The latest Rwandan adventure in the Democratic Republic of Congo is over. The Rwandan army has marched back across the border to the huzzahs of their countrymen, international organizations are issuing laudatory press releases, and now it’s time to take stock of what was accomplished. It appears to me that much happened while very little changed.
The Rwandan troops were invited to the Congo by DRC President Joseph Kabila, ostensibly to destroy the FDLR, the remnants of the Hutu Interahamwe who have been terrorizing both countries from bases in the Kivus since they fled there following the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Unlike the last two times the Rwandan army marched into the DRC on a similar mission, this one was conducted jointly with the Congolese army rather than against it.
My guess is that the operation was a quid-pro-quo in which the Rwandans agreed to remove Laurent Nkunda as commander of their proxy army, the CNDP, in return for the opportunity to take over some of the FDLR’s economic activities in the Congo. Kabila got rid of a major thorn in his side, a man who threatened to march across the DRC to overthrow the government, a threat not to be taken lightly considering how consistently Kabila’s forces rolled back the Congolese army in other operations last fall. We’ll probably never know what the Rwandans actually received–how many illegal mines, expropriated farms, and surreptitious transport routes for the Congo’s wealth to make its way into Rwanda.
Kabila also agreed to integrate the CNDP, now under the leadership of indicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, into the FARDC, the Congelese army. Terms of that settlement are still being worked out in negotiations supervised by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and Tanzania’s former leader Benjamin Mkapa. Like everything else in this very fluid situation, it remains to be seen whether the CNDP (and other, previously-integrated units of the Congolese army) will actually carry out their duties in the interest of the DRC or of someone else.
Politics aside, what of the announced goal of operation Umoja Wetu, the joint mission to destroy the FDLR? Official sources say 153 rebels were killed (and eight government troops), about 5,000 Rwandans were persuaded to return to their homeland, and the FDLR’s capacity to operate was substantially disrupted. Sounds good until you realize the FDLR was believed to have 5,000 to 7,000 soldiers in the DRC, so the loss of a few dozen isn’t going to make much difference.
The FDLR leadership is still living the good life in Germany, supported by the extorted profits of their troops in the DRC and scoffing at the hoopla. You can be assured that they won’t feel a thing.
That can’t be said for the civilians in the Kivus, who are waiting for the retribution to begin in earnest. The FDLR has already killed hundreds while the Congolese and Rwandan armed forces were attacking and can be expected to carry out its quite explicit threat to retaliate with a paroxysm of pillage, murder, and rape.
Who is defending the civilians? With the Rwandan troops on their way home, that job is left to the FARDC, an army made up of rogue units and unpaid soldiers whose record of civilian terrorism is no better than the FDLR’s.
And where is the UN? They say they will be supporting the Congolese in a second operation against he FDLR while making sure the rebels don’t retake the areas secured by the joint operation. But words are cheap. My guess is the blue helmets will be in the same place they have been for the last fifteen years in the Kivus, assiduously guarding their own bases and escorting NGO’s and journalists to places where they can be sure their vehicles won’t get scratched. MONUC wasn’t consulted about the joint Rwandan-Congolese operation, although they were allowed to observe from a distance–a tactic which the UN forces have used frequently.
In the Congo, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.