Kagame and Congo: how long can he deny Rwandan involvement in the East? – By Richard Dowden
Questioned last week on the BBC’s Hardtalk about the connection between Rwanda and the M23 rebel movement in eastern Congo, President Paul Kagame denied all involvement.
He said: “We are not connected at all with the cause of the uprising of M23, we are not supporting it. We don’t intend to because we don’t know what they are about or what they want. We are not involved at all… There is no support for what is going on and there will be no support for what is going on.”
Kagame also denied that support could have been given without his knowledge and finally dismissed the 127 page report as “a so-called report” by “so-called experts… (who) pick things on the street”.
In compiling the report the highly respected team of researchers and experts consulted 106 organisations from the World Bank to local NGOs as well as hundreds of individuals. There are 75 pages of photographic and documentary evidence. It is hard not to read this well-researched and highly detailed report as anything other than prima facie evidence that the Rwandan government and military command are supporting, enabling and supplying the rebels of the M23, Mouvement du 23 Mars, which is another name for the Congres national pour la defense du people, CNDP, in Eastern Congo.
Here is the report. The most important sections are 61 – 69.
It documents a whole economy build around the CNDP-controlled territory in eastern Congo; bank accounts in Rwanda filled by “˜pools’ of Rwandan exiles, CNDP tolls on roads, its control of the lucrative charcoal trade, land purchases and cattle ranching, “˜front’ companies and even the control of the main Congo/Uganda customs post. The money – and this is resource rich area – flows through Rwanda. The report also names senior members of the Rwandan government and military who have had close personal and telephone contact with CNDP. And it details the supply of weapons and uniforms by the Rwandan government to the rebel movement. It is hard to imagine what further proof is needed.
But Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, who heads the UN Mission to Congo and whose government has strong ties to Rwanda, is reported to have considered suppressing this document, only latterly accepting its inevitable release. The British, close allies of Paul Kagame, have said nothing.
Congo’s war is not just another small war in Africa. I wonder whether, when the history of the 20th Century is written in the future, it will be defined by three cataclysmic wars: World War I, World War II and the Great War of Central Africa which began in 1993 genocide, and dragged on into the second decade of the 21st Century.
The war began with the invasion of Rwanda by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1990 and included the genocide of 1994 and a similar one (largely ignored today) in Burundi the previous year. After 1994 it moved to Congo. It is difficult to estimate exactly how many people have died in eastern Congo directly or indirectly as a result of this war, but even if the 5.4 million death-toll figure given by numerous NGOs is exaggerated, it is still the worst conflict since World War II.
Kagame’s policy on coming to power in the wake of the 1994 genocide had four pillars: declare all distinctions between Hutus and Tutsis to be a colonial invention and henceforth banned, establish what looked like a broad coalition government which in fact was and remains a Tutsi dominated clique, woo the West and play on their guilt in doing nothing to stop the genocide, and finally embark on a rapid programme of economic and social transformation by building schools and health centres and attracting businesses to invest in Rwanda. It was a radical policy administered with exceptional efficiency and dedication. The western donors love it. Kagame’s gamble was that if everyone started to get better health service, education and a higher standard of living, maybe Rwandans would forget the past divisions and become peaceful. And if anyone queried the plan they were denounced as a sympathiser of the genocidaire.
Rwanda’s history was rewritten to obliterate past conflicts – pre-colonial and colonial – between Hutus and Tutsis. From now on there would be only one genocide and all Rwandans must know it. In fact, Rwanda’s history is complex. Conflict between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Congo has sometimes been fierce and genocidal, but throughout much of their 700-year history they lived in peace; mutually benefitting from their respective cattle-keeping and crop-growing economies.
Some outsiders bought into the new version of Rwandan history. In 2001 I was told by a western ambassador that there was no record of who was Tutsi and who was Hutu in the new Rwanda. But on a visit a couple of years later another official from that country showed me a breakdown of the Hutu-Tutsi balance in terms of the powerful positions in government. It was overwhelmingly Tutsi.
What was the alternative? To form a real government of genuine national unity would mean sitting down with actual or suspected genocidaires – the killers. In the post-genocide period the former Rwandan army and gangs of killers were camped across the border in eastern Congo. The argument for a military government keeping a very tight grip on power was strong.
That was nearly 20 years ago. Rwanda invaded Congo, drove the Hutu refugees back into Rwanda and slaughtered any that fled west. They then marched more than a thousand miles to the capital, Kinshasa, drove out President Mobutu Sese Seko and installed Laurent Kabila as president. He soon threw off Rwandan tutelage, but when the Rwandans and Ugandans invaded again in 1998, several African armies stepped in to protect him and the invaders withdrew. The Congolese government promised to suppress Rwandan militias but, even if the government had the intention, the country is too big and the government too weak to control armed movements in the thick forests of the east. Rwanda took matters into its own hands by setting up and supplying its own militias in the region.
Today Rwanda is still very tightly controlled internally and is clearly running a huge military operation in eastern Congo. Its allies there are Congolese Tutsis, but Western media reporting, by concentrating on the appalling behaviour of Rwandan-backed rebels, self defence militias and Congolese government troops, rarely analyses what the war is actually about.
In early 1994 I travelled through eastern Congo to Masisi, which is now one of the battle-grounds. Then there was a small war between Rwandan refugees and local Congolese. “We don’t mind these people coming here as refugees,” a Hunde chief told me, “but they must behave like refugees”. He objected to them starting business and marrying local women. What struck me was that the local people referred to all the Rwandans as Banyarwanda (the people of Rwanda). There was no distinction between Hutu and Tutsi Rwandans – they were all just Banyarwanda, some of who had settled centuries before, and others who had fled pogroms in Rwanda in the early 1960s.
Today however, despite the Rwandan government’s attempt to ban the use of the words Hutu and Tutsi, this division is what the war is about. The Rwandan, essentially Tutsi, government is supporting its fellow Tutsis in eastern Congo. According to Africa Confidential there is talk of a Tutsi dominated buffer zone on the border – a new independent state of Kivu dominated by Rwanda.
The humiliation of Congo by the Rwandan and Ugandan invasions of 1995-1997 and 2000 has created deep hatred amongst Congolese of Rwanda and the Tutsi communities of eastern Congo (who formed militias initially in self defence). Now, with Rwandan government help, the indigenous Tutsis carry out massacres and mass rape among local communities. The local self-defence forces, the mai mai, combined with deserters from the Congolese army and have also become murderous gangs. Six local leaders of these gangs have been indicted by the International Criminal Court. Most are Congolese and one of them, Bosco Ntaganda, a CNDP leader, is an ally of Rwanda.
Further north in Ituri the pattern was repeated. In 1995 Uganda (which also has a Tutsi-related cattle-keeping leadership) invaded and sparked off a war between Hema and Lendu – the Hema also being a caste of cattle keepers like the Tutsi. Thomas Lubanga, a Hema leader backed by Uganda, was prosecuted by the ICC and is now serving a 14-year prison sentence. While the gangs of warriors may be of mixed origin and the motives may have evolved from political to economic control, those running these wars have a political agenda. And the ultimate controllers – as we now know – may not be the uniformed commanders on the ground.
When a similar situation occurred in Sierra Leone, the Special Court for Sierra Leone went after the main supporters and funders of the rebel movement, in particular the President of Liberia, Charles Taylor. He was recently sentenced to 50 years in jail for his part in funding the murder and destruction of Sierra Leone. Yet the evidence of Rwanda’s support for warring groups in Congo is as strong – if not stronger – than the evidence that convicted Taylor. But because of the genocide in Rwanda and because both Uganda and Rwanda have good development programmes that western donors love to fund, they will not be criticised. Eastern Congo will continue to suffer.