11 03 13 Congo Siasa – Interview: Stabilizing the Kivus––lessons learned, the path ahead


Once a major conflict has ended
following peace talks and elections, the international community usually funds
stabilization activities in conflict-affected areas. Such programs aim at helping
a fragile new government to restore state authority and provide the general
conditions that would allow for long-term development to pick up and victims of
the conflict to resume a normal life.

In the Congo, donors drafted this kind
of a stabilization plan in 2007, but it was only in 2009 that the security and
political situation was seen as propitious for implementing the International Security
and Stabilisation Support Strategy (ISSSS or I4S). Indeed, 2009 was marked
by a peace deal with armed groups in the Kivus and the diplomatic
reconciliation between the DRC and Rwanda. As a result, the Congolese
government rolled out its own programme, the 
Stabilisation and Reconstruction Plan for Eastern Congo (STAREC).

Together, these interconnected-plans
were supposed to take advantage of the relative improvement in security to
build infrastructure, redeploy state agents, support a political dialogue
process and allow economic recovery to facilitate the return of refugees and

At the end of the first 3-year
implementation phase, hundreds of miles of roads had been rehabilitated and
dozens of administrative building and police stations built, but the
Kivus little progress toward long-term stability. After much
of STAREC/I4S, donors began questioning the impact of the $270
million already spent for this first phase of I4S. In late 2011, MONUSCO launched
a major strategic review of the stabilization efforts, in which Lacaille played a key role. 

Q: There
has been a lot of criticism of STAREC and I4S. Briefly, what do you think their
major failings were?

A: The initial plan for I4S was drafted in
2007 by a small group of people in the UN headquarters in Kinshasa on a
counter-insurgency model of ‘clear-hold-build’. It has good intentions, […] but
it was based on a lot of problematic assumptions.

It assumed that the Congolese government
and its foreign partners would work together; that the military operations
conducted by the national army with UN support would improve security; and that
Congolese authorities would hold a political dialogue involving the communities.
Also, it was believed that national reforms and local elections would contribute
to improving governance in the country.

These assumptions proved incorrect. The
leadership of the UN mission in Kinshasa lost interest in making stabilisation
a priority, despite the renaming of MONUC into MONUSCO in mid-2010. The
successive heads of MONUSCO’s stabilization unit were discouraged from raising
key questions with their Congolese counterparts regarding the political choices
that were impeding stabilization. Over time, the I4S approach became more and
more technical and less political.

Q: Do
you think this is the right time to have a major stabilization effort, given
the escalation of conflict with M23 and other armed groups? Shouldn't we try to
broker an end to the fighting first, and then engage with stabilization?

A: What you suggest is precisely the
sequence tried in 2009, with negotiations leading to the 23 March agreement
followed by the launch of I4S/STAREC and UN-supported operations to disarm the
remnant militias. This failure should be a lesson to us. Firstly, negotiations
shouldn’t be opaque like they were in 2009. Secondly, negotiations must be
informed by the simultaneous pursuit of an inclusive process to address the
causes of the fighting at all levels.

In their initial version, I4S and STAREC
did not have the expected results less because of insecurity on the ground than
because there was no reconciliation and dialogue processes, and no improvement
of the legitimacy and capacity of the state representatives at the local level.
Despite continuing military operations against the FDLR and Mayi-Mayi groups, I4S
implementing partners were still able to work throughout the Kivus with some
good results.

The new I4S that is now presented to the
Congolese government and its international partners aims at improving local
governance and reducing ethnic tensions through local dialogue mechanisms.
Redirecting international resources towards empowering the populations in
identifying sources of disputes and formulating responses will positively
impact local dynamics in which only rebel leaders and unaccountable Congolese
officials currently have influence.

Q: How
did the review process take place? Given that there has been a lot of criticism
of the absence of Congolese civil society in STAREC and I4S, were their voices
and those of the Congolese institutions taken into account?

A: Well, since I also made those criticisms in late 2011, I hope we tried to do a better job for the review. Congolese
people in the eastern provinces have looked at stabilisation as another
top-down initiative that does not benefit them. In early 2012, when we discussed
within the UN stabilization team how to review I4S in coherence with STAREC, we
knew inclusiveness was going to be key.

A one-year review process was designed
to engage the Congolese STAREC team and political authorities, civil society, UN
agencies, donors and implementing partners. We first produced a contextual
analysis to understand the weaknesses of the past approach for which twenty
different organisations were consulted. Then, the stabilization team started
hosting one workshop for each of the 5 pillars of I4S where Congolese and
international people from Kinshasa, Goma, Bukavu and Bunia could discuss the strategic
principles and content of the new I4S.

Initially, the donors, the UN stabilisation
team and a few UN agencies were the most eager to save the mutually
interconnect I4S and STAREC from irrelevance, but the Congolese provincial
authorities understood very quickly that this could become a locally driven
program that could work for them. Even NGOs like OXFAM that were critical in
the past now support the revised version of I4S.

The difficulty relies on how to generate
interest in Kinshasa. The Congolese national leaders are typically just focused
on the M23 crisis. When they do look at the stabilization programs, I think
they have mixed reactions. On the one hand, it could be a good stream of
international funding for a lot of projects. On the other hand, if implemented
as designed, they know it would shift some power to provincial and local
authorities, away from Kinshasa. This is why the central government sometimes
complains about the lack of consultation in an attempt to subtly block the
elements of I4S it doesn’t like.

Q: You
have followed the review process closely––what are its main proposals for how
to change I4S?

In the past, the focus was on restoring
state authority in areas vacated by rebels through the building of infrastructure
and the deployment of state agents. These agents were often unpaid and the
provincial authorities had no resources to support them. Without inclusive
political settlement of the conflict, reforms of the state administration and
the army, as well as decentralisation, I4S was criticized for extending the
reach of a “predatory state”. 

The revised I4S maintains 5 clusters of
activities (security, democratic dialogue, state authority, early recovery, and
fighting sexual violence). The outcomes of the new platforms of dialogue -between
communities, the civil society and the local state administrations -will inform
all the I4S-funded activities within these 5 clusters.

The democratic dialogue pillar is in
fact transversal and should partly compensate for the absence of an inclusive
peace process. I4S security projects will improve the FARDC’s ‘holding
capacity’ and facilitate the cohabitation of locally deployed soldiers and
civilians. Socio-economic projects will be informed by discussions with the
communities with the aim of building social cohesion in areas of return and

During the workshops it was decided to focus
the ‘state authority’ pillar on helping states agents to answer better and more
equally the most basic needs of the people through the provision of incentives.
The population will be regularly asked for prioritizing these needs and for performance
feedback to try to bring in basic accountability for state agents (as well as
the international partners).

Q: One
of the central complaints has been the lack of Congolese government
ownership––it only pledged $20 million of the $340 million in projects for
STAREC/I4S, and three quarters of that has not been disbursed. While the
proposed changes to I4S give greater voice to local communities, there is
little here than suggests more genuine involvement from the government in

You are totally right, and this is
partly because the international community has failed to present the political benefits
of a stabilization program to the government in Kinshasa. To be fair, until
recently, diplomats at the UN Security Council and Secretariat had barely heard
of the existence of I4S/STAREC.

The Congolese leadership has consistently
favoured a military approach to put an end to the successive crises in the
Kivus. This approach is yet again encouraged by the talks of a new
international brigade under MONUSCO to defeat the rebels who resist the FARDC.

When the M23 recently attempted to mobilize
support beyond the Tutsi community, it pointed at the failure of President
Kabila to fix the abysmal Congolese governance. Most people in eastern DRC,
even those who opposed the M23, agree with that the government in Kinshasa
isn’t delivering and call into question President Kabila’s legitimacy.

It is in Kabila’s political interest to
demonstrate that he is actively working on the causes of conflict in eastern
DRC. By promoting STAREC in the Kivus and showing initial positive results, he
would demonstrate to the Congolese people that the rebels have no legitimate agenda
that justifies their actions.

Q: The
Secretary-General's special report on MONUSCO was published just a few days
ago. It included a section on I4S, giving some ideas about the way forward.
What do you make of the report?

To be honest, I am puzzled. The special
report talks about the need to address the root causes and is meant to inform
discussions on how to streamline MONUSCO’s mandate. It doesn’t include a
section on I4S, it just briefly mentions it once under the humanitarian

It is curious that the UN Stabilisation Mission
in the Congo excludes from its political priorities its own $340 million stabilisation
strategy, which is precisely the only platform that has been collectively
designed at the ground level to address root causes. I fear that the promoters
of a “peace enforcement” mandate for MONUSCO downplay the important role to be
played by the UN civilian specialists in Goma, Bukavu, or Bunia to actually
help promote peace.

I’m also worried that with the new
regional Peace and Security Framework the focus will remain on unmonitored commitments
made at the regional and national levels, and on military offensives at the
local level.
I4S can only work as part of a holistic approach that integrates the diplomatic, political and
military strategies at the regional, national and local levels.

The top leadership of the UN is in the
best position to promote coherence among these interdependent strategies. And
if the donors are not confident that this coherence exists and that MONUSCO is
capable of leading on stabilisation, there will likely be little funding for
the next phase of I4S. Then, the result of the one-year strategic review of I4S
will just remain an interesting concept paper.

Posted by
Jason Stearns

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