29 October 2012

Rwanda: The Problem With Congo Is Not M23, but the Leadership

Photo: Sylvain Liechti/UN
Fleeing conflict in DRC (file photo).

Early this week, authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo abruptly decided to close during the night two border posts normally used by thousands, mainly cross-border traders operating in the towns of Goma (Eastern DRC) and Gisenyi sector in Rubavu District on the Rwandan side.

The decision to shut down Petite Barrière and Grande Barrière, announced by Julien Paluku, the governor of North Kivu on Monday, was apparently made by the DRC government.

However, the reason as to why the decision was taken was not given. With hundreds of Rwandans stranded in the DR Congo, speculation was rife that either authorities or anyone of the tens of rebel groups wandering the eastern DR Congo would torture them.

The situation in the eastern part of the DR Congo has since the emergence of M23, an insurgent group in April been deteriorating. Over 220,000 civilians in North Kivu province alone have been displaced, attacks against civilians are increasing and ethnic tensions increasing in the mineral rich territory that has suffered over fifteen years of violence and instability.

Efforts to bring peace to the region have been rendered fruitless.

At the regional level, peace agreements between DRC and Rwanda (July 2012), and between DRC and Uganda (September 2012) had made it possible to record tangible and significant progress to improve security. However, all these agreements have gone to waste. Even the UN Stabilization Mission in Congo (Monusco) has failed to bring sanity to the region.

Other high level diplomatic negotiations have been held at African and UN levels to try find a solution to the issue.

And yet as all the chaos is happening, the government in Kinshasa keeps blaming external forces for the unrest, Rwanda inclusive. But the crisis, according to regional lawmakers and members of the Great Lakes Parliamentary Forum on Peace (Amani Forum) who met to find a way forward in the Congo conflict last week, should be blamed on the DR Congo.

Without elaborating, Denis Polisi, a Rwandan parliamentarian (lower chamber) and former chairman of the Amani Forum said the problem with Congo is not M23 but the country's leadership."

He was echoing statements by President Paul Kagame, who, while opening the judicial year stated that those who caused the current problems in Congo know themselves.

"They caused these problems in the past centuries. Now, strangely, they want Rwanda to be accountable for the existence of Rwandaphones in Congo," he said, sstressing that those who took Rwandophones to the Congo should be the ones accountable for these problems.

"These Rwandaphones are persecuted every day. Yet the people who give us lessons about human rights keep quiet and condone what goes on. And they turn around and blame Rwanda for the problems of the Congo. They should bear responsibility for the problems," added Kagame.

"If I am to do it, I would first denounce those that caused the M23 to exist in first place. I would denounce the government that does not respect or work for its own citizens. I would denounce the international community that seems blind to what is happening, before I denounce anybody else," said Rwanda's president. "To me, M23, the Government of Congo, the international community, are all ideologically bankrupt because they cannot properly define a simple problem that they see. They keep running in circles," Kagame added.

He reiterated that for over a decade, all of the aforementioned have been running around and keep blaming Rwanda for the problems of the Congo. "Why don't they have courage to blame themselves and take part of the responsibility before anybody else will take the responsibility? What is this blackmail about?" asked President Kagame.

Polisi also branded the UN a 'necessary evil', saying even though Rwanda is a member state, it's clear that the way it works sometimes is lacking.

"There are times when it seems to be really working in an effective fair way, and those times when it is messing up things. Its recent (current) conduct in the Eastern DRC has left with all doubts about its effectiveness," he said.

Rwanda as a scapegoat

Amani Forum chairman Senator Jean-Damascene Bizimana told the meeting that when some people decide to form an armed group like the M23, the solution to the problem cannot be found while ignoring the group itself. "They might have their reasons and they want their voices to be heard," he said, adding that ignoring the above fact will lead to misunderstanding of the issue, therefore one-sided non-sustainable solutions.

"This is actually what has been happening with the Eastern DRC unrest."

Among the possible reasons behind the mutineers, the Rwandan senator said are human rights related issues and the fact that the armed group fighters might be used and/or backed by some other forces.

He also blamed United Nations and Human Rights Watch for sanctioning reports that falsely accuse Rwanda of the insurgency.

"These are incomplete. They do not bring about a deep analysis of the issue, they are superficial. They do not dig deep into the root of the problems, and consequently they cannot serve any purpose in seeking a lasting solution to the unrest."

The reports have since been discredited by officials in Kigali, including Defense Minister James Kabarebe and Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.

"This (UN group of experts) report, we would never take seriously. It's done unprofessionally; the methodology is flawed; it's full of facts that are not facts. At best, this report is disputable, which is why we regret that countries would take it seriously or even take some decisions based on this," Mushikiwabo said.

At the Amani Forum meeting, the Bizimana also questioned the international justice system's role trying to resolve the Congo crisis.

"The ICC wants Bosco Ntaganda arrested. Do you think that this may help in any way towards a lasting solution to the illegal armed groups including M23?There are those who have been arrested (Thomas Lubanga and Jean Pierre Bemba) what change did that bring?" he asked.

If lasting peace is to be found, then, to borrow the words of Dan Smith, Secretary General of International Alert, what is needed is a truly context-specific response based on a frank analysis of the real causes and dynamics behind this prolonged and multi-faceted conflict.

"If peace is to be restored, the predatory, corrupt and clientelistic nature of power in DRC must be tackled, as well as the problem of intense, ethnically driven political competition," he says in a new report 'Ending the Dealock: Towards a new vision of peace in eastern DRC,' released by International Alert recently.

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