Thank heavens the Goma hostilities have taken a turn for reason and the adversaries are willing to go into talks. Hopefully the talks will result into a more peaceful Eastern Congo and that that peace will last.
It has been a case of seemingly simple things growing complex and taking turns, rather fast, like a candle flame turning into an inferno.
Let’s reminisce a little: just the other day, the now bitter enemies were bosom buddies. A pact was signed that integrated former rebels into the national Congolese army. The current crop of rebels even campaigned for the current president. As is the case in many an African election, the loser claimed the election stolen and even comically swore himself in as president from his bedroom. It then fizzled away and we looked forward to a nice quiet and peaceful period of progress. It was not to be.
Somebody was jailed for national war time atrocities by the International Criminal Court. Then someone else was then indicted at the same court at the instigation of the President. He claimed that this was because he had fallen out with the President. His group then rebelled alleging that the government had not honored an agreement signed in a certain year on March 23rd. A few skirmishes then peace talks were called and then all hell broke loose.
The March 23rd guys were claimed to be Rwandans because they looked like Rwandans (as if Rwanda is one huge bunch of twins, triplets, quadruplets or multiruplets, if there’s such a word).
Many peace initiatives pulling in different directions sprung up (a typical case of many cooks messing up the broth) and led to new hostilities. Just after the Great Lakes guys had finished getting some sort of deal from the combatants, the SADCC guys showed up with a brilliant new idea of an intervention force to wipe out all the rebellious groups. Meanwhile Rwanda was asked to stop interfering and talk to their genocidaires in Congo.
Many still wonder why we find this entire proposal outrageous. So much so that some neighbour kicked out their own citizens because they looked like Rwandans (surprised? Rwandans are also black Africans and sometimes there are similarities, phenotypically speaking).
So now there are 7,000 people, some of whom insist they are Tanzanians, kicked out of their homes in an army operation meant to kick out ‘criminals and illegal aliens’ (read to mean that the aliens are criminals or the two are closely related).
Somehow the spin that Rwanda is to blame for all this mess. Many times Rwanda has had to be on the defensive. Whenever the international media featured the Goma story on Rwanda’s supposed interference, Congolese were featured and some foreign expert and always no Rwandan was present. Indeed the Congolese ambassador to South Africa even pointed out, on Al Jazeera, that ‘everyone knows of Rwanda’s’ interference in Congo..’ This statement, outrageous as it is, points to the fact that we need get out our story better and more often.
Rwanda has some legitimate security concerns in Congo. The 1994 genocidaires against the Tutsi are there and they were welcomed by the Congolese in the infamous ‘Operation Turquoise’.
Rwanda has worked with the current regime at Kinshasha to flush them out, it has given amnesty to those willing to change their ways and indeed quite a number have come back. But there are still genocidaires out there.
Compare this to the US sending Navy seals to Pakistan to ‘neutralize’ Osama Bin Laden. There’s no memory of them asking or getting permission for a go ahead from Pakistan. There is also no memory of an apology to the Pakistanis for violation of their sovereignty. Yet Rwanda looks bad and the Americans look glorious,
Someone needs to tell Rwanda’s side of the story out there. Our typical modesty and reserved nature won’t just do here. Granted there are geopolitical factors that we have to deal with but someone has to start working on telling Rwanda’s side of the story.
We can’t have other people spinning tales around and about us. The price is just too high.
Sam Kebongo is an Entrepreneurship Development Consultant with Serian Management Consultancy in Kigali.