The following is a timeline trying to place side by side the main dates that shaped the relations between the three countries, with the aim of bringing a better understanding to conflicts that started long before April 2012 and the creation of the M23 rebel group.
I’ve mostly put it together from various sources on the web, that I will gradually quote in the document. This is so far an incomplete and ongoing work, as having an extensive line with all (or even most) dates would take much more time that the one I have available for my blog. If you think of important dates that are missing, please don’t hesitate to propose them in comments, I will happily update the document in accordance.
End of 1800s
The Rwandan royal family flees from Butare following the arrival of Belgian colonizers. They seek asylum (even though the notion didn’t legally exist back then) in the village of Mulenge, located on the high hills of South Kivu. Thus they started calling themselves the Banyamulenge, meaning “the people from Mulenge”.
Fascinated by the agricultural potential of the large Masisi fields, the Belgian colonizer decides to import manpower from Rwanda in order better exploit it. The “Comite National du Kivu” is specifically created for this purpose. Over the years, the Comite brings thousands of Tutsis from Rwanda, giving 5 hectares of land to each migrant family in compensation. The North Kivu Tutsis are therefore wrongly called “Banyamulenge”, as they represent a very distinct group with distinct history.
October: Birth of Joseph Mobutu in Lisala
Shortages of lands reported in Masisi. The original Hunde population starts struggling to find land, as most have been confiscated and given to Rwandan migrants by the colonizer.
At the same time, Belgians shift their policy by bringing mostly Hutus to Masisi, further complicating local ethnic relations. In Rwanda also, they stopped collaborating with the Tutsis, who were demanding immediate independence, to the more patient Hutus.
Mobutu joins the Force Publique, local army of the colonized Congo-belge
October: Birth of Paul Kagame in Tambwe, Rwanda
Joseph Mobutu receives a training in journalism in Belgium
Beginning of the “Rwandan Revolution”, where Hutu activists opposed to a quick independence perpetrated massacres against Tutsis.
June 30: Congo-Leopoldville becomes independent
September: Mobutu makes his first coup to oust Patrice Lumumba as Prime Minister. He keeps Kasa-vubu as President and becomes Chief of Staff of the Congolese army.
December: Birth of Thomas Lubanga
January: Patrice Lumumba is killed by Katanga troops backed by Belgian officers.
Paul Kagame and his family flee persecutions against Tutsis and settle in Gahunge, Uganda
Independence of Rwanda. Massacres against the Tutsis start in the same year, forcing thousands to flee to neighboring countries over the years.
Birth of Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa in Rwanda. He later flees with his family to Uganda.
Birth of Katumba Mwanke in Pweto (Katanga).
“Kanyarwandan war” where Hunde and Nande ethnic groups of North Kivu fight against Rwandan migrants.
Joseph Mobutu overthrows Kasavubu in a military coup backed by Western powers, and becomes President of a one party State.
Mobutu renames the country “Republique Democratique du Congo”, Leopoldville is renamed Kinshasa, as well as several other main cities, as sign if independence.
Birth of Vianey Kazarama in Tongo, near Rutshuru
June: birth of Joseph Kabila at Hewabora, in Fizi (South Kivu). He later studies at the Makerere University in Uganda, where many FPR figures also studied.
October: Mobutu renames Congo into Republic of Zaire, thereby launching his “authenticity” campaign aimed at creating a national identity rooted beyond tribal divides. Zairians are ordered to drop their European names, and European suits are banned from the country. Shortly after, the Rwandophone of Masisi are stripped from their lands in favor of Hundes, Nandes and Tembos, considered more “Zairian”
Paul Kagame studies at the Old School of Kampala until 1976
Massive flow of Burundian Hutu refugees following a failed Hutu coup attempt against the Burundian government and subsequent repression.
All Banyarwanda that were in DRC between 1959 and 1963 are granted Congolese nationality.
Birth of Bosco Ntaganda in Kiningi (Rwanda)
Militarization of Rwandan refugee camps in Uganda used as recruitment and training grounds for the rebellion.
Adoption in Zaire of a citizenship law that denies Zairian nationality to all Banyamulenge and Banyarwanda of DRC who can’t trace their local ancestry back to 1885, in reaction to growing Tutsi economic power in North Kivu.
Paul Kagame becomes Major in the Ugandan army, then Vice-Director of the Ugandan intelligence services, where he acquires the nickname “Ponce Pilate”. Faustin Kayumba is his Director with the rank of Colonel.
The FPR is created in Uganda. Among founding members are Fred Rwigema, Paul Kagame and Faustin Kayumba. Fred Rwigema takes the lead of the movement.
Bosco Ntaganda flees Hutu persecutions in Rwanda for Ngungu, in Eastern DRC (could also be 1989). He therefore can’t claim Congolese nationality, having arrived so lately in Zaire.
Katumba Mwanke moves to South Africa, where he is employed in a bank in Johannesburg. This is where he later gets in contact with AFDL members, and with Laurent Desire Kabila.
Mobutu establishes the 3rd Republic and multiparty politics in Zaire.
June: Paul Kagame is sent for a military training in Fort Leavenworth, USA
Oct 1st: The FPR launches its offensive against the Habyarimana regime in Rwanda. Bosco Ntaganda is part of the offensive, along with Laurent Nkunda who had recently been recruited in Rwanda where he was studying psychology.
Oct 2nd: Fred Rwigema is killed in still debated circumstances. Museveni imposes the Kagame leadership to other FPR Officers. James Kabarebe is his “aide de camp”, with the rank of Lieutenant General.
The Congolese Tutsis make contact with the Uganda based FPR for the first time.
Vianney Kazarama starts his military career under Mobutu, in a Rwandophone self-defense group called Abacombatants.
March: Governor Kalumbo calls for the extermination of all Tutsis. Attacks from the Hunde and Nandes against the Congolese Tutsis, leading to an estimated 14,000 deaths between 1993 and 1996.
May: Mobutu dismisses Governor Kalumbo
Laurent Nkunda is recruited and trained by the FPR in Rwanda, where he was studying psychology
April 6: The plane carrying the Rwandan and Burundian Presidents is shot down while approaching the Kigali airport, triggering the start of a methodic, previously planned and systematic genocide against Rwandan Tutsis. In the process, tens of thousands of Hutus are also killed, most by the Habyarimana regime for resisting or simply not participating to the genocide, others in retaliation to the genocide by angered FPR troops.
June: Tens of thousands of Rwandan Hutus flee to neighboring Zaire. Within them, thousands of genocidaires, FAR and Habyarimana government members cross the border with weapons and vehicles.
Rwandan refugee camps are militarized for the second time, this time in Zaire, with the newly created FDLR militia recruiting (often forcibly) and training troops in them.
The FDLR launch regular attacks against Rwanda, killing Tutsis during the night and seeking harbor in Zaire refugee camps at daytime. Until 1996, random Rwandans cannot go further north than Ruhengeri for security reasons. The FDLR also attacks and kills Congolese Tutsis in their areas of control in Zaire. Paul Kagame asks the UN and President Mobutu to move the camps away from the Rwandan border. Nobody listens.
The Zairian Parliament orders all people of Burundian and Rwandan descent, with no exception, to be repatriated to their countries of origin. Rwanda starts training a Tutsi rebellion in the East
Rwanda and Uganda invade Zaire for the first time, through the support to a local rebel group called AFDL led by Laurent Desire Kabila, a Congolese rebel from Fizi. First use of proxies in the Congolese context. Nkunda fights in the AFDL.
Katumba Mwanke becomes vice-governor of Katanga
Vianney Kazarama, a Hutu, creates 2 rebel groups, the first to fight against the AFDL, the second, created in 1998, to fight against the RCD.
May 17: Joseph Mobutu flees Zaire for Morocco.
After returning from a training at the PLA National Defense University of China, Joseph Kabila is awarded the rank of Major-General, and appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of the FARDC
January: Katumba Mwanke becomes Governor of Katanga
July: James Kabarebe is dismissed a Chief of Staff of the Congolese army, “foreign forces” are expelled from DRC. Tens of Tutsis are massacred in the process, at the hands of the local population following hatred calls launched on the radio by the Kinshasa authorities.
August: “Banyamulenge” rebellion in Goma. James Kabarebe is airlifted from Rwanda to Kitona along with 1200 RPA troops, and creates a new rebellion called the RCD along with several Congolese figures. Its political motives are, quoting “This is not a struggle of the Banyamulenge or a struggle of the Rwandese, it is a struggle of the Congolese people” – the exact same words used in 2012 in the M23 context.
November: Paul Kagame admits supporting the RCD “for security reasons”…
April: LD Kabila and Museveni sign a ceasefire in Sirte, Lybia, but Rwanda and the RCD refuse to sign.
May: Rwanda takes full control of the RCD by ousting Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, close to Uganda. The rebel group later splits into two factions, the Rwanda supported RCD-Goma, and the Uganda supported RCD-KML
July: Lusaka cease-fire agreement, signed by most warring parties except the RCD.
August: Fighting between Rwandan and Ugandan troops in Kisangani.
Thomas Lubanga joins the RDC-KML. Bosco Ntaganda is also fighting in the Ugandan backed rebel group.
Joseph Kabila is appointed Chief of Staff of FARDC ground forces
Pasteur Bizimungu, disillusioned by the FPR, decides to resign. The Rwandan Parliament elects Paul Kagame as President
February: The UN creates the MONUC with 5,500 men, to monitor the implementation of the Lusaka ceasefire.
Thomas Lubanga, with Bosco Ntaganda as Deputy Chief of Staff, creates the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC) rebel group in Ituri
January: LD Kabila is shot dead by one of his bodyguards. Three versions exist on the cause: Lebanese diamond dealers angry at losing their monopole, internal divisions in the military (kadogos), or an assassination ordered by Rwanda. His son, Joseph Kabila, replaces him. The trial and condemnations following the assassination are qualified as mascaraed and fail to convince the opinion that the real culprits have been judged.
February: Joseph Kabila meets Paul Kagame in the USA. Following this meeting, Rwanda starts pulling troops out of DRC.
April: Katumba Mwanke enters the Government as Delegate Minister to the Presidency.
April: a UN panel of experts accuses Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe of systematically exploiting Congolese resources and recommends that the UNSC impose sanctions against these countries.
Faustin Kayumba becomes Head of Secret Services in Rwanda. James Kabarebe replaces him as Chief of Staff of the Rwandan army. He is to my knowledge the only person that has been Chief of Staff of two different countries’ army in recent history.
April: signing of the Sun City agreement between the main rebel factions that took part to the 1998 war.
July: Signature of the Pretoria Accord officially ending the war between DRC and Rwanda.
Sept: signing of the Luanda Agreement
Oct: The UN publishes its Expert Panel’s report accusing Rwandan and Ugandan senior political and military figures of taking part to illicit trafficking of plundered resources. Both countries reject the accusations. Katumba Mwanke is also targeted for his role by this report.
Nov: Katumba Mwanke is dismissed from his Delegate Minister position as a result of the UN report.
Dec: signing of the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement between Congolese parties to the Inter Congolese Dialogue, which describes a plan for transitional governance.
The population reelects Kagame with 95% of votes. A few months before the elections, Pasteur Bizimungu, now in opposition, was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment following what was described as a parody of trial. He was pardoned 3 years later by Kagame, and moved to the USA with his family since.
July: Signature of the Sun City agreement officially ending the second DRC war. The UN puts an arms embargo in place against all rebel groups present in DRC.
Katumba Mwanke is designated Secretary General of the Government.
Laurent Nkunda joins the new integrated army of the transitional Congolese government as Colonel
Laurent Nkunda promoted to the rank of General, but refuses the post and deserts the army to join the rebellion.
Faustin Kayumba is nominated Ambassador of Rwanda to India
January: Katumba Mwanke becomes itinerant Ambassador for DRC
June: Laurent Nkunda, Jules Mutebutsi and their men launch an attack against the town of Bukavu, South Kivu. Systematic looting and rapes during the attack. Part of attacking troops directly crossed the border from Rwanda (Rusizi) in order to launch the attack. Right after the attack, Jules Mutebutsi and 157 men cross the Rusizi border back into Rwanda, where they were granted “asylum” status in a scandalous abuse of the 1951 Geneva convention and its article 1F. Mutebutsi lives happily in Rwanda since, and never faced justice for his crimes.
March: Thomas Lubanga is arrested in DRC and transferred to the ICC
May: New Constitution adopted by the Congolese government
August: creation of the CNDP
September: DRC government issues an international arrest warrant against Laurent Nkunda for war crimes
December: The United Nation’s International Court of Justice rules that DRC’s sovereignty has been violated by Uganda and Rwanda and that DRC lost billions of dollars worth of resources.
June: UNSC restrictions imposed on the CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda.
Vianney Kazarama joins the CNDP, and convinces many Hutus to join the movement also.
July-Nov: National elections in DRC. Joseph Kabila wins the elections with 58% of the votes. Vianney Kazarama failed as candidate for parliamentary membership. Katumba Mwanke is elected Deputy at the Parliament.
August: first offensive on Sake by Laurent Nkunda and his CNDP
December: second Nkunda offensive in North Kivu, around Sake, right before the peace discussions scheduled since one month, in order to increase pressure on the Congolese government and cut better conditions. 50,000 are displaced.
Dec 31: Peace talks between Kinshasa and the CNDP. Are present John Numbi, Laurent Nkunda, James Kabarebe and several other RDF officers. The “mixage” process is designed during this meeting.
January: first integration attempts of CNDP and Laurent Nkunda in the FARDC, with the “mixage”. Failed attempt as a few months later, Nkunda controls 5 brigades versus the 2 he was controlling before his “integration”, and restarts the rebellion in Masisi.
September: Nkunda’s troops raid 10 secondary schools and 4 primary schools of Masisi where they forcibly recruited children in their ranks.
November: in Addis Ababa, Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda pledge to support the Congolese government and not the CNDP.
January: Laurent Nkunda signs a peace deal with Kinshasa
February: John Numbi orders the repression against the Bundu Dia Kongo, a religious movement of Bas-Congo. 600 policemen equipped with machine guns and grenades take part to this repression.
October: Nkunda breaks the peace deal and seizes a major military camp and the Virunga National Park. The town of Goma is threatened. At the end of the month, the rebels get so close to the town that the remaining FARDC soldiers start fleeing, looting the provincial capital on their way out.
November: the UNSC authorizes the deployment of 3,000 additional troops into MONUSCO. This solution failed to bring solution to the rebellions in Eastern DRC, yet the exact same was taken again in 2012.
December: a UN report accuses Rwanda of supporting the Laurent Nkuda led CNDP in DRC
January: Rwandan troops arrest Nkunda as he tries to cross into Rwanda. He is placed under house arrest since, and never faced justice to this day.
Joint RDF-FARC “Umoja Wetu” operations against the FDLR. John Numbi is said to have masterminded these operations on the Congolese side, with James Kabarebe as counterpart.
February 27: Rwandan forces leave DRC, except for a small intelligence battalion that remains in North Kivu.
March 23: Peace treaty between the CNDP and the Government. Kinshasa was largely forced into signing conditions favorable to the rebels, who were still threatening large parts of North Kivu including the town of Goma.
Bosco Ntaganda becomes General and Head of the Amani Leo Operations, Makenga becomes Colonel and his Deputy in Amani Leo, Vianney Kazarama becomes Lieutenant Colonel. Katumba Mwanke and John Numbi are the Congolese masterminds behind this agreement, while James Kabarebe is also said to have played a large role in its drafting. These are roughly the same actors that drafted the previously failed 2007 “integration”
May: FDLR rebels attack 2 villages of South Kivu, Ekingi and Busuringi, and kill at least 90 Congolese, 60 civilians and 30 soldiers. 30,000 civilians were displaced following FDLR attacks in retaliation of the joint FARDC/RDF operations.
February: Faustin Kayumba abandons his ambassador position in India and flees to South Africa, where he joins the Rwandan opposition in exile.
1st: Floribert Chebeya, a Congolese Human Rights activits, disappears and is killed after having a meeting with John Numbi. Numbi is the No 1 suspect in this case, as Chebeya was investigating the abusive repression against the Bundu dia Kongo religious group.
Faustin Kayumba narrowly escapes an assassination attempt in front of his house in Johannesburg. He is wounded in the process.
Jean-Leonard Rugambage, journalist working for the newspaper Umuvuzigi, is shot dead in front of his house in Kigali, after he released an article on the tentative assassination against Faustin Kayumba.
July: Assassination of Andre Kagwa Rwisereka. One of the main FPR members initially, he took distance from it in 2009 to create his own opposition party. He was assassinated in Butare on July 13 or 14 –one month before the elections-, where he was found beheaded in the most barbaric manner.
Ban Ki Moon calls for an extensive investigation to take place around these suspicious assassinations in the electoral process.
Paul Kagame is reelected President with 93% of votes.
September: South African secret services discover and impeach a new assassination attempt against Faustin Kayumba and his family
December: Joseph Kabila reelected President after a widely criticized presidential elections process.
Kazarama, unhappy with the high corruption of Kinshasa authorities, the bad way in which it treats its soldiers, and the blatant Kabila cheat during the elections, refuses to take part to the Presidential Investiture ceremony. He is subsequently sacked from the FARDC in January 2012.
February: Katumba Mwanke dies in a place crash in Bukavu. He is elevated to the rank of “National Hero” by Joseph Kabila.
April: Bosco Ntaganda and large numbers of ex-CNDP soldiers desert from the FARDC and create the M23 rebel group, under the leadership of Pastor Runiga, said to be close to Bosco Ntaganda..
July: The ICC sentences Thomas Lubanga to 14 years of prison for recruitment of child soldiers.
The M23 takes control of the Ugandan border town of Bunagana, then Rutshuru, Kibumba and Rugari. US cuts military aid to Rwanda
On July 27, the President of the South Kivu Banyamulenge community makes a public statement in which he strongly dissociates his community from the M23, in which he calls the rebel struggle “senseless” (insensée in French). This goes in line with the fact that the FRF, the armed group representing the South Kivu Banyamulenge, never deserted the FARDC to join the M23.
November: The M23 rebellion takes control of the town of Goma. UK suspends its bilateral assistance to Rwanda.
December: The M23 withdraws from Goma
February: Signing of the Framework for Peace by 11 African nations in Addis Ababa.
Split in the M23 rebel group, Pastor Runiga is sacked by Sultani Makenga and creates his own faction. Clashes between the 2 factions in Rutshuru.
A couple of days later, Bosco Ntaganda turns to the US embassy in Kigali, and requests to be transferred to the ICC.