KILGALI – Ongoing unrest between rival military factions in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has triggered a predictable barrage of innuendo, fabricated leaks, and outright lies regarding Rwanda’s role. It began ten days ago, with a single BBC story on a leaked United Nations report that was said to prove Rwanda’s involvement, but did nothing of the sort (as the source of the leak admitted within days).
As if on cue, this was followed by Human Rights Watch, which paraded an even less credible set of allegations – including the risible claim that a Congolese rebel was seen by an unspecified number of unnamed witnesses at a bar on the Rwandan side of the border. Like the UN report, there was not a shred of material evidence to back up the Rwandan conspiracy – it relied on anonymous witness testimony and nothing else – but it gained a good deal of coverage anyway.
Finally, the DRC government added its voice, but once again failed to present any evidence beyond hearsay. Unfortunately, this is a well-worn path in this region whenever internal turmoil in the DRC threatens to spin out of control. The DRC must have known that its hyped-up claims would reach an audience that had been warmed up by the bogus UN and Human Rights Watch reports. The desire in some quarters to promulgate a war narrative easily outweighs the obligation to establish a credible basis for one.
Beyond fending off this latest round of exasperating claims, Rwanda is involved in the DRC crisis in one other concrete way. At last count, more than 12,850 Congolese citizens have made their way across the border into Rwanda following the recent outbreak of hostilities. The refugee situation, while tense and challenging, remains manageable, thanks to cooperation between the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the government of Rwanda, alongside the World Food Program, the World Health Organization, and other partners. Meanwhile, many more Congolese have been displaced to other neighboring countries and within the DRC’s borders, fleeing the too-familiar drumbeat of conflict.
Too many observers have entirely forgotten the central role of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in fomenting almost constant crisis in the region since fleeing into the DRC from Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, during which its members killed more than one million ethnic Tutsis. It has been widely reported, including by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, that the FDLR is taking brutal advantage of the current unrest. The reports of mass rapes, looting, and slaughter in the DRC at the hands of these unrepentant génocidaires echo with a chilling familiarity throughout the region.
Unfortunately, these real-life horrors barely rate a mention in recent media coverage, which has focused instead on false allegations against Rwanda. And Human Rights Watch is not alone in ignoring the FDLR, whose escape to the DRC was all but facilitated by the international community in 1994, and which has never wavered from its intention to finish what it started. In its eagerness to deliver high-profile scalps to The Hague, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has lost sight of its original purpose, which is to quell the FDLR threat.
As the International Crisis Group recently noted, the credibility of the UN mission, whose mandate is currently under review by the Security Council, is on the line. Far from enabling security, many in the region believe that MONUSCO has emerged as a destabilizing influence – a bureaucratic behemoth, fixated on its own survival and institutionally motivated to profit from instability. As long as this remains the case, it cannot possibly play a constructive part in building sustainable peace and prosperity.
Rwanda plays no role in internal disputes within the Congolese military. As this current situation plays out, the government of Rwanda will focus its efforts on treating those who seek refuge in our country with the dignity to which they are entitled, and will take the necessary steps to facilitate their safe passage home when the time comes.
Citizens of Rwanda and the DRC have suffered long enough through conflict. It is time to reap the dividends of a sustainable peace: expanding cross-border trade and commerce, shared infrastructure, and greater economic integration. This is the path that we have pursued since 2009 – and people on both sides of the border demand that we do not stray from it.