Major Obstacles

John Katunga 

Nairobi Peace Initiative (NPI); also serves on the advisory board of Partners for Democratic Change

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

The major obstacles are that some of the issues are beyond the capacity of the people we deal with. How to engage those people to those particular issues that comes with the major obstacles? Let me clarify what I'm saying, take for example the case of Congo. You have 2 parts in Congo, you have the government side area and the rebel side area, the 2 groups are looked at as enemies. You are coming in as an intervener, you want to bring about peace, you want to bring about reconciliation. You start working with the partners. Who are the partners on this side who identify the government of Kinshasa? That's one group, who is the partner on this side. There are 3 rebel movements, you need to identify them, and bring them to the table of negotiation. Be happy that you have a mixed peace, that's our biggest challenge. All of these guys are not representative of the people, they're all elite. In the end, they're all talking on behalf of the people.

How do you bring the voices of the people to the table of negotiation becomes a challenge, because the kind of settlement these guys will arrive at is not the aspiration of the people, like you end up in Congo with a situation where you have a president, and 4 vice presidents that are all illegitimate. All can be tried in an international court, especially the Eastern rebels, 3.5 millions people have died since 1998, especially in the area where the so called rebels are. Now, you say, ok, I want to engage the rebels, so you pick Olusumba, you pick Whobewa, you pick Bemba and Ombadjawumba and others and you just realize that they are ???staples???. There is Rwanda behind, there is Uganda behind, Whose calling the shots? That's become the second challenge. How do you engage the right actors, because these are fictional actors, they are not responsible. Now, when you go to Rwanda and Uganda, and you want to engage Musevene and President Dgambe you realize that they are not totally responsible, because there are other force behind them who are calling the shots, then how do you engage the other forces in the process, so you realize it is a challenge. You understand?

Q: So, you sit 2000 people around the table, if they come at all?

A: No, there will never be 2000 people, at most 5 or 6 people, the most determined, but they are less visible, unfortunately. The most visible, are not the most legitimate. The visible are not the determinants and hence whatever decisions they take does not have any impact on the situation on the ground because those who have decision making powers will not make up their minds. For example ?????? is a creation of Rwanda, completely a creation, they take orders from Dgambe I put it way because it's true. I can say it, anyway, it's our non-truth. If he does not want a peace process to take place in Congo, do you expect Congo to ever have peace?

For example, if Rwanda is enjoying taxes that are being collected from the eastern side of the country today Rwanda is having it's own military there, and extracting gold, diamonds, and cobalt that are used for mobile phones and high technology. Who buys those? At the end of the day, one is answerable to those who buys it and the rebels are answerable to Rwanda, because Rwanda is rebuilding it's country with the money coming from the Congo. They have new estates in Majing, and they have now created a new class, a new bourgeois of ??? creating a circle around the president that is exploiting everything, recently the President [of Rwanda] dismissed one of his generals, Kazimi, because he says he's been accused in plundering the Congolese resources as if he never knew that that was happening. The president is a very smart person because he knows how to manipulate the international community. He just fulfills the requirements from the international community, which basically works on pretense. You just pretend that you haven't been doing whatever you have been doing, and you continue happily doing whatever you feel like you want to do. If those countries have an interest in continuing to plunder Congolese resources and they are using this rebel group that is non-determinant in making decisions, So any decision that this group will take that goes against the interest of Rwanda will be rebuked. So the government can agree and think, it is another reason why the rebels are reluctant to go to Kinshasa. The government and are putting up all sorts of conditions, but the conditions are not rebel oriented conditions; they are Rwanda oriented conditions. Rwanda wants to have as many Rwandese playing an important role in the Congo so they can still keep some influence on Congo's matters.

In these circumstances, when will you talk about reconciliation? When will you talk about real peace? It becomes for us a challenge, a real challenge. Now if you take the case of other places where oil has played a determinant role or some strategic minerals have played the determinate role, we are sure that most Africans are not interested in those strategic minerals, because they don't have the technology or know how to deal with those minerals. The countries or companies that are interested in that become a determinant factor in our conflicts. How do you bring them on board to accommodate their interests so that at least Africans can have peace! This becomes our challenge. We don't have access to that, and it makes our life difficult. Now we can talk about resources. Some times you find that the people you are talking to are not patient enough to understand that this is a peace process that it takes a long time to get the results that we are longing for. They eventually get tired, on go on their way. Some of the expectations that they have raised among the people will flop and because of that, you create so much resistance on the ground that when you come and talk about peace they say "ah, we have seen you before, you promised this, you never fulfilled it."

It is creating a resistance on the ground because of nonsustainable kind of support in terms of resources, that is needed for that kind of work. It becomes one of the biggest kinds of challenges, and you have ideas about expanding your engagement and your work and you see a lot of potential that will come but you can't because you are limited in your capacity. It is also a challenge in analysis. The analysis like the one I'm doing about the levels of responsibility so we have peace, it's not well distributed among the peace interveners. Each of them will engage themselves in competition for funds. They may say, "I'm doing peace around here, nobody should come around here" and things like that. It is meaningless because we don't have the reserves that we need and people are not strategic in their intervention.

For example, the Congo for me has become a strategic intervention point because it has an influence on other peace situations around, a minimum of 9 other countries in Africa. Peace in the Congo is peace in Rwanda, peace in Burundi, in Uganda, and in Tanzania (which is peaceful according to international community's definition of peace, Tanzania is peaceful. But we have our own ways of seeing things). First if the international definition of peace comes back to the Congo and then the real definition of peace will come back to Congo. The side effect of that will be tremendous, because already Angola is stabilized, The Congo will become stabilized if we have institutions that are both strong enough in the judiciary system and other institutions of the state, the parliament is passing laws correctly, people in the parliament are elected by the people, if we have an economy that is booming--I'm not saying that it is booming, but we have the huge potential to develop ourselves-- we have some institutions that are working properly, have security guarantees, and we if have frameworks that will allow the countries in the region to cooperate. A stabilized Congo will stabilize central Africa, and the side effects will cover the rest of the country.

If I'm a strategic intervener, I will focus on the Congo but how many people focus on Congo also? At this point, 3.6 million people have died in that country, and nobody is talking about that. It is very recently that the Washington Post covered a piece on the magnitude of human disaster there. People are quiet, cool and collected when looking at from afar at that situation. 3 million people have died in that region, in that country, especially the eastern side. As I was saying the people responsible for those deaths are sitting at the table of negotiations, they are the ones now ruling. From the people's perspectives this is an insult, but at the same time they are tired with war, and maybe this will give them a bit of stability. You see, from that mess, you will never get light, from that situation we are in. Those are some of the challenges that we are in. That people are not very strategic is one other challenge. Where do we put our priorities in terms of intervening on the continent?