Monday, February 23, 2009


I continue to be baffled at Kigali and Kinshasa's insistence that all Rwandan troops will leave the DRC this week. The idea that the mission has accomplished its objectives doesn't make any sense. Even if 3,500 FDLR have been repatriated, most of these are women and children. The FDLR's fighting force has been scattered, but can easily reassemble itself once the Rwandans go home. Kigali says it's overrun the FDLR's various command centers, but what does that mean? We're talking about a few derelict colonial-era houses with backed-up toilets and a dozen kalishnokov-totting teenagers loitering around the periphery. It's not exactly the White House Situation Room.

Then there's the fact that Rwandan government propaganda continues to agitate for an extension of the mission. Read this story in Rwanda's New Times for an example.

One possibility is that Rwanda is setting up conditions for a more permanent return. They'll leave, the region will regress to its chaotic state, there will be a scattering of massacres, and then Rwanda will triumphantly return to the region claiming an obligation to stabilize it. That's sort of what Rwanda and Uganda did earlier in the war, in the 2000-2002 period. Another possibility is that Rwandan soldiers have grabbed most of their high-value targets, the score or so of real ex-genocidaires among the FDLR. But there's not much evidence of that. Another is that when Rwanda says they've secured FDLR strongholds, they mean the mines the FDLR controlled. But I don't know how they plan to control those mines once they depart. They certainly can't count on FARDC to do that for them--or to honor any sub rosa agreements once they've left. And leaving troops behind to control the mines outright after that devastating UN report? Well, no one ever accused Kagame of lacking chutzpah. Still, it's a risky idea. If they stay long-term and control the mines, Kabila will be under tremendous political pressure to demand that Rwanda leave. And if he does, Rwanda will be hard-pressed to ignore all the international pressure they'd be under. They don't want to start a cascade of donor nations withdrawing their aid.

Bottom line: I got nothing. Is this a rare mistake by Kagame, or has he got something up his sleeve? I'm willing to bet it's the latter, I just can't figure out what it might be.

And yes, this means that my boast last week that I understood what was happening in the DRC turns out to have been ... premature. The crow is plucked and in the pot.

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