Tomorrow, January 1, 2013, Rwanda takes her seat at the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, replacing South Africa.
The country was elected to the all-powerful 15-member Council on November 18, just days after the release of a highly controversial report linking Kigali to a rebellion in Eastern DRC.
Today is the last day of 2012, a year which, by no means, was a quiet one for Rwanda. By and large, it is a year to remember. Across the board, the country made leaps and bounds and will be seeking to further these gains in the New Year.
As was the case in the preceding years, 2012 saw a continuation of the country's inclusive development process, consolidation of its international standing and inculcation of the buzzword 'Agaciro' in our national psyche.
But perhaps more than anything else, 2012 will be remembered for the country's unwarranted battering in the international media over a neighbour's woes - a situation that made mockery of the principles of natural justice.
It all started in June, when a previously anonymous UN Group of Experts in charge of monitoring violations of sanctions in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) leaked to the media an addendum to its draft report, in which it accused Rwanda of backing a new rebellion there, led by a group known as M23.
The rebel group is largely composed of elements who mutinied from the Congolese army (FARDC) from around March and April, blaming President Joseph Kabila's government of breaching the terms of a March 23, 2009 peace deal under which fighters belonging to a previous rebellion, CNDP, had been integrated into the army.
The M23 rebels, named after the failed peace deal with Kinshasa - reached under the facilitation of African statesmen and former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania - accused the government of maintaining a policy that discriminated against former CNDP officers and men, frustrating operations against negative forces, including the FDLR genocidal outfit, killing dozens of former CNDP fighters who had been redeployed away from eastern DRC, disregarding of soldiers' welfare, among others.
However, somehow, in June, the UN Group of Experts, led by one Steve Hege, a man Rwanda accuses of harbouring "debilitating
bias" against Kigali, as demonstrated through his pro-FDLR (the Congo-based militia blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda) articles - he authored way before he was included on the UN panel - blamed the M23 rebellion on Rwanda.
Top Rwandan leaders, including President Paul Kagame and Foreign affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo, strenuously rejected the accusations, instead pointing to the mediatory role Rwanda had played as cracks in 2009 peace became too conspicuous to ignore.
Indeed, a flurry of high-profile meetings took place in Kigali, Kinshasa as well as the border towns of Rubavu and Goma, but these efforts did little to prevent the mutiny and eventual military clashes between the newly created M23 rebels and the government troops, backed by the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Congo (Monusco).
It soon became clear that Kinshasa had backstabbed Kigali, charging that the rebel fighters had been recruited and trained under the orders of Rwanda's senior defence and military officials, allegations that featured prominently in the UN expert draft report.
At one point, in June, the Congolese government sent a letter to the UN accusing Rwanda of aggression, a situation Foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo said was regrettable, especially since "the letter was sent while I was on a plane back to Kigali (from Kinshasa) after meeting with DRC authorities on the situation in Eastern DR Congo."
These bilateral meetings largely took place under the framework of the Joint Verification Mechanism, which would later be expanded to include the other member countries of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) as part of regional efforts to help find a lasting solution to the Congo crisis.
But the allegations that Rwanda was behind the M23 rebellion persisted, with Human Rights Watch, which has lately been accused of bribing Congolese women in exchange of false testimonies against the rebels, unsurprisingly jumping onto the fray.
As a result, some donors started to take punitive measures against Kigali, with the US leading the way by cancelling $200,000 that was meant to support a Rwandan academy for non-commissioned officers.
In August, Rwanda submitted to the UN Sanctions Committee a rebuttal to the GoE draft report linking her to the M23 rebellion, allegations Mushikiwabo described as "absurd" and "false".
For instance, in the rebuttal, Rwanda denied that Kanombe military barracks, which had been cited in the GoE addendum as the location where M23 rebels were trained for two weeks, saying that was literally "impossible."
According to the rebuttal, Kanombe is a garrison-type barracks that comprises living quarters; a referral military hospital also open to civilian patients; a cemetery; and five service support unit headquarters and related facilities.
"It wouldn't require any form of expertise to see that these barracks cannot host the training of recruits or any other force's preparation activity," the government said in its official response.
The government also dismissed claims that the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) provided M23 commanders with 75mm canons and their ammunition, saying RDF does not hold 75mm canons in ordinance stores.
"Remnants of these weapons and ammunition from the 1990-94 war of liberation were discarded in 2008, which is well documented by the RDF ordinance regiment," it said.
On the contrary, through RDF participation in several joint-operations with FARDC, including the recent operations codenamed AMANI-LEO and UMOJA-WETU, the Government of Rwanda has credible information that FARDC (DRC army), unlike RDF, maintains 75mm canons and anti-tank rifle grenades on their arms/ammunition inventory," the rebuttal indicated.
This observation was corroborated by a past UN GoE report which had also concluded that the Congolese army was in possession of 75mm canons.
On the allegations that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Brig Gen Jacques Nziza, had been deployed to Ruhengeri and Gisenyi to coordinate the rebel activities, the government said Gen. Nziza had provided "copies of his daily meetings including detailed logs of 114 people that he met at the Ministry of Defence during the same period of the alleged deployment to Gisenyi".
The rebuttal also addressed allegations that Congolese rebel leader, Bosco Ntaganda - the ICC-indicted battle-hardened Congolese general linked with the M23 rebellion- owned property in Rwanda.
"Investigations on the matter indicate that the house presented as image 15 in the addendum is owned by Mr. Innocent Ndagano, alias "Cent Kilos". The certificate of registration of lease title No. UPI 3/03/04/05/217 is available in Annex J to this submission.
On other allegations that Gen. Ntaganda is the partial owner of Hotel Bushokoro located at Kinigi, Musanze, evidence submitted to the UN indicated that the property was owned at 50 per cent each by Mr Enock Munyajabo and his wife Mrs. Kesie Nyiramana, under the certificate of registration of emphiteutic lease title No. UPI 4/03/07/03/329.
Several researchers from Rwanda and abroad also questioned the UN GoE findings, pointing out that the experts breached basic research methodologies, including overreliance on biased sources such as Congolese military officials.
There are substantial methodological and substantive shortcomings in the 2012 Group of Experts (GoE) report, on the basis of which several foreign donors reconsidered their development aid strategies toward Rwanda" observed Dr Phil Clark, a lecturer in comparative and international politics at SOAS, University of London, and a specialist on conflict-related issues in central Africa.
In Kigali, no one knew exactly what the final report would say, with concerns that the allegations were politically motivated and designed to serve a certain sinister agenda.
"We believe the Security Council will objectively look at the facts we have submitted...
We are eager to see what the final report will look like; we systematically responded to every allegation with concrete evidence that proves the accusations were unfounded," Mushikiwabo told The New Times at the time.
However, the GoE did not relent in its allegations, leaking draft report and another.
In July, after a brief visit to Rwanda, the experts leaked another draft report in which they said that they had found fresh graves at Kanombe military barracks, concluding that they were for RDF soldiers who died while fighting in the M23 rebellion.
Again, Kigali responded to these allegations, with the RDF releasing the names of the Rwandan peacekeepers who had died in Darfur, Sudan, and indeed buried in the said graves.
"Were he (Hege) or his colleagues serious about verifying their increasingly outlandish claims, Mr Hege would have discovered that a burial ceremony had taken place the previous day, July 24, for a returned soldier from Darfur, Lieutenant Vincent Mirenge," the Government said in a statement.
It also named two other fallen peacekeepers who were laid to rest in the same place. "Sergeant Jean Claude Tubanambazi, who had also been deployed in Darfur, was buried at Kanombe on 13th July 2012.
Sergeant-Major Jackson Muhanguzi, who had served as a peacekeeper in South Sudan, was buried on 30th June 2012 Kanombe barracks".
The Government said that "the problem for the Group of Experts is that, in a rush to repair damage to its reputation, it has produced an extremely shoddy piece of work; a report of such dubious quality that it raises troubling questions about the Group's professionalism, objectivity and capacity to offer meaningful advice to the Security Council".
Hege is widely viewed in Kigali as having an extremely benign view of the Congo-based FDLR genocidal outfit, with a profound resentment for the Rwandan leadership who he described as "Ugandan Tutsi elite" in one of his past articles.
While tensions grew, thousands of Congolese refugees continued to cross the border into Rwanda and Uganda, and Kigali accused Kinshasa of renewing ties with FDLR and waging a xenophobic campaign against Rwandophones (Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese nationals) and Rwandans.
In July, the government in Kigali accused DRC of "dumping" 11 Rwandan men at the border between the two countries after they were "beaten, tortured, some of them burned".
"This is very reminiscent of the rhetoric right before the genocide in 1994. Certainly Rwanda keeps a very close watch on that kind of pronouncements," Mushikawabo said then.
In the months that followed, several Rwandan civilians were reported missing in DRC, with those who managed to bribe their way out of illegal detention centres telling horrifying ordeals.
On August 31, as relations between Kigali and Kinshasa deteriorated, Rwanda withdrew a 357-strong contingent of its Special Forces that had been conducting joint operations alongside the Congolese army against the FDLR militia in Rutchuru, North Kivu, eastern DRC.
The withdrawal of the Rwandan troops from Congo was a surprise to many observers as the operation had largely remained a secret between the two governments, whose relations had drastically improved in recent years.
Meanwhile, ICGLR spearheaded efforts to find peaceful settlement of the Congo crisis, with regional leaders, including the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda - the chair of the now 12-nation regional grouping - urging the international community to back the peace process.
At least five ICGLR Extraordinary Heads of State and Government Summits were held over the DRC crisis between July and November, culminating in an unease process deal that saw the rebels withdraw from Goma, the all-important capital of North Kivu province, they had overrun in November.
The rebels withdrew from Goma, Sake and surrounding areas which they had occupied for nearly two weeks, following guarantees that Kinshasa would " listen, evaluate and resolve the legitimate grievances of M23" as per the ICGLR peace process.
The M23 rebels took Goma with much ease, after government troops retreated southward, while Monusco ceased air bombardments (against the rebels) upon the departure of government forces.
The takeover of Goma, the regional hub of multinationals dealing in lucrative minerals business, also increased international pressure on the rebels, with the UN hastily imposing sanctions on their top leaders, including their military commander Gen. Sultan Makenga.
In the days that followed the M23 withdrawal from Goma in November, preliminary negotiations between the rebels and Kinshasa opened in Kampala, with Uganda's Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga, playing the mediatory role - under the auspices of ICGLR.
The talks were later adjourned to January 4 as the festive season set in. But tensions remained with the rebels accusing Kinshasa of amassing troops in and around Goma, as opposed to the ICGLR requirement for demilitarisation of the regional capital.
But the ICGLR process is a multipronged approach. The grouping has also proposed an All-Africa "neutral" force for eastern DRC, which would disarm various armed groups, including M23 and FDLR. Tanzania, a member of both the ICGLR and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) looks to be leading on this front, pledging soldiers and a commander for the proposed neutral force.
A couple of other SADC countries, including Zimbabwe and Angola, have also pledged to raise troops towards the proposed force, while South Africa has offered support in form of logistics.
But the UN has greeted the idea with scepticism, requesting for further details about the force's envisaged mandate, a position analysts have linked to the fact Congo is home to the UN's largest and most expensive (US$1.4 billion a year) peacekeeping force in Monusco.
In September, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convened a special summit on the Congo, on the sidelines of the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York, but left much to be desired.
On the ground, ICGLR took a couple of concrete steps, including deployment of a group of 24 military observers, who constitute what is known as the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM), in Goma, and forcing the rebels to observe a ceasefire.
Despite these regional efforts, however, the UN Group of Experts, released its final report in November, recycling its earlier storyline (of Rwanda's alleged support to the M23 rebels), while it ignored Kigali's rebuttal, which the former Dutch envoy to Rwanda, Frans Makken, described in August as "exhaustive, very serious and satisfactory."
And in what was widely viewed as attempts to derail the ICGLR peace process, the UN experts also accused Uganda - which spearheaded the regional initiative on the Congo - of providing political and military support to the rebels!
Kampala rubbished the allegations and threatened to withdraw its forces from several peacekeeping operations, including in Somalia, where they have done a good job in recent years, but continued to lead the region's quest to resolve the Congo crisis.
Meanwhile, the GoE report prompted several donors to delay or suspend their aid to Rwanda, including the UK, the country's largest single development partner. But these aid decisions will not affect major development projects, Finance and Economic Planning Minister John Rwangombwa told Parliament in December.
Crucially, the GoE report was deliberately released earlier than initially expected to coincide with a UN General Assembly vote on Rwanda's candidature to join the Security Council.
Yet on November 18, Rwanda, which had the full backing of the African bloc, was voted to one of the five rotational seats on the UN Security Council for the term 2013-14.
And, despite a Congolese diplomat's attempts to badmouth Kigali shortly before the secret vote, the country was elected on the first ballot, garnering 148 votes out of a possible 193 votes, more than the required minimum of two thirds (129 votes).
Olivier Nduhungirehe, Deputy Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the UN, said after the vote, "The members of the General Assembly know exactly what our record is and they cannot be deterred or swayed by a baseless report, which has no credibility."
Rwanda is the sixth largest contributor of UN peacekeepers, having deployed its first peacekeeping contingent in Darfur more than eight years ago.
When Rwanda takes its place at the UNSC tomorrow, it will be the second time the country will have served on the Security Council.
The first time was in 1993-94, with the initial occupants being the genocidal regime which leveraged its presence on the Council to discourage any UN potential intervention in Rwanda in the wake of the state-sponsored Genocide against the Tutsi.
But this time round, Rwanda joins the UNSC as a different nation.
"In 1994, the government then was committing genocide...Today we have a new Rwanda, a nation of peace, unity, progress and optimism," President Kagame said in November.
But Rwanda said it was not joining UNSC as a revolutionary, rather to play a positive role.
Mushikiwabo said the country would seek to work with "fellow members, and draw on our experience to fight for the robust implementation of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine that demands that the world takes notice - and action - when innocent civilians face the threat of atrocities at the hands of their governments, with the understanding that situations have specificities that need to be taken into account."
Besides its continued participation in global peacekeeping missions, Rwanda expressed solidarity with the Syrian people, who have endured state-sponsored violence for about two years, taking part in the Second Conference of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People in Turkey in April.
Meanwhile, Rwanda continues to back the ICGLR peace plan, refraining from any action that might be used as an excuse to jeopardize the regional process, even in the wake of two FDLR rebel attacks from their DRC bases in late November and early December.