I’ve sorely tried not to mention anything about the DRC-Rwanda-MONUC-Human Rights Watch tango because, truth be told, it’s getting rather old. The ‘secret’ internal MONUC memo that was breathlessly publicised over the last weeks accusing Rwanda of arming and involving itself in the M23 shenanigans was then followed by the Human Rights Watch’s report, accusing Rwanda of letting Bosco Ntaganda sip tea in Kinigi without arresting him on behalf of the ICC (never mind that Rwanda isnt a signatory of the Rome Statute that established the ICC, giving it no obligation to heed any ICC indictments) among other accusations.
But I refused to comment on the two events simply because I didn’t think they warranted any more newsprint than they had garnered already. But everything changed when our erstwhile ‘allies’ backed up the nonsensical MONUC and HRW claims on Saturday, with DRC Government Spokesperson, Lambert Mende, accusing Rwanda of training the 200-odd M23 mutineers.
I could choose to rubbish these outlandish claims. In fact, that would be the easy thing to do. I could say, look at the facts. What does Rwanda stand to gain in this conflict? The conflict will take valuable military resources away from the fight against the FDLR and other anti-Rwanda militia groups, the tension will increase the number of Congolese refugees in the country, putting a strain of our meagre resources, the lucrative Rubavu-Goma cross-border trade will suffer, Rwanda’s name will be dragged in the mud and for what? To involve itself in a piddling little domestic wrangle about wages and prior agreements? No. I refuse to believe that our foreign policy is so unashamedly stupid.
So, I won’t try to prove Rwanda’s innocence. Rather I think we need to examine why the DRC government saw it fit to bandy these accusations around. Just like I don’t think that Rwanda’s foreign policy is based on buffoonery, I also don’t believe that Congo’s is. So, if the men and women sitting on hallowed halls in Kinshasa aren’t idiots, then one must ask, what do they stand to gain from these accusations?
To answer this question, one must stop looking at eastern Congo and concentrate on Kinshasa.
Only a few months ago the Congolese president was fighting for his political existence. In an extremely hard-fought presidential election, he polled 48.94% of the votes cast against the 32.33% that Etienne Tshisekedi polled in an election that both the Carter Centre and the Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya said had too many irregularities to “assume that the results reflected the will of the people”.
Among Mr. Tshisekedi’s various electoral strategies was to lambast Kabila’s overtures to Rwanda (including the extremely successful Umoja Wetu joint military exercise that almost broke the back of the FDLR), raising the spectre of Rwandan domination in Congolese affairs; some of the veteran politician’s supporters went so far as to question Kabila’s nationality, calling him a Rwandan mole.
Despite Kabila’s Election Day win, the atmosphere has remained toxic and he is fighting to regain some semblance of political legitimacy. Throw in the fact that despite the obvious wealth in the country poverty is increasing, civil servants are not receiving their salaries, insecurity is continuing and you can see that he was being pushed in a corner. So, out came the red herring: Rwanda. The xenophobic hysteria that the accusations will cause is aimed at giving him some breathing room to manoeuvre.
Honestly, it’s a smart, though Machiavellian, stratagem. Rwanda will complain and voice it’s fury but (and let’s be honest here) it won’t freeze diplomatic and political contact. Its leadership understands that it’s simply an issue of political brinkmanship. I wager that in a few months this tiff will be forgotten by both sides. I simply wish that this game didn’t have to be played this way.