27 November 2012

East Africa: Rwanda and DR Congo


Geography, History and colonial socio-political engineering have knotted fortunes of Rwanda and Congo D.R.

No continuous Ruwenzori mountain range or a vast inland lake hinders population migration and intermingling as the Andes Mountain and Lake Nalubale (Victoria) dictate human habitation and political relations in their respective surroundings.

Rwanda's tall hills kept away malaria-carrying mosquitoes while their rich volcanic soils supported agricultural fecundity; and both factors supported high population growth. Rwanda has one of the highest population densities in the world.

Belgian officials decided on a scheme of moving able-bodied sections of this population to supply cheap labour in the copper mines, and on farms and plantations in eastern former "Belgian Congo" and Katanga. The panic-driven decision to end colonial rule on June 30, 1960, barely five months after violent demonstrators in Leopoldville demanded independence meant that little details like the status of migrant Rwandan labourers were not dealt with. They settled on farms they had laboured on following eruptions of brutal attacks on Belgians -as Congolese paid them back for whippings and maltreatment during colonial rule - would be granted citizenship by President Mobutu Sese Seko. They have evolved into today's "banyamulenge". Mobutu revoked their citizenship but the 1992 Sovereign National Conference reversed that punitive decision. When President Paul Kagame of Rwanda today calls them Congolese citizens when they are carrying arms that are probably supplied to them by Rwanda to fight against the government in Kinshasa, he is speaking with two demographic tongues.

A French analyst has claimed that Britain incited Museveni's government to loan military equipment and troops to Kagame, his top military intelligence officer, into fighting to overthrow the Hutu-led government in Rwanda. Britain would, thereby, put English-speaking leaders in power and expand the broadcast of the English language across the vast Congo after Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda also installed English-speaking Laurent Kabila in power. This analysis would seem to suggest that French troops and officials encouraged Hutu officials to use genocide to deny Kagame's Rwanda Patriotic Front troops local Tutsi support on which to anchor a stable new Anglophone state.

Whatever the credibility of that speculation, Kagame would light up an exodus of mainly Hutu refugees into eastern Congo, including the main body of troops loyal to the deposed government. Following attacks and counter attacks between this "exile army" anchored among refugees and Kagame's troops, Rwanda loses sleep while Joseph Kabila hosts a viper in his pocket with its tongue flickering towards Kagame's head and not just feet. Memories of the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, by agents close to Kagame may also be crying for justice.

Kagame's head is the main enemy of the exile army because he has set out to reverse the social conflict which Belgian colonial policy built in Rwanda by inventing Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups out of a people who own the same language and pre-colonial history. If Belgian social engineers invented conflict, he seeks to invent communal harmony based on a taught awareness of national sameness. His burden is having enough time to educate a new generation of Rwandans who are not contaminated by the "genocide ideology" that divides people along ethnic lines. That time needs to be fed on organized silence about both the terrible drama of the 1994 genocide and the much longer social violence of relations of contempt and inequality that reigned throughout decades of colonial times.

Kagame's nervousness is reflected in his making it a criminal offence to tag someone Hutu or Tutsi; to organise political parties along ethnic memories; starving the private media by denying them revenues through publishing advertisements, and using assassination of potential challengers living outside Rwanda to paralyse enemies of regime 'silence for national construction'.

Kagame's unspoken challenge is that of absence of angels to work with. With troops and officials drawn primarily from those whose parents, brother, sisters and other blood relations were butchered in 1994, it takes considerable effort for them to draw on reserve pools of empathy towards Hutus in building new Rwandans.

The model successfully used by Museveni of exporting armed citizens of a country to grab power from incumbent rulers in Rwanda and Congo (formerly Mobutu's Zaire) may have also been adopted by multinational corporations. A United Nations Report named 85 multinational corporations as offenders in supplying arms to local militias to protect their illegal extraction of mineral deposits, coffee, timber and other resources out of Congo D.R. The international media was quick to focus on Rwanda's troops protecting diamond, gold and other mines whose outputs were flown out by helicopters. Top generals from Uganda's military units were named and criminalised. The MNCs blew clouds of darkness over their own criminal activities against Congo's sovereignty and economic interests.

The problem for Kagame is that the military weapons being flown in by the MNCs may be flowing into the hands of Hutu militias. They may also be looting diamonds, gold and coltan which are easy to sell to earn valuable foreign exchange for funding political activity against Kagame's regime abroad. The MNCs also have a vested interest in a weak government in Kinshasa which is unable to police its territories and enforce payments of royalties. That explains their use of the United Nations Security Council to put into Congo an armed unit of 19,000 UN troops without the mandate to shoot militias.

Kagame and Kabila may need to appreciate the simple fraternity of their names starting with ka. While Kabila should work on giving the Hutu exile army inside his country a new vision of the future, Kagame's social engineering of homo rwandaise must not be a Tutsi dictatorship wrapped inside a national Rwandan shell. Leaders of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, South Africa and Ethiopia should produce an economic revival and development plan for the Congo. Resource-rich countries in ECOWAS should be invited to invest in that vast region. Combatants for Rwanda would, thereby, have a larger political space to swim and dance in.

Professor Oculi is a member of the Editorial Board of Daily Trust.

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