I have followed with interest, the attempt by some DRC politicians and members of the media to make President Paul Kagame say what he did not, during an interview he gave to Collette Braeckman, and published in Le Soir, a Belgian newspaper, sometime back. What the President said during the interview is very clear. I simply wish, in this article, to examine what he did not say.
Contrary to what the Kinshasa propaganda machine is churning out daily, the President did not say he intended to invade the DRC and solve the problems in the East of that country himself. Quiet the opposite. His clear position was that he is now focused on the development of Rwanda, and that problems in the DRC are an internal matter and will be solved by Congolese themselves, led by President Joseph Kabila. He is not, and does not intend to get involved in the internal problems of the DRC.
Apropos President Joseph Kabila, President Kagame has never, as some war mongers contend, intended his physical removal from power. Indeed Rwanda, like the rest of the International Community, played an important role in making sure the DRC held peaceful elections that led to the current political dispensation, and has gone out of her way to try and normalize relations between the two countries. That this has not happened yet is simply due to the reluctance of the DRC itself.
Given the recent history of our region, however, President Kagame warned against extremist politicians. He is concerned that some among those who signed the Goma Actes d’engagement seem not to have done so with commitment, but simply saw them as providing a breathing space for preparations for further war. Recent events in Eastern DRC have vindicated this view.
There are indeed politicians with extremist views, who hold that the Goma process is a sham, and that only war in the east is the answer. The latest of these politicians is Arthur Zahidi Ngoma, former Vice President of the DRC. There are many more. Some of them have gone as far as proposing that the FARDC be purified of non-patriots (read Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese). If this is not extremism, I do not know what is.
And, as President Kagame said, extremism always ends up striking those who propagate it in the face. And then, there is the question of Laurent NKUNDA. The President did not say he was in support of Laurent Nkunda. Neither did he declare war through him as DRC politicians would like the world to believe. What he said, and what anybody who follows events in Eastern DRC knows, is that there are fundamental historical and governance issues that have allowed Laurent Nkunda to emerge and prosper in the East.
Those problems will not simply disappear with Nkunda’s demise, or his exile, as some believe. For example, ethnic extremism, fuelled in part by some politicians in Kinshasa, has made it almost inevitable that all tribes in the East develop and maintain self-defence militia.
Over 20 of these groups signed the Goma accords. What is baffling to those of us watching the events from the outside is why the DRC should arm some, if not most of these groups, and yet claim they want full control of their territory.
So yes, the CNDP poses a problem, but also raises issues it would be prudent for the DRC government to address. That is President Kagame’s position. It also is the position of all those who are interested in the lasting peace and stability of the DRC. Whether the DRC government chooses to heed this widely held opinion or not is its sovereign right.
Some are incensed that the President publicly castigated the unnecessary armed confrontation started by the DRC Government against the CNDP last year. Well, history proved him right. The conflict simply supplied Laurent Nkunda with more means to wage war.
And yet, there are some who would want to do more of the same, hoping for a different result. It does not make sense. Those who want more unnecessary war start it, and then claim victim hood when they lose it. They blame others for their own mistakes, starting with Rwanda. They claim the presence of non-existent Rwandan battalions in the DRC.
They burn MONUC cars, threaten UN staff , discourage IDPs from returning to their homes, call for European and other intervention forces, and generally declare Armageddon if their demands are not met.
Zahidi Ngoma even wants a buffer zone between the DRC and all her neighbours. What farce.
Meanwhile, they ignore persistent reports, the latest coming from Global Witness, an International NGO, that some in their forces are in cahoots with the FDLR, a group the DRC government has acknowledged is a genocidal military formation.
This of course provides further political ammunition for Nkunda and other Congolese civilians who feel threatened. It is difficult to understand why a Government would have a soft spot for a group its own electorate has clearly rejected.
President Kagame is right. It is better to deal with these issues in a serious manner instead of concentrating on unhelpful manipulation of public opinion and whipping up anti-Rwanda feelings in Kinshasa and elsewhere. This kind of politics has passed its sale-by-date.
Lastly, let me deal with the intoxication being whipped up that President Kagame supports criminals in the DRC, to wit, Laurent Nkunda. Nothing is further from the truth. It would be important for those up in arms to answer his pertinent reflections though.
How come those who oppose the current DRC President find themselves arrested as war criminals?
Leaders of armed groups like Thomas Lubanga, as well as political opposition figures like Jean Pierre Bemba?
Incidentally JP Bemba once publicly promised to put on his military uniform and march to Kigali, so it cannot be that President Kagame is defending his friends when he asks these questions. And the charges against them, recruitment of child soldiers, rape, war crimes, crimes against humanity.
They read like the litany of crimes Human rights organizations and others regularly accuse the FARDC of. How come, in the DRC, the ICC has not indicted a single leader of the FDLR, or those who commandeered and participated in the massacre of innocents at Gatumba?
Is this justice or politics? President Kagame believes it is the latter. Many in the world, including scholars, eminent statesmen like Henry Kissinger and William Jefferson Clinton (who, while he signed the ICC Treaty, recommended that it not be ratified until its serious shortcomings are addressed), diplomats and others share his reservations.
As it has done so often in the past, history will vindicate President Kagame. Therefore, I invite those in the DRC who are past masters at the art of deception and manipulation to desist.
President Kagame’s interview to Collette Braeckman is not a declaration of war on anybody. He is a Statesman whose efforts to return peace and stability to the Great Lakes Region, including, in particular, the DRC are a matter of public record.
The current political dispensation that country currently enjoys is in a large part a result of his actions, despite continued provocation occasioned by the continued presence of genocidal military groups on DRC territory.
Those in the DRC who seem on the war path would do well to reconsider, and seek to address the fundamental problems and challenges the country faces. Manipulation, lies, abuse, and consistent flight from the truth will not help the situation. I am sure the young men and women unnecessarily dying in Eastern DRC would say the same.
The writer is President Kagame’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region