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When United Nations experts revealed in a recent report the links between the Rwandan government and the forces of Laurent Nkunda, the Tutsi warlord of Eastern Congo, the Dutch government cut its direct budget support for Rwanda in protest. Should Britain do the same?
Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s clever and combative president has been a favourite of Britain’s Africa ministers going back to Clare Short and Lynda Chalker before her. Rwanda’s government receives tens of millions in direct budget support from Britain. Tony Blair is its adviser. It is not hard to see why. The previous Rwandan government organised the 1994 genocide, so when Kagame overthrew it and set up a new government in Kigali he was seen as the good guy by the US and Britain. Their guilt over the decision to pull out the UN force in Rwanda as the genocide began reinforced their moral support for Kagame.
When his fighters pursued the remnants of the old Rwandan army into Congo, Britain and the US did not ask too many questions. Nor did they question when Kagame’s army and their Ugandan allies, turned that pursuit into a full-scale attack on their vast neighbour, Congo, that ended in the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko, the corrupt old Congolese dictator.
Kagame, a visionary leader and a formidable man of action, is warmly welcomed in London and Washington. For them, at last, here was an African leader who spoke their language of progress and could deliver. Rwanda’s education and health systems are good. Kagame says he wants to create a new Rwanda where Hutu and Tutsi allegiances would be forgotten. Britain is prepared to pay for that.
Kagame does not, however, believe in too much democracy. Parliamentary elections last September were described by the EU observer team as lacking in transparency. There was “an absence of real political opposition”. Kagame does not tolerate one.
But it is his behaviour in eastern Congo that causes most disquiet. Kagame argues that Rwanda will never be safe as long as the genocidaires â€šÃ„Ã¬ those who killed in 1994 â€šÃ„Ã¬ are on the loose in Congo. In 1998, when the government he installed in Congo began to support them and the rump of the old Rwandan army camped there, Kagame and the Ugandans invaded again. Britain and America kept quiet.
This time their intervention triggered a terrible war in which some say five million people have now died. They had all miscalculated the political reaction from other African rulers and the Congolese, who objected to what they saw as a Western-backed rogue state rampaging around the continent. The Rwandans and Ugandans were stopped but they set up local Congolese allies in the border zones. Most of these were Congolese Tutsis. And the genocidaires were able to recruit and rearm as well â€šÃ„Ã¬ sometimes with support from the Congolese army.
The war that had threatened to tear Congo apart has become limited to a vicious battle for the Kivus; eastern Congo and Uganda and Rwanda’s borderlands. The Tutsi population was now under threat, seen as a fifth column for the Rwandans. Its self styled protector in North Kivu is the flamboyant but murderous Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi and once a member of Kagame’s army.
In November he carried out a massacre of some 150 people at Kiwanja. Kagame denies he is a Rwanda proxy but the UN report shows he uses Rwandan banks and has had direct support from the army. It also shows how Nkunda’s forces operate out of Rwandan territory and recruit soldiers from its army.
The argument that this is about protecting Congo’s Tutsi minority is undermined by Nkunda’s grab for the region’s wealth. Local people have been forced to mine gold, diamonds, casserite and other minerals that abound in Kivu and export them through Kigali, the Rwandan capital. What had begun as an apparently defensive military operation to protect Rwanda and Uganda from genocidal gangs in Congo seemed to be turning into a violent imperialism aimed more at looting the area than bringing peace.
On paper the solution is simple. The rump of fighters who carried out the genocide now operating in eastern Congo, and Nkunda’s forces must both disarm or be disarmed. The two states â€šÃ„Ã¬ and Uganda â€šÃ„Ã¬ must make this happen and make peace. There is no major issue between the states of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, but nor is there trust between them. Outsiders must help build that trust and Britain, a medium-sized player in the region, must not been seen as backing one side or the other. It is time to tell Kagame that if he does not rein in Nkunda, Britain will not fund his government.
The writer is Director of the Royal African Society
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Richard Dowden – The Times
Copyright The Times