Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Explaining the crisis in Congo Part 2: 1990 to the Second Congo War

Part 1 here.

The last post ended with a crumbling DR Congo and Rwandese Tutsi exile living in Uganda preparing to invade their "homeland" after being shown they were unwelcome to stick around in Uganda.

The early 1990s was marked by two key events. The first one was the disorder in DR Congo. After almost 3 decades of slow decay under Mobutu, things finally blew over in the early 1990s; and this time no ally would come to his rescue as the US felt no need to back such a corrupt dictator in a post Cold War environment. The early 1990s was marked by chaos, looting and the final breakdown of public order in DR Congo. But Mobutu survived. The country was in chaos and he didn't control most of it, but no one managed to topple him.

The second one was the invasion of Rwanda by the Tutsi-dominated Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1990. The initial invasion was far from a frank success; the RPF leader Fred Rwigiema was killed very early and they were rebuffed, they managed to hold only a small part of northern Rwanda. Paul Kagame took over and the RPF settled in a long drawn-out guerrilla war, a sort of replay of Museveni's years in the bush. After 3 decades in exile in english speaking Uganda, RPF Tutsi were more comfortable with english than French (the colonial language in Rwanda). France, always ready to involve itself in African conflicts, saw it as a clear case of Anglo-American takeover of its "francophonie"'s sphere of interest. So they backed the Hutu government (and through them, the militias) without asking questions.

To understand what follows, it is important to remember that the massacre of 200 000 Hutus in Burundi in 1972 was still relatively fresh memory at the time, barely 18 years old. So it is understandable that Hutus were afraid of a Tutsi take over. Hutu politicians successfully stoked that fear through radio propaganda against Tutsi. They built militias - interahamwe and impuzamugambi - whose goal was to eliminate Tutsis. They were wide scale operations. It wasn't a few crazy people talking loud but with no support; they involved a significant percentage of the population. Also, coffee prices had dropped in the late 1980s, drastically reducing income. Population density had become so high that it was becoming hard for people to be able to grow enough food to be able to feed themselves, let alone make money. This precarity made people more amenable to put the blame on some external enemy. Pogroms happened with increasing frequency during those years, most often targeting Tutsi.

The civil war went on between the RPF and the government, displacing several hundred thousands people. In 1993, a cease-fire was agreed which was planned to lead to a power-sharing government. The Hutu government was ready for a compromise, but the Hutu hardliners would have none of it. On April 6th 1994, while the negotiations were still on going, the president's plane was killed. There are no proof on who did it, but most signs point out in the Hutu hardliners' direction.

In any case, the Hutu militias wasted no time. Within hours of his murder the genocide was underway. All over Rwanda, the militias massacred by hand hundreds of thousands of Tutsi, along with moderate Hutus. Also, lots of people used the chaos to kill people they didn't like to settle scores, like in The Terror in France. As I mentioned before, a very significant portion of the country was involved in the militias; so almost everyone was involved or had a family member involved in the killing. It takes a lot of work to kill 800 000 people by hand. The international community did nothing. What saved the Tutsi was the RPF. After 4 months of fighting they managed to end the genocide. RPF did do some counter massacres but nothing close to the scale of the genocide.

France wanted to help the Hutus against those anglophone Tutsi, but they feared an international backlash. However, when it was clear the Hutus were losing, they volunteered themselves for a "UN-backed" operation to establish "humanitarian corridors". Why? Well when the Hutu militias realized they had lost, they decided to exile themselves to DR Congo where they could regroup in refugee camp and retake the country, forcing more than a million people to go with them. France's operation Turquoise was planned to make it safe for the Hutu militiamen to retreat to Congo while doing almost nothing for the genocide even though they successfully marketed it as such (they never went in the areas most affected by the genocide and reports from french soldiers clearly show that they were told to help Hutus). François Mitterand's career started in a regime that supported genocide (Vichy France) and it ended with another one.

It is interesting to note that thorough the genocide, NGO and government kept calling on the RPF to stop the civil war so they could establish "humanitarian corridors", they didn't understand and most probably still don't understand that this would have only led to a more complete genocide. The lessons that was learned from this crisis was clear. When the world said "Never Again", what they meant was that you'd have to enforce it on your own, because the world would certainly not move an inch for that slogan. The Tutsi learned that lesson the hard way and would not forget it.

More than a million Hutu were massed on the other side of the border in DR Congo. The Western countries desperately wanted to be seen as if they were doing something about Rwanda, but the country seemed too unstable to send aid there. So the Hutu refugees would do. Mobutu saw this crisis as an opportunity. He agreed to let Western countries help the refugees and the money poured in DR Congo (with Mobutu taking a cut, of course). Every NGO, every celebrity and politician that wanted to improve its image went in Eastern DR Congo to be seen helping those poor Rwandan refugees. Very few understood that they were helping those that had committed the genocide, that they were still armed, they were still killing Tutsi in DR Congo, that the camp leaders were artificially inflating the numbers and were selling surplus at a profit to buy weapons and were using the camps as a base to raid RPF controlled Rwanda. A few courageous NGO, most notably MSF, decided they didn't want to fund an invasion and withdrew from the camps. But most were desperate to be seen with Rwandese refugees to keep money pouring from westerners who didn't understand the situation.

The situation remained like this for two years. Rwanda was not happy with instability along its border which could explode any day and Hutu extremists in the refugee camps were killing Congolese Tutsi. The lessons of the past few years were clear, the international community would do nothing to protect those Tutsi, if the RPF wanted them to be safe they would have to take care of it. Uganda was in a similar boat; Mobutu didn't like Museveni who was happy to let rebel groups such as LRA and ADF use DRC to stage attacks on Uganda. But they couldn't officially invade a sovereign country like this, it would have been a PR disaster. After a South-Kivu official declared an order for all Tutsi living in DRC to leave the country or be killed, they found a low life thug named Laurent Kabila, which I talked about in part I and who had been fighting a small guerrilla war against Mobutu for decades, boosted his army with Rwandese/Ugandese soldiers and attacked. That was the First Congo War. The rot was so deep in DRC that the country fell within a year with almost no serious armed resistance from the government. Hutu forces were chased from their camps. Many decided to head back to Rwanda but several tens of thousands headed further in DR Congo.

By 1997, Kabila had overthrown Mobutu and installed himself in Kinshasa. Rwanda and Uganda had achieved many of its objectives: they had their man in Kinshasa, the Hutus/LRA/ADF were severely weakened, Congolese Tutsi were relatively safe and they controlled several very profitable resources in Eastern DRC such as coltan. But things didn't remain that way for long. Kabila felt safe in Kinshasa, far away from the Great Lakes. So in summer of 1998, he decided to kick all Rwandese and Ugandese advisers out of Kinshasa and the Second Congo War started shortly thereafter. This was to be the deadliest conflict since World War 2.

I think I'll cut here for part 2. Part 3 will follow from the start of the Second Congo War.

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