On August 3rd, members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Rwandan President Paul Kagame saying that: “[t]he conflict in eastern Congo and Rwanda’s role in it deeply troubles many Members of Congress.” This comes after UN experts reported that there is a network of high ranking Rwandan army officials supporting the rebel group M23 fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The lawmakers stated that “[G]iven the evidence before us, we will have to take a hard look at continued bilateral assistance. Furthermore, the complete lack of transparency by the Rwandan government, regarding the DRC as well as more broadly, would lead us to register our concerns in international forums including the United Nations and the World Bank. We support the actions the U.S. State Department has taken so far,…”
In fact, on July 20, the U.S Department of State announced that it was going to withhold $200,000 in military aid destined to Rwanda for fiscal year 2012. This is in line with US public law 109-456, section 105. The US bumped up the pressure with a warning from US Ambassador for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp, saying that Rwanda leaders can be charged of “aiding and abetting” crimes against humanity in DRC the same way former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, was sentenced to 50 years in jail by an international court in May.
U.S. Great Lakes Special Envoy, R. Barrie Walkley, told a group of NGOs and Congolese diaspora that the US is working with the “European Contact Group” on the DRC over Rwanda’s role in the conflict in eastern Congo. Before mounting pressure on the Rwandan government, Ambassador Walkley traveled to Rwanda with a sealed personal letter to President Kagame from the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. Ambassador Walkely also mentioned that they had already canceled two trips of top officials to Rwanda and more were to follow as part of the diplomatic pressure on Kigali.
Recently the US has been unhappy with President Kagame’s actions in DRC, his abysmal human rights record and less-than-democratic process in Rwanda. Even so, the US and other donor countries continue to praise President Kagame for managing foreign aid well and sending peacekeepers to Sudan. Advocacy groups have been criticizing the US for shielding President Kagame from scrutiny over these issues and crimes linked to him from 1990 when he was the rebel leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and from 1996-2003 for crimes committed during his invasion of the DRC.
UK, the Netherlands and Germany withholds aid to Rwanda
The UK also announced that it was going to delay its general budget aid to Rwanda of $25 Million out of the $118 Million earmarked for fiscal year 2012-2013 while they evaluate “whether aid conditions had been met” (BBC News July 27, 2012). On June 11, 33 members of the UK parliament had already signed a motion saying that “without foreign aid Rwanda cannot continue to finance its deadly but highly profitable wars in Congo” and called upon the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs “to unilaterally adopt tough measures against any government, individual or corporation supporting militia gangs in Congo; and urges the Government to fully examine Britain’s military and financial support to Rwanda and report to the House on this matter on the earliest possible occasion.”
Furthermore, the Netherlands reacted to the UN report by withholding $6.1 million destined to improve Rwanda’s judicial systems, but maintains that it will continue to fund Rwandan nongovernmental organizations. In November 2008 the Netherlands and Sweden withheld aid to Rwanda when another report of the UN group of experts established evidence of Rwandan armies supporting the rebel group of National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) under the leadership of Laurent Nkunda. On July 28 of this year, Germany also announced that it was withholding their 26 million in aid over four years to Rwanda (Associated Press, July 28).
Is Western pressure on President Kagame enough to bend his knees?
Although President Kagame likes to receive financial aid from the West, he has always understood very well that it comes with strings attached. Western journalists and bloggers described him as arrogant because he has challenged them many times over their patronizing attitudes. In his 2009 inaugural speech he laid out one of his views of the West in relation to him. He said that Africa’s biggest problem is not “the lack of democracy, but poverty and the dependence that comes with under development. It is this situation that allows some governments and even nongovernmental organizations who are not accountable to anyone [other than] themselves to think that they have the right to dictate the conduct of legitimate state actors. … Furthermore, these external actors turn around and promote their ideas of adventurers who have no legitimacy and do not relate to the majority of the people and deserve nothing more than to be ignored.” Many times President Kagme has expressed frustration with the international community’s attitude about using foreign aid as political leverage in Africa.
The latest pressure on President Kagame accurately represents a very small, but important, shift in Western policy toward Rwanda. In fact, “[W]estern powers are against the idea of President Kagame coming back for the third term, and that they prefer the Burundi type of leadership in Rwanda in order to address the past mistakes based on ethnicity leadership that resulted into the 1994 genocide” (Daily Monitor, August 5, 2012).
As far as the crisis in DRC is concerned, neither the international community nor Rwanda can bring it to an end. The solution is in Congo and by Congolese. If current leaders are not open to aggressive reforms including good governance, transparency, decentralization, security sector reform and reconciliation, there will be no peace.