Guilt blinds some to faults of Rwanda

Sat, Aug 4, 2012, 01:00

WORLD VIEW:Rwanda’s support for a bloody militia in neighbouring Congo is deeply troubling

SOMEWHAT LIKE Germany’s refusal to criticise Israeli excesses, international criticism of Rwanda, and its president, Paul Kagame, has been muted in recent years because of what might be termed “holocaust guilt”.

The failure of western countries to intervene to prevent the 1994 genocidal massacre of 800,000 of the country’s people has left Washington and London, the country’s main aid suppliers, notably silent about rebel leader and now president, Kagame’s increasing internal authoritarianism and the evidence of Rwanda’s support for a bloody militia, M23, creating mayhem in the Kivus in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

That guilt, and Kagame’s genuine success in rebuilding the country, its economy now booming, led to his being feted as Africa’s new hope by some western leaders, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair most notoriously.

But his tide has turned. In recent days, the Netherlands, the US and Germany have each suspended significant blocks of aid to the country, and Britain has delayed a payment for budgetary support in protests arising from a UN report published in June cataloguing Rwandan meddling in DRC. Initially US diplomats at the UN had even sought to block its publication, unwilling to embarrass a friendly regime, but it was leaked and then published.

The hope now is to apply pressure to Kigali to end its support for M23 and to back UN and African Union efforts in DRC where both already have close on 20,000 troops and police in the world’s largest peacekeeping presence in Congo’s largely forgotten, now reignited civil war.

The report by UN experts, specifically its 48-page annexe, accuses Rwanda of helping create, arm and support the M23 rebel movement – it takes its name, March 23rd, from a 2009 peace accord which they say was broken by Kinshasa – in violation of UN sanctions.

Rwanda, currently aiming for a seat on the UN Security Council, vehemently denies the charges, although international human rights groups defend the report’s veracity, one describing Rwanda’s role in DRC as an “open secret”.

Kigali is also accused of protecting one of M23’s leaders, Gen Bosco Ntaganda, a former member of the DRC army and wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes relating to the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

According to Human Rights Watch, Rwandan military officials provided weapons, ammunition, and an estimated 200 to 300 recruits to support Ntaganda and his militia. The group also published eyewitness testimony attesting to the execution of recruits who tried to escape.

The peace accord signed in 2009, after a civil war that in 20 years had cost millions of lives, provided for the M23’s precursor rebel militia, the National Congress for the Defence of the People to be incorporated into the national Congolese army, although many of those who did then sign up mutinied and left to found or join M23.

(It should be noted in passing that the regime in Kinshasa is no paragon of virtue either).

The subsequent rebellion, launched in April, has already forced some 260,000 people to flee their homes, seen significant rebel military gains, and has led to an escalation in tensions between Congo and Rwanda after three years of improved relations. Congo’s 150,000-strong army is demoralised, ill-equipped, badly paid, and has proven no match for a few hundred motivated, well-armed rebels, while the UN has proved deeply ineffectual.

Initial Rwandan support for Congolese rebels in the wake of the 1994 genocide was aimed at countering Rwandan Hutu refugees, many of them members of the infamous Interahamwe paramilitary death squads, and who were organising to return and overthrow the new Rwandan government.

Rwanda’s interests in eastern Congo, however, run deeper and are more cynical than this, notably in guaranteeing Tutsi businessmen and military figures access to valuable Congolese grazing land and mineral production, large quantities of which has been smuggled through Rwanda to the outside world.

And there are fears, reflected in a July report from the International Crisis Group, that if recent oil finds in the east are confirmed, the deep-rooted conflict dynamics in the Kivus will be further exacerbated.

Rwanda’s protestations of innocence and good faith will now be tested by its agreement in principle, reached last week with Kinshasa, to back a neutral international armed force to police the Kivus. According to Reuters, they agreed in a joint declaration to “work with the African Union and the UN for an immediate establishment of a neutral international force to eradicate” armed groups in eastern DRC.

The African Union’s peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra says changing the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC “was one scenario”. Local bitterness suggests fleshing out the details of the agreement and implementing it will not be easy.

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