By Albert Rudatsimburwa
Will Mary Robinson’s intervention as UN envoy make a difference in troubled DR Congo?
The recent visit to Rwanda of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, alongside heavyweights such as the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, and former Irish President turned UN Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, provide renewed hope for peace in the troubled DR Congo.
The energy and enthusiasm embodied in the new effort is reflected in Mary Robinson’s choice to rename the `Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework’ the `Framework of Hope’.
Robinson words allude to a deliberate willingness to approach the problem from a different angle: constructive and forward-looking, rather than focused on sterile stigmatisation.
Signed by the DR Congo and ten other countries and witnessed by three African regional bodies and the United Nations, the Framework Agreement is the concept paper that Robinson was tasked to map out and monitor. It highlights the urgent need for accelerated reforms within the DRC and increased cooperation among key countries in the Great Lakes region, particularly Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
The framework agreement’s broader perspective that focuses on political dialogue, good governance and regional cooperation is refreshing. Second, the clear-headed view that economic development is crucial to support cooperation amongst the signatories, stimulated by much needed funding to the tune of a billion dollars courtesy of the World Bank, indicates a constructive mindset, one more interested in the fate of affected populations than political score-settling.
Led by Robinson, whose thoughtful and experienced personality brings an additional dimension to this initiative, the framework might symbolise a move away from the long record of international failure in the Great Lakes Region.
A senior Rwandan Government Official, whom I met after Ban’s visit confirmed this perception to me. He shared my view of the former Irish President as an experienced leader used to looking at the big picture of the issues, rather than narrow agendas and skewed narratives.
When asked what could be the biggest obstacle to the success of the `Framework of Hope’, his response was surprising.
Rather than pointing at usual references such as the Congolese government’s poor governance and irresponsibility, the M23 trigger-happiness or the unrealistic expectations raised by the FIB, he said and I quote: “…the pernicious influence of a certain type of activists… activists with too much ideological baggage to provide a fresh perspective on the Eastern DRC crisis”.
“A specific brand of international actors”, he added, “who have invested so heavily in a regressive, finger-pointing approach, and are not ready to reconsider this approach despite its obvious failure to contribute to a real solution…” end of quote.
Needless to say my optimistic mood went down a notch. And for good reasons…
Not so long ago, I published a piece in The East African newspaper about Steve Hege the chairman of the 2012 Group of Experts and his longstanding ideological war against Rwanda.
It provided a detailed account of Hege’s well-documented ideological activism and advocacy for the FDLR, an infamous radical organisation comprised of genocide perpetrators. But just as Hege’s deep-seated bias and personal agenda became too hard to overlook, his eventual dismissal from the GoE made way for another controversial figure; Bernard Leloup.
The nomination in the GoE of Bernard Leloup whose longstanding activism against Rwanda, alongside his close collaborator, the well-known Genocide revisionist, Philip Reyntjens, triggered a preventable clash with the Government of Rwanda which was left with no choice but to formerly notify its reservation to Leloup’s participation in the GoE 2013.
So, while I was led to believe that Mary Robinson had gathered a solid team of credible analysts and international experts to support her peace efforts, a quick research following the conversation I just described, revealed one notable exception that had escaped my scrutiny.
According to reliable sources, an eyebrow-raising development is the addition to ‘team Robinson” of one Frederico Borello, who will be acting as the Special Envoy’s advisor.
Borello’s “hope” credentials became increasingly questionable when I found out that he was the lead investigator for the infamous “DRC Mapping Report” (2010) largely discredited for its misleading accounts and radical assertions including the preposterous use of the term “Genocide” against Hutu refugees in Eastern DRC.
But the inflammatory views of the activist have found many other outlets; in 2011, for example, Borello co-authored the equally discredited “Remaking Rwanda” along with the who’s who of anti-Rwanda activists or, as one author called them, the “Hate Rwanda Ltd”.
Using his usual punish-Rwanda prism to analyze all DRC problems, he wrote: “if the international community had put more pressure on Rwanda earlier on, it would have deterred its subsequent support for militias such as the CNDP”.
More recently, in April 2013, Frederico Borello with the help of his extensive links in the anti-Rwanda network found his way to the US Congress where his testimony was notably centered around Rwanda as the main cause of DRC’s instability with sweeping statements such as “Eliminating Rwanda’s destabilising influence a necessary precondition to resolving the root causes of the conflict”.
A famous Rwandan saying goes “a hidden stone cannot harm the hoe once its presence is discovered”; such is the purpose of this exercise. Pointing to the negative influence of partisans actors in a situation where the stakes are so high should serve as a warning to them that such hidden agendas will not be allowed to harm a peace process we, in Rwanda, hold so dear.
Between distasteful calls to legitimise the genocidal FDLR, and the negative influence of agenda-driven activists, the role of the United Nations’ Special Envoy will not be easy. Yet, her contribution to lasting stability in the Great Lakes Region is desperately needed; it is a unique opportunity that should not be missed.
Mary Robinson will need to demonstrate all the independence of character and the leadership qualities she is known for, if the “Framework for Hope” is ever to make a genuine difference.
Albert Rudatsimburwa is a political analyst on the Great Lakes Region