It is difficult for a reasonable person to interject into the prevailing discussion on the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I wish it were possible to have a reasonable discussion on these issues since they have to become thematic in the prevailing discourse: one, whether Rwandophone people have a right to Congolese citizenship; two, whether Rwanda’s intervention in the DRC in 1996 is the source of the recurrent episodes of violence; three, whether the socioeconomic progress taking place in Rwanda is the result of Congolese minerals and whether these factors explain the failures of governance in the DRC.
I begin with the question of citizenship. There are many compelling reasons as to why the citizenship of Rwandophone Congolese should not even be up for debate. One, African countries, after their ‘flag independence’, understood very well that some communities would be found in two or more different countries. Yet, they accepted to keep the colonial borders as arbitrarily and forcefully drawn up by colonial powers. In that context, it does not need an endless discussion on whether the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has Rwandophone communities or not. Two, it is known that “many Banyarwanda were brought into the Kivu region by Belgians to work the fertile soil between 1941 and 1960.” Three, it is also a historical fact that many Rwandophones had been living in Congo even before it became King Leopold’s property. Finally, it is very easy to make a cultural connection between the Eastern DRC to Rwandophone communities, if we refer to the names of those localities (such as Bwiza, Nyakigano, Ikamatare, Bishaka, Cyangugu, Murambi, Muheto, Mahanga, Kibabi, Kibarizo, Nyamazu, Kibumba, Rugali, Nyamitaba, Kanyatsi). Most importantly, if the current DRC government does not recognize Rwandophones, especially those fighting in the March 23 Movement (M23), as Congolese citizens, we can as well ask why all the other previous governments signed peace agreements with them. Let us not forget the fact that the M23 emerged as a result of a mutiny from DRC’s national army that took place in April 2012. Therefore, the problem of M23 is much more of a Congolese issue than anything else, and if this reality is not given due consideration, the problems of DRC will remain.
Then there’s the tendency to discuss Rwanda’s decision in 1996 to pursue genocidal forces as if it is the first contact between the two countries. Interactions between Rwanda and the DRC go beyond 1996. If we are to talk of what forces did what, where and at what time, we can as well go as far back as the late 1950s and early 1960s when Belgium (the colonial power at the time ) brought in Congolese paramilitaries who were known as “ba Kamina” to suppress the Tutsi people who were opposed to the Belgian-inspired Hutu revolution in neighbouring Rwanda. Kamina has been a big military base for the DRC in the Katanga region since colonial times. We can also talk of the fact that when the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) started the liberation struggle in October 1990, President Mobutu of the then Zaire sent in his soldiers of the Division Spécialise Présidentielle (DSP) to fight alongside the former Forces Armées Rwandaises (ex-FAR, the army of the former regime) together with French and Belgian troops. It is important to keep these facts in mind in order to nuance the idea that it is Rwanda that has been intervening in the internal matters of the DRC, and not the other way round.
Today, I read with some suspicion the claim that the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) were identified in the ‘aerial footage and photographic evidence’ crossing into the DRC to support the M23. For one thing, this evidence has not been made public even as it continues to fuel grave accusations that could derail the peace process. For another, I do not think that if Rwanda was going to send its soldiers across the border, it would have failed to see the danger of sending them in their official military uniforms. But I will leave it here for the government of Rwanda to respond to those allegations. Having said that, we should all strongly support the idea that the DRC and Rwanda need to work together to achieve peace. Indeed, Rwanda and the DRC are destined to live together, and that is why focusing on things that would create lasting peace for both of them remains important.
However, for this peace to be possible, inconvenient truths must be arrived at. Rwanda is not clean because of DRC’s minerals, as Congolese officials claim. If that was the case, Kinshasa would even be cleaner, unless the argument is that all DRC minerals are smuggled into Rwanda. Neither is Rwanda stealing DR Congo’s chimpanzees, as Congolese officials shamelessly claim in international forums. If such claims must be made, they should be based on incontrovertible evidence. It goes against logic and good faith to make a claim and expect the accused to prove his or her innocence. Instead of asking the accused to prove that something did not happen, the accuser should be able to prove that it happened.
Ironically, when DRC officials are asked about their collaboration with the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), they are quick to rhetorically respond that the FDLR is much more of a problem to them than it is to Rwanda because, in this bizarre argument, the FDLR has killed more Congolese than Rwandans. If that is indeed the case, it begs the question as to why the same officials are reluctant to cooperate with Rwanda to eradicate a genocidal group that is killing Congolese citizens.
For peace to be possible, the DRC government needs to ensure that all its people, including Rwandaphone Congolese, are safe and have equal opportunities and rights in the reconstruction of their country. In the same fashion, it needs to ensure that the DRC territory is not a source of threats or a safe haven for those threatening the security of its neighbours. It is unfortunate that some politicians prefer rhetorical populism which is externalizing all its problems instead of looking inwards for solutions. Without an honest comprehensive internal process that addresses security and governance challenges, the DRC will not be at peace. Even without M23, the DRC suffers from an ineffective government, with more than 100 rebel groups preying on ordinary civilians. In other words, the DRC needs to make peace with itself; it will, in turn, produce regional peace.
Rwanda has been there. I can argue with some degree of confidence that Rwanda has been making peace with itself. The majority of Rwandan youths who were born or grew up under the Ndi Umunyarwanda (I am Rwandan) concept are increasingly seeing the value of unity. This concept which is being strengthened by a system of equal opportunities and rights, where competence is a major consideration for holding public offices, and where accountability is transparently and evenly distributed among those in power, is contributing to trust and social cohesion among Rwandans. This is why the persistence of genocide ideology in the Eastern DRC should be seen as an existential threat that undermines those gains in Rwanda and peace in the entire Great Lakes region.
I invite constructive debate on these issues, but not the flippant kind that is currently dominating the discourse on the conflict in the DRC.