The veteran French expert on central Africa Gerard Prunier has an excellent piece on Open Democracy today that pulls together a lot of the essential political background to the tragically re-ignited fighting in eastern D.R. Congo.
Prunier notes in particular the extremely belligerent and damaging role the RPF government in Rwanda has played in DRC for many years, including the on-again-off-again support it has given to the leader of the current big armed rebellion in eastern DRC, Gen. Laurent Nkunda.
At the end of his article, Prunier writes:
- Why do we see such zigzagging on Nkunda’s part? Mostly because there is not a single coherent policy in Kigali to either support or disown him. It depends on the fluctuation of the political atmosphere there… Since the well-organised electoral “victories” of the RPF [in Rwanda]… there is no Hutu opposition worth the name. Just mentioning such a term is labeled “divisionism” and can get you twenty years in jail. So the political game is played among Tutsi. And the Tutsi do not agree on how to deal with the Congo in general and with Laurent Nkunda in particular.
Some, like President Kagame himself, want to put the past behind them, develop Rwanda along extremely modernistic lines and turn the country into the Singapore of Africa. But others do not believe in such a possibility and still see the Congo as a mineral mother-lode waiting to be exploited; they include some of Kagame’s closest associates such as the semi-exiled ambassador Kayumba Nyamwasa and army chief-of-staff James Kabarebe…
The outcome of the United States presidential election on 4 November 2008 is an encouragement for the latter group. After all, it was the Africanists around Bill Clinton (who are now Barack Obama’s men and women) who supported the Kigali invasion of the DR Congo while it was Republican secretary of state Colin Powell who brought it to a halt in 2001. Have the Democrats changed their views on the region or do they still believe in the fiction that Rwanda only intervenes in the Congo in order to keep the ugly génocidaires at bay? In any case the situation in the DRC is now more serious than it has been at any point since the signature of the 2002 peace agreement.
But does it actually mean the situation has returned to that of 1998, and the DR Congo is about to explode into another civil war? Probably not. Why? Because there are several fundamental differences:
* Rwanda, even if it is involved, is involved at a marginal and contradictory level .
* in 1998, pro-Kigali elements controlled large segments of the Forces Armées Congolaises (FAC), the then Congolese national army. The initial onslaught was carried out through an internal rebellion of the armed forces. Not so today. Nkunda controls only an army of unofficial militiamen
* in 1998 the regime of Laurent-Désiré Kabila was very weak, hardly legitimate and did not have any serious international support. Today his son Joseph Kabila is strongly supported by the internal community after overseeing a flawed but clearly democratic election
* the Congolese economy was at the time in complete disarray while today it is only in poor shape, with possibilities of picking up
* President Kagame could count on the almost unlimited sympathy of the world which felt guilty for its neglect during the genocide. Not so today. His moral credibility has been seriously damaged by the horrors his troops committed in the DR Congo during 1998-2002 and his political standing is increasingly being questioned, both by legal action going back to the genocide period (reflected in the French indictment and Frankfurt arrest) and by his electoral “triumphs” (which are a throwback to the worst days of fake African political unanimity)
* the diplomatic context, reflected in the current visit to the region of the United Nations envoy (and Nigeria’s former president) Olusegun Obasanjo, is more favourable to negotiation
* In 1998 there was no United Nations peacekeeping force in eastern DR Congo. If the international community decides to straighten out its act, Monuc could make the difference.
I am glad to see that even such a seasoned old pro as Prunier thinks there is some hope that MONUC might make a real difference to the situation in Congo. I certainly hope so. But I largely share the misgivings he expresses about the pro-RPF sympathies of those who seem likely to emerge as important figures in the next US administration.
Another very significant aspect of the present fighting in DRC is the fact that– as I had forgotten, but Prunier reminded me– Laurent Nkunda is an indicted war criminal, having been indicted by the DRC government for a 2002 incident in Kisangani in which more than 160 persons were summarily executed. (Prunier wrote, mistakenly, that Nkunda had been indicted by the ICC. But it is Nkunda’s chief of staff, Bosco Ntaganda, who has been indicted by the ICC.)
To a certain extent, then, the situation in eastern DRC might well mirror that in northern Uganda, where the issuing and pursuit of criminal indictments against leaders of insurgent forces makes the conclusion of a working peace agreement that much harder– if not, actually, impossible so long as the indictments are outstanding.
I could note, too, that the northern Uganda situation is very closely linked to that in eastern DRC, since the bulk of Joseph Kony’s Ugandan-insurgent force, the LRA, is currently holed up in the rain forests of northeastern DRC, just a few hundred kilometres north of the spot where Nkunda is creating his current havoc.
Bottom line on all the many conflicts roiling the central-Afircan interior these days: the governments and peoples involved and the powerful nations of the world all need to get together on a stabilization and socio-economic reconstruction plan for all these countries that aims at saving and improving the lives of their peoples, including through the provision of effective and accountable mechanisms to ensure public security, ending all the outstanding (and often inter-linked) conflicts in a “fair enough” way, and extensive investment in DDR activities.
Memo to the incoming Obama-ites: There is NO military “solution” to any of these conflicts! Don’t even think that supporting the continued militarization of central African societies will bring anything other than continued atrocities and carnage.