Uganda president Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda president Paul Kagame (Photo: REUTERS/Noor Khamis)
Rwanda and Uganda have carried out attacks against the Democratic Republic of Congo for the past 25 years. Their aggressions are carried out with the backing of the U.S. and European nations who aid their theft of Congo's resources.
The recent outbreak of military confrontation on May 22nd between the Congolese military and the Rwanda-backed M23 rebel group represents the latest episode in Paul Kagame's 25-year war of aggression and pillage against the Congolese people. The Congolese military in coordination with a United Nations authorized international force made up of South African, Malawian and Tanzanian soldiers defeated the Rwanda-backed M23 in 2013. A lot of the leadership fled back into Rwanda and Uganda where they evidently have been incubated and reconstituted to launch yet another attack on the Congolese people. The stark reality is that there is no M23 without Rwanda. The Congolese military captured two Rwandan soldiers among the M23 rebels in the latest incursions. Tensions have risen between the two nations and is escalating. According to the Congolese military, Rwanda has recently dispatched 500 soldiers in the east of Congo alongside the M23 rebels.
Paul Kagame's Rwanda and Yoweri Museveni's Uganda have both invaded the Congo (1996 & 1998), occupied large swaths of the country, and backed and sponsored militia groups such as the M23 in order to sew mayhem and destruction as both nations profit from Congo's riches. In a 2001 report, the United Nations noted “Presidents Kagame and Museveni are on the verge of becoming the godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
Both leaders are able to have their way in the Congo in large part due to the backing they receive from the United States, Great Britain and a number of other Western states. They are authoritarian figures who have been in power for decades - over two decades for Kagame and over three decades for Museveni. They have benefited from U.S. tax payer dollars to the tune of billions in donor aid, military equipment, intelligence, training, etc. In addition, they take full advantage of the diplomatic and political cover provided by the United States in particular, in order to skirt international justice for the mass crimes they have committed in the Great Lakes region of Africa. They are part of a collective of African neo-colonial agents that date back to Bill Clinton’s administration of the 1990s. Madeleine Albright then Secretary of State, Susan Rice then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and Bill Clinton dubbed this new group of proxies “Renaissance Leaders” or the “New Breed” of African leaders. The Clinton Administration put its stamp of approval on these leaders which provided them cover for the crimes that they have committed against their fellow Africans. Some of these leaders included Meles Zenawi of Ethiopian and Kagame and Museveni of Rwanda and Uganda respectively. The policy was enshrined in the so-called Entebbe principles, which enrolled these leaders in advancing U.S. security, strategic interests and neoliberal economic policies in Africa.
Paul Kagame has apparently risen to be the chief beneficiary of Washington’s protection. The cover and protection that Rwanda has experienced has its origins in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda where the United States shielded Paul Kagame and his military from prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity that they committed during the Rwandan genocide. The crimes that both Kagame and Museveni have committed in the region have resulted in what the United Nations has called the deadliest conflict in the world since WWII and the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st Century. An estimated six million Congolese perished between 1996 – 2007 due to the conflict and conflict related causes. The United Nations stated in its 2010 Mapping Exercise Report that if the acts committed by Kagame's military in the Congo were to be "proven before a competent court, could be characterized as crimes of genocide." The Congolese have had minimal success in holding Museveni to account. The International Court of Justice found the Ugandan government culpable for war crimes and plunder in the Congo and order it to pay $325 million in reparations to the Congo. Rwanda would have likely befallen the same fate if not worse but it is not party to the International Court of Justice and hence outside of its jurisdiction.
Because of the impunity, lack of accountability, and lack of justice combined with the tacit endorsement of Western powers of the criminal actions by Paul Kagame, he has been able to sew murder and mayhem not only in the Congo but in different parts of Africa. He has dispatched assassins in several countries (Kenya, South Africa, Belgium, Netherlands, and England to name a few) in order to silence or assassinate dissidents. South Africa responded forcefully in 2014 by expelling three Rwandan diplomats as a result of Kagame sending his henchmen to assassinate former Rwandan colonel and dissident, Patrick Karegeya. Even today, Kagame recently kidnapped a Belgian Citizen and US resident, Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of the movie Hotel Rwanda. Don Cheadle who played Rusesabagina is a part of a campaign to free the hero who courageously saved lives during the Rwandan genocide. Rusesabagina's family has filed a law suit against the Rwandan government for Kidnapping their patriarch.
In spite of Paul Kagame's well documented crimes, he and his government have been rewarded with leadership in institutions like the British Commonwealth and the Francophonie. The red carpet is rolled out for him in Ivy League universities in the United States. Sports associations like the National Basketball Association (NBA) and teams like the Arsenal Football Club of London fully embrace him and he is often found at the World Economic Forum in Davos as a feted guest. The cover that the Western governments and institutions have provided to Kagame has enabled him to fight while denying is military’s presence in the East of the Congo and his government’s sponsorship of militia groups like the M23. In a tweet that he later had to walk back, rationalizing the latest incursion by the Rwanda-backed M23 in eastern Congo, former U.S. Ambassador/Special Envoy for the Sahel & Great Lakes Regions of Africa, Dr Peter Pham is yet another example of how Kagame has been given cover.
The DR Congo’s president, Felix Tshisekedi stated emphatically “The resurgence of this armed movement, which was defeated in 2013 with the confiscation of its military arsenal, can only be due to Rwanda. This is no longer a secret.” Tshisekedi goes further by calling for justice for the victims of the Rwandan government’s crimes in the Congo through the implementation of the UN Mapping Exercise Report and the installation of an international criminal tribunal on the crimes in the Congo. This is a cause that the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr. Denis Mukwege has long championed. However, they are no match for Kagame’s connections in the West, particularly the United States. The recent visit by AFRICOM head, General Stephen Townsend in the midst of Kagame’s latest aggression against the Congo is case in point. As long as Paul Kagame continues to carry out his duties as a key agent of Western interests in Africa, neither he nor his partners in crime will likely face justice. A case in point, the Spanish Courts had an international arrest warrant out for 40 of Rwanda’s top officials under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction (the same principle that ensnared former Chilean agent of U.S. Imperialism, Augusto Pinochet). One of Rwanda’s top official, General Karenzi Karake was apprehended on the Spanish courts warrant for “war crimes against civilians.” In order to resist extradition to Spain Karenzi hired Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie Blair to defend him. Karenzi was later released on a technicality and was able to return to Rwanda.
The Chair of the African Union, Senegalese president Maky Sall said he has spoken to both Paul Kagame and Felix Tshisekedi. He has called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Regional efforts to deescalate the conflict are also being led by Angolan President João Lourenço as head of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
The U.S. government’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken has called for dialogue, which is for all intents and purposes reasserting the status quo of the past quarter century whereby Paul Kagame backs militia groups in the Congo while skirting accountability. As the U.S. government calls for dialogue, the Congolese people are demanding justice and an end to the carte-blanche given to Paul Kagame by the U.S. government while he sponsors atrocities in the Congo. It is this deep contradiction that leads many Congolese at the grassroots level to question U.S. attempts to pressure African governments to fall in line and support its stance against Russia in Ukraine. Congolese have been the victims of a U.S.-backed regime that has waged war against them for a quarter century. Yet, the Western media barely makes note of it and when they do the conflict is often cast in tribal, atavistic terms devoid of the geo-political underpinning that keeps the hart of the African continent in perpetual conflict and instability.
U.S., UK and EU citizens can play a key role in demanding that their governments cease the military and financial support they lavish on Paul Kagame. Citizens can help put an end to the diplomatic and political cover their governments have provided the Rwandan strongman for past quarter century of criminal wars of aggression Kagame has waged against the people of the DR Congo.
For its part, the Congolese government may have to consider following the path of former President Laurent Desire Kabila when he came under a withering attack from U.S. backed Rwandan and Uganda forces in 1998. He reached out to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), of which Congo is a member state, for Pan African military support. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia in particular responded and beat back the Rwandan and Ugandan militaries preventing a regime change in Kinshasa.
Maurice Carney is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Friends of the Congo.