Rwanda can’t talk to FDLR; they’re stone cold killers

Saturday June 01 2013

Inexplicably, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete took time out from celebrating the African Union’s 50th Anniversary last weekend to call on Rwanda to open negotiations with the remnants of the Rwandan genocidal forces known by the acronym FDLR. I was among many Rwandans who were stunned, offended and mystified by this suggestion.

Urging adversaries to set aside differences in the interests of peace has a statesmanlike ring to it. In many cases, it is also the wisest course of action — as it was, for example, in Northern Ireland and South Africa.

But willingness to negotiate with enemies is not a virtue in itself, especially if it serves to reward violence against your citizens or confer legitimacy on groups whose singular purpose is to carry out such violence.

The FDLR scurried into the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo after falling just short of their goal to exterminate every last Rwandan of Tutsi origin, along with perceived Hutu apostates, in 1994.

Since that time, the FDLR have not relented for one moment in their attempts to “finish the job.” They have carried out hundreds of terrorist acts in the name of a sick racial ideology that inspired one young FDLR recruit to tell a British journalist that “the path to a better life is over Tutsi graves.”

For the FDLR, ethnic violence is not a tactic deployed in pursuit of a broader political agenda; it is not a means to an end. Death is the objective. Genocide is the ideology. And it is why Rwanda should never negotiate with the FDLR.


Rwanda is far from alone in recognising FDLR as a dangerous terrorist group. Its predecessor, ALIR, was listed on the US State Department list of terrorist organisations after the murder of American tourists in Bwindi Forest in Uganda.

Just last month, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Stephen Rapp, announced a $5 million bounty for the capture of the group’s supreme commander, Sylvestre Mudacumura. The top two political leaders of the FDLR, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, are both currently on trial in Germany for directing terror in eastern DRC.

As such, Rwanda would no more engage in talks with the FDLR than Mr Rapp’s government would invite Al Qaeda to the negotiating table. Instead, the US pursues a policy of targeted dismantlement, which as President Barack Obama stressed in a landmark national security speech last week, combines elements of soft and hard power.

“Force alone,” he told the National Defence University, “cannot make us safe.” It is a battle of wills, he rightly said, but also a battle of ideas. Rwandans have long understood this.

This is why the primary focus of Rwanda’s counterterrorism efforts has been to discredit the bankrupt and nihilistic ideology that inspires the FDLR.

Since 2001, more than 8,500 former fighters have abandoned the battlefield and returned to Rwanda, where some have been prosecuted, convicted and are serving prison sentences for genocide crimes, while others have reintegrated peacefully into Rwandan society.

Many have joined Rwanda’s National Army, some in senior leadership positions. Upon return, they have encountered a new and peaceful Rwanda where ethnic hatreds are being discarded in favour of shared national goals: Durable peace and security, education for the young, opportunity for all.

More than anything, this new reality has sent the FDLR into slow but inexorable decline.

A complicating factor is Tanzania’s plan to deploy 1,000 troops as part of the UN Intervention Brigade (UNIB) designed to add military muscle to existing peacekeeping operations in the eastern DRC.

Rwanda, alongside other countries in the region, is committed to implementing the UN Secretary General’s Peace and Security Framework for the DRC, the best hope for peace in that country for many years.

As a member of the UN Security Council, Rwanda also supported the formation of the UNIB, but warned from the outset that adding yet another fighting force to a region already teeming with more than 30 armed groups risks creating more conflict.

In the absence of a comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying causes of instability in the region, a military strategy alone is bound to fail.

And if the military strategy itself is compromised by perceptions of bias, even FDLR sympathies, on the part of contributing nations, failure may take the form of a significant and rapid escalation in violence.

Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu is president of Ibuka, the Rwanda genocide survivors’ organisation