By Theogene Rudasingwa
The international community (read, Western powers) have put pressure on Kagame to have his creation and proxy, M23, withdraw from Goma. President Kabila is being pressured to talk to M23, to listen to their grievances.
As we have argued, the problems of eastern DRC are partly a Congolese problem of internal weaknesses and, in this latest war, largely due to Rwanda’s internal political and human rights crisis. If the international community is asking Kabila to talk to a Rwanda-created and Rwanda-backed organization (mainly of Tutsi), wouldn’t it be logical that Kagame would be pressured to listen to the legitimate grievances of Rwandans (Hutu and Tutsi) in both the peaceful and armed opposition? Kagame has totally closed the political space in Rwanda, imprisoned, killed or forced into exile opposition political leaders, journalists and human rights activists.
In Rwanda, an exclusively Tutsi clique of military officers run the show on behalf of President Kagame and his family. These are the same officers (James Kabarebe, Charles Kayonga, and the notorious Jack Nziza) that the UN Group of experts report has cited as being at the heart of the M23 rebellion.
They are the same officers whom Kagame used to shoot down the plane in which the President of Rwanda and Burundi were killed on April 6, 1994. They are the same officers that Kagame used to assassinate President Laurent Kabila of DRC in 2001. They are the same officers that are at the heart of the horrendous crimes committed against Hutu in Rwanda and DRC, which were described in the UN Mapping Report of 2010 and other previous reports.
We have entered a period of high risk and escalation in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. Within Rwanda we are probably 2 to 3 years to a major event, which could escalate into a full civil war. The political space has become completely closed, with moderate voices dead, in jail or in exile. The regime has become ever more illegitimate, intransigent, and aggressive. Power is vested in the hands of President Kagame and his wife, and a few Tutsi military officers who run both the formal and informal government.
President Kagame and his top three military officers (James Kabarebe, Charles Kayonga and Jack Nziza) have ceaselessly turned to DRC, the latest venture being the M23, itself with high potential to escalate into a full civil war that could easily turn regional and ugly. Many people in Rwanda, DRC, Great Lakes region, Africa and the International Community are asking about the endgame in the current crisis in DRC.
Although the current problem in the eastern DRC has a Congolese component, the M23 saga is Rwanda’s (and secondarily, Uganda’s) creation. You cannot solve, once and for all, the M23 problem without dealing with Rwanda’s own political crisis, and re-evaluating the west’s unquestioning support to President Kagame and President Museveni.
Short of new and innovative ways in the thinking process, policy, and action to underpin diplomatic, political and aid-related initiatives, withdrawal from Goma will be a temporary and futile measure, as we shall then wait for the resurgence of another round of violent conflict.
The international community, notably the US and the UK, may consider the following five measures to facilitate a sustainable movement out of the current DRC crisis:
1. Immediately initiate a contact group to spearhead a two-track peace process (DRC and Rwanda). The contact group should include the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania. The US and UK are key because, until now, that is what President Kagame cares for. The two western powers have also protected Kagame from calls for accountability with regard to his endless and costly DRC ventures, human rights, and lack of political freedoms in Rwanda etc. Belgium and France were engaged with previous regimes in Rwanda, and may have a few lessons they have learnt with regard to Rwanda. Tanzania has the institutional memory since it facilitated the Arusha peace process. South Africa is an important regional player. Uganda should be included simply because it could be a spoiler if left out.
2. The contact group should be brutally candid towards Kabila, Museveni and especially Kagame. Yesterday, as I listened to African Union Chairman Zuma and US Secretary of State Clinton, I was saddened and disheartened by the fact that neither could summon the courage to call a spade a spade, name Rwanda as a culprit and put Kagame to shame. As a young doctor, I was taught that the pathway to healing necessitates telling the patient what the diagnosis is , and empowering him/her to take the lead in a healing process. Ms. Zuma and Ms.Clinton highlight an ailment that afflicts the international system: when convenient, be silent or conceal the the truth. And Kagame loves that! The contact group collectively has substantive leverage to bring to the table. The members of the contact group understand the current power dynamics in Rwanda. They appreciate the consequences of maintaining the status quo and inaction in Rwanda, DRC, the Great Lakes region, and to international peace and security. Yes, the United States and UK may be focused on their security interests in Somalia and Sudan, and prone to blackmail from Kagame and Museveni. But failure to act fairly in the Great Lakes region risks creating more enemies in Africa. This would be counter-productive and dangerous.
3. The contact group should directly engage Rwandans, Congolese and Ugandans struggling for freedom and justice. A timid international community that won’t care for African people, and will only look at a country’s interests through the eyes of Kagame, Kabila and Museveni is a recipe for cyclical conflict and disaster. The thousands of civil and political groups that are calling for change in these countries are imperfect, but still they are indispensable stakeholders. In the case of Rwanda, President Kagame must unconditionally talk to the opposition whether armed or not. You make peace with enemies and opponents. The international community must support efforts that promote genuine dialogue, unity, reconciliation and healing within Rwanda and DRC, and in the various Diasporas. It is no good value for money when billions are spent in development projects when many in Rwanda and DRC feel they are marginalized.
4. Africans and the rest of the international community must make sure that those who have committed horrendous human rights abuses, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are held accountable. Specifically, the United States and United Kingdom governments should stop protecting President Kagame and his officers who have committed serious crimes in Rwanda and the DRC. Those in the World Bank, IMF, DFID , USAID, and the aid industry who tell Rwandans that Kagame is fine because he is efficient in using aid are playing a bad influence since development without rights is both sham and unsustainable.
5. The African Union and the United Nations, since they have condemned themselves to be ineffectual observers in the DRC and Rwanda tragedies, should at least jointly and urgently convene a conference to consider a “Marshal Plan” for the Great Lakes Region to motivate the tens of millions of unemployed youth and women who are both victims and tools of state and non-state actors. The United Nations and the African Union should avail resources for participants from civil society and the political opposition to attend. Since the international community is asking President Kabila to listen to the grievance of M23, when will the African Union and the United Nations listen to the grievance of the African people?
Sooner than later the costly, redundant and scandal-prone UN peacekeepers in DRC will be asked to abandon what has become an embarrassing operation. The Congolese people will, as usual, and like the Rwandans and Somalis now and in the past, continue to struggle to survive. The challenge to resist Rwanda’s (and Uganda’s) attempts to promote secession and plunder of DRC is primarily a Congolese one. All Rwandans, DRC’s neighbors, Africans and the international community should, however, have an interest in preventive measures before it is too late. A window of opportunity does exist, but it is closing fast. We must act innovatively, and together, now.
The views expressed are the author’s own.