Editor's comments:RWANDA'S RPF WANTS FEDERALISM IN EASTERN DRC FOR ITS OWN SURVIVAL
By STEVE HEGESince the outset of the M23 rebellion, the government of Rwanda has provided direct military support to the rebels, facilitated recruitment, encouraged desertions from the Congolese army and delivered ammunition, intelligence and political advice to them.
Rwanda, in fact, orchestrated the creation of M23 when a series of mutinies led by officers formerly belonging to the group’s predecessor, the Congrèsnational pour la défense du people (CNDP), were suppressed by the Congolese armed forces in early May.
But Rwanda continues to deny any involvement and has repeatedly claimed it was not consulted or given a right of reply to our investigations. This is not true.
Despite the government of Rwanda’s refusal to receive us during our official visit to Kigali in May, we purposefully delayed the publication of the addendum to our interim report in order to give the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs an opportunity to clarify the information. But she declined to do so and claimed her government was not privy to our findings.
Following the publication of the addendum on June 27, we met again with the government of Rwanda in Kigali and took into consideration its written response to our interim report. However, we found no substantive element of our previous findings that we wished to alter.
In our final report, we also documented support for the rebels from the government of Uganda. Senior Ugandan officials provided the rebels with direct troop reinforcements in Congolese territory.
They also supported the creation and expansion of the political branch of M23 permanently based in Kampala even before President Joseph Kabila had ever authorised any interaction between the rebels and the government of Uganda.
Kampala acknowledged this support was indeed taking place in a meeting with the Group of Experts in early October. An appointed senior police officer said they would investigate and arrest those involved.
The DRC government is aware of this support but has chosen not to denounce it in the hope of convincing the Ugandans they have more to gain by working with Kinshasa than with Kigali in this crisis.
What is Rwanda’s motive?
Throughout our work, the question most often posed to us was: Why would Rwanda undertake such a politically dangerous endeavour?
Some of the motives behind this war are as follows:
As per their name, the rebels have claimed that the government reneged on the March 23, 2009 peace agreements.
However, this accord was merely an afterthought to formalise a bilateral deal between Kinshasa and Kigali which was predicated on affording the latter with immense influence in the Kivus in exchange for arresting CNDP chairman Laurent Nkunda, and forcing the rest of the group to join the national army under the leadership of Bosco Ntaganda.
M23 has also made many claims about human rights, even though nine of its members and associates have been designated for sanctions by both the US government and the UN’s Sanctions Committee, most for egregious violations of international law, including recruiting child soldiers and violent land grabs.
Nevertheless, M23 similarly demands good governance, though they have attacked and appropriated numerous state assets provided by donors, including recently, 33 vehicles previously donated to the Congolese police.
M23 also claims they are fighting for the 50,000 Tutsi refugees who remain in Rwanda. A rebellion which displaces over 500,000 can hardly defend the rights of 50,000 refugees.
In recent months, M23 has increasingly claimed that they want a review of the discredited 2011 presidential elections, in an attempt to attract the sympathies of a broader constituency and further weaken President Kabila.
Finally, Rwanda and M23 have said the Congolese army’s military operations against the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the FDLR have failed and the group remains a threat. However, not only did the Rwandan Minister of Defence recently say the FDLR could never threaten Rwanda, but the rebels are currently at all-time low numbers after thousands were demobilised by the UN.
Objectively, the greater security threat to Rwanda is represented by Tutsi political opponents who have fallen out with President Kagame in recent years.
Rwanda’s regional strategy
Rwandan involvement and orchestration of the M23 rebellion becomes more comprehensible when understood as a determined and calculated drive to spawn the creation of an autonomous federal state for eastern Congo.
Prior to the November 2011 elections, a senior intelligence officer within the Rwandan government discussed with me several possible scenarios for the secession of eastern Congo.
He said because the country was too big to be governed by Kinshasa, Rwanda should support the emergence of a federal state for eastern Congo. He said: “Goma should relate to Kinshasa in the same way that Juba was linked to Khartoum,” prior to the independence of South Sudan.
During several internal meetings of M23 for mobilisation, senior government officials, including the Minister of Defence’s special assistant, openly affirmed that establishing this autonomous state was in fact the key goal of the rebellion.
Several M23 commanders and allies have also openly confirmed this in interviews I conducted as part of the Group of Experts. Even senior Ugandan security officials also acknowledged this was the aim of the Rwandans in this M23 war.
One officer, who helped support M23 in co-operation with the Rwandans, told us: “They’re thinking big ... you need to look at South Sudan.”
The objective of federalism also helps to explain in part, the involvement of individuals within the Ugandan government. If Rwanda achieves its goal, then Ugandans would need to ensure that their own cultural, security, and economic interests in the eastern DRC were not jeopardised.
Steve Hege is the former co-ordinator of the UN Group of Experts on the DRC. The Experts submitted a report to the UN Security Council pointing to Rwanda's involvement in the DRC crisis.