I’ve been lax in sharing the interesting points raised at the lectures I’ve attended on the DRC over the past several months. One of the most wide-ranging was a November 2010 speech by Gerard Prunier on the Congo and Rwanda, which ran the gamut from the DRC’s foreign relations to Rwanda’s waning moral legitimacy in the eyes of the West. Some of the main points:
- Economically, the DRC is doing much better than it did after the immediate end of the war. However, it’s barely integrated into the world or even regional economies, and very few industries have national reach (except for banking and transport). Funds mostly flow from regional governments to Kinshasa, not the other way. China is now its biggest aid donor.
- The DRC’s interactions with the rest of the world are conducted by the “thin sliver” of government that presents the integrated Congo. “From an economic and administrative point of view, the country doesn’t exist.” However, it’s still very much in existence as a political entity.
- Despite the ongoing war in the east, most of the country is at peace. Only ~20% of Congolese live in the east. That said, the Kabila regime has proven better at diplomacy than at either economic management or state-building & conflict resolution.
- The Kivus are really more connected to Uganda/Rwanda/Burundi than to western Congo. It would have been appropriate to have two settlements to the ’98-’02 war: one for the Kivus, and one for the rest of Congo.
- When this speech occurred, Prunier felt that the government was behaving in an increasingly brutal and arbitrary manner towards its opponents, whilst there was no direct threat to its security to warrant this. (The recent assassination attempt might have changed that calculus.) At the time, however, he pointed out that the CNDP and its offshoot militias in the Kivus were in no position to overthrow the government.
- The increase in state brutality might reflect Kabila’s concerns for his political survival – or it might mean that he’s losing control of his security apparatus. Angola is well-positioned to put pressure on Kabila about this and other issues, but they don’t want to destabilize the DRC.
- Rwanda is among the most opaque countries on the continent, comparable to Ethiopia and Eritrea. One can reproach the Congolese for many things, but at least politically “nothing is hidden, they let it all hang out.”
- There does appear to be fighting in the RPF’s inner circle. There’s been a recent wave of assassination attempts and arrests of regime figures, including a former army chief of staff and the deputy commander of the Rwandese UNAMID force in Darfur.
- Putting Laurent Nkunda on trial is undesirable for Kagame, because Nkunda knows too much about abuses committed by the RPF. Prunier estimates that Kagame has killed 13 people who used to work with Nkunda, and is aiming to kill as many as he can.
- There are rumors that the (Tutsi-affiliated) CNDP is talking to the (Hutu-affiliated) FDLR in eastern Congo, and considering using it as a base to overthrow Kagame, just as the RPF used western Uganda as a base for their attacks on the MRND. Internal ethnic politics are also unsettled, as Tutsis who returned from Congo/Burundi/Tanzania are being marginalized in comparison to Ugandan Tutsis.
- The UN mapping report, with its revelations that the RPF had massacred Hutu refugees in the Congo from ’96-’97, has diminished Rwanda’s moral authority in the eyes of the West. Kagame had benefited tremendously from the developed world’s willingness to turn a blind eye to his authoritarianism out of guilt. Prunier believes that a number of photogenic development initiatives, like the banning of plastic bags and the installation of wifi in public buses in Kigali, are “completely designed for the wazungu.”
I’d welcome thoughts from readers who know the region better than I do.
NB: To address the points raised by several commentators, I don’t think Prunier intended to imply that Rwanda has had no policy achievements of value under Kagame. In many ways (especially health and economic policy), Rwanda is a good example of the benefits that can come of a strong, development-oriented African government. This should be acknowledged along with the continued political repression and lingering grievances of the genocide if one hopes to take a more balanced view of the country.