Rwanda has been ravaged by conflict in recent history; first a civil war and subsequently through the proxy militias. This first conflict had a primarily ethnic component. During German colonial rule, the tutsis were primarily the ruling class in Rwanda. However, upon decolonization and democratization in 1962 the Hutus majority assumed power and many Tutsis were forced into exile, primarily in Uganda. Over the next generation, the children of these generation were committed to reclaiming power in Rwanda and relaunched a civil war in 1992. As RPF gained ground in Rwanda, the government of Rwanda encouraged the Interhawme to launch the most brutal genocide since Pol Pot’s regime, killing over 800,000 Tutsis.
The African Great Lakes Conflict, demonstrates the interlocking nature of conflicts in Rwanda. July of 1994, as Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) advanced into Rwanda, the Interhawme, the perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide retreated across the border into neighboring Zaire.[i] From refugee camps in Eastern Zaire, the Interhawme launched raids into Rwanda, prompting the RPF to send arms to the Tutsi Banyamulenge across the border. The dictator of Zaire, Mobuto Sese Soku ordered Kagame’s government to cease its support of rebel militias based in Zaire’s sovereign territory; in protest, Rwanda and its allies, Uganda and Angola, lent military support to a powerful rebel leader, Lawrence Kabila, who swiftly moved his troops down the Congo River and captured the capital of Zaire. Upon assuming power in Kinshasa in May of 1997, and changing the name of the state from Zaire to ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo’, Kabila ordered that all Rwandan military forces be removed from DRC territory. This prompted Rwanda to lend its support to another powerful rebel militia group in Eastern Congo, the Rally for Congolese Democracy group(RCD), whose military prowess immediately posed an existential threat Kabila’s government. Thus began the Second Congo War, which would come to be known Africa’s World War, and take the lives of over 5 million in the bloodiest conflict since World War II. The war ended in a fragile peace agreement in 2001, and led to the deployment of the largest U.N peacekeeping mission in history: the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONOSCU). Yet, conflict in Kivu endures, and U.N peace-keepers have found themselves limited by their mandate and rapidly changing situations on the ground. This is due in part to Rwanda’s continued role as a regional power.
Throughout the Second Congo War and thereafter, Rwanda benefited from porous borders with its eastern neighbor, engaging in one of the greatest plunders of natural resources of post-colonial history. While King Leopold robbed Congo of its vast stores of Rubber, Rwandan troops covertly smuggled billions of dollars of Coltan and Gold for re-export from Rwanda. Meanwhile, Rwanda’s president became the poster-child in the West of ‘the new African Leader.’ Well-spoken, and an effective politician, U.S diplomats immediately established Kagame as one of their key allies in the Great Lakes Region. At the same time, American media bathed Kagame in praise, portraying him as a charismatic leader capable of healing the deep wounds of post-genocide society on the one hand, while helping this tiny nation leapfrog economically to lower middle income status on the other. For years, the west turned a blind eye while Rwanda continued to support destabilizing rebel groups in the Eastern Congo. For example, most recently, the M23 group occupied the city of Goma in 2013, forcing thousands of civilians from their homes. While this was the straw that broke the camels back in American policy circles, many in Washington funneled aid to Rwanda, during a period in which it was committing even greater atrocities. With the case of the Great Lakes conflict, we see that interest in maintaining international order oftentimes takes priority over preventing human rights abuses, and that our own American institutions can be complicit in hiding the nature of the conflict.
[i] Reyntjens, Filip. The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996–2006. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. p. 30
Jason K. Stearns (2011) Dancing in the glory of monsters: The collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa. New York: Public Affairs Books.
Beyond minerals: broadening ‘economies of violence’ in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by Ann Laudati in Review of African Political Economy
John Potier, Re-imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival, Disinformation in the late 20th century, Cambrdige University Press.
Ethnicity and Genocide in Rwanda; ww.colorado.edu/geography/class_homepages/geog_1982_200