By the beginning of April 2012, tensions were mounting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between the government in Kinshasa and many of its erstwhile commanders in its eastern regions. To defuse the growing crisis, a tripartite meeting was held on April 8 in the Western Rwandan town of Rubavu (previously Gisenyi). The three parties to the meeting were: A delegation from Kinshasa representing President Joseph Kabila; another from the government of Rwanda; and a third delegation of commanders of the CNDP, a largely ethnic-Tutsi militia in eastern Congo.
According to sources, DRC was represented by its Administrator General of Civil Intelligence, Kalev Mutond; the Chief of Military Intelligence and Col. Jean Claude Yav. They were carrying a message from President Joseph Kabila. Rwanda's delegation included its Minister of Defence, Gen. James Kabarebe; the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Charles Kayonga, Director General of the National Intelligence Services, Lt. Gen. Karakye Karenzi, Brig. Gen. Jack Musemakweri (responsible for civil military affairs), and Emmanuel Ruvusha (3rd division commander covering Rubavu).
The CNDP delegation was led by Col. Sultan Makenga, currently commander of the rebel M23 fighting force in Runyonyi (he was then the deputy operational commander South Kivu for the Congolese army). He was accompanied by two officers: Col. Faustin Muhindo (Chief of Staff responsible for administration in North Kivu and has remained in his position) and a certain Col. Zimurinda who was sector commander in Masisi. Conspicuously absent was the group leader, Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, the most sought after warlord in Eastern Congo since he was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
During the meeting, which the Rwandan delegation attended as "observers", Kinshasa raised two issues: First, CNDP officers do not deploy as the high command in Kinshasa instructs. Defying orders in the army is technically tantamount to mutiny. Second, (and this was specific to Ntaganda whom they had hoped would be at the meeting), the CNDP leader is undisciplined and goes to nightclubs with soldiers and terrorises revellers.
The Ntaganda issue
The CNDP answered that in respect to its leader's indiscipline; that is a personal matter to Ntaganda and should be addressed to him personally. In respect to the refusal to deploy in certain areas as ordered, the CNDP said they were uncertain of their security. They cited a case of 50 of their soldiers who were deployed and all of them disappeared and are feared dead. They said that Kinshasa undertook to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate the matter and it never did. They concluded that they did not have confidence to deploy far away from their homes as instructed because of these circumstances. On this point, sources in the meeting say, the delegation from Kinshasa was literally stuck and had no answer.
However, CNDP accused the government of other violations of the agreement that allowed for its integration into the national army of DRC. Under the joint agreement, Kinshasa had promised to facilitate them to pacify their areas under threat from FDLR by giving them money, weapons and all other support to. FDLR is an extremist Hutu rebel groups with the twin objectives of removing the government of Rwanda and (for the case of CNDP which is largely Tutsi) of exterminating all Tutsis. CNDP argued that over 50,000 of their people are living in internally displaced peoples' camps or as refugees in neighbouring countries. These people are still afraid to return to their homes for fear of FDLR.
The second complaint CNDP had against Kinshasa was that the government practices open discrimination against forces that were integrated into the national army. For example, CNDP said that the original government army is given superior financial and logistical support from Kinshasa than the armies that were integrated. This has created two armies in one: one better financed and resourced, another almost ignored. CNDP complained, for example, that a corporal in the original army is paid a salary far above that of a colonel in the integrated forces. They accused Kinshasa of actively breaching the agreement and undermining process of integration through such clearly discriminatory practices.
The Kinshasa delegation agreed that these complaints were correct. However, it argued that delays in harmonising salaries and allocating resources were a result of ongoing bureaucratic procedures. To this, CNDP said that delays that last three years are too long to be attributed to bureaucratic slowness. CNDP said it may also be a function of lack of political will in Kinshasa to implement the agreements. At the end of the meeting, the government delegation promised to report to authorities in Kinshasa.
One issue still stuck out: Bosco Ntaganda. He had not attended the meeting fearing he would be arrested. Given that the meeting was held inside Rwanda, it shows that contrary to opinion in many quarters, the Tutsi warlords in DRC do not trust Kigali 100 percent. Besides, the memory of Gen. Laurent Nkunda, their former commander now under detention in Rwanda is too fresh for many to ignore. It is on this basis that Kinshasa promised to send a message to Ntaganda that he should reform his ways or will be punished under the military code of conduct. It offered him a deal: He will be allowed to retreat to his farm in Masisi with an entire company of soldiers (123) and that the government would not go after him if he behaved himself.
The Kigali delegation had been invited into the meeting as facilitators. It said that both sides have legitimate claims against each other. The best solution to these differences was an amicable settlement, not a resort to war. It told the CNDP that they should understand that they have been integrated into the national army and should as far as possible respect the chain of command from Kinshasa. They ended with an agreement that the three sides should meet again in two weeks to discuss progress on issues that had been raised and the solutions that had been suggested.
A day after the meeting, President Joseph Kabila visited the eastern Congolese town of Goma where he declared he would arrest Ntaganda but would not send him to ICC. Instead he promised that he would try him inside Congo. Had his delegation briefed him about the discussions the previous day? Was he under international pressure to arrest Ntaganda? Was he playing to the Congolese political gallery?
Inside Congo, the anti-Tutsi feeling runs high. However, some sources say, the international community seems to have offered Kabila a deal: get Ntaganda and we recognise your election. For a president facing recognition issues since his re-election, it is possible Kabila could have chosen eruption of hostilities in the eastern region in exchange for badly needed international recognition.
The day after Kabila spoke in Goma, Congolese government troops attacked M23 positions in Masisi. Whether Kinshasa had decided to abandon the process it had committed itself to in Rubavu remains a mystery. However, immediately the news of a resumption of hostilities came out, Kigali was tense again - it was their worst nightmare. First, the last thing Kigali needs is war in eastern DRC as it threatens vital investments Rwanda is making in its western region. Second, Kigali is acutely aware that regardless of what it does, short of intervening in such a war on the side of the Congolese government, many in the international community would blame it for inciting the war.Kigali's first reaction was to go back to work with both sides to find a formula out of the hostilities. When the scheduled meeting meant to report on progress met as agreed after two weeks, it degenerated into a series of accusations and counter accusations. Instead of reporting on progress against the war, the meeting was now evaluating the progress of the war. Kigali proposed a joint verification mechanism that would bring the government troops, the rebels and the Rwandan army to establish the validity of the claims by either side. Kigali had hoped this would demonstrate its neutrality in the conflict.
Although finally the joint verification was put in place and has been working, it has also been facing many problems. For example, the verification was also supposed to establish whether Rwanda is arming M23 and whether DRC is arming the FDLR. This component of the process undermines the role of Kigali as a facilitator and turns it into an accused party. Besides, Rwanda still has troops inside eastern DRC under an agreement with Kinshasa where the two armies used to conduct joint operations against FDLR. However, although the troops are still there, the joint operations have been suspended. Sadly, these joint operations had offered the best mechanism with which to actually establish the validity of the accusations by either side.