Thursday, December 4, 2008

Extent of Rwanda's Involvement Revealed

In an excellent piece in yesterday's NY Times, Jeffrey Gettleman reports just how deeply Rwanda is implicated in General Nkunda's rebellion:
Whether the rebellion in eastern Congo explodes into another full-fledged war, and drags a large chunk of central Africa with it, seems likely to depend on the involvement of Rwanda, Congo’s tiny but disproportionately mighty neighbor. . . There is a long and bloody history here, and this time around the evidence seems to be growing that Rwanda is meddling again in Congo’s troubles.
Among the evidence Gettleman produces: Rwandan soldiers who testify that the Rwandan government's demobilization commission has sent "hundreds if not thousands" of demobbed soldiers to the rebel front lines; witnesses in DRC describing Rwandan officers plucking the Rwandan flags off their uniforms once they arrive; park rangers from Virunga who say they've seen countless soldiers crossing over from Rwanda to DRC; and a government administrator a military hospital in Kigali containing many Rwandan soldiers hurt in the fighting on the front.

Gettleman also describes the growing bond "of brotherhood" between Rwandan and Congolese Tutsi. Most importantly, he identifies natural resources as the heart of the conflict. He even provides the names of some of the businessmen serving at the apex of a Tutsi-dominated triangle involving the Rwandan government, the conflict-driven mineral trade and the CNDP.

It is an excellent piece of reporting. Rwanda is a notoriously difficult country to "penetrate," and Gettleman put himself at some risk to get people to talk. Even now, few reporters write critically about Rwanda. Most are so impressed by Rwanda's economic progress and so sympathetic to Rwanda's tragic history--a history that Kagame deftly coopts--that they fail to dig very deeply into the Rwandan government's more dubious record. The result has been a sharp divide between the more episodic but better-positioned visitors to Rwanda, who tend to write valentines to the country, and the long-term specialists and scholars, who are more critical.

The extent of Rwanda's involvement in the Congo's rebellions has been a matter of debate for more than a decade, ever since Kagame revealed to the Washington Post's John Pomfret Rwanda's central role in the revolt that overthrew Mobutu and installed Laurent Kabila. This article by Gettleman may very well help put the kibosh on the more doe-eyed reporting we've often seen out of Rwanda. (Are you listening, Nicholas Kristof?)

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