"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


On North Kivu

I have a new piece on the M23 rebellion up at Warscapes this week. Click on over to read about what precipitated the mutiny, the DRC government's stronger-than-usual response to the crisis, and what is at stake for DRC's Rwandaphone communities.

One particular goal I had for the piece was to clarify the fact that there is no such thing as a unified "Tutsi position" on M23, Bosco Ntaganda's leadership, or the RPF government in Kigali. This is a common misconception that is sometimes glossed over in media reports from the region, but it's an important one. While many non-Rwandaphone Congolese are convinced that there is a "Tutsi project" - that is, a conspiracy  to take control of the Kivu provinces under Kigali's rule - there is actually wide variation of opinion in the Rwandan and Congolese Tutsi communities, as well as among Congolese Rwandaphone Hutus.

This is not an accurate reflection of current reality. While we know that during the war some Tutsis apparently had the idea of expanding into a "greater Rwanda" (most famously expressed through the publication of a map of said territory in the Rwandair Express inflight magazine during the war), today, there is a high degree of tension in relationships between and among the Anglophone Tutsi leadership in Kigali, other Tutsis in and exiled from Rwanda, and Congolese Tutsis and Hutus. This variety of viewpoint extends through civilian and military life and is present within the ranks of the ex-/CNDP's military and political leaderships.  For example, some ex-CNDP soldiers remained loyal to Nkunda over the course of the last three years, while others have more confidence in Ntaganda's leadership.

Now that the mutiny is in full swing, opinions vary even more widely. Rumors are flying that Nkunda is directing M23's movements by telephone. Some Tutsi civilians in Goma are enthusiastically supporting M23. Others are less excited, but see it as a necessarily evil means of protecting their interests in the region. Some are afraid that if they don't support M23, they will not have anywhere to live anymore; this logic suggests that fighting is the only way to ensure that Rwandaphone Congolese aren't driven away from the land for good. Other Tutsis are furious; they view the M23 as having upset the delicate balance of peace that enabled Goma to prosper and themselves to live in relative peace in recent years. As Stearns notes, there are meetings happening within the Tutsi and Hutu communities in eastern DRC in an attempt to rally more members of the communities behind the M23 cause. But as of now, their views are hardly unanimous.

Then there is Kigali, whose role in this situation is very unclear. In the past, it would have been unthinkable that if a Rwandaphone-dominated movement like M23 were pushed back against the Rwandan border that it would not be receiving direct support from Kigali. Human Rights Watch believes the Rwandan government is in fact aiding M23 by providing troops, weapons, and ammunition, as well as allowing Ntaganda to move freely between Rwanda and DRC. Rwanda's government denies these claims. What's the reality? I have no idea.

Regardless of what is going on in Kigali, it is a very dangerous time to be a Kinyarwanda-speaker in North Kivu. Since the FARDC's attention is on defeating M23, who are holed up in a corner of the province's eastern border with Rwanda, they have fewer troops in Walikale and Masisi. Not surprisingly, as soon as the FARDC presence scaled back in Walikale, the FDLR moved in to take control of several towns.  In Masisi, two Mai Mai militias have been engaged in the wholesale slaughter of Rwandaphones. IRIN notes that one local leader has tallied 120 deaths since mid-May.

Another misperception about the crisis is the idea that it was caused by the perception that Kabila's government had decided to arrest Ntanganda, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. This line of thinking reasons that the international community's pressure on Kabila to arrest Ntaganda in exchange for not making more of a fuss about the contested 2011 presidential elections caused Kabila to take the arrest more seriously.

Don't give the international community too much credit. This was probably the immediate precipitating cause as to why the mutiny happened when it did, but the actual reason for the rebellion was much deeper and is based in longstanding resentment within the FARDC ranks and the view of ex-CNDP officers that the status quo was unsustainable. As Stearns notes, there were apparently already plans underway within the ex-CNDP ranks that were sped up without warning when the rebellion broke out.

What's next in the Kivus? Who knows? It's very clear that M23 is weak, and they will not be able to hold out for long under heavy shelling without reinforcements, which at this point can only come from Rwanda.  I sincerely doubt that Kigali believes a full-scale backing of the movement is in its interest; both countries have benefited and prospered under the 2009 rapprochement. Kinshasa also has a strong interest in maintaining the peace, which likely explains the Kabila administration's high level of engagement in attempting to resolve the crisis.  As always, though, if the status of Rwandaphone Congolese and the question of land rights isn't resolved at the grassroots level, we're not going to see a lasting peace in the region. It's only a matter of time before the next M23 arises.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great piece and I appreciate your efforts to try and portray a clear picture of what is going on in Eastern Congo. However, I believe that in order to perfect your work and be of help to the Kongolese people, it is very important that your many readers (and yourself) understand some very basics facts about the Kongo. There is not a single tribe in Kongo that is identified by the language they speak. I dare you to find a tribe in Kongo where they speak kinyarwanda! There are more than 400 tribes in Kongo and not a single one of them speaks kinyarwanda. They may be familiar with the language because of their proximity and their interactions with Rwanda but there is no such an ethnic group in Kongo! By claiming that there are rwandophones in Kongo you are all justifying the presence of foreign soldiers and rebels on Kongolese soil whose purpose is to either take control of the East or destabilize it, thus contributing to the death of millions of innocent people by spreading wrong information. Personally, I am for peace in that region. I am one of those who believe African countries should open ther borders provided that each individual state respects the integrity of the others! Keep up the good work and research thoroughly. Small mistakes can cause great damages.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 8:21:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Thanks, anonymous, for providing exactly the kind of evidence showing anti-Rwandaphone prejudice expressed by many Congolese. As I'm sure you know, the 2006 Constitution guarantees citizenship rights to members of all ethnic groups that were in Congo as of its independence on 30 June 1960, which without question includes the Banyamulenge, Banyarwanda, and others of Rwandan decent. Claims like the one you are making here are a large part of the problem in Congo - the denial of constitutional rights of citizenship to Rwandaphones will only cause more problems in the east. These have to be addressed in a constructive way that allows all legitimate Congolese citizens to live together in harmony.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 8:38:00 AM


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