ANALYSIS: Is Kabila Pushing Kagame To The Edge Of War?
The rapid escalation of tension between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) seem to suggest that the distance between provocation and a regional flare-up could be several seconds long.
The deliberate attempt by Kinshasha to attribute its political and security troubles to President Paul Kagame’s alleged support of M23 could spark war between the two countries.
While Rwanda was of the view that the antagonism between the two countries should be settled diplomatic channels like the recent Great Lakes region summit in Kampala, DRC seems to be hell-bent on securing United Nations sanctions on Kagame and his most trusted army generals – a situation analysts believe is bringing the two neighbors closer to war than earlier expected.
DRC Foreign Affairs Minister Raymond Tshibanda, in a belligerent tone and in total disregard of the resolutions of the Kampala Summit which resolved to put in place a neutral force to crush the rebels in Eastern Congo, on Friday evening asked the U.N. Security Council to place sanctions on Rwanda's defence minister and two top military officials for backing the army mutiny.
According to Reuters, Tshibanda met with the members of the Security Council and the body's sanctions committee this week to discuss a report on the country's security issues by an U.N. expert panel.
"We believe that all the consequences must be drawn from the conclusions in the report of the group of experts and that sanctions should eventually be envisaged," Tshibanda told a news conference at the United Nations.
"We also believe, and this is what we have requested, is that these sanctions also relate to foreign personalities in addition to personalities in the Democratic Republic of Congo that are involved in this situation," he said.
The report accused Rwanda's Defence Minister James Kaberebe; chief of defence staff Charles Kayonga; and General Jacques Nziza, a military adviser to President Paul Kagame, of being "in constant contact with M23.
The statement came just a day after Rwanda Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo presented her country’s official response to a UN Group of Experts (GoE) report that Kigali was reinforcing M23, to the Security Council.
In her submission, Mushikiwabo said for no other reason, Rwanda was not involved in the eastern DRC because instability in that region represents a direct threat to her country’s own national interest.
“It is also why we have been active participants from day one in the regional efforts spearheaded by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region which is in the process of establishing a neutral force made up of regional states,” she added.
As all this happened, the 2nd Division commander of Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) Maj. Gen. Alex Kagame was in Mbarara meeting his Ugandan counterpart Brig. Patrick Kankiriho.
The security meeting that involved several military and intelligence chiefs from the two countries was called to discuss fresh intelligence that DRC was secretly backing the 1994 Rwanda genocide perpetrators’ rebel group FDLR.
Some of the issues raised during the meeting was that the crisis in DRC enabled the weak FDLR to gain ground and reorganize in preparation to attack Rwanda.
The second issue was that even Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) had moved some miles away from their bases in Beni towards the Uganda border.
As if this not scary enough, a few days ago, it emerged that a MONUSCO mission aircraft flew with FARDC officials to meet with the Mai Mai militia, to recruit them to fight the M23.
Faced with such a heap of national-security-challenging problems, it’s very unlikely that Kagame and Museveni will look on idly.
"What you have is a sense that Rwanda and Uganda are running out of patience and that we may be running out of time before they attack in defence of their security,” says a source who attended the closed-door meeting in Mbarara.
During a press conference in June, Kagame threatened to release General Laurent Nkunda to “go wherever he wants,” a statement many perceived as aimed at alerting the international community that the detained general’s release could spell more doom for DRC.
“We don’t respond to blackmail. Whoever finds us here we will fight. Forget FDLR, forget Bosco, in the end if this nonsense continues of putting blame on our shoulders, we will throw off the blame back to them (international community),” said Kagame.
“We are still stuck with Nkunda, including bearing the burden of the legal implications. We chose to put this to our shoulders to help in solving Congo’s problems and also result in solution of our own problems like genocide perpetrators who are there,” he said.
General Kabarebe speaks out
In an interview with renowned Belgian journalist, Colette Braeckman, Gen Kabarebe tells of how a Congolese intelligence chief found him in a hotel room and asked for forgiveness for fabricating lies to cover Kinshasa’s weaknesses.
Gen Kabarebe rarely gives interviews, but in this one, he spilled what can only be described as secrets – perhaps an indication of frustration among Rwandan officials with the Congo authorities.
Kabarebe said the M23 officers were facing segregation, exclusion, being regarded as second-class military.
“Our integration was never complete, we were paid differently than other members, we received grades but they were never confirmed by Order, and any time we might be driven out of the army,” Kabarebe quoted the rebels as saying.
He also blamed DRC for taking the path of war instead of dialogue to solve her problems.
“In April 8, while we were seeking a peaceful solution, the Congolese government sent a large military force to Goma, rocket launchers, T52 tanks, helicopter gunships. Goma was suddenly heavily militarized,” recounts Kabarebe.
“At the moment, with Kalev and Yav, the head of military information, we were trying to solve problems peacefully, the Chief of Staff, General Etumba and the head of the land forces Tango Amisi landed in Goma to strengthen the military effort.
We repeated that the military option was not the best, but they went forward,” he adds.
He says 80% of the forces of M23 are Hutus, Pareco veterans.
“Bashi, Hutu, Nande, Barega, and many other groups joined the M23. Even members of President Kabila’s protection services, Katangans, Kasaians, defected and joined Makenga, so there was discontent…”
“The poor management of the troops is the heart of the problem. How can you send troops into operation by giving them only a handful of beans! Instead of sending them food, you give them a bag of beans, water, and salt-free rice casserole or without firewood ... This is impossible. You cannot say that the Congolese army failed to beat the M23 because the M23 was backed by Rwanda. No! They failed because they cannot fight in conditions in which they are. They could not even kill a rat....” says Kabarebe.
“If you want to get out of this crisis, the international community needs to understand that pressuring Rwanda about the situation in the DRC, is not good to the DRC: the problems are born there, that is where they should be resolved. And Congolese must know that the solution to their problems will not come from the international community, but themselves. It is relying on themselves, building their own governance mechanisms, their own system, that the Congolese will come out,” advises Kabarebe.
Observers say if Congo sticks to the path of war against M23 rebels, keep pressuring UN to put sanctions on Kagame’s generals and fall short of stabilizing Eastern Congo, the Kinshasha government faces the possibility of being toppled.
Didn’t Will Rogers say diplomats are just as essential to starting a war as soldiers are for finishing it?
“You take diplomacy out of war, and the thing would fall flat in a week.”