In this period of commemoration, it is useful to revisit some narratives in and about the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that have contributed to 1) minimizing and implicitly justifying the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, 2) making a complex situation more misunderstood, and 3) justifying hate speech against, killings and persecution of Congolese Tutsi. If the world is serious about the “Never Again” principle, these narratives must be identified and neutralized.
The first narrative is that the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), is responsible for the conflicts in DRC that are claimed to have killed millions of people, ranging between 5 and 10 million. This claim is an attempt to minimize and tacitly justify the crimes committed by the genocidal government that carried out the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The implications of these claims are obvious and far-reaching. One is to undermine the efforts meant to eradicate remnants of these genocidal forces. Two, to convince uninformed observers that there was a second genocide carried out by RPA forces against Congolese and Rwandan Hutu. Three, the RPA was worse than the genocidal forces it defeated and pursued in DRC (then Zaire). This upside-down narrative offers redemption to the genocidaires and justifies calls to help them achieve regime change in Rwanda, without any consideration of their clearly stated objective: to exterminate the remaining Tutsi.
I don’t know whether people ever care to know the origin of these figures. They are drawn from an International Rescue Committee (IRC) report ‘Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: An ongoing crisis’. IRC reached this figure using ‘a three-stage cluster sampling technique [where it surveyed] 14,000 households in 35 health zones across all 11 provinces of DRC’ to conclude that there was an elevated ‘2.2 deaths per 1,000 per month in DRC’. This was estimated to be ‘57 per cent higher than the average rate for sub-Saharan Africa.’ Hence, the authors of the report concluded that 5.4 million deaths in excess occurred between 1998 and 2007. This methodology and therefore the conclusion therefrom have been found to be dubious, because even “in parts of the country where there had been no conflict, levels of mortality either rose slightly or stayed roughly the same.”
Ironically, even the infamous UN Mapping Report disputes this estimation, stating in its footnote 86 that “the methodology used by the IRC to determine the number of indirect deaths is based on epidemiological studies and population growth estimates that have been disputed.” However, those invested in vilifying the current government in Rwanda continue to use a result produced by a disingenuous methodology. It’s even more troubling that, in these narratives, the totality of these deaths is attributed to the RPA considering that, at different points, there were seven countries involved in the two wars in Congo, and this does not include a multitude of armed militias, especially the defeated genocidal forces.
Indeed, the DRC has at some point lost millions of people, and this was in the hands of Leopold II of Belgium. Yes, thousands of innocent Congolese have been killed by over 130 foreign and local militia groups and government forces. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, the total number of deaths resulting from armed violence between 1989 and 2021 in the DRC is 122,989 of which state-based violence caused about 31,046 deaths, while non-state-influenced violence was responsible for 17,516 deaths. Further, one-sided violence (i.e., the deliberate use of armed force by the government of a state or by a formally organised group against civilians) claimed about 74,427 lives. To be honest, figures do not give a full story, as these deaths should not have occurred in the first place, and as even a single death is bad enough. But in a volatile situation, where truth is a rare commodity, those who care should endeavour to ensure that truth prevails over misinformation.
Another controversial claim is that Rwanda’s interest in Eastern DRC is to pillage Congo’s minerals. If you want to push back against this argument by asking which companies are involved in mining Congo’s minerals, the response is either vague or, at the best, the list will include large non-African companies. This often leaves me a little puzzled: how could Rwanda be sending an army to pillage DRC’s resources and then hand them over to American, European, and Chinese companies? Certainly, Rwanda is well known for its efficiency and better resource management, and if this claim was true, it would be interesting for someone to make a cost analysis of it, showing how the profits of such deals exceed the cost of war. The truth is that Rwanda serves as one of the gateways of Eastern DRC to East Africa and beyond, through the Indian Ocean. Several cargo tracks go through Rwanda with goods from Dar es Salaam or Mombasa to Bukavu or Goma, and I wouldn’t find it strange that mineral traders and smugglers from Eastern DRC would use Rwanda as their route of transit. Even in this case, the efficiency of Rwanda’s governance is used against the leadership of the country. The idea being pushed is that Rwanda is such a well-managed country that smugglers can never operate there without the complicity of the state, which of course does not make sense unless Rwanda is the only country in the world that has achieved such a level of state control.
This adds to conspiracies such as the claim that Rwanda has territorial interests in the DRC, known as the Balkanization. It’s also claimed that Rwanda is interested in creating the Republic of Kivu or Volcano, and that their allies in this mission are Congolese Tutsi. These conspiracies have driven populist politicians to incite other Congolese communities to target Tutsi communities in the DRC, and several have so far been killed, their properties destroyed, especially their cows in both Kivu and Ituri. It has also made it easy for international actors to blame Rwanda for their failures. Again, this is an upside-down thinking that we have unfortunately lived with for years.
To remind the reader of the genesis of Rwanda’s interest in the DRC, I have to go back to the end of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, and refer you to a May 1995 Report ‘Rearming with Impunity: International Support for the Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide’ and quote in its first paragraph where it states that:
“After a year in exile, the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide (sic) have rebuilt their military infrastructure, largely in Zaire [present-day DRC], and are rearming themselves in preparation for a violent return to Rwanda. Waging a campaign of terror and destabilization against the new government in Kigali, they have vowed, in the words of one official of the former Rwandan government, Col. Theoneste Bagasora, to “wage a war that will be long and full of dead people until the minority Tutsi are finished and completely out of the country.”
It is this genocidal ideology that bothered Rwanda then and remains a threat today. The present-day FDLR, Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda, is a product of ALiR, Armée pour la Libération du Rwanda, that was created in those refugee camps with a plan to return to Rwanda and continue the genocide against the Tutsi from where they had left in 1994. This is partly the same reason the UN force was sent to the DRC to fight this militia, but since 1999 it has only managed to change its name from MONUC, Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo to MONUSCO, Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo, but its performance remains the same: wanting. In some situations, it has been alleged that MONUC/MONUSCO has fought alongside the FDLR against M23, Mouvement du 23 mars, a group that claims to fight for the protection of Congolese Tutsi communities.
All the above-described confusion has allowed the DRC government to continue scapegoating and acting like a spoiled child, instead of contributing to regional efforts to resolve its problems. Kinshasa keeps on singing ‘Rwanda this’ ‘Rwanda that’, and the rest of the “world” seems to find it easy to remain silent or to blame Rwanda. However, what we should never lose sight of is the fact that whoever undermines efforts of defeating remnants of genocidal forces is working for the genocide ideology directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, and the list of this class of actors is increasingly growing. This is a reality that everyone needs to be reminded of because it is this same confusion that allowed the genocide against the Tutsi to happen in the first place. When the dust settled, it was too late to stop it.