In a commentary in the Daily Monitor of September 8, Ibrahim Asuman Bisiika resurrects the so called “Banyarwanda question” in the region. This refers to the presence of Tutsi people in the Great Lakes Region and their alleged role in the endless armed conflicts and more so in light of the M23 rebellion in eastern DR Congo.
Given the history of the region and specifically the 1994 genocide, it is a difficult subject to debate dispassionately without raising issues of hate and or coming out unscathed, thus making it a sensitive topic to debate in mainstream platforms.
However, the debate rages on elsewhere. The fact that there could be a likelihood of a so called Tutsi solidarity in the region, should never be a problem or raise concern. Sometimes, implied in the issue of “Banyarwanda question” is that this ethnic solidarity is the cause of the conflict in the DR Congo in which the M23 is involved.
Such a suggestion would be largely misleading. The problem cannot be the ethnic solidarity. It is not uncommon for people who share similar origins not to have solidarity. In fact, such solidarity gets reinforced or becomes more pronounced when there is a sense of persecution. The world abounds with examples be they religious, cultural or ethnic.
There is also a portrayal that the current Rwanda state is nothing but an ethnic enterprise, a benefactor to the likes of M23 and its predecessors and other ethnic causes.
What such a proposition misses, is the reality of the many Banyarwanda in the region who have little or no connection with the state of Rwanda, and hardly care about the goings on in the country.
And a good number of them, be it in DR Congo or Tanzania and Uganda, get impatient with constant reminders that they don’t belong in those countries or cannot aspire to some positions in their adopted countries because they have tribal or ethnic connections to Rwanda. There are Banyarwanda in Uganda and DR Congo who have no known relations in Rwanda and have been integrated in their communities for many generations.
So, whereas there could be a real possibility of the Kigali government’s covert support for M23, there is also a possibility that individual support for M23 originating from people residing in Rwanda, can at times be confused with government support. For example there are Congolese who have lived for more than a decade in refugee camps like Gihembe in the Northern Province.
Some of these people have their relations or even children in M23. So, there is a possibility of a support network from the refugee camps. The United Nations and donor countries have consistently alleged that Rwanda supports the M23. Rwanda has also been consistent in its denials. What is true is that there is a regional dimension to the conflict, but that does not take away the internal causes.
The fact that there are Rwandans supporting the M23 on individual capacity should not be news at all. It is rather to be expected. It is well known that Sultani Makenga, the military leader of M23, participated in the Rwanda war of liberation in the early 1990s. So did other leaders of his group.
They must have forged lasting relationships back then, and these would be of strategic value to him today and he would not hesitate to exploit them. Whether the actions of such individuals amount to state support, is a different matter.
Again it is not only people in M23 that have connections to Rwanda. There are people who have in the past been allied in one way or the other with Rwanda that are on the other side of the conflict. In fact, most of the prominent names from past conflicts that had a Rwanda connection are now in Kinshasa.
Some of them are Congolese who speak Kinyarwanda and are Tutsi at that. But they have not joined the M23. The continued reference to the Banyarwanda question and Tutsi rebellion is largely misleading, and dangerous because of the ethnic animosity it causes or reinforces within the region. At the same time, M23 has not helped matters because it has done a poor job at changing the view that it is an ethnic outfit.
Frank Kagabo is an Erasmus Mundus graduate student of journalism, media and globalisation at Aarhus University, Denmark, and Swansea University, the UK, specialising in war and conflict reporting. E-mail: [email protected];