(First published in AFJN’s September-October Newsletter)
By Bahati Jacques, Policy Analyst
On October 1, 2010, the UN finally released its report (read it here) about the war crimes, crimes against humanity, major violations of international laws and possibly a genocide committed by Rwandan troops (APR) and its allies, the Rwandan sponsored Congolese rebel group Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL ). The report describes bombings, killing by blows of hammers and hoes, shootings, mass graves, dumping bodies in river, the calling of crowds to fake meetings, shooting and killing them as they gather, tying hands and legs before the killing, burning alive and dismembering of Rwandan refugees and Congolese alike. Could Rwandan President Paul Kagame have done this alone without the help of those who are not named in the report? Neocolonialists are equally to blame for the tragedy in Congo, but they serve as judges, critics and arbitrators and were not named in the report.
In 1994, the current president of Rwanda Paul Kagame won the war that ended the Rwandan Tutsi genocide by Hutus. As a result of this war, many Hutu fled and established refugee camps in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. In October 1996 Paul Kagame decided to continue the Hutu hunt down across the border into Congo. This killing mission was not limited to Rwandan Hutu citizens only, but included Congolese of Hutu ethnic background.
The Killing of Rwandan Hutu refugees
It is impossible to determine the exact number of Rwandan refugees killed in Congo. To get a sense of what happened, here are selected excerpts from the UN report.:
“On 1 March 1997, AFDL/APR units killed 11 Rwandan Hutu refugees belonging to religious orders on the Kindu road, around twenty kilometres from Kalima, in the Pangi territory. The victims, eight priests and three nuns, had been refugees in South Kivu since 1994. … the soldiers beat them to death with sticks. The bodies of the victims were buried at the scene” (paragraph 238).
“Around eight o’clock in the evening on 14 March 1997, after the defeat of the FAZ/ex-FAR/Interahamwe coalition, AFDL/APR soldiers allegedly killed at least 470 refugees in the two camps near Wanie Rukula, in the Ubundu territory. Most of the victims’ bodies were dumped in the Luboya River but some were placed in three mass graves” (paragraph 242).
“It was impossible to determine the number of refugees killed by AFDL/APR soldiers in the attacks on the camps along the Goma to Rutshuru road…. From 2 November to 30 November 1996, the people of Kibumba buried 2,087 bodies. Between 30 November 1996 and 26 January 1997, EUB – Équipe d’urgence de la biodiversité- buried 1,919 bodies in and around the Kibumba camp” (paragraph 217).
Targeting Congolese Hutu
If Rwandan Hutus were hunted down by the new Rwandan government forces, why were Congolese Hutu selectively targeted? Here is one of the reasons found in the UN report. “Many witnesses have claimed to have spotted a large number of Tutsi Banyarwanda youths who had left Rutshuru territory between 1990 and 1996 among the AFDL/APR soldiers. According to several witnesses, the AFDL/APR soldiers displayed a clear desire for revenge in their massacres of the Hutu Banyarwanda, targeting villages where Tutsis had been persecuted in the past.” (paragraph 273). “The term ‘Banyarwanda’, literally “people from Rwanda”, is used to designate both Hutu and Tutsi populations originating from Rwanda and living in North Kivu. Some are the descendants of peoples of Rwandan origin who settled on the Congolese territory before 1885 and whose Zairian nationality has never been seriously contested. Most Banyarwanda, however, arrived in Congo/Zaire during the colonial era or after the country’s independence” (Footnote 107). This footnote explains also in part the killing of Congolese other than Hutu particularly in south Kivu. You are encouraged to read the report here
The Complicity in Crime
A lot has been written about the United States and the United Kingdom connections to the war in Congo through their unconditional support of the Rwanda government. Although some analysts say that their support is out of guilt for not having done enough to top stop the Rwandan genocide, there is more to the story. The French, US and UK competitions for political and economic interests in the region are a big part of the Congo tragedy.
They are not named in the UN report, but how are they connected to the crimes?
The West’s race for resources and influence in Africa is historically familiar. The Berlin Conference (1884-1885) was about settling such conflicts by allocating sovereign African nations among European powers. It was in Berlin where the Congo was “given” to Belgium’s King Leopold II. After independence, the strategy to control resources changed.
Today, the suppression of visionary, civic-minded and nationalist African leaders by repressive African heads of state collaborating with neocolonial interests keeps African societies from freeing themselves from entrenched cycles of war, poverty, corruption and under development. Heads of state like Paul Kagame of Rwanda waging wars against his own people and Congolese citizens have supported neocolonial interests who are eager to maintain chaos and instability throughout Africa and the Great Lakes in particular. Under these conditions of conflict and chaos, colonial interests and powers have a pretext that justifies their continuous presence and exploitation of resources in the region. What would make these powers reconsider their strategy?
The question at hand is how to expose, oppose and eradicate neocolonialism. We must demand justice for past and present crimes starting by the crimes that continue to take place in Congo. If the US and the UK sign off on the creation of a court to try Kagame and his allies for their crimes in Congo as the UN Report suggests, who else may be exposed in the proceedings?
Thus, Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) calls upon its members and all people concerned about Africa to stand behind the aspirations of the African people for peace, justice, prosperity and full independence by breaking the chains of neocolonialism. We call upon President Barack Obama to set the tone for the end of neocolonialism by taking concrete steps necessary to promote a new US-Africa partnership rooted in equal respect, reconciliation of past injustices and an end to support of regimes in Africa that are neither accountable nor responsive to the economic and social aspirations of their societies. The Congo tragedy is one of the many faces of neocolonialism in today’s Africa.
Learm about Prof Alam Stam, university of Michigan research on rwanda and the genocide Videos: Part 1 On Rwanda Genocide Data Collection, part 2 How Rwanda Genocide Data Was Collected, part 3 President Paul Kagame Threatened US Marines If They Stopped Genocide,