Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dealing with the FDLR: The art of the possible

Inter-Rwandan Dialogue. Again and again, Congolese civil society actors and politicians come back to this as a means of solving the problems in the Great Lakes. In the words of one such Congolese activist: "Why should Rwanda be allowed to fight its civil war on our soil [against the FDLR], causing untold suffering in the Congo, while never once even considering peaceful negotiations as a means of solving the conflict?"

This sentiment has been echoed by a petition signed in 2007 by Congolese ministers, politicians and civil society members - including 66 parliamentarians - demanding an inter-Rwandan Dialogue. In countless meetings with Congolese customary chiefs, politicians and human rights activists, I have heard those three words are chanted. The Catholic lay group Sant Egidio has been pushing for years to organizing negotiations between the FDLR and the Rwandan government (Kigali has refused) and another lay Catholic group Fundacio S'Olivar (based in the Mallorcan Islands) has been pushing for an Inter-Rwandan Dialogue for several years now, and has organized meetings of the Rwandan Diaspora with this end. (This group was accused by the UN Group of Experts of providing material support to the FDLR).

A few words on this controversial topic.

First, the military reality. Ever since it fled into exile, the purpose of Habyarimana's government has been to use armed force to pressure Paul Kagame's government to accept negotiations. After all, that was the RPF's own strategy when it was a rebel group (1990-1994) based in northern Rwanda. However, this military pressure has failed. The former Rwandan army (ex-FAR) and its successor organizations (ALiR, FDLR) waged a brutal insurgency in northwestern Rwanda until 1999, when they were beat back into the Congo. Their last major incursion into Rwanda was in early 2001, when 1,000 of their soldiers were killed and even more captured. Since then, the FDLR has been unable to put any military pressure on the Rwandan government. If Kigali is going to accept negotiations, it will only be because its international partners pressure it to do so. In fact, the FDLR's strategy has changed based on this reality: instead of using military pressure on Kigali, they brutalize Congolese civilians, hoping that this will pressure donors to act on Kigali.

Second, the legacy of the genocide. The FDLR is an organization that is closely linked in Rwandan imagination with the genocide. The Rwandan press often refer to it as the ex-FAR & Interahamwe, the very forces that carried out the genocide. While this is inaccurate - a majority of the FDLR's troops were too young to have been liable for crimes committed in 1994 (under Rwandan law, I believe you have to be 16) and many of them were youths/children recruited in the refugee camps in the Congo - many of the FDLR's officers were indeed FAR officers. How many were involved in the genocide is a big unknown - I have heard 20% of the officer corps, but the Rwandan government has not indicted any of their main leaders (aside from Callixte Mbarushimana, in France) - but any pressure for negotiations must consider that we might be negotiating with war criminals. There is a good chance that their military commander, General Sylvestre Mudacumura, was involved in 1994 massacres, as well as several other of the top brass. As we know through our experience with the LRA (whose top commander is indicted by the International Criminal Court), it is not easy negotiating with people who believe that peace = arrest. Also, we need to recognize the reality of Rwandan politics. It is not just Paul Kagame who does not want to negotiate with the FDLR. The entire Rwandan political scene revolves around the genocide, it dominates the political discourse and it the point of reference for much of Rwandan politics. It would be immensely difficult to persuade the various powerful interest groups in Rwandan politics (genocide survivors, army, etc.) to accept political negotiations with the FDLR. The Rwandan government would have to accept the FDLR as a political party, which would be impossible under the current legislation, which forbids the use of ethnicity and genocide ideology by political actors.

Which brings me back to the reality - as long as Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Rick Warren, Paul Farmer, Bill Gates, TIME magazine and much of the western diplomatic establishment strongly supports the Rwandan government, it will be difficult to impose direct political negotiations with the FDLR.

But this is not to say that the sentiment of negotiations is wrong or forsaken. In the face of immense killing and displacement in the eastern DRC, any diplomatic initiatives must be considered. Even if the Kimia II operations seriously damage the FDLR - which they are doing - they will not get rid of the organization. So what can be done?

Talking to the FDLR will encourage them, will throw them a lifeline. But there is no reason why discrete, informal contacts cannot be made with moderates within the group and the Rwandan Diaspora. Some of the FDLR's top commanders and believed to have nothing to the 1994 genocide. These initial talks should focus on what is possible: providing incentives to FDLR commanders and soldiers to return to Rwanda.
  • This could mean promising them positions in the army or administration, or arranging for an exile for those who do not want to return.
  • The FDLR will not be able to be a political party in Rwanda (as they have demanded), but this does not mean that their members could not form another party and enter the political debate. This would have to come with donor pressure on the Rwandan government to open political space.
  • The Rwandan government should also reveal what kind of dirt they have in their legal files on FDLR leaders - I think it is relatively little (Rakiya Omar's comprehensive report earlier this year about genocidaires in the FDLR has information only on very few leaders).
  • While many FDLR leaders may not be liable for crimes of genocide in Rwanda, many are responsible for countless abuses in the Congo. While they shouldn't be let off the hook for this, we need to be pragmatic. Let them leave the bush, give up the brutal insurgency. Prosecution can come later. This is the position of all Congolese human rights group I have spoken with, and even (less publicly) of international human rights activists.
These kinds of informal, sustained contacts are - I believe - what US Senator Russ Feingold (Democrat, Wisconsin) was alluding to in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying
"the international community should urge Kigali to open direct negotiations with non-genocidaire combatants of the FDLR to encourage their repatriation."

This will not be easy. 2010 is an election year in Rwanda, and the RPF will not want to be seen compromising with its worst enemy. However, the FDLR are hurting and could be open to some sort of deal. After all, as Bismarck said, politics is the art of the possible.


Unknown said...


This is the first time I see a "to the point" assessment of the root cause of the problem in the African Great Lakes region and the pragmatic and perhaps only likely successful solutions from a well connected person like you.
Once again, you show your mastery of the problem in the Great Lakes Region. I would add the following. Why not support the Sant'Egidio peace process? To my knowledge, since 2008, Sant'Egidio, the DRC government, Eglise du Christ in Congo (ECC), and SIK-Norway have been working with the most moderate leaders in the Rwandan armed rebellion. The leaders of the political party called National Democratic Congress (NCD), composed of RUD-Urunana and the Tutsi RPR (Rally for the Rwandan People, who are ex-RPF Tutsi military), have shown their moderate views and that they can disarm troops in the DRC (see Kisangani Roadmap of May 26, 2008 and the disarmement of Kasiki on July 31, 2008). It also happens that these leaders are easily accessible. For RUD political leaders: Felicien Kanyamibwa and Jean Marie Higiro are in USA, Augustine Dukuze is in Canada, and Marie Goretti Abayizigira is in France, whereas for the Tutsi RPR, Major Gerard Ntashamaje lives in Belgium and Captain Ruyenzi in France. RUD and RPR leaders will be tasked to convince and bring into the fold the FDLR moderates. Another advantage is that NCD (RUD/RPR) comprises both Tutsis and Hutus, the main Rwandan ethnic groups.
But this can only be possible if USA, UK, France, and the UN get involved and support these moderate leaders and put pressure on both the Rwandan and the DRC governments. I am convinced this would certainly unlock the impasse.
I cannot finish without mentioning that Rakiya Omaar and her Rwandan DMI inspired reports can not be credible. She just is too close to RPF, having worked and lived with them since 1993 and currently being on the payroll of the Rwandan Government. If you need proofs I will be happy to forward these to you. Unfortunately, the latest UN Group of Experts' report is also tainted by Rakiya Omaar, which discredits the findings.

Jason Stearns said...


I am not against the Sant'Edigio process or the Norwegian-sponsored talks in Kisangani, but we have to recognize their limitations.

To my best recollection, the Sant'Egidio process was blocked by the fact that Kigali refused to come to Rome, and by the political conditions that the FDLR imposed on returning to Rwanda. Given the lay of the land in Rwanda - whatever you may think of it - it will be very difficult to carry out such negotiations in public between the FDLR and the RPF for the reasons I listed in the posting.

As for the Kisangani talks, I don't think that General Musare ever took them seriously. They were poorly structured - how can you have talks between RUD and Kinshasa when the real talks should have been between RUD and Kigali? At the end, RUD was never serious about returning home, I think (I heard as much from their commanders) - the talks were very attractive for the cash, food and shelter that come with them and for the credibility it gave the organization.

Rather, I think that Sant-Egidio can help but contacting the moderates in RUD/FDLR to arrange non-political talks with Kigali. We need to de-link the political and military problems. While I strongly agree that there should be an opening of political space in Rwanda, I do not think that it makes sense to tie this to negotiations with the FDLR or RUD. They are not credible as political organizations, their troops on the ground have caused far too much suffering.

Unknown said...


I must disagree with you on this: you cannot de-link the political and military problems in the case of Rwanda. I sincerely think the serious mistakes we in the West have made is to assume that there is a bunch of military thugs who holds others hostages. If it were so, Umoja Wetu and Kimia I &II would have solved the problem, because according to sources on the ground, the FDLR were dispersed into very small groups.

The problem is political. I agree that talks should have been between RUD and Kigali. However, Kigali sent an official delegation during Kasiki disarmament ceremony: it was a first step that should have been exploited. Also to my knowledge, in January 2009, General Musare sent to Kigali a delegation, coordinated by MONUC and selected from those regrouped in Kasiki. The report on the visit, that I saw on the internet, was very insightful.
I do not see how General Musare could have taken the Kisangani process lightly, while sending his Second in Command to Pisa, Rome, and Kisangani, and personally participating in the demobilization process. On France24 and in other media, it was clearly shown and written that both General Musare and Felicien Kanyamibwa led the ceremonies in Kasiki on RUD's behalf and Mbusa Nyamwisi and Security Advisor to the President for the DRC government. Rwandan officials and diplomats were guests.
I do no see a rebel commander getting out of the bush without being serious or agreeing with the political leaders. There is a stark contrast with FDLR: have you ever seen General Mudacumura? Also, my sources say that RUD-Urunana is rather a more disciplined group and lives in harmony with Nande, Hunde, and Hutu in South Lubero and Rutshuru. PARECO/FPC leader General Kakule Lafontaine has confirmed the fact in the memorandum he sent to the UK Ambassador in Kinshasa on September 28, 2009. This is what he wrote (please see next post):

Unknown said...


PARECO/FPC leader General Kakule Lafontaine has confirmed the fact in the memorandum he sent to the UK Ambassador in Kinshasa on September 28, 2009. This is what he wrote:
"5.les fameuses FDLR, dont on ne connaît pas réellement l’agenda. Ils sont là fortement armés, intouchables, entretenant de relations ambiguës avec les FARDC, les Mayi Mayi et parfois même avec une partie du CNDP. Ils font du commerce, volent le petit bétail et les récoltes de la population autochtones. Nombreux parmi eux vivent sur le dos de la population. Ils n‘ont pas de leadership politique. Ils présentent un danger parce que n’importe qui peut les utiliser dans la déstabilisation de notre pays.

6. Les RUD, est un mouvement des combattants rwandais dont les éléments sont des Hutu et des Tutsi. Ils sont eux aussi lourdement armés. Contrairement aux autres forces présentes sur terrain, celles-ci vivent en harmonie avec la population. Leurs leaders politiques qui vivent en Occident viennent souvent les voir et passent beaucoup de temps avec eux. Ils entretiennent de bonnes relations avec les agents de la MONUC qui n’hésitent pas à passer les nuits dans leur campement avec leurs véhicules. Ils sont en contact avec les hautes autorités de Kinshasa. Ils se sont mariés aux femmes congolaises, spécialement de la communauté des BAHUTU de Rutshuru et Masisi. Ils cultivent leurs propres champs et font parfois du commerce. Leur intégration au sein des communautés locales semble leur réussir. La population semble les accepter et les tolérer. Ce qui est étonnant dans ce groupe est qu’ils font des allers-retours au Rwanda. Dans les rangs de ce mouvement, on trouve aussi des jeunes de la communauté HUTU congolaise. Ils répondent tous aux ordres d’un seul commandement. Ils combattent les éléments du CNDP. Ils sont alliés aux Mayi Mayi et certaines unités des FARDC. Ils constituent une source d’insécurité potentielle du fait qu’ils sont lourdement armés sur notre territoire. Ils opèrent en territoire de Rutshuru et Lubero. Leur comportement est exemplaire et hautement apprécié par la population."

You know the region more than anyone here. But I believe the Burundi formula is a best example of what can be done: starting a political process with a moderate armed group and use the success to bring in the most radical.

DM said...

Solid arguments as always. My own feeling from having a brief look at how the FDLR operate on the ground is that there are still too much hardliners dominating the debate on the FDLR side. These are the same guys who hold together the military and propaganda machine of the FDLR on the ground, terrorising many of the moderates into staying in the bush and fighting for a cause they dont necessarilly believe in. The edifice needs to be softened up somewhat. How do can we do that? Arrest some of the leaders in the diaspora. They were never planning on going back to Rwanda anyway, unless it meant regime change. Western governments need to do more before they can call Rwanda to account, otherwise Kigali will continue to repeat its objections to opening up political space and parrot tired old arguments to justify its interventions in the DRC. If the international community can achieve this it will have some moral authority to address some of Rwanda's involvement in DRC.

Unknown said...


How can leaders in the diaspora hold together the military and terrorize those on the ground? I have impression you may have a partial view or not be aware of what is going on on the ground. Having observed for long the Rwandan rebels, their political leaders can only advocate, maybe push, for political solutions, but cannot, and I say CANNOT order the military to stay in the bush or for the matter, to go back to Rwanda. The proofs are there: the overall FDLR commander General Paul Rwarakabije managed to defect with only 20 officers: 1 Colonel, 4 majors, 15 low ranking officers, and his body guards; Major Seraphin Bizimungu failed to convince his 2 high ranking associates (by the way, not accused of genocide), who instead fled to Zambia or somewhere in Southern Africa instead of going back to Rwanda, where RPF had promised them positions within the military.

Let us think out of the box. Jason has proposed a reasonable and pragmatic framework. We only diverge on three points:
1- I believe the Rwandan problem is political, not military
2- I am convinced that supporting the Sant'Egidio and Norway approach of getting Rwanda to negotiate with the moderates, especially RUD is the best approach
3- I think we have catered to the whims and tantrums of Paul Kagame too much. It is time for the spoiled Rwandan dictator to grow up and start respecting the basic rights of his people.

As for advocating the arrest of Rwandan opposition leaders in the diaspora, in the West we do not arrest people for their political views. We leave that to the dictators somewhere else. How about arresting Paul Kagame who is responsible for the death of more 5 millions Congolese and 3 millions of his people?

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