Kabila needs to keep his ‘enemies’ close, not run to the West

Displaced Congolese converge for a food distribution exercise at Mugunga near Goma. Photo |   AFP

On Tuesday last week, reports from North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo announced the fall of its capital, Goma, to the rebel M23 forces, the shadowy fighters who seem to scare the pants off government soldiers — the latter, it is said, upon hearing that they are near, promptly throw their weapons away and take to their heels.

On its website, Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper reported, rather mischievously, that President Joseph Kabila had “rushed to Kampala to seek President Yoweri Museveni’s help.”

This claim may or may not have been accurate. However, for a man who keeps arming his troops only for them to flee the frontline leaving tonnes of weaponry behind for the M23 to collect, seeking help is the last thing anyone with an iota of compassion should blame him for.

Indeed, throughout this M23 crisis, all that Kabila has managed to do so far is to make himself look ridiculous while at the same time making Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame look good. The contrast couldn’t be any sharper.

In their own countries, the latter two have achieved total control after despatching the insurgents that once sought to dislodge them, without direct assistance from external sources.

Meanwhile Kabila, stuck with a large so-called national army that won’t put up a fight with what most analysts agree is a small M23 force, has been running around asking the United Nations or the Southern African Development Community to do it for them, or Western powers to “take action” against Rwanda and Uganda, the two countries that, supposedly, “have imposed war on us” as he and his officials are often wont to claim.

Stood beside Museveni and Kagame, who specialise in telling meddlesome foreigners to keep their noses out of the internal affairs of their respective countries, the hapless Congolese president cuts a pitiful figure.

Worse for him, the more he invests trust in the capacity or willingness of the UN and other outsiders to help him, the more they seem unprepared to offer anything beyond condemning Uganda and Rwanda for fomenting problems for him.

Yet more evidence of their impotence came on Tuesday, as elements of M23 strolled into deserted Goma under the noses of the UN troops, had a look around, and then left in pursuit of Kabila’s fleeing troops.

Rebel morale

Meanwhile the M23 and other insurgents elsewhere in his vast country continue to build up strength and to create ever more complex problems for Congo’s president. As for his army, it has made itself the region’s laughing stock.

As is always the case, the fresh outbreak of hostilities has spawned as many questions as the number of conspiracy theories and accusations floating in cyberspace. As usual, Rwanda and Uganda are portrayed as the villains.

The accusers point to M23’s “smart uniforms, sophisticated weaponry and new gumboots” as evidence that support is “coming from outside.”

That may or may not be the case. Someone must ask, however, why Kabila’s well-equipped and larger army has no stomach for fighting, and where the side allegedly supported by Uganda and Rwanda derives its morale from. Surely morale can’t be bought, blown into fighters or even stimulated simply by new uniforms and gumboots.

Which brings me to an assertion supposedly made by France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius. On Tuesday night, a Radio France International bulletin quoted him as calling for the rules of engagement for the UN’s co-called peacekeeping force in Goma to be changed, apparently to enable it to protect civilians.

It wasn’t clear who from, given that elements of M23 entered Goma and left, watched by small crowds of curious civilians who had opted not to run away.

The larger point, though, is that suggestions such as this one and allegations of mischief on Uganda and Rwanda’s part won’t solve the monumental problems underlying and driving the DRC’s wars, which keep President Kabila hopping from one country to another in search of ever elusive assistance.

What will help is, first of all, acceptance by the leaders of the DRC that the search for a solution must begin where the wars are being fought, which is inside their own country.

Anyone familiar with the security issues that bind Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC together does not have to be told that for President Kabila, the most immediate sources of relevant assistance are his two neighbours.

Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala- and Kigali-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs. E-mail: fgmutebi@yahoo.com

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