Analysts scoff African peacekeeping plans

Military analysts are expressing scepticism at Africa’s ability to deploy soldiers to the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to contain a growing insurgency there in the face of a powerless United Nations (UN) peace force and a dysfunctional Congolese army.       
Leaders attending a Great Lakes Region summit in Nairobi on Friday threatened to dispatch a “peacemaking” force to the DRC’s troubled North Kivu province where interminable fighting continues despite a January peace deal between Tutsi insurgent leader Laurent Nkunda and DRC President Laurent Kabila.
Aid agencies says fighting since August have displaced about 250 000 people.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) resolved at a summit in Johannesburg on Sunday to send peacekeepers as well as a military mission to assist the DRC, which is a member state.
Nkunda, who says he is fighting for “Tutsi freedom” and who often says he wants to prevent a repetition of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, has threatened to overthrow Kabila and to attack the mooted peacekeeping force.   
Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers decided on Monday not to deploy peacekeepers to the region despite earlier threats to do so. The Associated Press reports Britain and Germany scotched French plans for a deployment of a 1 700-strong battle group. British foreign secretary David Miliband was quoted saying the African moves had rendered EU action unnecessary.             
But Institute for Security Studies defence analyst Henry Boshoff and defence author Helmoed-Römer Heitman says the African position is rhetorical.
“This s nothing more than rhetoric, Boshoff says. He adds that the AU has been scrambling for years to flesh out deployments in Somalia and Darfur – with little success.
He adds that the SADC position – to support the DRC – will complicate matters. “This is not what one wants. The need is for an independent credible force. By supporting the DRC, the force is not impartial.”              
Heitman says the problem is threefold. “This is a peace-enforcement or even straightforward warfighting situation, not one of peacekeeping, let alone peacemaking (using the UN definition of the latter),” he says.
In addition, there does not seem to be any real commitment on the part of the Kabila government to do anything about Hutu insurgents associated with the genocide (known by their French acronym FDLR), “although I do understand that [the situation] is not an easy one, given the terrain, etc.
“But until something is done about the FDLR, there will be nervousness on the part of Rwanda and there will be Nkunda or someone like him. For good measure, let us not forget that guerrillas intent on destabilising Uganda and Burundi are also present in the eastern DRC,” the author adds.
The size of the theatre and the nature of the terrain and vegetation also makes any military operation against irregular forces difficult, says Heitman.
“Add to that the fact that Nkunda has managed to add tanks to his inventory, and the situation becomes really tricky: MONUC [the UN peacekeeping force] will have to be reinforced and will have to get some conventional clout if it is to be effective.
“Adding SADC troops will not have much impact if they are just light or motorised infantry. There is a need for a serious force and there is a crying need for more air power,” he says. “A properly balanced force could stabilize the situation, but will only be buying time for a political/diplomatic settlement.”
“Where the SADC would find the troops is a good question: The SA Army is badly over-stretched; Angola and Zimbabwe are hardly neutral and would be seen as the enemy by Nkunda and some others; and the rest do not have a lot of troops and less equipment.
“Logistic support will also be a challenge at best, not least because of limited airlift and poor weather conditions in the theatre. Airlift will, in fact, be necessary both to the theatre and within it, given the paucity of useable overland routes.
“As to political will, Angola and Zimbabwe will probably be quite happy to support Kabila; SA might be willing to add troops if it can find them, and would be more neutral. Botswana might be willing to make a short deployment, but is worried by Zimbabwe next door. Zambia is probably still deciding how it is to shape its future, and Tanzania has enough problems of its own, but might provide a battalion.
“The EU is already pretty heavily committed and will not find it easy to rustle up the troops for any serious force. Also, the UK has already said no. They might send a ‘fig leaf` battle group for a while at some stage, but nothing that will make a real difference. Look at EUFOR [rthe European force] in Chad: No one is under any illusions that its strength is at all adequate, but everyone seems happy to have ‘done something`,” Heitman says.
(Picture: Courtesy of the BBC)