Regional framework for state reconstruction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Author:Zachariah, George

"The Central African region needs more than 'merely' peace in the DRC. It needs an encompassing structural peace and security that would allow sustainable development to occur in the countries of the region ... an international conference on security and cooperation seems to be the most appropriate mechanism"

--A. Ajello, European Union special envoy to the Great Lakes (1)

Observers have dubbed the interrelated civil and state conflicts in the Great Lakes the "First World War of Africa," involving as it did eleven countries and innumerable armed groups. Reports put the death toll in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2 and 3.5 million, the bloodiest since the Second World War. (2)

The regional nature of violence is not unique. The conflicts in Central Asia, Western Africa and the Horn of Africa all share characteristics of "regional conflict formations." (3) They are comprised of interrelated civil wars, operating at different levels (local, provincial, national and regional) without respect for frontiers. "[T]hey arise from state collapse and they come in regional clusters. [They] take place ... between and inside states out of control of their actions, with privatized economies and security, and competing rebel groups, as well as multinational forces, vying for control of political space." (4)

The most important part of the solution is rebuilding states that have effective control of their territory, are democratically accountable aim are capable of cooperating with their neighbors. Without a state, there is a vacuum of order that leads to violent competition for wealth, power and security. To stop the current conflicts, and to reduce the risk of their future recurrence, requires both state reconstruction and changing patterns of governance, moving from predation to serving citizens and respecting individuals.

"States cannot be stable and developing with unstable and impoverished neighbors. It is awfully hard to develop the rule of law if your neighbor is an anarchic region ruled by armed militias." (5) Hence, there is also a prima facie need for regional-level action and coordination. As in economics, implementing an overarching institution would help to solve these problems of regional externalities, the public good and collective action.

While most literature focuses on the internal aspects of state reconstruction, this paper deals with necessary regional complements. It argues that both the Great Lakes Conference and international actors have important roles to play: first, in creating conditions for state reconstruction and building peace; second, in helping make the conference a success. To do so requires answering the following questions: What are the regional elements of this conflict? What are the realistic expectations of a conference? What ought to be the role of international actors and donors? How should the conference be structured, and what mechanisms should it utilize?

While everyone recognizes that leaders from the region must develop solutions, international actors can play a crucial role as facilitators. The region is among the poorest in the world. State and peace building must address not only security, but also development, governance, human rights and health. The mobilization of international resources and expertise can help.

The international community is neither monolithic nor a deus ex machina; each actor has its own political and economic interests and many have a mixed record in the region. Nonetheless, they have the resources and a responsibility to support peace building. This paper recommends a regional action plan for these international players.


On October 14, 1994, the UN Security Council proposed establishing an international conference on the Great Lakes. Since 1996, the Secretary-General has asked his special envoys to develop this organization, and in 1999 he appointed a Nairobi-based Special Representative (SRSG) to work with regional leaders, alongside the special envoy of the African Union (AU). In 2001, the SRSG, Ambassador Dinka, circulated a concept paper, which was agreed to by the six core countries: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The governments held the first meeting of national co-coordinators in Nairobi, June 23-24, 2003, and later decided to include Zambia.

The conference aims to initiate a process that will help "end the cycle of conflict and ensure durable peace, stability security, democracy and development in the whole region." (6) The four focus areas are peace and security, democracy and good governance, economic development and regional integration, and humanitarian and social issues. Two summits are initially planned, after which the conference may decide to continue meeting. The first summit (November 20, 2004) will agree on principles; the second (2005) will endorse action plans. Neighboring countries will be invited with the status of "co-opted members." (7)

There are three criticisms of this approach. First, the core problems are domestic, and "issues of governance, democracy, and security are largely mediated in domestic contexts that regional actors cannot control." (8) Second, the absence of any robust sub-regional organization leaves the Great Lakes "institutionally homeless." (9) Finally, critics charge that conflicts cannot serve as the basis for building regional institutions. This view holds that "the architectural foundations for a security mechanism in the region are nation-states, secure in their domestic domains and forging co-operative relationships in limited focused, and functional areas." (10)

Each of these challenges will be addressed in this paper. In summary, the response to the first is that there are specifically regional elements that need to be dealt with for peace to be established, which simultaneously have important domestic consequences. The "institutional homelessness" is a vacuum that the conference is intended to fill. Finally, the ties between the countries and communities are not solely based on violence. The European Union started with the aim of establishing security, but thrived because of integrative regional opportunities.

The conference needs to be a forum that brings together state and non-state actors to deal with the changing nature of regional interaction. The study of regionalism has traditionally focused on "the narrow and formal, state-centric, institutional-based official trade flow conception of regionalism ... old regionalism." It "States remain the essential building blocks with which regionalist arrangements are constructed." (12) The problem in Africa is that it is often the failure of states that causes regional problems. This requires a new lens: "Terms such as 'transnational war' or 'network war' better capture the relationship of combatants to the international system." (13) These relations go beyond violence and include the increasing numbers of non-state transnational networks (multinationals, NGOs, armed groups, refugees, diasporas) and flows (people, goods, capital, arms, narcotics). (14) These connections reduce the relevance of national borders, and require new types of responses.

Transnationalism means that various geographic planes collide with one another (global, regional, national, sub-national), and open to influences from the outside. Often, "what happens in Europe, the US, Southern Africa, and East Africa are as important or more important than what happens within the Great Lakes." (15) There is a long history of global influence on the Great Lakes, and much of it negative, if we think of the slave trade, colonialism or Cold War rivalry.

Global involvement requires a global response. The fruits of illegal exploitation end up in European, American and Chinese markets, and their profits fund arms and elites. International actors have an important role to play, not just by supporting state building, but also by controlling global flows, like arms, illegally exploited goods, mercenaries and drugs. Global involvement also means better coordination within governments, and between governments and donors on issues such as aid, debt relief, conditionality, trade policy, multinational conduct, remittances and commodity shock relief. The increasing networking of actors reduces transparency and therefore requires new oversight mechanisms.

The conference will provide international actors with a regional forum and interlocutors. It will act as a catalyst for regionally focused assistance and for managing the impact of global flows.

The next section will focus on peace building by addressing the causes of the conflict. This is followed by an examination of the theory and practice of regionalism and an analysis of recent peace efforts. Drawing on these lessons, the final section discusses solutions.


Regional conflicts involve various transnational flows and networks, which put considerable pressure on the state. Ultimately, these are violent struggles over power, resources and questions of identity. Each category contains a complex web of causes and consequences, which will be dealt with in turn. (16)

Regional Factors

The analysis is further complicated because regional factors often overlap and reinforce one another, and are closely intertwined with national factors. Here they are categorized by type, and nature, but these are not static classifications. Much of the analysis focuses on the DRC. While conflicts occurred in surrounding countries before 1996, it was really in that year that regionalization occurred. With Rwanda as its "epicenter," the DRC was "the theater" where the regional conflict played out. (17)

Power, Peace and Security

The violent struggle for control of territory, legitimate institutions and power can be attributed both to structural factors and human agency. It was carried out by armed groups, directed by competing leaders, some of whom acted in the...

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