The fighting in Goma has stopped, now is the time to start talking

Hundreds of fighters from the M23 group entered Goma after days of clashes with UN-backed Congolese soldiers that forced tens of thousands of residents to flee. A senior UN source told Reuters that international peacekeepers had given up defending the city after the Congolese troops evacuated.
Picture: REUTERS/James Akena

So, Goma has fallen, not with a bang but a whimper. And who expected any different? Certainly not I. You’ve heard the old saying, ‘an empty tin makes the most noise’, haven’t you? Well, in this case, we aren’t talking about merely a tin, but rather an entire country’s leadership, both military and civilian. Top down, the entire system is rotten to the core.

If one was to take the war-like talk from Kinshasa seriously (which anyone in the know didn’t), M23 was going to meet its Waterloo, beaten back due to the combined firepower of the FARDC and Monusco.  But like the proverbial empty tin, all the noise was just that. Noise.

What happened to the ‘fearsome’ heavy artillery and Belgian-trained FARDC

Goma’s capture will be an embarrassment for President Joseph Kabila, who won re-election late last year in polls that provoked widespread riots in Kinshasa and which international observers said were marred by fraud Picture: LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images

commanders? The artillery was barely fired and the commanders simply vanished, leaving their troops to do the time honored Congolese army party trick, looting and terrorizing the very civilians they’re supposed to protect.  What happened to the hundreds of well-armed Monusco troops, availed with helicopter gunships? They stood aside because, “we (Monusco) have had no trouble with M23, to be honest,” an unnamed South African Monusco soldier told the Guardian correspondent in Goma. In other words, they really didn’t care who won, a lesson that the DRC needed to learn. The Uruguayan, Indian and South African troops are too well paid to die for a corrupt, inept state. They want to go back home to their wives and children, not die fighting in a civil conflict in a faraway hellhole.

What I think we need to do is examine why Kinshasa believed that it could hold Goma. Were the politicians so buffoonish that they couldn’t realize that their troops would flee at the first sound of serious gunfire? They had done that on countless occasions before, what was going to be different this time? Monsuco gunships and heavy weapons obviously.  But hadn’t they seen the evidence of its impotence? This UN mission was been unable defeat and disarm rag-tag genocidal forces (its stated mandate) and opted to trade with it instead, giving them arms in exchange for minerals.

Well, Kinshasa refused to see that they were playing a game of Russian roulette,

The body of a dead Congolese army soldier lies in the road between Goma and Kibati Picture: PHIL MOORE/AFP/Getty Images

banging the war drums, refusing to talk to M23 and attempting to play amateurish international politics, by blaming Rwanda and Uganda for M23. Well, it has seen the result of that; a hard slap in the face and the loss of one of DRC’s biggest cities to a force no larger than 3,000 lightly armed mutineers. So, what’s next?

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The IGCLR peace process was doing a great job until Kabila, fooled by his advisers (both local and international) thought that he could use force to resolve an issue that only diplomacy and talks could solve.  If M23’s Goma advance was meant to force Kabila to the negotiating table, it has worked like a charm. Yesterday, he flew to Kampala in a panic, to meet other ICGLR leaders, including our very own President Kagame. I am willing to bet that M23’s delegates will not be given the cold shoulder this time around. There is a lot to talk about, and the faster  direct talks between the two sides commence, the better for the entire region.

I only hope that the international community gives the ICGLR process a chance now. Its meddling has done nothing except make a bad situation worse. Rwandans don’t need to fear for their lives because Goma is under siege again. The mortars that landed in Rubavu District, killing two innocents, must become the last one’s fired across the border.

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