Guilty as Charged: Evidence Rwanda is Backing Rebels in Congo

M23 rebels in Congo
M23 rebels in Congo

A leaked United Nations special report identifies Rwanda Defence Minister, General James Kabarebe, as the commanding officer of a major rebel movement in the DR Congo, indicating that President Paul Kagame and his government are behind much of the instability in the SADC member state.

SADC Heads of State and Government in August said Rwanda must stop fomenting instability in the DRC, with President Kagame repeatedly denying his involvement in the emergence of a rebel group calling itself March 23 (M23) and which has been fighting government forces for months.

But now a second UN-commissioned report has fingered President Kagame, who remains a key US and British ally in the region since they tacitly backed his and Uganda’s sponsorship of rebels in the last DRC war in 1998.

The newest UN group of experts report was leaked to the media and will be made public in November.

It serves as a psychological and moral boost for the DRC and those countries that are ratcheting up a diplomatic offensive aimed at securing international isolation of Rwanda through UN-backed sanctions and a minerals trade embargo.

The UN experts report singles out General Kabarebe as the brains behind the M23 rebel group, which has been fighting government forces in North and South Kivu since April this year.

The group started as a rag tag collection of mutineers from the national army, but it has rapidly metamorphosed into a well-organised and significantly equipped military force of more than 2,000 soldiers potent enough to face off with DRC army deployments and securing strategic points in the traditionally volatile eastern region of the country.

This quick escalation in activities carried out by the rebels indicates some sort of external backing.

The M23 rebel group is ostensibly led by the renegade general, Bosco Ntaganda, who is known as “The Terminator”.

Gen Ntaganda mutinied from the DRC army earlier this year and is on the International Criminal Court’s wanted list.

A rebel named Sultani Makenga is cited by the UN experts as Gen Ntaganda’s second-in-command and is reportedly in charge of operations and co-ordination.

Rwanda Defence Minister Gen Kabarebe is nailed in the report as directly involved in providing M23 with military support. The report adds that he has in the past facilitated – and still could be facilitating – recruitment of fighters, transfer of weapons and ammunition, and use of his contacts in the DRC army to organise serving soldiers to mutiny and join the rebels.

“M23’s defacto chain of command … culminates with the Rwandan Minister of Defence General James Kabarebe,” the UN report states.

Gen Ntaganda and Makenga are said to “receive direct military orders from the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) Chief of Defence Staff General Charles Kayonga, who in turn acts on instructions from Minister of Defence James Kabarebe”, the UN report adds.

Uganda is also accused of supporting the rebels by supplying M23 with arms.

“Both Rwanda and Uganda have been supporting M23. While Rwandan officials co-ordinated the creation of the rebel movement, as well as its major military operations, Uganda’s more subtle support to M23 allowed the rebel group’s political branch to operate from within Kampala and boost its external relations,” the report says.

The Uganda and Rwanda armies assisted the rebels to take over Rutshuru in July and a Congolese army base of Rumangabo, it is alleged.

“According to several M23 soldiers, RDF troops provided the rebels with heavy weapons such as 12.7mm machine guns, 60mm, 91mm and 120mm mortars, as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft launches ahead of the attack.

“RDF Special Forces in Rutshuru also aided the rebels and fired 13 rounds on a FARDC (DRC national army) combat helicopter during the takeover of Kiwanja,” the UN report says.

The DRC government says that the 53-year-old Gen Kabarebe is closely allied to President Kagame and his involvement in the war in the eastern parts of the country has the full blessings of the Rwanda government.


Paul Kagame
Kagame has routinely denied backing the rebels in Congo

This past week, DRC Information Minister Lambert Mende told reporters that Kinshasa wants Gen Kabarebe and other Rwandese government and security officials – including top army commanders – to be slapped with international sanctions for their role in the destablisation of the country.

“Kabarebe is commanding officer of M23, directly commanding them. We have been aware of this and the UN has also found out that he is the one who created M23.

“This evidence implicates Kagame and the entire Rwandese government.

The fact that Rwanda has not acted against Kabarebe, who is still in his post means that his President agrees entirely with what he is doing,” Minister Mende said.

“Kabarebe is Defence Minister; he is acting with the full support of his President. Kagame as Head of State cannot be seen co-ordinating rebel activities. But he (Kagame) is instructing Kabarebe to do what he is doing,” Mende charged.

On October 19, the UN Security Council slammed Rwanda and Uganda for supporting M23, a group whose activities are responsible for the displacement of more than 300,000 civilians.

“The Security Council demands that any and all outside support to the M23 as well as other armed groups cease immediately.

“The Security Council calls upon all countries in the region to condemn the M23, as well as other armed groups, and to cooperate actively with Congolese authorities in disarming and demobilising the M23 as well as other armed groups and dismantling the M23 parallel administration,” the UN Security Council said.

Kinshasa says it fully backs a UN resolution to slap the M23 leadership with sanctions.

“The Security Council expresses its intention to apply targeted sanctions against the leadership of the M23 and those acting in violation of the sanctions and the arms embargo,” the UN said.

DRC’s Mende said that the government has expanded its calls for a minerals trade embargo on Rwanda to the UN.

The DRC last month urged US and European companies to stop buying minerals from Rwanda, which it argues are “looted from the eastern regions”.

Minister Mende said the DRC government thus wants the UN to co-ordinate the minerals trade embargo on Rwanda.

“In addition to sanctions, that is another demand we have made as one of the measures to have peace back that there be no minerals trade with Rwanda.

“Those minerals coming out of Rwanda are coming from Congo and we have asked the UN to forbid selling of minerals from Rwanda. Those minerals are looted from Congo and we have also asked other countries to join the trade embargo,” Mende said.


The DRC Information Minister also confirmed that an international neutral interposing force made up of five countries from SADC and the Great Lakes Region would be on the ground in December.

“By December the international neutral force must be operating be operating-we are moving slowly towards the implementation of decisions taken by SADC and Great Lakes region under the auspices of the African Union,” Mende said.

SADC leaders this year reportedly agreed on the need to deploy troops to the DRC to manage the border with Rwanda and Uganda.

However, such a deployment cannot be done without the support of the Intergovernmental Conference of the Great Lakes Region and the East African Community, who all stand to be affected by the instability in the DRC.

Analysts have said the instability in the region has been contrived to allow the looting of valuable natural resources in the area in the short-term. In the long-term, the analysts believe this is an attempt to either redraw boundaries in the region or ensure pliant leaders are in office to facilitate exploitation of natural resources.

The area is rich in heavy rare earth minerals that are crucial to military-industrial growth and much of the known concessions are understood to have been sold to Chinese firms for exploitation.

The instability is, the experts say, a means of wresting control of these immense resources from China.

The analysts have said those behind the rebel activities have gambled that China will not deploy militarily to protect its interests as such a development would go against Beijing’s long-maintained foreign policy position of non-interference.

However, they point out that Beijing may be “willing” to provide material and moral support for a deployment by progressive African governments so as to bring stability to the region.

Much relies on what action the UN takes, which to date has been curtailed by the fact that the US and France – who have interests in the region – sit on the Security Council.

Rwanda’s alleged involvement in destablising a neighbouring country did not stop it from securing a non-permanent seat on UN Security Council a few weeks ago.

Rwanda’s bid for the UN Security Council seat, which is being vacated by South Africa this year, was unopposed.