cc. With events in the central African region unfolding at a dizzying pace over the last week, Friends of Congo (FOTC) responds to questions posed to them in the aim of enhancing readers’ understanding of developments on the ground. Casting doubt on the nature of Laurent Nkunda’s reported arrest and highlighting the persistently extra-parliamentary and undemocratic nature of negotiations between Joseph Kabila and Paul Kagame around Rwandan troops entering the DR Congo, Friends of Congo discuss some of the limitations around recent efforts to achieve greater stability in the troubled eastern region of the country.
Is Laurent Nkunda’s arrest a positive development?
We have reasons to doubt that Laurent Nkunda has been arrested. Rwandan Maj. Jill Rutaremara said that Nkunda was in Rwanda but ‘not in jail’. If Nkunda has in fact been arrested it would be a positive development but not a massive change as some analysts would like you to believe. A true marker of the veracity of Rwanda’s claims of arresting Nkunda will be the extradition of Nkunda to the Congo where he committed the crimes against the Congolese people. If Nkunda is not extradited to Congo in short order then that will be a clear sign that this is part of the shell game that Rwanda has been playing for the past 12 years, a period during which they replaced one proxy leader with another while they continued to occupy eastern Congo. Even if Nkunda were to be arrested, it would be a fundamental flaw in one’s reasoning to believe that Nkunda was the primary cause of the conflict in the east. In essence, what has happened is that Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People has been replaced by thousands of Rwandan troops. The problem is Rwanda’s and Uganda’s aggression against the Congo [has been] backed primarily by the United States and British governments and corporate interests since 1996.
If Rwanda did in fact arrest Nkunda, doesn’t this mean that they never supported him as the 12 December UN report documented?
No, to the contrary, over the past 12 years Rwanda has shuffled different rebel leaders according to its interests. It is in part for this reason there were so many versions of the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD, former rebel militia backed by Rwanda), which Nkunda was a part of in 1998–2002 war. Nkunda’s apparent replacement, Jean-Bosco Ntaganda, also has an arrest warrant out for him issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC); one human rights offender has been replaced by another as Ntaganda now proclaims to head the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP).
A systemic and historical analysis is warranted in order to demystify current events in the Congo and arrive at prescriptions that will lead to lasting peace and stability. Unfortunately, the majority of Great Lakes analysts offer Rwanda-friendly analysis and prescriptions as Rwanda represents US and British foreign policy interests in central Africa. The job of these analysts is to provide intellectual and advocacy cover for the otherwise disastrous policy currently pushed by both the US and British administrations, a policy that has led to the deaths of millions of Congolese and the systematic looting of Congo’s wealth to the benefit of US allies Rwanda and Uganda, as well as Western corporations.
Isn’t the new collaboration between Congo and Rwanda a good sign on the road to peace and stability in the region?
On 5 December 2008, Rwanda and Congo signed a secret pact in Goma that the Congolese people know nothing about (President Kabila is scheduled to speak to his nation on this issue on 31 January 2009). James Kabarebe, chief of general staff of the Rwandan defence forces and former private secretary and aide-de-camp of Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, was later dispatched to Kinshasa to seal a deal with President Kabila. Thus, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, James Kabarebe, and President Kabila worked out a deal that resulted in over 5,000 Rwandan soldiers entering Congo. These are the same characters that collaborated in 1996 when Congo was first invaded by Rwanda during the Clinton administration. During that period they traversed the Congo slaughtering Hutu men, women and children and anyone else who was in the way. The United Nations says that the killings were so massive and systematic that they can be considered crimes against humanity and possibly genocide. The UN investigation into these crimes against humanity by the Rwandan army, Kabarebe and Kabila was blocked and still remains unresolved (see the UN investigations). Once a responsible and credible government is in place in Congo, all these crimes must be investigated and justice must be delivered so that the Congolese people can be made whole. Find out more about the Kagame–Kabarebe–Kabila connection, see our 20 January blog. In the final analysis, more troops and further militarisation of the region is not the answer. A robust political path must be established in order to lead to peace and stability in the Great Lakes region.
So are you saying that President Kabila allowing Rwandan troops on Congolese soil to hunt down those responsible for the 1994 genocide is not a good thing?
The logic that allowing Rwandan soldiers on Congolese territory to hunt down Hutu rebels will bring about peace is fundamentally flawed. Below are some factors to consider:
1. The deal allowing Rwandan soldiers on Congolese soil was not between the Congolese government and the Rwandan government. It was between the Congolese president Joseph Kabila, whom many suspect is not even Congolese and the Kagame regime in Kigali. Neither the Congolese parliament nor the Congolese people were either consulted or addressed regarding Rwandan troops entering Congolese territory. In fact some Congolese are calling for the impeachment of Kabila. When it comes to matters in Africa, we tend to drop all critical faculties and common sense. Can you imagine troops entering US territory without the US Congress knowing about it and the president not even addressing the population to explain why? What is even more farcical is that some Congolese government officials are trying to convince the world that thousands of Rwandan soldiers are coming into the Congo as advisers to the Congolese troops. It has even been stated that the Rwandan troops will be under Congolese command. Will they be under the same compromised command that Nkunda chased out of North Kivu?
2. It is beyond imagination that Rwanda is going to do in a few weeks what it was not able to do or interested in doing when it occupied the Congo from 1996–2002. During this period of the occupation of eastern Congo they did not wipe out the so-called Hutu militia. In fact, the biggest battle they had was with their ally Uganda over mining concessions. Also, during this time they systematically looted Congo of its wealth. (See UN Reports from 2001 to 2003). It is this looting of Congo’s wealth that spurred the economic miracle that President Clinton and other Western officials wax eloquently about in Rwanda. You will notice that they never mention the degree to which ill-gotten wealth from the Congo contributed to Rwanda’s ‘economic miracle’. Former Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen says it best when he notes ‘Having controlled the Kivu provinces for 12 years, Rwanda will not relinquish access to resources that constitute a significant percentage of its gross national product’.
3. What is almost certain is that Rwandan troops on Congolese soil will lead to more suffering of the people of the Congo. Analysts in the West have not fully appreciated the enmity that the average Congolese holds toward Rwanda. Remember, it was the US- and British-backed Rwandan and Ugandan invasions of 1996 and 1998 that unleashed the deaths of estimated millions of Congolese. So, for one to say that Rwandan soldiers are now going to make things better for the people of the Congo does not take history into account. One merely has to look at the Congo–Ugandan action against Ugandan rebels inside Congolese territory to see where this latest action is heading. Over 600 Congolese civilians lost their lives as a result of military action against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Congo, which began over a month ago. Moreover, that operation was supposed to take a few weeks and now Uganda is requesting more time on Congo’s soil, while Congo’s gold and timber continue to find its way into Uganda.
What role are the great powers playing in what is unfolding in the Congo?
It is key to understand how the game is played to keep Africa dependent and impoverished. Because the West is more powerful than the divided and weak African nations, they have been able to assassinate or systematically sideline leaders who truly serve the interests of the people. They facilitate the ascension to power of those who demonstrate a proclivity for killing their fellow Africans. Once these feckless leaders are in power and predictably incapable of governing, Western diplomats condescendingly intervene on the premise that those they have assisted in acquiring power either through elections or otherwise cannot in fact justly govern. This narrative is buttressed by superficial media coverage of African society, intellectuals for hire by Western powers and the humanitarian industry. It is in this context that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen have proposed the balkanisation and economic neutering of the Congo. They have made proposals to reward Rwanda and their Western support structure for the systematic looting of the Congo, which has resulted in unmatched death and terror for the Congolese people. Nearly 125 years since Europe gave Congo to King Leopold II of Belgium as his own personal property, the situation is fundamentally the same whereby the affairs of the Congolese people are not determined by themselves, but rather by external forces.
So what can be positively drawn from recent events?
Several things can be looked at positively:
1. It is clear that international pressure works. It has moved Rwanda to at least announce the arrest of Nkunda. As was said, the litmus test for whether Nkunda has actually been arrested is his extradition to Kinshasa, otherwise for all intents and purposes he is vacationing in Rwanda at the behest of Kagame while Rwandan troops roam the hillsides of the eastern Congo with the blessing of Joseph Kabila. The US is finding it increasingly difficult to defend its proxy, Rwanda, as both French and Spanish courts (the same Spanish court that ruled against Pinochet of Chile) have arrest warrants out on President Kagame’s top officials for commission of war crimes, one of whom, Rose Kabuye, was arrested in Germany in November 2008. Despite such repeated damning evidence against the Kagame regime, under the auspices of Donald Rumsfeld’s AFRICOM programme, the US sent a shipment of military equipment to Rwanda for peacekeeping purposes in western Sudan in early January 2009, coinciding with Rwandan troops’ intervention in Congo. The military shipment is supposed to be used for peacekeeping in western Sudan. Both Sweden and the Netherlands suspended aid to Rwanda and of course the damning 12 December UN report has made it difficult for anyone to defend Rwanda except for some ideologically-driven humanitarian institutions. Even The New York Times editorial board continues to call for international pressure on Rwanda.
2. Kagame felt it necessart to adjust to the new realities in Washington. He could not necessarily count on President Obama to give him the same carte blanche he received from Presidents Clinton and Bush. Rwanda is certainly still a staunch ally of the US. However, Kagame cannot be certain that President Obama will fully support him in spite of some of the old guards (Susan Rice at the UN and Hillary Clinton as secretary of state) being in the administration. The Obama administration can hardly present itself as an administration of change with an old policy for the Great Lakes in particular and Africa in general. The new administration would be best served to implement policies that serve the people and not strongmen like Kagame and Kabila.
3. The US- and British-backed resource war of aggression is being disrobed on a daily basis. The hunt for the Hutu rebels is an attempt to recast the conflict in an ethnic context. The Hutu rebels, otherwise know as the Interahamwe or Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR in French) need to be dealt with, but not in the manner currently underway. Remember, it has been the Congolese people who have been the primary victims of the presence of the Hutu rebels in the Congo. Nonetheless, what is happening in Central Africa is a high stakes geopolitical battle for precious and strategic resources that are vital to the world’s military, aeronautics, electronics and technology industries. This interview with British Foreign Minister David Miliband provides some insight and perspective on corporate interests in Central Africa.
4. The average person is becoming better informed and more engaged about the root causes of the deadliest conflict in the world since the Second World War. They are better equipped to demand action from their elected officials and challenge humanitarian institutions that come to their communities peddling warmed-over ethnic explanations for the suffering of the people of Congo.
We are confident that with persistent education, organisation and mobilisation, the people of the Congo will be free from the forces that have her sons and daughters living in absolute misery while we in the West benefit from her riches.
Join the global movement in support of the people of the Congo and strike a blow for justice and human dignity.
* Based in Washington, D.C., the Friends of Congo (FOTC) was established in 2004 to work towards bringing about peaceful and lasting change in the DR Congo.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at http://www.pambazuka.org/.