In an expert report released last week regarding the ongoing conflict in the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, neighboring countries Rwanda and Uganda were both fingered as supporting the M23 rebel group, including implications that top officials of the Rwandan government actually issue the commands to the organization.
The two top commanders of the group — which mutinied back in April — are Bosco Ntaganda and Sultani Makenga. The document states that both of these field leaders “receive 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”.
Uganda is accused of supporting the rebel group through more passive means by providing a sanctuary for the political branch of the mutineers to operate in Kampala. Both countries are also accused of supplying weapons, which violates a continuous U.N. arms embargo, which comes due again next month.
While both nations fervently deny any assistance provided to the insurgency, their meddling in the DRC would not be new. The ongoing violence that has been present in the eastern provinces for two decades is a direct result of a spillover from the Rwandan Civil War, when, in 1994, one million Hutu’s — some of which were participants in the April genocide against the Tutsi population — fled over the border for fear of reprisal by the new Tutsi government.
Both Rwanda and Uganda were avid participants in two civil wars in the country. The first, which lasted from 1996-1997, saw the overthrow of long-time dictator Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko. The second — which officially lasted from 1998-2002 — led to the assassination of President Laurent Kabila, Mobutu’s replacement, and a rise of the current political system that remains in the country today. The second war was a direct result of former-President Kabila ousting troops and influence supplied by both Uganda and Rwanda, which led to a joint invasion by both states to topple the Kabila regime, a leader they supported during the war against Mobutu.
Since that time, both countries have been implicated in assisting rebels in a series of proxy wars that have been nearly continuous since the peace deal of 2002. A 2009 U.N. Mapping Report also linked both nations to the exploitation of minerals in the resource-rich eastern provinces.
The United Nations Security Council issued a statement that has once again condemned the violence and plans to sanction the leaders of M23, which implies both Uganda and Rwanda.
Whether or not these new allegations are true, the report remains alarmingly hypocritical to international actions occurring simultaneously. Uganda is currently hosting negotiations for the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), which is working to designate a neutral force to combat the rebels and quell the violence. President Yoweri Museveni is heading the talks to broker a deal.
In addition, on Thursday Rwanda was admitted to a two-year term on the U.N. Security Council. The U.N. Security Council (UNSC) obviously places a lot of stock in the report that will be released next month, otherwise it would not have issued such harsh threats. However, while stating these warnings, they also accepted the bid of Rwanda as one of their members for the next two years. This is the second U.N. Expert Report that has branded Rwanda a supporter of the rebels.
Should Rwanda really be allowed to sit on the Security Council amid such blatant accusations, especially when the UNSC will be the primary organization dealing with this issue in the future? Should Uganda head the ICGLR negotiations — which as of now are stalling — if they are the ones potentially supporting this rebellion?
While the DRC government itself is certainly not blame-free in this orchestration, neighboring nations’ habit of interfering and supporting insurgency has definitely not helped maintain peace and stability in the region. With a reported 400,000 people displaced in the area since the violence began in April, and no peace-deal in sight, Rwanda and Uganda should not be allowed to play key roles in ending the violence and brokering a deal.
If these accusations are founded — the full report has yet to be release — then there remains a serious conflict of interest by both nations in leading any sort of peace talks. After a series of blunders by the international community over the past 20 years in regards to the constant violence in the Congo, this new hypocrisy may be the worst. While Rwanda and Uganda remain an integral part of any peace negotiations, they need to be an actor as part of the dispute, not as an overseer to the discussions. Otherwise, how can anyone expect a lasting peace in the region? It is up to both the U.N. and the ICGLR to recognize this conflict of interest and ensure that both nations are placed in their proper role. A satisfactory and sustainable peace deal cannot be achieved with the odds stacked so heavily in the favor of the rebel supporters.