DR Congo : the Troubled East
December 18, 2007
There are two schools of thought to explain the continuing violence in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. One, which could be labeled the traditional post-Rwanda genocide view, and which is widely held in the international community, is that “negative forces” (i.e. the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda, FDLR, the genocidaire-tainted Rwandese Hutu guerrillas) loot and rape the two Kivus, plan a genocide of the Congolese Tutsi, and hope to be able to do the same thing in Rwanda itself one day. Then there is the heretical view held by some hard-nosed NGOs (and also by the not-yet-dead pro-genocidaire networks in Europe and francophone Africa) that the violence is in fact a carefully-orchestrated plot by the Rwanda’s RPF regime, which is still trying to retain control of various mining interests in the eastern Congo and uses the insurgency of General Laurent Nkunda to achieve this aim. Although both of these versions hold a grain of truth, both are substantially wrong. Why? Because the problems of the Eastern Congo are not “Rwandese” – pro or anti-Kigali – but essentially Congolese. They existed before the war with Rwanda broke out in September 1996, and they have remained. In fact, it is even more logical to invert the proposition: war with Rwanda in 1996 was possible not only because large numbers of armed refugees had crossed the border into Zaire after Rwanda’s genocide, but also because the security situation in large tracts of North Kivu was so degraded that both the surviving genocidaire authorities and the new government in Kigali had a ready battlefield begging for foreign intervention. Places like Masisi or Rutshuru had already been aflame for the past four years when the rival Rwandese armies jumped into the fray in the fall of 1996. The underlying reason lay in two mind-boggling problems that have yet to be resolved even today. First was the problem of integrating the Rwandophone minority (in South Kivu) or majority (in North Kivu) with the so-called authochtone populations. (The putative authochtones see themselves as “native,” a self-attributed label for a number of Kivu tribes.) The second problem was to get the two segments – Hutu and Tutsi – among the Rwandophone group to live peacefully with each other. These problems had potentially been there since the 1920s, when the colonial authorities hit upon the bright idea of “decongesting” – their word – the thick demography of Rwanda by moving large numbers of Banyarwanda into the Belgian Congo. At the time, there were only small Rwandophone peasant minorities in North Kivu and a very special pastoral minority isolated atop the cold reaches of the Itombwe plateau in South Kivu, the now famous Banyamulenge . By the time of independence the Rwandophone communities had become a near majority in North Kivu and had appreciably grown in South Kivu. Then, the anti-Tutsi pogroms in Rwanda during the independence crisis (1959-1963) added a new layer, this time of refugees, while the Congolese civil war of 1960-1965 obliged them to take sides. Many sided with Mobutu because the Simba rebels had targeted them. Thus by the end of the wars the Rwandophones were all at once
“persons of dubious citizenship” (the official euphemism of the time)
tools of anti-rebel repression
beneficiaries of the new Mobutu regime
This did not exactly endear them to their Zairian “fellow countrymen.” But several factors had become durably established.
Rwandophones were locally perceived as alien to Congolese society and its body politic, no matter what the regime was.
Their fate was largely out of their hands and depended heavily on the attitude of Kinshasa towards them.
In case of crisis or political change in Rwanda, what happened in their country of origin reverberated strongly on their status across the border.
Thus caught between a rock and a hard place, the Rwandophones tended to navigate in search of support from powerful patrons. This is exactly what is happening at present . The main problem is not between Kinshasa and Kigali as was the case during the 1998-2002 war . The problem is back to the local fighting inside the Kivus. But both sides, i.e. General Nkunda pretending to speak for “the Tutsi” on the one hand and the autochtone tribes who are fighting him on the other, are trying to involve, with varying degrees of success, Kigali and Kinshasa in their quarrel. And since the 2002 Sun City Peace Agreement was basically an international compact which did not look at or try to solve internal local rivalries, it is very difficult to bring it into play to solve them. All the more so since the local players, conscious of their weakness, are doing all they can to draw the governments into their game. Some elements in Kigali do support Nkunda’s insurrection – in spite of President Kagame’s reluctance to do so – while other elements in Kinshasa use the FDLR as a fighting force against Nkunda, largely because of the inefficiency of the Congolese Army (FARDC). This is a dangerous game of brinkmanship because the ghosts which each side is conjuring up retain the potential to turn into real monsters at any time. The international players are only dimly aware of this local versus cross-border contradiction, even though they can feel that something is wrong and is not responding to their rational prodding. This is why Under Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer told the press on December 3, just before Condoleeza Rice left for Addis Ababa to try to discuss the problem, "I want to lower your expectations that this meeting will result in... (renegade General Laurent) Nkunda and FDLR all leaving." They can’t “leave” because they are part and parcel of a complex conflict which pre-dates the Rwanda genocide. In Frazer’s presentation of facts, by contrast, the situation is portrayed as a pure product of the 1994 catastrophe. This leaves the conflict open and in need not so much of an international mediation which ends up playing into the hands of the fighting parties but in need of a local negotiation (even if it is sponsored by the outside players) which takes a long hard look at the economic , social and legal problems (i.e. the citizenship question of the Rwandophones) within the Kivus and within the Congolese body politic. International angels of mercy, regardless of their good intentions, stand poised to do more harm than good in dealing with the crisis from a purely international point of view. _____________________________________________________________
Gerard Prunier is a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris and Director of the French Center for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa.
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