Friday, December 5, 2008

Congo & Rwanda to Fight FDLR Together

Rwanda and the DRC agreed to to fight together against the FDLR, the military rump of the Hutu extremist group responsible for the Rwandan genocide, who have taken refuge in eastern DRC since being chased out of Rwanda in 1994. The agreement, reached earlier today in Goma, poses interesting opportunities and risks for both countries.

The risks are more immediate for the Congo. In agreeing to allow Rwandan soldiers access to the Kivus, it has essentially conceded its impotence and surrendered a portion of its sovereignty. The political backlash in Kinshasa could be strong. In addition, allowing Rwandans in could further inflame the volatile relationship between Congolese Tutsi and so-called autochthones or indigenous groups in North Kivu.

For Rwanda, the downside is that their Congolese operations will be forced out of the shadows. For a decade or so, the Rwandans have claimed not to be present in the Congo--but also that they had a right to be there, to defend against the threat posed by the FDLR. The ambiguity of those claims has given them the margin to conduct their real business, the extraction of the Congo's mineral wealth. This agreement, if it is properly managed, will require the Rwandans to be forthright about their presence and transparent about their operations. It will require them to end their support for Laurent Nkunda, cease their exploitation of the Congo's riches, and actually go after the FDLR, who have continued to terrorize the Congolese long after they ceased being any kind of threat to Rwandans.

I am usually skeptical of the peace agreements, ceasefires, truces, and political arrangements reached in this part of the world--they often seem to be on a parallel but independent track to the actual conduct of the parties to them. But this one strikes me as potentially significant. And it is perhaps not irrelevant that this agreement was reached by the two parties themselves, on their own, without the endless prompting and cajoling that has typified Western peacemaking efforts in the region.

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