Like a bad smell, the DR Congo question sticks on you even when you thought you were done, ever mentioning it again. Correct me if I err, but I think it’s what in French they call “mise en abyme”, a recursive situation. You know how, for instance, sometimes mirrors are arranged in such a way that you see an indefinite number of replications of your reflection, each smaller than the first.
Similarly, accusations of Rwanda’s involvement in DRC are an endless replication. On the national level, whether the truth is known or not, the question will always stick on Rwanda; false accusations will never go away. From the national level, everybody and everything Rwandan is accused of complicity in the DRC problems down to the smallest individual and even the most infinitesimal object: a serial number on a gun or an identity card, for example, purported to be evidence!
What animated me into revisiting this vexing DRC question this time was listening to a BBC French programme, hosted by voluble journalist Lamine Konkobo. After playing a recording of the famous Martin Luther King Jr speech, “I have a dream”, Lamine asked listeners what their dream was. A Congolese listener’s response was: “I have a dream that one day Rwanda will stop looting Congo’s minerals.”
We could be cynical about it but, surely, isn’t it heartrending to hear this contemptible parochialism when you remember the anguish our neighbours are going through?
Let’s consider, for argument’s sake, that Rwanda is looting DRC minerals. If she stopped today, what difference would that make for the gentleman and his compatriots?
Will that stop the multiplicity of murderers, rapists, arsonists, property-destroyers, what-have-you, who have turned his country into a living hell, passing themselves off as rebels with a cause? Will that turn the DRC army into defenders of the sovereignty of their country, from rapists? Will that miraculously turn his leaders into normal humans who do what leaders in other countries do: govern their country and bring sanity on its territories?
We can go on recounting cases of this wretchedness that has become the way of life for our poor neighbouring souls but no. We are not sadists to rejoice in the distress of others, especially when they are not others, as such, but our dear neighbours.
What is interesting, though, if our BBC listener has the heart to find anything on this earth interesting, is that the only time his country enjoyed a semblance of a normal life was when Rwandans were digging up those minerals! Unfortunately, they were neither digging them up for the Congolese nor for themselves. They were digging them up for Belgians, that long ago. And today as then, Rwandans do not process minerals or manufacture anything out of them.
During the colonial days, it was the lot of Rwandans to toil as labour force for colonial projects in practically all countries of the Great Lakes Region. In Uganda, as in Kenya, tea estates and sugar plantations flourished thanks to the labour force hauled from Rwanda. If our BBC listener can get a Congolese elder who remembers, they will tell him that the roads that he is walking on, which have degenerated into footpaths today, were built thanks in part to Union Minière du Haut Katanga (UMNHK).
Sure, UMNHK sounds like a relative of MONUSCO but, apart from both being elephantine and useless today, they share nil else. UMNHK was a gigantesque copper company that was pumping out such vast amounts of funds that on its own it could run the Belgian economy and leave enough to build the Belgian Congo, DRC today. Most of the dilapidated infrastructure that DRC boasts owes its birth to that company. And, in the colonial days, the company owed its heartbeat to labour force shipped in from Rwanda.
In fact, in Katanga Province today there are Congolese Banyarwanda who are a residue of the labour force of that era – hoping no one hacks them to death now that I’ve betrayed them. A sad commentary on our beloved neighbours but don’t be surprised if tomorrow you hear of blood flowing in Katanga.
Anyway, the company enjoyed a healthy economy until Mobutu Sese Seko came in and literally ate it to its skeleton, after blinding his citizens with the illusion of their grandeur. Remember his pompous speeches that all invariably started with: “Nyeh, nyeh! Le Zaïe n’est pas un pays; c’est un continent”? Continent, my hoof! What’s a continent without a future in sight?
However, all that aside, what all the above shows us is that we should learn to embrace the humble wisdom of the two goats. You’ve seen the pictorial illustration. In one picture, two hungry goats tethered together see two bushels of appetising grass but much as each pulls towards its bushel, neither can reach it and hunger continues to ravage them. In the next picture, they’ve solved their puzzle by grazing on one bushel first and then, the next, and they are munching happily.
It’s the same with societies. As countries, as long as we are pulling in different directions, we shall always languish in conflict, strife, frustration and hunger. Every country, however small, has something to offer to other countries. Nothing can create health and wealth better than economies in collaboration.
Loot minerals? This country’s aspirations are far loftier than that.
As Rwandans believe in “two is company”, so do they, in “the more, the merrier”.