Major donors to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) should withhold aid to both governments until they comply with prior agreements to pacify the DRC’s Kivu provinces, states a new report released Thursday by the International Crisis Group.
The report, “Eastern Congo: Why Stabilisation Failed”, argues that deploying a 4,000-strong neutral force along the border between the two countries – the solution promoted by the 12-state International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) – is unrealistic and unlikely to be effective.
“The Kivus do not need a new strategic approach; rather the peace agreements and stabilizing plans should no longer be empty promises,” says the report.
The report comes amidst continuing violence by a number of militias active in the Kivus, most notably the March 23 (M-23) Movement led by Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord in the eastern DRC who was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague in 2006 for recruiting and deploying child soldiers earlier in the decade.
Despite his indictment, Ntaganda was inducted into the Congolese army as part of an effort to stabilise the eastern part of the country. In 2009 he was promoted to the rank of general.
Last April, however, after DRC President Joseph Kabila, under pressure from western donors, ordered his arrest, the Rwandan-born Ntanganda staged a mutiny which many analysts believe was instigated and supported by Rwanda.
Since then, the two countries have exchanged a war of words, and violence has intensified across the region. Hundreds of people have been killed in the fighting and nearly 500,000 people are believed to have fled their homes.
At the end of June, the United Nations Security Council released a report that detailed Rwandan support for the mutiny and M-23 Movement. It alleged that Kigali recruited and deployed Rwandans to join Ntaganda’s forces and transmitted key intelligence to the rebels.
Kigali has vehemently rejected allegations that it supports M-23, whose name refers to a 2009 peace agreement between the Kinshasa and the Rwanda-backed National Council for the Defence of the People.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a longtime favourite of the United States, who, according to various accounts, sought to delay the report’s release, has insisted that the mutiny was caused by Kinshasa’s failure to pay Ntaganda’s troops and that it had nothing to do with the rebels.
“I’ve never seen such a stupid story like that,” Kagame told TIME magazine in an interview in September. “They wanted Rwanda always to be seen as the culprit in the problems of Congo. Congo is a victim, always….It doesn’t need a rational story, it doesn’t need facts or logic. It’s just how they want it.”
The Kivus have been in turmoil since the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda against members of the Tutsi ethnic group. As Kagame’s Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriot Front (RPF) swept across the country, tens of thousands of Hutus, including army officers and militias that carried out the genocide, fled into eastern DRC, where their remnants have remained active.
More than five million people are believed to have died, most from starvation and disease, as a result of the fighting among some two dozen militias and the military intervention of eight of the DRC’s neighbours, including Rwanda, according to an International Rescue Committee study published in 2008.
The region is rich in minerals, including tin ore, gold, diamonds and tantalum, a rare metal used in cell phones and computer parts. Much of the fighting, including by M-23, has been for control over areas where these resources are mined.
At the urging of human rights and peace activists, the U.S. Congress last year passed legislation that requires U.S. companies to put forth their best efforts to avoid acquiring these minerals from the DRC. Although the move has apparently marginally reduced demand, Asian companies have reportedly moved to fill the vacuum.
In a report published last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused M-23 of committing war crimes, including summary executions, rape and forced recruitment of children. The New York-based group also charged that Rwanda has deployed military units in DRC to support M-23 and thus may also be liable for the crimes committed by the movement.
Yet Rwanda has pointed to atrocities committed in eastern Congo by Mai-Mai militias, particularly against the Banyamulenge, an ethnic group related to the Tutsis and mainly descended from Rwandan immigrants. Indeed, Thursday marked the anniversary of a notorious massacre in South Kivu of seven Banyamulenge humanitarian workers, which renewed a low-intensity conflict in the area. The Congolese government has not arrested the perpetrators.
The United States and members of the European Union (EU) have cut or suspended aid to Rwanda, where external assistance comprises 40 percent of its budget, to compel it to drop its support for M-23, although rights groups and others are calling for even more pressure.
Last week, the Enough Project, a Washington-based anti-genocide group, released a report arguing for the United States and other donors to base approval World Bank support to Rwanda – 135 million dollars are pending – on Rwanda’s cutting support for and dismantling M-23.
“The U.S. should delay the vote on this package until these conditions are met,” said the authors, Aaron Hall and Sasha Lezhnev.
The ICG report stressed that donors should withhold aid to both governments, noting that the Mai-Mai groups were continuing to commit atrocities in rural areas with impunity.
International donors and African mediators, it said, should seek to resolve the ongoing crisis rather than merely managing it, as they have with the deployment of a 17,000-strong U.N. force whose ability to keep the peace has been severely limited given the vastness of the territory for which it is responsible.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week convened both Kabila and Kagame for a meeting at the United Nations during which she “emphasised the need for honest and sustained dialogue between both countries in pursuit of a political resolution to the crisis”, said a senior State Department official.
“She noted that any solution must include bringing M-23 leadership to justice and both countries committing to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the other,” the official added. No breakthrough was achieved, however, at the ICGLR meeting that took place the next day.
To move toward a resolution, the ICG called for the urgent negotiation of a ceasefire between the Congolese authorities and M-23 as well as for the consideration of an arms embargo against Rwanda.
Aid to Kigali should also remain suspended pending the release of a new report by the U.N. Group of experts, the group added, while donors should withhold funding for stabilisation and institutional support for Kinshasa as long as it fails to improve political dialogue, governance, and its army’s performance in the eastern part of the country. Ntaganda, it said, should be arrested and handed over to the ICC.