I say “enough” to Congolese bombs and external cues

Rwanda is once again being called 'home’ by the hundreds of Congolese civilians who are fleeing the renewed fighting between the Congolese army, FARDC, and the M23 rebels

Rwanda is once again being called ‘home’ by the hundreds of Congolese civilians who are fleeing the renewed fighting between the Congolese army, FARDC, and the M23 rebels

As I had feared, Rwanda is once again being called ‘home’ by the hundreds of Congolese civilians who are fleeing the renewed fighting between the Congolese army, FARDC, and the M23 rebels. I will not put my head on the block and choose sides. However, I find it extremely unfortunate that the nascent peace talks that were taking place in Kampala, Uganda, and mediated by the Ugandan government, weren’t allowed to yield fruit. It seems that the aggressors, whoever they are, have chosen to fight it out. However, in my humble opinion, the issues that made the M23 rebel in the first place will still exist. To think any different is naïve.

Will the Rwandaphone population in North Kivu feel protected? Will the question of who is and who isn’t a Congolese citizen disappear in the gun smoke? What about the Mai-Mai? What the FDLR? Will they stop robbing, raping and killing? I’m not too hopeful. And, I know that I’m about to spout an opinion that might be unpopular to some, if any more FARDC bombs fall on our territory and, god forbid, kill our nationals, I hope that our armed forces swiftly act.

I know that if we did we’d be lambasted by all and sundry, but what are we supposed to ask our

In my humble opinion, the issues that made the M23 rebel in the first place will still exist. To think any different is naïve.  Will the Rwandaphone population in North Kivu feel protected? Will the question of who is and who isn’t a Congolese citizen disappear in the gun smoke? What about the Mai-Mai? What the FDLR? Will they stop robbing, raping and killing?

The issues that made the M23 rebel in the first place will still exist. To think any different is naïve. Will the Rwandaphone population in North Kivu feel protected? Will the question of who is and who isn’t a Congolese citizen disappear in the gun smoke? What about the Mai-Mai? What the FDLR? Will they stop robbing, raping and killing?

army to do? To become Christian and turn the other cheek? If that is so, what’s the point of even having one if it can’t take offensive action? Under international law, we’d have every right t do so. But, I hope that Rwanda’s protests are heeded because, at the end of the day, the nations of the Great Lakes region should do all they can to reduce tensions, not increase them. I will continue to follow the events across the border with interest. I only hope that the FARDC aims its mortars better next time.

A few weeks ago, I wrote ‘Overrated and in a critical state? May Rwanda always remain thus’ in which I lampooned the FP 2013 Failed State Index. After dissecting the magazine’s research methodology, I came to the conclusion that it was based on faulty information. It wasn’t the first time I had found fault with foreign reports, either made by human rights groups or publications. I’ve waited with bated breath every year, preparing myself to counter their allegations with some homegrown ‘truths’. And on the other hand, I’ve waited for ‘positive’ reports from the World Bank, IMF and others, which I’ve then used to justify just how well we were doing.

Well, after giving it some thought, I came to the realization that by taking my cues from foreigners I was ceding my independence to them. Wittingly or not. I could not, in all honesty, say that I was ‘proud’ of my country when I cared about what others thought about of it. And not what I, and other Rwandans, thought.

For example, I was pleased that the Rwanda Governance Board took it upon itself to carry out a survey among Rwandans to find out how they perceived media freedoms in the country. According to the Rwanda Media Barometer, 89.5 percent believed that the environment was conducive to freedom of expression and media freedom.  This survey will be rubbished by those who’ve made it their life’s work to see fault in everything (I call them professional finger-pointing judges). However, the Barometer gives voice to those who actually live in the country. And those are the people who are important.

I’ve been following the third-term debate closely. One of the reasons some people give to oppose it is because it will ‘look bad’ internationally. I think that that way of thinking is wrong. We shouldn’t be worried about how people, who will never walk in our shoes, will feel. At the end of the day, they will have to deal with whomever Rwandans want them to deal with.

As the President said in the middle of the aid-cut saga, “we are a small country, but not a small people”. I feel that he was asking us to be more self-confident and self-sufficient. We should stop being affected by either those who laud or demean us. Lets take our cues from Rwandans.  I will start today by promising you, dear readers, that I will never again spend precious time (and valuable newsprint) on foreign reports. Let us ‘play’ our own ‘game’. And ignore those who want to ‘play’ theirs.

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Post- Ntaganda, DRC is still in the same old mess as before

Last week, The Guardian’s correspondent Pete Jones, interviewed a Congolese soldier who recounted the hell that he and his colleagues unleashed onto the womenfolk of Minova, a small centre 30 miles north of scenic Goma, the biggest city in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congolese troops are guilty of hideous war crimes.

Congolese troops are guilty of hideous war crimes.

“Twenty-five of us gathered together and said we should rape 10 women each, and we did it,” he said. “I’ve raped 53 women. And children of five or six years old.

“I didn’t rape because I am angry, but because it gave us a lot of pleasure,” the 22-year-old told the British journalist. “When we arrived here we met a lot of women. We could do whatever we wanted.”

According to UN figures, 126 women were raped during the Congolese army’s retreat from Goma after being crushed by an M23 offensive.

The simplistic narrative that one hears from the Congo is that the bad guys are the rebel and the good guys the government troops. However, the truth is that both sides are the bad guys. The angels are few and far between.

Only after pressure from MONUSCO, the UN mission in Congo, did the government deem it fit to attempt to prosecute the errant soldiers and their commanders. UN special envoy to Congo, Roger Meece, warned the Congolese authorities in a March 25 letter they had seven days to take action on the rapes or MOSUSCO would suspend support.

Mind you, not one solider has actually been prosecuted despite the fact that the crime took place in broad daylight and the suspects easily identified. Mind you, there is some progress. 12 officers have been suspended while a probe begins. But to be truthful I doubt that the women will get any justice. Only time will tell.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I feel that many people think that with the arrest of the ‘Terminator’, General Bosco Ntaganda, peace will

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda (R) looks on beside a security guard during his first appearance before judges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague March 26, 2013.

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda (R) looks on beside a security guard during his first appearance before judges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague March 26, 2013.

descend on the lush rolling hills of North Kivu Province and people will hand hands singing ‘Kumbaya’. Sure, taking him out of the equation is certainly a positive move, but the Congo is still not a place for the faint hearted. Days after his March 18 surrender to the US embassy in Kigali, the Mai-Mai, a rag tag militia, had the temerity to attack a UN compound in Lumumbashi, the capital of mineral-rich Katanga Province in Southern Congo. Actually, the attack, in which 35 people died, occurred a day after ICC authorities took Ntaganda into custody and flew him out of Kigali International Airport.

So, how are things in Goma and its environs? Well, peace talks are still taking place in Kampala between the Joseph Kabila’s government and the M23. But as usual, foreign meddling will most likely cause the renewal of the armed conflict. Ever since the UN Security Council authorized a new ‘Intervention Brigade’ with the unprecedented mandate to take offensive action against rebel groups in the East, the Congolese delegation has turned quite belligerent.

126 women were raped by the very troops who were supposed to protect them

126 women were raped by the very troops who were supposed to protect them

In a March 1 press conference, Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Raymond Tshibanda, called on the M23 to disband.  “The M23 may become agitated as they want. We were willing to reach a political agreement with them… The only future for the M23 is to cease to exist as a politico-military movement. If this is not the case, the brigade will look to end their life”, he said.

Of course the M23 isn’t taking those threats lightly.  It recently wrote an open letter to the South African parliament asking it to reconsider its deployment of 1,000 troops under the auspices of the Intervention Brigade. The M23 political leader Bertrand Bisimwa tweeted “if SA Special Forces attack us it will catastrophic and apocalyptic”.

So, as Ntaganda faces the ICC judges for the next few years, the people of Eastern Congo will probably face more hardship, not less.

 

Bosco Ntaganda: A monkey off our back

From Goma to The Hague...via US Embassy, Kigali

From Goma to The Hague…via US Embassy, Kigali

Let me be as honest as I can possibly be. Monday’s thunderbolt that the ‘Terminator’ himself, General Bosco Ntaganda, had handed himself over to the Americans means a whole lot of NOTHING. Why do I say this? Simply because taking him out of the DRC morass won’t change an iota, where the systemic failures of the DRC state is concerned. But I am getting ahead of myself.

For too long it seems that every single tragedy occurring in the DRC was Rwanda’s fault. Rapes? Rwanda. Civil war? Rwanda. Bad roads? Rwanda. Mobutu? King Leopold? The rubber trade? Slavery? Mosquitoes? Cholera? All Rwanda’s fault. When some disgruntled Congolese soliders, who were ill treated and unpaid for months decided to take to the Masisi hills and challenge the Joseph Kabila government, Rwanda was the villain. This despite the fact, which was revealed later by Minister James Kabarebe, that Rwanda was playing the role of mediator.

As a result of this move by Congolese citizens (a fact that many, many people who should know better refused to acknowledge), Rwanda was vilified and aid was cut. Despite our protestations, the truth was ignored as an alternative ‘Gospel’ was put forward by ‘experts’.

In this Gospel there were certain ‘concrete’ facts.  First of all, Rwanda was the hidden power behind the M23, the evil puppet masters. Secondly, the M23 was full of rapists, child soldiers and miners (instead of the FDLR).  Thirdly, despite Col. Makenga’s leadership role in the M23, the ‘real’ leader was Bosco Ntaganda. Fourthly, because Bosco Ntaganda fought in the RPA during Rwanda’s Liberation War, he was Rwanda’s lackey (and if one is to believe Max Fisher, a foreign affairs blogger at the Washington Post, a Rwandan citizen). Well, the General’s actions preceding his visit to the US Embassy, Kigali put paid to many of these assumptions.

As the fighting last week has proved, Ntaganda and Makenga are not the best of friends, never mind M23 allies. In fact if Bosco had had his way, he’d have scuppered the Kampala talks and taken his chances in the field of battle against the Congolese army and whatever the international community threw at him. Alas, that would not be the case. Makenga gave him and his faction a hiding, leaving him no option but to flee.

If he was supported by Rwandan troops (as reports continued to insinuate during the battle against Makenga) would he have been defeated so

He doesnt joke. Colonel Makenga, center, commander of the M23 rebel movement, stands on a hill overlooking the border town of Bunagana, Congo, Sunday, July 8, 2012.

He doesnt joke. Colonel Makenga, center, commander of the M23 rebel movement, stands on a hill overlooking the border town of Bunagana, Congo, Sunday, July 8, 2012.

thoroughly? The RDF is renown for punching a lot above its weight. In fact, it has gained quite a mystical aura in the minds of those who see the boogeyman in every dark corner. If the RDF is truly as good as they say it is, it goes without saying that Makenga would have been trounced by all the ‘Rwandan’ firepower. But that wasn’t the case. So, either Rwanda, ‘The All-Powerful’, actually didn’t support Ntaganda in the first place hence his defeat…or the RDF isn’t as mystical as some want to believe (and that wouldn’t fit into the popular narrative where instead of mutinous Congolese units beating the DRC troops, it was actually Rwandan troops doing the fighting).

So, after his defeat, does Ntaganda, a Rwandan ‘lackey’, seek safety in the arms of his ‘godfathers’? No. He sneaks into the country. Drives past the Ministry of Defence, the President’s Office and Intelligence Services building and hands himself over to the Americans.

Honestly, the only reason that I care that Ntaganda handed himself in is because it’s left a lot of eggs on peoples face. Those who have made it their career to link everything wrong with the Congo were, for a few moments, left speechless with confusion.  Rwanda’s reputation, which they had dragged through the mud, is being restored. No longer do we have to be lumped along an alleged war criminal. We have our own problems to solve.

But what about the poor Congolese? I cannot see how Ntaganda’s departure will improve their lives.  I hope events prove me wrong. But I doubt it.

Steve Hege and his lies will be thrown into the dustbin of history

steve-hege-en-contradiction-avec-les-principes-de-lonuJesus of Nazareth is known for a few things. I mean, he was a man who defied gravity, the Machiavellian attempts to murder him by King Herod as an infant and fed thousands with a few fishes and loaves of bread. But in this instance, I’m not going to discuss any of these miracles. What I will talk about is his ‘house built on sand’ parable. According to him, and I paraphrase,  ‘if one builds a house on sand, it will crumble at the first hint of bad weather.’

Well, when I look across the border to our unstable neighbor, and reflect on the various actors, I cannot resist the temptation to say, “what goes up, must come down”.

Remember Steve Hege? The head of the utterly dismal DRC Group of Experts (GoE)? Well, as of the present moment, he’s a layman like the rest of us, pushed off his soapbox, kicking and screaming. We in Rwanda knew what he stood for. We knew that he had revisionist tendencies and was biased against the present Rwandan government.

However, this did not stop him from getting the delicate job and it didn’t stop him publishing nonsense; convincing the international community that General Jack Nziza was commanding the day to day operations of the M23 in Rubavu District (despite the fact that he was in his Kimihurura office the entire time, and has evidence to prove it), that there were sightings of Rwandan troops crossing the border speaking English (come on now, when did they start speaking the Queens tongue?) and that the M23 had arms that weren’t in the inventory of the DRC army, therefore proving that they were receiving external backing(despite the fact that there was an earlier UN report stating the EXACT opposite!).

The lies worked. The leaked GoE document, published in tandem with a Human Rights Watch pile of rubbish, gave ammunition to those who either had a bone to pick with their own governments (such as the British press against the former International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell) or with the Rwandan one. The ‘errant’ politicians got kicked to the curb, and Rwanda’s good name got smeared, important aid got withheld and  Rwanda’s nomination to the Security Council was jeopardised .

Of course, Rwanda pushed back, winning a seat on the UN Security Council and unleashing a barrage of withering critiques to the GoE report. And while it seemed to me that our voices weren’t being heard, I can see that slowly by slowly, the lies are starting unraveling.

I felt the tide turn when, to my surprise, and despite pressure from its own Security Council partnersSusan+Rice+Hillary+Clinton+Attends+UN+Security+wk5IPqcpMQrl (especially the French, quelle surprise) the US REFUSED to name Rwanda as the backer of the M23.  In the fevered environment, I expected Susan Rice to get swayed, but the fact that she stood firm gave the truth a chance to be heard. And it has begun to.

The first victim of the truth is Mr. Hege himself. He quietly left the GoE (or was pushed, as I believe he was) late last month. In my opinion, the unbearable pressure emanating from Rwanda, friends of Rwanda, made his position untenable and so he has fallen on his sword.  His pro-FDLR writings and his inaccurate reports are all chickens that have finally come home to roost. So, good riddance Mr. Hege, the people of the Great Lakes Region will not miss you. May you and your dastardly report become a mere smidgen in the minds of future generations.

 On another note, I find it extremely hilarious that the head of the DRC delegation in the ongoing Kampala peace talks is the Foreign Minister, Raymond Tshibanda. I mean, doesn’t it make more sense to send perhaps the Interior Minister, or barring that, the Defence Minister, to negotiate with the M23? Why send a foreign minister to negotiate with domestic opponents? Is the Congolese government trying to portray the mutineers as foreigners?

Congo: Forget who started the fire, who will put it out?

As I’ve done before, I have a guest writer on my blog, Rama Isibo. His views are not necessarily my own. 

Congolese refugees displaced within their own homeland by militias and armies, fighting with foreign weapons for foreign purposes, face extremely rough conditions in makeshift Camp de Kahe in Kitchanga in the Masisi district of Congo’s North Kivu Province, near the Rwandan border. – Photo: S. Schulman, UNHCR

Congolese refugees displaced within their own homeland by militias and armies, fighting with foreign weapons for foreign purposes, face extremely rough conditions in makeshift Camp de Kahe in Kitchanga in the Masisi district of Congo’s North Kivu Province, near the Rwandan border. – Photo: S. Schulman, UNHCR

The recent crisis precipitated by the M23 rebellion is the latest in a long saga dating back to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Since the Genocide, we have seen an escalation of the conflict to the extent that there are now 23 armed groups fighting to fill the vacuum left by the state. The governance model of DRC going back to the days of Mobutu was to have a weak central government, weak army, a corrupt civil service which was hardly ever paid on time, and hope for the best. Instead of disarming or fighting these groups, the government has accommodated, used one to fight the other, and therefore not helped the situation. We all know the history, but history will not solve the crisis, Rwanda has been blamed but didn’t understand this blame was a cry for help. The blame was a call for Rwanda to solve the crisis, the fact that we are going to suffer as a nation means that we are compelled to drive home a solution. We cannot afford to go through the five stages of grief over aid cuts; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We must sort this out before it derails our development and makes it Vision2025.

 The birth of a nation

The New York Times ran an article called “To save Congo, we have to let it fall apart.” The piece called for what the Congolese fear the most “Balkanisation” or fragmentation, but this in itself is not viable in the short-term. There is little support for the Republic of Kivu among most Kivutians, yes they are fed up with the Kinshasa government but know that all areas of Congo are let down by Kinshasa, just that they suffer the most. They are patchwork-quilt of tribes that have rarely gotten along, but to ask for statehood in an era where states are coming together under Superstates is hard. Even the recent example of Southern Sudan needed a referendum even though it was obvious that nearly all Southerners wanted to secede. To start a state is one day of happiness, then years of work, a Kivu state would need billions of dollars of aid to start. Even with billions of dollars under its soil in the form of minerals, Kivu would start at the bottom, with the highest infant mortality, highest number of rape victims, 90% of the people exhibiting trauma, and every other negative. The dynamics are pulling Kivu away from Congo but not just yet, the solution is better governance.

The Katumbi effect

There is an accepted myth that Congolese are inherently stupid and ungovernable, it is shared by people in the

Moïse Katumbi Katebe Chapwe, a multimillionaire, is the powerful governor of the Province of Katanga. He is also a member of President Joseph Kabila’s ruling party PPRD.

Moïse Katumbi Katebe Chapwe, a multimillionaire, is the powerful governor of the Province of Katanga. He is also a member of President Joseph Kabila’s ruling party PPRD.

Kinshasa government, NGO’s, the international community and even many Congolese themselves. This they say, is a result of two men whose shadows loom over Congo; King Leopold and Mobutu Sese Seko, it is true that with a broken down society the Congolese revert to their most disagreeable nature but exceptions exist. Moise Katumbi, the Governor of Katanga is undoubtedly a future president of Congo, he rules Katanga, the richest province with a vision that is rarely seen in Africa. Born to a Jewish father and Congolese mother, he changed his name from Moise Soriano to Katumbi Chapwe, this gave him authenticity among Congolese. It was his works that have earned him respect all over Congo, he hardly asks the Kinshasa government for anything, he builds roads, schools, hospitals, public works with royalties taxed direct to mining companies and sends taxes to Kinshasa. It also helps that he has the most popular football team in Congo, TP Mazembe. If he chose to run then Kabila wouldn’t stand a chance as Katumbi would take his powerbase among the Luba in Lumumbashi with him. Governance can start with one man, under Katumbi all the uniquely Congolese traits have been calmed, Kivu needs a Katumbi, a man who governs for the best interests of his people like they are a separate state.

A uniquely Rwandan solution

congo-war-2012Rwanda is going through a spin at the moment, several months of political pressure from donors and western media have left it reeling. We have vehemently denied, got angry, tried to bargain but to no effect. It was amazing to see ministers saying “we don’t need aid” as if it is a fait accompli, the aid is not off the table it is merely suspended, we can and will get it back if we can find a permanent solution to this Congo crisis. In that way we can kill two birds with one stone, but first we need honesty on both sides. Rwanda has been in a covert proxy war with DRC and Zaire since 1994, we should openly admit that, just as Congo has been supporting FDLR against Rwanda. There has to be a peace and security treaty between the two nations with a genuine cause for mutual security. There is no solution without Rwanda, Rwanda has a genuine security threat but some individuals in Rwanda have benefited from the chaos in Congo. The FDLR has to be disarmed, as well as other groups, the Wild, Wild West that is Kivu must be tamed, the UN must leave and Africans must solve this problem. We as Rwanda must move past the GoE report, and present viable solutions to end this crisis as we are suffering from its effects, we need to be honest about our involvement citing our genuine security concerns and draw a line under it.

Hope for Kivu

Kivu can have peace, the people are exhausted by war, exhausted by running for refuge, it is not an interminable problem, there are drivers to this crisis. The breakdown of the Congo state; foreign rebel armies, the greed for minerals, the inactive UN, and lack of investment and infrastructure must all be solved. One critic, Gerald Prunier said “M23 is a pimple, but there is a deeper cancer in Congo” and this is true indeed. Kabila might fear a strong army in Kinshasa but he needs a strong army in Kivu, not strong in numbers but as ideological motivated and disciplined as the M23. Not all Banyamulenge have supported M23, others have stayed loyal like Patrick Masunzu, if he could appoint a loyal local general who is acceptable to all sides, as a governor of North Kivu, then M23 would not have a reason to exist. The current Governor Julien Paluku is a joke to say the least, spat upon in the streets for his comical blunders, he was hounded by mobs out of Kisangani. If he had a Patrick Masunzu or a similar figure, who can start to disarm these groups, rule the area like a sovereign state but still remain loyal to Kinshasa, to follow the Katumbi model. The West will also have to pump some clean money into Kivu because most of the money there is derived from illegal means, they need clean money in Kivu. They also need investment in roads, just like the railroad pacified the Wild Wild West, a highway would open up Kivu.

Rwanda cannot afford to look back and continue the denial game, it is what the West wants, someone to blamecongo-war and buy time while the war continues. That is what the GoE UN report was, a litany of blame, blame the wrong guy and force him to fix it. I saw this personally in UK, when the police would arrest a wrong guy for murder just so people could name the real murderer and exonerate him. This is the situation Rwanda is in, they have prior involvement in Congo so they must be the ones, other than deny, deny, deny, we should come up with an equitable solution that keeps Congo together, brings peace to Kivu, guarantees our security, and helps develop the region. We can take hope from a previously “interminable” conflict in Northern Ireland, though they are not the same the dynamics are similar. A divided community, a part wants to be part of one country, a part wants to be part of another, and they are living street by street. We also had UK and Ireland fighting proxy wars, funding militia and terrorists, international crime meets ideological warriors. Devolution saw all sides reaching an equitable solution, it needed Britain and Ireland first to agree to solve the situation, then it was a complex negotiation between various groups for power-sharing. We all know the solution for Kivu but no one has the guts to utter the solution. We must just accept the West’s ignorance as just that, but help fix it not because the West told us, fix it because you cannot live next door to a burning house without the burning embers reaching yours. While we argue about who started the fire, the fire is just burning out of control. Rwanda needs to be talked off the ledge, it is not all over, this can be resolved, and the sooner the better.

Aid cuts: Now isn’t the time to panic

I’ve been, for the last few days, in a place so remote that even the thought of surfing the Internet would have been a fool’s errand. While being detached from my trusty Google alerts, Twitter and Facebook was somewhat disconcerting at first, eventually I allowed myself to mellow out and enjoy a simply, and honestly, less stressful existence. The news junkie in me didn’t like going ‘cold turkey’ but I managed.

The last time I was exposed to any of my news sources, the UK was still debating revoking our aid, the World Bank and the African Development Bank (ADB) were still above the political posturing and the M23 was still giving the FARDC a good kicking up and down North and South Kivu. And all the while, the member states of the ICGLR were trying to find a path to a sustainable peace in the region.

Britain’s International Development Secretary Justine Greening: ‘Continued support for Rwanda would depend on progress on various issues’. Thats of course before she decided to CUT off British Aid!

Britain’s International Development Secretary Justine Greening: ‘Continued support for Rwanda would depend on progress on various issues’. Thats of course before she decided to CUT off British Aid!

So, imagine my surprise when I got online on yesterday. I discovered that the UK Development Secretary Greening has suspended aid, as did the World Bank and the ADB.  The M23 had left Goma and retreated to its environs while the emboldened FDLR had attacked Rwanda, killing a park warden in Kinigi, causing the American government to issue a travel warning to its citizens, advising them not to travel to see the gorillas. I was amazed by just how much things could change in less than a week.

Yesterday morning, while listening to the Ministers’ of Finance, Defence and Foreign Affairs as they addressed both chambers of Parliament, I instantly understood what they were attempting to do. They were cutting through all the speculation and rumor in order to reassure Rwandans that their world wasn’t crashing around their heads.  As Minister Rwangombwa said, GDP will fall by around 1.5 percent next year, from the expected seven percent growth, if almost all the donor monies are excluded from the national budget.

Juliette is one of Rwanda's success stories - a farmer who increased her harvest thanks to support from UK aid. Picture: Tiggy Ridley

Juliette is one of Rwanda’s success stories – a farmer who increased her harvest thanks to support from UK aid. Picture: Tiggy Ridley

I will not be one of those people who totally dismiss these cuts, because, if we are to be honest, they will affect us in various ways. Inflation will certainly rise, certain development projects will have to be shelved and Rwanda’s international brand will be harmed.  However, we mustn’t allow ourselves to become demoralized.

Just look back and remember how far we’ve come.  Only 18 years ago, our ministries were stripped bare by a retreating genocidal government, with nary a pen, chair or table to be found.  We didn’t have an economy to talk about, never mind foreign exchange reserves. Everything must be put in perspective. While the cuts will affect us, they will not make us grovel, nor should they. We are a proud people who’ve seen worse days than these. When we plunged to the depths of hell, we lifted ourselves up. We weren’t saved by the western media, NGO’s and governments. We sought our own solutions and look at us now.

Will the farmer abandon his farm? Will the moto rider park his motorcycle? Will the civil servant stop serving the populace? Will the shop owner stop stocking their shelves? No.  Tomorrow, they, and I, will go about our lives.

Rwandan soldiers return home after operations in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they participated in joint operations against rebel militias there.

Rwandan soldiers return home after operations in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they participated in joint operations against rebel militias there.

Sibo Mana’. ‘They are not God”.   No truer sentiments have been expressed. There are people who think that they have the power to determine other people’s lives and destinies.  They believe that because they have money, they are allowed to trample on people’s rights. This kind of thinking must be challenged. As the President said, “”we are a small country, not a small people”.

I think that these aid cuts will, fifty years from now, be looked at as the moment that Rwandans challenged the prevailing view on what ‘poor’ nations could and couldn’t do.

The Francophonie summit has left Joseph Kabila with a bloody nose

Kinshasa got a well deserved, from what I hear anyway, makeover

In many parts of Africa, when one’s visitor is about to leave, the host is obliged to ask them to stay a bit longer (even if you really do want them to leave and its getting rather late). This is because you don’t want the guest to think that you didn’t enjoy having them around. I’m pretty sure that this holds true in the Congo as well.

But I can bet my bottom dollar that when the 75 heads of state and country representatives of the Francophonie (or the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie as its officially known) left Kishasha, Kabila didn’t even go through the motions. He was ecstatic to see them jump on their Air France jets and leave his capital behind.

This is because some of the leaders, instead of treating him with the respect befitting the president of the host country, expressed to him exactly what they felt about his administration.

French President Francois Hollande described the political and human rights situation in DR Congo as “totally unacceptable in terms of human rights, democracy and the recognition of the opposition”. The French president, further thumbing his nose to his hosts, held a meeting with Etienne Tshisekedi, the opposition leader who many believe won the last elections, which were marred by charges of fraud.

What surprised me the most was that he didn’t say that the situation was unacceptable because of Rwanda, M23 or the ICGLR.  He put the blame and responsibility firmly on Kabila’s doorstep.

The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, went even further.

After meeting members of the opposition, he said that they welcomed Canada’s views about the “complete unacceptability of failures in the electoral process and the abuse of human rights that are taking place in this country.”

The Congolese government wasn’t the only ones in his sights. He took a swipe at MONUSCO, something he did just two years ago. Back then, Harper refused to augment Canada’s presence and support for the United Nations mission in Congo, saying he didn’t think it would be “terribly effective.” At a brief news conference on Sunday, he said that this “was borne out by events.”

Of course the Congolese were taken aback.  DR Congo, in the words of Kabila, “is proud of the democracy exercised in this country. The DRC is not at all worried about the level of democracy, freedom and the human rights situation”. Obviously he’s not left his presidential palace in a while.

What I believe that we’re seeing is an international realignment vis-à-vis the issues besieging the Great Lakes Region.

For the longest time possible, whenever leaders and journalists talked about Congo, they made it seem like the Rwanda’s so-called involvement in Eastern Congo was the cause of each and every malaise that Congolese citizens suffered. This was, and still is, the furthest thing from the truth.

Rwanda isn’t the reason there was electoral fraud. It isn’t the reason that the administration is unable to deliver the most rudimentary services to the Congolese population. It isn’t the reason that there aren’t any roads of note crisscrossing the country.

The great and good of the Francophone world

Even the most biased Rwanda-hater has to admit that Kigali has taken the security of its citizens seriously. It has taken their aspirations seriously. It has done its best to involve as many people in the political process as possible. And in the process transformed itself from a regional basket case to an international player of note.

Kinshasa has turned playing the ‘victim’ into an art form. And it has worked for them. Thankfully, the international community is starting to wake up and realize that the issue of governance is at the heart of the Congolese issue. Honestly though, who would’ve thought that this monumental change would occur during this summit? Not me.