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Seven Years Later: The Rwandese Army Reenters the Congo

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Gérard Prunier is a widely acclaimed journalist as well as the Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He has published over 120 articles and five books, including The Rwanda Crisis and Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide. His most recent book, Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe focuses on Congo, the Rwandan genocide, and events that led to the death of some four million people. Living in Ethiopia allows Prunier a unique view of the politics and current events of Central and Eastern Africa. Below Prunier discusses the involvement of the Rwandan Patriotic Army in Congo.

On the morning of Tuesday January 20th, at the invitation of the Kinshasa government, a column of at least 2,000 soldiers from the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) crossed the border into the Congo towards Goma. This was the first time Rwandese forces had walked on Congolese soil since their evacuation at the end of the war in 2002. Why had they come?

The official purpose was to eliminate the continuing threat posed by the genocidaires remnants of the former Hutu Rwandese regime, the forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), which the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) had consistently failed to dislodge. A less visible purpose was to eliminate Congolese Tutsi rebel General Laurent Nkunda who had gotten too big for his breeches and was beginning to embarrass his (un)official sponsors in Kigali. The third – and unacknowledged – purpose was to redistribute the local wildcat mining interests.

Nkundahad fought with the anti-Kinshasa rebels during the 1998-2003 war. But then he had refused to integrate the new national army and claimed to lead a movement to “save the Congolese Tutsi from genocide.” Later, he created his own political movement, the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) with the avowed ambition to “liberate” the whole Congo. This began to place him in a rather ambiguous position vis-à-vis his sponsors in Rwanda who did not mind using him to keep a piece of the mining action in Kivu but who certainly did not want to upset the whole international game by attempting to overthrow a legally elected government.

Aware of the fact that Nkunda had only limited support in Kigali, the Kinshasa government attacked him in October of last year but got miserably trounced, given the sorry state of the FARDC. In fact, the whole military-political confrontation was being played out on a background of complex – and contradictory – mining operations. During the war the main source of illegal mining wealth was Columbium-Tantalite(“Coltan”) which had reached very high prices. After 2002-2003 Coltan prices plummeted down due to the massive development of Australian mines. Other minerals (Niobium, Tungsten, Nickel, and Gold) took the place of Coltan. The mines were fairly special: small, illegal, located in hard-to-access places, exploited with very low-tech means, and produced at a very low cost. Kigali agents and FDLR former genocidaires often worked together since FDLR was beyond the pale and the politically correct Tutsi were better able to commercialize the minerals. But this was not a very satisfying solution for the Rwandese regime which ended up sponsoring its enemies. Once it became obvious that the FDLR’s role as a pretext for intervention was getting obsolete, a direct deal between Rwanda’s President, Kagame and Congo’s President,Kabila seemed like a good idea. It would squeeze out both Nkunda (now arrested and replaced by his number two, Bosco Ntaganda) and the FDLR, which would lead to a more beneficial sharing of the mining interests and please the international community. But there was only one problem with this sweet scenario: the Rwandese Army is still hated in the Eastern Congo for the atrocities it committed there during the war. Inviting it in was a very delicate matter.

President Kabila thought he could go over the head of the public opinion, but this is not working very well: the public is incensed at seeing the Rwandese back in the Congo, especially since they were called in by the President they have elected (Kabila’s majority vote came mainly from the East). Extirpating the FDLR might not be as easy as the two Presidents thought. The Rwandese Army is not welcome locally and neither are the violent and undisciplined FARDC. The Rwandese intervention is likely to become another episode of the “post-war war,” not the end of it.

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