Enemies to Allies: The Dynamics of Rwanda-Congo Military, Economic and Diplomatic Relations

Article excerpt

Since 1994, the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been beset by prolonged instability and violence. Triggered by the events in neighbouring Rwanda--specifically, the war that was launched in 1990 in the north which ended with the genocide in 1994--eastern Congo's provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu have suffered greatly at the hands of armed forces, be they regional armies, rebel surrogates, or ethnic militias. From 1996 onwards, the bilateral relationship between the Rwandese and Congolese governments has played a critical role in shaping the situation in eastern Congo. After facilitating the installation of a friendly regime in Congo, Rwanda and Congo soon broke ties, creating a bitter and bloody enmity between the two countries that would endure for the next 10 years, marked by military confrontations, the pillaging of the Congo's natural resources, and the deaths of over 6 million people. In an unexpected twist in regional dynamics, in January 2009, Rwanda and Congo suddenly normalized their relations, becoming ostensible allies and jointly participating in military operations on Congolese soil, only weeks after being indirectly at war through the use of proxy rebels. This development was particularly puzzling, considering that in international relations friendly countries can often abruptly become enemies and go to war. The inverse--unfriendly countries suddenly becoming allies--typically takes several years. This paper analyzes the events that very quickly turned these enemies into partners and the implications for the Great Lakes region of Africa, as well as an overview of Rwanda-Congo bilateral relations since 1996.

Following the cataclysm of the Rwandese genocide, an estimated 2 million Rwandese Hutu fled westward into neighbouring Congo (then named Zaire) as the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Force (RPF) rebels swept into the capital, Kigali. Among the fleeing refugees were perpetrators of the genocide, including much of the Rwandese army and its militias, which were given safe haven and support by Zaire's head of state, Mobutu Sese Seko, souring relations between the new RPF government in Rwanda and the old regime in Zaire.

In 1996, Rwanda launched its first of many subsequent invasions of eastern Zaire/Congo, under the guise of a local rebellion, using the pretext that the presence of the Hutu forces directly across the border was an existential threat to Kigali's post-genocide regime. With support from Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe and other regional powers, Rwanda overthrew Mobutu and replaced him with a sympathetic puppet, Laurent Kabila in 1997. (1) Within a year, Kabila had distanced himself from his former regional backers, firing his Rwandese Army Chief of Staff (2) and ordering all Rwandese troops out of the Congo.

In August 1998, Rwanda along with Uganda launched a second invasion, again using the facade of local rebels and Congolese army mutineers. This second and wider war would engulf most of the major countries of the regime, including the military participation of Angola, Namibia, Chad, Sudan and Zimbabwe to defend the nascent Congolese regime, with Burundi joining the invaders. (3) The regional conflict would soon be known as 'Africa's World War,' characterized by the "systematic and systemic exploitation" of the Congo's natural resources by all parties, but particularly Rwanda and Uganda, (4) hundreds of thousands of women, girls, men and boys brutally raped, and the deaths of millions of civilians--the highest war-related death-toll since World War II. (5)

Relations between Rwanda and the Congo reached an all-time low. The two countries were directly and indirectly at war, with Rwanda using local rebel proxies to fight some of its battles, while Congo armed, trained and supported the Hutu genocidaires, who, for simplicity, can be grouped into the FDLR rebels. (6) Hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of cash and minerals would be exploited by Rwandese troops and its rebels, and used to enrich Rwandese businessmen and the state; without exaggerating, Paul Kagame, the head of the RPF and current president of Rwanda, described the conflict as a "self-financing war. …