Trying to look at the root causes of yesterday’s surreal scenes in Goma – DRC

Goma2

Yesterday, the town of Goma was the scene of unreal looking events. Thousands of young Congolese, many of them students, taxi drivers and small sellers, marched in the streets to celebrate a false rumour on the death of Paul Kagame, neighbouring Rwanda’s President. An empty coffin was dropped at the border between the two countries, while some schools[1] closed their doors, a MONUSCO truck was even spotted carrying joyful demonstrators.

The world and its press were prompt to condemn a pitiful public display of one of the worst sides of human nature: hatred. I however feel the journalists only did half of the job, depicting the scene and trying to explain where the false rumour came from.

They mention it originated from the usual modern suspect: internet. They also rightfully mention that the population lacked discernment[2] thinking the departure or death of Paul Kagame would solve all their problems by magic. But they fail to touch and answer the main questions:

–       why did the fake news of Paul Kagame’s death create such joy within the Goma population – or in other words, where does this violent hatred come from?

–       What lessons can be learnt from this sad event? What can be done to try to reconcile communities who have been living in tensions, if not war, since 18 years?

1.     Why the strong resentment – to say the least?

The plight of the Eastern Congolese population did not start in 1994

Many will rightfully argue that the problems of Eastern DRC did not start when Paul Kagame took power in neighbouring Rwanda. They will mention the brutality of the Belgian colonizers, the ruthlessness and corruption of the Mobutu dictatorship, the tens of millions of dollars worth properties that Joseph Kabila, a simple military officer before coming President, bought all over DRC and in foreign countries in public display of soaking corruption.

They will also remind of the electoral mascaraed and lacerating of the Constitution that took place in 2011. They will conclude by, again rightfully, say that it’s not the Rwandan or Ugandan Presidents who put the Congolese population to misery. Its own leaders bear a large responsibility.

Living conditions of the Eastern Congolese population tremendously worsened since 1994

I fully agree with these valid points. But they mention only part of the picture, forgetting a very important one. Since 1996, war was added to these miserable living conditions. One thing is to live under poor conditions in a shanty house, under the ruling of an oppressive government. Being tracked in the forest like an animal, witnessing the raping of wives, mothers, daughters, being parked in IDP camps like cattle is a very different one. This is the everyday life imposed to millions in Eastern DRC since nearly 20 years.

To the elder ones who remember the Mobutu years, 1994 marked a tragic turning point in their already difficult lives. The ones younger than 25 won’t even remember those days. All they know is war. An endless cycle of resentment, tension, questions, killing, followed by a worrying silence until the next round.

They never were given any answers, not one single time in 18 years. Why did your mother, father, sister, son, daughter, cousin and uncles die? Why were you raped? Why do you live like a permanent victim in camps and misery since 18 years, while others enjoy the fruits of peace and development? Why were you not given a chance in life, a chance to be anyone really? They never knew, and the way things are going, they will never know.

Is it good or positive that the Goma and Eastern DRC population resents such hatred about the situation? Certainly not. Are they given another choice than frustration, resentment and hatred, by the regional leaders and international community? Certainly not.

2.     Is the Rwandan President the right target for this resentment?

Under the current regional and international circumstances, one is forced to admit “to a certain extend probably, but we’re not sure and don’t know to which extend”. I find it incredible that so many questions remain unanswered, and crimes unpunished, 18 years after the deadliest post-world war conflict situation started. Let’s make a small inventory of main military events since 1994:

–       1994: tens of thousands of Hutu “refugees” arrive in DRC within the framework of the French led and UN sponsored Operation Turquoise. In the lot, thousands of killers and ex-FAR soldiers cross the border in full gear and weapons. The refugee camps rapidly become militarized, and sit on the border. France and the UN seem to bear the main responsibility for this, something they were never held accountable for, nor ever openly admitted. The question therefore officially remains unanswered.

–       1996: Rwanda and Uganda militarily invade Zaire, and support Laurent Desire Kabila’s AFDL push to Kinshasa, ousting the dictator Mobutu in the process. While both countries recognize their military involvement in this war, no individual was ever held accountable for the thousands of victims it generated. The questions and wounds remain open with no healing process engaged.

–       1998: second invasion of Congo by Rwanda and Uganda, triggering an even deadlier war than the previous one. Only Uganda was condemned as a State by the International Court of Justice to pay financial reparations to DRC in December 2005[3], a payment which never happened. No other responsibility was sought for this war, and no individual was arrested on these grounds. For the victims and their families, the wounds were not treated.

–       2001: a UN report accuses neighbouring countries, including and mainly Rwanda and Uganda, of illegally looting DRC’s resources[4]. The concerned countries deny the accusations. The question remains unanswered, hanging in the air, levitating.

–       2004: a rebel group led by Laurent Nkunda and Jules Mutebutse captures the one million inhabitants large town of Bukavu. During the few days they hold the town, the rebels organize mass killings, rapes and lootings in certain parts of it[5], forcing hundreds of women to sleep in the street in front of the MONUSCO base in search of protection. UN reports accuse Rwanda of supporting the rebels. No responsibilities were ever sought for these crimes. Jules Mutebutse quietly walked into Rwanda with his men after the attack, claiming a shady asylum seeker status that protects him from justice since 10 years. Laurent Nkunda also benefits from impunity, as mentioned below. No responsibility was ever sought, the wounds remain open, and victims left only with tears, frustration and ultimately resentment to fill them. You are kindly asked to just move on with whatever is left of your life.

–       2008: the CNDP rebel group led by Laurent Nkunda is accused of having massacred approximately 150 unarmed civilians in the town of Kiwanja[6], in a public display of power, impunity and violence, before marching towards the town of Goma and creating panic within its population. This ruthlessness and threat on civilian lives forced the Congolese authorities and international community to accept very unbalanced conditions in the signed March 23, 2009 agreement.  In the process, Laurent Nkunda was “arrested” and placed under impunity-house-arrest in Rwanda (ironically not far from the border) ever since. Several UN and NGO reports accused Rwanda of supporting the rebels, accusations strongly denied by Kigali. No final answer nor responsibility ever being sought, the questions remain unanswered, open wounds with only tears, frustration and resentment to fill them.

–       2012: Hundreds of ex-CNDP members desert the FARDC they had recently integrated and create a new rebellion called the M23. They force hundreds of thousands into long term displacement, before taking control of the Territories bordering Rwanda and Uganda, and ultimately the town of Goma itself. While the takeover of the town lasted one week only, a year after Goma still hasn’t managed to become its old self again. Rwanda and Uganda were accused of supporting the rebels, something they strongly denied. The case was closed with a political “Kampala agreement”. So far, no responsibility has been sought, no individual arrested, the question of external support was buried under the carpet. The wounds remain open, with only tears, frustration and resentment to fill them.

I am nobody to clearly demonstrate that one or the other side is right in this accusation-denial perpetual game. As a human and world citizen, I am however fully entitled to claim it is abnormal that in 18 years, so many questions were opened, crimes committed, and no one, absolutely no one, from Congolese, Rwandan, Ugandan, US, France, or any world leader ever thought of closing the wounds of millions of victims in order to start establishing a real healing and reconciliation process.

No one ever even thought of giving them appropriate answers, a sense to their past plight, and to their future life. This is scandalous. Had it happened anywhere else, several revolutions would have already happened, but this is Congo, a country where people were forced to grow used to endure.

Having no answer to their questions and suspicions, with time (18 years), it seems only human that resentment crystalizes in one direction, particularly when all fingers point in the same one, with no clear and final answer ever given, no official process ever engaged.

Is it right? Only courts or final investigations can say this. Until then, words and rumours will prevail.

Are resentment and targeting of the Rwandan leader proper and viable solutions? Certainly not! With so little answers to their essential questions, are the Goma and DRC youth given a different option? Certainly not.

Feel free to criticize yesterday’s despicable display of hatred that took place in Goma. But if you are responsible for it, which means if you’re any of the world’s leaders that created this resentment by systematically putting millions of victims on the side of discussions, please have the respect to at least watch in silence. One can’t put a house on fire, then criticize its owners for failing to extinguish it.

3.     What should be done?

The history of humanity taught us three ways, and only three, to deal with resentment or conflict between communities or countries.

Plain opportunistic forgiveness

One is forgiving and moving on after dust has settled, in order to avoid further problems and pain. The very condensed chronology above indicate that this option was not given to the Congolese population. The dust simply never settles.

Reconciliation following truth and excuses

Another way is reconciliation, and it should ideally be the favoured one, as it carries little risks of collateral damage. Reconciliation is however seldom used without its twin brother, truth, and for good reasons.

In cases where, like in DRC, severe crimes were committed in the thousands, reconciliation requires forgiveness, and forgiveness requires recognition and excuses. This being, again, something common to humanity, one shouldn’t expect the Congolese to act different because they were “cursed by birth”.

Questions being always left unanswered in the air, causes and responsibilities always carefully avoided, truth, and therefore forgiveness and reconciliation have never been proposed as an option to the Congolese population.

Justice

The last existing way to put an end to conflicts and move forward is justice. As mentioned in the above timeline, this option always was and still is also consistently denied to the Congolese people who suffered and lost relatives to the conflict. Not one person other than Thomas Lubanga -and this was for a different reason, child recruitment- was ever sentenced in response to the crimes endlessly committed against the Congolese population since 1996.

THIS IS IT!

There is no other way known to mankind to end conflicts, heal wounds and work towards reconciliation and peaceful cohabitation. The world will have to end up choosing one someday, or continue witnessing regular incoherent reactions from a trapped population, nodding its head in a hypocrite gesture.

Reconciliation or justice. Both require the same precondition: truth. If the world can’t make this simple choice, it should cry or look away, but certainly not criticize something it is directly responsible for with its inconsistent approach to the DRC conflict, and its constant denial to fully recognize the status of victim –and all its implications- to millions of Congolese.


[1] At this stage it remains unclear if these closures were for security reasons (unsafe for school children to walk to school during demonstrations), or because the directors wanted their pupils to celebrate. Both theories are on the table, with the first sounding much more credible.

[2] Which is not so surprising. Discernment requires distance, a luxury the Eastern DRC population doesn’t have after living in insecurity and fear of war or armed groups since 18 years.

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5 Comments

  1. Perhaps one thing you have not mentioned is why the population in the Eastern DRC feels so unsafe and is an easy target for any military group. 1) the FARDC is the main culprit in killing, raping and all other kind of abuse. It should be brought to book for its incapacity to control the FDLR, ADF, Mai Mai and other rebels. 2) there is too much propaganda against the M23 and CNDP, whereas the worst offenders are the FARDC and FDLR. I think the DRC should take stock of its own faults and failures and stop pointing fingers to divert attention from themselves. 3) It is so interesting that so much attention is put on civil war rebels and not on refugee militants from other countries that are armed and causing much more havoc. The decent thing to do is disarm any dissident militants from other countries instead of sheltering them and allowing them access to wealth. No wonder the insecurity. Yes, many questions unanswered.

    1. Well said Kamisha and then Congelese should try to clean on their side and leave Rwandans and our President. We are busy with speeding up develoment while they are wasting time in manifestations based on romours

  2. Thank you for your comments. This post is about trying to bring explanations to a fact, the resentment and hatred displayed by the Congolese population yesterday towards the Rwandan President.

    There would however also as you mention be space for a post as to why the Congolese feel very strong resentment towards the FDLR and their own President (which I highlight in my post) or some FARDC officers also. Trapped from all sides.

    These issues need to be looked at and dealt with, one by one, each and every single one of them with no exception. This includes no exemption for CNDP/M23, which I have to remind Kamisha, were the most destructive and uncontrolled modern rebellions in Eastern DRC before they were dimantled recently. If comparisons were needed, the FDLR never attacked and took control of one-million large towns like Bukavu or Goma.

    They however remain one of the main issues hampering peace in Eastern DRC, and I have always advocated for their neutralization. Their exactions, still, don’t and can’t justify the exactions of CNDP/M23, nor the more than five millions of deaths caused by inconsistent foreign interference in the country since 18 years.

  3. It’s goo to deal with all this and to remember mentioning that the most destructive rebellions CNDP, M23 are fruit of the Rwandan government and Rwandan by nationality, although some claim being of Congolese nationality. They(for some) have lived in Congo for sometimes before joining those groups, but many that doesn’t make them Congo natives as from even the language they use, accent reveals their origin. Rwanda and Congo aren’t enemies, but the havoc caused by its leaders, lack of punishment and continuous negative actions, that even international communities bear after having proof and should the international community be involved(we see Uk, USA when talking of the international community). Some situation however are profitable to them, despite the degree of harm they cause to the world, as long as they make profit from them, it’s ok with them. For instance, Kabila, Kagame, Mseven, are still valid until they decide they have better options, and only then these presidents will become accountable for their crimes. I’m of Rwandan origin for those who might wonder, and I have served the Rwandan army too, but finally deserted and I live in Kigali and writing from Kigali right now.

    1. Thanks for this comment, with which I fully agree James. There is no question that Rwandan and Congolese people are not ennemies, but that the action of their respective leaders creates a lot of tension between the two countries, for which local populations are paying the price. Having deserted from the RDF, the fact that your are living in and writing from Kigali is both a sign of courage, and of love for your country despite disagreeing with its politics are things I have a huge respect for. Take care!

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