In early 2002, I had been contacted by a representative of one of the Mayi-mayi groups. They had become aware of our track two team through our work with the main actors in Congo. They requested that we facilitate a dialogue between themselves and the Rwandans – not the RCD, whom they considered Rwandan proxies. We initially declined, but as it became clear that the fighting in eastern DRC might undermine the formation of a transitional government, we decided to proceed.
Hans Romkema, country representative for the Life and Peace Institute in Bukavu in South Kivu, was engaged in dialogue with some Mayi-mayi groups, including one led by General Padiri. I accompanied Romkema to a meeting with General Padiri in November 2002. Members of the RPCV team worked with the RCD leadership to determine the basis for a cessation of hostilities that might lead to a ceasefire and cooperation on humanitarian access.
The Mayi-mayi wanted a formal ceasefire, freedom of movement between sides, humanitarian aid, and local autonomy while retaining political authority and security in their areas. The RCD wanted the Mayi-mayi to accept their authority, but could live with some local autonomy provided the Mayi-mayi did not work with the ex-Rwandan armed forces or the Interhamwe militias. Our goal was a cessation of hostilities as an initial step, after which the UN could push the sides towards a formal resolution.
The first meeting with Padiri was positive, but while we were there RCD military hardliners attacked Padiri's positions, violating the temporary ceasefire both sides had accepted to allow for the meeting. Despite this, Padiri offered a permanent formal ceasefire, proposed freedom of movement for the population and international organisations, and discussed the repatriation of ex-Rwandan armed forces and Interhamwe militias operating in South Kivu.
The RCD leadership was split over pursuing negotiations for complex reasons of trust and personal interest linked to the national peace process. Some believed that the Mayi-mayi were just Kinshasa's proxies – the government's support being a grave violation of the Lusaka Accord. Did the Mayi-mayi have the capacity to resist Kinshasa's entreaties to keep fighting? Further, discussions with the Mayi-mayi legitimised them, letting Kinshasa off the hook. Some questioned whether the Mayi-mayi could separate themselves from the Interhamwe and ex-Rwandan armed forces.
There was also a deep lack of trust within the RCD leadership over the Lusaka process. They believed that too much was being given up for a problematic deal with a government they felt had demonstrated bad faith by supporting the Mayi-mayi, and worse, the genocidal forces represented by the Interhamwe and ex-Rwandan military. Finally, some elements in the RCD pushed to keep the status quo. The status quo was desirable for security and for economic and political reasons:
- they would continue to control the ancestral lands of the Congolese Tutsis, the ethnic group of much of the senior RCD leadership;
- they felt secure with their Rwandan allies on the border and the vast, trackless Congolese rain forests and mountains lying between them and Kinshasa;
- they controlled significant wealth in natural resources, including coltan, diamonds, gold, timber and agricultural land.