A version of this post originally appeared on Congo Siasa blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
On Nov. 11 the peace talks in Kampala seemed to (again) be on the verge of success. The M23 and the Congolese government delegations were on their way to State House, and international envoys said both sides had agreed on the eleven articles of the agreement.
At the last minute, however, the deal fell apart -- over the simple issue of a title.
The Congolese refuse to sign an "agreement" (accord) and merely want to issue a "declaration" to conclude the talks.
The M23 and the Ugandan mediation, meanwhile, are pushing for a formal, binding agreement.
The Congolese -- blamed by Uganda mediators for the failure, and who in their turn blame [Ugandan president Yoweri] Museveni -- don't see why they should sign a binding agreement with an organization that no longer exists. "No country in history has signed an agreement with a movement that has declared its own dissolution," said the Congolese information minister.
The Congolese delegation is under pressure from a Congolese public that never liked the Kampala talks and is all the more opposed now that the M23 has been militarily defeated. Meanwhile, the M23 leadership, who have little to gain personally by signing a deal, as they are unlikely to receive any high-ranking positions, don't want to hand the Congolese a diplomatic victory on top of a military one.
They seemed to be backed in this position by the Ugandan facilitation, who, after all, has most of their military leaders in custody.
The Ugandans immediately blamed the Congolese, saying they had been given a long time to study the agreement and refused even to enter the room with the M23.
The Ugandans later made a semi-veiled threat, saying the M23 "can still regroup," something that would only be possible with Ugandan complicity, as the M23 rebels are now largely in the custody of their army.
Why is a deal still important? For several reasons.
First, there could be over 2,500 M23 soldiers still at large: some 390 have turned themselves over to the Congolese army, around 150 surrendered to the UN mission, over 600 are in Rwanda since Bosco Ntaganda's defection last April, and the Ugandans claim (although it begs credulity) that there are 1,700 on their soil.
The peace deal would have given amnesty for crimes of insurrection and could have paved the way for the rank-and-file, at least, to come back home and enter demobilization or army integration.Now they are sitting around, an accident waiting to happen. This was the argument that Martin Kobler, the head of the UN mission, made yesterday.
Secondly, a peace deal would clearly state that there will be no amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity, at least theoretically preventing the Congolese from striking any deals with commanders with blood on their hands (although those deals are fairly unlikely now).
Finally, a peace deal would allow for the diplomatic process to continue. It would allow President Museveni's role -- as controversial as it has been -- to be officially recognized, and bring the Kampala talks to a close.
It would also allow for Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda to put the M23 behind them and move forward on substantive issues of regional integration and dealing with other armed groups, such as the FDLR and ADF-Nalu. And it would marginalize the top M23 leadership, like Sultani Makenga and Innocent Kaina.
For now, however, a peace deal seems a long way off. The international envoys have left Kampala, a war of blame has started between Kampala and Kinshasa, and only a small skeleton crew remains at the negotiation table.