Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

Topic Debate: Conflict in the Congo

Background:

In a recent confidential report viewed by Reuters, the UN Security Council Group of Experts claimed that Rwanda and Uganda continue to aid M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Both countries continue to deny their involvement in supporting the rebels and fuelling the conflict.

While conflict in the DRC is not generally front-page news, the numbers are staggering. Since the conflict’s inception in 1998, over five million people have lost their lives, and millions more have become internally displaced or fled as refugees to neighboring countries.

While the roots of the conflict go back to ethnic tensions and resource-driven corruption stemming from the DRC’s post-colonial history, the impetus for of this conflict was the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Near the end of the genocide, due to the DRC’s porous eastern borders, two million Rwandese Hutu (amongst them the perpetrators of the genocide) fled to the DRC and were provided safe haven.

In an article for The Journal of Pan African Studies titled “Enemies to Allies: The Dynamics of Rwanda-Congo Military, Economic and Diplomatic Relations,” Greg Queyranne provides a more detailed historical context of how Rwanda and also Uganda came to support rebel movements within the DRC. Queyranne, president and co-founder of the Centre for African Development and Security, explains:

In 1996, Rwanda launched its first of many subsequent invasions of eastern Zaire/Cong, under the guise of a local rebellions, using the pretext that the presence of the Hutu forces directly across the border was an existential threat to Kigali’s post-genocide regime. (…)

In August 1998, Rwanda along with Uganda launched a second invasion, again using the façade of local rebels and Congolese army mutineers. This second and wider war would engulf most of the major countries of the [region], including the military participation of Angola, Namibia, Chad, Sudan and Zimbabwe to defend the nascent Congolese regime, with Burundi joining the invaders. The regional conflict would soon be known as “Africa’s World War,” characterized by the “systematic and systemic exploitation” of the Congo’s natural resources by all parties, but particularly Rwanda and Uganda, hundreds of thousands of women, girls, men and boys brutally raped, and the deaths of millions of civilians – the highest war-related death-toll since World War II.

Since then, rebel groups and movements continue to exacerbate the conflict in the DRC and with neighboring countries. Among them are the Congo-backed Hutu rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). More recent conflict relates to the M23 group, named for the date March 23, 2009 when the political armed militia the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) movement signed a peace treaty with the Congolese government and was integrated into the country’s politics and armed forces.

In April 2012, the DRC once again found itself with an uptick in violence when fighting broke out between the country’s armed forces and the M23 rebel movement. As a result, the international community is increasing its involvement in the conflict. The MONUSCO mission in the DRC is attempting to consolidate the government’s authority and improve the security situation by adopting comprehensive reforms. Also, countries like U.S., Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have all suspended some of their financial aid to Rwanda.

Debate: The following articles discuss multiple dynamics of renewed conflict in DRC and its potential direction.

  • Simon Allison, a journalist for South African Daily Maverick, analyzes the recent UN report arguing that the conflict “is beginning to look less like a rebellion and more like another regional war.”
  • Gahiji Innocent, the chief political columnist for News of Rwanda, offers the Rwandan perspective in his concern that “the international community risks hurrying into the trap by wrongly taking the DRC crisis, putting the luggage of problems over Rwanda’s shoulders” while ignoring the facts on the ground. Innocent attempts to shift the blame for the conflict from Rwanda onto the DRC’s weak government and provides another side to the story.
  • Likewise Andrew Wallis, a researcher who specializes in Central and East Africa and wrote a book on the Rwandan genocide, focuses away from Rwanda and onto what he argues are the underlying reasons for the militias: “To seek to eliminate the militias via military action will be vain and counterproductive unless the very reasons for their existence are addressed… the perceived and real grievances between differing ethnic groups in the region, and the deep-seated suspicion that state security and administration are used against the populace rather than for their benefit, have to be understood and tackled.”
  • On the other hand, Peter Jones, a Uganda-based journalist and researcher focusing on Eastern Congo, critiques Andrew Wallis’ assertions and points out that “to ignore the role of Rwandan geopolitical interest in the Kivus is to fatally undermine any effort to address the root causes of instability in eastern Congo.”
  • Brian Dabbs, a Nairobi-based journalist, writes in World Politics Review “the humanitarian situation in eastern DRC and the diplomatic climate in the region appear on the brink of further deterioration,” especially with the recent U.N. charges.

Do you think the international community should do more regarding this conflict?

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