Inside Congo: The politics of betrayal and proxy rebel factions

As the United Nations Group of Experts implicated Rwanda and later on Uganda, the world especially the Western world reacted with tough actions suspending aid to the tiny Central African nation, which many agrees has recovered so quickly from the 1994 genocide.

By Richard Mgamba, The Guardian on Sunday, Tanzania

PART ONE: The Genesis of M23 (pdf 1a) (pdf 1b)

PART TWO: How mutiny was created, funded (pdf 2a) (pdf 2b)

Johnnie Carson, former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, speaking about the escalating conflict in the Eastern Congo on December 11 last year, ten days after M23 withdrawal from Goma, said, “The dialogue on how to resolve the Congo crisis has become unhelpful and polarizing. It has dissolved into emotional grandstanding and finger pointing.”

Yes, as Carson put it, the Congo’s crisis turned into an emotional grandstanding and finger pointing last year, with Democratic Republic of Congo being backed by the group of experts, accusing Rwanda and Uganda of meddling on its affairs by supporting the M23 rebels.

Southern African Development Community also supported the accusations labeled against two non-members, Rwanda and Uganda, with the former deciding to deploy the so called intervention Brigade in order to boost the world’s second most expensive peace keeping army in DRC.

Though Rwanda fought back strongly in attempt to clear its image, the fight was just crocodile tears because the judgment has already been passed by the group of experts, thanks to the anonymous witnesses who testified to the group that Kigali was behind the newly born M23 rebel faction led by Brigadier General Emanuel Sultani Makenga.

In our series, “Inside Congo”, we bring you the other side of the story: the politics of betrayal, which have dominated the country dating back to early 1960s. Congo’s first Prime Minister was betrayed by among other things his fellow politicians who were supported by the Belgium and America, during an attempt to break the Soviet Empire as the cold war era unfolded.

Lumumba, the first legally elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was assassinated 51 years ago — on 17 January 1961. According to a report published by the UK’s Guardian newspaper in January last year, this heinous crime was a culmination of two inter-related assassination plots by American and Belgian governments, which used Congolese accomplices and a Belgian execution squad to carry out the deed.

Ludo De Witte, the Belgian author of the best book on this crime, qualifies it as “the most important assassination of the 20th century”. The assassination’s historical importance lies in a multitude of factors, the most pertinent being the global context in which it took place, its impact on Congolese politics since then and Lumumba’s overall legacy as a nationalist leader.

For 126 years, the US and Belgium have played key roles in shaping Congo’s destiny. In April 1884, seven months before the Berlin Congress, the US became the first country in the world to recognise the claims of King Leopold II of the Belgians to the territories of the Congo Basin.

When the atrocities related to brutal economic exploitation in Leopold’s Congo Free State resulted in millions of fatalities, the US joined other world powers to force Belgium to take over the country as a regular colony. And it was during the colonial period that the US acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo, following its use of the uranium from Congolese mines to manufacture the first atomic weapons, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.

“With the outbreak of the cold war, it was inevitable that the US and its western allies would not be prepared to let Africans have effective control over strategic raw materials, lest these fall in the hands of their enemies in the Soviet camp. It is in this regard that Patrice Lumumba’s determination to achieve genuine independence and to have full control over Congo’s resources in order to utilise them to improve the living conditions of our people was perceived as a threat to western interests.

“To fight him, the US and Belgium used all the tools and resources at their disposal, including the United Nations secretariat, under Dag Hammarskjöld and Ralph Bunche, to buy the support of Lumumba’s Congolese rivals, and hired killers.” The UK’s Guardian reported on January 17, 2011.

The assassination took place at a time when the country had fallen under four separate governments: the central government in Kinshasa (then Léopoldville); a rival central government by Lumumba’s followers in Kisangani (then Stanleyville); and the secessionist regimes in the mineral-rich provinces of Katanga and South Kasai, the report further said.

Since Lumumba’s physical elimination had removed what the west saw as the major threat to their interests in the Congo, internationally led efforts were undertaken to restore the authority of the moderate and pro-western regime in Kinshasa over the entire country. These resulted in ending the Lumumbist regime in Kisangani in August 1961, the secession of South Kasai in September 1962, and the Katanga secession in January 1963. 

The politics of betrayal never ended there: During the Congo’s first war, which started in Goma town in a bid to oust the Dictator Mobutu regime,   two partners betrayed each other. General Andre Kissase Ngandu, a prominent rebel fighter with revolutionary credentials, who was also the president of the AFDL’s military wing and the National Resistance Council (CNRD), was betrayed by his colleague, Laurent Desire Kabila.

General Ngandu was assassinated on 4 January 1997, in North Kivu by Rwandan Tutsi soldiers in what was coordinated by Kabila. During the assassination, Kabila’s position was that of spokesperson and head of the political wing.

Following the assassination, Kabila became the leader of the movement, promising to step down once, Dictator Mobutu has been ousted. But, when his forces, which were heavily backed by Rwanda and Uganda captured Kinshasa, Kabila refused to step down, and automatically became the President of Zaire, which he renamed, “the Democratic Republic of Congo”.

As if that wasn’t enough. He ordered all foreign forces, mainly Rwanda and Uganda, which had supported him heavily, to leave Congo immediately. Kabila also revoked the citizenship of Congolese Tutsi known as Banyamulenge, who were majority in his rebel faction, ordering them to return back to Rwanda.

Kabila decided purposely to form an alliance with Hutu rebels in his bid to fight the Kigali dominance, though earlier, it was agreed that Rwanda will support him to oust Mobutu and in return he would also help his masters to fight the Interahamwe and Hutu militias.

What followed was a fierce battle, known as Second Congo War. As this was continued, in January 2001, Kabila was assassinated by one his bodyguards in what is believed to be a payback after he betrayed his partners.

When the Lusaka peace agreement was signed after the assassination of Kabila, many thought there would be a breakthrough, but again the politics of betrayal took place. This time it was Kabila’s son, Joseph Kabila, who betrayed his colleagues from the Kivu Province. In return, those who felt betrayed, formed their rebel faction operating under CNDP.

The leader of this movement was none, but, Laurent Nkunda. Then came another looming peace agreement in 2009, whereby Rwanda was told to disarm and arrest Nkunda, in order to pave the way for ceasefire. Rwanda did what it was told. After the arrest of Nkunda, Jean Bosco Ntaganda became the leader of CNDP, with Makenga being his number two. This move brought a temporary ceasefire on March 23, 2009 when peace agreement was signed in Nairobi.

Three years later, CNDP rebels led by Makenga and Ntaganda feeling a betrayal from Kinshasa regime, rebelled against the Congolese national army, and formed M23 faction. At the other hand, Banyamulenge feel betrayed by the politicians in Kinshasa, a move, which they say, has motivated their rebellion for years in attempt to fight for political supremacy as well as protecting their minority Tutsi against Hutu rebels known as Forces for Democratic Liberation of Rwanda(FDLRD).

At the same time Kigali also feels betrayed by Kinshasa regime, which the RPF regime supported heavily hoping that once the ‘devil’ Mobutu has gone, there would be a smooth partnership between the two neighbours. FDLR also feels betrayed by the Kinshasa regime, which they claim to have supported for over decade against Rwandese ‘invasion’ and they demand compensation.

The ordinary citizens especially Congolese also feel betrayed by the international community. They are raped, killed and displaced in the presence of the world’s second most expensive army, known by its acronym as MONUSCO.

With about $16.8 billion spent in bankrolling the peace mission in Congo, the Congolese have never seen peace. What they have witnessed is elusive peace, guns, bullets and military tanks. What they have seen is five million deaths, hundreds thousand rapes and above all cheap politics.

This is what the Inside Congo series is also about. It’s about the politics of betrayal, which have dominated Congo for nearly two decades now, causing a humanitarian disaster in which over 5 million people died. In Inside Congo, we have thoroughly investigated M23 rebels starting with the genesis of the so called Banyamulenge, which dates back about 400 years ago to the current standoff in Kivu province. We have also investigated the FDLR rebels, their strength, their finances and above all how and why they have remained active in Congo for over two decades despite the presence of the world’s second most expensive army with an annual budget of roughly $1.4 billion.

We have also investigated the impact of the UN peace keeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, in order to see the value for money. During our investigation, we concluded that though it’s the second most funded peace mission by the UN, it has failed to save Congo from the warlords.

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