Friday, June 22, 2012

How Is this Rwandan Incursion Different from all Previous Incursions?

A little reminder of what we're 
talking about
I don't have time to write a long post today, but I want to make four quick observations and ask three quick questions. First, it seems to me that the latest revelations regarding Rwanda's involvement in Congo constitute something of a turning point. Rwanda has been allowed more or less to get away with its previous incursions. The excuse they gave for their presence in the Kivus--that they were there to fight off the remaining genocidaires--had a shelf-life a decade longer than it ought to have, but seems now to have expired.  At the same time, the Congolese government and military seem far more determined than they ever have been before about expelling Rwandan forces and subduing local Rwanda-phone militia. The US, too, is under pressure as never before to stand up to Kagame, as revelations of an internal fissure between Rice and State make clear. 

The bottom line? My best guess is that this is as good a moment as any for the Congolese government to reassert its authority over its eastern provinces, particularly North Kivu, and that Kabila knows it. If he succeeds, this period will in retrospect most resemble  the period from 1965-67, when Mobutu put paid to the various break-away movements that were plaguing Congo and consolidated his regime. We all know how that ended, of course, but there was a period until about 1974 or so when Mobutu was genuinely popular. Whether Kabila similarly succeeds depends, I think, on how history answers three questions:

1) Will international pressure force Rwanda to stop supporting M23? By naming several of Rwanda's top officials as responsible for Rwanda's involvement in DRC, this latest UN GoE report puts the legitimacy of Kagame's regime under question as never before. It may have been easier for Kagame to stage a strategic retreat from Congo if his top officials weren't put in the crosshairs. How he will respond is anyone's guess, but to judge from his recent, surprisingly intemperate remarks, he is definitely feeling the heat.

2) Can M23 survive without Rwandan support? Make no mistake: M23 is an effective, determined militia, and it is fighting for its life. The units sent to combat it are said to be among the Congolese army's most elite, but that is an unfortunately relative term. M23 could hold out for a very long time, even if they receive little support from a chastened and internationally sanctioned Rwanda.

3) How much support does the M23 enjoy among the BanyaRwanda of North Kivu? If a significant number of them view it as their sole guarantor against reprisal attacks and dispossession, M23 will be hard to defeat. That makes Severine Autesserre's piece in today's New York Times all the more relevant. This is not just a conflict between Rwanda and Congo. It is also about the various peoples or ethnic groups of North Kivu, about land use, property, political control, and citizenship.. If the international community is serious about wanting to put an end to this conflict then we must be prepared, as Autesserre suggests, to assist local groups, including NGOs and local and provincial governments, by providing them with the funding, logistics and technical capacity to resolve their own conflicts. Unfortunately, the question of whether we are serious or not is very much an open-ended one; not because we profit from the war (as many Congolese sometimes think) but because the region simply isn't a high enough priority for us, particularly at this moment of imperial overstretch.

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