The most important news in the world today isn’t about the civil war in Syria or the talks with Iran, but—if it holds up—the end of the seemingly endless conflict in central Africa, along the Congo-Rwanda border and the surrounding region. That’s where as many as 5 million have died since the mid-1990s (not counting the 800,000 who perished in Rwanda’s genocide in 1994).
Not only are millions dead, but as The Guardian reports, half of the region’s adults suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and one-fifth have considered suicide.
There’s still a long way to go, and there are plenty of armed groups still active in the area. But the apparent defeat and surrender of the M23 group is a major breakthrough and a step toward finally ending that incredibly destructive, interlocking series of wars. (A good account of the early and middle phases of the war, from 1996 through 2010, can be found in the wonderfully written but chilling book Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, by Jason K. Stearns.)
Russ Feingold, the former senator from Wisconsin who’s the US representative for the wars in central Africa, allowed himself to say: “This is a critical and exciting step in the right direction [in] one of the toughest problems in the world.” He added:
“This is a test case—it has great promise. It has enormous potential to add great credibility to UN peacekeeping operations (in other conflict zones). It has great promise and significance.”
A big reason M23 was able to sustain its senseless rampage is that it had the support of Rwanda, which had for years used proxies to intervene in the eastern Congo. Last year, a special report by a United Nations team of investigators pointed directly at Rwanda’s defense minister as responsible for M23:
The Government of Rwanda continues to violate the arms embargo by providing direct military support to the M23 rebels, facilitating recruitment, encouraging and facilitating desertions from the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and providing arms, ammunition, intelligence and political advice. The de facto chain of command of M23 includes Gen. Bosco Ntaganda and culminates with the Minister of Defense of Rwanda, Gen. James Kabarebe.
And the report added:
Senior officials of the Government of Uganda have also provided support to M23 in the form of direct troop reinforcements in Congolese territory, weapons deliveries, technical assistance, joint planning, political advice and facilitation of external relations.
Part of the reason why M23 decided to lay down its arms is because troops from the Congo more effectively battled there since the fall of a strategic city to M23, but perhaps more important is the fact that the UN and the African Union have engaged in the region and that world powers—including, rather late, pressure from the United States—have placed major pressure on Rwanda to halt it support for the group. As The New York Times reports: