Update on the Conflict in Eastern DR Congo: Filling in the Holes

20 Dec
Photo:Al Jazeera, 2012

Photo:Al Jazeera, 2012

 On November 30th, 2012 Great Britain stopped its remaining yearly allocation of 25 million (USD) to the country of Rwanda after an important United Nations Report identified  Paul Kagame’s administration as the government responsible for supplying and training the M23 rebels. This news might have shocked  the UK but everyone and I do mean everyone living on the continent of Africa knew that Rwanda was involved a couple months into the M23 rebellion. Just look at the pictures Al Jazeera took of the rebels entering Goma and you’ll know by the crispness of their green fatigues and the shine of their new rain boots that someone with power and money had to have been supporting them. Even their guns gave them away as many carried rifles exclusively issued to soldiers conscripted into the Rwandan Army. But the most damning piece of evidence was their hats. Soldiers in the Rwandan army wear a distinct type of brimmed cap- the same cap that scores of M23 troops were photographed wearing on their heads as they entered Goma.  And above all, no rebel army could have looked this polished and pressed if it had been left to scrape by on its own merits in the brutal terrain of Kivu district for the past eight months.  

This withdrawal of monies may not hurt the government of Rwanda right away but if the UK decides to stop its total monetary award in aid to Rwanda for the upcoming 2012-2013 year, an estimated 118 million (USD) this could decidedly have a disastrous effect on the quality of life for the people living in Rwanda. After acknowledging the same report, the Netherlands withdrew 6.15 million (USD) in funds that had been earmarked to help Rwanda upgrade its current judicial system. And the United States stopped the transfer of a measly 200,000 (USD) in military aid this past July.

Uganda, also identified as involved in supporting the M23 forces to a lesser extent, suffered its own setback in aid when the UK withdrew around 44 million (UDS) in funds last month( November 16, 2012) after allegations of embezzlement were reported and linked to the office of Patrick Mbabazi, Prime Minister of Uganda. According to the charges, officials in the Prime Minister’s office diverted a portion of these monies into their own private bank accounts. During the 2011-2012 year the UK was supposed to send a grand total of 44 million (USD) to Uganda but decided to withhold the final 18 million (USD) until a thorough investigation of the allegations has been completed. The UK had intentions of sending a total of 161 million (USD) to Uganda during the upcoming 2012-2013 year but according to officials in the government funding offices these new charges of fraud must be investigated and resolved before any further monies will be transferred into Ugandan government accounts.

The M23 rebels, true to their word, withdrew from Goma peacefully on late Saturday afternoon, December 1, 2012 but remained close by- near enough to the city to retake it if necessary. They did leave a small band of troops at the Goma Airport and if reports by local residents and United Nations personnel are to be believed- who but the illusive General Bosco Ntaganda, fellow Tutsi and current resident of Rwanda, led the M23 troops that secured the airport. The rebels agreed to leave the city after The International Conference of the Great Lakes Region negotiated a ceasefire and persuaded them to relinquish their eleven day occupation of Goma on the condition that they would be given the opportunity to present their demands to the president of the DR Congo, Joseph Kabila during formal negotiations hosted by Uganda. A team of M23 representatives are currently locked in negotiations there with the Foreign Minister of the DR Congo. M23 troops wait to see if the terms they previously stipulated, those awarded to them in the Lusaka Peace Accord Agreement at the end of the Second War in the Congo will be upheld by President Kabila. The United Nations Security Council refuses to condone the actions of the M23 Movement and showed their disapproval by placing two more of M23’s leaders, Baudoin Ngaruye and Innocent Kaina on their Sanctions List.

A battalion of the Congolese army (FDRC) subsequently reentered Goma and hundreds of policemen resumed their duties but neither group was welcomed by the local citizenry after the violent way in which they conducted themselves as they retreated from the city once it was evident that M23 had been victorious. Incidents of rape, murder, and extortion of innocent citizens by soldiers in the Congolese army were reported throughout the city and it’s evident that residents who’ve chosen to remain in Goma do not trust the actions or the intentions of the Congolese troops that have been newly assigned to the city.

The M23 rebels, according to the first-hand testimonies of people on the street, entered and exited in a far more peaceful and organized manner despite the scary rumors that had been spread throughout the city about M23 rebels engaging in raping women, murdering civilians, and conscripting young boys into their army. And in spite of this hype, no one was able to provide inquiring reporters with the names and details needed to support these vague claims. M23 was even credited with robbing currency worth millions of US dollars from the Central Bank of Goma and first- person accounts of the robbery were cited by reputable news agencies around the globe including The BBC until the Bank president came forward and provided factual information about the safe which proved that the numerous stories about the alleged bank heist were all untrue.

Meanwhile negotiations at the Speke Resort in Munyonyo, Uganda between M23 and Kabila’s foreign minister have broken down once again. On Sunday, December 9th, M23’s secretary accused Kabila’s government of “doing nothing” to fix the severe problems in the eastern provinces and charged him with encouraging “the social exclusion of particular ethnic groups within the region”. In stating this, the M23 representatives were specifically referring to the prejudicial treatment that Tutsi in the eastern provinces have received from the members of the other tribes in the region especially Hutu extremists. This has been an important concern all along for M23 and one of the primary reasons they left their posts in the Congolese army and formed the M23 Movement. By Monday, December 10th, 2012 the M23 delegation refused to attend the daily negotiation session.  And why should they?  According to information about the negotiations published in the Ugandan dailies when M23 emissaries made the monumental request: that “ Joseph Kabila step down as President of the DR Congo and help create a transitional government approved by the people of the DR Congo, Kabila’s minister countered by offering the rebels a personal incentive: “full integration back into the Congolese Army”.

There is no way that Dr. Kiyonga, Uganda’s defense minister and chief facilitator in these talks will be able to lead these two groups towards a compromise when their fundamental view of the situation is so vastly different. Does Joseph Kabila think he can bully and bluff his way through these negotiations and that somehow this volatile situation will disappear with no cost to his administration? Does he not recognize that the eastern region of his country is suffering through a rebellion and that those men sitting across from his defense minister are the very ones who’ve been winning the war?

And what about the critical injustices that have not been mentioned as of yet? The ones that lay at the heart of M23’s rebellion- like how President Joseph Kabila has continued to support the Hutu Interhamwe, and other anti-Tutsi militias in the Eastern provinces just as his father did when he was president. The FDLR is made up of the same men, Hutu genocidaires whose main mission has always been to exterminate all Tutsi from Central and East Africa beginning with Rwanda. They were deliberately given asylum within the Eastern provinces by Laurent Kabila and used by him during the First and Second War in the Congo against Tutsi militias such as the CNDP. These extremist Hutu continue to live and prosper within northern Kivu District to this day and are responsible for the murders of thousands of innocent Congolese Tutsi and anyone else who stands in their way.  

On November 22, 2012 General Gabriel Amisi, an associate of Joseph Kabila and Commander of the Congolese Infantry in eastern DR Congo was openly charged with distributing weapons to militias and other criminal elements operating within the eastern provinces according to a United Nation report submitted by a team of conflict specialists assigned to investigate this situation. The report specified how General Amisi administered the regular distribution of automatic weapons and ammunition to rebel forces and criminal groups operating in villages throughout the eastern districts. The weapons were identified as the same make as those issued to soldiers in the Conglese army and had been distributed at no cost to members of  Mai-Mai militias and other rebel groups including the extremely violent Raïa Mutomboki, a Congolese militia accused of supporting the Hutu Interhamwe in the murder of members of the Tutsi ethnic group. The report also identified General Amisi as the individual who charged large sums of money for weapons  he sold to poachers operating out of the Volcanoes National Park. This supports what the M23 rebels have claimed all along- that the government of the DRCongo is directly responsible for instigating the prejudicial treatment and murder suffered by the Tutsi living within its borders.

It is no surprise given Paul Kangame’s personal history that as the current President of Rwanda and member of the Tutsi ethnic group he will not rest until he sees to it that all Hutu extremists have been hunted down and eradicated from Central and Eastern Africa. He has survived through more than one war fought to exterminate the Tutsi and has demonstrated that he is determined to stop any future attempts at another genocide. If this means he must start a Third War in the DR Congo in order to stop this senseless slaughter- so be it. He went to war over this once before and will do so again. Three essential experiences have helped bring him to this juncture in his life: his boyhood as a refugee in Uganda, his friendship with Fred Rwigyema, and the regeneration of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). Kagame owes the Tutsi population living around the Virunga Mountains a great personal debt for their support during a time when the RPF may not have stayed together as a fighting unit without their unfailing support.

Kagame was born in October of 1957 in a small village in southern Rwanda but by the time he was two years of age the 1959 Rwandan Revolution had begun when Grégoire Kayibanda overthrew the Tutsi monarchy in power. Enraged Hutus began slaughtering Tutsi that the Belgians had so openly admired and favored with civil service positions and land grants. Upwards of 100,000 Tutsi fled Rwanda seeking refuge in the neighboring countriesof Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi. The Hutu ethnic group was and still is the largest population living in the country of Rwanda. According to the Joshua Project (2012) Hutu account for 85% of the total population of Rwanda, Tutsi make up only 14% and the Twa (pygmy people) account for the other 1%. Eventually like other Tutsi in southern Rwanda, Kagame’s family were forced to leave their village and make their way into Uganda. By 1962, they had settled in the Nshungerezi refugee camp. Paul Kagame knew what it felt like to live as a Tutsi refugee.

Uganda treated its Tutsi refugees harshly. All refugees were required to remain in their assigned camps and children born in Uganda to refugee parents did not qualify for Ugandan citizenship. In time, many hardworking Tutsis moved their families out of the crowded camps and settled in the surrounding countryside or in Ugandan villages. Some managed to establish businesses in the area. The Tutsi also sent their children to the United Nations Camp Schools that were established in order to educate the refugees. These schools helped a new generation of Tutsi qualify for civil service positions and land better paying jobs. But the success of the Tutsi refugees in Uganda caused a bitter resentment to fester in the hearts of the Ugandan tribes living near them. The leaders of those tribes feared that this ever-increasing population of Tutsi would eventually outnumber the total number of families in the Ugandan tribes and that the Tutsi would gain control over them. Eventually the local Ugandan citizens close to the camps became so intolerant of Tutsi culture that they openly discriminated against Tutsi in public and would not hire Tutsi for local positions even though they more than qualified. Paul Kagame must have experienced this type of prejudice and discrimination as he spent his youth within the camps.

Milton Obote, President of Uganda from 1966- 1971 actually passed a bill claiming that all Tutsi and Hutu Rwandese were “ inferior to citizens of Uganda” and declared that they could be held by police and any other government officials without any charges. He ordered all Tutsi and Hutu fired from their jobs in the Civil Service. This affected the livelihood of many Tutsi and Hutu, some of whom had migrated to Uganda decades ago. Obote also prepared to conduct a country-wide census in order to better determine how many and where the Tutsi and Hutu populations were located in Uganda. He intended to use that data to deny them citizenship and the right to vote in national elections but a coup led by a military officer named Idi Amin ousted him from office in 1971.

The young Paul Kagame met his close friend and comrade Fred Rwigyema in a refugee camp and both men joined the National Resistance Army ( NRA) led by a young Ugandan leader named Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, currently President of Uganda. 

Eventually after receiving military and intelligence training from Museveni, Fred Rwigyema along with James Kagame help found the Rwandese Patriotic Front ( RPF)- an army of young Tutsi  willing to die in order to liberate their fellow Tutis from the suppression of the Rwandese Hutu during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s..  Rwigyema began his war by crossing from the town of Mirarna Hills into the Rwandan town of Kagitumba but the RPF found that they were outmanned during the skirmish and Rwigyema was eventually killed. Kagame hastily returned from military training in the United States to take command of what was left of the RPF troops. The main army of the RPF consisted of less than 2,000 men by the time Kagame was able to join them again and he knew that he needed to find a safe haven from which to recruit and train his new soldiers as well as adequately supply them for the push into Rwanda.

So he took his men west into the Virunga Mountains, (the same mountain range in which M23 hid out at the beginning of their rebellion). Living in secluded compounds located within these mountains gave Kagame access to the Tutsi population in western Uganda, Rwanda, and Eastern DR Congo. Hidden from the enemy while locked within these mountains, Kagame was able to take the time he needed to reorganize his army. And although the Tutsi population in the surrounding districts did not have much, they contributed what little they did have to the army that would go on to liberate their fellow Tutsi in Rwanda. He was given money and supplies; even fed his troops off of donations of food provided by these good people. With their help, Kagame eventually trained and equipped his soldiers for the war to come. He was able to leave his mountain stronghold in January of 1991 and continue his war on the Rwandese Hutu by initiating an attack on the Ugandan town of Ruhengeri.

And that is why Paul Kagame has every intention of re-entering the DR Congo, eradicating every last one of the Hutu Interhamwe living there, and securing the freedom of the Tutsi residing in eastern Kivu districts once and for all. And if, along the way he can annex the very lucrative areas of North and South Kivu Districts to Rwanda or make them a separate country, I believe he will.

And that is why President Joseph Kabila went straight to President Museveni of Uganda and President Kagame of Rwanda to air his grievances when the M23 rebels started winning battles and taking over towns. There was no doubt in his mind that both countries were behind these Tutsi patriots. Each of these three men are well accquainted with one another and have crossed paths on many occasions in the past. When asked, veterans of the First and Second Wars in the DR Congo will tell you that not only did Joseph Kabila attend Makerre University in Kampala but he also received his military training from the Ugandan army. 

Maybe if Mr. Kabila actually took part in the negotiation process he’d get to observe the level of conviction in the eyes of the rebels sitting directly across the table from him. And he might recall that it was the same dogged determination that fueled his father’s “kadogos” (child soldiers) and allowed Laurent Kabila to fight his way from Katanga into Kinshasa. Somewhere deep inside Paul Kagame and Yoweri Musesveni, the guerrilla fighters they once were continue to reside- ready to forfeit their lives for what they believe. Men such as these, willing to die for conditions they are convinced must improve,  have no intention of standing down.

Kat Nickerson    Kingston, RI    USA






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