Last week saw the winding down of the Congolese rebel M23’s challenge of the Kinshasa government.
The M23, which begun in 2011 as a mutiny, hit its peak last year when it overrun the strategic town of Goma near the Rwandan border, sending government troops and the UN peacekeeping force stationed there scampering for the hills.
The capture of Goma not only stung Kinshasa into action but also triggered a loud response from the international community, which authorised a more robust mandate for the UN peacekeeping force in the area and threatened Rwanda to stand down.
It accused Kigali of aiding the rag tag army which at the height of its powers never assembled more than a few thousand men under arms, definitely not more than 5000.
The coincidence of these actions set the stage for the Congolese national army to claim its first victory against an organised armed group since 1996.
Other lesser fighting groups foraging in the jungles of eastern Congo have been put on notice.
This turn of events is significant for many reasons but not least of all because it took the changing of the decade long UN peace mission’s mandate to effect and secondly, because it looks now like the DRC is now ready to bring the rebellious east under a control. This last one prompted by self-preservation instincts of the political elite in Kinshasa and the growing need for the natural resources in the giant central African republic that the world so sorely needs.
Since the overthrow of Mobutu Ssese Seko by a rebellion sponsored by the then Zaire’s eastern neighbours, it is no longer hypothetical that eastern Congo can pose a real and present danger to the powers that be in Kinshasa.
"The country, a dysfunctional hulk, with a land area the size of western Europe, would always be a nightmare to manage at the best of times, more so now with its neglected transport and communications networks, which makes getting around it a hair raising odyssey...
Eastern Congo’s reputation as a place where rebel groups burst into existence like popcorn, is not because of the particularly hot blooded nature of its residents but more because of a DRC’s total lack of influence in the region.
About a 10 years ago the traffic police man who suited up every morning for work in eastern Congo’s, Bunia hadn’t seen a salary in years or the post master who opened the post office for business every day except Sunday’s for months on end in Kisangani despite the fact that a letter was last delivered to him years ago or the use of palm oil to stretch the diesel in lorries’ engine’s in Gbadiolite, were real life examples of how Kinshasa by then, had abandoned the rest of the country to its own devices.
It is much worse now.
With a second victory in the polls in 2011 and the earlier arrest of his major rival Jean Pierre Bemba in 2008, it is clear that Kabila is moving to resolve this major item on his to-do list, the eastern Congolese question, once and for all.
His eastern neighbours Uganda and Rwanda, always with an eye on the unruly jungles off their western borders, will be looking to see how this new military confidence plays out in coming days.
Both countries have claimed that their own rebel dissidents were holed up in eastern Cong far from their own armies’ reach but more importantly for the rebels, safe in the knowledge that the Congolese army was unwilling or incapable of flushing them out.
Last week the Congolese army in its pursuit of M23 fighters stumbled upon a suspected anti-Uganda rebel camp, arresting Bubulo West MP Tonny Kipoi, suggesting the honey moon maybe over.
At the end of the last century there was a grand design by western investment bankers to build up the transport, communications and energy infrastructure of Congo. The multi-billion dollar project would effectively open up the DRC for business helping to unlock its vast natural resource bounty – estimated in some places at as much as $12 to $24 trillion dollars or the equivalent of the size of the US and western Europe combined on the higher side.
These plans were scuttled when Uganda and Rwanda fell out with former ally Laurent Kabila and sought to unseat him, in a ploy that was stopped in its tracks by Angola and Zimbabwe falling behind the then DRC president.
The ensuing instability has continued to stall any credible attempts to invest in the country in the amounts required to lift it out of the underdevelopment rut it’s been stuck in for decades.
South Africa’s signing of an agreement with the DRC to develop the long-wished for Grand Inga Dam maybe a sign of how eager international capital is keen to get a bite at country’s vast resources.
The project which will eventually generate 39,000 megawatts and cost $80b, will be the biggest hydro-power dam project in the world and account for half the continent’s power needs. A first phase that is expected to generate 4,800 megawatts will take seven years to build, and will see at least 2,500 of these being evacuated to South Africa and the rest to power the DRC’s development of its mining industry.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Its vast deposits of gold, diamonds, cobalt, copper, other rare earth metals crucial in high tech industry and now oil make the country a prize whose time has come....
However this vast central African republic has shown a stubborn resilience in the face of countless attempts to order its chaotic nature, this just the latest attempt and we would best be advised not to hold our breath in anticipation of a favourable outcome.