Congo's risky push to crush rebels
Rwanda's Army moved deeper into neighboring Congo Sunday as part of a surprise deal last week to root out Hutu rebels. But when will Rwanda's troops leave?
Nairobi, Kenya; and Kigali, Rwanda
With the arrest of Congolese rebel leader Gen. Laurent Nkunda last week in Rwanda, Congolese President Joseph Kabila would seem to have what he wanted from his surprise deal with Rwanda, inviting the Rwandan army in to help him clear out unwanted rebel groups.Skip to next paragraph
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General Nkunda, after all, had led a four-year rebellion against Congo's military in the name of protecting his Tutsi ethnic group against attacks from other ethnic militias, especially the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu rebel group accused of launching the 1994 genocide against Tutsis. And earlier this year, Nkunda raised the stakes, promising to topple Kabila's government.
But if the price for removing one enemy, Nkunda, meant inviting in another enemy – the well-armed nation of Rwanda – into Congolese territory, why did Congo agree to the deal?
The answer appears to be a mixture of desperation, personal animosity, and incompetence. Given the history of Rwandan interventions in Congo, Kabila's people may pay the price for this deal for months and years to come.
"It seems that Kabila and his entourage were really nervous, and they had to do something big," says Guillaume Lacaille, a Congo expert for the International Crisis Group in Nairobi. Kabila has a history of making bold deals, particularly after his military options have run out and his own hold on power is threatened.
In December 2007, the Congolese Army launched an offensive against Nkunda that failed utterly, Mr. Lacaille says, and Kabila immediately initiated the Goma Peace Process to end the fighting and bring Nkunda and other smaller rebel groups to the negotiating table. Following the collapse of the Congolese Army after Nkunda's forces marched toward Goma in November, Kabila is now making a bold move: declaring a truce with his former enemy in order to weaken Nkunda's forces.
"It's a sign of a lack of long-term political vision," says Lacaille.
An incredibly rich country full of export-quality hardwoods, diamonds, gold, uranium, tin, and a high-tech-ready metal known as coltan, Congo also has one of the weakest armies in Africa, full of underpaid and undertrained troops, many of whom have been absorbed recently from ragtag rebel groups.
This fateful combination of wealth and weakness have made it an attractive site for plunder, both by former colonial European nations and by Congo's own better-armed neighbors in Africa, including Angola, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. In 1997, a joint operation by Ugandan, Rwandan, and Burundian troops helped Congolese rebel leader Laurent Kabila (Joseph's father) to overthrow the long-time dictator President Mobutu Sese Seko.
When Rwandan troops refused to leave, allegedly because of their interest in Congolese mines, President Kabila turned on his Rwandan sponsors and launched a second Congolese war from 2000 to 2003. The Rwandans retreated, but a sympathetic militia of ethnic Tutsis, led by Nkunda, soon took their place, and Congo alleges that Nkunda's forces were a proxy force to keep Congo unstable and weak.