Kayumba’s view on crisis well-intentioned but analytically flawed

A storm brew over Dr. Christopher Kayumba’s “Kagame-Museveni Peace Talks Can Only Bear Fruits if ‘Ordered’ by Donors” that appeared in his online newspaper The Chronicles on July 15, 2019.

In the article, Kayumba appears well-intentioned in his desire to bring to his readers an analysis of whether the current crisis between Uganda and Rwanda can be solved through the African preferred “African solutions to African problems.”

As the title suggests, Kayumba pours cold water on any likelihood that a resolution of the crisis is possible without the threat of sanctions by donors against Presidents Kagame and Museveni, the real protagonists as he sees them.

It may not have been explicit in the charge, but most of the fire directed at the senior lecturer stemmed from the perception that his view had a fair dose of afro-pessimism. While many in Rwanda (and Uganda to a lesser extent) would have understood a pessimistic view of the prospects for resolving the conflict between the two countries, especially given that it has lasted for more than two decades now, the idea that only donors can get the two presidents to come to a solution came off rather strange, to put it mildly.

This rubbed many people the wrong way and the moment hostile reactions started filtering through, Kayumba had lost the goodwill of readers and the chance to hear him out. Moreover, if they had given him the benefit of doubt, he might have been able to stake out the merits of his argument, if only so he could be better understood and debated on what was clearly a well-intentioned but defective reading of the contemporary crisis in bilateral and geopolitical terms.

Kayumba’s view that highlights the centrality of donor support in resolving conflicts in Africa suffers two fundamental defects, one broad, the other peculiar to the protagonists. First, the moral cloak around which donors concealed their interests while applying sanctions to conflict situations has generally collapsed. So has civil society’s agitation for sanctions which collapsed following the realisation and acceptance of the fact that sanctions hurt the very people in whose interest they are imposed. 

Today only bullies find utility in sanctions. Even then, they usually do not garner the kind of public support necessary to apply them. The only exception is when they target countries with which those imposing them have deep ideological differences. In such cases the public is susceptible to manipulation that renders bullying others acceptable.

None of this applies to conflicts in the great lakes region, let alone the crisis involving Rwandan and Uganda. Invoking the necessity of sanctions therefore ignores this collapse of the moral edifice that in the past underpinned the presumably benevolent actions of donors.

Secondly, Kayumba writes about the protagonists as though he is a detached foreign observer that is new to the great lakes security scene. How else does one explain his failure to recall President Kagame’s response to the donors’ decision to stop aid to Rwanda, when they accused it of supporting the anti-Kabila M-23 rebellion?

On June 10, 2013, Kagame told soldiers: “… of course the others are waiting in the wings again with all kinds of threats. People come and threaten. That if you don’t do that, if you don’t do this, you know, I’m going to… People say remember, we shall again cut aid. No, we can do without that aid. We can go back to our hills and grow potatoes and cassava and eat those. Remember the maize grain we used to eat? Yes, we survived. I think part of what this course must tell us as a context is that the RDF is not a myth. It does not depend on sweeteners. We are real. We must be real. And we must operate with the spirit of defiance. These people who come and tell us all sorts of nonsense, we’ll just tell them to go to hell.

He continued: “You should know that this is a new Rwanda. The Rwanda that is thriving on top of mass graves of our people.” 

Was he serious? I think so.

Donor model not a success

The donor model of conflict resolution that Kayumba seems to favour has not been as successful as he thinks it has. For much of post-colonial Africa, the tendency has been for the model to impose peace on people - DRC, South Sudan, Burundi, etc - who were never prepared for it, or sanctions for those who rejected the imposition.

The losers were often the ordinary people who would bear the brunt of the consequences when the conflicts re-emerged in a more ferocious and protracted form.

Being far removed from the outcomes of their negotiated “peace” meant that the donors were never fully invested in the prescriptions they eagerly administered. It always seemed as if their preoccupation was the celebrations that followed the signing of the accords. As a result, the conflict resolution model was cosmetic in nature. With little or no local ownership, the “lapses” in the agreements would activate even more sanctions whose consequences would be most felt by the ordinary person.

In security studies there is an analytical tool known as the “security complex.” In its examination, the analyst looks at how perceptions of enmity and cooperation shape the geo-strategic environment. In examining the great lakes region, Uganda and Rwanda would be described as falling inside the security complex and actors such as Angola as outsiders to the immediate security complex.

Angola is not intimate to the conflict to conflate its own national security calculations with those of the protagonists. Nor is it so physically distant as would be the case with donors to assume an indifferent posture to the way the security complex is shaped. Similarly, neither Museveni nor Kagame is capable of exerting undue influence –military, economic, diplomatic – whether historically or in contemporary terms over Angola.

Conflict mediation

In conflict mediation, the task of the mediator is to engage the protagonists in ways that seek to identify what they perceive to be negotiable and non-negotiable grievances. Obviously, progress is made by getting a quick agreement on the negotiable items.

A more protracted process is reserved for efforts that are geared at altering the perception of the protagonists towards the grievances they consider to be non-negotiable in ways that seek to turn them negotiable. This is why some mediation processes, such as those involving Israel and Palestine, have taken more than half a century to reach a resolution.

Sometimes protagonists, mainly because they consider some of their claims to be illegitimate, refuse to table a grievance, which turns it into a non-negotiable grievance, which makes the mediator’s task insurmountable.

Accordingly, the key requirement of the mediator is that they are able to earn the respect of the protagonists – not out of fear of losing aid – to engage them on what they perceive to be negotiable and non-negotiable grievances. I suspect, Angola’s proximity – at once intimate and distant – will incentivise the protagonist to engage the mediation process in an honest manner.

The invitation of Angola within the immediate security complex, to which it doesn’t presently belong is an outcome one of the protagonists would not wish for, especially since anyone that subjects himself to mediation wishes to create less – not more – enemies.

Kayumba failed to understand that in security terms, the potential that the security complex could shift represents a more potent weapon than donor aid.

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