Rick MacInnes-Rae: Who gains from Congo's rebel war

UN fact-finders are pretty sure Rwanda is pulling the strings behind the rebel incursion into neighbouring Congo. But many in the West aren't ready to give up on Rwandan President Paul Kagama, Rick MacInnes-Rae writes.

The UN's fingering of Rwanda and Uganda for some of the ongoing slaughter in the Democratic Republic of Congo ends their pretense of innocence, but not the killing. It's not like we didn't know.   

The report Friday by a UN-appointed Group of Experts portrays Rwandan President Paul Kagame, long lauded for his leadership by Western presidents and prime ministers, as like a grasping warlord, taking blood and treasure from the gold fields of his neighbour.  

What's more, it goes on to describe M23, the Tutsi rebel group that has been occupying the eastern Congo hub of Goma, as a "Rwandan creation," commanded by Rwanda's defence minister and provisioned by its Tutsi administration in clear violation of an international arms embargo.  

"The international community needs to stop pretending like Kagame is a benign leader and realize that the green light given to his unacceptable behaviour in the past is allowing him to get away with literally murder," said Timothy Longman, the former director of Human Rights Watch in Rwanda.

In another poignant note of deceit, the UN report notes that at the same time as Uganda was acting as a mediator between M23 and the leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was providing the rebels with guns and political advice.  

Both Uganda and Rwanda deny these claims by the UN fact-finders. But these denials can't be taken at face value.

Remember, both countries sent troops into the DRC twice in the past and there have been many allegations over the years that many never left.

Their goal was to maintain a foothold for their political and business masters to loot gold, tantalum and tungsten from the mines of the eastern DRC, which dwarf even those of Solomon.

Turning off the taps?

If the international community needed more than the stink of suspicion to force its hand, an interim version of this UN report five months ago cited many of these same violations.

A soldier from the M23 rebel group stands guard during a rally in Goma on Wednesday, attended by thousands of local Congolese who wanted to know what the group was intending. (Marc Hofer / Associated Press)

That was enough for some nations to act, suspending foreign aid to Rwanda. The tap was turned off by Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and a few other members of the European Union.  

Canada had already cut most of its funding to Rwanda, one of seven African countries it dropped from development assistance in the Conservative government's policy shift in 2009.  

Others, such as the World Bank and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, clearly thought less of the UN warning and let the cash flow. So did Britain, though it is now having second thoughts.  

Curiously, the U.S., one of Rwanda's biggest boosters, suspended a mere $200,000 in military aid, without touching its annual contribution of $240-million in "non-military" aid.

Congo Street

The motivation for Rwanda and Uganda's military adventure in the DRC seems clear enough.

The money made from hijacking Congolese resources pays the cost of fomenting the rebellion that produces it, while those in the know are making fortunes from the drippings.  

There is reportedly a stylish little arrondissement in the Rwandan capital of Kigali known as "Congo Street," because folks believe that's the source of the cash that keeps it fashionable.  

The big question is why so many in the international community continued to smile and fund Rwanda long after the warning bells went off.

Among the explanations is that the West felt guilty for failing to prevent the genocide of 1994, in which an estimated 800,000 mostly-Tutsi Rwandans (the ethnic group that makes up most of today's M23 rebel army) perished at the hands of mostly Hutu forces.  

The implication is that the world wanted to fund Rwanda to rise from its horrors and was prepared to go easy on moral judgments about any extracurricular activities.  

Besides, Paul Kagame was good at accounting for the money and creating the kind of civic institutions that Western nations like to see, even as he made Rwanda an increasingly-repressive regime for the media and human rights.

What withdrawal?

But what about this current crisis itself?

Rwandan President Paul Kagame at a Bill Clinton Global Initiative dinner in New York in 2010. A darling of the West, but is he playing a double game next door in the DRC? (Evan Agostini / Associated Press)

The DRC wants to push the rebels out, but that would take a trained, disciplined army, and it doesn't have one.

Its chief of staff just got the boot for selling arms to the enemy. And, let's face it, the country is run by the son of the last rebel commander to overrun the DRC.

But the Western powers have no appetite to put boots on the ground either and that leaves the UN, with its 19,000 troops in the DRC but no mandate at the moment for wholesale attacks or even defence.

Which leaves diplomacy, but even that seems to be working to Kagame's advantage.

The UN voted to impose sanctions on two of the leaders of M23, though not on Rwanda and Uganda (despite its own report).

What choice did it have, given UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is asking President Kagame to "use his influence on the M23 to help calm the situation and restrain M23 from continuing their attack."

And given the fact that Rwanda was elected only in October to be one of the rotating, non-veto members of the UN Security Council.   Today, these M23 rebels are saying they will withdraw from some of the ground they've gained in recent weeks, crediting Uganda with brokering the deal.

But small towns are easy to re-take and, in the key border city of Goma, they're only pulling back a few kilometres while retaining control of the airport.

This may be more of a break in the action than an end to it, and a signal that Kagame has the beginnings of a Greater Rwanda and not a lot of firepower on the ground to challenge his proxy army.