On Saturday 28/7/12, in a rare press conference in Kinshasa, Congolese president Joseph Kabila, answered questions from the national press. The focus was mainly on two subjects: war in North Kivu and upcoming France-Afrique Summit scheduled to be held in Kinshasa in October of this year.
Among the Congolese president’s answers, there is one point he highlighted in relation to the situation in Eastern Congo, which got me thinking. And this was the state of arms embargo that DRC has been facing from the international community. My question has since been, ‘how a sovereign country can be not allowed to equip itself appropriately when its territory is persistently a theatre of external aggression through the tens of armed groups and militias, particularly in Eastern provinces close to Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi?’
The journalist who asked the question to president Kabila was as frustrated as probably most Congolese must be on the fact that their country has been for many years unable to have a well equipped, disciplined and trained army capable of defending the integrity of DRC and guarantee security to its population.
Kabila’s answer appeared to highlight the fact that, because of many years of wars, DRC had suffered arms embargoes after arms embargoes. He added that they were being removed gradually. The process is ongoing but has also been unfortunately very slow.
Key UN and EU legislations
The arms embargo on Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been imposed by United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) laws, and implemented by different countries manufacturing weapons and military equipment.
“The UN adopted Resolution 1493 on 28 July 2003. This imposed an arms embargo on Congolese armed groups and militias. This UN arms embargo has subsequently been extended, renewed and modified, specifically by Resolution 1596 on 18 April 2005. The embargo covers the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms and related material or training assistance to groups operating in the DRC. The current UN resolution is Resolution 1807 (March 2008),” says Business Link, which is a UK support agency for businesses.
The same source on arms embargo legislation applying to DRC indicates additionally that, “the EU originally agreed to impose an arms embargo on the DRC (then Zaire) on 7 April 1993. This legislation is titled Common Position 2002/829/CFSP. The original legislation has since been repealed and replaced by Common Position 2005/440/CFSP and Common Position 2007/654/CFSP (which integrated various EU and UN measures) and associated regulations. The arms embargo has been extended, renewed and modified. The most recent modifications to the regulations were made in 2008 by Council Common Position 2008/369/CFSP and Council Regulation (EC) 666/2008.”
Immunity from embargo for Rwanda and Uganda?
Kabila’s answer to the inefficiency of the Congolese army implied that all arms embargoes DRC has experienced for a long period applied similarly to the official and national authority of the country and armed groups and militias.
And he seems right, since UN Resolution 1596  states that the United Nations Security Council “decides that these [arms embargo] measures shall from now on apply to any recipient in the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and reiterates that assistance includes financing and financial assistance related to military activities…”
The apparent motivation of such restrictive measures finds its justification in the desire of the international community of seeing then the Congolese government implementing policies of demobilization and reintegration of different armed groups and militias.
Let’s concede that effectively the DRC government side has been imposed on an arms embargo. A subsequent question arises which is pertinent with the situation of neighboring countries that have been responsible of invading and or supporting armed groups and militias operating on Congolese soil. Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda have been militarily involved at different periods and degrees. In fact, the ongoing crisis led by M23 in North Kivu is factually backed by Kagame and Museveni countries.
As far as I know, there are no pending arms embargos either on Uganda or Rwanda. These two countries being US and UK protégés in Central Africa almost implementing important elements of foreign policies of the latter have been supplied and trained militarily as far as required to fulfill their local, regional even international missions for their sponsors.
Joseph Kabila pointed to one cause of Congolese army ineffectiveness: arms embargo DRC has suffered or continue to endure. The main question is: ‘how come there have not been any arms embargos imposed on Rwanda and Uganda, considered their critical role in persistent destabilization of the Great Lakes region?’ My probable answer is that 8 millions of wasted African lives during the last two decades don’t weight enough against national interests in London and Washington.