Democracy, Peacekeeping and Regional Security in Africa

Commentary | July 13, 2010

Jacques Djoli Eseng ‘Ekeli is a Congolese senator representing the Tshuapa district in the province of L'Equateur. A member of the Liberation Movement of the Congo Party, he is Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo's Commission for Defense and Safety.  He also teaches public law at the Kinshasa University and is active in conflict prevention initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Africa in general.

Senator Djoli Eseng ‘Ekeli spoke with Irina Bratosin of EWI's Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention about conflicts in Africa and the role parliamentarians and the international community can play in addressing them.

PN: The United Nations Peace Mission has lately started withdrawing its troops from the DRC. Given the insurgency in eastern Congo, do you think that the army and the Congolese police are ready to control the situation on their own?

JD: No, I don’t think so. The government initiated it. We appreciate its willingness to defend the DRC’s sovereignty, but neither the army, nor the police are organized well enough to meet the needs of the population. It’s therefore absolutely right that the UN’s Security Council has not accepted the precipitated departure. We should strive to create a common program on a progressive retreat of the UN armed forces and at the same time reform our security system. Since the end of the hostilities in 2003, there has been a plan to restructure and integrate all the armed forces to have a national army that would be trained according to international standards.  Unfortunately, there are many constraints to reach this objective. The government has been considering a reform plan for the military since 2006 and has presented a couple of proposals to the parliament. But they are still being discussed in the parliament. I hope that they will be finally adopted by the end of September this year. So I hope that from the year 2011 we will see some changes and the financial and political constraints that hinder the armed forces reform will be eliminated 

PN: The DRC government seems to want UN troops out of the country as soon as possible. Why is that?

JD:  The government wants to give an impression that Congo is a sovereign state and that we are able to deal with all the problems ourselves without help from international forces. The UN mission in the DRC played a major role in deterring insurgency during the 2006 election.  

PN: Elections in the DRC will take place in 2011. Do you think the country can hold elections without violence?

JD: I may risk sounding a little bit pessimistic but I am afraid there might be a new outbreak of violence. The Independent Electoral Commission set up by Malumalu Apollinaire has caused a certain amount of problems because it was not unbiased. Moreover, this Commission wants to do all the administrative work to prepare for elections, for example it has changed the election dates putting the presidential elections ahead. It all means it has substantial power at its disposal.

It looks suspicious to me. I know that conflicts in Africa are often caused by bad organization of elections. I think the international community should keep an eye on the Commission’s activities. We don’t want anyone to disrupt our political system, which is still very fragile.

PN: What other challenges exist for maintaining peace and security in the DRC?

JD: First of all, the leading political actors in Congo have to realize that democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and elimination of violence are essential for sustainable development and a peace process, while the violence and fraud are the reasons for conflicts in Africa.

The second challenge is a regional one. Conflicts in Africa are not limited to separate countries but are spread across the region.  Elections in Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo will take place at nearly the same time, which can fuel another upsurge of the conflict in the area. .

The third challenge is an international one. The international community should not ignore our region. On the contrary, they should keep an eye on development in the region and maintain the message that peace comes from good governance, respect for human rights, and democracy. These are three levels of challenges that I see.

PN: You have mentioned that the upcoming elections might provoke more violence in neighboring countries. Are there any initiatives to cooperate at the parliamentary level to find regional or sub-regional solutions?

JD: Yes, there are some initiatives at different levels. They are supported by Belgium and the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa.  There are also initiatives on the Great Lakes level, but they lack internal coherence: there is a gap between the intentions and the actions. We have contacts with the NGOs that promote responsible leadership in the region. We need more peacebuilding actions, not only at the parliamentary but also at the top political level. Important decisions in Africa are often taken not in parliaments, but at the top executive level.

PN: What role can parliamentarians play in conflict prevention, in Africa in general and in Congo in particular?

JD: Parliamentarians have a fundamental role to play in peacebuilding. They should realize that politics is meant to pursue a positive transformation in a society. We need to establish networks among MPs from the neighboring countries so that parliamentarians from Congo could directly address the population of Rwanda, for example, and vice versa. We all want to lead a peaceful life. We want to bring our children to school, to have proper medical care, to have water and electricity. We want to live in countries which are not governed by armed forces but which adhere to the principles of human rights. And the interactions between MPs from different countries can help to achieve it. 

PN: As a parliamentarian, what are your short-term and long-term objectives in the pursuit of peace in Congo?

JD: As a member of the opposition, I am taking part in the parliamentary activities and political negotiations and debates and we try to make our messages reach the highest level so that we could push the government to introduce more laws to ensure more security and democracy. I am working quite a lot on the internal issues, such as issues regarding schools, hospitals, means of transport. The state’s presence is very poor in this domain and we have to push the authorities to do something about it. 

PN: How can the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention help Congo?

JD: We would like to use the expertise of the Network in terms of policy analysis, reform proposals, etc. We need the expertise from our African counterparts, from the OECD countries and even from Latin America because they also face problems related to development. But we need to get across the message that poverty is a precondition for violence. We should encourage more global cooperation to tackle the problem of poverty