Examining the Role of Rwanda in the DRC Insurgency

By Stearns, Jason K. | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Examining the Role of Rwanda in the DRC Insurgency


Stearns, Jason K., Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


Jason K. Stearns is Director of the Usalama Project at the Rift Valley Institute. He presented this analysis before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights on September 19, 2012.

Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, and Members of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights: Thank you for the invitation to testify.

I have been working on the eastern Congo for the past eleven years. In 2008, I was the coordinator of the United Nations Group of Experts on the Congo, and I have also worked on the country for the United Nations peacekeeping mission, as a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, and as journalist and writer. I currently work for the Rift Valley Institute (RVI), a non-profit research organization working in Eastern and Central Africa. I am the director of the RVI's Usalama Project, whose team of researchers is in the middle of a fifteen-month investigation of armed groups in the eastern Congo as part of an effort to promote solutions to ongoing violence there.

Background to the current crisis

The current crisis, beginning with the to rise of the new M23 rebellion, is the result of the failure of the Congolese peace process to deal with the persistent causes of conflict in the region. A potent mix of ethnic tensions, state weakness, and Rwandan involvement located at local, national and regional levels lie at the heart of the violence. While there are no easy fixes to these deep-rooted challenges, the United States government can help avert a further escalation by helping to broker a settlement. This will require a significant change in how the US engages with Rwanda, but also for Kinshasa to provide the political vision necessary for a solution.

The origins of the current conflict can be traced back to 2003, when the country was being unified after years of civil war, and all belligerents were obliged to integrate their troops into a national army. A group of officers, who hailed from the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), refused to join this new army. They eventually launched a rebellion, called the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) the predecessor to today's M23.

The CNDP officers, led by the charismatic Laurent Nkunda, claimed that they suffered from ethnic discrimination, that the Tutsi community, from which most of them came, was the victim of persecution. Their apologists point out, correctly, that over 50,000 Congolese Tutsi refugees still live in Rwanda, unable to return home due to the lack of security and land. The officers also argued that they themselves were at risk since 1996, hundreds of Tutsi had been massacred by fellow soldiers in army camps across the country, accused of being Rwandan proxies.

There is no doubting the prevalence and vitriol of anti-Tutsi sentiment in the Congo. However, this legitimate grievance has also been manipulated. From the beginning, the CNDP received support from the Rwandan government and local politicians, who ruled over much of the eastern Congo between 1996 and 2003, and who worried that the unification of the country would jeopardize their businesses, personal security, and control over local politics. This is the second factor fueling the current morass " elites employing armed force to preserve their interests.

The final source of insecurity is the Congolese state itself. Its crippling weakness reinforces the belief that the only way of protecting property and individual freedoms is through armed force. The Congolese state has neither the rule of law to guarantee property rights, nor the force of law to suppress armed rivals. This lack of faith in Congolese institutions is perhaps the most intractable part of the current conundrum.

The M23 mutiny

When in April a new rebellion emerged in army camps across the eastern Congo, it drew on these same three sources of instabilty. It is the direct successor to the CNDP, which had been integrated into the Congolese army in January 2009, after Kinshasa struck a peace deal with Kigali. …

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