The problem of sympathising with the FDLR

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By Dr. Lonzen Rugira

On May 26 during the 50th birthday party for the African Union – and the Organization of African Unity before it – the signatories of the most recent peace accords aimed at ending the seemingly permanent crises in the DRC, met on the ‘sidelines’ as part of a series of follow up meetings for the Congo Peace Agreement, the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, signed on February 24, 2013.

Thinking of resolving the problems with the Congo is such a daunting task that, possibly out of frustration at the unending crisis, has produced one of the most bizarre suggestions: that the Government of Rwanda should enter negotiations with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The organisation’s name should not fool anyone. These folks are not out to liberate anybody, let alone bring democracy to Rwanda. They were once in power and did neither.

These are people who think that the solution to the problems in the great lakes region lies in eliminating the Tutsi population. This is what they believe. They have tried it before. Given a chance, it is what they will do again.

Such elements have always existed in human history. The good news is that they have tended to remain at the margins of society, as a lunatic fringe. There are times, however, when they have successfully infiltrated mainstream thinking, with tragic consequences. Take, for instance, Nazi Germany and Rwanda under the sway of Interahamwe. For places such as the United States, groups such as the Ku Klux Klan have been rejected by the majority of the people and remain excluded from political life.

The FDLR is well known in the region. Most people know that they are killers; that they are genocidaires; and that they are considered terrorists for the suffering they have meted out to the Congolese people. These are people who think that they can purify Rwanda by eliminating the Tutsi and the Hutu who do not subscribe to their ideology. The FDLR and others I have pointed out as forming the lunatic fringe, are cut from the same cloth.

Most people of goodwill do not sympathise with the FDLR. So, why do some people sympathise with them? There are two possible reasons:

The first is ideology. The geopolitics of the great lakes brings out the most ideologically disoriented themes – which, in turn, bring about a practice of politics that produces permanent crises, at great cost to human life.

Writing in Pambazuka (November 2006, issue 280), the late social justice activist and Pan African icon Dr. Abdul Raheem Tajudeen noted the indifference of Africans to the plight of the Tutsi in 1994, and the hostility towards the Rwandese Patriotic Front thereafter. Tajudeen explained that many Africans found themselves identifying with, and sympathetic to, the Hutu against the Tutsi. The hatred reached alarming levels when many of them started justifying genocide against the latter. Tajudeen observes, “Many Africans believe themselves to be Hutus and by definition are apologetic about Hutu extremism.”

This ideology has been central in fanning ethnic hatred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through claims that some presidents of the great lakes region have ambitions of creating a Tutsi/Hima Empire; and so, it is up to the rest to band together for self-defense.

Anyone who doubts that this thinking was part of the calculus of taking sides in the Congo Wars, then they have not been paying attention.

Those who doubt that it plays a part in the failure to reign in the genocidaires roaming freely in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Cameroon, Gabon and, yes, Tanzania, are not trying hard enough.

To be sure, reports from Addis also suggested that the governments of Uganda and the DRC hold and deepen negotiations with the Alliance Democratic Forces (ADF-NALU), and the 23rd Movement (M-23), respectively.

But those who conflate these groups are guilty of an error of reasoning, a fallacy of categories. If the FDLR, ADF and M-23 are considered ‘negative elements,’ then it is possible that placing them in the same category may create a false equivalency in one’s mind. Negative they all are, but equally negative they are not. Similarity is not sameness. The crime of genocide makes for a moral difference.

Failure to grasp that difference only serves to sanitize the FDLR as just one of many ‘negative forces’ in the Congo.  But the survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi  will tell you that they have seen these guys; they have seen evil.

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