Tying up loose ends of April massacre amid fresh attacks
Rwanda goes into the 15th anniversary of the April genocide trying to tie up the loose ends of a generation of tension and unfinished business amid renewed attacks from those who committed the genocide.
Indeed, 2009 has been a pivotal year for the country. Rwanda’s foreign minister has just returned from Kinshasa after high-level negotiations over Tutsi rebel-with-a-cause Laurent Nkunda, a leftover of yesteryear’s policies quarantined across the border in Gisenyi.
For over a decade, the two countries have vented their frustrations with proxy guerrilla movements operating in Congo.
Perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide have lived in safety in the country’s forests and, over the years, Rwanda’s real army, as well as sympathetic rebel movements, have fought against them.
Nkunda was the most recent incarnation of this — because, regardless of the alleged ties to Kigali, he was the enemy of the genocide perpetrators Rwanda wanted gone. And because, as they showed so easily on January 22, they could have stopped him when they wanted to.
Despite years of animosity and ill will among both countries’ civilians — the consensus in Rwanda’s press was “Congo = Genocide Perpetrators” — the two governments and militaries came together in January to oust the Hutu-extremist Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), making Nkunda redundant.
The FDLR are the antichrist of Rwanda. Some of them mercilessly murdered nearly a million people in Rwanda in 1994, not too long ago.
“We all agree,” says Rwanda’s foreign minister, “that they are the root cause of all the problems in the region.”
But two days into the operations, Nkunda was arrested as well, his own rebel group in the Congo, the National Congress for the People’s Defence (CNDP), having been castrated by an internal coup weeks before that swung the group pro-Kinshasa (The CNDP signed a peace treaty with the Kinshasa government this week and are on the road to political-party transformation.)
It’s difficult not to see the two events as contiguous.
As policy, it has been an overwhelming triumph; modern states making modern, practical decisions.
Thousands of Rwandan refugees living in Congo have returned home; the Hutu-extremist FDLR have lost men and bases.
The United Nations, African Union, and regional media have praised the co-operation and priority of nation-states over personal interests, and embassies are reopening in Kigali and Kinshasa.
But as history, reality unfolding, it is something else.
The FDLR whose “backs were broken” in the joint operation have regrouped in recent weeks, according to the United Nations and the Congolese military, taking back bases recently lost and terrorising local populations.
They may be weaker than they were before, but they continue to show a willingness to fight — all that it’s ever really taken to be a rebel in the Congo.
The Congolese Armed Forces, who swore in late February when Rwanda pulled out of the country to protect civilians and disarm the FDLR, have been just as helpful in harassing the local population alongside the FDLR as they have been in arresting them.
“There are abusive elements of the FARDC [Congolese army] operating in a private capacity,” says Mauricio Guiliano, a UN humanitarian officer in the North Kivu capital of Goma.
In late October, after suffering ruthless and embarrassing losses to Nkunda’s CNDP, the Congolese army shot their way through the provincial capital of Goma, half-fleeing and half-terrorising the city, killing entire families and raping young women.
Now, the humanitarian agency Oxfam is saying 250,000 have been displaced since the Rwanda-Congo operations began in January, equivalent to the number affected by CNDP’s march through the province last year.
“It hasn’t blown up yet,” says Jim Farrell of the World Food Programme in Goma, “but people are starting to get seriously worried about these guys. It’s getting pretty scary with the resurgence of FDLR.”
A couple of weeks ago, they fired mortars from Nyiragongo Volcano just across the border into Rwanda.
Members of both Rwanda’s military and the Office of the President have attributed the attacks to the genocide perpetrators, saying the FDLR are making their presence known in advance of the 15th anniversary commemorations.
“We are watching the situation in the Congo,” Rwanda military spokesperson Major Jill Rutaremara said, but still insisted on trust in her Congolese counterparts. “We have someone monitoring it.”
As for the FDLR’s former enemy, Nkunda, that is not all clear yet, either.
The foreign ministers, along with teams representing justice, defence and intelligence met in Kinshasa last weekend, two weeks later than they were supposed to, as Congo was asked to delay the summit.
More bureaucracy was agreed upon, with Kagame and Kabila to potentially meet to discuss the situation, but not a lot was forthcoming in terms of hard action.
In that time, Nkunda’s former band, the CNDP, signed a peace agreement that would transform the group into a political party, but also guaranteed amnesty to all who had fought against Kinshasa since 2003.
Since then, it remains unclear exactly what status they have.
Not only has CNDP not fully integrated with the Congolese army, but they are still in control of certain areas around Rutshuru, their former stronghold, where a parallel government put in place by Nkunda remains.
How the amnesty will affect him depends on how Congo — who wants him — and Rwanda — who has him — identify Nkunda. The nature of his arrest can shed light on the question.
Rwanda in recent months has insisted his arrest was because he crossed over an international border illegally and armed, and that it was not, despite the heavy coincidence, a part of the joint operation. Rwanda has also reiterated its view that Nkunda is not the entirety of the CNDP, though stating that he is a part of it.
Separating the circumstances of his arrest from the joint operation and the instability in the region, relegating it to a backseat incident, would remove a certain responsibility for swift return, and self-incrimination on Rwanda’s part. But evidence also points in a different direction.
In a recent Jeune Afrique interview, President Paul Kagame comes close to saying it explicitly: “His intransigence had finally rendered him an obstacle to peace and was likely to compromise the entire process of regional co-operation.”
This does not mean that Rwanda supported Nkunda, but it does imply that there was a strong relationship between the joint exercise and his arrest. And if that were the case, it presupposes Rwanda had influence over the rebel leader.
Former Nigerian president and UN peace envoy Olusegun Obasanjo — who has met with Kabila, Kagame and Nkunda — referred to the possibility as well in a recent interview, saying when the “situation” between Kigali and Kinshasa changed, “Nkunda should have seen the handwriting on the wall.”
The spin away from Nkunda, who was the reason the world started paying closer attention to eastern Congo at the end of last year, has been a part of Rwanda’s effort to turn over a new leaf this year.
They are right in saying — as they do often — that the major cause of insecurity in the region over the past 15 years has been the FDLR. The Congolese government and international bodies, including the United Nations, have all testified to it.
But for the past 15 months, it has been Nkunda who actively caused instability in the Congo.
And it has been Kigali’s quiescence — first during his assaults, and now since his arrest — that has drawn global interest in his case that Rwandan officials think is overblown.
“The war isn’t over yet,” says the NGO worker. “It will only end with a deal on Nkunda.”
Still, the new policies march on. Nkunda is in Rwanda’s hands but the country is disowning proxy elements in favour of strong nation-state relations.
Congo and Rwanda have agreed to eliminate the FDLR as well as possible, yet they are tossing bombs across the border.