IRIN interviewed Ambassador Busho Ndinyenka, a director of the Ugandan foreign ministry on 10 December. Busho led a Ugandan delegation to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) capital, Kinshasa, for a meeting on 28-29 September to follow up on the implementation of the Ituri Pacification Committee (IPC), which was created under the Luanda accord of 6 September 2002 between the DRC and Uganda.
QUESTION: Given the continuing insecurity and massacres in Ituri, what do you make of the task ahead of the IPC?
ANSWER: I think it is a challenging undertaking, but one that can be accomplished. It is going to require real muscle, though. It's not enough to meet and agree on what to do. It's going to require taking action with or without the cooperation of the fighting groups. If the Committee cannot get them to agree, it's good enough to have them talking, because one day they will agree. I do not see any problem if they are willing to talk.
Q. Some groups are already opposed to the IPC. How do you deal with such a challenge?
A: We are aware that every action we are going to take, not only through the IPC, will be looked at with suspicion. This is expected in a situation where different groups have different interests. As soon as we signed the Luanda agreement in Angola, one armed militia in Ituri disowned the agreement, saying they were not consulted. This was the UPC [Union des patriotes congolais) led by Thomas Lubanga, because they claim control of Bunia. They think that our effort in Uganda and the government of the DRC has sold them.
Q. So what are the real problems in Ituri?
A: There is in the first place a lot of misinformation on what is happening in Ituri. Every time people write about the situation there, you clearly see that they do not understand the problem. Even the UN panel of experts' report was misinformed and based on rumours. The problem of Ituri is not that there is hatred between the Lendu and Hema plus other tribes. At the grass roots, there is no hostility among the people.
The problem is that there are interested parties who inflame the existing but tolerable differences for political gain. If people cannot find a reason for the killings, then somebody is inflaming them for political gain. The motivation is to attempt to outsmart each other. Different political groups to further their interests only use the other issues that have been raised, such as land, property and lack of authority, as justification.
Q. How, then, do you deal with it?
A: This is a problem of selfish politicians who have created certain perceptions. We shall have to deal with these perceptions. Although our forces are eventually all going to be out of the DRC, we are not oblivious of the situation. We share a common border, so we are conscious of the problems.
Q.What are these perceptions? How are they inculcated into the minds of the people in Ituri?
A: You see, there are players and trends. The different RCD-Kisangani [Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-Kisangani] leaders are perceived differently at different times depending on the tendencies and trends they take. When Wamba dia Wamba was the president of the RCD-Kisangani, he was seen as an academic. Almost all his leadership were composed of academics. These were people equipped with textbook material.
When they saw the disparity in wealth between the Hema and Lendu, they thought indeed the Lendu were oppressed people, who therefore needed justice, as the rules require. The Hema immediately rejected him, because he was seen as pro-Lendu, having recruited his forces from mainly the Lendu community.
When Mbusa [Nyamwisi] took over, he also took sides, and championed first a Lendu cause. He too was rejected. Today, because Mbusa seems to support the peace process and has been in Kinshasa, there is a perception in Ituri that he gets military support from [DRC President Joseph] Kabila for his APC [Armee populaire congolaise] forces against UPC.
Jean-Pierre Mulondo [Lonpondo], who is the governor of Ituri, appointed by Mbusa, has 12 chiefs under him, and all of them are Lendu. The UPC thinks his administration is a Lendu affair.
Today, although Lubanga is a Hema, he is seen not to be a pure Hema. Being a Gegere [a subclan of the Hema who speak the Lendu language], he is looked at as an interface between the Lendu and Hema. So there is likely to be disagreement between him and Chief Kahwa, another militia leader currently working with UPC in Bunia. Chief Kahwa is a Hema from [the south] and is more respected as a traditional chief.
Q. What is the way forward, therefore?
A: I strongly believe that the IPC provides the way forward. It is possible to solve the problem. So my view is that it's possible to put pressure on both the Lendu and the Hema to come to an arrangement that ends the violence. One of the actions is to disarm the different groups, but I'm afraid this will [have to] wait for a new political dispensation in Kinshasa. Once there is new political arrangement, then you can remove the warlords such as Mbusa.
Once the likes of Mbusa are absorbed in state structures, they will integrate their forces, and so you minimise competition. The likes of Lubanga just have to fall into line once there is authority.
Another solution is to have affirmative action on the part of the disadvantaged groups. The truth is that the Hema are the most educated and the richest. Right now there is chaos, so no one is in charge. So you empower the others without denying those already in advantaged positions their rights.
Q. What role can the international community play in ending the conflict?
A: Well, the UN is already there. The UN approves [of] the idea of the IPC, so they are supporting us. But the UN should have already done much more. The UN could have trained a police force to enforce order in Ituri and ensure that that police force is paid. I think their problem is that they fear to make mistakes. They think that if they create a police force, and genocide takes place, then the UN will be blamed. If you fear to make mistakes [you] then sit and do nothing, [as] if doing nothing is not a mistake.
Q. There are allegations that some UPDF [Uganda People's Defence Forces] officers are fuelling the crisis to benefit from the spoils of war.
A: I find that argument naïve. There is no way the Uganda government would be pulling out its forces and doing everything it can to restore peace in Congo, [and] then it allows its officers to fuel the crisis. The UPDF would not fuel such a crisis in Ituri, because it is not a rich part of Congo. If one talks of Bafwasende, what is there? The Kilomoto gold mine which was closed years ago? Why would the Congolese rebels be fighting for taxes at the border with Uganda if there were minerals there? Those who make such allegations are not informed.
For example, that UN report was expected to be a cover-up by those who exploited Africa for so long. But because the report emphasises that end-user countries of the alleged illegally exploited DRC resources be put to task, you can see how the international community has lost interest in the whole thing.
Q. How is the IPC to be constituted?
We are working closely with the UN. After the September meeting in Kinshasa, we named a planning team of six. The team is composed of two Ugandans, two DRC government officials and two MONUC [Un mission in the DRC] staff. The team had already travelled to Bunia to establish the IPC, but could not continue because of the confusion there. The Kinshasa team was accused of supporting the Lendu.
But, in general terms, the IPC is meant to consist of parties, political, military, economic and social forces active in Bunia areas and the inhabitants' grass-roots communities.
So the Kinshasa meeting was what is referred to as an experts' meeting for the implementation of the provisions of the Luanda agreement. The broad objectives of the IPC are to lead to cessation of hostilities in the region; identification of the causes of the conflicts; defining of a mechanism for peacekeeping and maintenance of law and order in Ituri; restoration of state authority; and the completion of the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from Bunia among other things.
We still think we must withdraw by 15 December as provided by the Luanda accord. We are now in more consultations with the UN, and we think they should find a neutral force to take over from us in Bunia.
While in Kinshasa, we selected Bunia as the venue for the work of the IPC, which was to be of 10 days' duration. And we had already created a the preparatory subcommittee to immediately start work.