracy is not just the ballot box,” he said. 

The interview was conducted by Priscilla Nzabanita, research assistant in the Africa program at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Priscilla Nzabanita: Today on the Global Observatory we are pleased to welcome Mr. Alfred de Zayas, who is independent expert for the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. Thank you, Mr. de Zayas for agreeing to have this interview with us. 

So, my first question for you is that your mandate calls for a broad analysis of obstacles to a democratic and equitable international order. Can you describe what this mandate specifically entails?

Alfred de Zayas: As you know, it's a new mandate. It was created last year, 2012. I am the first mandate holder, so I'm giving it shape. It is a convergence of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Imagine promoting an international order that is more democratic and more equitable that entails everything. It is the most universal mandate that has ever been created. And I'm supposed to identify obstacles. I have done so in my first two reports to the Human Rights Council, and my separate, different two reports to the General Assembly. 

Obstacles, of course, are multiple, and [at] the core of democracy. As I said in the discussion today, there's no one single model of democracy, but we can all agree on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And the modalities of applying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be country to country adjusted according to the cultural diversity, the traditions of those countries. 

As far as advancing with democratic order domestically, whether it be in Asia or in Latin America or in Africa, it's not the label that is important. What is crucial is this correlation between the will of the people, the needs of the people, and the governmental policies that affect them. That's why I have particular interest in the model of direct democracy, which is the kind of government in Switzerland, for instance, where the population has the right of initiative. With a certain number of signatures, you can initiate legislation. Or you can test legislation that is, or rather a bill, that is before Parliament or even a piece of legislation has been adopted, you can have a referendum to abrogate it. You also have recall and impeachment. These are guarantees that the people are sovereign. 

In Somalia, Political Stability Benefits Pirates

Many hail the efforts of the new Somali government to bring greater political stability to Somalia and hope that this will result in a crackdown on illegal activity in general, and piracy in particular. Yet October 2013 saw the resumption of pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean. So why doesn’t statebuilding help solve the issue of piracy?

In my work with Sarah Percy of the University of Western Australia and Federico Varese at Oxford, we found that political stability is a crucial element in the hijack-and-ransom piracy business model. To squeeze the maximum ransom from ship owners, pirates need to keep the ship safe and the crew in reasonable condition for periods of up to three years in territorial waters–effectively in plain sight of the coast. Ship owners would not pay up if rival gangs contested possession of ships during the negotiation or re-hijacked ships after their release. Based on the vessel tracks reconstructed from the signals sent by the ships’ automated information systems, we can see that the necessary security guarantees often cut across different clans’ territories.

But if anarchy reigns on land, then keeping the ships safe from rival gangs and supplying hostages and guards becomes difficult and expensive. Indeed, we saw that in the upheaval of 2006 when the Islamic Courts Union fought for control of the pirate anchorages in central Somalia, and piracy stopped dead for a number of months. When there is political stability, however, pirates can (and did) pay the incumbent political elites and their militias for safe anchorage and safe passage along the Somali coast. Political stability in the coastal regions is therefore helpful to pirates—as long as those providing governance on land are happy to shelter pirates.  

So, who chooses to harbor pirates?

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What to Watch in 2014

Key Global Events in February
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.

2013-multilateral-602014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena
A list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014, compiled by IPI's Francesco Mancini.