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


drinking the Rwandan kool-aid

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and businessman and philanthropist Howard Buffett have a column in Foreign Policy this week titled, "Stand with Rwanda."  In the piece, they argue that aid cuts to Rwanda in the wake of the UN Group of Experts' revelations that Rwanda is actively supporting the human rights-abusing M23 rebel movement in the DRC should be restored. They ignore the "generally democratic governments don't like to give money to war-mongering states" aspect of this issue, instead focusing on the negative effects of the cuts for Rwanda's population and how indisputably effective aid has been in Rwanda.

Blair and Buffett also argue that the DRC's problems are more-or-less entirely rooted in the DRC's poor-to-barely-existant governance, fragile security, and weak state. They do so via some poorly researched/blatantly wrong claims. To wit:
Then there is the international presence: the largest and most expensive U.N. peacekeeping operation in the world with almost 14,000 troops. At a cost of $1.5 billion each year, Western governments are paying a huge sum of money to maintain a U.N. force that does not have the mandate to actually secure the region. The international community should instead focus its support on African-led solutions to security, ideally through an African Union-led security force similar to AMISOM in Somalia."
First, MONUSCO does not have "almost 14,000 troops," it has 17,090, as can easily be learned by searching Google for "MONUSCO troop strength," then choosing the first hit, the most recent UN "MONUSCO Facts and Figures" page. Aside from making an error resulting from poor fact checking, Blair and Buffett are also apparently unaware that the Security Council is likely about to greatly strengthen the MONUSCO mandate to do more to "actually secure the region" by increasing its capacity to fight rebels and to protect civilians. I've said it before and I'll say it again: DRC is not Somalia. The "AMISOM for Congo" idea Blair and Buffett and many other people who don't spend time in the DRC raise from time to time (as is the case with the "AMISOM for Mali" idea) is unlikely to work. In all the discussions of what to do about Congo, including discussions about a possible SADC or another neutral force, an African Union mission has never been considered as a viable possibility because it is not a viable possibility. Too many of the largest troop-contributing states to African Union missions - namely Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi - are entangled in the DRC crisis one way or another.

Blair and Buffet also write that, "(*Typo correction below.) There are a lot more than 30,000 Congolese Rwandaphones. Not to put too fine a point on it in places where statistics are unreliable at best, but estimates made by expert scholars Rene Lemarchand and Gerard Prunier put the population of South Kivu's Banyamulenge Rwandaphone population alone at somewhere between 50,000-80,000. Pinning an exact number on the North Kivu Rwandaphone population, known locally as Banyarwanda, is a bit tricker, but Prunier puts a pre-war estimate of the Banyarwanda population of North Kivu of about 1.12 million. There is little reason to believe that the Rwandaphone population of the Kivus is anywhere near as low as Blair and Buffett claim.
Finally, in the most perplexing claim of all, Blair and Buffett state that, 

At the same time, it should support proposals currently being agreed to through the International Conference for the Great Lakes Regionand the current peace negotiations underway between M23 and the DRC government in Kampala. Already, there are encouraging signs of progress. On Feb, 6, 2013, the government of DRC and M23 signed a preliminary agreement in which both parties accepted responsibility for the failure of an earlier peace agreement.
This defies reality. The Kampala talks have stalled over intractable issues and most of the major players have gone home. Getting the two sides to agree that the March 23, 2009 agreement failed to be implemented is the diplomatic equivalent of passing a resolution stating that the sky is blue.  The likelihood that any sustainable peace will come out of the Kampala talks is, to put it mildly,minuscule. No reasonable observer disputes the fact that the Congolese's state's many, many, many weaknesses are a major factor contributing to the proliferation of armed groups in the region. But likewise, no reasonable observer thinks that domestic politics and issues are the only causes of violence in the Congo. There is no question that Rwanda's involvement in Congo has caused far more violence and suffering than would have otherwise been present. There is also no question that the Congo will not be at peace until some viable form of effective domestic governance emerges. To claim otherwise is disingenuous.

Blair and Buffett also ignore the fact that having so much aid support frees up other resources for the Rwandan government to use in its military adventures in the Congo. Were Rwanda not wasting money on supporting the M23, Kigali would be able to fund many of the excellent development initiatives that were previously funded with aid dollars. I suspect they do not consider this idea in the piece because Blair and Buffett are both among the class of global development elites who are so impressed with Rwanda's very real development successes that they largely turn a blind eye to its abuses. The authors note that Rwanda has achieved these successes "all without the benefit of natural resource wealth or access to the sea," all the while ignoring that a significant portion of the Rwandan budget not funded by aid dollars comes from the illegal extraction, theft, and sale of Congolese minerals.

 Blair and Buffett are correct that solving the DRC's crises requires creative thinking and new approaches. (I would like to see more emphasis on grassroots peacebuilding at the community level, for example.) But ignoring Rwanda's role in the Kivus as a source of conflict will make the situation worse, not better. And continuing to fund a government that spends its own resources on rebels who rape women and conscript child soldiers is unconscionable for most taxpayers in donor states. It should be reprehensible to Blair and Buffett as well.

*Typo correction: I left out this quotation from the FP piece, "And the M23 and FDLR are just the most prominent of a host of militias and mini-militias operating in and around Kivu, where some 30,000 Congolese Rwandans currently reside."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Besides the rather innocuous pointing out of where Blair and Buffet get figures and facts wrong, this blog goes into making unproven or even unprovable assertions about Rwanda spending its own resources on rebels who rape women and conscript child soldiers. Where is the evidence for the resources Rwanda has spent on rebels in Congo? What resources do the rebels not have access to? Money? Weapons? Fighters? If you knew Congo as much you insinuate you do, you would know that none of those things necessarily has to be supplied by outsiders. The rebels hold territories where they collect revenue, lots of it. The FARDC supplies them with weapons for money and through abandonment of materiel on war fronts. The Kivus are full of well motivated young men ready to fight for their community and to die for it. Again, what does Rwanda have that they don't. One of the problems of the Great Lakes region are you foreigners who are too committed to poking your noses into everything: the things you may understand and those you don't.

Friday, February 22, 2013 4:43:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever you may think about Kagame, Rwanda etc cutting Aid to Rwanda can have no positive consequences and risks destabilising Rwanda. It will also set back development for millions of poor people who bear no responsibility for whatever may be happening in Kivu. Cutting Aid might make some writers, so called experts and critics feel warm and happy but that is it. In the UK the decision owes as much to domestic politics involving the media, police etc as anything else and I am sure the govt can't wait to reverse it.

Friday, February 22, 2013 4:52:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your obsession with Rwanda - when it is (if indeed it is) just one part of Congo's myriad problems - is rather confusing. And as someone who claims to be a Great Lakes expert, your focus on Rwanda seems always to be on the negative, ignoring all the progressive things the country has done with donor aid compared with its neighbours in the region. Your bias is very clear, and disappointing coming from an academic. You may think you are somehow fighting on behalf of the Congolese people, but your efforts would be more helpful if they told a more accurate, more rounded narrative.

Monday, February 25, 2013 1:58:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Choquant de lire tous ces commentaires, probablement écrits par la même personne, qui ignore qu'au delà de Kagame (et Museveni): il y a l'Afrique et le Panafricanisme et que ni le Rwanda ni l'Ouganda ne sont de puissances agricoles, financières et militaires (faute d'industrie appropriée et que les USA - et l'Occident - ont déjà laissé tomber des alliés plus puissants en Iran, Costa-Rica, Vietnam du Sud, Egypte pour ne citer que ces pays. Combien de temps un Etat africain peut-il soutenir une guerre totale contre un autre Etat africain, sans l'aide extérieure au continent. Le Rwanda de part sa position (enclave), de par son économie et la composition de sa population ne peut faire, ne peut mener une guerre contre un Etat-voisin et se développer en même temps (développment qui ne concerne qu'une seule nation ethnique). Un jour le Rwanda paiera de réparations et de dédommagements tant à l'Etat congolais qu'unx citoyens congolais, victimes de son armée. Que restera-t-il de son développment socio-économique? Le pouvoir au Rwanda actuel est ffortement monocolore: c'est une monocratie ethnique.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013 2:03:00 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting analysis, TiA - esp your comment about grassroots peacebuilding. Is this something you have experience working in? IDS recently published research which makes just that point (about the need to start at the community level) - editor David Leonard blogged about it here http://www.governanceanddevelopment.com/2013/01/why-are-we-so-bad-at-peacekeeping-in.html

Wednesday, March 06, 2013 6:20:00 AM


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