Kampala — This is the third instalment in our four-part serialisation of the African Stakes of the Congo War, a book that shows why several countries got involved in the Congo war. This installment, by Timothy Longman, digs into the complex reasons for Rwanda's engagement in the DR Congo: -
When war broke out in Eastern Congo in August 1998, many observers noted the similarities between the new rebellion and the war that had toppled the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko only fourteen months earlier.
Like the first war, the second began with ethnic Congolese Tutsi taking up arms to defend themselves against scapegoating and attacks by government supporters. Both wars began along the Congolese border with Rwanda, in Uvira, Bukavu, and Goma, and quickly spread along two fronts - up the Congo River and along Congo's northern border and to the south into the mineral-rich provinces of Katanga and Kasai.
In both wars, after initially denying involvement in the fighting, the Rwandan government eventually admitted to participation, justifying its intervention on humanitarian and defensive grounds, and, as before, Uganda threw its support behind the rebellion as well.
Yet if highlighting the similarities between the two rebellions was meant to imply that the Rassemblement Congolaise pour la Democratic (Rally for Congolese Democracy - RCD) would follow the example of the Alliance des Forces Democratique pour La Liberation du Congo/Zaire (Alliance for the Democratic Liberation of the Congo-Zaire - ADFL) to quick victory - as the organizers of the second rebellion apparently intended - the contrasts between the two rebellions soon proved the limits of the comparison. While many Congolese discontented with the Mobutu regime welcomed the ADFL advance across the country, few Congolese, even among Kabila's enemies, embraced the RCD. Instead, they denounced the rebellion as an invention of foreign governments hostile to the interests of the Congolese population.
The reaction of the international community was also markedly different. While the world's major powers (especially the United States and Britain) had been sympathetic to Rwanda's security concerns and professed humanitarian intent in the wake of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, continuing human rights abuses in Rwanda and a less clear security threat dampened international support for the second rebellion. More significantly, other African states were not united in their opposition to Kabila as they had been to Mobutu.
The intervention of Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe on Kabila's behalf put a halt to the RCD's rapid advance. The lack of a persuasive justification for intervention ultimately contributed to divisions within the RCD and a breakdown of the alliance between Rwanda and Uganda...
Rwanda's leaders seem to have been motivated by a wide range of objectives that have shifted over time. Their stated justifications for intervention - to eliminate continuing threats to Rwandan security posed by Hutu rebels based in Congo, to protect Congolese Tutsi, and to promote democracy - did play a role, but the war seems also to have been inspired by other motives less defensible in international circles: the need to quell domestic unrest, opportunities for personal and national enrichment, and the desire to be a regional power...
Humanitarian Interests and Ethnic Solidarity
Rwandan troops were involved in the fighting in Congo from the beginning, as news agencies reported their presence in Bukavu and elsewhere, but as in the first Congolese war, the government of Rwanda initially denied any involvement in the second war. For several weeks after the fighting began in Eastern Congo on 2 August 1998, Rwanda's leaders claimed that the war was an internal Congolese dispute...
Rwandan leaders apparently felt that they could not admit an extraterritorial intervention so clearly in violation of international law until they had prepared the international community to accept it. Hence, during the first weeks of the war, Rwandan officials denied involvement yet affirmed the RCD's justifications for taking up arms. The RCD's perspective is well expressed by Jacques Depelchin, one of several prominent academics who joined the RCD. In a speech given at Columbia University in September 1998, he gave two basic reasons for the rebellion: Kabila's corrupt and authoritarian tendencies and his move toward genocide, the same reasons used to justify war against Mobutu.
According to Depelchin, "The war is a continuation of the first war because the objectives for which we were fighting, Kabila turned his back on them. We wanted to move away from all of Mobutu's practices: using the bank like his personal kitty, concentration of power in the hands of one ethnic group, corruption, refusing to open the democratic process, refusing to allow other political forces to participate. All those things for which we had fought for were not happening."
Like Depelchin and other RCD leaders, Rwandan officials mentioned their concern over Kabila's corruption and hostility to democracy, but their main justification for "possible" intervention (in reality an explanation for the intervention they had already undertaken) was the threat of genocide against Congolese Tutsi... Many foreign observers, as well as some Rwandans, accept the Rwandan Patriotic Army's (RPA) claims of humanitarian motives. This perspective is founded on a specific understanding of the RPA's relationship to the 1990-94 war in Rwanda and particularly to the 1994 genocide there. According to this understanding, the RPA invaded Rwanda in 1990 on purely - or primarily - humanitarian grounds, and they began fighting again in April 1994 to put a halt to the genocide of their Tutsi relatives. This view perceives the Tutsi in the RPA as having a strong sense of ethnic connection to Tutsi elsewhere and as having been deeply touched by the cold-blooded murder of their parents, brothers, and sisters in the genocide.
If they have occasionally stepped outside the bounds of international law, as in their treatment of Rwanda's Hutu population or, in this case, their extraterritorial intervention in Congo, it is understandable, because of the terrible tragedy they have experienced.
The humanitarian defense of Rwanda's misbehavior is generally accompanied by a reminder of the international community's failure to intervene in the 1994 genocide, implying that the RPA has a right to assume that no one else will defend the Tutsi population and that extraordinary circumstances justify extraordinary measures...
Given the Rwandan Patriotic Front's (RPF) own authoritarian rule in Rwanda, few people take seriously its professed concern for democracy in Congo, and even those who do doubt that the current war can succeed at bringing about democracy. As Mahmood Mamdani writes, "Foreign invasion cannot give us democracy as a turnkey project. This was true of Uganda in 1979 and of Congo in 1997. And it remains true of Congo in I998." Another author suggests that the real goal of the Rwandans was less to bring about democracy than merely to topple Kabila and replace him with a more compliant puppet...
While Rwanda's interest in democracy is questionable, the concern for Congo's Tutsi was real, and the interest in defending Congo's Tutsi was probably, at least initially, more than a mere "pretext" or "fig leaf" to justify intervention. Many in the RPA have strong connections to the Tutsi community in Congo. The RPA's leadership is comprised almost entirely of Tutsi who grew up as refugees outside Rwanda, and while the most powerful RPA officials come from Uganda, the Tutsi refugee community in Congo was large and contributed many troops to the RPA.
The problem with the humanitarian justification for intervention in Congo is the same problem posed by the RPA's relationship to the genocide in Rwanda: Attacking a country increases the vulnerability of scapegoated groups and makes genocide more likely. While this in no way justifies genocide, nor makes it less heinous a crime against humanity, the knowledge that the context of war is a major causal factor in explaining genocide does place a burden of caution on those who would wage war.
The ideology of genocide generally portrays the dominant group as vulnerable, so that genocide becomes a defensive action in the minds of its perpetrators. Attacking a country with a well-developed genocidal ideology lends credence to the argument that the dominant group is in fact threatened and needs to defend itself by eliminating internal enemies.
It should not be surprising, thus, that violence against ethnic Albanians increased after NATO began bombing Serbia, since the war augmented the Serbian sense of vulnerability. Similarly, some observers of the Rwandan genocide have pointed out the paradoxical nature of the RPA's intervention in Rwanda. On the one hand, the RPA put a halt to the genocide of Tutsi in regions they captured, but on the other, their invasion of Rwanda was a primary reason why genocide was possible, because it made the Hutu population feel vulnerable.
While the RPA invasion of Eastern Congo has certainly prevented massacres of Congolese Tutsi for the time being, research that I conducted in Goma and Bukavu in March 2000 made it abundantly clear that in the long term, the second war has heightened the vulnerability of Congolese Tutsi. The war is massively unpopular with the population of North and South Kivu, which deeply resents the RPA presence.
Although Congolese from many ethnic groups are involved in the RCD administration, most people see Tutsi both Congolese and Rwandan, as the primary powers in the RCD... Now, according to Congolese perceptions, Congolese Tutsi have invited a foreign army to occupy their country... While the presence of RPA troops protects the Tutsi for the moment, Tutsi will clearly be vulnerable in Congo if the RPA troops depart...
Hence, the RPA's presence poses a paradox from the perspective of protection of Tutsi. The RPA clearly does prevent anti-Tutsi violence. Yet their own actions, particularly attacks on civilians and other human rights abuses, increase public resentment and hatred of Tutsi, thus heightening the need for protection of Tutsi. The RPA, thus, is simultaneously increasing the threat to Tutsi and offering them protection.
Security Threats from Congo
The second motive for involvement in Congo that Rwandan officials will publicly admit is the continuing threat to security in Rwanda posed by elements of the former Rwandan army and the Interahamwe militia operating out of Congo. When RPF leader Paul Kagame ultimately admitted RPF involvement in the first Congo war, he justified it primarily as a defensive action... Given the security threat posed for Rwanda by the Interahamwe and ex-FAR present in the camps [in Congo], many diplomats, journalists, and scholars regarded the RPF's decision to intervene as understandable.
Many were also willing to overlook the fact that the RPF attacked Hutu without discriminating between combatants and unarmed civilians, in clear violation of international humanitarian law. The idea that Rwanda had a legitimate defensive interest in intervening in Congo legitimated their involvement in the war long after they had closed the refugee camps and routed the remnants of the Hutu army, as Mobutu himself was ultimately defined as a security threat.
Given the diplomatic success of the defensive justification for intervention in the first war, it should not be surprising that the RPF turned to security concerns to justify its intervention in the second war. An escalation of attacks in Rwanda by armed Hutu elements in late 1997 and early 1998 raised clear concerns within the RPF over its ability to maintain control over the majority Hutu population in Rwanda. The most serious attacks occurred in the northwestern prefectures of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri on the border with Congo, where attacks by Hutu militia and counter-attacks by the RPA escalated into a virtual civil war by early 1998. Numerous killings of genocide survivors were reported, as well as attacks on camps of Congolese Tutsi refugees, and attacks reached even into the heartland of the country, Gitarama, where a December 1997 raid on the Gitarama prison freed 500 Hutu accused of involvement in the genocide. A new organization, the Rwanda Liberation Army, took credit for the attacks and gained a degree of international attention in 1998.
The Rwandan government did, thus, have legitimate security concerns, and its claim that the insurgents were using Congo as a base of operations seems to have been well founded... Following the RPA's intervention in Congo in 1998, violence within Rwanda dropped off precipitously.
There are, however, some clear difficulties with security as a justification. First, while controlling Hutu rebel activity could justify invasion of North and South Kivu, it cannot explain why the RPF carried the rebellion into Katanga, Kasai, and Orientale, where there was no evidence of Hutu militia activity.
While moving beyond Eastern Congo was justified in the first war by the perception that security would not be established in the region until Mobutu was removed, no similar consensus about Kabila as a security threat existed, as demonstrated by the willingness of Angola and other African states to intervene on his behalf.
Second, as with the humanitarian justification, Rwanda's continuing presence in Eastern Congo and in particular its violent treatment of the Congolese population has exacerbated anti- Rwandan and anti-Tutsi sentiments in Congo.
Local militias, now known almost universally as Mai-Mai, were allies with the Banyamulenge and RPA in the first war, but they broke with Kabila's government because of their frustration at the continuing RPA presence in Eastern Congo and the disproportionate power of Banyamulenge and other Congolese Tutsi.
Kabila's attempt to reach out to the ethnic groups they represented was a major source of conflict with Rwanda, and when the second war began, Mai-Mai groups fled into the forests, from which they have since mounted resistance. As the war has continued, more and more Congolese have joined Mai-Mai groups, and in some cases, they have allied themselves with Hutu militia groups (now generally called Interahamwe). Thus, rather than wiping out Congo-based militia as a threat to Rwanda, the RPF may have increased both popular support for militia and the numbers of militia members...
Domestic Security Concerns
The idea that nothing serves to unify a divided country like an external threat - and nothing so well as a war - is so widely repeated as to have become a truism. Yet Rwanda's intervention in Congo seems an unlikely candidate for rallying patriotic unity. The vast majority of Rwanda's population is Hutu, while the minority Tutsi ethnic group is widely perceived to dominate the government. Since the RPF took power in July 1994, the government has been comprised of diverse political parties and Hutu have served in prominent positions, but the RPF has been the real power behind the scenes.
As Reyntjens observes, although fourteen of twenty-seven cabinet ministers in 1999 were Hutu, in all but two cases, the general secretary of their ministries was a Tutsi from the RPF. At the top level, the greatest power lay not with the Hutu president, Pasteur Bizimungu, but with Paul Kagame, the vice president and minister of defense.
This impression was confirmed when Bizimungu resigned in 2000 and Kagame became the new president. Most Hutu perceive the government as a "Tutsi" government, and they see the human rights abuses carried out by the RPA and police since 1994 as in part ethnically motivated. Many Hutu complain that the RPF acts more like a colonizing force than a legitimate government. Hence, a war in Congo initiated by the RPF in order to ensure its own security against a perceived threat from Hutu rebels is not likely to appeal to the Hutu masses.
Nevertheless, the war in Congo could help to create internal Rwandan unity in several ways. Most importantly, it could unify a divided Tutsi population. An important division exists between the survivors of the genocide and the Tutsi who have returned to Rwanda from exile.
The RPF is composed predominantly of returned exiles, while survivors, many of whom are women and orphans, have little representation in the government and very little power. As early as 1995, I heard survivors complain about their relative marginalization within the RPF. Resentments of the RPF have increased among survivors, "who find that the current government fails to satisfy their demands for justice and assistance. These Tutsi deplore the lack of progress in prosecutions for genocide as well as the prosperity of government officials grown rich from corruption while many survivors... struggle in abject poverty."
Some of these survivors have thrown their support behind a multiethnic movement calling for the return to Rwanda of King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, who was driven into exile in 1961 by a Hutu uprising.
Although the monarchy had lost popular legitimacy among the Hutu by the end of the colonial era, the king was historically believed to represent all Rwandans, regardless of their ethnicity. The revival of the idea of the monarch as a figure who could unite Rwandans across ethnic lines has created support for the return of the king, even among Hutu in regions that once strongly supported the 1959 revolution.
Further, since the king cannot be tainted by association with the genocide, he could challenge the RPF in a way that Hutu leaders could not. The RPF clearly views this multiethnic monarchist movement as a major threat, and RPF leaders may have hoped that the engagement in Congo would regain Tutsi support around the common Hutu threat and serve to divide Hutu and Tutsi united in the monarchist movement.
Important divisions also exist within the RPF and the community of returned exiles between exiles from the francophone countries of Burundi and Congo and those from Uganda and other anglophone countries. Power within the RPF is clearly dominated by Tutsi, who, like Kagame, were exiles in Uganda. While some Tutsi returned from Burundi and Congo are in prominent government positions, the most powerful positions are held almost entirely by Ugandan returnees. Within the civilian community, Tutsi returned from Uganda have enjoyed the greatest economic opportunities while other returnees have been left behind. Hence, some francophone returnees have also been attracted to the monarchist movement. Some RPF leaders may have hoped that the invasion of Congo would appeal to returnees from Congo, since it was justified as a defense of Congolese Tutsi.
Finally, the war has offered at least some opportunities to enlist the support of Hutu. Immediately after taking power, the RPF began to arrest Hutu that they suspected of participation in the genocide, but the number of suspects far exceeded the capacity of the Rwandan legal system to evaluate the validity of accusations, press formal charges, and hold trials. With the closure of refugee camps in Congo driving Hutu back into Rwanda in 1996, thousands more suspects were arrested, creating a prison population of over 120,000 people... With the war in Congo creating a need for additional soldiers, the RPF has turned to the prisons as a source of recruits. Captured members of the Hutu militia groups or Hutu accused of lesser offenses have apparently been offered an opportunity to join the RPF in Congo rather than wait indefinitely in prison...
Although humanitarian and security concerns may have been important initial motivations for Rwandan involvement in the second war, these concerns do not fully explain Rwanda's continued engagement in Congo. Instead, other, less internationally acceptable reasons appear to have had a strong influence, despite denials by the RPF. The most obvious of these is the opportunity for both national and personal enrichment.
Rwanda is a small, overpopulated country with almost no natural resources. In contrast, Congo is extremely rich in natural resources and has abundant land. Congo exports diamonds, gold, uranium, copper, and other minerals, as well as coffee, tea, and other export crops. Congo's wealth helped to prop up the Mobutu regime long after it had lost public support. Kabila was able to support the ADFL as it advanced across Congo in the 1996-97 war, in part through giving concessions of Congo's minerals to international corporations.
Strong evidence suggests that Rwanda has profited substantially from its involvement in Congo. Rwanda and Uganda have both become transit points for diamonds and other minerals extracted from Congo and generally smuggled out of the country illegally...
Witnesses from Walikale, a region where Mai-Mai militias have been active, reported that in some communities the population had been driven into regroupment camps where they were required to mine coltan, a mineral used in microchips and cellular phones and traded at a very high price on international markets. According to one report, Rwanda has been exporting as much as U.S.$20 million of coltan per month. Rwanda's diamond exports increased from 166 carats in 1998 to 30,500 carats in 2000. The fighting that broke out between Rwandan and Ugandan troops in Kisangani in mid-1999 was apparently fueled in large part by competition over the diamonds that are transported through this major commercial center.
According to people whom I interviewed from various parts of North and South Kivu, the plunder of Congo is not limited to extraction of mineral wealth but includes looting goods... The exact extent to which Rwanda is profiting from its intervention in Congo is difficult to determine, but the evidence of the economic benefits taken from Congo is clearly visible in the current level of prosperity in Kigali. Economic activity in Rwanda today goes far beyond what either the Rwandan economy alone or the current level of international investment could support.
Political Triumphalism and the Myth of a "Tutsi Conspiracy" The final motivation for military engagement in Congo is a bit more subtle, but it ranks among the most important explanations for why Rwanda has remained engaged in Congo: political triumphalism. The RPF has been an extremely successful movement, and this success has bred a sense of entitlement among RPF leaders.
Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame, subsequently founders of the RPF, were Rwandan Tutsi refugees who were among the original members of the National Resistance Army (NRA), a rebel movement led by current Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. The NRA's successful conquest of Uganda against great odds helped convince the many Tutsi in the NRA that the conquest of Rwanda could be possible as well.
Like the NRA, the RPF began as a bush rebellion, but it too gradually expanded, captured land and ultimately swept to power in Kigali. The odds of the RPF's victory were even longer, since unlike the NRA, which had a substantial base of support among several large ethnic groups in Southern Uganda, the RPF's base of support, the Tutsi, constituted less than 15 percent of Rwanda's population.
Hence, the RPF came to power with a degree of triumphalism, with a sense that they were a victorious army that could not be defeated. (In fact, the Kinyarwanda nickname that RPF soldiers took for themselves was inkotanyi, "the indefatigable ones.") The RPF's perception of themselves as having put an end to the genocide of their people also shapes their perspective, imparting a sense of moral rectitude. The failure of the international community to stop the genocide and later to confront the security problems posed by armed Hutu groups in the refugee camps in Congo and the spread of violence to Congolese Tutsi convinced the RPF that no one else was willing to defend the interests of the Tutsi people.
The RPF's sense of responsibility, feeling of moral certainty, and confidence - verging on arrogance - in its own military capacity all influenced its intervention in the first Congo war. The fact that it and its Ugandan allies were able to create a rebel force that was able to surprise the world by sweeping to victory across the vast country of Congo in only eight months contributed to the RPF's sense of invincibility.
These attitudes of moral entitlement and military dominance shaped Rwandan relations with the Kabila regime. While Kabila had been a longtime opponent of Mobutu, he had disappeared entirely from public view when Kagame and Museveni brought him in as head of the ADFL several weeks into the rebellion. They continued to regard Kabila as a junior partner, even after he became president of a country much larger and wealthier than theirs... As the ADFL advanced across Congo, the RPF sought to exercise its influence in captured territories much as it had in Rwanda, by installing Congolese from diverse ethnic groups in titular positions but placing real power in the hands of Banyamulenge and RPF officers in nominally inferior positions.
While RPF dominance was possible in Rwanda, where Tutsi constitute over 10 percent of the population and the RPF had justified claims to Rwandan citizenship, Tutsi constitute far less than 1 percent of Congo's population. Although many Congolese were thankful for the assistance that they received from neighboring countries in ousting Mobutu, they deeply resented Rwanda's attempt to wield power in their country after the war, particularly given the strong anti-Tutsi sentiment within Congo.
Kabila's ties with Rwanda and the continuing presence of Rwandan officers in the army and government were, thus, a severe political liability for Congo's new president yet the RPF leadership proved incredibly insensitive to Kabila's predicament.
Kagame's July 1997 boast in a Washington Post interview that Rwanda had been key to the ADFL victory put Kabila in an awkward position and inspired his first attempts to move Rwandans and Banyamulenge out of key positions. The RPF treated Kabila's attempt to exercise independent power and his replacement of Tutsi in the government as the act of an anti-Tutsi extremist, tantamount to the genocidal behavior of the Rwandan Hutu leadership in the 1994 genocide.
Yet even at the beginning of the second rebellion, Tutsi held political power in Congo far out of proportion to their presence in the population, including positions as foreign minister and minister of state. The RPF leadership seemed to believe themselves entitled to wielding power in Congo in a way that the other sponsors of the ADFL did not, and they treated Kabila's attempts to act independently as a personal betrayal. Ultimately, the replacement in mid-July 1998 of James Kabareebe, a Rwandan Tutsi, as chief of staff of the FAC seems to have been the spark that drove Rwanda to act, despite the degree to which such a move was understandable within the context of Congolese politics.
In discussing the political arrogance of the RPF leadership, I do not mean in any way to support the idea of a "Tutsi conspiracy" that some critics of the Rwandan and Ugandan governments promote. According to this theory, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni is actually a Tutsi, not a Muhima of the Banyankole, and he and the Tutsi leaders of the RPF have conspired over the past two decades to create a massive Tutsi kingdom in the Great Lakes region, beginning with Uganda, then spreading to Rwanda, Burundi, and, finally, into Congo. This theory is backed with racist depictions of the Tutsi as greedy, dishonest, and power-hungry and with claims that they are a Nilotic group with no right to live in a Bantu area, the same type of language used to justify the Rwandan genocide.
In fact, Rwandan actions in Congo have not been carefully planned out within a well-developed "conspiracy." Instead, the RPF leadership has been driven in a more haphazard fashion by a sense of entitlement and invincibility based more on its military might than its ethnic affiliation.
This triumphalism has blinded the RPF leadership to the impact that RPF actions have on how Tutsi are perceived. Tragically, actions motivated by RPF arrogance have exacerbated anti-Tutsi sentiments, creating a difficult situation for thousands of Congolese Tutsi - as well as for other Congolese who have supported the two rebellions. This arrogance of power also contributed to the eventual break between Rwanda and Uganda, as ultimately RPF leaders could not tolerate Uganda usurping the role of puppet master that they rightfully saw as their own.
Rwandan Strategies in the Second Congo War
Rwanda's intervention in Congo has been militarily quite successful but has faltered largely because of political constraints and miscalculations. The RPF sought to mimic its successes in the first Congo war by following the same patterns of assault.
Initial attacks began along the Rwandan and Burundian borders with combined RPF and Congolese forces - primarily Tutsi and Banyamulenge members of the RCD, but also some former soldiers from Mobutu's army who had previously been the targets of the RPF's attacks.
After quickly securing the border regions of North and South Kivu, the RPF and RCD forces moved west along two fronts, toward the mineral regions of Katanga in the south and Orientale in the north.
Capturing the diamond and gold mines in these two regions provided a revenue base to support the war while at the same time denying Kabila's government and the FAC sources of revenue they needed to defend themselves. This path of assault was exactly the path that the ADFL had taken two years earlier to great success.
The major departure from the military strategy used in the first Congo war was a daring assault on the strategic area at the mouth of the Congo River in the far western part of Congo. Just days after launching the attack along Rwanda's borders, the rebel soldiers hijacked a Congo Air jumbo jet and used it to fly Rwandan and RCD soldiers to an airbase at Kitona in the Bas-Congo region.
After quickly taking control of the airbase they began to ferry in hundreds of reinforcements, using large Russian-built troop transport planes. The Rwandan and RCD troops quickly captured the vital Atlantic ports of Boma and Matadi and the power plants and power lines along the Congo River, then began marching on the capital, Kinshasa. By the second week of August, RPF and RCD troops were less than twenty miles outside of Kinshasa.
The RPF and RCD assaults in both the east and west of Congo ultimately foundered not because of military failings but because of political miscalculations. In the first war, the RPF was highly successful at gaining popular support for its presence in Congo by creating the ADFL as an anti-Mobutu movement.
As the ADFL advanced across Congo, they received support not only from local residents, who believed that the rebels were freeing them from thirty-one years of authoritarian rule, but also from many of Mobutu's own troops, who switched sides because of their own frustrations with Mobutu and in hopes that the ADFL could bring about a better future for Congo.
In the second war, the Rwandans tried to repeat this strategy, creating a Congolese movement that could gain popular support from people disenchanted with Kabila, but the RCD was from the beginning an awkward coalition of former ADFL soldiers (particularly Banyamulenge), former Mobutu associates and Forces Armees Zairoises (Zairian Armed Forces - FAZ) soldiers driven out of power by Kabila; civil society activists, such as human rights activists Maitre Emungu and Joseph Mudumbi; and intellectuals such as Depelchin and Wamba dia Wamba.
The motivation for the rebellion clearly came from the Banyamulenge and from Rwanda, but Rwandan leaders were sufficiently conscious of the unpopularity of the Tutsi to realize that they needed to give an impression of broad popular support. It is not fully clear why prominent individuals like Mudumbi and Wamba would be drawn into the RCD, since Rwanda's avowed interest in democracy seems to have had little basis in action, but the RCD officials clearly failed to bring along a substantial constituency, as the RPF had apparently hoped. Most Congolese were quick to denounce RCD leaders as mere puppets seeking personal fortune, and indeed the humble, poorly guarded offices of RCD officials in Goma suggest immediately their limited real authority.
The divergent motivations of the RPF and its Congolese allies have led to conflicts and ultimately divisions in the RCD, as Rwanda has moved leaders in and out of power. Wamba dia Wamba received support from Uganda to form an alternate RCD branch after Rwanda pushed him out as chairman of the movement, and more recently, Rwanda orchestrated the replacement of Emile Ilunga as head of the RCD-Goma by Adolphe Onusumba. The regular rotation of leaders has done nothing to improve the image of the RCD-Goma as more than a mere front for Rwandan ambitions. In contrast to the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (Movement for the Liberation of Congo - MLC), which controls much of Equateur province and is led by a leader who has a degree of local popular appeal, the RCD-Goma still almost entirely lacks popular support. Over time, even many Banyamulenge have become critical of the RCD, because its arrogance and abusive behavior have increased the precariousness of the Banyamulenge position within Congo.
The failure to gain popular support has been a major handicap for the RPF and the rebel movement it supported. Not only did this lack of popularity contribute to the fracturing of the rebels into three movements, but it inspired resistance from local populations...
Given this context, the invasion from the west of Kinshasa, although a brilliant military move, was a terrible political miscalculation. The airlift of troops into Kitona reinforced the impression from the beginning that the second war was not a rebellion but a foreign invasion. Given an apparent choice between a mediocre Congolese leader and a foreign Tutsi occupation, most Congolese were quick to choose Kabila over the RPF. Furthermore, the rapid move on Kinshasa, clearly against the popular will, inspired other African countries to intervene on Kabila's behalf.
Angola sent in troops that quickly crushed the invasion force approaching Kinshasa. Namibia and Zimbabwe also sent troops that were able to slow the advances in eastern Congo. Confronted with both the FAC and well-armed foreign troops along the front, a hostile population and armed militia attacks within the territory ostensibly under its control, a splintering of the rebel movement, and a break with its chief ally, Uganda, the RPF found itself in an uncomfortable position. For the first time in its history, the RPF found its sense of manifest destiny challenged.
* Next Sunday the book examines what it calls "Museveni's Adventure in the Congo War: Uganda's Vietnam?"
* The African Stakes of the Congo War is edited by John F. Clark and published by Fountain, 2003. It is available in all leading bookstores in the country