‘IF YOU GIVE A BOY A HAMMER, EVERYTHING LOOKS LIKE A NAIL’.
Said John Prendergast at the beginning of his lecture on the conflicts in the DR Congo and The Sudan (Darfur to be exact). John is the brain behind the Enough Project which works in conflict zones to influence peaceful outcomes. He works to amass political will for conflict situations with a view to achieving a speedy and final end to war. I got to ask him a question that I had intended to ask Betty Bigombe; Why the peace process in northern Uganda had not yet yielded anything. His answer was that there was a lack of leverage. He went on to say that leverage is a very dynamic concept. One has to create it through incentives and pressure (carrots and sticks). He observed that the biggest US failure has been failure to spend diplomatic capital to lead peacekeeping efforts (especially in the region).
For the case of Sudan the points of leverage could be various.
a) The Sudan government is not averse to maintaining good relations with the US; that normalization would be a carrot for improved behavior (read peace).
b) Ruling party’s quest for the suspension of the ICC warrants against the Sudan president Bashir.
c) The government of Sudan is heavily indebted and would greatly welcome a move that will ensure debt relief
d) The role of China. China has heavy investments in the Sudan and peace would be in its interests a factor which is rarely recognized when actors criticize the role of china in the Sudan peace arrangement.
e) Egypt which is largely dependent on the River Nile (which passes through the Sudan)
He reiterated that the US is a game changer in the set up of things in the Sudan. If it could get to speak to Beijing (where it would actually find out that what they are most interested in is peace) and also to Egypt and other affected African countries, the peace process would be far ahead or even resolved. He however was not certain about the strength (and willpower as such) of the Obama administration team in charge of African affairs to handle this role.
With regard to the conflict in the DR Congo he observed that unless the economic sources of the conflict are dealt with, there can be no final solution to bring peace in the country. That this war completely about economy and not about any set political agenda. That rape is used as a weapon of war and control. He also talked about the consumer awareness that was started in the 1990s to ensure the origin of diamonds and other precious metals. That this move greatly reduced the ‘fuel for the fire’ and as such wars like those in Sierra Leone. Liberia and Angola were reduced or ended completely. That now it should be Congo’s turn. He noted that increasing political will in the Congo can be done (and is being done) through pressurizing the US congress, through the DR Congo president, YouTube, films, music and other media. Prendergast for me personifies the people who see a need and get others to see it as a need. Instead of lamenting about it from afar he gets down to the areas and finds a way of working with the local governments as well as the international players who obviously have leverage but are not willing to use it for.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day though I didn’t get to talk to him one on one.
Lucy Ladira, Uganda