Is Obama talking to Kagame through Kikwete about Congo?
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete sparked the outrage of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and other prominent Rwandans last week when he said, at the African Union’s 50th anniversary summit, that the UN combat intervention brigade cannot be the only solution to the long running armed conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. President Kikwete’s remarks were significant because the UN combat brigade is to be composed of Tanzanian, South African, and Malawian troops with a Tanzanian commander.
To achieve peace in the Great Lakes Region, he said, the Ugandan and Rwandan governments must negotiate with eastern Congolese militias composed of their own former citizens, whom they characterize as a cross border threat to their security. Rwandan President Paul Kagame and other prominent Rwandans responded angrily that they would never negotiate with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR , a militia composed of Rwandan Civil War refugees and their children in Congo.
On May 30th, the Rwanda New Times quoted Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu, President of the Ibuka genocide survivors group saying that, “Ibuka strongly condemns President Kikwete’s statement as no negotiation is acceptable with a known terrorist group that is responsible for the death of more than a million Tutsis in Rwanda and continues its blood-thirsty activities in the eastern DR Congo.”
Dusingizemungu's description of the Rwanda Genocide has been widely disputed by genocide survivors, ICTR defense lawyers, and academics. University of Michigan Professor Alan Stam pointed out, in his presentation “Understanding the Rwanda Genocide,” at the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy, that the 1991 Rwandan census reported a population of 7,590,235, including 645,170 Tutsis, and if that’s true, then this reference to “the death of more than a million Tutsis in Rwanda” isn’t plausible. The National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda’s website includes a page titled Second Rwanda General Census of Population and Housing - 1991, but, on June 2nd, there were no statistics there. Perhaps they’ll be there tomorrow, or perhaps they've been removed because they’re the subject of painful contention between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa survivors of a horrific tragedy in which approximately a million Rwandan people died.
Did The New Times, in their outrage at President Jakaya Kikweke, misquote Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu? Perhaps, but more importantly, misquote or no, a statement that the Rwandan government “will never negotiate” with the FDLR is not promising for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the wider region.
President Obama himself wrote, in his Senate legislation, the Obama Congo, Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006, that “the real and perceived presence of armed groups hostile to the Governments of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi continue to serve as a major source of regional instability and an apparent pretext for continued interference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by its neighbors [Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi].”
Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi have claimed to be pursuing these hostile groups of their own refugee citizens in the Congo since 1996, and in the process, instigated two regional conflagrations, including the “African World War” of 1998 to 2003, which drew in all nine countries bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By 2008, the International Rescue Commission completed an epidemiological study concluding that 5.4 million people, most of them civilians, had died of the fighting or of consequent hardship between 1998 and 2008 alone.
But despite nearly 20 years of war and human catastrophe in Congo, the Rwandan government continues to argue that Rwanda’s tragedy, not Congo's, and the FDLR’s threat to Rwanda from within Congo, is the fundamental and most important reality in the region, and says that it will not negotiate.
On Friday, June 1st, Ibuka survivors president Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu, published a response to Kikwete, titled, “Rwanda can’t talk to FDLR; they’re stone cold killers.”
However, on the same day, the Tanzanian press reported that President Jakaya Kikwete has said he will not apologise to Rwanda or change his stand that the Rwandan government should negotiate with rebels.
The White House recently announced that President Obama will soon make his second trip to Africa South of the Sahara, including stops in Senegal, and in South Africa and Tanzania, two of the three countries contributing troops to the UN combat intervention brigade. He will not travel to the capitals of longstanding U.S. allies and military partners Uganda and Rwanda.
Is President Obama speaking to President Kagame through President Jakaya Kikwete? Or is President Jakaya Kikwete speaking simply on his own? It seems most likely that President Kikwete at least knows that President Obama will agree with him that, after almost 20 years, the Rwandan Civil War in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo must end.