AFTER a six month hiatus, fighting returned to the hills above Goma, eastern Congo’s aid and trading hub, as rebels clashed with the Congolese army under the watchful eye of the UN’s blue-helmeted peacekeepers. It took the visit, on May 23rd of Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, for both sides to agree to a ceasefire. Mr Ban arrived in a bid to bolster regional peace efforts and was met by demonstrators who lined the lakeside city’s streets of crumbling volcanic rock.
Many of them carried bed sheets daubed with messages such as “No more war”. Beth Mapendo, a women’s activist standing outside the Heal Africa hospital, which treats victims of sexual violence, wanted to know when the UN’s vaunted “Intervention Brigade” would arrive. “We are tired of war, they need to come,” she said.
The new 3,000-strong force, which will join the existing 17,000 peacekeepers in Congo, boasts a tough new mandate from the Security Council, attack helicopters and surveillance drones. Mr Ban cautioned that it would make a real difference, but would be no panacea to the conflict.
The brigade, which will draw troops from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania, is being deployed into a conflict that has been repeatedly stewed and reheated. The rebellion in the foothills of the Virunga volcanoes began last year as a mutiny in Congo’s rag-tag army, led by officers involved in a past uprising. They claim that promises made when they were integrated into the army have been broken and call themselves the M23 in reference to an attempted peace deal signed on March 23rd 2009. Most of them are ethnic Tutsis, like the leaders of Rwanda, a short jaunt across the border.
A more concerted approach to eastern Congo emerged last November when the M23 routed the Congolese army and overran the UN force to capture Goma. The group later withdrew, but the humiliation was enough to persuade some members of the UN Security Council to sanction a bolder approach. UN investigators accused Rwanda of being directy involved with M23, and the foreign aid on which it depends was frozen briefly.
So far only 100 troops of the new brigade have arrived, and UN people say that the bulk of them will not be in place before August. Senior officials privately disagree over how the force should be used, as while some see it as a deterrent, others want it to engage as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, a new peace process, to which the entire region signed up in February, is underway. The “framework for hope” has been backed by $1 billion in development aid from the World Bank and will seek to address the grievances and rivalries that underlie the conflict. Much of the hope for this rests with Mr Ban’s choice of envoy, the former Irish president, Mary Robinson, who has relationships with the presidents of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda—Joseph Kabila, Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni—from her diplomacy in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide.