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Kagame on Congo: An Excerpt from our Conversation with the Rwandan President

Last Tuesday, The New York Times reported that a rebel group known as the M23 Movement had gained control of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Goma borders Rwanda and played host to both Tutsi refugees during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and remnants of the Hutu regime after Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front expelled them forcibly and took power. Although Kagame has long denied any support of paramilitary groups fighting within the DRC, UN investigators have found evidence that the Rwandan government is training and arming the M23 rebels, who are mostly Tutsi. For the upcoming winter 2012 issue of World Policy Journal, editor David A. Andelman and managing editor Christopher Shay sat down with Kagame to discuss Rwanda’s internal development and growing international role. In the excerpt below, Kagame argues that the root cause of the volatility in the eastern Congo is the Congolese government’s inability to create institutions that embrace and mediate its ethnically and culturally diverse population, and that no outside forces are triggering the violence.

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WPJ: There are also problems between different countries. You even have problems on your borders too, in eastern Congo especially. A recent African summit in Kampala agreed to send an international neutral force. What’s the prognosis? Can there be Pan-African forces like that, dealing with such issues?

Kagame: There can be, and there should be. We have already seen this kind of force help resolve a number of problems. We saw it in Burundi, which was actually helped by the Africans getting together. We have seen that happen in Somalia, which isn’t yet fully stable, but it is better than it was yesterday, and it is because of the Africans and the African troops. Now in our case, everything we have to do, it is always important to do with a clear context. We are in west Africa. It is Congo’s problem, but it is also Africa’s problem. Congo has nine neighbors, so the mess in Congo will affect nine countries. If in these nine countries there is any problem, it will flow back into Congo. There is no way you can parachute in a solution from outside. People don’t even understand the issues on the ground, which are extremely complex. You have had the UN helping to deal with that problem for the last 12 years. You have had close to 20,000 troops on the ground, which is expensive, but is not making a dent in the situation. Something is not right about how we are dealing with the problem.

We want to help Congo deal with these problems. The Congolese leaders themselves must understand the problem, and we can only support them. So the international force that is supposed to come in is a force that ensures some peace and security that will allow political processes to happen so that most these problems are addressed. Now, the international force that is going to monitor the border is really operating on two premises. The first is history. The border of the eastern Congo was ruined in colonial times. It divided societies. A big population of one culture, origin, and heritage lives on the other side of the border in the Congo. And depending on the governance of Congo, sometimes the leaders decide to accept these people as bonafide citizens of Congo, while other leaders have to play politics and say these are not Congolese, these are Rwandese. Indeed, the setup in Rwanda is the same setup on the other side in Congo—Hutu and Tutsi together. You have the same problem in southern Uganda, which has hundreds of Rwandese, again from the other side. But, there is no problem with Uganda on this basis, because the governance structures in Uganda and in Rwanda really don’t turn it into a problem. So the force that will be arriving must say, “Let’s be at the border. Let’s make sure nothing happens from either side of the border to aggravate the situation with this community, and then let’s allow the political solution to evolve naturally.”

WPJ: So are you going to be part of this force? My understanding is you’re not going to send troops.

Kagame: Only because we don’t want to. As a matter of right, members of the region can send a force. But we are already playing an important role. In fact, the chiefs of the armies and the ministers of defense of 11 countries, including Rwanda, in this region are already working out a plan of how this force is to be formed and how it is to operate.

To read the rest of our interview with Kagame, pick up the winter 2012 issue of World Policy Journal, available in December.

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Photo courtesy of Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

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