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Should Rwanda Be on the UN Security Council?

Rwanda's president Paul Kagame
Rwanda continues to deny interfering in Congo

Rwanda’s alleged support of rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo has raised concerns its presence on the Security Council could undermine rather than promote peace.

On January 1, Rwanda will join Australia, Argentina, South Korea and Luxembourg as part of a new intake of non-permanent members on the United Nations Security Council. The council’s pattern of rotation placed East Africa next in the line of duty, and Rwanda’s unopposed candidacy was readily endorsed by the African Union. It will fill a seat to be vacated by South Africa, joining Morocco and Togo to provide a voice for Africa on the council.

But Rwanda’s election to a body tasked with maintaining world peace and security is bittersweet for many. The latest version of a report by the UN Group of Experts, which was leaked to reporters in late October, alleges that the Congolese rebel group M23 “receive[s] direct military orders from RDF (Rwandan army) Chief of Defence staff General Charles Kayonga, who in turn acts on instructions from Minister of Defence General James Kabarebe”.

Some called for sanctions on Rwanda and the refusal of its bid to join the Security Council. But Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwandan diplomat at the UN, retaliated, stating that: “The members of the General Assembly know exactly what our record is, and they cannot be deterred or swayed by a baseless report which has no credibility.”

In the end, calls to refuse Rwanda gained little momentum and Rwanda was elected by 148 votes out of 193 to hold a two-year seat on the 15-member council. Concerns remain, however, that Rwanda’s presence on the Security Council could cause deadlock over issues related to the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and questions linger about the appropriateness of Rwanda’s ascension.

On the day of the vote, Atoki Ileka, the DRC’s ambassador to France and former envoy to the UN, lamented, “[this is] a very sad day for Africa because the Security Council is the UN body in charge of peace and security, and this is a country not committed to peace and security. It’s very embarrassing for the UN.”

Moving Forwards, Looking Backwards

It cannot be denied that economically and developmentally Rwanda is excelling. Through the 2000s, it was the tenth fastest growing economy in the world and its GDP has reportedly grown by over 7% a year since 2004, except for a slight blip in 2009. Perhaps one reason Rwanda received so much support for its candidacy then is that it is an ‘aid darling’ with the ability to speak the language of development and show off its progressive plans designed to leave its reputation of ethnic violence in the dust.

Broadening the picture, however, reveals that Rwanda’s progress has come with more political repression and governmental input than most of its donors would appreciate.

Some analysts increasingly suggest this may be the way development has to be won in Africa, but a strong centralised state and authoritarian control are certainly not part the image growth donors would like to present. Although they often voice neoliberal concerns to the contrary, Rwanda’s donors have, in some cases, conceded to the strategy.

Rwanda has also roused controversy in other areas, however, and its economic success does not mean the legacy of its genocide has been dealt with. Rwanda, for example, conspicuously aspires to be a regional superpower and has meddled extensively in the eastern DRC with the aim of preventing a resurgence from regrouped Hutu genocidaires known as the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR).

If the UN Group of Experts report is accurate in claiming that Rwanda is supporting and perhaps even leading the M23 as a proxy army, this is likely to be Rwanda’s way of trying to ensure its own peace and security – albeit at great humanitarian cost.

Rwanda Reconciling Visions?

Contrary to early expectations, there has not been a standstill at the Security Council in anticipation of Rwanda’s presence. Most significantly, on November 12, the UN imposed sanctions on M23 leader Colonel Makenga – a move that was soon followed by the US.

Furthermore, meeting in an emergency session on November 17, the Security Council strongly condemned the increasing displacement of civilians in the eastern DRC. And, after the M23 launched attacks using heavy weapons in North Kivu, MONUSCO (the UN peacekeeping force stationed in Congo) deployed attack helicopters to support the national army.

The UN Group of Experts’ report is also scheduled to be finalised in December, ahead of Rwanda’s induction in January. This timing is perhaps fortunate, as sanctioning or reprimanding Rwanda’s behaviour could become increasingly complicated after it officially takes its seat.

It is difficult to predict what the effect of Rwanda’s presence will be on the council and what perspectives or issues it will bring. Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, however, has said she hopes Rwanda’s seat can be used to call more attention to the role of the international community in addressing genocide.

“Working with fellow members,” she explained, “Rwanda will draw on its experience to fight for the robust implementation of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine that demands that the world takes notice – and action – when innocent civilians face the threat of atrocities at the hands of their governments”.

When it takes its seat therefore, Rwanda may ask whether a stronger international voice and/or presence in 1994 might have disbanded (instead of aiding) the génocidaires that continue to threaten Rwanda’s security. But by that same token, many others – not least the DRC – can rightly ask whether supporting a rebellion – and by extension much humanitarian suffering – in another country can ever be justified in the interests of peace and security for oneself.

Courtney Meyer is currently studying for an MSc in Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Her interests include politics and official development assistance in Africa.

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