07 December 2008

What to do about Rwanda?

Right now, if you're in development in Britain or America, Rwanda is a good place to be. Please note I'm not talking about economic growth or political stability (though it has both of those), but things like NGO presence, media attention, politicians visiting to show they care. If you have ever read accounts of the Rwandan genocide, or remember those dark days in 1994, Rwanda's peaceful reconstruction is surely something to celebrate. It even has the ultimate capitalist accolade: a business-school case study.

Unfortunately, there is a dark side to Rwanda: its role in the never-ending conflict in Eastern Congo. This disturbing account comes from the New York Times. Notice that the Rwandan officials do not deny that Rwandan citizens are crossing into DRC to fight, merely that their government is encouraging or paying them. But then who needs pay when mineral riches await?

I know very little about Congo and would not dare to take sides or argue that Rwanda's fears about Hutu extremists hiting in the jungle are unjustified. But I still feel wary about a country celebrated as a model of enlightended leadership in a troubled region intervening in its neighbour's affairs militarily. Yes, Congo is a threat to regional stability; yes, the Congolese government has failed to gain control of Eastern Congo or disarm the Hutu militia; but that is still not a pretext for unilateral military intervention, even by proxy. (As this guy, or this one, could tell their Rwandan friends).

It may suit Western governments to continue supporting President Kagame's regime (except for France); it may well be the best regime for Rwandans as well. But let's not allow the West's failure to prevent the Rwandan genocide become a pretext for inaction in the Congo, or get caught up in some stupid neo-colonial rivalry. We need a united approach and we need it now.


Mo-ha-med said...

Ah, I remember this class with Michael Porter.. we watched a tape of an interview he made with Paul Kagame, who was, I have to say, surprisingly outspoken.

I was trying to get a hold of the 'troubles' in the Congo and how much it is an extension of the charming ethnic rivalry that gave us 1994. (I'm being very, very liberal with the term rivalry).

This said, an intervention in a neighbouring country is a breach of law. And just like the world/the Bank tolerated corruption in Indonesia (2/3 of the money was being embezzled under Suharto..) because the system still worked, it is a question of arbitrage - whether turning the blind eye on Rwanda is 'worth it'.

Reynolds Whalen said...

I would like to note that since this post, the Rwandan government has been very clear about its interventions in the DRC and is working reasonably transparently with the government of that country to fight a rebellious movement that has caused both countries immense and unnecessary suffering.

I would also like to note that many ethnic and political associations transcend the country borders that were arbitrarily drawn by Western powers (most of them capitalist countries, by the way) in the late 1800s. While this may not entirely excuse one country's government interfering in another's affairs, it certainly should stop being ignored when people discuss issues of sovereignty in this part of the world.

In this particular case, both governments have been engaged in high-level talks since before the New York Times article by Jeffrey Gettleman was printed, an article that I find discouragingly one-sided and a poor portrayal of the actual situation.

In fact, a few weekends ago in Kigali, I happened to meet one of the local journalists charged with accompanying Mr. Gettleman to the DRC to obtain the very interviews that appear in his piece, and this person was even more disheartened than I to see the biased angle Gettleman chose for this extremely important piece that directly resulted in funding cuts of all sorts for Rwanda.

All this being said, I am not one to endorse violence of any kind. I believe that there are other paths, such as the ones Rwandan citizens themselves have taken in which genocide perpetrators and survivors live side by side in certain towns and villages, often sharing water tanks and other essential commodities. Perhaps these are the stories that we should be focusing on instead. Think what a different world this would be if our front pages proclaimed the unthinkable, inspiring, very real stories of reconciliation in addition to the equally real, yet overly prevalent images of death and destruction that have become the accepted norm.