“Nine Hutu tribal fighters and several Rwandan and Congolese troops were killed in fighting in eastern Congo, a United Nations spokesman said, as the two governments continued an unprecedented partnership to combat ethnic violence.
The fighting against the Hutus in the Lubero region came a day after Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, of the rival Tutsi ethnic group, was arrested by Rwandan authorities.”
This is, it seems to me, quite significant. A bit of background: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the largest and, in mineral terms, richest countries is Africa, has spent basically the entire 20th century as an arena for atrocities, whether committed by Belgian imperialists or by civil war. The most chaotic period, the 90s, was the bloodiest conflict since WW2, with more than 5 million deaths. It was closely bound up with the relatively well-known genocide in Rwanda, and with the less-well-know civil war, persecution, and multiple mini-genocides that shaped the whole post-colonial history of Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi.
That is, if number of deaths is a metric of importance, this is the world’s most important issue.
The conflict was, in my opinion, largely a free-for-fall loot-party. There was so little order in the large eastern parts of the country, and so much mineral wealth, that anyone with a bunch of thugs with guns could get a lot richer by fighting for land than by contributing to civil society. It’s a prime example of the destabilising effects of the world economy.
What is significant is that by and large, with many splinterings and complexities, the two organising poles of the conflict have been the Rwandan government of Paul Kagame (to the East of Congo), and the official Congolese government (based in Kinshasa, to the West). And one of the points of conflict has been the presence of Hutu militias in Eastern Congo, who participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and then fled.
So to see that the two big sides are acting together against these militias is a very significant development. It seems to signal that a period of free-for-all armed struggle is passing into a period of stabilisation and mutual recognition.
This impression is re-inforced by the apparent arrest of Nkunda by Rwandan forces. Basically, Nkunda was a Tutsi leader widely felt to be operating with Rwandan backing and to be spouting the typical Rwandan rhetoric (we must ‘protect’ the Tutsi people of Congo, there can be no peace while the Hutu militias remain, etc.), and who had in 2008 conspicuously challenged the power and authority of the Congolese government. So for Rwanda to pull him in looks like another gesture of mutual recognition.
So the people of Congo can perhaps rejoice: ‘Africa’s World War’ seems to be winding down. All they have to worry about now is low-level lawlessness, corruption, repression of political dissent, and the probable persistence of their grinding poverty while the wealth under their soil is dug up by Western (or, as there are some indication, Chinese) companies and shipped away to make other people rich.
That’s not to say such a development isn’t good. I think a civil war of the kind that Congo has suffered is a lot worse than ‘mere’ oppressive government. But there’s no room here for much ‘goodies vs. baddies’ nonsense. The ‘joint operation’ itself is likely to be simply a crackdown on all the small fish who the big fish had previously supported against each other. That’s if the targets aren’t in fact just some random refugees who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What has happened is that in the 60 years of independence, these African countries (Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi) have had to struggle through the sort of political stabilisation that they were denied by colonial occupation, trying to reach a balance of power. The current leaders of Rwanda and Uganda, Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni, are no saints, but they are stronger and more competent than the succession of unstable tinpots that preceded them. Similarly, these recent events appear to show that they are increasingly happy to wind down hostilities with Congo.
This friendly agreement between bastards may be better than ongoing massive bloodshed, but it is not based on any real concern for the interests of the peoples of central Africa.