Over the last one month, a rebellion has been ragging in eastern DRC against the government of President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa. As I write this article, over 40 armed groups, some of them former members of the Congolese army, have taken up arms against his government. However, international diplomatic activity, media coverage and human rights campaigns have been focused on one rebel group, M23 and one country, Rwanda and its president, Paul Kagame, for allegedly sponsoring the rebellion. Even an interested observer may easily think the rebellion is taking place in Rwanda, not DRC. Why is Kabila against whom mutineers and rebels are battling for control of the DRC missing in the news?
One could say that perhaps Rwanda/Kagame is the centre of diplomatic activity and news coverage because of their interest in Congolese minerals. But again, when the US went into Iraq, there were widespread accusation of her interest in its oil as the driving motive of the invasion. Last year, there was a lot of news and analysis that NATO’s invasion of Libya was driven by its oil. However, in both cases Saddam Hussein and Gadaffi remained central figures in the story. Hence, the Congo rebellion may be the first in human history where the person at the centre of the news is not the concerned president but the one alleged to be sponsoring the rebels.
The accusations against Rwanda at the Security Council were not presented by Kinshasa but by a UN “panel of experts.” Consequently, even Kinshasa today seems to think the rebellion is not an internal problem but a Rwandan problem. May be this is the reason Kabila proposed at the Kampala summit a “neutral force” to enter his country and fight the rebels and mutineers for him. In many ways therefore, the international community and the news media are helping Kabila avoid responsibility for the problems inside his country. By blaming Rwanda, the media and the international community are actually helping Kabila disregard genuine domestic grievances and thereby undermining his incentives to seek internal political accommodation.
Of course the leaders of DRC are not stupid. They may suspect or even believe that Rwanda is behind the rebellion by M23 and perhaps other groups as well. But they know that many other groups rebelling against Kinshasa have no links to Rwanda whatsoever. In any case, Kinshasa is aware that the mutineers and other rebels have grievances as well. It is of course difficult for Kinshasa to admit its role in sparking these rebellions. However, hiding behind Rwanda may obscure its responsibility in the short term but does not solve its problem in the medium to long term.
So what are the problems with governance in Congo that simulate and stimulate rebellion? Is Rwanda the creator of these problems or an opportunist taking advantage of them? Does Kabila preside over a democracy akin to that of Norway or Sweden that creates rebellion-proof politics? Even Norway last year had its own massacre from a fanatical right wing man – meaning no country is immune to insurrection. If we admit that DRC has serious internal governance problems, can these simulate rebellion? How does a blanket condemnation of Kigali help us craft a solution?
I think Kagame is a major source of trouble for DRC; albeit by default. Under his presidency, Rwanda has made a dramatic turnaround in a very short time. This has inspired many in high and low places; in politics, academia, religion and the media. Kagame/ Rwanda have thus become global super stars. But it has also mobilised many in envy and jealous. Who is Kagame/Rwanda to be so globally feted? The more Rwanda/Kagame get praise, the more others stalk them for any slip. Its success means Rwanda often gets held to very high and sometimes unrealistic standards. And like all strong brands, the success of Kagame has attracted many opportunistic groups and interests that seek to promote their own brand by attacking Rwanda at every opportunity.
This also means that Rwanda’s success becomes a problem for Congo. First, everyone knows that Rwanda has strong and legitimate interests in the Congo given the institutional dysfunctions in that country. They know that Congo poses – not just a tactical or even strategic threat to Rwanda – but rather an existential threat. In geo politics, there is the concept of the “margin of error” which refers to the ratio of a mistake and the consequences of it. When a small mistake can have catastrophic consequences then you have to be hypersensitive. I suspect those who accuse Rwanda of involvement in DRC do not need much evidence. They just extrapolate from the threat it faces to conclude – not that it is involved – but rather that “it has to be involved.”
But this also means that those blaming Rwanda/Kagame are actually hurting Congo. They are undermining the process of internal evaluation that Congo needs to craft a solution for itself. They are helping Kabila avoid responsibility to his people and country. They are encouraging him burry his head in the sand and imagine that his people are happy with him and it is Kagame either directly invading his country or indirectly sponsoring rebellion against him. And the worst mistake for Congo is to ignore the internal sources of discontent, pretend they do not exist and shift blame to external factors. This is the mistake of the international community.