Like him or not, no one can ever accuse President Kagame, of lack of clarity. He was at his most forthright, in his New Year’s address to the nation, or should that read, to the nations, because, he had three audiences in mind. He spoke to the domestic audience, which he addressed in Kinyarwanda, and the regional audience, which could have been addressed in Kiswahili, but perhaps for the sake of brevity, was instead addressed in English, along with the “international community.”
Why put international community in quotes, the eagle eyed among you, might want to know. That is a discussion for another time, but for now, should it not strike us as somewhat odd, that the term, international community, is not generally understood to encompass a regional grouping of nations, which is home to over a 100 million people? Does it not seem that we might need to redefine what we mean by international, when the accepted definition can no longer claim kinship with the reality of what it is supposed to define?
As it is, taking the world as it is, President Kagame, addressed himself to the three different entities. To Rwandans, a reiteration of earlier messages, thanking them for coming together, as the country battled the Sars-Cov2 pandemic. The nation’s economy has rebounded well, and 2023 looks promising, he assured.
He also reminded Rwandans that this, is the penultimate year, before the end of the government’s seven year term, and while much to celebrate has been achieved, a great deal remains, before other national targets can be reached.
As he often does, the President avowed to Rwandans, that their security will always be guaranteed.
Relations with Rwanda’s neighbours, he told his audience, were good, but issues, especially with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had arisen.
Now he switched to English, thanking the regional leaders, who, through established regional mechanisms, were attempting to resolve those issues in the DRC. He committed Rwanda’s support for their efforts, and expressed his confidence that those efforts would bear fruit.
“I thank these leaders, as well as the heads of state, of the East African community, for the crucial work they are undertaking, which Rwanda fully supports…”
He warns however, that all these efforts are unlikely to succeed, “unless the unhelpful approach of the international community, changes significantly…”
In direct, uncompromising language, Kagame, not only drew attention to the international community’s failure, in suggesting any semblance of a route to peace and stability in the DRC, but their apparent tendency to derail others’ endeavours to resolve the crisis there.
“It is disappointing that the international community pays lip service peace, and actually ends up complicating matters, which undermines the regional processes.”
“After spending tens of billions of dollars, on peacekeeping, over the past two decades, the security situation in Eastern Congo, is worse than ever. To explain this failure, some in the international community, blame Rwanda, even though they know very well, that the true responsibility lies primarily with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as these external actors, who refuse to address the root causes of the problem.”
“No where else” he concluded.
It is, he continued, a fabrication that seems intended to appease politicians in Kinshasa, whom the international community wants placated, as a way of maintaining their own interests in the DCR, but which has come at a high cost for the DRC, and its people.
“This is a very expensive lie, that makes no logical sense. They speak the truth only in whispers, afraid to displease the Congolese government, and compromise their own interests, but in fact they embolden leaders of the DRC, to take more and more drastic steps, to consolidate its populist base, in the process hurting their own people.”
Referring to the recent, widely leaked United Nations Group of Experts report, on the DRC, Kagame decries the international community’s selective reading of that report, seemingly to suit the preferred narrative.
Claims that Rwanda supports the M23 movement, are amplified, by among others, United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, some US senators, and various groupings, in the European Union Parliament, while genocidal murders, instigated by Congolese politicians, and the government’s collaboration with armed groups, including the so called, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), get scant, if any attention.
All of this, he says, is ignored as “if it is of no consequence.” An attitude, he adds, which although shocking, is hardly surprising, “given what Rwandans saw in our region, in the 1990s.”
“We have had enough of this hypocrisy” he said, “it is high time that the unwarranted vilification of Rwanda stopped.”
“Of course, we are directly affected when the remnants of the militias that committed genocide in Rwanda, become auxiliary forces of the DRC army, and conduct attacks across our border.”
“No country can accept this, Rwanda will never accept this as normal, and will always respond appropriately, because our security and stability, are paramount.”
It has been four months, or so, since the eruption of the long running sore, that is the DRC crisis. Throughout that time, the M23 movement, has captured swathes of territory, in Eastern DRC.
Every advance by the rebels, has been followed by a cacophony of accusations, that Rwanda was supporting them, even that there were 1,000 members of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), in the DRC.
For its part, the DRC government, has studiously avoided acknowledgement of M23, insisting they are Rwandans.
Congo’s politicians, including the President, Felix Tshekedi, have traversed almost all four corners of the world, calling for sanctions against Rwanda. No event, meeting, interview, or press conference, has been without condemnation of Rwanda.
Even a climate change conference, was interrupted to accuse Rwanda, not only of “aggressing” the DRC, but apparently of also damaging Congo’s environment.
These public, and behind the scenes efforts, seem to have been rewarded. The United Nations stabalising mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), has kept a discreet silence, as the DRC military, FARDC, has integrated the FDLR, Mai-Mai, and other armed groups into its ranks, to fight M23 rebels.
A deaf ear, has been turned to the steady stream of hate speech, flowing from the very centre of government, in Kinshasa, and which has inevitably hardened into heightened persecution, and genocidal murders of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese.
From media commentators, to policy makers, and human rights organisations, none of this has seemed to matter, as they have instead, echoed Congolese politicians’ condemnation of Rwanda.
Throughout all this, Rwanda has conspicuously held its peace. Even when their territory was shelled from the DRC, leaving a trail of destruction, they said little more than that they reserved the right to respond, but will, for now, defer to the regional mechanisms to resolve the issues.
That silence now seems to have been broken, by the Presidential end of year address.
It was a comprehensive speech, in which the Rwandan head of state, “wanted to convey these points clearly, so we as Rwandans understand the current situation, and our partners and friends around the world, know where we stand.”
That stand, is that Rwanda, will no longer accept to “bear the burden for the DRC’s responsibilities.”
“There are more than 100 [armed] groups, flourishing in eastern Congo, including Rwandan genocidaires militia like the FDLR. These groups create constant insecurity for civilians in DRC and Rwanda. The reason this situation prevails, is because DRC is unwilling, or unable to govern its territory. Should Rwanda be the one to bear the dysfunction of this immense country?” he asked, rhetorically.
The M23 movement, gives as its reason for fighting, the question of refugees that are even now fleeing persecution in the DRC, because of their ethnicity, a question President Kagame, cites as just one example of the dysfunctionality of the DRC, and one which the international community refuses to acknowledge.
“The situation of the Congolese refugees, whose very right to a nationality is denied, by their own country, is a case in point. It is not just a question of hate speech, but of active persecution over decades.”
Many of these refugees, hundreds of thousands, have sought, and continue to seek refuge, in East African Community countries. Rwanda, he reminds his audience, has hosted at least 70,000 of them for decades.
“Yet the international community effectively pretends that these people do not exist, or that they don’t know, what causes them to be refugees in the first place. The policy seems to be for them to remain in Rwanda, indefinitely, which only serves to whitewash the lie that they are actually Rwandans, who deserved to be expelled.”
It is, he emphasised, and international problem, that requires an international solution. He called for the refugees to be repatriated, and made it clear, one suspects to all those seeking to apply pressure on the country, that Rwanda, will not get in the way of the refugees’ efforts to return home.
“The conditions for Congolese refugees to return home in safety and dignity must be established. In any case Rwanda will not stop them from going home, in any way they choose.”
He pointed to the government of Burundi’s recent efforts, to persuade Burundi’s refugees, in Rwanda, to return home, as an example of what can be achieved, when there is the political will.
A significant number of Barundi, as people from Burundi are known, chose to return home, following reassurances from Burundi officials, who visited Barundi refugee camps in Rwanda.
Deflecting attention from all these realities on the ground, he suggested, are the self styled, Africa experts, who seem to want to shape Rwanda, and the region, in their imagined image, rather than the actual reality.
“At the same time, it’s important to expose the so called African experts, and policy makers, wherever they come from, who have peddled lies and created confusion, about Rwanda, and this region.”
The President concluded his speech, with what any keen observer over the years, might recgonise, as the Kagame doctrine, certainly an important aspect of it: no compromise on security and stability for Rwanda and Rwandans, an open hand of friendship, to all, especially neighbours, a clear and optimistic vision of future possibilities, if the right course of action is followed.
“I want to assure Rwandans, that our country will continue to be safe and secure in 2023” he said, and lest anyone be tempted to question that, he added, “there is no doubt about that.” This, a familiar refrain, that brooks on argument, or contradiction.
“And I believe that with continued implementation of the decisions of the regional Luanda, and Nairobi processes, we can address this issue, bearing in mind that Congo is our neighbour and we will always live side by side.”
And for anyone who might be blinded to a brighter future, by present difficulties, the optimistic vision, that this too shall pass.
“And in due course, I believe that our common future for all of us in East Africa and the Great Lakes region, will be a prosperous and secure one. Rwandans will keep working towards that” he assured.
With that, it was a switch back to Kinyarwanda, to wish Rwandans, and their families, a Happy, prosperous new year, filled with heaven’s blessings, before switching back to English, to wish the same, to “our regional brothers and sisters.”