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Eastern DRC is a complex security puzzle for Rwanda and too far flung for Kinshasa to control

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Soldiers of the Democratic Republic of Congo Armed Forces  stand outside a general’s residence in Goma on April 11, during a meeting called by the chief of staff of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lt-Gen Didier Etumba Longila, in Goma. Picture: AFP

Soldiers of the Democratic Republic of Congo Armed Forces stand outside a general’s residence in Goma on April 11, during a meeting called by the chief of staff of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lt-Gen Didier Etumba Longila, in Goma. Picture: AFP 

By ANDREW M. MWENDA

Posted  Saturday, June 30   2012 at  13:06
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The EastAfrican’s story, “Kagame’s Threat To Release Nkunda Poses Congo War Risk”, (June 25-July 1), points to a bigger problem — just how much the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has become a near-intractable dilemma for Rwanda and the region.

As fighting flared up between Tutsi rebels and government forces in eastern DRC, the Rwanda government found itself, again, at the centre of yet another international controversy.

Kinshasa has been joined by international observers, “experts” and local and international human rights groups in a blanket condemnation of Kigali as the mastermind of the rebellion. In the rush to point fingers and apportion blame, the complexity of the problem in eastern DRC has been lost, making a solution much more difficult to craft.

Eastern DRC presents a complex puzzle to the top leadership of the Rwanda government’s security, military, political and diplomatic establishment. DRC has largely been an absentee state in most of its territory. But this problem is much more pronounced in the eastern region.

Because power abhors a vacuum, the absence of even rudimentary infrastructure for basic administrative and security functions of the state has created conditions for the emergence of war lords commanding local militias to fill the void. But because of its own complex history and land ownership wrangles, most of the emergent militias are ethnic based. They emerged primarily to defend the land rights of one community against another.

To extend its administrative reach and try to be institutionally present in most of eastern Congo, the central government in Kinshasa has often signed agreements recognising these militias and their control of those specific areas.

Warlords become governors and military commanders. But it also means that the government in Kinshasa has little effective control over its appointees. The state in Congo is therefore a mosaic of ethnic chieftains led by belligerent overlords.

President Joseph Kabila is more a “war lord-in-chief” than a commander-in-chief. Hence, Kinshasa can issue orders and threats; but local commanders are at liberty to disregard or accept them — making the governance of DRC even more difficult.

And this is how the recent flare up in eastern DRC began. Kinshasa accused CNDP (the Tutsi militia) commanders of refusing to deploy troops as it had instructed them to. This is unusual since commanders should obey, not question orders. Refusal is tantamount to mutiny. CNDP argues that they are not sure of their security if deployed in other areas. They claim that 50 of their soldiers who were deployed out of the eastern region were all killed in cold blood. Kinshasa has promised a commission of inquiry to establish what actually happened but nothing has come of it — yet.

Bosco Ntanganda, a Congolese Tutsi and leader of the CNDP (now M23), is an indicted war criminal by the International Criminal Court (ICC). In its naivety, and ignorance, the international community has been putting pressure on an impotent Kabila to arrest him. Perhaps it is in response to this pressure that Kabila issued orders transferring commanders hoping to separate Ntanganda from his troops, orders M23 rejected. Technically, that amounted to a mutiny and Kinshasa responded by launching an offensive against M23 hence the current fighting.

Although Tutsi militias are the main focus of news and international diplomatic activity, they are not the only ones. There are other commanders and warlords in eastern Congo who are in rebellion against Kinshasa. They claim to defend their communities against hostile neighbours.

In fact, in a strange twist of fate, some of the Tutsi militias in Congo have allied with Hutu militias to fight the Kinshasa government. This is because for some local communities in eastern DRC, there is no distinction between Hutu and Tutsi. They see both of them as Banyarwanda because they share a common language, culture and came from “the same place.”

This brings us to Rwanda’s regional dilemma. In part of eastern DRC is the FDLR, an extremist Hutu rebel group that has anything between 4,000 and 6,000 troops under its command. One of its missions is to overthrow the Kigali government; the other to exterminate all Tutsi.

It has allied with some local communities in DRC to fight the “Tutsi scourge,” a factor that gives FDLR daunting political weight. FDLR does not distinguish the Tutsi of Congo from those from Rwanda. This has created an automatic alliance between FDLR and other eastern Congolese communities hostile to the Tutsi. By extension, these dynamics have created a shared threat between the leaders of Rwanda and the Tutsi militias in eastern DRC. Therefore Tutsi militias in eastern DRC are, by the nature of the threat they face, natural enemies of the FDLR and thereby natural allies of the government in Kigali.

Yet Kigali finds it difficult to officially and actively and openly support its natural allies in eastern Congo. If you talk to top security and military strategists of the Rwanda government, they feel wary of Tutsi militias in DRC.

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