In his latest publication in the Congo Research Group (CRG), a so-called ‘independent, non-profit research project dedicated to understanding the violence that affects millions of Congolese,’ Jason Stearns penned a very misleading controversial article: “Should we talk about the FDLR every time we talk about the M23?“ He condemned a perceived attempt by Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, to draw equivalence between FDLR and M23, during a press conference in Kigali. Blinken accused both the DRC and Rwanda of supporting FDLR and M23, respectively. He said: “There are very credible reports of support for armed groups by all sides.” In his article, Stearns joined Congolese warmongers who expressed disappointment over Blinken’s failure to condemn Rwanda. Blinken’s call for peaceful solution to the resurgence of the M23 rebels through the Nairobi process was equally not well received. In addition to blaming Rwanda over DRC failures, Stearns downplays the threat posed by the presence of Rwandan genocidal forces in eastern DRC and justifies the FDLR militia’s collaboration with Congolese armed forces (FARDC). The FDLR are remnants of the masterminds of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Despite their known genocidal ideology and agenda, for Stearns, the M23 rebels pose a bigger threat than FDLR. He equally relativizes the hate speech targeting the Congolese Tutsi population. His article was acclaimed by the Government of the DRC as it shifted the blame of the resurgence of M23 on Rwanda, presenting the DRC government as a mere victim of Rwanda’s alleged belligerence. It also stirred controversies, on social media, forcing him to make additional clarifications, through a twitter thread, that did little to correct his preconceived ideas on the resurgence of M23. This article debunks Stearns’ falsehoods in his article. To expose his double standards and biases, some counter arguments are borrowed from his own book: “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa,” published in 2011. DRC government far from being a victim; It is responsible for M23 resurgence Stearns seeks to exonerate the Congolese government from its primary responsibility in the resurgence of the M23/Makenga faction. He conveniently ignores the fact that in 2013, the M23 split into two factions – the Jean-Marie Runiga and Sultani Makenga factions. After their defeat by the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB)/UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), the Makenga faction fled to Uganda while Runiga’s faction fled to Rwanda. In Rwanda, the latter group was disarmed and its members are still cantoned in a location far from the DRC border as required by international law. The weapons seized from them were thereafter, duly handed over to DRC authorities by Rwanda. As of today, members of this faction are not involved in the current fight against DRC. Despite the defeat of M23, the Congolese government was requested to formally commit itself to addressing the M23 grievances, which it acknowledged through the Nairobi Declaration of December 12, 2013. However, just like in previous signed agreements, the DRC government later refused to honor its commitments. Interestingly, Stearns seems to be comfortable with a country that has excelled in signing and violating agreements to achieve short-term political goals. Rwanda did what it could to support President Félix Tshisekedi in his efforts to restore peace and security in eastern DRC upon his election. Rwanda understood that cooperation with a legitimate and responsible government would appropriately address its own security concerns. It also understood that lasting peace in eastern DRC required implementation of the signed agreements, including the 2013 Nairobi Declaration, whereby the DRC government committed to address M23 grievances. In 2019, relations between Rwanda and DRC significantly improved thanks to the then shared will by both President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and his Congolese counterpart, Tshisekedi, to improve relations between their respective countries. The two countries enhanced cooperation in various areas, including in intelligence sharing which led to the neutralization of key commanders of Rwandan armed groups and the repatriation of former combatants and dependents. With the facilitation of Rwanda, the Congolese government, on October 28, 2019, signed a roadmap for the repatriation of ex-M23 members living in Rwanda. Similarly, Rwanda facilitated the meeting of DRC officials with Congolese refugees living in Rwanda for their repatriation. The roadmap was never implemented and the refugees have no home to return to as their country still refuses to recognize them as Congolese. President Tshisekedi faced hostility from some influential actors within the government, defense and security sectors, the opposition and civil society opposed to the DRC-Rwanda rapprochement as well as to the repatriation of M23 combatants and Congolese refugees in Rwanda. Internal wrangles and changes both within his ruling party and collation as well as within security organs further weakened his ability to enforce signed agreements with each of the two M23 factions. This prompted the Makenga faction to return to DRC in December 2016 and in January 2017, from Uganda. Recently, the group resumed fighting since October 2021, eight years after its defeat in 2013. Instead of addressing its grievances, the DRC government escalated the problem by listing M23 as terrorist organization and excluding the group from the Nairobi consultations. The DRC government further unleashed hate speech targeting both Rwanda and Congolese Tutsi while it’s military, the FARDC, forged a sinister alliance with genocidal forces, especially the FDLR. The DRC's blame-shifting and ostrich policy are problematic and counterproductive. The resurgence of the M23 rebellion should primarily be blamed on the DRC government’s failure to implement signed agreements with the group whose members are denied their right to Congolese citizenship. Interestingly, while Stearns proposed a political solution for both FDLR and ADF, he seems to support DRC's militaristic approach in dealing with M23. The Congolese government has a responsibility to address M23 grievances instead of subcontracting the very genocidal militia that seeks their extermination. By Tshisekedi’s admission, subcontracting armed groups in the fight against M23 is “adding fuel to fire”. However, it seems he has been overpowered by some FARDC generals and Congolese politicians who exploit the conflict and instability in the eastern DRC for personal gain. Rwanda’s legitimate security concerns are real The FDLR remains an ideological and security threat to both Rwanda and DRC. But Stearns presents the genocidal militia as weak, and allegedly posing no real threat to Rwanda. Referring to the US's similar positions, in 2009 and 2013, Stearns cites what the then US Undersecretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, called the “grand bargain” to resolve the M23 problem. Stearns suggests that “admitting that Kigali has legitimate security grievances in eastern Congo would allow the Rwandan government to save face and walk away from the conflict with its head held high.” It is interesting to observe how Stearns gleefully narrates his role in advocating against military operations targeting FDLR. After the defeat of M23 by the FIB, next on the list was FDLR. However, as soon as the M23 was dismantled, the operation was called off. The biggest winners were, evidently, the FDLR and Stearns. Like in 2013, Stearns is once again advocating for an unrealistic “political” solution to the FDLR issue while he is comfortable with the DRC’s militaristic approach to M23. To minimize the threat posed by FDLR to Rwanda, Stearns argues that its strength has been reduced to 500-1000, and that their last large-scale attack in Rwanda dates back to 2001. Here, Stearns implicitly suggests that Rwanda should wait until the FDLR carries out a large-scale attack. A simple interrogation can be put to challenge this rather disproportionate argument. Why, then, is the FARDC allied with the FDLR and actually puts them at the battle front to fight the M23? Isn’t it, arguably, because the “only remaining 500 to 1000 men” of the FDLR are collectively more powerful than a whole FARDC brigade? If the FDLR strength has depleted, it is due to various factors, including past military operations against it, internal wrangles, as well as Rwanda’s efficient Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program, which is lacking in the DRC. Contrary to the wrong picture Stearns wants to paint, the threat posed by the genocidal force remains real. And, this threat is beyond the militia group’s numbers, which are not static. The FDLR’s strength and capacity for nuisance increases through recruitment, training and arms supply which are currently facilitated by its collaboration with FARDC and other local armed groups. The biggest threat of the group lies in its genocide ideology and resilience, its collaboration with FARDC and local armed groups as well as its capacity to exploit the absence of state authority. The FDLR indoctrinates and recruits among the Congolese Hutu community (Nyatura) for self-preservation. This situation not only endangers the peaceful co-existence of local communities in eastern DRC but also represents a threat to Rwanda’s security. The militia, whose forward base is at a stone throwing distance from Rwanda’s border with DRC, maintains its genocide ideology and the will to attack Rwanda. On December 10, 2018, the FDLR carried out attacks in Busasamana, in Rubavu District, Western Province. Similarly, its splinter groups carried out several attacks inside Rwanda. One is the so-called Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change/National Liberation Front (MRCD-FLN) which launched attacks in Nyabimata and Kitabi areas, Southern Province, in 2018, and in Nyungwe, Western Province, on June 18, 2022. Another FDLR splinter group, RUD-Urunana, attacked Kinigi in November 2019 and killed civilians after failing to reach touristic facilities in the area. The FDLR-FARDC coalition also shelled Rwandan territory three times on March 19, May 23 and June 10, 2022. Besides, FDLR splinter groups have carried out several other attacks in Nyungwe and Virunga national parks in the past. The genocidal militia and its splinter groups continue to harbor plans to conduct acts of sabotage against Rwanda especially near and around Nyungwe National Park (Southern Province) and the Virunga National Park (Western Province). Thus, the preservation of the genocidal forces poses ideological, security and economic threats to Rwanda, which Stearns ignores. Stearns argues that the FARDC have an adversarial relationship with the FDLR and that they have fought them many times, “including recently”. This statement is not only a contradiction to verified facts that converge to the current FARDC-FDLR military alliance against M23. It is also betrays lack of some historical background knowledge of the genesis of the FDLR and how Rwandan genocidal forces have always been supported by Congolese leaders since the time of President Mobutu and sustained by the Kabilas. Should he have comprehended these facts, Stearns would have been able to establish the truth as to why, despite the FDLR's near total defeat following the Umoja Wetu military operation, in 2009, the militia group came to re-organize itself through recruitments, arms purchases or looting, through its target operations to loot arms from other groups including the FARDC itself and through direct sales of arms to FDLR by some officers of the country’s armed force as indicated in recent reports in DRC. The insecurity status-quo in DRC can only be resolved by taking concrete actions to reform the national security services, the country’s leadership and through the promotion of accountability methods in the army and the government. Trying to export DRC problems to Rwanda, or to promote some moral equivalence in the issues of insecurity in DRC cannot solve any problem but sustain them. Why talk about FDLR every time we talk about M23? In his rhetorical question title, Stearns wonders if we should “talk about the FDLR every time we talk about M23.” Stearns condemns a moral equivalence between FDLR and M23 he terms as dangerous. Such moral equivalence is indeed dangerous but not for the reasons stated by Stearns. He presents the M23 as the major source of insecurity in eastern DRC and considers FDLR as a minor threat exploited by Rwanda as scapegoat. Yet, he presents no evidence to support his argument. Facts on the ground show a different reality and justify why addressing the issue of M23 requires, first and foremost, the neutralization of the FDLR. Nine years after the defeat of M23, has insecurity in eastern DRC prevailed? The number of armed groups surged from around 40 (in 2012) to more than 130 armed groups, a decade later. Contrary to Stearns’ assertion, the rise of these groups is largely associated with the preservation of genocidal forces in eastern DRC. Thus, to present the M23 as the biggest threat to peace and security in DRC is not only wrong but an irrelevant and dangerous diversion. The M23 is a consequence of the spread of genocide ideology as observed through stigmatization and hate speech particularly targeting the Tutsi. The FDLR is a genocidal group that neither renounced its genocidal intent nor its ambitions to attack Rwanda. While Stearns rightly recognizes that the group represents a “serious security threat to Congolese civilians,” he fails to acknowledge that Congolese Tutsi are the primary targets and victims of the group, justifying the resurgence of armed groups like M23. In addition to being a security threat, FDLR’s genocide ideology represents a serious threat to the peaceful coexistence of Rwandans and Congolese. While members of the M23 are denied their right to Congolese citizenship, FDLR members are encouraged to return to their country. Rwanda has established one of the most efficient Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programmes in the region. In terms of security threats, facts on the ground equally present a different picture from Stearns’ portrayal. Credible reports, including the report of the UN Human Rights Commission, indicate that the number of civilian fatalities from FARDC, FDLR, Nyatura groups, ADF, and CODECO, is far bigger than that of M23. Equating the M23 to FDLR is misleading and potentially undermines ongoing regional initiatives meant to address root causes of the conflict in eastern DRC. Stearns’ efforts to either deny or justify the FARDC-FDLR collaboration as well as his attempts to minimize the FDLR threat are dangerous and counterproductive. Stearns also overlooks the stigmatization of Congolese Tutsi and the role of the DRC in the resurgence of the M23. Yet, in Twitter thread, he denied his efforts to advocate for the preservation of the FDLR. The DRC government has the responsibility to address M23 grievances instead of subcontracting the very genocidal militia that seeks to exterminate a section of Congolese people. One of the urgent tasks for the DRC government should be the fight against hate speech and the neutralization of the FDLR and its splinter groups. Hate speech predates M23 resurgence and DRC is behind its spread Stearns minimizes anti-Tutsi hate speech and attributes its rise to the resurgence of the M23. While stigmatization of the Rwandophone community has been prevalent since DRC independence, the presence of genocidal forces in eastern DRC has contributed to the spread of hate speech particularly targeting the Tutsi. Since 1994, Congolese Tutsi are stigmatized and branded as “foreigners”, “traitors, and Rwanda’s “fifth column”. Conspiracy theories (especially Balkanization and Tutsi-Hima Empire theories) have become prevalent among government officials, Parliamentarians, military officials, members of the ruling party or its coalition, opposition and civil society figures in search for cheap popularity or visibility. It would be inappropriate to give them unnecessary publicity by naming them. For further details, see @MaishaRdc, a Twitter handle of a group of Congolese students who document hate speech in the Great Lakes Region, especially in the DRC. There is numerous evidence proving that anti-Tutsi hate speech predates the existence of M23. Interestingly, some of it was documented way before the existence of M23, including by Stearns in his book, “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa.” Stearns wrote: “It is amazing to what extent the ethnic stereotypes and conflicts that were born in Rwanda have contaminated the rest of the region. No other image plagues the Congolese imagination as much as that of the Tutsi aggressor. No other sentiment has justified as much violence in the Congo as anti-Tutsi ideology.” In the same book, Stearns witnessed entrenched anti-Tutsi sentiments among his own Congolese acquaintances: “When I first lived in Bukavu, in 2001, I spent a lot of time with a local family. The mother of the family, a soft-spoken twenty-seven-year-old who was studying development at a local university, was, like most of the town, bitterly opposed to what she called the “Tutsi occupation of the eastern Congo” (...) One day when I was arguing that you had to understand Tutsi paranoia, as it has its roots in the massacre of up 800,000 Tutsi in Rwanda during the genocide, she replied: “Eight hundred thousand? Obviously it wasn’t enough. There are still some left.” The “soft-spoken” Congolese mother who seemingly regrets that there are still some Tutsi left is a typical representation of the prevailing anti-Tutsi sentiments. Stearns’ choice of words to describe legitimate fear of Tutsi as “paranoia” tells it all. Twenty one years later, the threat posed by hate speech and stigmatization of the Tutsi remains real and is on the rise. It is further compounded by the resumption of FARDC-FDLR collaboration in the fight against M23. The so-called “Tutsi paranoia” led to killing of Congolese Tutsi, civilians and military officers alike, in atrocities reminiscent of the pre-genocide period in Rwanda. Despite calculated condemnation by Congolese authorities, none of those responsible for hate speech and Tutsi killings was taken to court. Hate speech is slowly consuming the Congolese house and needs to be switched off before it’s too late. Stearns’ inability to recognize the danger, and his attempt to blame it on the victims, are staggering. FARDC-FDLR collaboration predates the resurgence of M23 and should not be justified Stearns conveniently attempts to either deny or justify collaboration of the Congolese army with the genocidal forces. Coalescing with a genocidal group is irresponsible and dangerous. There should be no justification for the DRC government in preserving and collaborating with a genocidal force that seeks to eliminate a group of its own nationals. The FDLR poses serious security and ideological threat to Rwanda, DRC and the region. Its neutralization is essential for lasting peace and security in the region. Similar to the DRC government and other Congolese warmongers, Stearns is pushing for a repeat of the 2013 scenario when M23 political grievances were ignored and its defeat presented as essential for restoring long-lasting peace and stability in eastern DRC. The threat posed by genocidal forces, especially the FDLR and responsibility of government of DRC of not honoring the signed agreement with the then CNDP were overlooked. Like in 2013, Stearns is advocating against military operations targeting genocidal forces which are among the root causes of instability in eastern DRC. While he opines that military operations against FDLR are dangerous and prone to producing more armed groups, he promotes the DRC militaristic approach to the resurgence of a faction of M23, contrary to the letter and spirit of the Nairobi process. Unfortunately, Stearns suggests that the DRC should not count on the good faith of its neighbors. That long-term solution to the violence – including the one allegedly instigated by the Rwandan government – will come from a “stronger and more responsible Congo.” It seems that the Congolese government heeded Stearns’ advice, as it is actively engaged in seeking external military support to fight its own people. After the disappointing visit by Blinken to Kinshasa, and the unsuccessful DRC effort to drum up SADC military support, the Congolese government is currently courting Russia for arms supplies, as evidenced by the August 15-18 visit of the Congolese Minister of Defense, Gilbert Kabanda Rukemba. Time will tell.