Since 1996, the Banyamulenge, a Congolese Tutsi community, has repeatedly been accused by their fellow Congolese of conspiring with Rwanda to oust Zaire's former long-standing ruler Mobutu Sese Seko from power. As a result of this alleged disloyalty, the Banyamulenge have become scapegoats for the continuing humanitarian crisis that has plagued the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for many years. While the Banyamulenge were seeking a regime-changing war, that would topple the long-ruling Mobutu's tenure (which had been marked by rampant corruption intended to enrich himself and his cronies), Kagame's plan was improving Rwanda by expropriating the natural resources of its neighbors in the Democratic Republic of Congo and, becoming what some have termed as "Africa's economic success story." While Rwandan President, Paul Kagame (a self-proclaimed anti-genocide activist, with Rwanda, also branded as an anti-genocide watchdog) sought to present himself as a champion of the Banyamulenge cause, it is fair to say that the Banyamulenge had been made into political pawns, solely to advance Rwanda's economic interests. The lip service mission was to thwart the impending genocide but with hidden actions purposed to plunder DRC's natural resources.
The Banyamulenge are a little-known Tutsi ethnic group that had immigrated to Congo before colonization; they have close blood ties to the Tutsi from both Rwanda and Burundi. The Banyamulenge's citizenship remains hotly contested with some hardliners and influential politicians in the DRC, hyperbolically describing them as 'the invaders from Rwanda.' Consequently, the Banyamulenge in the Congo have been subjected to a great deal of systematic discrimination. They are stateless and have no rights as recurring state-sanctioned violence has also prompted various influxes of refugees throughout the past three decades.
Seeking a solution
In 1990, a youth squad comprising hundreds of disenfranchised and disillusioned young Banyamulenge joined up with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in a Tutsi-led rebellion in Uganda. The Rwandan refugees, under President Museveni's tutelage, had become militarised and had been planning a war of liberation against the regime in Rwanda. The Banyamulenge intended to learn how to fight to secure a long-lasting solution to the widespread insecurity and social injustice that they had suffered since the1960s. They were naive in thinking that supporting the RPF as their fellow tribe-mates, would trigger the RPF to help them back in Congo, just as President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was endorsed by the Rwandans who joined the National Resistance Army (a guerilla movement) that installed him as president of Uganda. Museveni, in turn, supported the RPF to raid Rwanda, a situation that prompted the Banyamulenge to expect the same from Rwanda's RPF.
In 1994, the Banyamulenge were part of the troops that liberated Rwanda and facilitated Paul Kagame's ascent to power after defeating the Hutu-led government that had perpetrated genocide. However, under Kagame's watch, the RPF initiated structural impediments that were designed to subjugate the Banyamulenge perpetually. For instance, the Banyamulenge soldiers were never recognized despite their considerable contribution during the Rwandan liberation war. Gakunzi Freddy, a Banyamulenge soldier, commented, "we were marginalized, we were made second-class people." He went on to say, "had the then sergeant Venant Bisogo been an RPF insider, he would have been highly ranked. Bisogo had killed an enemy, wore his uniform, and fearlessly entered the enemy's camp, pretending to be one of them (Rwandan army before the genocide that fought against the RPF that are known as EX-FAR). He fooled the highest-ranking official in the camp, claiming that he wanted to show him the RPF's dwelling place. The then ex-armed forces Rwanda (FAR) found himself besieged by Tutsi soldiers through a well-prepared trap." Staggeringly, Bisogo's heroic deed was brushed aside. Despite this, the Banyamulenge were undeterred by this slight -although they did make their frustration known. However, they continued to march, as the primary goal was to return home.
As Uganda had backed Kagame in overthrowing Habyarimana's genocidal government, the Banyamulenge expected the same from its ally. The Banyamulenge's turn came on 23 December 1996 in Rwanda's Butare Province. Rwandan high military officials-among them; Caesar Kayizari, Alex Kagame, and Charles Kayonga - set up a meeting with the Banyamulenge to plan how to raid the mineral-rich, cash-poor central African country. The high-ranking Rwandan officials devised a seemingly absurd proposal which the Banyamulenge categorically opposed. The motion was that the Banyamulenge should be relocated to Rwanda to be secreted in refugee camps before the DRC war began. The response of Rwandan senior military officials is encapsulated in the famous declaration: "if you do not want to work with us, Rwanda has got and will always have a thousand means to trap you." Twenty-four years later, Kagame is still true to his word. This motto was, and still is, the blueprint of Rwanda's destructive legacy in Congo: Rwanda has backed every Banyamulenge rebellion or fought against and even killed few who had resisted them. "It was ironic to hear someone claiming to be willing to fight for you but telling you instead to flee your motherland. From that day, we questioned them," said Emile Rugali, one of the Banyamulenge who had attended the meeting. "We knew that their plan was not to secure us but to push us aside. Since then, they have decided to work with lamb-like individuals among us."
In 1996, Rwanda itself trained, armed, and financed the Tutsi Banyamulenge Congolese, and in the process, introducing Laurent Kabila - a well-known figure into the Congolese political landscape. Kabila was a former warlord who had relinquished his political career to become the war poster boy of the newly formed Alliance of Democratic Forces for the liberation of Congo-Zaire.
Kagame justified the Congo war to the still-traumatized genocide survivors, suggesting that their survival was still at stake. He insisted that if they don't attack the genocide perpetrators who regrouped in Congo, Rwanda would soon face the second genocide. Therefore, it was branded the imperative war to defend the genocide survivors. Rwanda's publicized motivations behind the invasion of ex-Zaire (the DRC) were twofold. The first concerned the annihilation of the alleged French-backed perpetrators of the genocidal attacks that had to regroup and were coordinating deadly cross-border raids into their homeland. The second motivation was to rescue the endangered Banyamulenge, which was on the brink of genocide, from both the ex-Zaire government and Rwanda's genocidal former government.
In this first mission, not only did Rwanda hunt down those who had committed genocide, but also, obliterated the Hutu-dominated refugee camps, slaughtering thousands of refugees and Hutu civilians in the process. Meanwhile, the second mission was merely a smokescreen aimed at confiscating the DRC's natural resources under the guise of the Congolese movement. Kabila, along with the Banyamulenge Tutsi, marched west towards the capital city of Kinshasa, forcing Mobutu - who had been the dictator for three decades - to flee the country on 17 May 1997. Having been appointed by Rwanda as head of state, Kabila was ordered to appoint a Rwandan general as military chief of staff, thus abandoning the Banyamulenge, who had fought alongside him.
Rwanda's subsequent missions then shifted from protecting its land from attacks by those who had perpetrated genocide to looting the abundant natural resources found in the DRC. Despite Rwanda's historical shortage of mineral resources, its diamond exports increased from 162 carats in 1998 to 30,520 two years later. "As a soldier guarding the Kisangani airport, I witnessed two Rwandan military planes carrying only sacks of tons of gold and diamonds every day from Kisangani (DRC) to Kigali for six months. Sometimes they would round-trip like five times," observed Fidele Gasita, a Tutsi Congolese under Rwanda's stewardship.
However, soon after that, Kabila became increasingly frustrated by both Rwanda's desire to plunder the DRC's natural resources and its continued meddling in his country's affairs. As a result, both the Banyamulenge and Rwanda were expelled from Kinshasa. However, Rwanda continued in its pursuits. In 1999, a few weeks after being evicted, Rwanda unilaterally took control of the Congolese city of Goma, as well as the Kivu and Kisangani provinces. A new political party, Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), was founded and was nominally led by Azarias Ruberwa - a weak, compliant Congolese Tutsi. Congo's warring factions, including the RCD, signed the Sun City Peace Agreement (a UN-sponsored power-sharing agreement that led to a transitional government). This agreement brought an end to Rwanda's significant influence on the RCD. Having been appointed one of the vice-presidents of the country through the Sun City Peace Agreement, Ruberwa was viewed by many as a Rwandan-backed puppet, imposed on the Congolese to advance Rwanda's economic interests. Ruberwa tried to emerge from Kagame's shadow and become his own man, but in so doing, he was seen by Kigali to be switching allegiance to President Kabila. Ruberwa's stance was coupled with the Banyamulenge soldiers' ardent disentanglement from Kigali's web.
Additionally, Kigali's fall-out with the Banyamulenge meant Rwanda needed to find other excuses to remain in the Congo. Hence, Kagame's regime spuriously accused the Banyamulenge of colluding with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) - an armed group comprising former Rwandan soldiers and Hutu rebels, who had fled after taking part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. As a result, in 2003, Rwanda commenced air attacks against its friend-turned-foe, allegedly causing the deaths of hundreds of Banyamulenge civilians. The brutal killing of the Banyamulenge was the final nail in the coffin, permanently souring the uneasy relations with Kigali.
In his unmatched opportunistic machinations, Kagame adjusted his tactics to suit the circumstances. He focused on northern Kivu's Tutsi - a new movement known as the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). It was led by Laurent Nkunda, who had once joined the transitional government, and later on, lured by Kigali. While Nkunda's troops were gaining momentum, international condemnation and a looming embargo, compelled Kagame's regime to dismantle the CNDP abruptly. However, Nkunda proved to be resistant. As a result, just as Israel would seem to turn its back on a distressed Jew, Rwanda's government created ethnic fissures among Nkunda's troops. Bosco Ntaganda, Nkunda's chief of staff - against whom the International Criminal Court had issued an arrest warrant- was blackmailed into dividing his troops in exchange for being offered sanctuary in Rwanda. Ntaganda masterminded the downfall of the CNDP by dismantling his forces. Since then, Nkunda has been kept under house arrest for his alleged betrayal.
Friedrich Hegel famously said, "What we learn from history is, we do not learn anything from history ." The M23 - the Congolese Tutsi revolutionary movement - could seem to have confirmed this truth. This revolutionary movement, which remained answerable to Rwanda until its bitter end, was under the leadership of Rwanda's Minister of Defence, James Kabarebe. Banyamulenge soldiers, who had joined the transitional government, fought tooth and nail against the M23. Venant Bisogo, the former Banyamulenge sergeant, was appointed by President Joseph Kabila to lead the military operation against Rwanda's satellite.
The Current Situation
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