Yesterday, the joint military operation between Rwanda and DR Congo against one of the most notorious rebel groups in the Great Lakes region – the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) –officially came to an end.
In my opinion, one month was too a short period for a military offensive against one of the cruelest rebel outfits based deep in the jungles of the vast Congolese territory.
‘Operation Umoja Wetu’ made sure it fully exploited the one month period availed to it, demolishing most FDLR bases, capturing hundreds of fighters and repatriating thousands of civilians who had been held captive by Ignace Murwanashyaka’s rebel group.
The fruits of the military campaign came very fast, partly due to the fact that most FDLR fighters don’t find any legitimacy in fighting against a government that has introduced democracy, improved social welfare of all Rwandans, developed infrastructure, promoted justice and fairness, and is always ready to welcome them back home with open hands.
Another possible reason why FDLR fighters surrendered in big numbers in the wake of the joint operation is panic after realizing that DR Congo had finally entered into an understanding with Rwanda to finish them off.
For starters, FDLR rebels have previously fought alongside Congolese forces in as many battles, and intelligence reports repeatedly showed that some of them had actually been integrated into the Congolese national army.
Needless to say, of course, is the might of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF), which – at least according, one Captain Chance, who was until recently a commanding officer in one of FDLR units – is something most FDLR fighters are well aware of.
But more importantly, it is the nonviolent approach largely employed during the joint operation which convinced even the most hardliners in the rebel ranks to surrender and abandon the genocidal ideology which they seemed to have sworn to serve all their lives.
Whatever reasons that could have led to the rapid fruits of ‘Operation Umoja Wetu’, it is clear that the Congolese government has always had the key to the FDLR problem, and the general pacification of eastern DR Congo. For it took them only a YES COME IN to Rwanda to solve at least 50% of the menace caused by FDLR in just weeks.
In addition, the bilateral agreement between Kigali and Kinshasa resulted in the near settlement of the other security challenges in the country’s east including the ongoing integration process of CNDP rebels into the national army.
Ultimately it will be the ordinary man and woman in both Kivus who will benefit most from these latest developments.
Nonetheless, having seen the kind of achievements that ‘Operation Umoja Wetu’ has brought forth to the peoples of both countries in such a brief period, it is befitting to say that the joint military operation between the two countries’ military needed to be sustained a little longer.
True, top FDLR officers including Colonels have either been captured or killed during the operation, and hundreds of other officers and men repatriated, but the rebels’ symbol remain at large – Maj. Gen. Sylvester Mudacumura, the overall commander of Forces Combatants Abacunguzi (FOCA), FDLR’s military wing.
Pockets of FDLR fighters are also still scattered in parts of North Kivu. Several families remain in their grip too. Well, the remaining job might be simpler, but it could prove harder for Congolese forces, at least if history is anything to go by.
Whereas I don’t wish to be seen as if I remain a hostage of the past, I strongly believe that COMMITMENT – both political and military – was for long the missing ingredient in efforts to address the FDLR problem.
While I admit President Joseph Kabila has lately showed the political will to root out the Rwandan insurgents, it remains to be seen how the Congolese army will genuinely take on the rebels on its own without the involvement of anyone else.
Some have suggested that the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo (Monuc) should fill the vacuum to be left behind by the RDF, but the peacekeepers’ credibility is at its lowest.
For 15 years, the international community failed to address a problem that Rwanda and DRC nearly brought to an end in barely 37 days.
Not because the ‘Operation Umoja Wetu’ was more equipped or composed of more experienced officers and men, but rather those constituting it were simply committed to their assignment, contrary to the Monuc peacekeepers.
Some members of Monuc will never want to risk their lives to bring about lasting peace to Congolese population. Their desire to amass wealth in that mineral-rich part of the world has long eroded their credibility and trust among Congolese and Rwandans alike.
However, if both governments have mutually agreed that the joint military operation be disbanded and the responsibility put in the hands of the Congolese army, the spirit of bilateral cooperation, not only to address security issues but also to promote other areas of cooperation, should remain high.
Both countries need to resume full diplomatic relations by posting ambassadors to each other’s capital, and the increasing trust should soon result in our presidents making state visits to each other.
The author is Rwanda Workforce Development Authority (WDA) Marketing & Communication Specialist.