No 4, 2005
Current Concerns
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Current Concerns - The monthly journal for independent thought, ethical standards and moral responsibility - English Edition of Zeit-Fragen
No 4, 2005
22 May 2015, 04:30 PM
current issue

A Note on Rwanda’s War in the Democratic Republic of Congo

by Stanislas Bucyalimwe Mararo*, Antwerp

“Kama unakuta mbwa juu ya mti, usikimbiliye kuyishusha.
Inafaa kwanza kujua mwenyi aliyeyifikisha kule”(1)

(Joseph Mobutu)

The relations between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)(2) were relatively good(3) since their independence in 1960 and 1962 respectively. But, they have drastically changed in the last ten years, going from bad to worse. The most recent illustration of this worsening situation is the new military offensive of Rwanda in the province of Northern-Kivu, East of the DRC(4), which took place only a few days after the International Conference on Peace, Security, Democracy and Development in the Great Lakes Region (Dar-Es-Salaam/Tanzania, 19–20 November 2004); since then, the battlefield has been expanding(5). Instead of repressing its invasion, the UN Security Council has called on Rwanda to refrain from attacking(6) or withdraw its troops from the DRC(7). Meanwhile, the death toll is increasing daily in the areas affected by the war. The victims of this renewed violence are being forgotten because the attention of the international community is focused on Darfur (Western Sudan) and South-Asia following the Tsunami disaster. In addition, the institutions of transition are seriously threatened and the current challenge is how to save them from shipwreck.

Rwanda’s Attitude Towards the Congolese

Many questions need to raised about Rwanda’s attitude. Why did Rwanda so quickly defy the decisions taken by the international community in Dar-Es-Salaam on December 20, 2004? What are the real motives behind Rwanda’s new military move in the DRC? Where does Rwanda, a poor country(8), which mainly relies on foreign aid and has no armaments industry, obtain its might? Why does the UN Security Council always react lightly to Rwanda’s destructive and dreadful interventions in the DRC? Why did the agreements signed by the two countries always fail? For the Congolese populations, Rwanda does not want really peace. In 1995, many of them were convinced that the Rwandan dignitaries were undermining the return of Hutu refugees(9). In May 2004, the government of Kinshasa came to the same conclusion when it complained that: “Peace between Kinshasa and Kigali should be strengthened following the agreement signed on July 30, 2002 in Pretoria by the Congolese President Joseph Kabila and the Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Unfortunately, this is not the case up to now. The Congolese officials note that the Rwandan military incursions into Eastern DRC intervene always at the important steps of the political process set up by the Sun City agreement (April 2002). This time, they resumed the day after the investiture of the new Governors and Deputy Governors (of the transition)”(10). Given such stubbornness of Rwanda, what chance does the current-day peace process in the DRC have to succeed or how can the “dialogue of the deaf” between Rwanda and the DRC effectively come to an end?

Rwanda as a client state

In this note(11), we outline the answers to the questions above and demonstrate that Rwanda is playing the role of a mere client state in the DRC. This reality negatively impacts on the peace process and augurs no good, at least from the standpoint of the Congolese people.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front/RPF’s regime manipulated the discourse on Tutsi genocide and security in order to enhance its interests in the DRC. This goal was only achieved through a strong involvement in Congolese internal politics. Mel McNulty is right when making the remark: “the centrality of the Rwandan role in recent Congolese politics is beyond question. It is now a matter of record that the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) spearheaded the AFDL campaign”.(12) In other words, the RPF leaders in Kigali with the backing of some great powers, mainly the United States and the United Kingdom, resorted to a war in order to force and shape the political changes in the DRC by putting an end to the institutions put forth by the National Conference (NC) and the Rwanda-DRC relations. They backed them and, by doing so, boosted the move from the Rwanda-DRC negotiated partnership to the relations of a military subordination. At the beginning, the Hutu refugees and Mobutu were good cards to play with in order to gain support from the Congolese leadership. The coalition between the RPF (government or political wing and RPA or military wing) and the so-called group of Lemera (Kisase Ngandu, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Déogratias Bugera and Masasu Nindaga) remained a reality as long as the goals of the war were the destruction of the camps of the Hutu refugees and the overthrow of Mobutu. These goals were achieved between September 1996 and May 1997. However, the occupation of the provinces of Northern Kivu and Southern Kivu and the Tutsi-imposed order in all public places beginning in November 1996 showed that Rwanda’s goals in the DRC went beyond the issues of Hutu refugees and Mobutu. After having gained control of the two provinces, Rwanda maneuvered to put a Tutsi or a like-minded man at the head of the DRC; failing to do so, its move was to obstruct any rise of a strong and efficient government in Kinshasa, as Stephen Metz warned early on: “For the various warlords and regional satraps around the country, an end to the political crisis in Kinshasa would pose a challenge, perhaps an unacceptable one. They are likely to hinder the emergence of an effective central government”(13). This was illustrated by the fights against President Laurent-Désiré Kabila with the help of their men in Kinshasa (James Kabarebe and others) beginning in December 1997 and by his assassination on January 16, 2001, a few weeks after the installment of the United Nations Mission in Congo (UNAMIC) in Kinshasa. Laurent-Désiré Kabila was a good partner of Rwanda, Uganda and their western backers as long as he was covering the DRC’s invasion, the slaughter of Hutus (Congolese citizens, Burundian and Rwandan refugees), Mobutu’s eviction from power and the curbing of the UN requested investigations of this human tragedy under the AFDL flag or the “Banyamulenge Rebellion I”. After the achievement of his unwritten missions, Laurent-Désiré Kabila became useless. What he did as a head of State was another matter, which, for some persons, precipitated his downfall or, for others, delayed it (his physical elimination was planned as of late 1997 and he himself escaped three Rwanda-led coup attempts before he was forced to decide in favor of the expulsion of his Rwandan allies in July 1998)(14). In fact, Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s assassination further weakened the central authority in Kinshasa and put the Tutsi leaders in Kigali and Goma in a position which enabled them to manipulate at will the political game in the DRC. An important fact needs to be remembered here: beyond the controversial side of his personality, Joseph Kabila, who became the new President of the DRC with the support of the international community, had come to the DRC only under the RPA’s umbrella in 1996–1997 and worked with James Kabarebe at the head of the Congolese Armed Forces between October 1997 and July 1998. Joseph Kabila became the President of the DRC later in January 2001 when James Kabarebe held a prominent military position in Kigali (Rwanda), one of the chiefs of Staff of the RPA, and head of the “Congo Desk”, which is, according to the report of the Experts of the United Nations on the plundering or the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the DRC, “a mafia superstructure which controls the tax revenues and trading networks” from the occupied territories. While Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s group was being removed from the decision-making centers in Kinshasa in favor of new men around Joseph Kabila and the peace process evolved positively, the central authority continued to be eroded, something it has continued to suffer from up to now.

Reasons for hope and sources of anxiety

However, it was with a mixture of hope and anxiety that many observers welcomed the prospects of peace raised by the signing and implementation of the global and inclusive Peace Agreement of Pretoria (December 17, 2002). The reasons for hope are the following: the acceptance of power sharing by all the belligerent parties and their participation in the institutions of the transition which became effective on June 30, 2003, the official engagement of the international community to work for the success of the peace agreement’s implementation, the apparent end of the battlefronts, especially the one of Equateur (stronghold of Jean-Pierre Bemba and the MLC), the promise of important and different forms of foreign aid and the rush for foreign investment in the DRC after June 2003. Beyond such reasons for optimism lie other factors which are sources of anxiety. The first factor leading to anxiety is the so-called magic solution of the 1+4 formula, i.e. a President (Joseph Kabila) with four Vice-Presidents(15), which constitutes the last step of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue (ICD) and “compromises the unity of the State power”. Roger Nkema Liloo, a former Congolese Ambassador, who came to this conclusion described it as “a strange collegiality” or simply as “a monstrous formula-trap”. The second factor leading to anxiety is the escalation of war in the East (Ituri in Eastern Province, Lubero, Beni, Ruthsuru and Masisi in Northern Kivu, Fizi, Uvira, Walungu, and Kalehe in Southern Kivu) in the aftermath of the December 17, 2002 Pretoria Agreement. Contrary to what is said in the western media and despite the end of the ICD and the starting of the institutions of transition, Rwanda continues to keep hold of the Northern Kivu and Southern Kivu Provinces, intervene in the Ituri war and send more troops to other parts of the country while its allies hold key positions in the new institutions in Kinshasa. Worse, some representatives of the RCD-Goma in the institutions of transition, mainly in the army, belong to the RPA. This means that Rwanda has its Trojan horse in Kinshasa when the transitional government is having a hard time to restore its authority in the occupied territories in the East of the country. In other words, Rwanda is reinforcing its positions and expanding its zone of influence in the DRC as if what is taking place in Kinshasa is laughable. What Gyavira Mushizi wrote in the days after Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s assassination still holds today: “The question would be banal if the assassination of Kabila took place in a normal situation. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Indeed, every day which passes, the so-called war of aggression made Congo lose, one after the other, its major attributes of State, beginning with the integrity of its territory and the correlative sovereignty of its State”(16). What equally worries most of the people is not only the fact that the administration, the security forces and the army on the ground are still controlled by the RCD-Goma, but also the fact that this pro-Rwanda group was given the command of the military region of Northern Kivu in Goma, second command of the military regions of Southern Kivu in Bukavu and Eastern Province in Kisangani, the governorship in Goma, and the deputy-governorships in Bukavu and Kisangani in the framework of the prospective reunified national army, an exception to the principle of the reunification process of the country: “The setting up of the military regions by the General headquarters has a hard reading with regard to the relations between the appointed officers and the territories that were controlled by their former armed forces. Indeed, it is contrary to the spirit of reunification to keep in Goma a former commander of the RCD or to appoint a native of Southern Kivu as commander of this military region… How does one interpret the fact that Ituri, Northern Kivu and Southern Kivu belong to different military regions whereas the security issue in that part of the country is unique and linked to neighbors who share the same perceptions and same vision of the DRC?”(17). In addition, many officers of the RCD-Goma and the Masunzu group refused to leave Kivu for new appointments in Kinshasa or in other provinces of the country (this seems to be the repeat of what happened under Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s regime between February and May 1998). This attitude of pro-Rwanda rebel officers and the collusion between Rwanda and the pro-Rwanda factional groups in Goma (the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie/RCD and, under its umbrella, the so-called Tous pour la Paix et le Développement/TPD) and in Ituri (the Union des Patriotes Congolais of Thomas Lubanga) give rise to new pessimism. In fact, rebellions arose in the strategic Eastern provinces (rebellion of Jérôme Gakwavu and his Forces Armées du Peuple Congolais or FAPC)(18), Northern-Kivu (rebellion of Nkundabatware) and Southern-Kivu (rebellion of Mutebusi); they all work closely with the official commanders of the RCD-Goma in Goma, Bukavu and Kisangani and the ones of the RPA. Finally, the peace process as a whole is trapped in many ways. On the one hand, it allowed those who are directly or indirectly involved in the plundering of the resources of the country and massacres of the Congolese populations (in fact, the criminals) to control the State power (in the name of power sharing). On the other hand, the evolution of the peace process in the DRC is controlled by the invading and occupying countries (Rwanda and Uganda) and, above all, the international community through the UNAMIC and the CIAT (Comité International pour l’Accompagnement de la Transition). The actions of these two US-dominated organizations are seen by the Congolese people as strongly pro-RCD and Rwanda and as working for the partition of the country. The persistent call for the resignation of William Lacy Swing, the intermittent attacks on the UNAMIC targets and the frequent challenge to the diktats of the CIAT are some examples of frustration.

The role of the international community

Given the contradictions between the official discourses and the realities on the ground in the East, the reluctance of the international community to take measures aimed at pressuring Rwanda towards an internal political dialogue, as it is now the case with the DRC and Burundi, and ending the use of the RCD-Goma leadership and other groups in the East, stopping the plundering of the natural resources of the DRC, and re-imposing an embargo of arms on Rwanda, the improvement of the Rwanda-DRC relations still has a long way to go. Even in the best scenario, the humiliation of the Congolese populations by Rwanda and its proxies goes so deep and the suspicion towards the good will and the sincerity of Rwandan leaders, be they Tutsis (today) or Hutus (perhaps, one day in the future) or men of compromise, is so great that the temptation to seek revenge on the part of the Congolese is high. This threat of revenge by the Congolese hangs over Tutsis or over both Tutsis and Hutus, who are accused of being the main cause of the problems in the DRC like a “sword of Damocles” and impedes, together with the imperatives of globalization (“the post-cold war predicament”)(19), the international community from softening its dictates on the Congolese people. Even the regional integration itself, which Rwanda and its allies in Goma and outside the DRC have made the corner stone of the return to peace, stability and development requires pre-conditions, which are far from being fulfilled. The only way of moving forward in the right direction is, in our view, to comply with international laws(20) in terms of justice, inter-State conflict settlement and agreements on bilateral relations. In this regard, Filip Reyntjens is right when he says that “Rwanda and the region will have a bright future only if there is an end to the gun policy and the promotion of inclusion and political dialogue”(21). This is the only course that the international community should assist without partisanship. In this framework, the international community should, through the UNAMIC, neutralize not only the so-called “Congolese warlords”, as Colette Braeckman says(22), and foreign combatants as foreseen under the DDRRR program, but also lethal Rwandan machines and plundering networks in Congo. They can only do this by giving up the “laisser-faire” attitude towards Rwanda that it has adopted since July 1994 in the name of Tutsi genocide, security on its borders and the so-called stabilizing role of its army in the new regional geopolitics, or in the Anglo-American-shaped new order in eastern and central Africa.

* Professor Stanislas Bucyalimwe Mararo is a historian and he is carrying out research at the Study Center for the Great Lakes Region at the University of Antwerp.

1 Translation from Swahili: “If you find a dog on a tree, don’t rush to bring it down. Before doing it, first, be sure that you know the person who put it there”. This metaphor provides some insight into what is going on in the DRC.

2 We will use this name throughout the text; the names of Zaire and Congo will be maintained only in the quotations.

3 The only exception were the last seven years of Grégoire Kayibanda’s rule (1967-1973) during which many issues opposed him to Mobutu. On the one hand, Mobutu was engaged in anti-communist containment while Kayibanda was a close ally of Nyerere, the Tanzanian socialist President. On the other hand, Mobutu picked a Rwandan Tutsi refugee, Barthélémy Bisengimana, and appointed him head of his cabinet. The latter worked as a super-minister or a real Prime minister, (GERARD-LIBOIS, J. et VERHAEGEN, B., Congo 1966, Brussels, CRISP, 1967, p.24; Moniteur Congolais, n° 10, 15 January 1969, pp. 396-400) for eleven years (1966-1977). So, Mobutu reinforced the positions of the Rwandan Tutsi refugees in the DRC and strengthened the ties with the Tutsi regime in Burundi when the Hutu were being hunted down like wild animals. Furthermore, his troops sided with the army of Michel Micombero (Tutsi President of Burundi) in the 1972 genocide of Hutu (René Lemarchand, Burundi. Ethnocide as Discourse and Practice, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994, especially the chapter entitled “The 1972 watershed” on pages 76-105).

4 REMY, J.P., “L’intervention rwandaise au Congo risque de raviver la guerre”, Le Monde, du 2 décembre 2004; Le Potentiel, n°3296 du mardi 07 décembre 2004; KABONGO, J.A., “Nord-Kivu: La MONUC confirme les incursions rwandaises”, Le Phare du 8 décembre 2004. Rwanda’s renewed war in Northern-Kivu is a further proof that this province is the heart of the Congolese crisis and the expression of the Rwanda-DRC tumultuous relations.

5 “Guerre de l’Est: le Rwanda ouvre plusieurs fronts”, L’Avenir du 17 décembre 2004; “Rébellion au Nord-Kivu: violants combats à Kanyabayonga”, Le Potentiel, n°3302 du mardi 14 décembre 2004; “Walikale, Masisi, Rutshuru: la guerre fait rage”, AFP, Kinshasa, le 8 décembre 2004; “La guerre gagne le Maniema”, a sub-heading of “Le Rwanda plus écouté au Conseil de Sécurité que la RDC”, L’Avenir du 6 décembre 2004.

6 IRIN, Nairobi, 25 November 2004.

7 Centre des Nouvelles ONU du 7 décembre 2004.

8 Very small too. Rwanda is smaller than each of the eleven provinces of the DRC.

9 EYENGA, S., “Après la tournée de Mme Sadaka Ogata dans la sous-région. Le retour des réfugiés compromis par Kigali et les dignitaires rwandais”, HEBDO JUA, du 20 septembre 1995, p.2.

10 “Mutebusi et Ruhorimbere terrorisent Bukavu”, Le Potentiel du 27 mai 2004.

11 These elements are extended remarks of a more extended study, entitled “Post 1994 Rwanda-DRC Relations” (forthcoming).

12 MCNULTY, M., “The collapse of Zaire: implosion or sabotage?”,The Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 37, n°1, 1999, p.55.

13 METZ, S., “Reform, Conflict and Security, Washington, June 1996, p. 18.

14 This was the only act that the populations of Kivu welcomed by Laurent-Désiré Kabila whose responsibility in the aggression and occupation of the DRC was strong, CHIRHALWIRHWA, N.G. et al., Message de felicitations et de remerciement à son Excellence Monsieur le Président de la République Démocratique du Congo à Kinshasa-Binza (Palais de Marbre), Bukavu, le 29 juillet 1998.

15 For the best critique of this ambiguous formula, read the articles of l’Observatoire de l’Afrique centrale, MLC/31.thml;MAROY, F.X., “La RDC à l’heure de l’accord inclusif et global et du retrait des troupes d’agression, Bukavu, le 03 septembre 2002”, Karibu, n° 47, octobre 2002. If the struggle of power between two persons at the summit of State put the country into a deep crisis (Kasa-Vubu versus Lumumba in 1960, Kasa-Vubu versus Tshombe in 1965, Mobutu versus Tshisekedi in 1992-1993), it is clear that the situation may become worse with five heads of State, each one pursuing outside interests.

16 MUSHIZI, G., “Après Kabila, quel avenir pour la RDC?”, Renaître, n° 2, 31 janvier 2001, p.2.

17 “Controverse autour de la désignation des chefs militaries”,

18 Known as Kakwavu, this man is a Tutsi from Masisi for some, from Rwanda for others. He is active in the region of Aru (Ituri) where he benefits probably from the support of Museveni and works with Hema militias, Nkundabatware and Jules Mutebusi, Democratie Et Civisme Pour Le Developpement Integral (DECIDI), Des criminels à Aru/Ituri: Jérôme Kakwavu, Nkunda(batware), Mutebusi et Bosco, Kinshasa, le 20 septembre 2004.

19 In explaining the nature of today’s world-wide violence, J. Cartier-Bresson gives trends which are fully present in Congo’s war and make the search for far lasting solutions too difficult: “The majority of conflicts presents a mixture of struggle over internal power, of more or less discrete and interested interventions of neighboring countries, of plundering of the resources by all the parties in the conflicts for strategic and self-enrichment, of interfenences of the most powerful countries in the field of international relations and the discrete presence of multinational firms”, “Comprendre et limiter les violences: une présentation”, Revue Tiers-Monde, Tome XLIV, avril-juin 2003, p.254. The particularity of the Congolese case is that the interferences of Rwanda and Uganda and the presence of the multinationals are not discrete.

20 John Philpot discussed the different ways in which the international laws are deliberately violated in the crisis of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, especially the way the truth and justice in Rwanda were, as in the case of Congo’s war and Congo-Rwanda relations, diverted, see “La mort du droit international: Le cas de la crise de l’Afrique des Grands Lacs dans les années 1990. Causes, responsabilités et perspectives”. Conference in Guatemala, October 6-10, 1997”,

21 Reyntjens, F., “Le problème se trouve au Rwanda”, La Libre Belgique du 15 août 1998, p. 5.

22 Colette, B., “L’ombre du Rwanda plane sur l’Ituri”, Le Soir du 23 mai 2003.

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