In late November, two Congolese rebel fighters who chose to abandon the group revealed to the BBC the extent of Rwanda’s meddling and financial backing. Captain Rudahirwa and Colonel Bestfriend Ndozi—former members of the Congolese army turned students and activists in the Congolese Movement for Change—alleged that the Rwandan government sent between $15,000 and $20,000 every month, allowing the rebel movement to buy food, uniforms, and medicines.
These testimonies were followed by evidence in early December that both Rwanda and Uganda—the latter first being accused of providing support in a leaked draft of the United Nations Group of Experts report in late October—supported the M23’s capture of Goma on 20th November.
The UN Group of Experts report is what most governments use to demonstrate Rwanda’s backing, but the neutrality of the group and the credibility of their work has come into question. While it is clear Rwanda has motives for meddling—particularly while it denounced the FDLR in late November for attacking across the border—proof other than the Group of Experts’ reports has been hard to come by. Will this more recent evidence have any bearing on donor opinions?
Actions and accusations
Rwandan authorities have long been accused (most recently by Human Rights Watch) of using the Congrès National pour la Défense du People (CNDP) as a proxy army to fight against the regrouped génocidaires (known as the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR)), and of maintaining military influence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to benefit from mineral resources. Partially integrated into the Congolese national army in 2009 under a peace deal, in April 2012, some of the rebels formed the M23, which has since become alternatively known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army.
Although the initial post-genocide meddling occurred overtly (when the RPF spearheaded a regional effort to overthrow Mobutu), Rwanda has never admitted to any of the more recent allegations. In 2008, accusations flew about Kigali backing the 2004-2009 uprising of the CNDP, causing some donors to suspend official development assistance.
At first glance, it may not be clear as to why donors have expressed concern about Rwanda’s foreign policy decisions. However, many of the countries suspending aid to Rwanda in 2012, including the United Kingdom but excluding the United States, are providing general budget support, allowing emphasis on national priorities. Using aid to indirectly maintain political intolerance of the FDLR is a political consideration aimed at ensuring the regime’s hold on power.
Development objectives and development objections
While donors may not be pleased that their contributions are indirectly supporting the regime’s regional security objectives, the confusing rhetoric donors are giving Rwanda indicates a level of recognition on their part that the regime’s security objectives are not being entirely juxtaposed with development.
By measures both economic and developmental Rwanda is developing, growing and excelling. Last decade, it was the tenth fastest growing economy in the world, with an annual GDP that—excepting 2009—has exceeded 7 percent since 2004. Rwanda’s actions resemble what Thai political scientist Chai-anan Samudavanija’s called the ‘three-dimensional state’ which retains legitimacy by tackling three objectives: security, development, and participation, with the first being made paramount at specific points in time.
Donors also prioritize these objectives, and in some circumstances this leads to donor complacency about politics and aid misuse—seemingly a willingness to pick battles—even when the compromise means ignoring the governance strategies that the current neoliberal paradigm aims to counter.
An old era in new clothing?
Following a suspension of U.S. military aid and a threat of charges for aiding war crimes in late July, many proclaimed the end of an era of exceptional Western-Rwandan relations after countries including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany suspended small portions of their development assistance. Yet since then, Rwanda has been held up as an example of development success with advice to give about post-conflict stabilization as a new non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Perhaps some are beginning to recognize the conflicting message. US legislators recently urged the Obama administration to reprimand the Kagame administration’s continued connections to the M23, urging the president to overcome what many considered a relationship defined by lenience and guilt over a failed response to the 1994 genocide. In the week preceding Christmas, Obama stressed to his Rwandan counterpart that any support for the Congolese rebels was “inconsistent with Rwanda’s desire for stability and peace”.
The US isn’t the only country wrestling with the nature of its rapport with the African country. In November, former UK International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell was accused of acting as a “rogue minister” by controversially authorizing a payment of £16 million after previously suspending all funds. The remainder of the annual £37 million was later revoked by Secretary Justine Greening.
Asked about the inconsistent message, Prime Minister David Cameron argued, “…we should be very frank and very firm with President Kagame and the Rwandan regime that we do not accept that they should be supporting militias in Congo or elsewhere
“I will raise this issue presently with the president, but I continue to believe that investing in Rwanda’s success as one of those countries in Africa that’s showing you can break the cycle of poverty, you can improve conditions for people, is something that we are right to do.”
Will the new evidence of Rwanda’s M23 involvement or the changing nature of the US and UK leadership’s opinion make for an altered relationship between the countries? Contrary to what many US Congressmen and women believe, I suspect donors largely comprehend the difference between recognizing Rwanda’s outstanding commitment to development and overcoming their own guilt over the country’s ethnic violence.
Greater policy space was necessary under the initial post-conflict circumstances, and political repression and violence—though not appreciated yet at times respected by donors—is an inevitable product of regaining control. Whether such control needs to be maintained by commanding additional violence is a question that these donors have yet to respond to in a more than politically rhetorical way.
Courtney Meyer is a freelance writer with an interest in central and east Africa.