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Is a new peace process starting in eastern Congo?

Eleven heads of state will soon gather to sign an agreement meant to help end the latest wave of violence in the eastern Congo. But will it have the teeth to change the situation on the ground? 

By Jason StearnsGuest blogger / February 22, 2013

M23 rebels patrol around Congo's Central Bank in Goma, eastern Congo, Monday Nov. 26, 2012.

Jerome Delay/AP

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• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Congo Siasa. The views expressed are the author's own.

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If all goes well, eleven heads of state (or their delegates) will soon gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to sign the snazzily-titled: "Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region."

What can we expect for this framework? An early copy I have seen suggests that it provides more questions than answers, although it does raise hope and expectations. (The copy is here.)

The 2-1/2 page deal rests on two pillars – reforming the Congolese state and ending regional meddling in the Congo. It then creates two oversight mechanism to make sure the eleven signing countries take these imperatives seriously, with four organizations (The United Nations, The African Union, The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICLGR), and the Southern African Development Community) as guarantors.

As such, it marks an improvement in engagement in the current conflict in the eastern Congo: there is a recognition that violence in the North and South Kivu regions of eastern Congo is deeply linked to national and regional developments. The agreement also allows for neutral arbiters to hold the signatories accountable. Perhaps most importantly, we now have the formal involvement of the UN and several other eminent organizations in an official deal, which should mean there will be follow-up at the highest level.

So is this a peace process? I have often complained that, while violence has escalated over the past years in the Kivus, the last genuine peace process –  with a comprehensive peace deal, a strong mediation, and good donor coordination in support – ended in 2006. Will this agreement mean a new peace process?

Not really. Or more precisely: we don't know yet. The agreement is more a statement of principles than a concrete action plan. And some of the principles seem to make that action plan difficult. For example, the oversight mechanism for Congolese state reform in early drafts of the agreement included civil society and donors, but is now only made up of the Congolese government. Donors merely provide support to the government, and civil society is not mentioned at all. Will a Congolese government that has hitherto been reluctant to reform its institutions be able to oversee itself?

On the regional mechanism, as well, details are lacking. The agreement merely says: "A regional oversight mechanism involving these leaders of the region ... shall be established to meet regularly and review progress in the implementation of the regional commitments outlined above, with due regard for the national sovereignty of the States concerned." No mention of how we are supposed to know whether Rwanda or Uganda are providing aid to the M23 – the Congelese rebel group at the center of the latest wave of militancy – or if the Congo has renewed ties with the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu rebel group in the eastern Congo, for example. 

One of the gaping silences of the agreement is on armed groups, the reason this august assembly was called in the first place. What of the ICGLR talks in Kampala with the M23? What about other armed groups? There is no mention of whether the Congolese government will engage in talks, or whether the UN or anyone else should mediate – leaving in suspense the ailing Kampala negotiations. The document does mention deferentially the ICGLR on several occasions, probably as an indication that this new process will not automatically supplant existing ones.

Finally, the facilitation, which was initially supposed to be given to the UN, through the offices of a new special envoy, has now been converted into four guarantors: the previously mentioned AU, ICLGR, SADC, and the UN. It is unclear from this deal who among these four will take the lead.

If the proof of this process is in the pudding, will too many cooks spoil the recipe?

Jason Stearns blogs about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region at Congo Siasa.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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