Of the many scenarios that could follow from this weekend's chaotic signing of a cease-fire plan to end the war in Congo, the most unlikely is peace.
Hardly anyone knows what to make of the peace accord-that-wasn't -- which was signed by all foreign powers involved in the 11-month conflict but not by the rebels who started it. The rebels have made it plain that they will continue trying to oust Congolese President Laurent Kabila, and that presents a dilemma for the rebels' chief backers, Rwanda and Uganda, which did sign the deal.
While Uganda apparently is eager to end its involvement in the Congo war, Rwanda's leaders still believe they have a score to settle with Kabila, who has relied on thousands of Rwandan Hutu militiamen -- who took part in the 1994 mass slaughter of Tutsi tribesmen in their own country -- to assist his troops against the Congo rebels. Rwanda may refuse to stand idly by while the rebels continue to fight their avowed foe, and that in turn might convince the treaty's other signatories -- Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia -- that the time is not yet ripe to end their support of Kabila.
"This cease-fire could get us back to square one very quickly," said an African government minister who asked not to be identified. "It asks more questions than it answers, and that's not a formula for peace."
The accord signed Saturday calls for a military cease-fire, the integration of Kabila's military and rebel forces into a single Congolese army and an "open national dialogue" on Congo's future -- which has been unclear since Kabila toppled dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 and declared himself president.
The pact also calls for deployment of international peacekeepers in Congo who would be required to disarm rebels still engaged in combat. But the uncertainty surrounding the rebels' stance prompted the United Nations to put off a report that Secretary General Kofi Annan was to deliver this week from a U.N. observer mission in Congo and a subsequent U.N. peacekeeping operation there, news services reported today. South African President Thabo Mbeki said today that he will not send peacekeepers, as he had pledged earlier, until it is clear that the peace agreement is in fact in place.
At the annual summit of the Organization of African Unity in Algiers today, Kabila said the rebels' refusal to sign was irrelevant. "The rebels' bosses have signed," he said. "The rebels are nothing but militiamen created by the invaders of the Congo, who of course are Rwanda and Uganda." Rwandan officials disagreed, saying that the rebels must be involved if any cease-fire or dialogue on Congo's future is to work.
Ultimately, the peace accord is as complicated and unpredictable as the conflict itself, which has been driven as often by big egos as big issues. Kabila's refusal to brook dissent after taking power gradually fostered unrest in Congo. And his failure to deal with the threat that the Rwandan Hutu militiamen based in Congo posed to Rwanda's ethnic Tutsi leaders earned him the bitter hatred of his former backer, Rwanda's vice president and de facto leader, Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame, who deployed nearly 20,000 Rwandan troops to the Congo jungle to back the rebels against Kabila.
Likewise, egos and ambitions inside the rebel movement have driven recent events. Rebel leaders and African government officials negotiated for weeks before reaching a peace deal acceptable to all parties, only to have it unravel Saturday over the rebels' internecine squabbling. After delaying the signing for nearly 13 hours, the rebels could not agree who would sign the cease-fire plan on their behalf: Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, who founded the resistance movement but was later ousted as its leader, or his replacement, Emile Ilunga. Thus, a deal to bring peace to a resource-rich nation that is of prime importance to its struggling neighbors collapsed.
"I'm not optimistic that there will be peace in the Congo any time soon," a Western diplomat said. "There are issues on top of issues, more motives than you can count, and egos as big as the continent."
CAPTION: Congolese President Laurent Kabila listens during the Organization of African Unity summit. He dismissed as insignificant the failure of rebels to sign a cease-fire ending the Congolese war.