By Frederick Golooba-Mutebi
Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been unable to secure peace in his country.
As a crucible of violent political conflict, the Great Lakes region of East and Central Africa has a record spanning half a century. From Uganda through Rwanda and Burundi to the Democratic Republic of Congo and as far north as South Sudan, independence brought with it numerous internecine wars and a trail of coups and counter coups whose outcome amounts to millions of lives lost. One enduring lesson from all the conflicts is that while wars are easy to start, ending them is not as straightforward. Nor is dealing with their after-effects that often manifest in broken societies and collapsed states.
Arguably the most salutary example of the difficulties entailed in trying to end war and reconstitute states and societies rent asunder by protracted conflict is the former Zaire. Many years have passed since the war to oust Mobutu Sese Seko was fought, and years since Zaire was rechristened Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by leaders few would have expected to do worse than he had done. Why since that war the DRC has defied all attempts to pacify it and create conditions to enable its people to live in peace and dignity is one of the most-debated questions.
In thinking about the problems that afflict what is potentially Africa’s wealthiest country, it is tempting to think that they are somehow unique, and that it is that uniqueness that makes them so intractable. The history of its neighbours, however, suggests that they are not. Two of them, Uganda and Rwanda, offer some instructive lessons about how the task of turning around war-torn countries can be approached. Both countries have literally been to hell and back. Their post-war recovery has been much faster and more sustained than the most optimistic analysts would have dared imagine.
What has been their secret?
In both countries, war was followed by political pacts arrived at through consensus-building processes presided over by the same political organisations that spearheaded change. Details may differ, but both chose not to monopolise power and instead to build inclusive systems in which potential rivals would play important roles. Post-war political coalitions ensured that groups with the capacity to challenge and disrupt the new status quo if excluded, were not left out. Equally important, coalitions were built on widely agreed rules for managing the post-war state. Therefore, the nature of governments that take power after major wars determines whether there will be durable peace and stability.
Inclusiveness on its own, however, does not guarantee that post-war coalitions and the peace and stability they engender will last. It must be under-girded by the consolidation of coercive force within the security systems of the state. Such consolidation demands the establishment and maintenance of national security forces that answer to a single chain of command and are able to ensure the loyalty of officers and rank-and-file men and women. Regular pay and good working conditions are essential if loyalty is to be guaranteed and brigandage avoided. Post-war contexts that allow for the emergence of rival forces to national armies are not conducive to building durable states.
Also, viable state-building projects must happen within the context of rational economic management and growing revenue-raising capacity. State consolidation will not take place amid economic crisis and falling or static revenues. If anything, poor economic performance is a key factor in processes of state collapse. There are many things post-war governments in Rwanda and Uganda could be criticised for. Both, however, are noted for their consistently sound economic management and success at boosting internal revenue mobilisation.
The role of international actors is pivotal. For example, aid in the form of financial assistance to cover gaps left by inadequate revenue mobilisation is essential to any state-building effort. It contributes to sustaining a formative state through war-induced economic crisis. At the same time, it is essential that even a state in the making should resist the tendency by external friends to want to go beyond simply offering help to seeking to impose ideas and take over the running of state institutions. A post-war state must learn quickly how to manage international actors and avoid dancing to their whims and dictates. They don’t have all the answers. Many times they don’t have any answers, but only ideas to experiment with, whose harmful effects they are happy to blame on someone else. Talking of harm, some international actors will seek to champion agendas, including the promotion of competitive politics, even where conditions are not yet ripe for adversarial political contestation. It could easily lead to renewed violence. Pressure on premature political systems to “open up” could force nervous governments to adopt repressive policies designed to suppress potential opposition organisations before elections are held. While opening up is eventually desirable and inevitable, it is best arrived at through processes of internal stocktaking, however imperfect, than compulsion by impatient international actors eager to export their favourite brand of pluralist politics. Good intentions aside, they nearly always get it wrong and create new problems.
This article was originally published on The East African.