Peace in the DRC is contingent on peace between Hutu and Tutsi

August 30, 2013 3:00 pm0 comments by:

Fighting is once again raging in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In mid-July, violence began again between the DRC government forces, called Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), and M23 rebels.

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M23 Makenga

On August 22, the new United Nations (UN) intervention brigade – authorized by the Security Council in March of 2013 to “disarm and neutralise” rebel groups in eastern DRC and consisting of troops from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania – entered the fray on the side of the DRC government forces. The brigade shelled M23 positions in a joint operation with the FARDC after reporting that mortar attacks were launched by M23 on the North Kivu capital of Goma, injuring five civilians. Since that point, back and forth fighting between the two sides has led to several casualties, including one Tanzanian UN peacekeeper. The ongoing battle is the latest incident in a series of violent clashes that started when M23 mutinied from the DRC army in April of 2012.

On August 22, the government of Rwanda – whose border lies only five kilometres from the battle – accused the FARDC of firing a rocket across the border into Rwanda. By August 29 reports emerged from Rwanda that over 30 bombs and rockets had been fired into Rwanda by FARDC forces. Rwanda has been accused throughout the M23 rebellion of backing the M23 rebel forces. Unleashing rockets and bombs into Rwanda could provide an excuse for Rwanda to send its military to back the M23 rebels openly. Ultimately, adding more elements to the discord, especially open involvement by Rwanda, will only add to the overall chaos that engulfs the area and may send the conflict spiralling back to war between the neighbouring nations. However, at the heart of this issue is not necessarily the DRC and Rwanda, but the two ethnic groups that have been fighting for more than two decades, Hutus and Tutsis.

Despite the fact that the DRC and Rwandan governments have been at odds for nearly two decades, the real conflict descended from the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. The genocide was perpetrated following the assassination of long-time Rwandan President and ethnic Hutu Juvenal Habyarimana. Blaming the assassination on Tutsis, radical Hutus within the Habyarimana regime ordered youth militia groups – called Interahamwe and the national army to retaliate by massacring every Tutsi they could find. As a result, over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutu sympathisers were murdered in 100 days in one of the worst cases of ethnic violence in world history. The slaughter only ceased when Paul Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) arrived in Kigali and forced the Hutus to flee into neighbouring Zaire (now the DRC). While over one million Hutus fled Rwanda into Zaire as refugees, only approximately 50,000 of them were actually guilty of perpetrating the genocide. Kagame and the RPF have pursued these Hutu radical elements in the eastern DRC provinces and jungles ever since, to finally exact their revenge.

The war in the DRC has been ongoing for nearly two decades. Although the actual war did not start until 1998, Rwandan Tutsis were conducting missions in the DRC as early as 1996. Although there have been many factions and militia groups throughout the conflict, at the heart of each conflict has been a Tutsi or Hutu rebel group, and most often both.

The remnants of the Interahamwe and the perpetrators of the genocide formed the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu rebel group that operates in the DRC but conducts raids and assaults on Rwandan territory from their hideout in the jungles of eastern DRC. By the same measure, Tutsis soldiers in the form of either the RPF or various militia groups have been hunting the FDLR for years, creating friction both legally through joint operations with the DRC government and illegally – without sanction – since 1996. Tutsis in the area from both Rwanda and native DRC Tutsis have created an ongoing alliance with a mission to eliminate the FDLR and with it, their hated Hutu enemies.

Unfortunately, the ordinary inhabitants of the area are the ones that suffer the gravest consequences. Countless war crimes and crimes against humanity have been reported against both Hutu and Tutsi elements as they ravage the civilian population of eastern Congo in the ongoing proxy war conducted between the two ethnic groups.

Now, the new Tutsi rebel group is the M23. Prior to M23 it was Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which operated from 2006 until 2009 when the DRC and Rwandan government’s brokered a deal to integrate CNDP soldiers into the DRC national army. If the M23 is stopped, it is only a matter of time before the next Tutsi rebel group springs up in an attempt to wipe out the FDLR, who has been extremely resilient in their staying power.

FRDL

FDLR soldier

DRC President Joseph Kabila has been reluctant to re-enter negotiation stages with M23 after talks broke off in December, choosing instead to use the force of the FARDC and leveraging his partnership and support by UN forces to remove M23 permanently from North Kivu. However, if reports of the rockets fired into Rwanda are true, Kabila may have provoked the Rwandan government which could turn the tide in favour of M23.

In order to fix the problem in the DRC, the Hutu-Tutsi feud must end. While a strong Tutsi presence remains entrenched in the Rwandan government, no negotiations have taken place between the two groups since the genocide. Rwandan President Paul Kagame has been stubborn and dictatorial in his adamant refusal to deal with Hutus in any capacity, and it is hard to blame him. He returned to his country to see 800,000 brethren butchered. However, after 18 years and over 5 million dead in eastern Congo, it may be time to seek a more peaceful solution for the sake of the civilian population. Violence has been the only strategy utilised by either side. This must change. However, until the Hutu-Tutsi conflict reaches a peaceful negotiation stage, this is simply another conflict amid an embroiled battle that began nearly 20 years ago.

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