Kigali, March 30 2009
Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, shares his belief that Rwanda and Congo can work together to overcome violent rebel factions and yield a peaceful solution to the conflict in eastern Congo – with or without the help of the international community. He also talks about his plans for bringing captured rebel leader Laurent Nkunda to justice.
The past years have been difficult for the people of eastern Congo. They have suffered at the hands of the various militia groups that come and go and others that stay for several years, like the FDLR. And despite our efforts over the years, we still have not eliminated the threat from the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide who are operating in Congo. Neither have we seen any relief via the current UN mission in Congo, Monuc. If you asked me right now if I think the presence of Monuc has made any difference, I’d have to tell you that I don’t know. Hopefully this new relationship between Rwanda and Congo, our joint operation, can bring some relief. We’ll see.
I attended some discussions with the Congo government about how to resolve our differences and deal with the rebel factions in Congo, such as the FDLR, which consists of Hutu killers who fled to Congo from Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. Eventually we reached a point where we realised that working together would bring better results. I think that in a very short time we have seen this cooperation of armies bring about some impressive results.
However, first of all we knew there wasn’t much we could achieve if we didn’t start eliminating the threat of the FDLR. They are a security threat to both Rwanda and Congo, their presence in Congo alone causing huge loss of human life.
Our vision is that once we achieve stability along the Rwandan border and relative peace in Congo, we can start working together towards the bigger issues of social and economic development. These can be in trade or other areas, and should not just be restricted to Congo and Rwanda but benefit the whole region. I’m sure you are aware that other countries are affected by what happens in the Congo – Uganda and Burundi, for example. So the big picture we are looking at is to build as much peace as possible.
So far, the impact of the international community on this issue has been negative, in my opinion. I simply don’t believe our problems can be solved by foreign powers. Whether it’s security, governance, politics or issues of aid, what starts out as genuine and good intentions soon becomes dangerous. It makes people dependent on international involvement and this is not what we want to see in our countries. We need to be able to rely on our own efforts and hard work.
In my experience, Rwanda and Congo have been progressing towards prosperity just fine by themselves. Foreign powers tend to blame our problems on everything but themselves. They don’t seem to deal with the underlying causes of our problems, which are political in nature, and which they, the international community, are linked with historically. Even now, they try to provide all sorts of solutions that will never work. It’s as if Rwanda and Congo must be fixed according to what they think, and not according to what Rwandans or Congolese think.
While I appreciate that foreign countries can help us, it should be the sort of help that adds to our efforts rather than replaces them. This is something we need to be very clear about. Otherwise, if we are not careful, our people will spend another 100 years begging and living on charity.
Having said that, there is no doubt that we need the international community to stick around. They have resources that can help to make some of our initiatives work. They also have ideas. We don’t mind listening to their ideas – just as long as they don’t think that only their ideas will work; we also have our own ideas.
For a long time we had a problem with the Tutsi rebel Laurent Nkunda; he contributed to the divisiveness and fragmentation in eastern Congo. Now that he has been arrested, everyone has come together and is able to work together. Even the CNDP, his own rebel group, has splintered away from him and become part of the solution, integrating into the Congolese military.
His arrest came about because he realised that the tide against him had become too big. He knew if he fought us he would be defeated. He was refusing to allow our Rwandan-Congolese troops to pass through “his” area, but as we closed in on him he found he had no chance but to give in to our demands.
He didn’t take himself out of the picture, he was forced to leave. His views on how to deal with the problems in eastern Congo went against the views of Rwanda and Congo and even members of his own militia, the CNDP, disagreed with him. He continued to oppose us, and we managed to push him farther out. The result was he handed himself over.
Now that he’s under detention in Rwanda we don’t intend to charge him. We are planning to reach an agreement with Congo and hand him back to them. I believe he should be dealt with according to the sprit and background of Congo, the country he operated in. I’m sure the Congolese would appreciate that.
And yet, he handed himself to us, to Rwanda. I don’t understand why. Maybe he came to us for protection. He should have gone to Goma and handed himself to the Congolese authorities there. He is not a person who, after he has come to you, you put back on the streets and say “You are free”. Nor is he the sort of person who you can hand over to Congo and say “Here, take your person”.
So Nkunda is with us in Rwanda, under house arrest. It’s for his own security really, and because we see him more as a political prisoner. His confinement is to allow the peace process to stabilise while our two countries decide what to do with him.
But it will be the Congolese who make any charges against him, and they will do so in a manner that will satisfy their people. But as far as Rwanda is concerned, we are holding him as someone who ran to us as a result of what is happening in eastern Congo. We’ll hold onto him and say: “OK, we’ll keep you until we think it’s appropriate to send you back and the Congolese government has decided what to do with you.”
Now we’re at the end of this joint military operation, I will continue to support Congo in terms of intelligence, information and other bi-lateral relations. We will be needing the help of the international community when it comes to the humanitarian fallout, and we also need their help in supporting our security initiatives and development plans over the border.
They should support Congo’s military forces. That is, if they have to be there at all. I don’t know, it’s up to the Congolese to decide if they need anyone’s help, and whose is acceptable to them and fits into the situation as they see it.
President Paul Kagame was speaking to Susan Schulman in Rwanda.