Questioning the role of NGOs handling the Hutu refugees in DR Congo - Part 1

APPARENTLY everything is done to bring Rwanda back to its tragic past, dark days well illustrated in the few powerful images below, which still haunt the collective memory. These include indelible images of Westerners being evacuated in April 1994, leaving behind devastated Tutsi in embassies or schools such as ETO Kicukiro or St-Exupery.
Refugees fleeing Rwanda for then Zaïre in 1994. (Net photo)
Refugees fleeing Rwanda for then Zaïre in 1994. (Net photo)

APPARENTLY everything is done to bring Rwanda back to its tragic past, dark days well illustrated in the few powerful images below, which still haunt the collective memory.

These include indelible images of Westerners being evacuated in April 1994, leaving behind devastated Tutsi in embassies or schools such as ETO Kicukiro or St-Exupery.

Most of evacuees knew and some of them left in tears, ashamed, certain of the Tutsis tragic fate and violent death. There are also those recycled TV images over the world showing the Interahamwe killers, haggard and drunk, with bloodied machetes in hand, searching for new victims to slaughter while decaying corpses were piling up in churches or floating in rivers or lakes.

And sometimes, as a diversion, TV debates with so-called specialists would take place, very remotely, on the probable causes of such killings; or the surreal debate in the corridors of power at the United Nations on the qualification of the crime of genocide. Just talks and no action!

Then there were images of the victorious RPF army entering and taking over Kigali in early July 1994, defying death and desolation and sending a contrasted message of hope. Finally, there are these images of thousands of Rwandans sweeping in waves into neighbouring countries and particularly the Zaïre of Mobutu (today’s Democratic Republic of Congo). We saw, pell-mell, mothers carrying babies and plastic trinkets, pulling children, goats and sheep and mixed with armed soldiers in a pandemonium and chaotic movement.

Nobody can erase this image of a Rwandan woman carrying a grinding stone (about 30 kgs) for their millet grain indicating the degree of backwardness in which successive governments had let their own people, gone unchallenged for long since the “ethnic” majority held power!

Unfortunately, this self-exile and self-deportation known as the Rwandan Hutu refugee saga in Zaïre turned bitter, nasty and continues to jeopardize peace and stability in the Great Lakes region until today.

From the above mentioned tragic events, the history had accelerated and the socio-political landscape changed fundamentally in the region. Like a snow-ball effect, they were followed by the fall of the Mobutu regime pushed out by a group of rebels (ADFL), supported primarily by Rwanda and Uganda.

This was followed by the First African War in DR Congo with nine countries involved and many new armed local groups or rebellions. Spectacular reconciliations and dramatic reversals of alliances took place over the past 16 years as part of these dynamics.

The rediscovery of mineral deposits of strategic importance and of certain geopolitical implications fed these new rebellions and gave enough resources to the ex-FAR, renamed FDLR (Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda), and the means to control huge swaths of territories in North and South Kivu.

This complicated their repatriation program and brought insecurity in the Eastern DR Congo until this day. The new armed groups and militias have developed horrendous strategies including setting land on fire and perfected the technique of mass rape of women.

International diplomacy tried to help defuse regional tensions, to stop these vicious cycles of violence that wreck suffering and destruction, wars and rebellions everyday; in order to stabilize the entire region.

In this seemingly chaotic movement, the Africans decided to find concrete solutions for themselves and a new type of leadership emerged in the region, slowly moving toward democratization and progressing toward regional integration as a strategy to ensure sustainable development and stability. Some signs of recovery and socio-economic progress are tangible and the people have gone back to work, dreaming of a better future.

For all these events above, there have been tons of reports, analysis, articles and books published; some serious and some very controversial. Their approach however, although from different ideological backgrounds, described mostly the role of African governments and their goals, the political parties, national armies and armed groups involved, persons in charge from Head of states to warlords. Even the latest UN report on the massacres in DR Congo-Zaïre from 1993 to 2003 Zaïre did not escape to this preset rule.

While, it is clear that some key players were omitted from this very report; those are the unnamed actors who influenced events, changed the dynamics or have tipped the balance toward one side rather than another.

The Congolese Minister of Justice asked himself loudly why the role of some other foreign powers and their multinationals has not been analyzed or even mentioned. And so far, nobody has dared to question the responsibilities of non-governmental organizations, NGOs or UN agencies.

There is very little criticism regarding the responsibility of NGOs which are only accountable to their donors, who are usually looming in the shadows. There is definitely no doubt that the committed or omitted acts by these key players have determined the fate of the whole Great Lakes region today. Let us analyze, more precisely, their role in the humanitarian crisis of the Hutu refugees in Zaïre.

Because if one does not draw all the lessons and facts right, the findings and recommendations can only be truncated, biased or skewed with even the risk of jeopardizing the achievements painfully gained in this environment of general suspicion and induced hatred. One cannot be so naïve as not to see that the road is still long and the gains can be reversed any time.

It should be recalled that immediately after this massive influx of Hutu refugees, makeshift camps were erected near the border with Rwanda. Humanitarian NGOs began, rightly so, a vocal media campaign predicting a looming disaster. NGOs made appeals for funds urgently to provide food stamps, blankets, shelters and water purification systems.

As expected, the cholera epidemic occurred without delay. The disease struck at an alarming rate. In addition to refugees, Congolese from Goma were infected and died and the death toll rose well above 30,000 in a few days, according to published statistics and reports at the time.

Military trucks materialized from nowhere, operated by French soldiers of the Zone Turquoise, picked up the bodies and dumped them in mass graves quickly dug nearby in the area of the north of Goma. The Americans brought water purifying systems without delay to prevent a catastrophe of biblical proportions that was going to happen over the entire region.

For more than four weeks, images of cholera “coincidentally” overshadowed the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, its causes and consequences, to focus on how to help the unfortunate Hutu refugees. An expert of modern communication decoded ‘Superimposed images’ technique: Forget the Genocide and Tutsi survivors for the moment, there were more pressing urgencies! And the “Hutu” got turned into “victim” by the television magic and intensive media coverage!

The Genocidaires were almost forgotten and absolved, sheltered inside the very same camps mixing armed soldiers and babies, kids and killers. Fundraising by various humanitarian agencies became easy with the profusion of emotions aroused in Europe, helped with various associations close to the Catholic Church. NGOs quickly went into action with this artificially created humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions.

Probably by “counter-insurgency” specialists who had got it all wrong, concluding that without the Hutu self-deported population, the RPF will have no legitimacy, the RPF without resources will lose momentum in the following weeks and that the refugees would soon return to resume their life and their leaders would regain power.

Meanwhile, active sister NGOs in Rwanda suggested unapologetically, to democratize the just installed regime and to organize competitive multiparty elections in a country, which had lost its soul, depopulated by a Genocide that saw one million plus massacred and with approximately three million self-deported into gigantic and surreal refugee camps erected in neighbouring countries.

The rest is known history; the leaders of the ex-FAR and Interahamwe, got new friends with corrupt Zairian authorities, thanks to trunks of money looted from Rwanda’s Central Bank, BNR.

They quickly reorganized themselves with the support of the then, French and Zaïre secret services and massacred or cleansed out the Congolese Tutsi and other local minorities.

To be continued...

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