In a recent AFP News report, political figures and members of the civil society in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo or DRC) have joined forces to call for the dismantling of emergency measures known as the “state of siege” in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces. Since its initiation in May 2021, this emergency measure has aimed to counter armed groups that have long plagued the region. However, mounting criticism and concerns over its effectiveness have prompted 132 prominent figures to urge the government to reevaluate its approach. This article delves into the context, implications, and rationale behind this call, shedding light on the complexities of security and governance in the Eastern DR Congo.
Background: The State of Siege
The North Kivu and Ituri provinces have grappled with the presence of numerous armed groups, a legacy of historical conflicts that shook the region at the close of the 20th century. In response to the persistent violence, the DR Congo government introduced the “state of siege” initiative two years ago, which involves the replacement of civilian officials with military or police officers. The goal was to expedite security measures and contain the activities of these armed groups, which have been responsible for widespread instability and human rights abuses.
The Call for Reassessment
The recent statement issued by 132 prominent figures, representing a cross-section of national and provincial elected officials, traditional leaders, religious representatives, and civil society members, marks a significant turning point in the debate surrounding the state of siege. The three-day assessment convened by President Felix Tshisekedi brought together individuals from the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, the regions affected by the emergency measures. The collective plea centers on three key aspects:
1. Lifting the State of Siege: The call for the immediate lifting of the state of siege underscores a growing sentiment that the initiative has not yielded the desired results. Critics argue that the militarization of governance has failed to curtail the activities of armed groups, leading to a continued cycle of violence and insecurity.
2. Restoring Civilian Institutions: The advocates of reassessment emphasize the importance of restoring civilian institutions to governance roles. This move is seen as a means to reestablish a balance between security imperatives and preserving democratic norms and human rights.
3. Strengthening Military Operations: The statement highlights the need to bolster large-scale military operations in the region. However, the call for a shift in strategy suggests that a more coordinated and comprehensive approach is necessary to combat the armed groups effectively.
5/8 After more than a year of the state of siege in eastern DRC to fight against armed groups, the results are nowhere to be seen. Worse, By triggering a state of siege, Tshisekedi certainly did not expect to eradicate all armed groups since he supported most of them with arms. pic.twitter.com/pMgNjbxhHE
— Lawrence Rugwiro (@LawrenceRugwiro) December 21, 2022
Challenges and Concerns
The state of siege has faced mounting criticism in recent months, with accusations of failure to quell violence and address human rights abuses. Amnesty International’s report raises serious concerns about the impact of emergency measures on the rights and well-being of civilians. The militarization of governance, as seen in replacing civilian officials, has been criticized for potentially exacerbating human rights violations and undermining civilian oversight mechanisms.
“The state of siege is unlawful and has contributed to the worsening of the human rights situation in the country,” said Tigere Chagutah, East and Southern Africa Regional Director of the aforementioned international non-governmental organization.
Furthermore, the M23 armed group’s resurgence has highlighted the situation’s complexities. Despite the state of siege, the group has managed to reestablish itself and seize control over parts of North Kivu. This resurgence has not only raised questions about the efficacy of the emergency measures but has also fueled allegations of external involvement, with the DR Congo government accusing neighboring Rwanda of aiding the M23.
Saying no to military rule, that's what happened in the DRC, when a consultative meeting voted to lift the measures in two eastern provinces.
— BBC News Africa (@BBCAfrica) August 17, 2023
Path Forward: A Balanced Approach
As the debate over the state of siege continues to unfold, the DR Congo government must consider a more balanced and comprehensive approach to addressing the security challenges in North Kivu and Ituri. A recalibration of the strategy should involve the following steps:
1. Holistic Security Strategy: A reevaluation of the security strategy should prioritize a holistic approach that combines military operations with efforts to address the root causes of armed conflict. Socioeconomic development, political inclusivity, and conflict resolution mechanisms must be integrated into the security framework.
2. Civilian-Military Cooperation: Rather than completely replacing civilian officials, a model of civilian-military cooperation could be adopted. This would ensure that civilian expertise and oversight remain integral to governance while leveraging the strengths of the military to maintain security.
3. International Collaboration: Given the transnational nature of armed groups, international collaboration and diplomatic engagement with neighboring countries are crucial. A coordinated effort involving regional partners could help curtail external support for armed groups.
4. Human Rights Protection: Any security strategy must be accompanied by a robust commitment to protecting human rights. Mechanisms for accountability and oversight should be established to prevent abuses and ensure that civilian populations are not caught in the crossfire.
The collective call to reevaluate the state of siege in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces signifies a pivotal moment in the ongoing effort to restore stability and security in Eastern DR Congo. The complex challenges posed by armed groups demand a multifaceted response that addresses immediate security concerns and tackles the underlying drivers of conflict. The path forward requires a delicate balance between security imperatives, respect for human rights, and restoring civilian governance institutions. The region can only move towards a more peaceful and prosperous future through a comprehensive and inclusive approach.