D.R. Congo M23 Rebellion: New Allegations in the Blame Game

Finger pointing regarding the rise and relative success of the M23 rebels (now renamed the Congolese Revolutionary Army or CAR) in Eastern Congo reached an all-time high this week, as Rwanda earned a seat on the UN Security Council amidst allegations that Rwanda and Uganda have been supporting the rebel movement.

This new round of allegations comes from a confidential report by the United Nations Security Council’s Group of Experts that was leaked to the news agency Reuters last week.    According to the report, the Rwandan Defense Forces have not only been supporting the M23 rebels, but the rebels are actually under the command of Rwandan Defense Minister, General James Kabarebe.

The report also claims that Uganda has been allowing M23 rebels to regroup in Kampala and that the UPDF sent troops into Eastern Congo to support the rebels.  It also claims that both UPDF and RDF forces were involved in the attacks last month that killed one UN peacekeeper.

In an interesting turn of events, the president of the M23 rebels, Bishop Jean-Marie Runiga told reporters in a press conference on Saturday that Uganda and Rwanda are not controlling or sponsoring the movement.  According to Runiga, Uganda has been making a concerted effort to broker peace between the rebels and Kinshasa.

“Museveni invited us to negotiate with Kabila and asked us to stop fighting. That is why there has been a ceasefire for two months. But Kinshasa does not want to negotiate or to try to find a solution to the crisis quickly. They rather talk with Rwanda,” Runiga said.

Ugandan and Rwandan officials have also denounced the accusations, claiming that the UN has failed to provide sufficient evidence.  In an interview on Uganda’s NTv station, Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Okello Oryem argued that the report was “rubbish” and “hogwash”.  Col. Felix Kulayige, the spokesman for the UPDF, claimed that the report is one-sided.  He reported that the UNSC Group of Experts declined invitations to speak with Ugandan officials when conducting their investigation.

Rwandan officials have made similar claims, stating that the report reflects only one side of the story and lacks any substantive proof.

Rwanda and Uganda both have long histories of engagement within Eastern DRC.  Naturally, one might be skeptical about their denial of any involvement.

However, that same skepticism should be shared for the international community.  Ugandan’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Oryem makes a good point when he states that the UN peacekeeping mission has failed to restore order despite thousands of deployed troops and millions of dollars over the last 6 years.   Could the UNSC be looking for a scapegoat?  I doubt that there is a conscious conspiracy at play here.

The question about why the M23 rebels have been so successful is a valid one.  And it does make sense for the UN to seek out explanations of their failures in DRC by turning to Uganda and Rwanda.  However, I have yet to see a concerted effort by the UN to appraise their own efforts internally.

Also, little attention has been given to the overall ineffectiveness of the FARDC.  They are a ragtag bunch –  a motley crew of former rebels, corrupt officers, and elderly who are all chronically underpaid, under-provisioned, and underfed.

Should it be so surprising then, that a group of rebels with access to mineral dollars and a strong ideology borne out of ethnic tension and historical persecution by their own government would be able to overrun the FARDC and the UN peacekeeping forces in a remote part of the country?

This author wonders if, again without conscious conspiracy, the international community is more to blame for this current phase of the conflict than they’d like to admit.

Sure, the government in Kinshasa is troubled, facing the daunting task of establishing a legitimate government with control over a monolithic and heterogeneous state that lacks any significant network of infrastructure to connect one place to another.    How does anyone govern such a place?  Especially with the continuous threat of rebel activity either in the form of defection or entirely “new” composition.  I am empathetic toward the government in Kinshasa because they face a task that might ultimately be impossible to succeed at.

In such a case, for government to even have the chance to succeed, there needs to be a concerted effort on the part of officials to produce effective institutions and to build infrastructure connecting the capital to the hinterland.

Efforts at building both physical and institutional infrastructure have failed in D.R. Congo because of personal agendas and corruption.  The inability of the Congolese government to successfully govern has opened the country up to intervention and rebellion time and time again.

Too often, DRC is depicted as the poor, innocent country that has been pillaged by outsiders.  This image implies that Congolese are incompetent and inferior people who need protection by the international community.  Would such sentiments pervade if the country was not as resource rich?  Treating DRC as a victim is not only offensive and condescending, but it breeds a cycle of patronage at an international scale.  It also breeds buck-passing and finger pointing whenever there is any sort of crisis.

Finally, the most immediate villain in the M23 debacle is the international community itself.  The IC is guilty of perpetuating the image of DRC as a weak state, up for grabs by the highest bidder (from international mining companies to foreign aid bureaus), which demeans the spirit of the Congolese people themselves.  This is an indirect cause of the conflict that has been built over decades, perhaps generations dating back to Belgian Congo and the world’s reaction to King Leopold’s tyrannical, brutal escapades.

More directly, the international community is partially to blame for the trigger that caused the current crisis and for impeding regional efforts to resolve the conflict.  On March 23, 2009, the government of DRC and the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) under Bosco Ntaganda reached a peace agreement that included integration of the rebel group into the FARDC.   However, in 2006 the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Ntaganda’s arrest on charges of child soldiering and crimes against humanity.

Until earlier this year, President Joseph Kabila refused to give into international pressure and honored the peace agreement from 2009, which instated Ntaganda as a member of the FARDC.  However, pressure from the international community to round up outstanding warrants at the Hague has escalated following the ICC’s conviction and sentencing Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in July 2012.

In April 2012, President Kabila finally yielded to international pressures and issued an arrest warrant for Ntaganda.  Here’s where the details become murky.  Due to limited infrastructure in DRC, sometimes it is difficult to directly trace the course of events.   No one is sure whether Ntaganda and his loyalists defected preceding or just after the announcement.  Regardless, the announcement of the arrest warrant antagonized the M23 rebels and further galvanized their support base.

Since the start of the crisis, regional parties have been involved, trying determine how best to resolve the issue. Uganda has hosted several regional meetings about the conflict, but little headway has been made in decided because the three countries continue to bicker and point fingers of blame.

The fact that these three countries are able to meet and discuss the issue is in and of itself a major accomplishment.  Uganda and Rwanda both have long histories involving engagement with rebel organizations within DRC.  During the early 2000s, the country was their playground, the game was Risk.  However, in the past several years, Uganda and to a lesser extent, Rwanda have been able to mend some of their broken relationships with the Congolese.  Despite their gridlock, these meetings are a sign of growing cooperation.

The UNSC Group of Experts reports over the last several months have exacerbated the blame game between Congo and its eastern neighbors.  This most recent report is the most damning and poses the greatest threat to regional initiatives.

For their sake, I hope that the UN experts are correct in their appraisal.  But I am skeptical about the validity of the document without seeing it and its sources for myself.

For the sake of regional cooperation in the Great Lakes, I hope that the UN experts are wrong and that their inaccuracies are brought to light.

Regardless of the accuracy of the report, its contents have already done great damage to a weak regional partnership and efforts toward a regional solution.  This report is just the newest, in a long series of actions that the international community has taken to undermine efforts at peace and stability in DRC.  This, above all else, is the greatest tragedy in the whole situation.  The international community needs to start considering the consequences of its pronouncements and pressures.

Is one man really worth the lives that have now been lost or ruined?  Is he worth the hope for regional cooperation that has now been shattered?

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