In their shuttle diplomacy in the Great Lakes region, Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, and Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, have spoken on the need for Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to commit to peace in exchange for $ 1 billion in aid. In Kigali, Rwanda, the world’s top diplomats lamented the 1994 genocide, expressed guilt for international failure, and, as usual, praised President Kagame and called upon him to contribute to peace in the region.
Last year, due to pressure from the international community, President Paul Kagame reluctantly agreed to have his creation and proxy, M23, to withdraw from Goma. As a result of this international pressure, President Kabila was influenced, also reluctantly, to talk to M23, to listen to its “grievances”. Admittedly, the problems of eastern DRC are largely a Congolese problem of internal weaknesses. However, since 1994, Rwanda has exported its own internal political and human rights crisis to DRC. Although the current problem in the eastern DRC has a Congolese component, the M23 saga is Rwanda’s deliberate creation. You cannot solve, once and for all, the “M23 problem” without dealing with Rwanda’s own political crisis, and re-evaluating the West’s hitherto unquestioning support to President Kagame. Short of new and innovative ways in the thinking process, policy, and action to underpin diplomatic, political and aid-related initiatives, current peace initiatives will be a temporary and futile measure.
The Great Lakes region is amidst a period of high risk and escalation in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. Political space in Rwanda has become completely closed, with democratic voices dead, in jail or in exile. The regime has become ever more illegitimate, intransigent, and aggressive. Power is vested in the hands of President Kagame and his wife, and a few Tutsi military officers who run both the formal and informal government. President Kagame and his top military officers have ceaselessly turned to DRC for personal economic gain, the latest venture being the M23, itself with high potential to escalate into a full civil war that could easily turn regional and ugly. Rwanda’s top military officers have been cited by the U.N. Group of Experts as the organizers of M23 rebellion. The same officers are the masterminds of the horrendous crimes which were described in the UN Mapping Report of 2010 and other previous reports. Many people in Rwanda, DRC, Great Lakes region, Africa and the International Community are asking about the endgame in the current crisis in DRC.
Without a robust international engagement with a well calibrated mix of rewards and punishment to regional spoilers, more money and hastily arranged and exclusive peace deals will not achieve much. Even the deployment of the 3,000-strong international brigade, in addition to the 20,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force with U.S. $ 1.5 billion annual budget, sooner than later the costly, redundant and scandal-prone UN peacekeepers in DRC will cut down their losses and close down what has become an embarrassingly ineffectual operation.The international community, especially the United States, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, United Nations, and the World Bank face a mountain of credibility gaps in the Great Lakes region that are both historical and current. African people in the Great Lakes region do not trust that these players are honest and impartial brokers. Nor do they trust their own governments, whose governing elite are largely the source of the cyclical crises in Rwanda and DRC.
Here are some ideas for an all-inclusive, society-wide, regional, Africa-led, approach for responding to the immediate humanitarian crisis. In the medium and long term such an approach should help in de-escalating the violent conflict, stopping the impunity that underlies mass atrocity and other gross human rights abuses, promoting inclusive political and economic arrangements, building strong institutions that enhance the rule of law, co-operating for national and regional security, and building resilient communities for shared peace, and sustainable prosperity.
First, immediately initiate a coordinated two-track peace process for Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The two-track peace process should be co-facilitated by South Africa and Tanzania, under the auspices of the African Union. The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France and China), and the European Union should be engaged observers to the peace processes. If President Kabila talks to M23 created by Rwanda, why can’t President Kagame, who presides over a minority regime, talk to the Rwanda’s legitimate political opposition and armed groups like FDLR?
Second, call a spade a spade. The contact group, comprising of the co-facilitators and the observers, should be brutally honest to all the regional players involved in the problem. The international community should halt the policy of appeasement born out of the failures of 1994. The contact group collectively has substantive leverage and wisdom to bring to the table. The members of the contact group should seek to understand the current power dynamics in Rwanda and DRC, appreciate the consequences of maintaining the status quo and inaction, and consider the threats and opportunities with respect to international peace and security.
Third, adopt a people-centered approach. The contact group should directly engage Rwandans and Congolese struggling for fundamental freedoms and justice. A timid international community that won’t care for African people, and will only look at the each country and the region through the eyes of rulers is a recipe for cyclical conflict and disaster. The thousands of civil, community and political groups that are calling for change in these countries are, like their own societies, imperfect, but still they are indispensable stakeholders. The international community must support efforts that promote genuine dialogue, reconciliation and healing within Rwanda and DRC. It is no good value for money when billions are spent in development projects when many in Rwanda and DRC feel they are marginalized within and outside their countries.
Fourth, seek and promote accountability to end impunity, with an end goal of promoting restoration rather than retribution. However, Africans and the rest of the international community must make sure that those who have committed, and continue to commit, horrendous human rights abuses, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are held accountable. Economic efficiency, though desirable, is not the only factor in human development as founding and policy documents of the United Nations and the World Bank testify. Without basic rights and human dignity, the so called economic development is both sham and unsustainable.
Fifth, the contact group should urgently convene a Great Lakes Peoples Conference (GLPC) to consider a “Great Lakes Peoples Compact” to motivate the tens of millions of the unemployed, youth, and women who are both victims and tools of predatory state and non-state actors. The conference should invite governments, community and civic groups, business, academics, political opposition, multilateral and bilateral organizations to promote buy-in in the peace process.
Throwing money and hastily organized peace deals among the principal spoilers in a protracted and complex problem, without redressing its root causes, is a recipe for another failure and disaster The challenge to resist repression and war, and build viable communities and institutions, is primarily an African affair. However, the international community should have an interest in supporting Africa’s efforts before it is too late. A window of opportunity does exist, but it is closing fast. We must think and act innovatively, and together, now, to stop the slaughter of innocent Africans and prevent what may escalate to an unprecedented bloodbath in the Great Lakes region. As Albert Einstein once said, you can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa
The writer was President Paul Kagame’s Chief of Staff, Rwanda’s Ambassador to the United States, and Secretary General of Rwanda’s ruling party, RPF. He is currently the Coordinator of Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the author of Healing A Nation: A Testimony: Waging and Winning A Peaceful Revolution to Unite and Heal A Broken Rwanda (CreateSpace, April, 2013)