Rwanda is the smallest country in the region, one-ninetieth the size of neighboring Zaire. Between 6 April and the beginning of July 1996, approximately 800,000 Tutsi Rwandese were slaughtered in Rwanda in a horrendous genocide. Over 1,600,000 Hutu Rwandese reportedly fled the country. In the aftermath of the genocide, the problems produced by the genocide and the massive flight of refugees would plague Zaire and serve as a catalyst to bring its own internal problems to a boil that erupted in civil war.
According to official sources, there were about 1,250,000 refugees in Zaire in the Spring of 1996. 150,000 of these were Burundian Hutus who had fled the civil conflict and the military repression of the Tutsi regime in that country. The other 1,100,000 refugees came from Rwanda. Following the defeat by the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) of the extremist Hutu regime that had taken over the government after President Habyarimana’s plane had been shot down on 6 April 1994, over a million Hutu had fled into Zaire. Included in that total were approximately 40,000 ex-FAR (Forces Armées Rwandaise), the officers and men of the army of the defeated regime. There were also tens of thousands of militia, primarily the infamous interahamwe (those who attack together); that militia had been the primary agent of the murder of 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu moderates slaughtered in the genocide over the previous ten weeks in Rwanda.
Because of ignorance of the history of the conflict and the type of media coverage, many media watchers identified the refugees as victims who had fled to escape the genocide. In the compassion for their plight, there was a tendency to overlook the fact that this exodus included the genocidal killers among the other innocent refugees. The ex-FAR and their interahamwe minions quickly took over control of the camps, began to regroup and make plans for the recapture of Rwanda and, presumably, the completion of the unfinished genocide of the Tutsi.
This study is concerned with four dimensions of the problem of refugees in host states. First, there is a humanitarian problem – taking care of providing food, shelter and health services for genuine refugees until they can either be repatriated in safety or resettled. Second there is an economic problem. Refugees compete fore resources with indigenous populations and, if related to some of the indigenous inhabitants, affect the traditional demographic balance. On the other hand, refugee camps provide sources for income and even exploitation and corruption by locals. Thirdly, refugees almost always develop into a political issue. For in addition to the demographic balance, which usually has political overtones, refugees affect local and regional political alliances. They also become a political football to be used with domestic constituencies, in relations with adjacent states and in dealing with donor countries. Finally, and most importantly in this case, refugees are a security issue. They are a source of tension because some refugees are victims and others are perpetrators of banditry, rape and murder. But most importantly, refugees become a source of recruitment and financing of refugee warriors intent on regaining power in their host state as well as targets for exploitation by local military bodies.
This chapter begins with the period when the ex-FAR and interahamwe were using their bases in the camps to launch raids back into Rwanda. In alliance with the Zaire military, they also spread the conflict into Zaire by attacking local Tutsis, the Banyarwanda in north Kivu and the Banyamulenge in south Kivu where the refugee camps were located along the border with Rwanda. At the same time, these militants continued their control over the Hutu refugees, indoctrinating them with fear of return, using them as recruits for reconstructing their forces and taxing them as well as taking a percentage of the relief supplies to help finance the rebuilding of their army. The refugee camps, supported and supplied by the international humanitarian community, were being used as safe havens by the genocidaires to escape from justice, regroup and restart war and genocide.
This chapter documents the use of the refugees and the camps for these purposes. But the extremist Hutus were not the only ones to use and abuse the refugees. The government and army of the host state, Zaire, played a role, as did the rebel forces that developed in Zaire during the period discussed. So did the states – Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire – immediately adjacent to the refugee camp areas. Other African states got into the act as did some of the Western powers. In particular, I will look at the role of Belgium, France, the United States and Canada. The international humanitarian agencies and NGOs that serviced and provisioned the refugees camps did not, with some exceptions, cease their activities or otherwise effectively intervene to prevent this development. Finally, media coverage of the camps played a role in perpetuating the extremist control over and use of the camps to continue the conflict.
The chapter will describe what happened, how it happened and attempt to explain why the camps were allowed to be used for these purposes and the dilemmas the various actors faced until the camps were broken up by a rebel force supported by the immediately adjacent threatened states. By November, once the camps were “liberated”, about 640,000 Hutu returned to Rwanda following the path of 15,000 who had been forcefully repatriated just months before. Others fled westward, deeper into Zaire. Charges were then made that the international community had been guilty of allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees to be slaughtered or perish from hunger and disease. First accused by some of being complicit in the protection of genocidaires, now these same agencies were charged with the very opposite – failing to carry out their protection mandate. Was either charge warranted?
The use of refugees by state and non-state actors is not unique to the Zaire case. What is unique is the degree of moral turpitude of the Hutu extremists who maintained control over the camps. Further, the refugee camps became the catalyst for the collapse on the second largest state in Africa. If these two facts were not unusual enough in themselves, the camp crisis in Zaire served not only as the trigger for the collapse of the Mobutu regime in Zaire but for what would develop into a continental war focused on Zaire. The crisis in the refugee camps in Zaire was unprecedented. It led directly to years of warfare in the host country, a war that was not just a civil war, as in Lebanon. The war in Zaire/Congo involved states from Libya and Morocco in the north of the huge continent of Africa to Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and, to some degree, South Africa to the south. Most significant of all, compared to the moral problematic of other situations in which refugees are used and abused, the moral choices in the clash of norms in this situation were relatively clear. Further, the options for intervention by the international community were not difficult to discern. And they were relatively – and I stress, relatively – easy to enact compared to many other cases. Yet no effective action was taken to prevent what happened. Why was this the case allowed to fester and get so out of control, particularly in light of the growing professed guilt over inaction to prevent or mitigate the genocide in Rwanda? What action might have been taken to lead history along a different path?
II Theories of Use and Abuse
There are a number of perspectives about how refugees become subject to use and abuse. First, as victims of conflict they are readily available for use as covers for legitimation, recruitment, financial resources (through tapping and skimming off of relief supplies as well as outright banditry) and covers for militarized groups. They are also available for use as proxies by an array of host country factions, regional states and international actors each with its own respective economic and geo-political interests. In this drama, refugees are cast as bit players. They are neither stars nor even supporting actors in the unfolding drama, even if the action could not take place without them.
A second thesis suggests that refugees are primary players and not just fodder for geo-political interest groups. The refugee warriors, the highly militarized and organized groups, are the military arm of the civilian population expressing its will to use coercive means to right an alleged injustice. As such, the refugees proper are part and parcel of the complex effort to use violent means to change their plight.
In both of the above theses, non-state as well as state actors pursue the economic and security interests of the populations they “represent”. The third thesis is a combination of the above two. Local political interests, supported and/or manipulated by international players are prime agents in instigating violence. But so too are the refugees and their warrior cousins. The collapse of Zaire and the transformation of the Congo into the playground of a continental war centered in the civil war in Zaire are a result of the complex interaction and dialectic among regional and international state players and refugee warriors as independent actors.
These three theses, however, do not exhaust the possible explanatory accounts. Though this chapter contends that there is some truth in the above three alternative accounts, particularly the third that combines the first two, a fourth thesis suggests that the factors listed above are only necessary conditions to explain what occurred. They are not sufficient conditions. Another critical factor has to be introduced – the role of NGOs and international agencies. Some scholars view these international economic humanitarian interveners as the major reason the local economy is deformed and even destroyed. (Uwin 1998) Further, the local power structure develops in relationship to dependency on aid from abroad for the maintenance of the first world lifestyles of the emergent middle class as well, in many cases, for the aristocratic lifestyle of a ruling elite. Aid, rooted in an other-directed ideology, ironically feeds local self interest and the thirst for money and power, which, if and when cut off, makes those dependent upon it desperate and prone to use any means to retain their positions. Those motivated by goodwill become hapless dupes of self-interested individuals. In this study, however, the stress will be on the priorities and values of the NGOs and how their mandates, values and circumstances allowed them first to become complicit in the crisis as it developed. Once the conflict broke into the open, the information and disinformation they supplied affected and prolonged the conflict.
In fact, this fourth explanatory thesis is but a variant realist thesis of the first three proffered. It differs not only in introducing a new set of actors into the explanatory equation. It puts forth the argument that the goodwill itself, not its corruption by others, distorts and deforms the local politics and economy so much that it must be elevated and included among the causal factors explaining the violent upheavals that followed. In the account that follows, I offer a stronger version of this thesis. Good will is not only a necessary condition, conjoined with self-interested politics, that brought about the violent upheavals in Zaire. Without that goodwill and well-intentioned role of the do-gooders and international agencies, the conflict would have been much more confined and limited in extent than the eventual result. In other words, in the strong version of thesis 4, goodwill and humanitarian intentions are more significant factors in explaining the extent and viciousness of the upheavals than self-interest, however critical the latter is.
However, a fifth thesis argues that self-interest combined with humanitarianism are still insufficient together to constitute the necessary and jointly sufficient conditions to explain the role of refugees in the collapse of Zaire in the perpetuation and expansion of the civil war. There are diachronic as well as synchronic factors at work as well. Zaire was caught in a time warp. Constituted as a multinational state late in the development of modernity, like many other states in Africa, there was an ill fit with the modern nation-state as the dominant norm. Instead, Zaire served as a classical state ruled by an elite who exploited whatever wealth could be extracted from the masses of workers in that state. The accoutrements of the modern nation-state provided the costume to disguise the anti-modern state underneath, and did so precisely at an historical point when globalization was in the process of transforming the international political system of modernity dominated by the rise of the absolute sovereign nation-state.
The dialectic of affect and self-interested rational calculation, of communitarian feelies and individual wheelies (states as well as persons), plays itself out in a global, transparent and intercommunicative world. In the name of openness, the past is concealed as the world media concentrate on the ephemeral excitement and intensity of the present. In an information age, disinformation is disseminated as quickly as information, for there is no time to sort out truth from illusions. In other words, we not only have a war of pre-modern despotic rule versus modern sovereignty rooted in the people fought out in a contest between a human rights versus a self-interest based ethos. The conflict takes place in a post-modern age in which the difference and, more importantly, the concern with the difference between truth and falsity becomes increasingly blurred. We are in the vestibule of a disinformation as well as information age.
My explanatory thesis will emphasize this fifth thesis. The transparent global world is so transparent that we cannot see. Unsubstantiated accusations based on unconfirmed evidence blip electronically around the globe in milli-seconds to add to the sense of chaos rather than reinforcing the sense of order, stimulating rather than dampening conflict. Thus, in addition to the unintended synergy between the humanitarian NGOs and international agencies and the self-interested actions of global and regional state actors serving as necessary conditions to explain the conflict, the whole idea of ordering the various factors into a sequence of causes and effects is itself undermined. For the disinformation/information age has little time or tolerance for the time and effort needed to giving order to a confusing situation by sorting out the causal explanatory factors. That function is relegated to the increasing irrelevant academy to be published in books long after the conflict has metamorphosed into a new form.
III Refugees and Refugee Warriors
In the summer of 1994 following the end of the Rwanda Civil War and the genocide, refugees moved in two directions. Many “Old Refugees” who had lived in exile in the neighboring countries for more than three decades returned to Rwanda. This chapter, however, is concerned with the refugees who moved in the other direction, more particularly, the Hutu refugees who fled Rwanda into Zaire rather than those who fled to Tanzania and abroad.
When the French implemented Operation Tourquoise on 22 June 1994 in southwest Rwanda and took no action against the genocidaires, members of the defeated regime retreated into South Kivu. (Adelman and Suhrke 1996, 54-57) Many ex-FAR, interahamwe and senior bureaucrats also fled to the Goma region of North Kivu and became interspersed with the refugees. “(I)n the space of just five days between the 14th and 18th of July, approximately 850,000 (of them)…crossed into Goma town (in Zaire) and at points further north.” (JEEARSynthesis Report, 27) A high percentage came from the prefectures of Gisenyi and Ruhengheri, the home region of the late President Habyarimana and his wife’s family as well as other political leaders, government and military officials. (Boutroe 1998) The genocidaires quickly established a government in exile in Goma.
Already frightened of the Rwandaise Patriotic Front (RPF), the legitimate refugees, “were intimidated or terrified into flight through a premeditated, carefully orchestrated attempt on the part of hard-line elements of the fleeing government to maintain leverage and a claim to legitimacy.” (JEEAR, Synthesis Report, 39) Extremist media continued the propaganda campaign against the Tutsi, but now switched from a message directing Hutu to slaughter them to one of fear and flight. The Hutu leadership called the people to leave the country after inciting them for months to massacre. The propaganda campaign claimed that the returning Tutsi would kill all of the Hutu. In the face of the magnitude of the genocidal killings and the cries for punishment of the perpetrators, these “criminal herdsmen” drove the refugees into Zaire. The flight of the interim government, the capture of Kigali by the RPF, combined with the military retreat from the bastion of Hutu extremism, the northwestern provinces, also panicked many Hutu. Over one and a half million people were reported as having left the region, a half million having fled into Tanzania. Almost all of the remainder entered Zaire..
Once in Zaire, the propaganda campaign continued. The camp inhabitants were indoctrinated with genocidal rhetoric and a re-written history of Rwanda. Documents found in Mugunga camp in late 1996 purporting to be history emphasised the unremitting repression of the Hutu by the Tutsi. These documents called for a just war of liberation against their oppressors and placed all responsibility for what had occurred on the shoulders of the Tutsi-dominated RPF.
The extremist leaders had a large captive population, though not as large as the official information led us to believe. Of the over one and one-half million Hutu Rwandese who fled Rwanda between April and July of 1994, 10 to 15 percent “were alleged to have participated directly in (the) mass killing” in Rwanda. The extremist militant group included the hard-line political leadership at all levels. Almost all of them fled to Zaire. One hundred to two hundred thousand refugees had already returned to Rwanda before the ex-FAR and interahamweestablished full control over the camps. the result was a total of an estimated 1,250,000 Hutu refugees in Zaire (assuming the UNHCR figures were accurate), of whom 150,000 were refugees from Burundi and 150,000 to 225,000 were genocidal killers or their families. That left at most 900,000 genuine refugees in the camps based on the assumption that the original UNHCR figures were accurate. It is generally the case that camp populations are normally exaggerated by an average of 10%. and much more when controlled by militants. If so, then even these figures are inflated by at least 100,000 and possibly as much as 200,000. This would make the genuine Rwandan Hutu refugee population in Zaire range from 700,000 to 800,000. Of these, 15,000 were forcefully repatriated by the Zairian army in August of 1996. An additional 640,000 repatriated spontaneously in November. The result would a low of 45,000 and a high of 145,000 refugee who died, were slaughtered, were unaccounted for or were a fictional figure in the first place because of grossly exaggerated figures of the refugee population in the camps.
From the very beginning, the major issue was how to separate the criminals from innocent refugees. A report to the UN Secretary-General in 1994 (Degni-Ségui 1994, 16) divided the non-refugee Rwandan population in eastern Zaire into three groups:
1. Former leaders, principally consisting of 50 families lodged in Villas at Bukavu;
2. An estimated 16,000 military personnel of the ex-FAR (with families, the population of this group numbered 80,00);
3. The militants in the militia, possibly 50,000, but probably more like 35,000, and, in any case, difficult to enumerate since they lived amongst the refugees; including family members, since far fewer of them were accompanied by families compared to the ex-FAR, their numbers perhaps totaled around 100,000.
The extremist Hutu political leadership, the ex-FAR and the militia transformed the refugee camps into sub-states. However, the genuine refugees, were not citizens. In fact, they were more like quasi-hostages subjected to pressure against returning and, further, into providing financial resources and personnel to support the militant plans to return to Rwanda by force. The major source of such pressure was the continuation of the militant propaganda machine based on misinformation and manipulation. “Volunteers”, recruited by the UNHCR to spy out the land and see if it was safe to return to Rwanda, were hand picked by the extremist leadership. They returned to the camps to report that it was highly dangerous to return since Hutus everywhere were being arrested and killed.
The Hutu authorities in the camps largely prevented the refugees from returning to Rwanda, although some genuinely feared the Tutsi-dominated regime. A well-established international principle is that refugee repatriation should take place on a ‘wholly voluntary basis’ and in ‘conditions of safety and security’. These refugees had to choose between the intimidation near at hand and the fear of worse, whether legitimate or not, if they returned. In fact, despite all the inhibiting factors, as we stated above, up to several hundred thousand spontaneously returned in August and September 1994 before the genocidaires secured full control of the camps. Subsequently, return was controlled by the extremists and used for the purpose of infiltration.
The Hutu extremist leaders from the CDR, ex-FAR and the interahamwe, made political speeches in the refugee camps demonizing the Tutsi and RPF, and claimed that anyone who returned would be imprisoned and massacred. Those who expressed a desire to return in spite of the propaganda and, in fact, some genuine risk, were physically threatened. If they managed to escape the camps and return, a price would be put on their life and they would be the first ones sought out when the ex-FAR and interahamwe inevitably re-conquered Rwanda. Such militant activities were against all rules of the OAU and of the conduct required in refugee camps.
The ex-FAR, and the interahamwe who had entered Zaire through Bukavu continued to wear their uniforms. They boasted a troop strength of 50,000 ex-FAR and interahamwe in more than a dozen camps by early 1995. The bulk of this festering capacity was in eastern Zaire, where the genocidaire leadership “fattened on international aid, preened in front of foreign journalists.” (Guest 1996) What is more, they had not been disarmed at the border, though others who crossed into Tanzania and at other Zairian entry points were asked to hand over their weapons in front of international observers. (Human Rights Watch Africa 1995, 11) “When the remnants of the defeated FAR poured into Zaire, they brought with them tons of machine guns, grenades, mortars, and other light weapons.” (Yett 1996, 14) They also brought armored cars, field artillery, four operational helicopters and a light fixed wing attack aircraft. The ex-FAR received arms shipments in the camps, conducted military training exercises, recruited combatants and planned a ‘final victory’ and a definitive solution to Hutu-Tutsi antagonisms. The genocidaires “openly declared their intent to return to Rwanda and …kill all Tutsi who (would) prevent us from returning” and to “wage a war that will be long and full of dead people until the minority Tutsi are finished and completely out of the country.” (Human Rights Watch 1995, 2-3) In addition to what they brought with them, their arms came via two sources: direct purchases and transportation by air into Zaire and via the Mobutu government and the Zairian army.
In late 1994, Habyarimana’s widow, Agathe Kazinga, accompanied Mobutu on his trip to China. She allegedly used the opportunity to purchase arms. (Africa Confidential 1995) As African Rights (1995) reported:
(T)he government of Zaire must take responsibility for the presence of international criminals on its territory, who are continuing to kill and terrorize , and who undoubtedly are using Zaire for an envisaged invasion of Rwanda. President Mobutu Sese Seko Zaire has welcomed many of the extremist leaders, with whom he continues to enjoy cordial relations. Should he want to, Mobutu would have little difficulty in making life extremely difficult for the extremists; he could order the arrest and detention of the leaders, the dispersal of the army or its internment under international supervision, and other measures in conformity with the international law…(H)owever, Zaire benefited economically and diplomatically from the refugees, and has continued to support the extremists. (1099-1100)
Many thought such purchases were part of a broader program, documented by Amnesty International (as well as the BBC), to train and equip the former armed forces of Rwanda, now displaced in Zaire. These arms were not intended (or needed) for defensive purposes.
There were many reports confirming this situation. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Rapporteur noted that Jean Kambanda, ex-Prime Minister of the former government in Rwanda, visited the Mugunga refugee camp in Goma where he spoke to large numbers gathered for an hour and a half long speech. In that speech, he claimed that, “the Rwandese government in exile would shortly be starting discussions with the government of Kigali. If that government refused or stood in the way of a prompt solution, military action would be taken.”(Dengui-Segui 1997, 14)
When the genocidaires fled, they took with them most of Rwanda’s hard currency, vehicles and other public assets. They shipped 20,000 tons of coffee estimated at $50 million dollars, which they stocked in the stores belonging to Mobutu’s family. They brought with them 17 billion Rwandese Francs and placed it with Mobutu. (Prunier 1966, 321) Therefore, they had the funds to pay their quasi-government officials as well as to purchase arms that they received on a regular basis from various arms merchants. UN arms embargoes were never enforced on the genocidaires.
From the beginning, according to Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the issue of the mixing of refugees and killers in the UN refugee camps was a problem. The Dengui-Segui Report to the UNSG emphasized the difficulty of separating armed personnel from the rest of the population. (United Nations, General Assembly, A/AC.96/SR. 516, 17 October 1997, 5-6) In November 1994, the Secretary-General’s report proposed a military solution. However, the options advanced did “not provide for the separation of the political leaders, former Rwandese government forces troops and militia from the rest of the camp population,” because it was considered a “risky, complex and very expensive endeavor” requiring 10,000-12,000 troops. The Secretary-General could only envision a diplomatic solution which would “require a political understanding” between the genocidaires and the new government of Rwanda. On 30 November 1994, the Security Council precluded any military initiatives that might entail taking on the extremists.
A plan was proposed to form a separation force estimated at some 2,000 to 3,000 policemen. On 27 January 1995, the UNHCR signed an agreement with the government of Zaire to deploy 1,000 soldiers to ensure security in the refugee camps, mainly in Goma and Bukavu. While they were successful in establishing security in the camps, they continued to refuse to disarm the refugee warriors. By financing a Zairian Security Contingent (CZSC) to protect the refugees, relative calm and improvement in the food and sanitary situation was achieved, though the eventual effect was that UNHCR ended up creating a back-up force for the Hutu militia and ex-FAR. The force never succeeded, and was never intended, to separate the militants from the genuine refugees.
Why then did the NGOs continue to operate in the camps? Fiona Terry in “The Humanitarian Impulse: Imperatives versus Consequences” (forthcoming in Adelman ed.) argues that four different factors influenced most NGOs to stay in spite of the situation in the camps. Oxfam, for example, argued that more harm would be done to the refugees by withdrawal of services (such as water) to induce repatriation than under the current circumstances. Second, the humanitarian imperative and the principle of neutrality took precedence over the political and military problems in the camps. Third, some NGOs (the Dutch and Belgian sections of MSF) believed that they could counter the perverse effects of the presence of militants by working for change, such as reducing the amounts of aid taken by the military and conducting a more accurate census of the number of refugees. Fourth, most NGOs were governed by a technological imperative to deliver the aid as quickly and efficiently as possible without becoming involved in local political issues. Different combinations and weights to these different perspectives induced most NGOs to continue working in a situation dominated and controlled by genocidaires.
The international community’s failure to separate those who deserved international protection, thereby ensuring their physical security and preventing the militants from intimidating the refugees, committing violent attacks on nationals and engaging in cross border incursions, would come back to haunt everyone.
With a military force in place, with economic resources, with a host government that not only looked the other way, but facilitated their operations, a quasi-state had been established in the refugee camps in Zaire. The captive population that was not only being fed by the international community but, based on exaggerated figures of the refugee population, was supplying the refugees with surpluses that could be sold on the black market. In addition, the refugees were even ‘taxed’ a portion of their rations and other earnings. The “rulers” of the camps not only implemented a tax structure but also operated various income-generating activities, including an extensive bus service within the UN refugee camps and elsewhere. (Human Rights Watch Arms Project 1995, 15-16)
Almost immediately, the extremists established transplanted governing structures. The leadership proclaimed the formation of a government-in-exile with which to challenge the legitimacy of the Rwandan Government, re-created political structures, and controlled the refugee population through misuse of the aid distribution system and violence. The former government authorities, FAR and interahamwe imposed their control on the refugee population through a well-conceived institutional, political and administrative framework. The report of Special Rapporteur provides a vivid picture of the infrastructure in the camps. The Rwandan political and administrative structure, such as prefectures and communes and even sectors in some places, were replicated. In some camps, such as Kibumba (Goma), 8 out of the 10 Rwandese prefectures were represented together with several communes and sectors. These reconstituted prefectures, sectors and communes enabled the former Rwandese authorities to control the civilian population. This control was made more effective in several camps by conducting a census of refugees. (Degni-Ségui 1997)
The ex-FAR and interahamwe militia totally controlled of the camp population. They were responsible for the distribution of food and relief supplies. They deliberately inflated the number of refugees to get more relief aid and diverted stocks of food that they sold in the Zairian markets. Those who repeatedly disobeyed their edicts were killed. This created an atmosphere of permanent insecurity. “Not a day passes without a refugee being killed.” (Degni-Ségui) The violence, intimidation, illegal taxation, vandalism and, most of all, violent actions against innocent refugees by army members and interahamwe were largely reported by the UNHCR officials. They wrote, “We are in a state of virtual war in the camps”.
On the one hand, compulsion was being exerted on the refugees to remain. On the other hand, there were factors in Rwanda intimidating the refugees from returning. Yet in such a context where voluntarism on the part of refugees was ephemeral, the UNHCR was committed to voluntary repatriation. (UNHCR 1997, 147) From the beginning, all parties understood that the UNHCR camps were “a disaster waiting to happen.” “A consensus had emerged by September/October 1994 that the majority of the refugees would need to return sooner or later.” In terms of needed material support, principles of political neutrality and physical security for the refugees, the camps were not sustainable. UNHCR, though seriously divided internally on this issue, understood the unsustainable nature of the camps, the necessity to separate the innocent refugees from the militants, and the need to promote repatriation. UNHCR did provide Zairian paid contingents (Contingent Zairois pour le Securité dans les Camps – CISC) to provide security for the refugees, but not to separate the refugees from their armed controllers or to facilitate repatriation. But UNHCR officials were divided over the speed and mode required for such a return, the estimate of the danger back home and the estimates of the willingness of the refugees to take those risks. Thus, UNHCR was unable to speak definitively and unequivocally on the repatriation issue.
The Rwandan government favored an orderly return. On 7 July 1994, as his first public declaration, Rwanda’s Prime Minister, Faustin Twagiramungu cited repatriation as his top priority. In January 1995, Twagiramungu repeated that Rwanda would “do everything so that they return. But I must admit that we do not want them all to come back en masse. We want to have an orderly return.” In any case, the genocidaires were able to prevent the large-scale repatriation that would have left them “unshielded”.
In the fall of 1995, some Western diplomats supported forced repatriation “as the only viable solution left to the massive problem.” “(T)he anarchic refugee camps around Rwanda’s borders, where Hutu militiamen who organized last year’s genocide still held sway, will only be cleared by an element of compulsion.” The only instrument of compulsion readily available was the Zairian army. Other than a military solution by the Rwandese government, one possibility remained – the use of the host government Zairian forces to disarm the extremists and deny their control over the refugees thus allowing their return.
The Zaire parliament on 29 April 1995 “demanded the unconditional repatriation of the refugees.” The government of Prime Minister Kengo wa Dondo “genuinely tried to prompt a return” and, in June, Kengo delivered a populist speech in Goma calling for precisely that. He blamed Rwanda for not having done enough to make repatriation possible. Kengo traveled to Goma, where Mobutu had sent 1400 troops from the Special Presidential Division (DPS). The region was known to be a bastion of opposition to Mobutu. Instead of the army being used to separate genuine refugees from genuine ones, the troops proceeded to loot the local population and the refugees. Given the wealth of the area because of the extensive trade in the region with east African countries and the vast amounts of foreign aid for the refugees as well as the money the refugees brought with them, the area was too tempting for the economic predators in the army. Further, foreign currency was widely available.
The army did make several attempts to trigger massive repatriation of the Hutu refugees. Just days after the UN lifted the arms embargo on the government of Rwanda – Zaire instituted a policy of forced repatriation for Rwandan refugees. In August, 15,000 were pushed back across the border. 100,000 fled the camps and moved deeper into Zaire. The policy was suspended four days after having been instituted, when the UNHCR agreed to step up voluntary repatriation programs in the region. Kengo insisted that the entire repatriation process be completed by the end of the year, or else he would re-institute his previous policy. December 31st was established as a deadline for complete repatriation. At the same time, Kengo limited cross border traffic to those moving from Zaire into Rwanda. To complicate matters, Kengo’s government placed the Banyarmulenge in the same category as the refugees and called not only for their expulsion, but also for the cancellation of land contracts and a ban on all Banyarmulenge associations.
Diplomats, officially opposed to forced repatriation, endorsed it off the record.
UNHCR’s strenuous effort to persuade Zaire to stop expelling Rwandan refugees is politically correct but strategically wrong… Zaire has unlocked the door. We must make a deal with Zaire and let its troops go into the camps. The UNHCR must pull out and wait for refugees on the Rwandan side of the border. In that way, it can remain pure.
Despite the UNHCR commitment to repatriation, as long as the stress remained on the so-called voluntary character of that repatriation, all efforts proved futile given the extremist control over the camps.
In contrast, President Mobutu associated with the leadership of the genocidaires, laundered their money, defended them diplomatically, supplied them with arms, and used the presence of the camps, that attracted luminaries, such as Jim Carter and Tipper Gore, to rehabilitate his low standing in the international community.
While Kengo sought to utilize the refugee crisis to pursue a policy of rapid repatriation, which was very popular in Eastern Zaire, Mobutu also sought to capitalize on the refugee crisis by adopting the opposite policy opposing involuntary repatriation. At a news conference, following the Great Lakes Summit in Cairo, he argued that a forced repatriation of refugees would be against international law. The rapid repatriation of refugees would have served the interests of Kengo, who sought to build support in North Kivu. While the governor was an ally of Mobutu, the people had been a long time source of opposition to the President. For his part, Mobutu was able to use his moderate stance towards refugees to enhance his regional international role and to derail the transition process.
Mobutu still had international supporters. Following the election of the conservative government led by Jacques Chirac, France adopted a far more sympathetic stance towards Mobutu. In direct contravention of agreements with the USA and Belgium, France permitted Mobutu, and members of his government and family, to travel freely in France. This stance also provided Mobutu with added clout at the series of summit conferences on the Great Lakes led by former US President Jimmy Carter. Thus, by preventing the implementation of purportedly disorderly repatriation, Mobutu hoped to gain leverage with France and the USA. By pursuing a policy based upon the norms of international law, Mobutu also strengthened his position in the international community.
Having weapons (arms), the infrastructure and organization and, above all, being very close to the Rwandese border, the extremists initiated armed incursions into Rwanda. The western prefecture of Rwanda was most affected. The camps provided refuge to war criminals and were used as bases from which military operations into Rwanda were launched against genocide survivors, local officials and the infrastructure inside Rwanda. These attacks were generally confined to the western regions of Rwanda in 1994, but gradually spread east, and became more frequent throughout 1995. They increasingly generated harsh reprisals from the RPA cordon and search operations conducted regularly in the north aimed at punishing suspected sympathizers accused of supporting the rebels. The effect, however, was to increase the sympathy for the Hutu extremists from the Hutu population in Rwanda, precisely as intended by the militant incursions. Even Kigali and Butare were attacked in November 1995. Paul Kagame, the Vice President and Minister of Defense of Rwanda, prophesied the resumption of full-scale war.
Although cross-border raids into Rwanda continued, in June 1995 the UN Security Council could only note its concern with “reports of military preparations and incursions into Rwanda by elements of the former regime.” There was,
the need for effective measures to ensure Rwandan nationals currently in neighboring countries (including those in camps), do not undertake military activities aimed at destabilizing Rwanda or receive arms supplies, in view of the great likelihood that such arms are intended for use within Rwanda.
The UN Security Council was determined. Determined to do what? To remain “actively seized of the matter.” (my italics)
By the fall of 1995, the RPA had developed an effective counter insurgency strategy to deal with attacks on economic targets inside Rwanda from eastern Zaire. However, thegenocidaires changed their strategy significantly in early 1996.
Their new strategy was to target local civilian authorities and genocide survivors. In military terminology, these are referred to as “soft targets”. The victims were people who had no protection, lived in isolated areas and were consequently easy targets. It was a very effective strategy.
Three incidents occurred in June of 1996 that significantly changed the perceptions of many people in Rwanda. Eleven genocide survivors were killed at Kibungo by genocidaires; they had crossed Lake Kivu by boat from the camps in Zaire. Nine witnesses, who were listed to offer testimony at the genocide trials to genocidal killings in Rushashi, were killed. Twenty-eight genocide survivors and “old caseload” refugee returnees were murdered at Satinsyi. The incursions had become counter-productive in terms of winning the “hearts and minds” of the local population. These and previous events also had an impact on the international community. At the Geneva international pledging conference on Rwanda in June 1996, Brian Atwood, Head of USAID, criticized `on behalf of the American delegation’ the involvement of the Zairian army in ethnic violence in North-Kivu. Further, his previous wait-and-see attitude now turned to a conviction that it was time to consider intervening in the refugee camps and to do something about the militants who controlled the camps.
IV Instigating Ethnic Cleansing in Zaire
The genocidaires finally realized that the return to Kigali would, at the very least, be a long drawn-out process and adopted a third strategy focused on Zaire. They turned their attention to securing their bases in Zaire, in particular, in the Kivu region, and taking out their visceral hatred of the Tutsi on the local Zairian Tutsi Banyumulenge. They were descendants of early Rwandan immigrants, some of whom had resided in that country for centuries. Many had intermarried with Hutu Banyamulenge. The Banyamulenge had been targeted by the Mobutu regime before. With the involvement of the genocidaires, this time the focus would be on murder of Tutsi Banyamulenge and total ethnic cleansing.
The Kivu region was the most densely populated in the country with 8 million inhabitants. Nyangas, Hundé and Nandes, the autochtones (descendants of indigenous groups), were the majority in North Kivu. The Hutu and Tutsi Banyarwanda in North Kivu made up about 40% of the population and 80% in specific regions. More importantly, the Banyarwanda were relatively prosperous while paying political tribute to autochtone chiefs. The Hutu and Tutsi Banyarwanda had intermarried extensively over the years. However, a large population movement from Rwanda to Zaire in the exodus of 1994 altered the demographic proportions. Previously, tensions and sporadic violence between autochtones and Hutu were dramatically heightened by the influx of refugees and genocidaires from Rwanda in the summer of 1994. But, in a repeat of what had happened in Rwanda, the Hutu turned on the Tutsi.
The genocide would continue by engaging in ethnic cleansing in Zaire. The Hutu extremists in Zaire began to form alliances with other rebel groups in the region, such as those fighting the government in Uganda, against the Tutsi Banyamulenge in South Kivu and the Tutsi Banyarwanda in North Kivu. The Rwandan Hutu refugees also became deeply embroiled in local political battles between the Tutsi Banyamulenge and autochtones.
The involvement of the Rwandan Hutu militants in this local conflict exacerbated tensions between the local Hutu and Tutsi. When the Rwandan refugees arrived, the Zairian and Rwandan Hutu formed a pan-Hutu alliance. Rather than seeking revenge against the autochtones, who had previously targeted them, the Hutu Banyarwanda attacked the Tutsi. In 1995, militias of the autochtones joined the Hutu (both from Rwanda and locals) in the attacks on the Tutsi.
After the Rwandan genocide and the arrival of the Hutu refugees, and the pan-Hutu alliance between the refugees and the local Hutu inhabitants, the conflict opposing the two communities destroyed the social fabric just as it did in Rwanda. Politicians in Kivu took action to accelerate the disintegration of the former unity among the local Hutu and Tutsi. They issued an order to expel, not all Banyamulenge, but the Zairian Tutsi from the region. On 29 June, the Congolese government ratified a law canceling the citizenship rights of the Banyamulenge, but applied it selectively to the Zairian Tutsi. This law required proof of ancestry. The legal citizenship of the vast majority of Tutsi in Zaire was cast in shadow. The Zairian Tutsi were branded as strangers in a country where many Tutsi families had resided for at least two centuries. Even at the height of the conflict in 1996/7, the Zairian government persisted in claiming that the Banyamulenge were not Zairians.
No “Banyamulenge” have lived in Zaire for 200 years, for the simple reason that there has never – neither prior to August 1885 nor from 1885 to this day – existed on the soil of Zaire, formerly known as Congo, a tribe called Banyamulenge. The colonial archives bear this out. Just because a Zairian lives in the United Sates of America, Germany or the United Kingdom, for example, for 10, 20, 30 or 50 years does not mean that he can be considered an American, German or British national, any more than it means that those countries will automatically confer their nationality upon him if he does request.
The official Zairian government policy towards the estimated 300,000 Tutsi Banyamulenge, combined with the local autocthone ethnic antipathy, the hatred of génocidiaire, and now supported by the local Hutu population, led to ethnic cleansing of the Tutsi Banyarwanda in Masisi. Clearly, although the Zairian government had labeled all Banyarwanda as foreigners requiring expulsion, the Hutu were exempted from such treatment, including the recently arrived genocidaires who should have been expelled to be tried for their crimes against humanity. The violence against the Tutsi was used by the Mobutu forces and the local governor to garner support for the coming elections and by the military for economic gain. As killings escalated, the surviving Masisi Tutsis fled to Rwanda as refugees. The Zairian army even had the gall to charge the fleeing Tutsi transportation fees. Rwandan genocidaires and their Zairian Hutu and non-Hutu allies’ targeting of the Masisi Tutsis was so concentrated and determined that by mid-1996, the entire Tutsi population of North Kivu had been ethnically cleansed.
V The Beginning of the Civil War
With strategic, logistic and even military support from Uganda as well as Rwanda, the Banyamulenge regrouped and were prepared when the Rwandese and Zairian Hutu-autochtone-Zairian government alliance attacked the Tutsi Banyamulenga in South Kivu. This would be an ironic response since the Zairian government, to distract attention from its role in the Masisi ethnic cleansing, had charged Rwanda with “training 20,000 rebels to destabilize the Masisi region.” (IPS, 11 April 1996) The Rwandan government had clearly determined to do something once and for all against the threat on their western border and on behalf of the Tutsi Banyamulenge.
The Rwandan government refused to sign an OAU Central African treaty of non- aggression that it had indicated in April it would sign. Rwanda also publicly opposed the OAU summit’s endorsement of Boutros-Ghali for re-election as UN Secretary-General. These diplomatic moves were indicators that something more serious was afoot. The region was heating up in general. In July 1996, a bloodless army coup had been staged in Burundi against the hapless President Sylvestre Ntibantunganya. He was replaced by former President Pierre Boyoya, the losing candidate in the 1993 election, the same one that the Hutu, Melchior Ndadaye, had won only to be overthrown in the October 1993 coup that so influenced and stimulated the resolve and determination of the Rwandese genocidaires.
On 15 July, Joel Boutroue, head of the UNHCR office in Goma, warned, “we are headed for surge of violence and destabilization in the Goma region… Conditions are ripe for a disaster.” (Reuters, 15 July 1996) Nevertheless, UNHCR, supported by some others in the international community, persisted in its efforts to organize the repatriation of the refugees and head off the immanent resumption of conflict. In July, after meeting with the foreign minister of Rwanda, the Zairian Foreign Minister Kititwa Tumanzi announced, “The Rwandan refugees will leave peacefully. The deadline is already set.” (Reuters, 18 July 1996) In August, the Minister of Justice, Gerard Kamanda wa Kamanda, announced that the Rwandan refugees should leave by the end of the month. In August 1996, on the same day that Mobutu was operated on for prostrate cancer in Switzerland (where he would remain until December), Kengo led a high level delegation to Rwanda. At that meeting, both governments agreed to the closure of the refugee camps in eastern Zaire and repatriation of all Rwandan refugees to Rwanda. The two countries had basically determined the timing and modalities of return to start the “progressive closure of (the Zairian) camps.” “It is the first time that the head of (the Zaire) government commits himself to close the camps,” Prime Minister Kengo wa Dondo told reporters. The agreement between the UNHCR, Rwanda and Zaire required the Zairian armed forces to disarm the Hutu militias in Zaire and to separate the militias from the refugees. However, when Kengo ordered the implementation of the agreement, the army ignored his orders. (EIU, 4, 1995, 29)
As the first diplomatic track was failing, the militants on both sides were organizing. The ex-FAR and interahamwe began moving south to prepare their attacks on the Banyamulenge from bases in refugee camps between Uvira and Bukavu. The FAZ began arming local Babembe militias. At the same time, Kabila had been called in to help the Banyamulenge recruit Bashi, a tribe near Bukavu, who already had a tense relationship with Kinshasa. The battle lines were being drawn. In fact, the first fighting broke out between the Banyamulenge forces and the FAZ in late September. Roberto Garreton, a UN human rights investigator, predicted disaster in North Kivu. “The Zairian armed forces have clearly sided with the interahamweand Hutu militias in the fighting.” (Reuters, 11 October 1996) Amnesty International reported 35 Banyamulenge were executed in September by Zairian authorities. A Zairian officer candidly described his “drunken troops, … loaded with arms,” as “little more than bloodthirsty animals, man[ning] barricades … in a terrifying witch hunt for ethnic Tutsis.”
Once again, international diplomacy was brought to bear on the problem to try to avoid what appeared to be the inevitability of war. The result was only verbal. No real action was initiated. Nor was there any thorough assessment of the factors on the ground or any muscle brought to bear on the issue. On 10 October, after a group of international actors met in Geneva, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Phyllis Oakley announced their agreement to “gradually close the Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire. (Reuters, 10 October 1996)
VI The Role of Key Regional States – Zaire, Rwanda and Uganda
Before I describe the progress of the war, a more in depth explication of the role and motives of key actors would be helpful. I begin with the regional states. Zaire served not only as the host-state for the refugees, but as the military backer and diplomatic supporter of the refugee warriors. At the same time, as we have seen, another side of the government tried to forcefully expel not only the Hutu refugees but also the Banyamulenge Tutsis who had settled in the country up to two centuries earlier. Rwanda was the source of the refugees. Rwanda was also the target for the refugee warriors; they launched incursions into Rwanda, assassinated potential witnesses to the genocide as well as officials in the new government and finally extended the genocide to Zairian territory in the ethnic cleansing of the Zairian Tutsi of Masisi. The Rwandan government, in turn, emerged as the prime political and military backer of the Banyamulenge when they began to fight back.
Perhaps the most incredible fact about the whole Masisi incident, especially in light of the 1994 genocide, was the virtual silence and inaction of the international community. The slaughter and expulsion of the Zairian Tutsi had commenced just after the major international study of the 1994 genocide had been published. That report documented the role international indifference had played in the genocide. The silence was almost as deafening this time. Even Médicins sans Frontières’ urgent call to evacuate trapped Tutsis was unheeded. (PANA, 25 May 1996) The lesson that the Tutsi in Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda could not rely on anyone but themselves was now forcefully driven home.
The governments in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi had reasons of state as well to support a Tutsi uprising in Zaire when the attack on the Tutsi shifted to South Kivu. As Prunier noted, “If the catalyst of the conflict was local – the persecution of the Banyamulenge by a Kinshasa-supported south-Kivu tribal coalition – the reasons why it broke on such a large scale, involved the whole region.” The desire to prevent the persecution of the Tutsi Banyamulenge combined with a desire of Rwanda to rid itself of a source of incursions and assassinations based in Zaire. Further, the Rwandese Tutsi knew better than anyone the festering long term effects of a population left abandoned in refugee camps. Finally, revenge against the interhamwe and the ex-FAR, more than any concern with bringing them to justice and eliminating their sense of impunity, played a part. The failure of the international community and the UN to separate the refugees from the criminals drove the lesson home that only the Tutsi themselves could and would do what was necessary to protect themselves.
A decade earlier, Uganda had been a devastated country following the maniacal rule of Idi Amin and, difficult as it is to believe, the even more murderous regime of Obote. It was now the regional economic and military power that had backed the new regime in Kigali and now provided the military support to stop the disruptive military behavior of the Hutu extremists. Other regional states played minor roles.
The host-state, Zaire, tolerated and even aided and abetted the emergence of a sub-state actor on its border with Rwanda and Uganda. Rwanda and Uganda began to treat the refugee camps and their political and military leaders as sub-state actors that needed to be eliminated as a political and military force.
It is difficult in the best of times to explain the actions of any state. For a state is not a homogeneous entity. There are almost always competing political actors, even within the same government, and various departments – defense, foreign affairs, internal security, etc. – but Zaire took this truism to the point of absurdity. There was barely an effective government at all in Kinshasa, the capital at the west-end of the country, let alone one capable of controlling events in the east bordering Rwanda and Uganda.
Zaire was a government at war with itself that barely functioned. By 1993, the war between two independent sources of authority had evolved into a struggle amongst three groups. Monsignor Laurent Monsengwo Pisinya, chairman of the HRC (the Counsel Legislatif reconstituted as the Haut Council de la Repubique), appeared to overcome the division. He had successfully negotiated a merger of the HRC-Parlement de Transition or HRC-PT and the original Counseil Legislatif. But neither Mr. Tshisekedi, the opposition appointed Prime Minister, nor Mr. Bindirwa, Mobutu’s appointee, resigned their claims to the premiership. By 1994, Joseph Kengo wa Dondo emerged as the Prime Minister as the compromise between the moderate opposition and the Mobutu faction. However, Tshisekedi never surrendered his claim. Mobutu even flirted with appointing Tshisekedi as the central battle for control shifted to one between Kengo wa Dondo and Mobutu’s supporters. They fought over political appointees, control of the army, control over taxation, and, most relevant to this chapter, differences over refugee repatriation. Tshisekedi headed up a third force waiting on the sidelines.
Mobutu’s supporters took to distributing counterfeit currency, looting diamonds from state-owned mines and engaging in money laundering schemes. These were but a few of the latest manifestations of the Zairian kleptocracy. The rulers used the public purse and public resources to amass personal fortunes. Thus, the state was deprived of capital to reinvest in infrastructure. Roads decayed and the rest of the public sector disintegrated. At the same time, the bottom fell out of commodity prices, further dramatically reducing the economic resources available to the state. The result was a spiral downward. Private entrepreneurs moved from the civil society to the underground economy to avoid the predatory fingers of the state apparatus. At the same time, Mobutu increasingly resorted to selling offices to make up for declining revenues, adding both to the parasitic weight on the increasingly feeble state structure and the competition among office holders. For example, provincial governors and generals, both groups appointed by Mobutu, competed with each other for the extraction of resources for personal gain. The looters remained immune from prosecution because the prosecutors and judiciary were themselves corrupt political appointees. As the looting of the state further reduced revenue sources, an orgy of military looting, lavish subsidies to subversive forces amongst the opposition, and huge pay raises to appease public sector workers who had gone on strike, exacerbated the economic crisis. The state resorted to the uncontrolled printing of currency resulting in hyper-inflation (rising to 24,000%) in the nineties and the impoverishment of most ordinary people in Zaire.
The Hutu refugees in eastern Zaire, controlled by the political extremists, the ex-FAR and the interahamwe, brought this political, military and economic stew to a boil. In August of 1994, shortly after the arrival of the refugees, as we described above, the Minister of Justice, Gerard Kamanda wa Kamanda, demanded that the Rwandan refugees leave by the end of the month. To facilitate their departure, the Zairian army, with the agreement of the UNHCR, was ordered to disarm the refugee warriors and permit the genuine refugees to return. As stated above, the army refused to obey the orders of Kengo, the Prime Minister. The explanation is not hard to discern. The state had a schizophrenic structure and the army was not answerable to parliament but only to the president.
That pattern never changed throughout the period of crisis. What the Prime Minister attempted, the President, and the army that he “controlled”, undermined. (Greg Barrow, The Christian Science Monitor 26 March 1996) The motives were clear and unequivocal – the making of money and the holding onto power to ensure those money sources remained in place and under control. Mobutu made sure the army would not cooperate in the expulsion of the refugees. The army went further. It forged an alliance with the ex-FAR, theinterahamwe and the local autochtones to attack (and rob) the local Banyamulenge. Further, as the lines between Hutu refugees and Zairian Hutu became fudged, the prospect of an accurate census in preparation for the planned election receded. This fact would help postpone the election. On the other hand, if an election were held based on distorted census results, the pro-Mobutu forces would have been strengthened. Mobutu stood to gain either by postponing the election or enhancing the conditions for victory if an election were held.
In August of 1996, Mobutu became gravely ill and underwent surgery in Switzerland. The government ceased to function and plans for an election were postponed. The domestic crisis and divisions came to a head in the Fall of 1996 when the Governor of the Bank was fired by Kengo. Kengo’s economic policies of privatization came under severe criticism, not only just for the usual reasons of fear of layoffs from the state sector and cuts in the state budget. Kengo was also seen as using privatization either to reward his friends or to buy off the Mobutu forces who were in the best financial position to gain from privatization and to secure themselves when a political change actually took place. While the Kengo-Mobutu impasse continued, while politicians continued to loot state resources and the army continued to disintegrate, the only issue on which all sides could agree was to blame the rebellion on external forces, namely Rwanda and Uganda, rather than any source or cause of internal rebellion.
Zairian actions demonstrate and are explained by the kleptocratic nature of the government and the use of public resources, including public offices, for private gain, all enveloped in a continuing competition for power between Mobutu and any Prime Minister Mobutu was forced to appoint by the political opposition. In other words, greed and competition for power, combined with the relative impotence of any opposing democratic forces, are at the root of Zairian political actions.
In the case of Rwanda, the searing and indelible tattoo of the genocide marked all Rwandese actions. If the genocide had not been incredible in itself, the indifference and inaction of the rest of the world explained the continuing wariness and distrust of relying on the words and deeds of others of the new Rwandese government. To compound that history of irresponsibility, too many in the international community thought that the Rwandese ought to get on with the task of rebuilding their society. ‘Quit dwelling on the past and concentrate on rebuilding for the future,’ was the refrain of much advice received. Unfortunately, the continuing behavior of the international community in the aftermath of the genocide only reinforced those suspicions and belied the value of such advice. Further, since the genocidaires seemed to have learned only that, ‘If at first you only almost succeed, then try, try and try again,’ the wariness and self-reliance of the Rwandese were doubly reinforced.
Look at the following indisputable facts: the continuing impunity from justice of most of the hard core leadership of the genocidaires; their ability to regroup and rearm with the aid of their host country while they were being fed and financially supported by the international community; the inability and/or unwillingness to stop those efforts to resume the genocide; the clear evidence at Masisi that genocide was indeed still the program of the ex-FAR and interahamwe and their extremist leaders. Certainly, the increasing insecurity and desperation of the ex-FAR and interahamwe military forces with an unparalleled record of defeats probably accelerated the direction and pace at which the genocide was resumed in Zaire. Their sub-state, rooted in the refugee camps, was under threat if they were not secured by a deeper and broader rooting in Zairian soil and politics.
In light of these events, the sometimes ruthlessness of the new Rwandese army and a record of human rights abuses can be contextualized if not excused. As the Rwandese military attempted to stop the military incursions, the efforts to free prisoners accused of genocide and the assassination of witnesses, refugee returnees and government officials, relatively successfully, the focus of the genocide turned to the Tutsi Banyarwanda in Zaire itself. Could Rwanda be expected to stand idly by even if Rwandese society had not itself been under threat? Further, had not the refugees been used as humanitarian shields and sources of finances and recruits to reorganize and rearm the genocidal effort? Would the refugees, if they were not repatriated, not serve as a continuing source of trouble and tribulation for Rwanda unless those who controlled them were defeated? Finally, after repeated denials, Kagame told The Washington Post (9 July 1997) not only that his army had participated in the civil war against the Zairian army, ex-FAR/interahamwe and local autocthone alliance, but that his army that did most of the fighting. Rwanda had three objectives: dismantling the refugee camps; destroying the military structure of the ex-FAR and interahamwe and, later, overthrowing Mobutu.
Uganda’s motives for its involvement was somewhat akin to that of Rwanda since both countries had security concerns stemming from rebellious forces stationed in Zaire. Further, Museveni’s affinity with his Rwandese allies and the Banyamulenge dated back at least to the insurrection he himself had led against the Obote regime when Tutsi volunteers made up a great part of his military force. There were also allegations that Museveni’s involvement was based on his alleged Tusti origins and a desire for Tutsi ethnic hegemony in the region. A third reason was motivated in that which drove a lot of outsider interest in Zaire – its wealth. Corrupt elements within Uganda saw enormous possibilities for profit and allegedly had taken advantage of those opportunities in the past and did not want to lose a lucrative source of profits. In fact, the army was accused of neglecting the real war in the north because of its concern with profits from Zaire and of alienating western support for Uganda. But corruption was likely only a minor factor. More critical were the economic concerns with ending the role of the Mobutu kleptocracy that had created an economic black hole in the center of Africa. With its enormous wealth, Zaire, instead of serving as a source of economic energy for the region, acted to deter foreign investment and to waste whatever wealth was generated there. A fourth motive is attributed to increasing domestic dissent within the Museveni regime, not only because of alleged corruption. Claims were made that the regime favored Tutsis and Hima, and that the army itself had perpetrated some of the massacres in the north blamed on the LRA. Domestically, a diversion was needed to contain the crisis.
Domestic and regional rather than international factors propelled the actions of the regional states. The international community stood out as a source of hypocrisy and impotence. The UNHCR repeatedly professed the importance of both protecting the refugees and returning them to Rwanda. While it succeeded to some degree in the former, but without removing the refugees from the ‘mafia’ control over them, it had virtually no success in the latter. The rearming and re-equipping off the ex-FAR and interahamwe, not only under the very noses of UNHCR, but indirectly with UNHCR’s financial support, abrogated every principle of the operation of refugee camps ever formulated. The United States talked a good line but never walked the talk. And France by its actions continued to reinforce the Rwandese deeply held belief that France supported its enemies and wanted them returned to power. When the bountiful amount of aid poring into the refugee camps was compared with the relatively paltry amounts given to Rwanda to rebuild, it is no surprise that the paranoia of Rwanda was enhanced – in spite of the generosity and humanitarianism extended toward Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide.
The Rwandan government had repeatedly warned the international community that it would intervene if the security threat posed by the genocidaires in eastern Zaire were not eliminated. Rwanda determined by the summer of 1996 that the genocidaires and their Zairian military allies posed a security threat that required its intervention in Zaire in light of the inability of the international community to act.
Kabila offered to allow the UN or others to “send troops through us to go neutralize the camps. If we attack the refugee camp to push out these killers, the international community will start crying again.” In fact, Rwanda and Kabila shared a common view of the international community and the NGOs. France was the cynical manipulator behind the scenes, the arch-enemy of Rwanda and the supporter of both Mobutu and the genocidaires. Further, there had been a continuity since Arusha, whereby those targeted for extermination were continually being asked and urged to negotiate with enemies bent on extermination. It was akin to asking the Jews to negotiate and make peace with the Nazis. This occurred when the genocide started in April and May of 1994 and was the message UN diplomats communicated to Kabila and Rwanda in the Fall of 1996. As far as the new regime in Rwanda was concerned, the NGOs were bleeding hearts who fed the genocidal killers and then attacked Rwanda for its human rights abuses when it was only trying to defend its security. The UN, the international NGOs and most western states continued to refer to all the Rwandese in the camps as refugees when they contained armed militants and genocidaires. In fact, the international community operated according to a double standard. The behavior of the Rwandese government was not seen as adequate to ensure the safe return of the refugees, while these same parties fed and nursed the refugees held hostage by the genocidaires. Further, though the government had a Hutu president and other Hutu cabinet ministers, though the army had integrated 5,000-6,000 officers and men of the ex-FAR, the new regime was regarded as Tutsi-dominated. Though there is some exaggeration in this defensive self-perception and not enough critical self-examination, there is also a great deal of truth and insight.
VII The Role of Belgium, France and the United States
How do we explain the actions, or rather, inaction of the international actors? I take Belgium, France and the United States as key actors before turning to Canada, the international agencies and NGOs. Canada is included with the international agencies and the NGOs rather than the other states because of its lack of previous significant political involvement in Zaire and the motivation for the role it played.
What was Belgium’s role? After all, it was the former colonial power in Zaire. Belgian had to have an interest in the turmoil that was now engulfing the region. Belgium was not indifferent to the fate of either Rwanda or Zaire. It had joined with France and the United States in the attempt to isolate Mobutu internationally as well as domestically after the slaughter of protesting students in 1990. All three countries had cut off their bilateral aid, though each continued to support the work of NGOs working in Zaire to address humanitarian needs. But Belgium stood out from the other three in taking a more pro-active stand. Belgium was the only country that conditioned its aid to post-genocide Rwanda. Belgium was the only country that withdrew part of its aid following the Kibeho massacre in May 1995, although the aid was quickly restored a little over one month later when the international report on the Kibeho massacre was delivered and seemed to exonerate Kigali. However, in spite of many warnings of a new escalation of conflict in the region and even the re-emergence of genocide at Masisi, Belgium, like other countries, failed to support calls for an international intervention between September 1994 and September 1996. Further, at the international donor aid conference in Geneva in June 1996, Belgium did not take the opportunity to welcome the call of Brian Atwood of USAID for international action against the genocidaires in the camps. Further, the Foreign Minister later boasted that Belgium had taken a lead at the Geneva meeting in warning that the situation was about to explode, but that his warnings not only went unheeded, but his remarks almost caused him to be expelled from the meeting.
That interview was very revealing. It suggested that Belgium saw itself as alone in advocating the need for the refugees to be repatriated when that, in fact, was the international consensus. The issue was over how, when and under what conditions it would happen. In making the claim, Belgium boasted of its vision and good will when the issue was clearly that good will was not enough and that it took very little vision to anticipate further disaster in the region. What was needed was military action to deal with the genocidaires in the camps. But Belgium was on record, following the murder of its ten peacekeepers in Kigali on 7 April 1996 by those same genocidaires, not as resolving to bring them legally to account for these cold blooded murders of peacekeepers. Instead, Belgium had determined never again to send military troops under any auspices to its former colonies. Most critically, what emerges from the interview is how Belgium almost exclusively targeted Rwanda for blame for what happened. Thus, its singular cessation of aid to Rwanda immediately following Kibeho takes on a different shade of meaning in light of this attitude. Belgian’s actions during the conduct of the war would soon reveal the complex of motives determining Belgian behavior. They included the influence of the trauma inflicted on Belgium because of the heinous way in which its peacekeepers were murdered. Belgian also projected considerable self-righteousness about its own role. Further, it had a propensity to selectively blame others, particularly Rwanda, for the events in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Other international actors were also castigated for their failures to heed Belgian warnings. All these factors played an important part in Belgian efforts to contain the crisis. But those efforts would not include any military involvement.
What about France? Had not President Jacques Chirac been the West’s most vocal voice urging military intervention in Zaire? Further, as demonstrated in Rwanda in 1994 and Sierra Leone in 1995, France also had the capability of fielding an effective force at very short notice. Had not France broken ranks with the United States and Belgium to resume dealings with Mobutu? Further, France had a strong self-interest motive to become involved – the preservation of francophonie influence in Africa. As the London Times (17 January 1997) noted, “(S)ince French soldiers were forced to surrender Fashoda to the British under Lord Kitchner in 1889, the army and hard-line-element in the Elysée Palace have been obsessed with the spread of Anglo-Saxon influence in Central Africa. Recent events have reinforced their conspiracy theories.” Those recent events both related to Rwanda. First, allegations were widespread that France bore some of the responsibility for the genocide for supporting and supplying arms to the Habyarimana regime. Secondly, with the RPF victory, France not only had lost its influence in Rwanda, but the new regime of “Ugandan Tutsis” had adopted English as an official language of education. There were now widespread allegations of an opposite kind – that an Anglophone conspiracy was afoot (backed by Washington and Britain) behind the allegedly coordinated actions of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda. France could now fear the spread of English into Zaire. As one French official told Géerard Prunier, “We cannot let anglophone countries decide on the future of a francophone one. In any case, we want Mobutu back in, he cannot be dispensed with… and we are going to do it through this Rwandan business.”
But there was a new post-Cold War “Fashoda” – the economic rivalries between French and American interests. In this interpretation, Uganda was the stalking horse to be used as a regional force to extend anglophone hegemonic interests in Central Africa and dislodge France as the principle player in the region. Africa Confidential observed that, “(U)ntil now, bitter recriminations among French African policy-makers have found some respite in explaining the Francophone disaster in Central Africa as a heinous conspiracy” with many strands including, “the gringo plot, involving covert military support from Washington for Museveni and Kabila to undermine French cultural and economic interests in Central Africa.”
There is a nugget of truth that lent credence to this conspiracy theory. Zaire held half the world’s proven cobalt reserves, abundant proven reserves of diamonds, copper, manganese, tin, uranium, silver, tungsten, cadmium, zinc and gold. Anglophone business interests were extending their reach in Central Africa. These companies included: De Beers’ Diamonds (South Africa), American Mineral Fields (headquartered in Hope, Arkansas, USA), Anglo American Corporation (South Africa), AMAX (formerly American Metals Climax, USA), Phelps Dodge (USA), Barrick Gold (Canada), and Lonrho (UK).
However, France had been too close to Mobutu. President Jacques Chirac continued to claim, in spite of Mobutu’s illness and absence in Switzerland, that Mobutu was “the man best placed to represent Zaire and find a solution to this [refugee] problem.” (IRIN Update 10, 6 November 1996) France had alienated Rwanda so much that it was inconceivable that France would have been permitted to lead such a mission. Th 5 November Nairobi African summit rejected France for a leading role since impartiality was a requisite characteristic. (IRIN Great Lakes Update, 6 November 1996) As it turned out, any French participation was rejected by Rwanda. As Rwanda warned the international community, any initiative to permit France to have a military presence in eastern Zaire would be met by a military initiative on its own part.
If Belgium was unwilling and France was very willing and able, but was unacceptable to key regional states, the United States was the obvious other choice to lead a rapid-deployment humanitarian intervention into Zaire. It had the capacity. Zaire’s economic resources were of great interest to America. Stability in Zaire was crucial to regional stability. But the United States, in spite of the lessons from Rwanda, remained wary of such an involvement. The hangover from Somalia, the so-called ‘Mogadishu Syndrome’, meant that Presidential Decision Directive 25 (PDD 25) was still operative. Further, the United States had isolated Mobutu and was still wary of Rwanda’s human rights record in spite of the support it was giving to Rwanda. Brian Atwood, the head of USAID, two months before he had called for intervention in Geneva in June, had introduced conditionality to co-operating with Rwanda in closing the refugee camps. “Rwandan authorities had to demonstrate that the situation [inside Rwanda] was stable and murder cases were being handled fairly. When all of that is done, and I’m hoping that we can look at the next six months and see some progress along these lines… we ought to seriously consider setting a deadline for closing the camps.” (UNHCR Information Bulletin, Burundi and Rwanda, April 1996) Further, the United States was not as strong a backer of Rwanda as was generally perceived. The US had given far more financial support for the refugees in Zaire than for the reconstruction of Rwanda.
However, the incidents of June through September had changed American policy. France continued to show an anti-Rwandan bias and advocated intervention once the refugees were on the move in order to return them “to the existing camps in Zaire” (IRIN, Update 11, 7 November, 1996) to try to re-establish the status quo ante. In contrast, the United States adopted a policy favoring forceful intervention to return the refugees to Rwanda. But it would not be intervention by American forces. The American Defense Department, in contrast to USAID caution, had allegedly already decided “as early as August 1995 not to oppose such action by Rwanda, provided it was a ‘clean’ operation, meaning one with limited civilian losses.” By the first of October 1996, that passive support had become quite active. Gen. J. Jamerson, Deputy Commander of the U.S-European Command, visited Uganda to discuss military assistance to Uganda.
There was at least one other American factor that may have precipitated Rwandan action and, in turn, the American response. Madeleine Albright had been nominated as U.S. Secretary of State for Clinton’s second term. Increased tension between State and Defense was anticipated since State was expected to put greater emphasis on conditionality in relation to violations of human rights and democratic development. Further, the vacuum between the exit of Christopher and the entry of Albright provided a narrow window of opportunity for certain states to risk initiatives. But, in September and October, Christopher was still in charge. And he was willing to explore a support role by America for an intervention in Zaire for humanitarian purposes.
VIII The Role of Canada, the United Nations and the NGOs
What about Canada? How did the Canadians come to play such a major role in the efforts to militarily intervene at the last minute? Canada was neither a former colonial power nor a power player on the international scene. What most motivated Canadians was one singular factor that turned out to be based on misinformation. “(O)f immediate concern is the growing number of refugees who have displaced from their camps and face the prospects of starvation.” The same report also assumed that “the worst case scenario sees a major war along ethnic lines and the fragmentation of Zaire.” However, there is little evidence to suggest that the fear of either war or state disintegration and the consequent instability in the region were major factors motivating Canadian involvement. The Canadian government publicly announced that the Prime Minister had been motivated to develop and offer leadership in the Multinational Force partly in response to the disturbing media reports of the refugee camps. At other times, the ethical duty to respond to an overwhelming humanitarian crisis was offered as the only reason.
Though I was told in Washington that Canada had been put up to taking on a leadership role by France, and though I was told in Paris that Canada was a front for the Americans, in fact I found no evidence to support either hypothesis. Further, the initiative taken was totally consistent with the recent Canadian efforts to move from being a middle power to taking on a role which used that power to advance the humanitarian priorities set by NGOs as evidenced in Canadian leadership on the treaty to ban landmines. The new doctrine governing Canadian foreign policy was the primacy given to “human security” over state sovereignty. This action was also totally consistent with Canadian efforts to preserve and enhance its prestige and international status through such initiatives. Further, Canada had an esteemed reputation to uphold in the field of international peacekeeping. Canada saw itself as an impartial third party without the hangover of being a former colonial power or a military and economic power motivated by larger strategic interests. Canada was also a member of both the Commonwealth and la Francophonie. These relationships made Canada perfectly suited to lead an intervention where Rwanda had recently adopted both French and English as languages of instruction in higher education, Uganda was anglophone and Zaire was francophone.
However, it is one thing to decide to play the role of the good guy in international affairs. It is another to play that role based on information that come from NGOs and international agencies that was colored by heartfelt fears more than hard headed analysis. The chorus of those fears rose to a crescendo and they focused on the Hutu refugees. Recall the pall of almost complete silence in the spring when 300,000 Tutsi Banyarwanda were ethnically cleansed from Masisi. The Banyarwanda Tutsi did not have an international cheering squad of NGOs ready at hand to scream out their cause.
After fighting in the town of Uvira between Zairian soldiers and Tutsi rebels on 18 October, the refugees began to move. By 22 October 22, CNN reported a “potential humanitarian crisis in Central Africa, with tens of thousands of Hutu refugees on the move out of Zaire.” On 23 October, UNHCR claimed the numbers on the move were 200,000 of an estimated 1 million refugees in eastern Zaire. On 24 October, CNN anchor, Hilary Bowker, claimed that, “In Zaire, the plight of an enormous number of refugees appears not to be improving. International relief agencies continue to warn of an impending catastrophe.” The humanitarian situation seemed to be getting worse daily. On 29 October 29, 700,000 ethnic Hutus were reported as needing but cut off from humanitarian aid. The climax was approaching as the fleeing refugees crowded into the last camp at Mugunga defended by the ex-FAR and theinterahamwe. By the end of October, there were reportedly 400,000 refugees gathered there. The UNSG. spokesperson, Sylvana Foa, appeared on television and claimed that there was only enough food to feed the refugees for seven days. On the same film clip, Sadako Ogata, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, was interpreted as drawing a parallel between the 1996 Zairian refugee disaster and the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She said, “I’m very, very worried about the fate of all the refugees and the affected civilians because I don’t really want to see another large humanitarian catastrophe of the kind that we saw in ’94.”
The reporting became hysterical. Médecins du Monde reported on sickness and disease among the refugees fleeing the fighting. Other humanitarian agencies even alluded to massive slaughters when they could not reach refugees. (IRIN Updates 9&10, 5 and 6 November 1996) They did not indicate that many of the refugees were being killed because they were being used as shields for the militants or for refusing to accompany the genocidaires. One day later, Anne Marie Huby of Doctors Without Borders said, “Well, I think it’s going to be one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes we have seen in years. We were there two years ago with the largest-ever humanitarian operation ever, and still there were about 50,000 people who died of cholera, dysentery, very preventable diseases. This time it’s the same people, it’s the same terrain, it’s the same conditions, but only worse, there’s a war. And there is not a single aid worker on the ground. So you draw your own conclusions.”
The media campaign had, without a doubt, a powerful effect. Government and international leaders were galvanized to undertake action under pressure from their citizens who watched what appeared to be another tragedy unfold. The searing memories of the earlier genocide alluded to by officials and the inaction of the governments and UN at the time induced many people to resolve, “Never again.” Only this time, it turned out that what was occurring was not a repeat of what had happened before. In fact, Nik Gowing (1998, 22-25) alleges that information from the humanitarian agencies to the media on the conditions in the camps was mishandled. What were given out as possible projections based on certain assumptions were taken as fact. An Italian journalist told Gowing that he was “being used by the NGOs” and that “there were good conditions: no cholera; just normal sickness.” (23) (The latter observation was proven accurate, for when the refugees started streaming home, well after their food had allegedly been exhausted,, they were observed carrying bundles of food and belongings with them and were in relatively good health.) Allegations were even made that the campaign was being deliberately orchestrated to induce international military involvement to stem the advancing tide of the pro-Rwandese forces.
There was a paradox, however. If the crisis was so acute, why was the UN so slow to act. By the end of October, the SG finally got around to appointing a Special Envoy for the region. To do what? To advise on what the terms of reference should be for a permanent Special Representative. To see how limited and tardy such a response was, it is necessary to review the conflict as it was developing on the ground.
IX The Civil War I
There were four civil wars underway in Zaire in the fall of 1996. Our focus has been on the Rwanda civil war that was now coming to a climax on Zairian soil, the final phase beginning in October and ending in November. It was the catalyst for the Zaire Civil War itself. That war began first on 8 October and was effectively over six months later with the fall of Kisingani in March of 1997. Laurent Kabila’s subsequent assumption of the throne of power in Kinshasa was then a forgone conclusion. The opening volley of the final stage of the Rwandan civil began five days after the Zairian civil war began, on 13 October 1996 and ended effectively less than four weeks later on 14 November, with the rout of the genocidaires from the last refugee camp. Though the ex-FAR and interahamwe had not been decimated, they were decisively defeated.
But before the results of the Zairain and Rwandese civil wars could be determined, the resolution of another civil war – the Burundian one – being fought on Zairian territory had to be determined. In early October, the ADFL first attacked the Burundian Hutu refugee camps. 60,000 were forced to “repatriate” and turned over to the Burundian army (Prunier 197) Aside from those killed or imprisoned, 100,000 moved deeper into Zaire. It took only 10 days to clear the Burundian refugee camps
In November, a fourth Ugandan civil war would shift its action to Zairian soil just before the Rwandan one had ended with the elimination of the refugee camps and the repatriation of the refugees back to Rwanda. Ironically, one day later, the United Nations Security Council authorized a Multinational Neutral Force to be deployed to facilitate the provision of food aid to the refugees who were now streaming back across the border to Rwanda at the rate of 100,000 an hour.
When the Zairian rebellion began in South Kivu, on 8 October, Lwasi Ngabo Lwabanji, the governor, gave all the Banyamulenge seven days to leave voluntarily or be forced out. (IRIN Update, 11 October 1996) General Eluki Monga Aundu, head of the Zairian armed forces, went further and declared war on the Banyumulenge whom he correctly claimed were backed by Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and, erroneously, even the UNHCR. The logic of the Zairian position was unassailable as long as you accepted the government position that the Tutsi Banyamulenge, who had resided in Zaire for up to two centuries, were Rwandan foreigners living on Zaire soil. Since all the political forces in Zaire were united in attributing the cause of the rebellion to external forces, it might appear that the war could be expected to unite the various factions. At the very least, they might temporarily set aside their differences and predatory practices. Instead, business continued as usual.
While the entire air force was transferred to the eastern front, the army continued to use the situation to increase its extraction of wealth by setting up roadblocks and engaging in car-jacking. (IRIN Update, 26 October 1996) When troops were sent to Kisangani, they clashed with troops already stationed there who had been paid by local businessmen to protect their assets. (IRIN Update 12, November 1996) Kengo called for a suspension of the recently reinstituted debt servicing to the IMF and World Bank. He boycotted the regional summit on 5 November in Nairobi. His efforts at undermining his own economic policies and demonizing the Tutsi governments in Rwanda and Burundi were only met by student uprisings in Kinshasa, possibly orchestrated by pro-Mobutu forces. The students called Kengo a traitor for wasn’t his mother a Tutsi. In other words, instead of the external threat uniting the various factions, it panicked the predators as each sought to get what they could while they could get it. The war only exacerbated the process of disintegration brought on by a thoroughly gangrenous body politic.
The last stage of the first Rwanda Civil War began on 13 October as part of the first Zairian Civil War. Banyamulenge-led rebel forces, backed by Rwandan advisors and “volunteers”, engaged in battle against the Hutu extremists from the refugee camps, their local Hutu and autochtone allies as well as the Zairian army. In the north, a combination of former Zairian Tutsi from the area who had been forced to flee in the spring united with local Bahunde and Bayanga tribesmen to move against the Rwandan Hutu refugee camps. They first attacked those closest to the Rwandan border in North Kivu (Katale and Kahindo) (Prunier, 197) The organization behind these battles was announced on 16 October – the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL). At that time, Laurent D. Kabila was only its spokesperson. Shortly after, he would crown himself leader.
The ADFL captured Uvira, Goma and Bukavu. With the airport at Goma closed, the Rwandan government cut off any land route for re-supplying the camps with humanitarian aid. As indicated above, the NGOs and the UN responded with hysterical cries of immanent starvation and disease which, most embarrassingly, turned out to be unwarranted. Ray Wilkinson, spokesperson for the UNHCR, in his 16 November CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour four days after the UN press release, finally got out the accurate story.
For two weeks, we didn’t know what was happening to these people and there were many scare stories coming out. Carpets of bodies and holocausts are even taking place. And there was some evidence, certainly, that some people were suffering very badly and some dying. But we had started to get reports three or four days ago, that the condition inside Mugunga was a lot better than people had anticipated, because there was water going into that camp and there was also food in that camp. So we were prepared by a couple of days perhaps, when these people came out, that they were in the condition that they are in. So until two days ago we didn’t know, but from two days on, we realize they were probably in reasonably good condition.
Initially in October, the prime target of the military attacks seemed to be the ex-FAR and interahamwe in the camps rather than the FAZ or the autochtone militias. The main threat to Rwanda as well as the catalyst for the war against the Banyamulenge was to be eliminated first, depriving the enemies of arms, some discipline and a source for military manpower.
At the same time, diplomatic activity moved into high gear. In the first stage of the Kivu crisis, the Belgian government took the lead. It offered its good offices to mediate between Zaire and Rwanda through its Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region. Both Prime Minister Kengo of Zaire and Prime Minister Rwigema of Rwanda responded positively to this offer. Vice-president Kagame communicated this agreement to the Belgian Special Representative on 21 October. Prime Minister Dehaene then met with Kengo in Brussels on 29 October. But Prime Minister Kengo demanded that all Rwandan troops leave Zairian territory. At the same time, Rwanda at the time denied any presence in Zaire. Mediation was not off to a very propitious start.
Belgium, however, was not satisfied simply with proceeding on the diplomatic front. Belgium began to develop a practical plan for military intervention, but one that would not involve its own troops. Dr. Reginald Moreels, Belgian State Secretary for Development Cooperation, proposed to set up humanitarian corridors between the airport of Goma and the location of the refugees to transport food, water and medicine to the refugees. Military protection would be required to protect the corridor. Eric Derycke, the Belgian Foreign Minister, approached several African countries to supply troops but without the clout of offering Belgian military participation. However, Belgium did offer to subsidise African participation.
As reports began to spread on the media about the immanent threat to over a half million Hutu refugees from starvation and disease, on 4 November, the ADFL called a unilateral three-week cease-fire. The cease-fire, however, was conditional. It depended on the Nairobi summit meeting on 5 November and the UN taking action to separate the armed refugee warriors from the legitimate refugees in the camps. On 5 November, the Nairobi summit called for such action. On 8 November, the Zaire government approved the deployment of a UN Military Neutral Force (MNF) provided Zairian sovereignty was respected. The UN approved intervention force on 9 November, which had been given a Chapter VII mandate, was only authorized to launch a humanitarian mission which could protect aid convoys to the camp and allow a voluntary repatriation of the refugees. The MNF was specifically not given a mandate to separate the genocidaires from the refugees. The humanitarian intervention was aborted before it could begin as the Rwandan government denied access to Zaire through its territory. The UN diplomats were given access and entered Zaire through Rwanda, much to the chagrin, indeed anger, of Zaire, incensed that Zairian sovereignty had been ignored and no permission had been sought from Kinshasa.
On 11 November, the Belgian Foreign Minister, Eric Derycke, flew to Addis Ababa to meet with officials of the OAU to urge African countries to provide troops for the humanitarian operation, consistent with the recommendations of the JEEAR Report for devolution of responsibility to regional organizations. Belgium agreed to finance part of the operation. According to Belgian Prime Minister, J.L. Dahaene, upon reflection, the Moreels proposal for humanitarian corridors under military protection was severely weakened by Belgium’s refusal to provide its own troops.
However, the OAU reiterated its position that the MNF act to separate the genocidaires from the refugees. Uganda was determined to ensure the end of the Zaire-genocidaire-local Hutu and autochtone alliance for anti-Ugandan militants were part of the same opposition structure. The alliance supported Ugandan rebel raids into Uganda if Museveni’s charges were accurate. In a statement to parliament, President Museveni claimed that “on November 13, 1996, we were attacked by ADF at Mpondwe which had been prepared at Kaaya in Sudan and infiltrated into Uganda through Congo with the full knowledge of the Mobutu Government.” The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), supported by both the Zaire and Sudan governments, had long been using bases in Zaire to carrying out cross-border raids into Kasese and Budubujo in south-western Uganda. “The war between the ADF and the NRA (the latter named the Uganda People’s Defence Force in 1995), had uprooted over 100,000 people and destroyed schools, dispensaries and shops in the area.” (Otunnu forthcoming) Further, one of the West Nile Bank Front’s (WNBF) key military bases was in Bunia, 40 kilometres from the Ugandan border inside Zaire used as a trans-shipment point for military supplies to and from Sudan.
In the past, Uganda had provided training, diplomatic and logistic support for the ADFL rebels. Now the Ugandan army was determined to use the opportunity to destroy its own opponents once and for all. Thus a fourth civil war was transferred to Zairian soil alongside the Burundian, Rwandan and the Zairian one. The justification was the threat to Ugandan security from anti-government forces based in Zaire. Insurgency activities against Uganda from bases in Zaire as well as the Sudan had increased in the Fall of 1996 as the LRA increased the number of its raids and even attacked Lango while the ADF occupied some south-west Ugandan towns and villages for short periods.
Given the constellation of military forces and the strategic imperatives that drove them, the OAU request, as well as the deployment of the MNF, would soon prove to be obsolete. The ADFL resumed the war. Mugunga refugee camp, the last bastion holding enormous numbers of refugees, was attacked. On 14 November, the Mungunga defenses collapsed. The flight of the ex-FAR and interahamwe immediately resulted in the exodus of about 640,000 Hutu refugees who began the trek back to Rwanda carrying all their belongings. Others, overwhelmingly the ex-FAR, interahamwe and their families, fled westward. The pan-Hutu, Zairian army and autochtone militia alliance was in tatters, Ironically, on 15 November, the Security Council formally authorized the deployment of the MNF.
It would soon be evident that the MNF was not needed. That was lucky since the planning of the initiative had been very deficient. There were four reasons for this. First, however deficient the UN, at least the UN had many channels for communication in DPKO. However, this was a member-led operation and Canada was fully responsible for all planning and coordination. Though Canada carried a lot of good will and credit with African states as a middle power, Canada lacked the military staff with experience in Zaire. Further, in contrast to the extensive network of diplomatic relations of the UN with Africa, one ambassador represented Canada in the whole of the Great Lakes region. Canada did not even have embassies in some of the key capitals—Kinshasa, Kigali, Entebbe, Bujumbura or Luanda. Diplomatic operations had to be coordinated from Nairobi, though Dar es Salaam, Harare or Pretoria could serve as fallbacks. Thirdly, as was the case with Belgium, when a country offers leadership but does not seem willing or able to put its own troops on the line, its leadership role is hampered both logistically and morally. Without combat personnel (infantry, armor, engineers, etc.), providing the commander and his headquarters unit is insufficient to establish a leadership role with any depth.
“In leading the mission without any significant numbers of combat troops, Canada was dependent on other nations to conduct any significant operations. Furthermore, countries are generally reluctant to hand over operational control of combat forces to a lead nation that does not provide combat forces of its own”
Finally, and most importantly, Canada lacked adequate intelligence about the situation on the ground. As is evident from the story already narrated, the situation was changing extremely rapidly. Given the lack of background on the area, the challenge would have been enormously difficult even if this had been a normal crisis. But four wars were being fought at the same time and at an unprecedented speed. The information came from diverse sources – Washington, New York, Brussels, Paris and Nairobi and it was often contradictory and much of it proved to be extremely unreliable. For example, the Canadian military, at the beginning, would not have been able to distinguish among the four different civil wars nor be appraised on the background of each. They would not have known of the extent of the arms within the refugee camps, on the one hand, nor of the importance of the Rwandese government involvement in the war in eastern Zaire.
Fortunately, the UN initiative to deploy military forces, but only for humanitarian reasons, may have saved Canadian face. For the Canadians were able to declare victory when the refugees started walking home in vast numbers in the third week of November after the fall of Mungugu camp. Though Canadians quickly came to recognize the mission was obsolete before it was launched, it would take them longer to officially recognize that it had been unworkable all along. Without a logistic base in Rwanda, which Rwanda would not provide as long as France was involved and as long as the mission did not include disarming the genocidaires, Rwanda would not cooperate and provide such a base. This blatant gap in a workable plan was but the tip of the iceberg.
Canada was not the only state that had been naïve. The State Secretary for Development Cooperation, Dr. Moreels, visited Zaire during the last week of November 1996. Moreels, the founder of MSF in Belgium and a recognized expert in humanitarian intervention, went to Zaire at the time, not only to make his own assessment of the situation first hand. In parliament later, he gave three official reasons: to reestablish bilateral contact with the Zairian government, to confirm the integrity of Zaire as a sovereign state and its sacrosanct borders, and to support the preparation for the elections. These goals were not just a cover for himself as a one-man intelligence agency. In Kinshasa, he negotiated agreements on the tax status of ex-patriates and NGO workers. In Kisangani, he met with election committees as well as refugees and relief workers. On the situation of the refugees, he reported that tens of thousands in flight from Kabila’s rebels, the ex-FAR and, most ominously, Zairian army deserters, were in need of aid. (He said nothing about almost all of them being genocidaires and their families. Most refugees were, in fact, men, not women or children as is most often the case.) Diplomatically, he insulted the African nations who had already agreed to send troops by disparaging their preparedness and deploring that they were not already involved. Most significantly, he worried about the demographic impact of the shift in populations resulting from the internally displaced and the refugees. In fact, he spent an enormous amount of time helping to prepare the forthcoming elections which he was convinced would, along with a new constitution and a new emerging class of politicians, change the order of the day in Zaire. The rebellion was merely background. The foreground was filled with a refugee humanitarian crisis and a movement towards democracy. Politics not only would not be determined out of the barrel of a gun, but guns seemed marginalized relative to the immanent emergence of new values as Belgium workers assisted the refugees. From his perspective on the ground, he explicitly rejected the intelligence estimates of the Americans on the number of refugees.
The media were still broadcasting about 700,000 missing refugees in Zaire, based on NGO and international agency reports and communications, (“An Estimated 700,000 Refugees Have Yet To Return; International Leaders Still Undecided On Sending Multinational Force to Zaire,” – CNN Worldview, 22 November 1996). The United States military assessment team, on the other hand and on the same day, reported only 175,000 refugees left in Zaire. U.S. Army Major General Edwin P. Smith said, “I can’t speak for the U.N. I don’t know how they collect their figures. All I can say is that we’ve tried to do the best we can, to as accurately as possible, portray what we see. We’re very confident that we’ve done that.”
The European Union, however, was enlisted in Moreel’s fictional world before the release of the American figures. On 19 November with Belgium occupying the presidency of the West European Union (WEU), the foreign ministers of the WEU gathered in Ostende, Belgium to consider the Zaire crisis. Though they expected the massive return of refugees would significantly impact on a solution for the crisis, they focused on their roles in the implementation of UN resolution 1080 since they were very concerned with the hundreds of thousands of ostensibly missing refugees. In particular, they concentrated on the amounts of humanitarian aid each would give and its delivery to the region. They discussed the financial support for African countries providing troops and the provision of logistic support, but no consideration was given to the provision of European troops. They also created a committee structure with a division of responsibilities so they could remain appraised of all aspects of the developing crisis.
Action was also instituted at this late date to enforce an arms blockade on the region. At the end of December 1996, at Ostende airport, customs officials blocked a shipment of used French military trucks to Kisangani.
Meanwhile, reality was changing the facts on the ground. The same army, used to drive the innocent Burundian Hutu refugees back into the hands of the Tutsi army in Burundi and defeat the Rwandan Hutu extremists, was now being used to advance the cause of the Zairian rebels. At the same time, a farcical game of musical chairs and inversions was taking place in Zaire that made the Europeans and Canadians look as if they had their feet solidly planted on the ground. Kengo and Mobutu continued to bicker. Mobutu turned an about face and offered to negotiate with Rwanda. Now, Kengo refused. Further, the ADFL recruited Zairian officers (Lt. Col. Lokilo Nene Boseka for example) and soldiers. The ADFL also waged psychological warfare against the defending forces who retreated in panic before they were even attacked as the Zairian played its usual rile of interpreting its responsibility of serving to protect and defend. The army used the chaos to go on an orgy of looting, rape and murder. (Amnesty International, Zaire: Rape, Killings). Those once hired to protect the refugees, now tried to stop their movement in eastern Zaire near Lubutu (70,000) and Tingi Tingi (100,000 – Daily Emergency Highlights on Eastern Zaire, 16 December 1996) so they could maintain a human shield between themselves and the rebel forces. (IRIN Update 59, 16 December 1996)
The Mobutu government itself, and its last bastion of defense, the army had begun to fall apart. France offered political and diplomatic support for Zaire sovereignty and territorial integrity and perhaps more. Mercenaries, financed by Kuwait and recruited by a retired French officer, were reported to be fighting for the Mobutu government. Further, the government solicited help from Sudan, China, Libya and Morocco. (IRIN Updates 70,71, 84, 92; Jan 1-2, 3, 22 and Feb.3) Finally, on 20 January the Prime Minister and Mobutu announced their agreement to execute the war from a united front. General Mahele declared that he had finally been given the troops and supplies to recover the lost territories and to launch the counter-offensive from Kisingani. News seemed auspicious when Zairian troops recaptured Walikale from the ADFL on 24 January. When they seemed to be mobilizing for a move towards Bukavu and Goma, 2,000 Uganda troops entered Eastern Zaire. (IRIN Update 89, 29 January 1997)
In Kinsangani, the Zairian forces were already having difficulty with resupply since reinforcements could only come via air. When the army began to confiscate humanitarian supplies and resume their looting habits, private air transport companies refused to fly to Kisingani. The fragility of the alliance between the president and prime minister was clear when pro-Mobutu supporters began to undermine General Mahele lest his stature grow to great from a victory in Kisingani. (IRIN Update 93, 4 February 1997) Kabila offered to negotiate before launching his all-out offensive on 21 February, but both Kengo and Mobutu insisted that all foreign troops leave before they would agree to negotiate. However, Kabila managed to split the opposition at least by offering Tsisekedi the post of Interim Prime Minister. (IRIN Update 96, 7 February 1997)
In the meanwhile, Dr. Moreels tried to make his government the spokeperson for a certain NGO perspective. On 25 February 1997, State Secretary for Development Cooperation, citing various sources, issued a statement referring to a genocide underway in Zaire. The Tutsi rebels were killing the Hutu refugees. The use of genocide was picked up by Dr. Van Erps in the Belgian parliamentary debate. Le Soir, a Brussels newspaper, published an article using the term genocide. Evidently, the source of the information was testimony from a ‘religious and humanitarian’ organization, which was later revealed to be the Broederlijk Delen (Sharing in Fraternity), a Catholic NGO. This NGO was widely known as a defender of the Hutu regime and had, since the Rwanda genocide in 1994, played a role as an outlet for Hutu extremist propaganda and revisionist history. A high ranking official told Philip Verwimp and Els Vanheusden in an interview in January 1999 that Dr. Moreels had checked the information on genocide with the UNHCHR and Mr Garretton in Geneva. However, the UN mission to investigate the massacres had not confirmed that genocide had taken place, though this had been a possibility. On the other hand, UNHCR declared that they had no evidence to support the allegations.
Nothing would work to save the genocidaires from defeat or the politicians in Kinshasa. The Zaire government had reinforced its troops in Kinsangani. In turn, these troops had the support of very seasoned mercenaries. The government also had an air force that bombed Kabila’s advancing forces. Further, 170,000 refugees stood as a humanitarian barrier at Tingi Tingi en route to Kisangani
The ADFL attacked Lumumbashi in March using fuel taken from UNHCR stores. The Zairian army used planes with the logos of aid organisations to fly weapons (as well as 70 cases of beer a day) to make a final stand at Tingi-Tingi. However, the game was over. The elites, as usual, were the first to flee. They were followed by the refugees, likely mostly genocidairesand their families. The mercenaries fled and the Zairian troops resumed their usual role of pillage and rape before the army disintegrated altogether. Finally, the last remaining humanitarian workers left.
On 3 March, Tini Tingi fell. On 5 March, Zairian military headquarters was moved from Kisingani. During this very period, from March 9 to 14, Dr. Moreels, once president of ‘Doctors without Borders’ but now ostensibly a Minister in the Belgian government, once again chose to visit Kisangani just after he had called the events in Zaire a “genocide”. Ostensibly, in the middle of the climax of the Zairian civil war, he indicated that he wanted to visit some development projects in the region. He would deliver medical supplies for the refugees to Belgian NGOs and offer moral support to the besieged Zairian population and 160,000 “refugees” in Kisangani and in Ubundu. No plans were made to visit Kigali or Kampala.
On the last day of Moreel’s visit, the population of the refugee camps had been reduced from 170,000 to 1700. Then Kisingani itself fell without a battle. Finally, Mobutu offered to negotiate directly with the rebels. The ADFL accepted but refused to halt its offensive. Kengo continued to refuse to negotiate. On 21 March, Mobutu replaced Kengo with Tshisekedi who had expressed his willingness to negotiate all along and had maintained communications with Kabila. But whereas once Kabila had proffered the Prime Minister’s position to Tshisekedi, he now announced than anyone who had held office or shared power in the previous administration could not hold office in the new one. (IRIN Update 134, 24 March 1997) Tshisekedi once again was left abandoned at the altar. All of Zaire would soon be in the hands of Kabila’s rebel forces.
Is this a story of farce or tragedy. Perhaps both! The international system committed to the sovereignty and integrity of states allowed and supplied a sub-state unit of refugee warriors and, what is worse, genocidaires, to set up shop on the borders of the state that was barely recovering from the genocide. On the basis of the principle of “voluntary repatriation”, but more likely impotence and an unwillingness to take any risks, the basis for a resumption of war and genocide was allowed to fester and grow. The humanitarians were asked to deal with a situation that was primarily a political and security issue compounded by a kleptocratic economy. Further, the information even on the numbers of refugees was highly suspect and led to an international outcry about an alleged up to 700,000 missing refugees. The fact that the number in flight was probably only about 170,000 and that they largely consisted of thegenocidaires and their families was hardly communicated at all. The NGO and international agencies fed the media with this misleading information and hysterical scenarios.
On the basis primarily of misplaced compassion rather than either self-interest, international order or even the laudable Canadian doctrine of “human security”, an international Chapter VII initiative was authorized on the very same day the solution was underway by the spontaneous return of the refugees themselves. And though the doctrine governing Canadian actions was praisewothy, its terms and organization were not. The initiative to set up the intervention force was unworkable given its limited humanitarian objectives, its proposed make-up and the opposition to a force which gave France a prominent role and would likely have restored the refugee camps. For such goals and the constitution of the force were totally unacceptable to the Rwandan regime. Further, that same government had repeatedly given notice that it would intervene to carry out a job that had not been dealt with for two years. If that was not sufficient, the international community tried to compete with the Zairian government with an even greater array of competitive players and corresponding incoherence on the international scene.
The central issue was the need to separate the refugee warriors from the genuine refugees, to end the immunity for the genocidaires and to prevent them from using bases in Zaire to attack Rwanda. Instead, the focus of the international community was on feeding and taking care of the needs of the refugees (a laudable goal, but not as carried out given the context). The absolute adherence to the principle of voluntary repatriation seems totally at odds with the inability of the refugees to escape the control of the genocidaires. And this was the case in camps built, financed and supposedly controlled by the international community.
Though there were after-effects of both the tragedy and the farce, the refugee problem as such was solved when the militants in the refugee camps were defeated and the refugees on their own for the first time, decided spontaneously to head home. Unfortunately, though the issue of the refugee camps was solved, its legacy would be a long drawn-out civil war than soon engulfed the whole of the continent.