It isn’t Kagame making trouble in Congo, it’s people who fight like himBy FREDERICK GOLOOBA-MUTEBI | Wednesday, June 6 2012 at 09:44
The Democratic Republic of Congo is at war again. And Rwanda has been sucked in. According to media reports now hotly disputed, a recent internal UN report has accused the Kagame government of training people to go into Congo and fight on the side of the Congolese rebels, the Bosco Ntaganda-led M23, who are currently causing mayhem in the Kivu region.
Watchers of events in the Great Lakes region and listeners to the endless rumour mongering that surrounds Rwanda-DRC relations would have had no difficulty predicting both.
For one thing, the Democratic Republic of Congo has so far failed to craft what experts who study post-war societies would call a “political settlement.”
At the most elementary level, this refers to understandings or agreements, not necessarily written ones, that bring a post-war country’s formerly warring elites to a common view of what is important and what is not, when it comes to resolving the issues that would have led to violence in the first place.
When reached, political settlements help political elites define rules for contentious issues such as how to pursue power and, once one group has got it, how to exercise it in ways that do not persuade those who have lost it to pick up arms and “go to the bush.”
Post-genocide Rwanda’s political elites have been smarter than the DRC’s. They crafted a political settlement that, quibbles about its long-term durability aside, continues to hold and to underlie the rapid progress that has made the little country the subject of admiration, envy, and, in some quarters, much bitterness.
As a result of having achieved so much with severely limited resources within an extraordinarily short time, Rwanda has acquired a reputation, rightly or wrongly, of being capable of doing literally anything. Some people must believe it is a country of magicians. At no other time does this reputation turn out to be such a burden as when there is fighting in Congo between the government and the numerous factions that challenge its authority from time to time.
Rwanda’s relatively small but highly disciplined and motivated military is something of a legend in the DRC, where it has several times taken on larger, seemingly superior armies and walloped them.
Go to the DRC and you will hear Congolese themselves recount stories of how their soldiers go to war with civilian clothes under their army uniforms. Faced with determined opponents, they take off their uniforms, discard their weapons, and run for dear life.
Once upon a time, those opponents were Rwandan soldiers. For most Congolese, therefore, any fight involving two Congolese factions will inevitably point to Rwandan involvement if one of the protagonists shows a fighting spirit that is akin to that of the Rwandans.
It does not help matters that the stronger, more determined sides tend to be those consisting of or led by Congolese of Rwandan extraction, among them the now infamous Banyamulenge and their Banyarutshuru and Bagogwe cousins.
Rwandophones who suffer regular harassment by Congolese soldiers and civilians alike, they are usually forced to take up arms to defend themselves. They tend to see their battles with government forces or local militias as struggles for their very existence as communities. They therefore fight so fiercely that they often end up on top or cause stalemates that lead to temporary ceasefires, only for hostilities to break out again.
The fearlessness and tenacity they display on the battlefield reminds their compatriots of the Rwanda military. Soon enough, claims start flying that they are not the ones fighting, but their Rwandan cousins.
Reliable sources close to the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC suggest that it is this very logic that informed whoever authored the claims that the M23 rebels are the beneficiaries of assistance from Rwanda. The suspicions were then “confirmed” by people claiming to be rebel defectors trained and sent into Congo by the Rwandans.
Already suspicious about the unusual strength of the rebels, some in the UN bought the story wholesale and cited it as evidence of Rwanda’s involvement, even as the Kabila government dismissed the claims as false.
The claims come after the UN Mapping report which accused the Rwanda military of committing genocide against Hutu exiles in Congo, and which has, since its publication, been roundly dismissed as trash by informed analysts.
What its authors did not do was ask themselves how an army with large numbers of Hutu rank-and-file soldiers and officers within its ranks could order them to go and exterminate fellow Hutus.
Could the UN be trying to deflect attention from its own failures in Congo? That is probably too harsh...
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