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Texas in Africa : drinking the Rwandan kool-aid

Le blog de Jean-Marie Ndagijimana #RDC


Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and businessman and philanthropist Howard Buffett have a column in Foreign Policy this week titled, "Stand with Rwanda." In the piece, they argue that aid cuts to Rwanda in the wake of the UN Group of Experts' revelations that Rwanda is actively supporting the human rights-abusing M23 rebel movement in the DRC should be restored. They ignore the "generally democratic governments don't like to give money to war-mongering states" aspect of this issue, instead focusing on the negative effects of the cuts for Rwanda's population and how indisputably effective aid has been in Rwanda.

Tony-Blair.jpgBlair and Buffett also argue that the DRC's problems are more-or-less entirely rooted in the DRC's poor-to-barely-existant governance, fragile security, and weak state. They do so via some poorly researched/blatantly wrong claims. To wit:

Then there is the international presence: the largest and most expensive U.N. peacekeeping operation in the world with almost 14,000 troops. At a cost of $1.5 billion each year, Western governments are paying a huge sum of money to maintain a U.N. force that does not have the mandate to actually secure the region. The international community should instead focus its support on African-led solutions to security, ideally through an African Union-led security force similar to AMISOM in Somalia."

First, MONUSCO does not have "almost 14,000 troops," it has 17,090, as can easily be learned by searching Google for "MONUSCO troop strength," then choosing the first hit, the most recent UN "MONUSCO Facts and Figures" page. Aside from making an error resulting from poor fact checking, Blair and Buffett are also apparently unaware that the Security Council is likely about to greatly strengthen the MONUSCO mandate to do more to "actually secure the region" by increasing its capacity to fight rebels and to protect civilians. I've said it before and I'll say it again: DRC is not Somalia. The "AMISOM for Congo" idea Blair and Buffett and many other people who don't spend time in the DRC raise from time to time (as is the case with the "AMISOM for Mali" idea) is unlikely to work. In all the discussions of what to do about Congo, including discussions about a possible SADC or another neutral force, an African Union mission has never been considered as a viable possibility because it is not a viable possibility. Too many of the largest troop-contributing states to African Union missions - namely Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi - are entangled in the DRC crisis one way or another.

Blair and Buffet also write that, " There are a lot more than 30,000 Congolese Rwandaphones. Not to put too fine a point on it in places where statistics are unreliable at best, but estimates made by expert scholars Rene Lemarchand and Gerard Prunier put the population of South Kivu's Banyamulenge Rwandaphone population alone at somewhere between 50,000-80,000. Pinning an exact number on the North Kivu Rwandaphone population, known locally as Banyarwanda, is a bit tricker, but Prunier puts a pre-war estimate of the Banyarwanda population of North Kivu of about 1.12 million. There is little reason to believe that the Rwandaphone population of the Kivus is anywhere near as low as Blair and Buffett claim.

Finally, in the most perplexing claim of all, Blair and Buffett state that,

At the same time, it should support proposals currently being agreed to through the International Conference for the Great Lakes Regionand the current peace negotiations underway between M23 and the DRC government in Kampala. Already, there are encouraging signs of progress. On Feb, 6, 2013, the government of DRC and M23 signed a preliminary agreement in which both parties accepted responsibility for the failure of an earlier peace agreement.

This defies reality. The Kampala talks have stalled over intractable issues and most of the major players have gone home. Getting the two sides to agree that the March 23, 2009 agreement failed to be implemented is the diplomatic equivalent of passing a resolution stating that the sky is blue. The likelihood that any sustainable peace will come out of the Kampala talks is, to put it mildly,minuscule. No reasonable observer disputes the fact that the Congolese's state's many, many, many weaknesses are a major factor contributing to the proliferation of armed groups in the region. But likewise, no reasonable observer thinks that domestic politics and issues are the only causes of violence in the Congo. There is no question that Rwanda's involvement in Congo has caused far more violence and suffering than would have otherwise been present. There is also no question that the Congo will not be at peace until some viable form of effective domestic governance emerges. To claim otherwise is disingenuous.

Blair and Buffett also ignore the fact that having so much aid support frees up other resources for the Rwandan government to use in its military adventures in the Congo. Were Rwanda not wasting money on supporting the M23, Kigali would be able to fund many of the excellent development initiatives that were previously funded with aid dollars. I suspect they do not consider this idea in the piece because Blair and Buffett are both among the class of global development elites who are so impressed with Rwanda's very real development successes that they largely turn a blind eye to its abuses. The authors note that Rwanda has achieved these successes "all without the benefit of natural resource wealth or access to the sea," all the while ignoring that a significant portion of the Rwandan budget not funded by aid dollars comes from the illegal extraction, theft, and sale of Congolese minerals.

Blair and Buffett are correct that solving the DRC's crises requires creative thinking and new approaches. (I would like to see more emphasis on grassroots peacebuilding at the community level, for example.) But ignoring Rwanda's role in the Kivus as a source of conflict will make the situation worse, not better. And continuing to fund a government that spends its own resources on rebels who rape women and conscript child soldiers is unconscionable for most taxpayers in donor states. It should be reprehensible to Blair and Buffett as well.

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