Gerard Prunier on recent news in the Congo and Rwanda

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.

17 thoughts on “Gerard Prunier on recent news in the Congo and Rwanda

  1. It’s good to remember that as a French Defense Department consultant Prunier was part of the Africa cellule of Mitterand during the genocide, when France whole heartedly supported both the Habyarimana dictatorship and the subsequent unelected genocide “interim” government with shipments of arms, military “advice”, and actively fought against the RPF, especially when it was ending the genocide. So, he’s not exactly an unbiased observer. His 1995 book is engagingly written but opinionated poorly cited in many places. As a college professor, it reminded me of an overblown student term paper. Furthermore, there is a distinct colonialist cast to many of his evaluations. He repeatedly refers to the Belgians and Catholic white fathers as honest, naive, peaceable, unconscious, taken advantage of, and clueless of what was going on during the turbulent and violent history of colonial rule. In contrast, in his narrative, Africans are devious, manipulative, opportunistic, and violent. This is a ridiculous take on what went on, given the abundant evidence of European trickery, bloody violence, disinformation, and manipulation of Africans. As another example, he incorporates quite a few of the tenets of the colonialist Hamitic hypotheses about the supposed north African, Caucasoid origin of the Tutsis. Stanford geneticists’ analyses of tissue typing among Africans and their neighbors does not support those suppositions. Tutsi and Hutu are not racially distinct by these measures. Had he checked the literature and data, he would not have tossed off such theories. As another example, he really mischaracterizes Rwandan history, both in terms of the organization of the monarchy and the supposed “revolution”. He projects Belgian-conceived and imposed categories into precolonial times, which the pre-colonial record does not at all document. And you’d never guess from his account the direct Belgian military and European clerical involvement in the supposed Hutu “revolution”. Being francophone, he could and should have checked the abundant Rwandan oral historical literature on the precolonial period and all the tracts, administrative records, and correspondence on the revolution, instead of making unsupported statements or relying on secondary literature that is itself often inaccurate and biased. In regard to the genocide, he leaves out one of the primary motivations for ordinary Rwandans’ participation in the killing, which a number of independent scientific research projects have uncovered: threat of beating or death if they did not take part. As for the conflict in eastern Congo, you’d never guess from his account that the “interim” government (and its military and militias) that presided over the genocide was tenderly escorted into Congo by the French forces and their allies and supported there as it carried out genocide against Rwandans there and incursions of sabotage and assassination over the border in Rwanda.


  2. Not all Rwandans are completely silent about government but there is something more than fear or political considerations to bear in mind. Rwandans are very respectful of all authority and tend to be fairly unquestioning in many aspects. This has the advantage of creating a country that can make rapid progress through changing mind-sets and cultural norms but the disadvantage of perhaps a too uncritical approach to authority. At the moment the former is definitely working – when new initiatives and laws are brought in there is generally widespread acceptance and rapid implementation. The bottom line is that Rwandans love their government and Kagame because of the great progress being made in the country. I was there during the run up to the previous elections and everyone i met was voting for Kagame with typical responses like’ why would we vote for anyone else, look what he’s done for the country’. One thing which often gets missed in accounts of Rwanda is a sober and realistic account of the reconciliation process. There is absolutely no doubt that all tiers of Rwandan government and local administration are on board with the policy of reconciliation. Of, course there are challenges, and of course there are some people who don’t go along, but there is a definite genuine movement of reconciliation taking place.
    On the Congo situation, there is a clear fear from Congolese that Rwanda has designs on North Kivu, but I have never met any Rwandan, in or out of government with the remotest interest in annexing North Kivu. Nearly every Congolese I speak to has however a fear about this. There are obviously deeply held differences of opinion and perception which have not been helped by western media making sweeping judgments about either DRC or Rwanda.
    On the issue of absolute poor, the figure has come down in recent years from 65%. to portray Rwanda as only interested in appearances is away off the mark – every local authority has targets for development and this is improving rural areas as well, although not at anything like the rate of Kigali, which has the added advantage of a fair amount of investment from international busniness because of Rwanda’s stability and security. Rwanda’s infant mortlaity, life expectancy and general health is improving fast, partly due to a low-cost national health insurance scheme.
    On the issue of transparency, Transparency International actually rate Rwanda very highly indeed – the idea that Rwanda is closed to scrutiny just doesn’t bear with these facts.
    One final thing – in every country surrounding Rwanda you are likely to face problems of corruption and bribery, but in around 30 visits to Rwanda in recent years I have never ever been asked for a bribe. That alone is one of the main reasons Rwanda is making such progress – you can carry on work or business in Rwanda and be sure it will not be subject to corruption.


  3. What evidence do you have of fissures inside the RPF? There have been some notable departures in the last few years, but it seems no more than divided that in the past. If anything, it seems to me the RPF has expelled dissidents and is comprised of Kagame loyalists. The difference is that the band of supporters is more narrow. And the question remains, are these strategic supporters or ideologically loyal ones?


  4. Pedro and Serge, you both raise good points about the substantial progress that Rwanda has made on health, education, and fighting corruption. My guess is that Prunier avoided commenting on these very real accomplishments A) because they’ve been covered in detail elsewhere, and B) because they don’t have direct implications for the DRC, whereas the political developments that he discusses do. I’m in favor of taking a more balanced view of Rwanda, which both recognizes its positive domestic policy developments and acknowledges that political discourse is tightly restricted and that the social & political grievances of the genocide have not been fully healed by gacaca.


    1. I want to let you know that Prunier has at least said something which is obvious. I would like to comment about 4 different things mentioned in this paper and related to what is happening in Rwanda:
      1.About the Rwandan genocide and the killing of Hutus both inside and outside of Rwanda. according to many people majority of them being us Rwandans who lived in Rwanda since the RPF has killed more Hutus than the overexagerated 800,000 of both Hutus and Tutsis killed during the genocide. you can follow these links for more info:
      the second is that I was in Tingitingi among the Hutu refugees when the whole world closed its eyes on us to let us die and rot. I am sure the people who were pushed into Lubutu River are more than 20,000 killed in one night.
      2. I want to talk about how Kagame has dispatched Tutsi spies in all Western countries with poison so that they poison those who have different views from Kagame’s. he is assisted in this bid by some people like CLinton and Blair who offer documents to these spies who work through organizations which take them abroad as refugees and yet they are spies. one of those organizations is MAPENDO INTERNATIONAL which is based in Massachusetts, Boston…

      Unless Rwandans put their hands together and vremove this killer Kagame all of us here in Rwanda are going to be jailed in Iwawa Island where he has been taking all Hutu youth to deny them chances to life and education.

      4. Kagame did not go to DRC because he was in position to do so because Rwanda does not have such power to invade DRC but USA under Clinton did everything. Unless Rwandans understand this and know that they have no problem among them and put their strength together to oust Kagame we are finished


  5. 1. Rural poverty or Rural growth: Rwanda is one of the MDgs champion

    Given the fact that most Rwandans live in rural areas, the achievement of MDGs; the universal health care; achievement of food security and agriculture led growth cannot be met without improving significantly the lives of rural rwanda!
    2.Transparency or opacity: Rwanda is being classified by transparency as the least corrupt country in Africa, and by ICT experts as one of the most connected. How can the most connected and open economy be a mystery? Why would someone wish to have every Rwandan online (One laptop per child project) and at the same time aiming at having an ‘opaque’ country? Rwanda has waived working permits for EAC citizens and in some sectors for everyone, Rwanda has even hired judges from that is fitting with prunier’s claim of opacity?
    3. Developmet for wazungu or homegrown development: do you think that we are still impressed by wazungu after their colonial legacy and behaviour during the genocide? we have suffered so much so that there is nothing that can threaten us anymore. Rwanda is a post-postcolonial country. And listen to all development experts, they will tell you that Rwanda is a top achiever in terms of Ownership..we are even innovating a lot (imihigo, gacaca, ubudehe, umuganda etc) based on our culture
    4. Dictatorship of experts: How can someone who does not speak kinyaranda (or barely) who has not been in Rwanda for years claim to be an expert? just dictating from his desk what derives from his imagination and narcism..

    5. Congo: The presence of the UN in Congo, hence the problems in Congo, dates back to the 1960s, at that time President Kagame was around four years old. Now he is responsible for congolese problems? What about the presence of genocidaires who were helped by congolese governments? if the congolese government and the international community was so preoccupied with the fate of congolese population in the East, why were the genocidaires armed? why are they continue to kill and rape in impunity? How could the Rwandan Army (Rwanda Defence Forces) operate in a vast country like Congo fighting against dozens of rebels and countries with an indisciplined force? How can you have an effective and disciplined force( this fact is notorious) if you allow your soldiers to kill and to rape? no army in the world has ever won a war with forces without a cause and high standard of discipline. Rwanda has won all the battles despite being a small, landlocked country because of a genuine cause and a disciplined army. Everything else goes against the logic

    6. Visit Rwanda and go wherever you like, you will find a country with development challenges but with a pioneer spirit and a strong commitment to overcome poverty in dignity.

    Instead of searching for illogicality, commentators on Rwanda should join the Rwandaful journey of home grown development and make genuine critics that allow us to move forward.By trying to detsroy our hard earned image of a country in the midst of a socio-economic revolution, commentators like Prunier are on the wrong side of history.

    Best regards,



  6. Considering that Rwanda extracts great amounts of dollars from donors and the mines of neighbouring Congo, it is sad to learn that at least 57% of the households leave in absolute poverty (UNDP feagures). Naturally, it is safe to assume that most of the poor live in rural areas, places the ‘wazungu’ barely reach.

    Indeed, the Rwandan government plays an excellent PR game and a worldclass capital city is part of it. If ever the ‘wazungu’ go outside the city limits, it is to evaluate running projects such as water provision, basket weaving etc, of course accompanied by state officials. I need not say, that no one will ever tell the visitors that they barely eat in front of government officials.


    1. Eric, good points as well. Having lived briefly in both Rwanda & the DRC, one of the things that most struck me was that my Rwandese friends and colleagues scrupulously avoided discussing the government at all with foreigners, whereas my Congolese acquaintances shared their thoughts much more openly. (Corrupt and neopatrimonial though Kabila may be, he still seems to benefit from his father’s role in ousting Mobutu and his own in ending the war, at least among the people I knew.)


  7. “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.””

    Gosh, I wonder how many other African countries would wish their leaders were so keen to impress “the wazungu” that they put wi-fi, brought about universal primary education, cut down various disease and overall improved the society’s economic wellbeing? Wow, give me some of that designed-for-the-wazungu sorta stuff!


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