As Rwanda ‘leaks’ part of its official rebuttal to the UN report that accuses it of complicity in the growing M23 insurgency in the Eastern DRC, here’s a few random thoughts……
The UK has blocked £16mn of budget support to Rwanda while it investigates accusations of Rwandan complicity in the DR Congo conflicts, which is shorthand for ‘we don’t know what to do yet’. I suspect there’s some jumping around at the Ministry and DFID as current events in the DR Congo and mounting criticism of Rwanda disrupt the official British narrative. The UK has both feet in the door in Rwanda not just via official aid and development channels but also with strategic and business interests, so it will be interesting to watch their next moves.
Meanwhile, what started as a symbolic gesture by the US in withdrawing a paltry $200,000 is now gaining momentum as Holland, Pais Basco, and Germany also pull the funding plug to some extent. Yesterday, Rwanda ‘leaked’ 28 pages of its official rebuttal to the accusations made in the UN Group of Experts Report published last month. Here is a copy but sadly so far it excludes 50 pages of an Appendix which contains their evidence in detail. Thus the rebuttal only contains commentary but in the interest of balance I am hoping to have more to say as soon as the Appendix becomes available. So far the ‘leak’ seems more like another exercise in PR but I reserve judgement until I have seen the report in its entirety.
The Guardian ran a story that quoted Steven Rapp, the leader of the US Office of Global Criminal Justice, suggesting that Paul Kagame could be indicted for war crimes. However, considering the US is neither a signatory to the ICC nor has prosecuting powers, that has to be taken with a pinch of salt and viewed, at best, as an indication of a slight and possibly temporary, turning of the tide in political relations. The West has many irons in the fire in Rwanda including strategic interests, I doubt that they are ready to abandon ship yet. Indeed, the FT ran a story that contained comments that suggested that withdrawing funding from Rwanda was not helpful. Considering the UN Group of Experts have written about Rwanda’s role in the Congo many times before, it is hard to see quite why there are such rapid reflex actions on the part of donors unless they are also keeping an eye on their own voters.
One famous British supporter and personal friend of President Kagame is Tony Blair, who not only offers his services as a ‘personal advisor’ but also has staff employed inside the Rwandan government via his charity the Africa Governance Initiative. The AIG places staff inside the president’s policy unit, the prime minister’s office, the Ministry of Finance, and the Cabinet Secretariat amongst others. The Daily Telegraph quotes an ‘aid worker’ who observes that the AIG: “… are very guarded about what they do. They want to have their cake and eat it. They want to be on the inside of the Rwandan government but only in a technical capacity. They won’t get into sensitive government issues.”
Another advisor to President Kagame is Christian Angermayer, a founder of one of Germany’s largest financial services groups, Angermayer, Brumm & Lange. Indeed financial service organisations see Rwanda as a “burgeoning business and investment” opportunity with JP Morgan Chase & Co setting up an ‘NGO’ to run a Financial Analyst Training Program to build: “businesses and develop opportunities for Rwanda’s expanding entrepreneurial base.” Tony Blair is a paid advisor to JP Morgan.
Rwanda has worked very hard to build a hospitable climate for business and investment and is highly praised for doing so. Western investors are lining up to get their feet in the door. Tourism is also growing which is reflected by the Hotel chain, Marriott International, planning on opening a 5 star hotel in Kigali by the end of 2012. All of this while laudable is against a backdrop of a repressive state apparatus and a massive imbalance in beneficiaries inside Rwanda. This is why the fashion amongst business insiders to describe Rwanda as ‘Africa’s Singapore’ is misleading. Singapore is authoritarian and offers limited political freedoms but it does at least ensure that poverty is rare and offers many state-sponsored programmes of support.
While there is no doubt that the international political tide is gradually turning against whole-hearted support for Rwanda, the business interests mentioned above signify one very strong reason why it won’t go very far or, if it does, it won’t stay there. Meanwhile, thanks to a feeble political infrastructure in the DR Congo and limited attention by the so-called West, it is likely that cuts in foreign aid to Rwanda will have limited effect on the daily violence that is gaining momentum in the Kivus. If Rwanda gets its wish and gains a seat on the UN Security Council later this year, the problems will only multiply.
So far, while the partial release of the Rwandan response to the allegations of material support for the conflict in the DR Congo offers a few possible counterbalances to the UN Group of Expert’s report, it certainly doesn’t ‘demolish them’ as Rwandan Government discourse is suggesting. Instead it is time-stretching any possible increase in direct international response to the violence. Meanwhile, reports are coming in daily of increased military activity on multiple fronts and the forced internal displacement of the people has reached levels unprecedented since the war. My informants tell me that away from Goma the fear is palpable and that opportunistic militias are taking advantage of FARDC and MONUSCO distraction by M23 rebels to significantly augment their criminal activities.
As the US Embassy withdraws their staff from Goma and describe the situation as ‘fluid’, and reports come in of possible support for M23 from various international actors beyond Rwanda, the DR Congo is potentially heading beyond the ‘post-conflict’ label so beloved of western political analysts back towards full scale war in the East. This raises the question of what exactly the ‘international community’ intends to do if their budget cutting yields a limited response from Rwanda. While it sends a strong message to Rwanda that attitudes are changing, Rwanda knows first-hand how fickle donors can be. It’s all beginning to suggest that as usual it may be too little too late and either the conflict escalates or a compromise is reached that leaves the Congo back where it started.