27 November 2012

Rwanda: A Little Less Conversation


The news from Eastern DR Congo continues to dominate the headlines. The Group of Experts released their report almost immediately after Goma fell to the villain of the month - M23. Over the weekend I managed to read it and in my opinion it might as well have been written by Congolese intelligence services.

One almost feels sorry for the people who have to write a rebuttal to all the rumours committed to the report, especially since theirs is an exercise in futility. 'International Opinion' such as it is would rather believe fantastic tales of control freak top army officials at MINADEF who do not know how to delegate [forever holding meetings in plain view of Congolese villagers] before they believe anything contrary stated by a Rwandan.

Unfortunately, because our budget is nearly 50 per cent funded by external partners, many of whom are beginning to believe the creative writing of Hege & Co. [never mind this gentleman's demonstrated bias against the Government of Rwanda], rebut, we must for the sake of all the social programmes at risk if the donors decided to cut aid.

A prospect that brings no small amount of joy to some in Kinshasa. The schadenfreude from nationalist Congolese could be understood even though Rwanda's misfortunes do nothing to improve the lot of their own people.

In almost every situation, Elvis' words as used in the title are a pretty good way to proceed with things. Except in warfare. When M23 was closing in on Goma, they gave Kinshasa 24 hours to cease hostilities and engage in negotiations.

Congolese authorities dismissed such demands. I suspect someone told President Joseph Kabila that the UN would never allow the rebels to take the city even if his soldiers took to their heels and being a poor student in the history of UN intervention in his country, Kabila decided to pass up the opportunity.

Kabila took Elvis' words literally and chose to tough it out. A decision he would later rue as he was forced to climb down and assent to talks with M23 over their grievances. Unfortunately, he is making the mistake [as is the ICGLR] of making the withdrawal from Goma a pre-condition to talks.

The first step would be to build confidence between the parties. Why would M23 give up their Ace card in blind faith? Given President Kabila's behavior in the past - he broke the 2009 deal he had made with them, pretended they were foreigners and then broke the ceasefire while the ICGLR was still deliberating a response to the conflict - I can't say I blame them for staying put.

President Kabila and his administration need to enter talks with M23 in good faith [as well as with other groups in the East of his country] and then orient his security strategy to disarming the FDLR who are the largest bane to the existence of any Congolese person in the Kivus, let alone threat to Rwanda's security.

The UN could help here and there but given that their mandate to protect civilians in the Congo is currently interpreted to ignore atrocities wherever they happen and act as an auxiliary to the Congolese army, it would be best if they stayed in their bases. It should deter a few of them from exploiting minors and smuggling minerals.

The writer is a Kigali based lawyer and social critic.

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