Posted by: sean | January 23, 2009

Kigali cuts a deal with Kinshasa

When I read the breaking headline that Nkunda had been arrested, and by Rwandan forces to boot, I immediately thought that Rwanda and Congo had cut a deal. I was more than a little surprised to see that Rwandan troops had been allowed into greater Kivu to take out the FDLR, or remnants of the Interhamwe and ex-Forces Armées Rwandaises who carried out the genocide in 1994. Especially given the fact that Kinshasa has had very tumultuous relations with Kinshasa late due to the collusion between Kigali and Nkunda, the Congolese Tutsi general who rebelled and has been giving Kinshasa a lot of problems in Kivu these days, especially around Goma.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks a deal was made, since John Prendergast from the ICG says as much at the end of the Times article today:

Gen. Laurent Nkunda, the fearsome Congolese rebel leader whose national ambitions and brutal tactics threatened to destabilize eastern Congo, was arrested Thursday night along the Congolese-Rwandan border, United Nations officials said on Friday.

According to the U.N. officials and statements made by the Congolese military, General Nkunda was trying to escape a joint Congolese-Rwandan military offensive that was intended to wipe out several rebel groups terrorizing eastern Congo.

He was captured at a small border town called Bunagana after trying to resist Rwandan troops. “He’s going to Kigali,” said Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich, a U.N. spokesman, referring to Rwanda’s capital.

The arrest could be a turning point for Congo, which has been mired in rebellion and bloodshed for much of the past decade. It was also a stunning turn of events because Rwanda had recently been accused of supporting General Nkunda, who was widely considered to be an agent for Rwandan business and security interests in eastern Congo.

Although he never controlled more than a few small towns in the verdant east, he was widely considered to be Congo’s No. 1 troublemaker. His troops are tough and brutal and were recently accused by United Nations officials of massacring civilians.

General Nkunda was also believed to harbor ambitions to overthrow Congo’s weak but democratically elected government, which threatened to draw in Congo’s neighbors and plunge the entire central Africa region back into war.

On Thursday evening, hundreds of Rwandan troops converged on Bunagana, one of General Nkunda’s mountain strongholds. Congolese officials said he refused to be arrested and crossed over into Rwanda, where he was surrounded and taken into custody, apparently without violence.

It was not clear what will happen to General Nkunda now. Earlier this week, Rwanda sent several thousand soldiers into Congo as part of a joint operation with Congolese forces to flush out Hutu militants who had killed countless people in Rwanda’s genocide in 1994 and were still haunting the hills on the Congolese side of the border.

But few expected the Rwandan troops to go after General Nkunda. He is a Tutsi, like Rwanda’s leaders, and he had risen to power by fighting these same Hutu militants. A United Nations report in December accused high-ranking Rwandan officials of sending money and troops to General Nkunda.


“Rwanda and Congo have cut a deal,” said John Prendergast, a founder of the Washington-based Enough Project, which campaigns against genocide. He said Congo had allowed Rwanda to send in troops to vanquish the Hutu militants, something Rwanda has been eager to do for some time.

“In exchange, the Congolese expected Rwanda to neutralize Nkunda and his overly ambitious agenda,” Mr. Prendergast said. “Now the hard part begins.”

Of course, alliances in Central Africa are mutable and often give rise to strange bedfellows and friends turned bitter rivals. Kampala and Kigali have been allies and enemies, I can never seem to tell which of the many sides the various Mai Mai militias are on, and Kabila père saw a drastic change in relations with the Ugandans and Rwandans who helped put him in power just to try to overthrow him a couple of years later. All this to say that the dynamics of the conflicts in this region are anything but static, so we’ll see what the newest twist will bring.

By the by, I picked up a review copy of  Lemarchand’s The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa. I haven’t had time to read much, but one thing from the introduction did strike me: he considers it a given that Kagame was involved in the assassination of Habyarimana, which sparked the genocide in 1994. This is a claim that I’m not at all sure of, and if anything, the fact that France supports it so vehemently makes me  doubt it that much more.


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