A confidential report by a United Nations group of experts that was leaked to the media has led to rising tensions between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda.
The report follows recent allegations of Rwandan backing for a mutiny by elements of the Congolese army in April, when soldiers in eastern Congo defected and formed the March 23 Movement rebel group. The U.N. group of experts found that Rwanda has played a pivotal role by providing direct support not only to M23, but also to other armed groups in the area.
“Apparently Rwanda has been involved in developing a coalition of armed groups in the region behind Congo’s back,” said Greg Queyranne, president of the Centre for African Development and Security. “It was suspected for a long time because of the historical connections between the Rwandan government and those who defected.”
The U.N. report lends considerable weight to those allegations, which Rwanda has denied.
When asked why Rwanda would support the mutinous rebel groups given the likelihood it would heighten tensions in the region, Queyranne explained that businessmen who are linked with the Rwandan regime have interests in North Kivu in the natural resource trade, charcoal trade and general commerce.
“They are involved in encouraging the government to have influence in the region, which includes supporting the armed groups,” he said.
Queyranne added that the soldiers who mutinied previously belonged to the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a rebel militia led by Bosco Ntaganda that agreed to integrate with the Congolese army as part of a 2009 peace accord between Congo and Rwanda.
According to Queyranne, their decision to mutiny had less to do with their treatment in the Congolese military than with Ntaganda’s personal motivations.
“He has an ICC warrant against him for war crimes,” Queyranne said. “And yet after the 2009 peace deal, he became one of the richest people in North Kivu province, and he was seen walking openly in Goma, the capital of North Kivu.”
But after the flawed presidential election in December that kept Congolese President Joseph Kabila in power, Queyranne continued, “there was a tacit agreement among the international community essentially saying, ‘We will support you and accept your re-election, but you have to arrest Bosco Ntaganda.’”
Queyranne noted that the peace deal between Rwanda and Congo led to closer cooperation in the form of joint operations against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or the FDLR, a rebel group made up of Hutu extremists who carried out the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
“There were targeted operations against FDLR, breaking up their bases, breaking up their training camps and disrupting the control they had,” he said, “but it led to an incredible amount of revenge killings mainly against civilians. These revenge killings were carried out by the FDLR as well as by the Congolese army, which is one of the worst abusers of civilians, probably the worst, in the region.”
Still, if relations between these countries continue to deteriorate, as is likely given the potential fallout from the latest U.N. report, there could be major problems for the entire region. The biggest fear right now, Queyranne said, is that there will be another continental war in the Congo, but he added that this is unlikely. More worrisome, because more likely, is the prospect that the peace agreement between the two countries will break down.
Queyranne emphasized that while there are many rebel groups in the DRC, “they do not have the capacity, let alone the interest, to overthrow the government.” Rather, he said, they “are interested in being warlords and having their fiefdoms, their parts of the country that they can rule.”
But their ambitions still pose a major threat to civilians.
“The risk now is that we will be again where we were in 2008, where armed rebel groups manage to take over a lot of territory and civilians are pushed out of their homes.”
This article is reprinted with the permission of World Politics Review, where it was first published.
Photo: Congolese president Joseph Kabila (L) and Rwandan president Paul Kagame (R) (photo by ingeta.com).