On April 18th, eighteen fighting groups, or informal bands of guerrillas, decided to sign a peace treaty that would imply the disbanding of their armed groups. These groups have been known since the beginning of the Congo wars in 1998 as Mayi Mayi, or “Water! Water!,” which refers to the dawa (magic water) the fighters used to put on their bodies to protect themselves from enemy bullets.
On the 18th, the government negotiator, Father Malu Malu, the clever Catholic priest who had already been President of the electoral commission during the national elections in 2006, said that the war was finally over. In a way, he was right.
The Mayi Mayi proved to be a tough consequence of the Rwandese invasion in 1998. At first they fought the invading army, but Rwandese intelligence soon penetrated them, manipulated them, got them to fight each other (most were tribal militias), and even got some to come over to their side and fight their erstwhile comrades. When the war formally ended near the close of 2002, many Mayi Mayi groups refused to disarm. Some turned to banditry; and when the Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda started his insurrection against the government, they fought him on Kinshasa’s behalf since the Congolese were completely inefficient and incapable of doing it.
When the Rwandese Army entered Congo in late January of this year with the government’s approval, the Mayi Mayi melted away. The reason being that many of them had been loosely allied with the Forces Démocratique pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), the former genocidal group of anti-Kigali exiles. Many Mayi Mayi groups worked with the FDLR to run small artisanal mines of various non-ferrous metals that they would sell…mostly to Kigali! This strange commercial arrangement came to a brutal end with the January Rwandese offensive, which left the Mayi Mayi bereft of their former allies. It is this situation of economic difficulty coupled with intense pressure from the government and the international community that eventually lead to the April 18th agreement.
The obvious question is: “Will it last?” Well, it might, if the right kind of post-demobilization program of economic and social reintegration is brought to bear. Everybody is tired of war, even some of the young men who derive difficult and temporary benefits from it. Since April 18ththe problem has moved from a military to a social one, and if peace is to be found, the former fighters must find economic opportunities that will make it worth their while to refrain from digging up the guns they have certainly salted away as an insurance policy. This is where the international community comes into play. The UN and other politically correct groups love peace, but bringing up the rear end, so to speak, is often neglected. It is much less glamorous, it takes much longer, and the press coverage is scant, if any. If we want Father Malu Malu to be right and the war to stop, a very reasonable modicum of economic effort must be displayed.
Gérard Prunier is a widely acclaimed journalist as well as the Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He has published over 120 articles and five books, including The Rwanda Crisis and Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide. His most recent book, Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe focuses on Congo, the Rwandan genocide, and events that led to the death of some four million people. Living in Ethiopia allows Prunier a unique view of the politics and current events of Central and Eastern Africa. Be sure to check back on Tuesdays to read more Notes From Africa.