The attempt to balkanise the Democratic Republic of Congo
A revisionism of the uti possidetis juris principle that is dangerous for Africa
Frédéric Boyenga Bofala
President of the Union for the Republic National Movement
The idea of a single, peacefully organised sub-region of the Great Lakes and Central Africa has been one of my obsessions for many years now. The absence of peace, the unstable security situation, the humanitarian tragedy and the resurgence of violence which looks set to sow chaos in East Congo, despite the presence of MONUSCO, all worry me, but they do not take away my hope. These tragedies are due not only to the rise in a form of sub-regional fascism, but also to the Manichean play of certain hidden forces, through the build-up of hatred or ignorance, through a refusal to undertake genuine dialogue, through total unwillingness to acknowledge what is happening around us. The Great Lakes region will not recover stability and prosperity through the balkanisation of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – quite the reverse. It will achieve them through the definitive resolution of the crisis in the Congo.
In the context of the persistent Great Lakes crisis, which threatens the existence of the Congo, I have taken up the challenge of writing this article because my concern over its future is so distressing. The trigger for me to write it was my desire to contribute, in my small way, to standing in the way of any action violating the integrity of the DRC. It seemed to me that the crisis threatening the existence of the Congo demanded broader-based thinking. Specifically, this thinking is a search for the elements of a response as a basis for combating any attempt to balkanise the DRC. The thinking has taken the form of this article. It has been undertaken with the goal of putting an end to the balkanisation attempt, and, finally, allowing the region to emerge from deadlock.
The dangerous game that some States are playing in pushing for the dismantling of the Congo certainly casts suspicion upon the way in which the Great Lakes area has become mired in crisis. Strangely, this push for the dismantling of the Congo, which runs counter to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, is being carried out in full awareness of the uti possidetis juris principle and that of the inviolability of borders, Resolution 1514(xv) ‘Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples’, Article 6 of which states that ‘[a]ny attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations’, Resolution 3314 (XXIX) on the definition of aggression, the case law of the International Court of Justice on the inviolability of borders and the few regrettable historical precedents that we have seen globally concerning border violations and the illegal acquisition of territory.
This article is addressed, first and foremost, to the United Nations, guardian of universal remembrance and guarantor of international peace and stability, to the African Union, guarantor of the inviolability of African borders, to the European Union, and to all the historic partners of the Congo, namely the USA, Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Israel and all other global powers. I believe it cannot be denied that guaranteeing the borders resulting from colonisation is a way of making it impossible for the demons of the past to return. I do not wish the international community to feel, once again, the guilt felt so painfully about the Anschluss. If the international community allows the right to inviolability of borders to be infringed in the Congo I fear that Central Africa may undergo the fate suffered by Europe when the totalitarian countries called into question the Treaty of Versailles, destabilising the continent by redrawing the borders to satisfy their desires for territory. As we know, this situation led to the tragedy of the Second World War and the devastation of a Europe that had already been bled dry by the 1914 conflict.
I call upon the international community and the historic partners of the DRC to look at history once again and to guard against any attempt to violate the right to inviolability of the Congo’s borders, which can be likened to a dark ages revisionism of the consecrated uti possidetis juris principlein its application to decolonisation and a violation of the principle of the inviolability of borders resulting from it. I consider that an acquiescent attitude towards the regimes that are attempting to violate the right of inviolability of the Congo’s borders, irrespective of the lame excuses that they may use, is revisionism which threatens the stability of the Great Lakes region and the whole of Central Africa.
I would like to inform any reader who wishes to read this article with this in mind, namely as a wake-up call, urging a realisation that a violation of the Congo’s integrity will result in the more widespread undermining of borders and a weakening and disintegration of the sub-region of Central Africa and the Great Lakes, that I stand behind every word of it.
For some time now the Congo has been threatened with being broken up by its Rwandan and Ugandan neighbours. In my book ‘au nom du Congo Zaïre’ (in the name of Congo Zaire), in a paragraph entitled ‘from the nightmare to the solution’, I said that our country has an inexorable and formidable enemy on its eastern border, which increasingly frequently, and for a long time now, has been the author of provocations against our country; it will never give up until the right time has finally arrived for the balkanisation of Congo Zaire. There are grounds for fearing that this event may be inevitable, and may be approaching fast, given the instability in East Congo.
Everyone must have realised that Rwanda was pursuing, with an unyielding logic, the aims it had at the start of the war of the Great Lakes in October 1996. For nobody will believe that Rwanda, in the most decisive struggle of its history, staked human, physical and financial resources, which it certainly does not have in abundance, just in order to receive redress in exchange for the losses it had suffered. Even the entire region of Kivu would not be enough to explain the energy with which Rwanda is conducting its military, diplomatic and business offensive to keep the Congo permanently unstable. The truth is that this is just a part of a huge programme for its future: dismantling Congo Zaire and breaking it down into a collection of small provincial States, conquering living space for Rwanda: it believes that the necessary space can only be sought inside the Congo’s eastern borders. The aim of the Rwandan offensive is clear: Rwanda seeks, certainly, to make the nation more secure but, above all, to expand. In other words, Rwanda has a problem: conquering territory. Rwanda has a way of achieving it: the permanent destabilisation of the Congo. And so long as the conflict pitting Congo Zaire and Rwanda against each other consists in defence by the Congo against Rwandan aggression, the instability in the Congo will lead inescapably towards its balkanisation. Only those in power in the Congo cannot see this. As if blinded, they travel alongside a corpse and think that they can see, in the Congo’s decomposition, the signs of a resurrection. This unlucky alliance of the oligarchy that is in power in the DRC and the illusory Congolese State carries within it the seeds of our country’s doom.
By basely seeking to give to the outside world the impression that the war in East Congo is just a revolution by mutineers and that Kivu and Ituri are not threatened with disintegration and annexation, the oligarchy in power in the Congo is exhibiting rejection and distrust of the country. For a long time, I have seen clearly that this oligarchy was deceiving the Congolese people and the international community and that the entire ruling clique was, in fact, not concerned at all with the interests of the Congolese nation, but with unjustly enriching the oligarchs. Now, seeing them prepared to sacrifice the country’s integrity for that reason and, if necessary, to let the Congo perish, I have realised what 10 years of subservience and compromises have done to them. Seeing them incapable of bringing the Congo out of this deadlock, all I felt was a desire to add my rage to that of the Congolese battered by what is happening to our country.
For some time now, an instinctive call has been emerging from the people of the Congo for the defence of national unity and safeguarding of the territorial integrity of the Congo, our motherland. This unanimous call, which is an expression of a deep feeling within the heart of every Congolese, can only be explained through the historical education of a genuine patriotism, never polluted, which even at the time of forgetfulness, despite current insurmountable difficulties, makes the voice of the past speak softly, but steadily, of building a Congo more beautiful than before within the borders resulting from colonisation since 1885.
To justify their project, those in favour of the partition of the Congo back up their arguments with various elements not based on international law, and marshal competing arguments to call into question the existence of the Democratic Republic of Congo within its current borders as inherited from colonial partition in 1885. Behind the words of this song can be heard a little disharmonious tune that we know well: the Congo is too big to be well managed by the Congolese, its borders are imperfect, and do not form natural boundaries. Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda do not have viable living space compared to that of the Congo: the Congo is too big. And we reach the conclusion that the annexation by Rwanda and Uganda of Kivu for the former and Ituri for the latter is desirable, through the argument that the acquisition of these new territories will be enough to ensure these nations’ futures. What a retrograde step! Theories such as these, based on the conquest of Lebensraum, are intrinsically destabilising and have not been accepted by international law as a means of acquiring title to assume sovereignty. Let us image, for just a moment, that the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, on the pretext of its small size, decided to extend its borders beyond Arlon in the Belgian province of Luxembourg, that Switzerland reclaimed the Haute Savoie from France to enlarge its living space, and the same for Mexico, which might reclaim New Mexico, California or Texas from the United States of America, or even the Netherlands, which, in the name of history, might reclaim some sections of territory from Belgium. Agreeing with theories like these would amount to basing land ownership on past situations which have changed over the ages. It would involve redrawing the maps of Europe and Asia, dissolving almost all African States and removing some stars from the American flag. And in the case of the Congo, it would amount to legitimising the annexation of territories through dismantling a State by acts of aggression as defined in Article 3 of Resolution 3314 (XXIX) ‘any annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof’.
The rule of international law applicable to the demarcation of borders and the acquisition of territorial title is uti possidetis juris. In fact, rather than opting, as requested by the Accra Pan-African Conference in 1958, for a review of the borders established by the colonial powers, the new States chose a wise solution, namely to apply the rule of uti possidetis juris: they became independent within the framework of the borders of the colonial empires. The African States adopted the principle of ‘continue to rule that which you possess’, which is the literal definition of uti possidetis juris. And this possession is guaranteed through the principle of the inviolability of borders. This solution was entrenched through the adoption by the Heads of State and Government of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) of the Cairo resolution of 22 July 1964.
After the independence of the colonial territories of Africa and Asia, the inviolability of borders became an obligation under international law, enshrined in the principle of uti possidetis juris.
The United Nations has made the inviolability of borders one of the consistent foundations of its activities on international peace, security and stability. In the 1980s, it opposed Libya’s territorial ambitions because it knew that inertia in the face of the danger threatening Chad would lead, in the long term, to a breakdown of the borders inherited by the African continent from colonisation. These borders were undoubtedly imperfect, but as nobody knew exactly what was there before European colonisation, they had to be adhered to. In addition, in terms of history, including very ancient history, I think I can say that apart from the mythical garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve lived, whose boundaries were put in place and demarcated naturally by the supreme architect and surveyor of the universe, all other territorial demarcations are the work of man in his search for the acquisition of assets, domination and enslavement of others. There is no modern State in the world whose territory has borders naturally demarcated by providence. These demarcations have been the work of conquest, allegiances and colonisations throughout the world, and Africa has not escaped this phenomenon. This way of acquiring territory or demarcating borders through the violation of law, however, no longer forms part of universal accepted practice, since the 1945 Charter of San Francisco.
The United Nations, keeping to its principled position on the inviolability of borders, condemned Argentina when it invaded the Falkland Islands, or ‘las Malvinas’, which belonged to the British crown. In August 1990, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq once again unilaterally and forcibly called into question borders recognised by the international community, and this was strongly opposed. In January 1991, with a Security Council mandate, the international community embarked upon the Gulf War, which ended one month later with the liberation of the occupied emirate and the defeat of Iraqi forces.
In 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany set an example. In achieving German reunification, it was charged by the international community with respecting the inviolability of the Oder-Neisse border, separating it from Poland; that country had in part been built on the former territory of the Reich in 1945. It did so. On 14 November 1990 the treaty confirming the Oder-Neisse line as the definitive border between Germany and Poland was signed in Warsaw. In fact, Article 2 of the German-Polish treaty states that: ‘[t]he Contracting Parties declare that the frontier between them is inviolable now and in future and mutually pledge to respect unconditionally their sovereignty and territorial integrity.’ Here is an example that should be followed: powerful Germany respecting the inviolability of borders.
I fear, above all, that calling the Congolese borders into question may lead to a weakening and disintegration of the sub-region. While I know that Rwanda’s and Uganda’s leaders, encouraged by a few powers that remain concealed, are launching their peoples headlong into a bloody and criminal venture, I refuse, in the name of the old brotherhood between our peoples, to participate in a trial of strength in the sub-region. That is why I would now be ashamed if I allowed this article to give the impression that a Congolese politician could be an enemy of certain nations.
However, one cannot continually defy the international community, regardless of the reasons given. Nor can one continue to postpone solutions indefinitely, letting the situation and the general malaise in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo worsen; the sufferings that the Congolese people have endured and continue to endure, the injustices and worries that they suffer require that a strategic action plan and a work programme be implemented to guarantee, finally, the pacification of the Great Lakes region and national recovery. In view of the terrifying prospects facing the Congolese nation, we can see more clearly than ever that peace in the Great Lakes region is the only war worth waging. It is no longer a plea, but a duty for the international community to make a definitive choice between hell and reason, which must guide all action taken to put an end to the tragedy in the Congo. It is with this in mind that I have proposed in my book, ‘Au nom du Congo Zaïre’, a five-year plan for the definitive settlement of the Great Lakes crisis and the revival of the regional integration process.
This five-year plan contains a set of proposals based on strict respect for the principle of inviolability of borders, enshrined in the uti possidetis juris principle. The aim of these proposals is to give specific, relevant responses to the direct, observed and reported causes of the continuing insecurity feeding the conflict. These causes are: the difficulties the United Nations is experiencing, in the action taken by MONUSCO, in maintaining as best it can effective peace, which in reality has never been re-established, the large-scale presence of weapons, illegal arms trafficking and the proliferation of armed gangs in the region.
To actively and realistically remedy these factors contributing to insecurity, which are hampering all constructive dialogue for a return to lasting peace in the Great Lakes region, I have submitted to the members of the United Nations Security Council, under whose responsibility the implementation of this plan falls, a proposal for the adoption by the Security Council of a resolution for demilitarisation and disarmament in Ituri and Kivu and the establishment of a demilitarised zone between the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and South Sudan. I invite readers to explore this proposal for a resolution in more depth by consulting the second part of my book ‘Au nom du Congo Zaïre’, because this article does not set out to be exhaustive on this point, but merely to give the reasons for my fears regarding the risky pursuit of the process of dismembering the DRC.
I will restrict myself to saying that, with regard to MONUSCO’s mandate, I considered it vital to propose to the Security Council an amendment to its terms in order to set out more clearly the mandatory scope of measures to be taken under Chapter VII and to ensure, practically speaking, that they were not subject to challenge. Since the mission’s main aim is to re-establish and maintain peace through demilitarisation and disarmament, it will therefore be possible to lay down clear objective criteria for assessing MONUSCO’s activities and making any adjustments required.
Once peace has thus been re-established and maintained, plans will need to be made for the reconstruction of our economies, and their collective security and defence will need to be organised. In the five-year plan, I also recommend the creation of a constructive federal partnership between all the States in the sub-region. This would be a union to further promote security and stability in the region, while taking into account political, socio-economic and environmental aspects. This should be achieved by organising an intergovernmental conference on security, defence, peace and regional cooperation, and, within this framework, entering into a stability pact on security and defence, and setting up a mutual security and defence organisation for the States of Central Africa, the Great Lakes region, and South Sudan.
Throughout this article, I have therefore attempted to make it clear that the stabilisation of the Great Lakes region cannot be achieved through the balkanisation of the DRC, nor through the annexation of its provinces of Kivu and Ituri by Rwanda and Uganda, but rather through the definitive settlement of the crisis it has been suffering for over a decade. My greatest hope is for my country to regain its unity, cohesion and greatness, and for Congo Zaire, Rwanda and Uganda to come to an agreement for peace in the sub-region. Moreover, I know that neither Congo Zaire, Rwanda nor Uganda would lose anything by opening up to each other in a wider sub-region of Central Africa – quite the reverse. We still have a long way to go, however, and the Great Lakes region remains war-torn.