[Francophones] Le New York Times: Rwanda au Congo

Bishop bishop at tec-europe.org
Jeu 4 Déc 17:31:00 GMT 2008

Rwanda Stirs Deadly Brew of Troubles in Congo

Published: December 3, 2008
KIGALI, Rwanda — There is a general rule in Africa, if not across the  
world: Behind any rebellion with legs is usually a meddling neighbor.  
And whether the rebellion in eastern Congo explodes into another full- 
fledged war, and drags a large chunk of central Africa with it, seems  
likely to depend on the involvement of Rwanda, Congo’s tiny but  
disproportionately mighty neighbor.

Enlarge This Image

Jerome Delay/Associated Press
A REBELLION IN CONGO Laurent Nkunda, center, a rebel leader in Congo,  
was an officer in Rwanda’s army. It is widely believed that Rwanda  
backs Mr. Nkunda; Rwanda denies it.
Enlarge This Image

Jerome Delay/Associated Press
Park rangers loyal to the CNDP make their way through the Virunga  
National Park near the Ugandan border in eastern Congo.

The New York Times
Many of the most powerful people in Congo have close ties to Rwanda’s  
elite in Kigali.
Enlarge This Image

Jerome Delay/Associated Press
A BROTHERHOOD OF NEIGHBORS Rebel soldiers surrounded their leader,  
Laurent Nkunda, at a rally in eastern Congo last month. Many Rwandan  
soldiers are said to be members of the rebel force.
There is a long and bloody history here, and this time around the  
evidence seems to be growing that Rwanda is meddling again in Congo’s  
troubles; at a minimum, the interference is on the part of many  
Rwandans. As before, Rwanda’s stake in Congo is a complex mix of  
strategic interest, business opportunity and the real fears of a  
nation that has heroically rebuilt itself after near obliteration by  
ethnic hatred.

The signs are ever-more obvious, if not yet entirely open. Several  
demobilized Rwandan soldiers, speaking in hushed tones in Kigali,  
Rwanda’s tightly controlled capital, described a systematic effort by  
Rwanda’s government-run demobilization commission to send hundreds if  
not thousands of fighters to the rebel front lines.

Former rebel soldiers in Congo said that they had seen Rwandan  
officers plucking off the Rwandan flags from the shoulders of their  
fatigues after they had arrived and that Rwandan officers served as  
the backbone of the rebel army. Congolese wildlife rangers in the  
gorilla park on the thickly forested Rwanda-Congo border said  
countless heavily armed men routinely crossed over from Rwanda into  

A Rwandan government administrator said a military hospital in Kigali  
was treating many Rwandan soldiers who were recently wounded while  
fighting in Congo, but the administrator said he could be jailed for  
talking about it.

There seems to be a reinvigorated sense of the longstanding  
brotherhood between the Congolese rebels, who are mostly ethnic Tutsi,  
and the Tutsi-led government of Rwanda, which has supported these same  
rebels in the past.

The brotherhood is relatively secret for now, just as it was in the  
late 1990s when Rwanda denied being involved in Congo, only to later  
admit that it was occupying a vast section of the country. Rwanda’s  
leaders are vigilant about not endangering their carefully crafted  
reputation as responsible, development-oriented friends of the West.

Senior Rwandan officials do not deny that demobilized Rwandan soldiers  
are fighting in Congo, but they say the soldiers are doing it on their  
own, without any government backing.

“They are ordinary citizens, and if their travel documents are in  
order, they can go ahead and travel,” said Joseph Mutaboba, Rwanda’s  
special envoy for the Great Lakes region.

But according to several demobilized soldiers, Rwandan government  
officials are involved, providing bus fare for the men to travel to  
Congo and updating the rebel leadership each month on how many  
fighters from Rwanda are about to come over. Once they get to the  
rebel camps, the Rwandan veterans said, they flash their Rwandan Army  
identification cards and then are assigned to a rebel unit.

“We usually get a promotion,” said one fighter who was recently a  
corporal in the Rwandan Army and served as a sergeant in the rebel  
forces last month. He said that he could be severely punished if  
identified and that Rwandan officials and rebel commanders told the  
fighters not to say anything about the cooperation.

Another cause for suspicion is Rwanda’s past plundering of Congo’s  
rich trove of minerals, going back to the late 1990s when the Rwandan  
Army seized control of eastern Congo and pumped hundreds of millions  
of dollars of smuggled coltan, cassiterite and even diamonds back to  
Rwanda, according to United Nations documents.

Many current high-ranking Rwandan officials, including the minister of  
finance, the ambassador to China and the deputy director of the  
central bank, were executives at a holding company that a United  
Nations panel in 2002 implicated in the illicit mineral trade and  
called to be sanctioned. The officials say that they are no longer  
part of that company and that the company did nothing wrong.  
Nonetheless, eastern Congo’s lucrative mineral business still seems to  
be heavily influenced by ethnic Rwandan businessmen with close ties to  

Some of the most powerful players today, like Modeste Makabuza Ngoga,  
who runs a small empire of coffee, tea, transport and mineral  
companies in eastern Congo, are part of a Tutsi-dominated triangle  
involving the Rwandan government, the conflict-driven mineral trade  
and a powerful rebel movement led by a renegade general, Laurent  
Nkunda, a former officer in Rwanda’s army.

Several United Nations reports have accused Mr. Makabuza Ngoga of  
using strong-arm tactics to smuggle minerals from Congo to Rwanda and  
one report said that he enjoyed “close ties” to Rwanda’s president,  
Paul Kagame. This week a rebel spokesman said that Mr. Makabuza Ngoga  
was on Mr. Nkunda’s “College of Honorables,” essentially a rebel  
advisory board. Mr. Nkunda’s troops recently marched into areas known  
to be mineral rich — and areas where ethnic Rwandan businessmen are  
trying to gain a foothold.

Mr. Makabuza Ngoga said in an interview that he was not doing anything  

“I’m just a businessman,” he said. “I work with them all.”

A Tale of Two Africas

Rwanda and Congo are polar opposites, a true David-and-Goliath  
matchup. Crossing the border from Gisenyi, Rwanda, to Goma, Congo, is  
a journey across two Africas, in the span of about 100 yards.

The two-minute walk takes you from one of the smallest, tidiest, most  
promising countries on the continent, where women in white rubber  
gloves sweep the streets every morning and government employees are at  
their desks by 7 a.m., to one of the biggest, messiest and most  
violent African states, home to a conflict that has killed more than  
five million people, more than any other since World War II.

While Congo is vast, Rwanda is packed. While the Congolese are often  
playful, known for outlandish dress and great music, Rwandans are  
reserved. While Congo is naturally rich, Rwanda is perennially poor.  
Yet Rwanda has emerged as a darling of the aid world, praised for  
strong, uncorrupt leadership and the strides it has made in fighting  
AIDS and poverty.

The fates of the two countries are inextricably linked. In 1994, Hutu  
militias in Rwanda killed 800,000 people, mostly minority Tutsis, and  
then fled into eastern Congo. Rwanda responded by invading Congo in  
1997 and 1998, denying it each time initially but later taking  
responsibility. Those invasions catalyzed years of war that drew in  
the armies of half a dozen African countries.

When the Rwandan military controlled eastern Congo from 1998 to 2002,  
it established a highly organized military-industrial network to  
illegally exploit Congo’s riches, according to United Nations documents.

A 2002 United Nations report said that top Rwandan military officers  
worked closely with some of the most notorious smugglers and arms  
traffickers in the world, including Viktor Bout, a former Soviet arms  
dealer nicknamed the Merchant of Death who was arrested this year.

“I used to see generals at the airport coming back from Congo with  
suitcases full of cash,” said a former Rwandan government official who  
said that if he was identified, he could be killed.

Rwanda may have a lot going for it — a high economic growth rate, low  
corruption, a Parliament with a majority of seats held by women. But  
many people here say they do not feel free. When the former government  
official was interviewed at a Kigali hotel, he abruptly stopped  
talking whenever the maid walked by.

“You never know,” he whispered, nodding toward the young woman who was  
smiling behind a plate-glass window smeared with soap suds. “She could  
be a lieutenant.”

Scarred by a Genocide

Rwanda is tiny, tough and intensely patriotic. Like Israel, it is a  
postgenocidal state, built on an ethos of self-sacrifice. Its national  
motto is Never Again.

One oft-cited threat is the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of  
Rwanda, also known as the F.D.L.R., a mostly Hutu militia that is  
based just across the border in the green folds of eastern Congo. The  
militia is thought to number 5,000 to 10,000 fighters. Some of its  
leaders are wanted “genocidaires” who fled Rwanda in 1994 after  
massacring Tutsi.

“These guys want to come back and finish the job,” said Maj. Jill  
Rutaremara, a spokesman for Rwanda’s Defense Forces.

Mr. Nkunda, the rebel leader, has used the presence of the Hutu  
militia and the Congo government’s failure to disarm it as a rationale  
for his continued armed struggle. His forces have routed Congolese  
government troops in the past two months and pushed the region to the  
precipice of another regional war.

United Nations officials say he has not acted entirely alone, either:  
they said they observed Rwandan tanks firing from Rwandan territory to  
support Mr. Nkunda’s troops as they advanced in October. Rwandan  
officials denied this.

Rwandan military officers admit, when pressed, that the Hutu militia  
has little chance of destabilizing Rwanda. The last time it attacked  
inside Rwanda was 2001.

Some Western diplomats, Congolese officials and Rwandan dissidents now  
believe that the Rwandan government is simply using the F.D.L.R. as an  
excuse to prop up Mr. Nkunda and maintain a sphere of influence in the  
mineral-rich area across the border.

“These are people who want to make business, and they cover it up with  
politics,” said Faustin Twagiramungu, a former Rwandan prime minister  
now in exile in Belgium.

Congolese officials say that that the Rwandan government is making no  
efforts to bring the Hutu militiamen back into Rwanda because Rwanda  
wants to make sure that any Hutu-Tutsi violence plays out in Congo.

“What’s happening in eastern Congo is a Rwandese war is being fought  
on Congolese soil,” said Kikaya bin Karubi, a member of Congo’s  

Rwandan officials dismiss these claims with a confident chuckle.

“We want to deal with these guys here,” Major Rutaremara said. “We  
want them back.”

Mr. Mutaboba, the Rwandan government envoy, said the allegations were  
part of “an organized campaign to distort the whole problem and give  
it a regional dimension.”

“It’s not,” he said. “It’s a Congo problem.”

Ethnic and Business Ties

But it may be hard drawing a fine line between Congo and Rwanda,  
despite the lines on a map. There is a long history of ethnic and  
business ties that seamlessly flow across the colonially imposed  
borders, especially among the minority Tutsi who dominate business on  
both sides, yet at the same time, feel threatened and a heightened  
sense of community as a result.

For example, several demobilized Rwandan soldiers in Kigali said the  
vast majority of volunteers who recently crossed the border to fight  
with Mr. Nkunda were Tutsi. Some of the soldiers said that they had  
relatives living in eastern Congo and that it was like a second home  
to them.

According to four soldiers and one employee at the Rwandan  
demobilization commission, at the end of their monthly meetings,  
officials at the commission ask for anyone fit and ready to fight to  
stand up. Sometimes the commission provides bus fare to the border,  
the soldiers said, and other travel costs. The soldiers usually travel  
unarmed, picking up weapons on the other side, they said.

One demobilized Rwandan lieutenant who just got back from fighting in  
Congo looked surprised when asked why he went.

“Why? I am Tutsi,” he said. “One hundred percent Tutsi.”

More Articles in World »A version of this article appeared in print on  
December 4, 2008, on page A6 of the New York edition.
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