Another DRC War
Southern Times – Windhoek – Southern Africa could soon have to deal with another major flare-up in the DRC, as tensions with Rwanda heighten.
A United Nations report allegedly implicates Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame in funding rebel movements that are destabilising the DRC.
President Kagame has denied any involvement and has threatened to release a warlord held in Rwanda so that he can return to the DRC because he is fed up with such allegations.
At the same time, the United States – a Kagame ally – is said to be delaying the release of the UN report.
In 1998, Rwanda and Uganda-backed forces invaded the DRC in an effort to oust President Laurent Kabila; who was subsequently assassinated in 2001.
That war sucked in armies from Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and, briefly, Chad; and led to the deaths of an estimated five million people.
Now Rwanda is at the centre of another storm involving the DRC and the potential for war looms large.
The unrest has already led to the displacement of over 200 000 civilians.
According to a UN group of experts, Rwanda’s Defence Minister, General James Kabarebe, and other top military officers have been organising, funding, and arming mutineers in the DRC army.
It is also alleged they have launched a “wide-ranging” push to convince DRC businessmen, politicians, and former rebels in the army to join the “M23 mutiny”.
The aim, it is said, is to prosecute “a new war to obtain a secession of both Kivus”, the eastern DRC provinces that border Rwanda.
Rwanda has denied the allegations saying: “This is a one-sided preliminary document based on partial findings and is still subject to verification.”
The report should have been made public more than a week ago but details have been leaked to the international media.
The report focuses on the former rebel movement, the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which was integrated into the DRC military in 2009.
The CNDP is at the core of the M23 mutiny.
CNDP founder Gen Laurent Nkunda, Bosco Ntaganda (an alleged war criminal), and Colonel Sultani Makenga are reportedly leading the rebellion.
Gen Nkunda was arrested in Rwanda in 2009 and now President Kagame has threatened to release him to the DRC.
“We are coming to a point where if this nonsense continues — on one hand you want Rwanda to be helpful, on the other hand you are putting all the blame on our shoulders — we shall offload all these problems that have been put on our shoulders and throw them back at them.
“One way of doing it is, we will reach a point of saying, ‘Take this man (Nkunda) we are holding here,’ or we tell him ‘go wherever you want to go’,” President Kagame threatened.
Before his arrest, Gen Nkunda was on an offensive and had rapidly increased the area under his control.
However, when he retreated into Rwanda he was arrested.
Gen Nkunda is being kept at a location that the Rwandan government refuses to reveal and no charges have ever been brought against him.
The DRC has issued an international warrant for his arrest on allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and insurrection, but President Kagame has so far refused to hand him over.
The Rwanda administration claims Gen Nkunda will not get a fair trial or that he will be killed simply because he is a Tutsi, like President Kagame.
However, other analysts say President Kagame is afraid of what Gen Nkunda could reveal in a trial.
The Main Actors
Leaked excerpts of the UN report finger Rwandan complicity in the chaos that can lead to regional instability.
A part of it reads: “Rwandan officials have also been directly involved in the mobilisation of political leaders and financial backers for M23.
“Based on interviews conducted with M23 members, ex-CNDP officers and politicians, intelligence officers, FARDC (Congolese Army) senior commanders, the (UN) Group (of Experts) has established that Rwandan officials have made extensive telephone calls and organised a series of meetings with Congolese politicians and businessmen to promote and rally support for M23.
“Throughout the Group’s investigations, it has systematically gathered testimonies from former M23 combatants, M23 collaborators, ex-RDF (Rwandan Defence Forces) officers, Congolese intelligence, FARDC commanders, and politicians which affirm the direct involvement in the support to M23 from senior levels of the Rwandan government.”
Those implicated are:
· General Jacques Nziza, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence ‑ supervises all military, financial, and logistic support as well as mobilisation activities related to M23.
· Gen James Kabarebe, Rwandan Minister of Defence ‑ with support of his personal secretary Capt Celestin Senkoko, is a central figure in the recruitment and mobilisation of political and military support to M23. Kabarebe has often been in direct contact with M23 rebels to co-ordinate military activities.
· Gen Charles Kayonga, Rwanda Defence Forces Chief-of-Staff ‑ manages the overall military support to M23. Has overseen transfer of troops and weapons through Rwanda.
· Gen Emmanuel Ruvusha and Gen Alexi Kagame (both Rwanda Defence Forces division commanders) ‑ facilitate recruitment of civilians and demobilised soldiers to M23.
· Col Jomba Gakumba ‑ in charge of commanding military operations in support of M23.
The report goes on: “Those same sources also stated that former CNDP chairman General Laurent Nkunda, officially under house arrest by the Rwandan government since January 2009, often comes from Kigali to participate in these meetings.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay of South Africa, has said; “The leaders of the M23 figure among the worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the DRC, or in the world for that matter.
“Many of them have appalling track records including allegations of involvement in mass rape, and of responsibility for massacres and for the recruitment and use of children ….
“I fear the very real possibility that they will inflict additional horrors on the civilian population as they attack villages.”
While all this is happening, the US is said to be blocking the release of the UN report.
The US – along with Britain and France – have in the past been accused of supporting the Rwandan and Ugandan forces that threatened to overrun the DRC before Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe deployed military troops to halt the insurgency.
On June 13, the group of experts told the Security Council’s sanctions committee, which has representatives from the council’s 15 states, that it would only publish its findings if the UN agreed to make it public.
The experts said such publicity would make it harder for Rwanda to persecute suspected informants.
Human Rights Watch says Washington is blocking publication.
President Kagame has responded to this saying: “Rubbish with Human Rights Watch! Don’t bring that rubbish here in Rwanda! Rubbish with them! They are just that. Rubbish!”
The US has also denied blocking the report.
DRC’s Ambassador to France, Atoki Ileka, said some Security Council members had recently told him that the US did not want the report published yet.
“We cannot wait for the United States and other members of the Security Council to find a convenient way to protect Rwanda,” Ambassador Ileka said. An official at Washington’s Mission to the UN, Payton Knopf, responded: “The US is not blocking a report by the DRC group of experts.”
But Ambassador Ileka – who has served as the DRC’s UN envoy – wrote to the world body’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying Rwanda’s aggression must be condemned.
“The UN sanctions committee now needs to do its job and publish the information, denounce the violation of the arms embargo and put pressure on Rwanda to halt any support to Bosco Ntaganda and the M23 mutineers.
“The findings of the group should not be buried, ignored or pushed to a later date until they are published. Efforts by any Security Council members to try avoid publication of the findings is shameful and does nothing to help the people of eastern Congo.”
The Uganda Factor
Analysts say the US is buying time for President Kagame to find a way of concealing the evidence presented against Rwanda.
One such option, it has been alleged, is to move all Rwandan militias linked to the M23 mutiny to neighbouring Uganda.
President Kagame and his officials have been shuttling to and from Kampala.
One analyst said, “The main reason for President Kagame’s visit is to ask for President (Yoweri) Museveni to allow Kagame’s (M23 rebels) fighting in the Congo to cross over and hide in Uganda while the UN and the Congolese government investigate Kagame’s actions against the Congolese nationals…
“Kagame believes that once his rebels are well-hidden in Uganda, they will be beyond the reach of the DRC authority.
“The government of Uganda will put them under protective custody just like they did to Gen Gad Ngabo of FPLC rebels.
“Kagame’s plan is to then claim his innocence with the rebels and Museveni will deny investigators any access to them.
“Museveni will then mediate between Kagame and Kabila to … give Kagame (an) opportunity to be let-off the international radar …
“Kagame is sponsoring the shedding of the blood of the people of the DRC and manipulating President (Joseph) Kabila by pretending to engage in dialogue. Essentially (he is) burning the house and calling the fire brigade.”
What role for AFRICOM?
There are genuine fears that widespread DRC instability will give America the pretext it needs to establish its military presence in Southern Africa.
The US already has found excuses to deploy militarily in East and North Africa.
The “humanitarian card” could easily be played as has already been witnessed in the Libya invasion and the “hunt” for rebel leader Joseph Kony in Uganda.
The US already has more than 2 000 troops in Djibouti; and has agreements with Gabon, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia for use of local military bases, dubbed “lily pads”, as and when it needs them.
The DRC would represent a big prize for the US, with its estimated mineral endowment worth US$24 trillion.
The minerals include cassiterite, wolframite, coltan, tantalum, niobium, gold, diamonds, cobalt, copper, tin and iron ore; all of which are central to America’s twin industrial and military expansion interests.
President Barack Obama, then still a Senator, in 2006 acknowledged the DRC’s importance to America’s long-term interests.
And since 2006, Washington has tried hard to permanently house its Africa Command (AFRICOM) in Africa, with at least one report presented to the US Congress indicating that such a base could most likely be established in 2012.
Recently, Col Tanki Mothae – the director of the Organ on Security at the SADC Secretariat in Botswana – told The Southern Times: “In SADC we are not ready to host AFRICOM but I know that there is some consultation and negotiations all over Africa for a base for AFRICOM.
“But in the SADC region, we haven’t had any information of a country willing to play host.
“Whatever happens depends on the individual countries’ or some might chose to agree at regional level and if they wish to share the information with their African counterparts, they can but they are not compelled to.
“As you know, Africa is Africa, there are … individual interests everywhere.”