The recent Uganda Peoplesâ€™ Defence Forces (UPDF) attack on the Lordâ€™s Resistance Army (LRA) camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was certainly the right thing to do, although the assault itself was ill-timed, poorly planned and incompetently executed. Before the assault, the Uganda government sought and obtained a no-objection from the DRC government to enter their territory and attack LRA camps.
Of course it was good to involve the DRC government in this effort, although it risked the secrecy of the mission. LRAâ€™s massacres of innocent Congolese civilians should have made the DRC government develop a vested interest in joining the operation. However, Uganda sought the no-objection from the DRC largely to avoid international condemnation that it had invaded that nationâ€™s territory.
Over the years, I have grown increasingly hostile to the idea of respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of DRC. That nation has a dysfunctional state that is unable to exercise effective administrative and military control over its territory. This dysfunction imposes high costs on DRCâ€™s neighbours. For instance, armed groups hostile to the governments of Rwanda and Uganda assemble on its territory; they recruit and train rebel armies to launch attacks on these countries.
In such circumstances, it is wrong to ask DRCâ€™s neighbours to respect its so-called sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Congolese state exercises little or no sovereignty over most of its territory. This is a major reason armed bands freely assemble on it and inflict harm on its neighbours. The victims of Kichwamba in Uganda bear testimony to this. Therefore, the DRC state cannot claim any territorial integrity.
Indeed, under international law, nations threatened by armed bands based on a neighbourâ€™s territory have a â€œright of hot pursuitâ€; they can enter to attack such armed groups. However, this principle holds that hot pursuit should not turn into permanent occupation; it should be specific in its objectives and have a limited time frame. Yet today, for dysfunctional states like DRC, semi-permanent occupation should be accepted.
Besides, these international norms were developed before the costs of dysfunctional statehood became apparent. We have seen that dysfunctional states do not threaten their neighbours only. In the case of Afghanistan, the costs were imposed on a distant nation in form of 9/11. In case of Somalia, the costs are imposed on international shipping that affects many nationsâ€“ neighbours or not.
These developments should make us rethink these concepts.
Before World War Two, sovereignty was understood within the meaning of the Westphalia Treaty of 1648 as effective control over oneâ€™s territory. This facilitated the evolution of strong states in Europe because it compelled them to build effective military and administrative systems to demonstrate sovereignty.
After the world war, sovereignty came to be guaranteed by the international community. The nations of Africa, born after World War Two, have been the biggest beneficiaries of this concept but also its losers. No nation can invade another and either permanently occupy its territory or annex a part of it. This may have achieved some short-term humanitarian objectives â€“ like limiting wars. But it has disabled the mechanism that in previous times facilitated the evolution of strong and effective statehood.
Today, the Congolese state has little incentive to gain and exercise effective control over its vast territory. For limited control of a few mineral-rich regions, the ruling elites in Kinshasa can cream off a handsome rent to allow them live expensive lifestyles, secure that the international community guarantees their territorial integrity. International norms have thus become the source of this impunity.
I have encountered this irresponsible attitude of the Congolese severally at international conferences. Instead of being concerned with reconstructing their state to form a formidable presence over its vast territory, they are always asking the international community to protect them from aggression by Uganda and Rwanda. How can a large and rich nation like DRC be brought to its knees by these small neighbours?
The Congolese elite do not address themselves to the internal dysfunctions that invite neighbours to invade their country. They are even unconcerned with the costs imposed on their neighbours by the inability of their state to exercise effective control over its territory. They do not see that interference in Congolese affairs is a result, NOT a cause of their stateâ€™s dysfunction. The worst enemy of Congo is the naive international cartel of good intentions that cheers them on as they make these outlandish claims.
Thus, the UN has been concerned with how Congoâ€™s neighbours have â€œlootedâ€ its resources. Again, I hold an unconventional view that Congolese neighbours adversely affected by its absentee state should be free to use its resources if they occupy its territory. For example, Uganda invaded Congo in 1998 to fight the ADF rebels who were based there. Why should I, as a citizen of Uganda, pay taxes for our military occupation of Congo when it is the dysfunctions of the Congolese state that forced my government to enter its territory in the first place?
There has been a lot of moralising and very little analysis on the problem of DRC. The mistake for Uganda was to make its citizens pay for the costs of our occupation of Congo through taxation whereas the benefits of the said â€œlootâ€ went to private profiteers within our military. The Rwandan state was smarter, or so the UN Panel of Experts claimed. They organised their â€œlootâ€ to fatten their national treasury and from this they financed their occupation of DRC. If this is true, then Rwanda did the right thing.
In my earlier days, I used to be one of the moralists on the DRC question. Over time, I have realised that the carte blanche given to the Congolese elite has undermined their incentives to build a more effective state. The best solution for DR Congo now is to remove international guarantees on the Congolese stateâ€™s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In the short term, there will be negative humanitarian consequencesâ€“ in form of war. But it is the only incentive to induce Kinshasa to think seriously about building effective state capacity. Only an effective state will bring security and prosperity to the Congolese.