On the face of it, the proposal to integrate the warring parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into a unified national army being discussed at peace talks in Zambia this week would seem, at best, a formidable undertaking.
But, analysts point out, southern Africa could serve as both a model of how the demobilisation and integration of previously bitter military rivals can be achieved, and one disastrous example of how not to go about it.
The draft peace agreement being thrashed out by regional defence and foreign ministers in Lusaka calls for a “mechanism for the formation of an integrated army on the basis of negotiations” between the government and the two anti-Kinshasa rebel groups.
The process would follow internal all-party political reconciliation talks. However, debate continues in Lusaka over whether the plan would mean the creation of a new army or whether the rebels would fall under the existing government structure.
Integration would be one of the final steps in a peace process where currently even achieving a ceasefire remains only a distant hope, analysts told IRIN. In addition, long before unification would come the extremely delicate phase of the cantoning and demobilisation of combatants, and the recovery and destruction of weaponry supervised by a credible peacekeeping force.
Political decisions would also have to be made over the size - and allocation of top positions - in an integrated army, financial safety nets or vocational training offered to those soldiers dismissed, and access to schooling and counselling for the child soldiers recruited by all sides.
The southern African experience
In the past two decades, political settlements ending liberation wars and internal rebellions in southern Africa have witnessed the creation of integrated militaries in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique and most recently South Africa. The lessons learnt include issues of disarmament, demobilisation and the modalities of building unified armed forces.
“Each country has its own unique experience,” Guy Lamb at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town told IRIN on Wednesday. But whereas in southern Africa integration was achieved essentially between one rebel group and a government army, “the problem in the DRC is that there are various rebel factions which would make things complicated when it comes to demobilisation, reintegration and training.
“The armed forces are a political issue,” Lamb added. “You can’t demobilise on the basis of a ceasefire but must be on the basis of a political settlement.”
Pitfalls to demobilisation
The draft DRC peace plan calls for a joint military council to oversee the ceasefire process. But central to the exercise are the resources to achieve a comprehensive demobilisation - with logistics, food, accommodation and security at the assembly points to prevent spontaneous demobilisation and the threat of banditry - and the ability of peacekeepers to effectively monitor the programme, Lamb said.
Between the combatants, trust is likely to be a rare commodity. “A potential problem for the DRC is that it is a large area to monitor and large forces are likely to be kept out of the peace process as an insurance policy,” he added. The military involvement of neighbouring countries in the conflict would multiply the problems of supervising a disarmament, Lamb noted.
In southern Africa’s singular and tragic failure of integration -Angola - the UNITA rebel movement not only failed to demobilise some 30,000 troops, but also managed to rearm despite the presence of a UN monitoring force. “In Angola it was only two parties in the peace process, in the DRC it would be much more of a problem,” Lamb stressed.
He added that there are increasing signals from Pretoria that South Africa, with no large-scale operational peacekeeping experience, is considering involvement in a muted multinational DRC mission. “They just need to look at Angola and think twice about that,” Lamb said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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