The Congo Conundrum: plus ça change…
It all started mid last month. The Congolese Army supported by MONUSCO (the UN’s “Stabilising Force” for the DRC) launched an operation with the purported intention to rout M23 rebel fighters. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Civil Society Organisations had earlier on warned this would lead to a worsening humanitarian situation. Sure enough it has: an estimated 260,000 Congolese refugees have since fled to Uganda and Rwanda.
The operation was supposed to be brilliant by its simplicity; the Congolese Army, FARDC would engage and capture territory and, hopefully, men of the M23. Monusco would quickly occupy the captured territory and give aerial support with its helicopter gunships. Initially all went well. Congolese commentators were hailing the operation as a campaign worthy of military history books as M23 retreated to the mountains. Then the rebels counter-attacked. What happened next was a debacle. FARDC battalions abandoned the battlefield, tearing off their uniforms, joining the fleeing masses through Bunagana to Uganda. Monusco was left holding the empty bag, reflecting on their hair-brained strategy. “Experts” on Congo and the foreign media that thrives on rent-a-quotes were quick to point out that such a collapse by Congolese Army could only happen because Rwanda was involved.
Truth be told, the massive flight by FARDC had little to do with the fighting skills of the M23, (not to take away anything from their victories). It had little to do with the ‘cowardly’ nature of FARDC (although history has often maligned them as quislings). It had nothing to do with Rwandan Forces. It had everything to do with lack of logistical support. When General Mayela Tenkeur ‘le vainqueur’ (the victorious) a supposedly battle-hardened soldier leading an elite Belgian trained brigade tore off his General’s pips and uniform and joined the refugees it was because he realised that his men could not fight on an empty stomach. Food supplies had run out four days earlier. The guns were doing ‘funny things’ from what they are supposed to do. Someone in Kinshasa had made a killing buying faulty factory rejects guns. One FARDC soldier aptly summed up the spirit; “Moi, je garde toujours un billet de 50 dollars au cas ou j’en aurais besoin….pour le transport” (me I always keep 50 dollars, in case I need it…for “transport”!)
The media frenzy pointing accusing fingers at Rwanda was fuelled by a leaked Monusco report alleging Rwanda’s support for the M23. The timing of the “leak” was not innocuous; MONUSCO’s mandate was due for renewal. So one sided was [the] addendum that the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice wanted to block it to the report from being released, one insider confides.
We have since gotten our hands on the report and it makes for interesting reading. Word for word it is no different from what Human Rights Watch put on their website. Based on conjectures and what at best can be called hearsay, from alleged deserters and FARDC intelligence reports. It cannot stand scrutiny. Photo exhibits proffered to “confirm Rwanda’s involvement”, include a tired AK 47, two bullets; one allegedly from FARDC and the other from Rwanda; Sultan Makenga’s (of M23) supposed house… and a confession by one Major Gasore who allegedly is working for Ntaganda and Rwanda. According to this document, Ntaganda pays him US$ 100 dollars per year! But in Rwanda some peddlers of allegations quote him as earning Frw 20,000 (less than 40 DOLLARS)! That alone should have alerted the so-called panel of experts.
This week President Kagame, at the end of his patience, castigated the International Community for failing the Congolese.The US suspended some military aid (worth US$ 200,000). On Tuesday Stephen Rapp, head of the US War Crimes office issued a warning to Rwanda’s leaders that they could face prosecution by the ICC. “Charles Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone…and was convicted of aiding and abetting,” Rapp said ominously.
For 12 years Monusco promised to “complete military operations in the Kivus and Orientale,” “establish security forces to take on its work” and “consolidate state authority.” It has monumentally failed.
Aside from unmitigatedly arrogant pronouncements by Rapp et al, it seems the billion-dollar vacuum machine that is Monusco may have shot itself in the foot by its recent antics. For 12 years, or 18 billion US dollars later, Monusco promised to “complete military operations in the Kivus and Orientale,” “establish security forces to take on its work” and “consolidate state authority.” If all these have really ever been its goals, Monusco has monumentally failed. The African Union is shopping for a ‘neutral’ force. And the conundrum does not end.
For the moment, perhaps Monusco should stick to writing false reports and leaking them and desist from strafing innocent citizens with its helicopter gunships, like it has been doing this week in Kiwandja and other areas.
Rugumire Makuza is the President of the Rwanda Evaluation Society