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While the world’s attention has been focused on Israel and Gaza, rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have captured a city inhabited by a million people. The scale of the victory stands in stark contrast to the amount of attention that it actually gets from the Western media. Part of the tragedy of the Congo War is how easily it has been ignored, and it’s a tragedy compounded by the lavish praise heaped by developed nations on one of its combatants – Rwanda. Never in history
has a state so deserved the adjective “rogue.”
The origins of the Congo War lie in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when the Hutu government of Rwanda attempted to exterminate its Tutsi minority. The Tutsi leader Paul Kagame commanded an insurrection that took control of Rwanda and sparked an exodus of Hutu militants in to the eastern portion of what was then called Zaire. Rwandan policy thereafter became to try to assert control of those parts of Zaire that align its border, which just happen to be awash with minerals.
When the Zairian kleptocracy of Joseph Mobutu crumbled in 1997, Rwanda sponsored a revolution led by Laurent Kabila that created the modern day DRC. But Kabila proved a fickle and incompetent ally. Rwanda and Uganda sponsored a new rebellion in the east, while Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe came to the aid of their old Cold War comrade in the west. Kabila himself was assassinated in 2001. Although the war officially came to an end in 2003, fighting in the east has continued – kept alive in by countless army rebellions, including the M23 Movement that just captured Goma. Millions have died, many of them children. Rape has become an instrument of war. One study calculatedthat 1,152 women are raped every day in the DRC, equivalent to 48 every hour.
Rwanda and the DRC are a tale of two countries. The DRC is beset by corruption and constant threats of secession. Election results are commonly disputed; civil war never seems far off. By contrast, Rwanda seems to be a model of development. This Guardian report highlights the good things: “Life is orderly, pavements are clean and roads are free from the potholes that curse much of Africa … Primary school attendance has trebled, child mortality has halved and parliament has achieved the highest proportion of female members in the world.” Kagame’s praises are routinely sung by Anglosphere leaders like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. In 2009, Rwanda was invited to join the Commonwealth. Its membership is an implied snub to the Francophone alliance – a detail that is no mere coincidence.
In France, you’ll find a different interpretation of Kagame. While he is undoubtedly the man who delivered Rwanda from a genocidal Hell, his leadership has evolved into a brilliantly marketed neo-authoritarianism. Some accuse him of using guilt about the West’s failure to defend his fellow Tutsis to discourage criticism of his own crimes. Journalists have been arrested and some killed. Kagame won the 2010 election with an implausibly high 93 per cent of the vote; three major opposition parties were excluded from the ballot. The Guardian picks up the story: “Two [of the opposition’s] leaders were jailed and still languish there today. The third, Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party, was also arrested briefly then went into exile after his deputy, Andrew Kagwa, was found dead, nearly decapitated.”
Moreover, if the DRC is a failed state, then it’s partly because Rwanda is a rogue state. In June 2012, UN monitors directly accused Kagame of involvement in the DRC’s civil war (and for a sense of Rwanda’s proximity to the conflict, consider that Goma is effectively contiguous with the Rwandan town of Gisenyi). This is not a war in the traditional sense of violence pursued for political goals – it amounts to criminality on an unimaginable scale. Traders are subject to extortion, women are raped and property stolen. In April, rebels robbed the International Bank of Africa in Goma – twice. The first time, they walked off with $1 million. The second time, they could only recover $50,000 from the vault. The main reason why the M23 movement started was that the DRC’s government tried to bring criminal acts carried out by its soldiers under control – there are very few good guys in this war. But be in no doubt: M23 is a violent, barbaric organisation that exists only to exploit the very people it claims to be liberating. If his critics are right, it is being supported by the “excellent” Mr Kagame.
Central Africa might be a complex and distant region, but that’s not to stop the West making more discriminating moral choices about its engagement there. Rwanda’s membership of the Commonwealth was a big mistake. It is true that membership of the Commonwealth can help a government to work towards democracy, but that model ordinarily applies to former parts of the empire that effectively “inherited” their membership. In the case of Rwanda, a country that has no historic link to Britain, which is not truly democratic and which is accused of sabotaging a neighboring state was invited to join despite showing only the most superficial commitment to peace or liberalization. It was a bizarre choice informed more by political fashion than good sense. It needs to be revisited.
Dr Tim Stanley is a historian of the United States. His biography of Pat Buchanan is out now. His personal website is www.timothystanley.co.ukand you can follow him on Twitter @timothy_stanley.
The UN says it has evidence that a rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo is being fuelled by recruits and support from neighbouring Rwanda.
An internal UN report seen by the BBC cited defecting soldiers, who said they had been trained in Rwanda under the pretext of joining the army, before being sent over the border to fight.
The conflict broke out in April after a mutiny by some Congolese army officers.
Some of the leaders are Tutsi officers who had been linked to Rwanda.
They were incorporated into the Congolese army in 2009 as part of a peace agreement.
The area has suffered years of fighting since the mid-1990s, when over a million ethic Hutus fled across the border into DR Congo following the Rwandan genocide.
There has so far been no response from the Rwandan government to the allegations.
Tens of thousands have fled the recent violence in the east of the country.
The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse, in the eastern Congolese city of Goma, says the UN spoke to 11 defectors there.
They had deserted their posts in the mountainous jungle area on the border between the DR Congo and Rwanda.
The UN report says the deserters were Rwandan nationals, recruited in Rwanda under the pretext of joining the Rwandan military. They were given weapons and training, and were then sent into DR Congo.
Some of the men were recruited as early as February 2012, the report says.
This is a potentially significant detail, our correspondent says: if the claim is true, it would suggest Rwanda was preparing for conflict before the mutiny by rebellious officers began in April.
One of the deserters, the report says, is a minor.
Earlier, there was fresh fighting between government forces and the army mutineers.
A spokesman for the mutineers, Vianney Kazarama, told AFP that the Congolese army was attacking one of their strongholds in Nord-Kivu province with heavy weapons.
The mutineers say they belong to the March 23rd Movement which originated from an armed ethnic Tutsi group, the CNDP. They agreed to be integrated into the Congolese army under the 2009 peace accord but recently started to defect en masse, complaining of bad treatment.
Bosco Ntaganda, who is known as the “Terminator” and wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes, is accused of masterminding the mutiny. He denies the claim.
Before the peace deal, the CNDP militia threatened to invade Goma, leading some 250,000 people to flee.
People in and around the town of Goma blame these troops for persistent unrest – including looting and rape – since the formal end of DR Congo’s war in 2003.
A Rwandan journalist living as a political refugee in Uganda has been shot dead, police say.
Charles Ingabire was gunned down in a bar in Kampala on Wednesday, but details are only now emerging.
He was editor of Inyenyeri News, an online publication critical of the government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Several critics of Mr Kagame have been attacked or killed in recent years. The government denies any responsibility.
Police say he had two bullet wounds and they are questioning a security guard and barmaid who worked at the bar.
“They’re helping with investigations,” Ibn Senkumbi told news agency Reuters.
Police say Mr Ingabire was drinking with an unidentified man at the bar near Makerere University when has killed.
They say they have recovered Mr Ingabire’s phone, which they say should tell them who he made contact with prior to his death, says the BBC’s Joshua Mmali.
Well-known Rwandan exiles were quick to point the finger at Rwandan security forces in posts on social media websites.
The Rwandan government has rejected allegations that it targets its opponents abroad as “preposterous”.
‘Very very insecure’Godwin Buwa, a legal adviser at Uganda’s Refugee Law Project, who had assisted Mr Ingabire, told the BBC he was “deeply saddened” by his loss.
“He told me quite a number of times how insecure he [was] and we co-ordinated to find some kind of security for him,” he said.
He said Mr Ingabire had been rejected as a candidate for resettlement by the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR – despite “ample evidence that he was very very insecure”.
A UNHCR refugee protection officer told the BBC he was unaware of the murder and could not comment.
Seventeen years ago up to 800,000 people died in a genocide in Rwanda.
Since then, the country has been feted by Western donors and investors, but human rights groups say they are concerned about growing political repression.
Mark Doyle BBC News
I first met Mr Rudasingwa in 1994 on the front line between the then-rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) troops and the Rwandan government forces which were mainly responsible for carrying out the genocide.
It was just a few days after the plane went down. Mr Rudasingwa was one of a close circle of officers around Mr Kagame. He was the political ideologue for the RPF, with the rank of major, and he went on to become Rwanda’s ambassador in the US.
He is a thoughtful, careful and highly articulate man – very similar, in fact, to Mr Kagame. The president will doubtless deny the charge but will be furious that a man who he was once so close to has double-crossed him.