The Independent (Kampala)

18 August 2012

East Africa: Rwanda and the DRC

column

The opportunity to seek lasting stability shouldn't be missed

Since the outburst of the recent military mutiny in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda has been under intense accusation of purportedly supporting the group of mutineers known as M23. These allegations are based on a hastily compiled addendum to the interim annual report to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee by the UN Group of Experts (GoE).

The GoE report has been criticised for violating basic laws of natural justice that the accused has the right to be heard. Rwanda's views were not sought when the report was hurriedly compiled. Its sources were mostly Congolese military, intelligence, security operatives and other informants and unverifiable M23 defectors all in DRC. Rwanda has since submitted a robust rebuttal to the report.

By turning all the fire on Rwanda as a scapegoat for the rebellion, the UN and human rights groups lost an opportunity to address the root cause of the perennial violence in DRC.

DRC has been in a state of chaos for decades due to serious governance deficit, institutional decay, corruption, and corresponding security vacuum. DRC is presented as if it is different from the one analysed by Adam Hochschild in his King Leopold's Ghost. Today's Congo is the same former Zaire that was ravaged and put to rot by Mobutu Sese Seko for three decades in the 1960s to 1990s.

Those who rushed to accuse Rwanda either deliberately or by oversight ignored the historical reality of the country and the complex issues at play. Most discourse on DRC tends to focus on symptoms ignoring the root causes and deep underlying contradictions. Consequently the solutions devised have tended to be simplistic, dealing with symptoms; hence the recurrence of conflict, violence and suffering of the people.

Critics should have started with basic questions about why Rwanda would destabilise the DRC. What would Rwanda be seeking to achieve through M23 that it could not achieve through other means? What gain is in destabilising and subverting the government of the DRC?

Rwanda has an enormous interest in the stability of the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Since 2009, Rwanda has deliberately developed strong political, diplomatic and defence ties with the DRC government at the highest level. Rwanda's pre-occupation in the DRC has always been the presence of FDLR militia who committed genocide in 1994 and continue to be a threat to Rwanda's stability from the Kivus. Rwanda and DRC developed a strong collaborative effort to neutralise and weaken FDLR. It would be foolhardy for Rwanda to want to jeopardise that joint effort.

Besides, Rwanda has its own priorities. The country is pursuing the achievement of the Vision to be a service hub for the region. Its economy is largely driven by tourism. Rwanda and DRC have negotiated important joint infrastructure projects. The country is pursuing a regional integration agenda as a way of creating a more enlightened and outward looking citizenry, while optimising benefits of regional trade. The Rwanda Defence Forces have created their brand as an effective peace keeping force in far places like Darfur, South Sudan, Haiti, Liberia and Chad; and the country has become the sixth largest contributor of peace keepers globally to the United Nations. Rwanda has built strong partnership with major international players. It is hard to see how Rwanda would want to waste that hard won investment. All analysis is that Rwanda's strategic interests in the region would be at risk with any form of instability.

The key to finding lasting solution to the DRC conflict is by all actors working together to genuinely and objectively deal with the root causes of violence without pointing fingers.

The international community has not been very helpful. The United Nations Stabilisation Force (MONUSCO), the largest peace keeping operation in the world with over 20,000 peace keeping personnel gulping over 1.2 billion US dollars a year for the last decade has not achieved much; even on its basic mandate of protecting civilians. The show on major policy issues and analysis on DRC has been largely left to a cocktail of non-state actors and human rights groups who are mostly accountable to no one. Critics would rightly argue that their agenda is narrow, limited only to activism and sometimes self-serving interests as no sustainable solutions can be achieved without functioning state structures in East DRC.

The government of the DRC therefore needs to take full ownership of its internal contradictions, seek genuine and lasting solutions. Implementing bold and drastic security sector reforms to assure the security and protection of its population; while ensuring effectiveness of public services to its citizens is in the best interest of the Government of the DRC.

Ernest Rwamucyo is High Commissioner of Rwanda to the United Kingdom.

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