The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been waiting for peace for the past eleven years, but the reality on the ground shows that peace is not in their near future. The Congo has been at war since its invasion in 1996 by the Tutsi and a coalition of Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian armed forces. Even before this, several rebel groups fighting various governments found a safe haven in the Congo where they wreaked havoc on the nation. These groups include the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu rebel group against the government of Rwanda that accuses them of the genocide of 1994; the National Liberation Forces (FNL), a group that is resisting the government of Burundi; and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that opposes the government of Uganda. Despite such obvious regional challenges, very little has been done to achieve a lasting peace in the Congo.
We at the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) have been telling the complex Congolese story since the beginning of the conflict, calling on the United States to get involved in the peace process. Nevertheless, nothing significant has been done due to the favorable relationship between the US government and the government of Rwanda. Meanwhile, people are suffering and dying in large numbers everyday.
Recently, we came to know that the pro-Rwanda rebel Laurent Nkundabatware continues to recruit children and adults by force in the areas that he controls, namely Masisi, Bunagana, Runyonyi, Ruvumu, Jomba, just to name a few. In addition, last month, in the village of Kazuba, a mother and her daughter were raped by Nkundabatware’s army in the presence of the woman’s husband, who was killed trying to fight for his wife and daughter. This particular story was told by the son who was hiding during the attack and heard his mother and sister pleading for their lives. To this day, no one knows what happened to the two women.
Everyday, the people of Eastern Congo fear for their lives. People are even attacked while working in their farms. Stories such as these have lead to many allegations of atrocities and human rights violations against Nkundabatware’s group, but the international community still has not been able to stop him. Instead he enjoys the military support of President Paul Kagame’s government in Rwanda and the financial support of Tutsi business men and women in Rwanda and abroad.
Why is Nkundabatware exacting such pain on the people of the Congo? It is because he is first a Rwandan and second a Congolese on a mission for Rwanda. He gained his Rwandan citizenship like any other Congolese Tutsi who directly or indirectly fought in Rwanda to take back the power the Tutsi held from the 1300s to 1959. This is part of a long project to reestablish the Tutsi kingdom in the Great Lakes Region, particularly in Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Congo. Nkundabatware also wants to continue to fight the FDLR rebels who are trying to organize themselves to take back the power they lost to the Tutsi in 1994. Officially, he says that his mission is to ensure that the Tutsi from the Congo who currently live in Rwanda can return to a safe environment in the Congo. The Congolese government has accepted Nkundabatware’s request to allow these returns. In addition, Nkundabatware and his troops have been invited to join the national army. Yet, making such concessions does not solve the issue related to when, how and why the Tutsi left the Congo to live in Rwanda.
At present, the Congolese government has exhausted all possible options in negotiating with Nkundabatware. The Congolese President Joseph Kabila, unpopular in the western nations, has no one to speak the truth and pressure, both politically and financially, the Rwandan government to stop its involvement in the Congo. As a result, the likely scenario to get the international community more invested in the Congolese issue is to internationalize the war by calling for military help from Angola and other interested nations. Kabila’s father, former President Laurent Kabila, made a similar gesture in 1999 in order to free the Congo from a Rwandan and Ugandan occupation. This collusion of armed forces is also the likely option because the Congolese army is inadequately trained, ill-equipped, underpaid and undisciplined to fight the Rwandan army that is behind Nkundabatware.
President Kabila has nothing to lose in asking for military assistance, but everything to gain because governments like the United States and Great Britain are invested in his removal from office so that they can put in power someone who would protect their interests in the Great Lakes Region.
AFJN is deeply concerned about the escalating violence in Congo and will continue to tell the Congolese story to expose and oppose at all levels the lack of political will to deal effectively with the Congolese neighbors, such as Rwanda and Uganda. The rising number of deaths, rape, child soldiers and other human rights violations occurring in the Congo are unacceptable. Join us at AFJN in calling the US government to act now.
-Bahati Ntama Jacques