By Fred Robarts
For the past few days, I have been glued to Twitter for updates on the situation in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu in eastern Congo. According to the latest reports, the Congolese national army has now retreated from the city, leaving it in the hands of the Rwandan-backed M23 rebel group. An M23-associated twitter feed has just claimed “the city is safe, population should return home, shops should be open, activities back to normal, let’s wait”. Journalists on the spot say M23 commanders have been parading in Goma before crowds of supporters.
The news has sparked student-led demonstrations against the UN in Kinshasa and Kisangani: the peacekeeping force had long promised to defend Goma, and the Security Council has been unable to do more than issue a press release and apply targeted sanctions to one of the M23 leaders. That these events take place in the shadow of the crisis in Gaza may be no coincidence. It has certainly limited news coverage and diplomatic attention.
Meanwhile, countless displaced people have nowhere to go, faced with the double threat of victorious rebels and (arguably more problematic) humiliated army troops. (Oxfam have just released a report on the plight of civilians in eastern Congo generally.)
On 1st January 2013, Rwanda will take up its seat on the Security Council. Having broken just about every rule in the UN Charter by directly backing a rebellion in a neighbouring country, and not for the first time, this represents a great failure of diplomacy and does not bode well for next year’s deliberations on Congo in New York.
Here in the UK, Andrew Mitchell’s decision to overrule his officials’ objections by providing budgetary support to Rwanda is looking worse than ill-judged. Let’s hope his successor Justine Greening will recognise that UK taxpayers won’t stand for subsidising proxy wars.
Fred Robarts was the Coordinator of last year’s UN Group of Experts on the DRC