Since the beginning of the ‘Operation Umoja Wetu’ (Swahili for our unity), a lot of things have changed rapidly. The turn of events in the relations between Rwanda and DR Congo left many surprised, even the targeted genocidal outfit – the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
But nothing has been as astonishing as the speedy transformation of political and military landscape in the east of DR Congo that even Congolese refugees in Burundi have started returning home.
Information from the joint operations headquarters indicate that the campaign has resulted in the repatriation of 872 FDLR and their dependants, 331 others await repatriation as well as over 2,000 civilians.
In addition, close to 100 ex-FAR/Interahamwe/FDLR militants have been killed including Col. Lt. Colonel Anaclet Hitimana alias Kabuyoya Gasarasi, who was the group’s deputy Brigade Commander of the Reserve Brigade.
Many other rebels have either surrendered or captured, the highest ranking officer being Lt. Col. Michel Habimana, alias Edmond Ngarambe, the long serving FDLR spokesman.
As you read this the Operation Umoja Wetu continues to deal more blows to the rebel outfit which has not only lost fighters and captives, but also strongholds in the North Kivu province.
Contrary to what many had anticipated, the DRC-Rwanda military operation is not about the barrel of the gun alone. Even when we all know how the FDLR political and military leadership had repeatedly ignored calls for voluntary disbarment, the joint operation still encouraged (and continues to do so) the insurgents to lay down their arms peacefully – failure of which the Z option is applied.
That the joint operation prefers voluntary disarmament and repatriation to military confrontation speaks volumes. It provides the opportunity, not only to those long held captives of FDLR but also extremists, to return home safely, and abandon their wicked ways – regardless of their past atrocities.
It is a fact that most FDLR commanders have committed horrendous crimes against humanity in Rwanda, DR Congo and other parts of this region.
But Rwanda has always acted the biblical father who warmly welcomed his prodigal son. That is not to promote impunity, and never should it be so. However, in every situation there is need to address one problem at a time.
Ngarambe may not have been a captive of FDLR leadership, but many many low-ranking members of the group were. So were families of FDLR fighters.
Thanks to Operation Umoja Wetu, hundreds of Rwandan refugees have known the truth and –to borrow the words of the Great Book – the truth has liberated them.
Truth a powerful weapon, and no matter how long you hide it, it will surely come out. It has unmasked liars such as FDLR leader Ignace Murwanashyaka and his military commanders.
FDLR leaders are increasingly running out of options because they cannot cope with the reality that our country had never had equality, justice, freedom, tolerance, peaceful co-existence and tremendous development that we have today.
To those who have just seen the light and are now returning from DR Congo jungles, Rwanda is a nation so different from the one that was gripped with genocide and dictatorship they lived in fifteen years ago.
Murwanashyaka must be worried with the rate at which his fighters and captives are easily surrendering to the joint operation in big numbers in such a short period.
And this brings with it a message: That most members of the group now understand that FDLR pursues no meaningful mission – apart from the devil’s.
From his bases in Germany, he is also confused with the fact that members of the Operation Umoja Wetu are not all out firing at everybody.
I guess he had hoped the operation would be ruthless prompting FDLR fighters and their families to try to mount a defence, or at least, resorting to attacking innocent Congolese villagers.
To Murwanashyaka and his sympathizers, it’s not understandable how the campaign has not resulted into massive displacement of civilians and a major humanitarian crisis.
Instead, they are hearing of reports of Congolese refugees beginning to return home from Burundi following recent positive developments in the east of their motherland.
And indeed the relatively stable atmosphere with which Rwanda and DR Congo are jointly addressing the FDLR operation has caught cynics as well as pundits off guard.
Many in the anti-Rwanda camp would have hoped the operation to spark a major humanitarian crisis, prompting calls from the international community for suspension of the offensive.
Some in the Congolese parliament and in other circles had already started to predict the worst. While it might be too early to suggest that the entire campaign will be conducted in the same way we have seen over the past two weeks, the operation’s achievements so far suggest unimaginable success ahead.
The author is Rwanda Workforce Development Authority (WDA) Marketing & Communication Specialist.