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By Rene Wadlow 

On bridges are stated the limits in tons

of the loads they can bear.

But I’ve never yet found one that can bear more

than we do.

Although we are not made of roman freestone,

nor of steel, nor of concrete.

      From “Bridges” – Ondra Lysohorsky

      Translated from the Lachian by Davis Gill. 

      Violence is growing in the eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, basically the administrative provinces of North and South Kivu.  The violence could spread to the rest of the country as Angolan troops may come to the aid of the Central Government as they have in the past while Rwandan and Ugandan troops are said to be helping the opposing militia led by Laurent Nkunda.  While Nkunda and his Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) say that they are only protecting the ethnic Tutsi living in Congo, Nkunda could emerge as a national opposition figure to President Joseph Kabila, who has little progress to show from his years in power. 

      There is high-level recognition that violence in Congo could spread, having a destabilizing impact on the whole region.  UN diplomats, led by Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, have stressed that a political solution — not a military one — is the only way to end the violence, and they are urging the presidents of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania to work together to restore stability.  The instability, along with Congo’s vast mineral and timber riches have drawn in neighboring armies who have joined local insurgencies as well as local commanders of the national army to exploit the mines and to keep mine workers in near-slavery conditions. 

 The United Nations has some 17,000 peacemakers in Congo (MONUC), the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, but their capacity is stretched to the limit.  Recently, the  General in command of the UN forces, Lieutenant General Vicent Diaz de Villegas of Spain resigned his post after seven weeks  — an impossible task. Their mission is to protect civilians, some 250,000 of which have been driven from their homes since the fighting intensified in late August 2008.  The camps where displaced persons have been living have been attacked both by government and rebel forces — looting, raping, and burning.  UN under-secretary general for peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, is asking for an additional 3,000 soldiers, but it is not clear which states may propose troops for a very difficult mission.  While MONUC has proven effective at securing peace in the Ituri district in north-eastern Congo, it has been much less successful in the two Kivu provinces. 

The eastern area of Congo is the scene of fighting at least since 1998 — in part as a result of the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994.  In mid-1994, more than one million Rwandan Hutu refugees poured into the Kivus, fleeing the advance of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, now become the government of Rwanda.  Many of these Hutu were still armed, among them, the “genocidaire” who a couple of months before had led the killings of some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda.  They continued to kill Tutsi living in the Congo, many of whom had migrated there in the 18th century. 

The people in eastern Congo have lived together for many centuries and had developed techniques of conflict resolution, especially between the two chief agricultural lifestyles: that of agriculture and cattle herding.  However, the influx of a large number of Hutu, local political considerations, a desire to control the wealth of the area — rich in gold, tin and tropical timber — all these factors have overburdened the local techniques of conflict resolution and have opened the door to new, negative forces interested only in making money and gaining political power. 

UN peace-keeping troops are effective when there is peace to keep.  What is required today in eastern Congo is not so much more soldiers under UN command, than reconciliation bridge-builders, persons who are able to restore relations among the ethnic groups of the area.  The United Nations, national governments, and non-governmental organizations need to develop bridge-building teams who can help to strengthen local efforts at conflict resolution and re-establishing community relations.  In the Kivus, many of the problems arise from land tenure issues.  With the large number of people displaced and villages destroyed, it may be possible to review completely land tenure and land use issues. 

World citizens were among those in the early 1950s who stressed the need to create UN peace-keeping forces with soldiers especially trained for such a task.  Today, a new type of world civil servant is needed — those who in areas of tension and conflict can undertake the slow but important task of restoring confidence among peoples in conflict, establishing contacts and looking for ways to build upon common interests. 

Rene Wadlow is Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens