It started as isolated drops, then became a trickle and now has become a steady flow. At this rate it will turn into a torrent before long. I am not talking about a new river that may have formed over the last few years, although the minister of agriculture would be delighted with such a welcome help to her irrigation plans.
I am referring to Rwandans giving up rebellion and returning home from the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in growing numbers.
Last week Colonel Bizimana left the FDLR rebel group and returned from the DRC. He is the third colonel to return in three months. When a colonel comes back, he does not come alone. He comes with his assistants and escorts. That is why re-education and reintegration camps like Mutobo continue to be filled with Rwandans unable to resist the pull of home.
The return of Col Bizimana came shortly after that of a First Sergeant who not only came back, but brought his weapons as well.
This is good news for those who want peace for this region. It is a blow for those who earn their living and build their reputations on muddying the waters. It should be a warning to adventurers who may want to take advantage of muddy waters to advance selfish interests that the same waters are getting clear.
There are several reasons for this sense of optimism.
The government’s call on Rwandans to return home has been getting through to the depths of the Congolese jungles and mines. And some people have taken heed.
This has been helped in no small measure by a natural longing for home. Anyone who has lived outside their country involuntarily and have to endure cruel reminders that they are unwelcome foreigners will know the strength of attraction for home. Except for irredeemable criminals and those hardened by unnatural hatred, the pull of nostalgia is irresistible.
Then there is the question of conscience. Among the thousands of Rwandans living in the forests of the DRC, some against their will, there must be many who are revolted by the many atrocities committed against innocent people with whom they have no quarrel.
There must be people who view mass rape, indiscriminate murder and plunder with so much revulsion that the only option is to dissociate themselves from perpetrators of these crimes. There are people whose conscience is still sensitive enough to be pricked by obvious wrongs.
A group can only hold another captive for as long as they have the power to do so. When that is loosened, captives will break free. That has been happening for quite a while.
The arrest and impending prosecution of the FDLR’s top political leaders in Europe for crimes against humanity has sent signals to the rebels that the game has changed. This, together with the arrest of some senior commanders in the region, has severely disrupted FDLR’s political and military capacity. It has increasingly led to the realisation that whatever cause they had has been lost.
Better relations between Rwanda and the DRC means that the FDLR’s support from within Congo will reduce as will external backing. Those among them with foresight realise that Eastern DRC will not be lawless for ever. Law and order will sooner or later return to the region and that will spell the end of free territory for their operations.
There is another reason. Rebellion is no longer fashionable. Throughout history, rebels and outlaws have had a romantic appeal.
Robin Hood and his Merry Men in English folklore has long been idolised for robbing the rich to give to the poor. In the last century Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and many other revolutionary heroes were the role models of every freedom fighter.
Even Jonas Savimbi had many admirers.
But all these were different from today’s rebels. They all had a just cause. They were fired by a desire to correct injustices. Their ideology was to make the world better for its inhabitants and in this they were successful.
The FDLR and other armed groups are a different breed altogether. They cannot command the devotion of their own members let alone outsiders. Instead of raising the standard of life of the people among whom they operate or those they seek to “liberate” they visit on them the most horrific crimes. There is a new name of these sorts of people. They are terrorists.
This fact seems to be lost on some people. And so as Col Bizimana and others give up rebellion and return to their country, people like Kayumba Nyamwasa and his gang want to lure young Rwandans to take their place.
They are bound to be disillusioned because they will find that being an outlaw has lost its romantic appeal. That attraction has been replaced by a negative charge of terrorism.
They will also find that Rwanda’s political and economic progress and the people’s ownership of these processes make it impossible for brigands of any sort to get any foothold in the country.
The only alternative is to return home as Bizimana and others before him did and many more will. It is the conclusion many Rwandans in the Diaspora have also reached. Home is sweet. Home is best.