By Haggai Matsiko
René Abandi the Head of Foreign Affairs and deputy head of the M23 delegation at the peace talks in Kampala spoke to The Independent’s Haggai Matsiko.
It is almost two weeks since the talks begun, how do you rate them?
The beginning was a bit hard because after the speech of the facilitator and the government side, the head of delegation of M23 spoke and there was a lot of anger on the side of government. We have been asking for dialogue since the beginning of the conflict.
Do you see these talks delivering peace?
We really need these talks to deliver peace because when our political cadres left Goma, it was a sacrifice to have peace and stability so that development can be possible. We hope that this forum will remind Kinshasa of their responsibility to govern normally the Congolese people.
M23 has had quite a number of demands, what exactly do you require of the Kinshasa government?
There are many problems. There are security problems. The Congolese army, which doesn’t have discipline, is an element of destabilisation in eastern Congo. Then, the foreign forces like FDLR, which cause genocide in Rwanda, the LRA, ADF and others. These forces come from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. They cannot make political demands on the government even if they control a big territory. They are not a threat to the government but they are a big threat to the people.
That is why you find government running around and trying to obtain sanctions and measures from the Security Council against us because, for the government, while we are not controlling a bigger territory like those groups, we are citizens and we have a right and ask some questions about governance of our country and about our people who are discriminated. The other issue is of refugees. We have refugees in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
Our people live in camps where they are mistreated. There is need to reform the army so that we can have a professional army. There is discrimination. We need an army which is homogeneous, disciplined, and has a patriotic doctrine. We would like the government to declare eastern Congo, a Special Planning Zone to have programmes of rebuilding. Decentralisation is another issue, although according to the constitution of the money collected, 40 percent is supposed to remain in the province, Kinshasa takes everything.
We also want xenophobia and discrimination to be banned. Ever since the Belgians left, there was no leadership that took this seriously. Yet colonialists left without creating a national conscience. We also want to fight corruption because you cannot solve all these problems, without fighting corruption and governing normally. If these cannot be addressed at the national level, they should be addressed at the eastern Congo level.
What about the March 23 2009 agreement?
The agreement is very important. There had been no will to address these issues until the beginning of the M23 war, which became M23 because it demanded the implementation of that agreement that the government had failed.
You have raised storm over the CNDP soldiers that were allegedly murdered?
Those 46 soldiers were murdered in Ndungu and even while we were here, other six ex-CNDP soldiers were also killed at army parade in August this year because they accused them of being spies because they are from the ethnic composition of the majority of M23. We gave a list to the mediation when we were working with minister Tshibanda.
It is very dangerous when it becomes a public policy, when people are hearing on Television that those are not citizens, those are enemies; they are conquerors. It is dangerous to assume that whoever has a gun is a negative force especially when they are not in government; I think it depends on the ideology of the one holding a gun, because when you look around from Rwanda to Germany to Turkey, it is in fact states that have caused genocides.
Mr. Rene, what exactly does M23 want to go back to DRC with from these talks?
First of all, it is an agreement with solutions of those problems. If you read the previous agreement, you will realise that there was no budget. We are not coming here as revolutionaries saying enough is enough, Kabila cheated elections, so he must go, no. We are here as people or victims of those problems.
So what happens if you agree on the most important and the government fails to honour the agreement?
We have been meeting in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012. The problem has always come from implementation. So I think it will be better to pay greater attention to guarantees of implementation.
And what if the talks fail; you go back and take Goma, what happens then because you are not keen on taking Kinshasa?
What you are assuming is not what we are going to do. When M23 took over Goma, it was obliged because the government was attacking M23, shelling its lands. It was not our agenda from the beginning to go to Goma. We hear the government is continuing to prepare to fight, and for sure if the government attacks us, we shall defend ourselves. Our agenda is to solve political problems with political means. If we use military means, we shall add more problems unto problems.
But people know you as an army, a rebel group that has used its military prowess to claim its space, therefore your means are military, not so?
We have an army to defend an idea, to protect people and to bring the other side to solve political problems. The problem is not the means but the cause, the army and political cadres are means to reach the cause and our cause is to solve political problems.
So since the army is just a means, will you disband it when you achieve your goal?
The problem is not disbanding. The M23 army is an army with several values that is why it has been making these gains. Therefore, instead of talking of disbanding, I would like you to ask how we will integrate these values into the whole national army.
Critics say that the integration of the CNDP into the national army failed because you refused to be dispatched to other regions, you insisted on keeping in eastern Congo and maintaining your chain of command?
That is not the truth. What happened is that some of the ex-CNDP who accepted to be dispatched somewhere else were killed. Second, after those peace talks, the government and CNDP, even Rwanda, decided to create operation Umoja Wetu, then Amani Leo. They did not integrate them into the traditional structures of the army; they created a special purpose for them; to fight these negative forces from foreign countries.
When they deployed them, our soldiers begun to claim that they were not being facilitated and there was no good will towards executing this mission. So on April.16 this year, Kabila cancelled Amani Leo. I think it is not fair for soldiers to wake up and hear on the radio that they have been demobilised. We are talking about is about 5000 ex-CNDP soldiers plus other groups. CNDP had a political agenda. That is why around times of exchanging prisoners, you could find prisoners on the government side and prisoners from CNDP but not the other groups because for them they were considered an extension of the government forces.
Mr. Rene, reports say M23 was looting, killing and raping innocent people, that makes you the same or even worse than the Congolese army that you want reformed?
That is very serious propaganda. You were in Goma, did you get that sense? You could get that sense in media especially international media. But go to the ground, our ambassadors, our judges are the people. They are not those media who want to make news so as to orient international decisions. Don’t you think when we took Goma, people would have run together with the army if we were killing them, how come they stayed.
Before we came to Goma, we were in Rushturu about 20kms from Goma and people knew where we were, they used to pass us. Let me tell you how it comes, the ambassador of US in charge of human rights came where we were and said there is no sign of massive abuse of human rights but after sometime, the state department was saying that Gen. Makenga is not allowed to travel because of abuse of human rights.
But the ambassador was there and said there was no sign. Another thing is the statistics given by Unicef and OCHA, OCHA said that where CNDP was rape reduced from 38 percent to like 10 percent than when the government was there, but no one talks about it. Because we are fighting them and UN is representing them and no one can challenge UN. They come with their ready agenda, sleep in good hotels with a specific agenda that they want the Security Council to go with. That is the problem, so if you challenge them, then you are raping, you are killing people, whatever they want because they have the means to tarnish you.
You say the government lacks visionary leadership, if M23 has this vision, why aren’t you offering yourselves as an alternative to the government?
The lack of vision is a reality. Why are we offering ourselves? Because we are seeing the environment we are operating in. They are saying that you people have to agree with the elected government otherwise you are negative. I think we shall pose ourselves as an alternative but with our political wing.
Some Congolese say Rwandese are the cause of their trouble and Congolese of Rwandan descent who are concentrated in Eastern Congo say they are mistreated and discriminated against, do you think cessation will be inevitable?
Cessation comes from leaders and unification too. The day we shall have a leader who has the whole country at heart and an ambition for all people, I think cessation will not be able to happen. What I think is good is decentralisation because in such a huge country, to be centralised is to mislead people.
What in your view is the root cause of this conflict, some people say that past leaders like Mobutu and Kabila used people of Rwandese descent and after attaining power, started chasing them?
Where my father comes from was Rwanda and it became Congo. Now if you say those people have to go, go where? We came from a Kingdom called Rwanda and belong to a Republic called Congo. When the colonialists decided, our land became other territory and our people other citizen. So to feel appetite for our territory and not our people, you will see the backfire. To be a nation, we must communicate, have values. An individual cannot be a system. That is where we lost it.
As a person who has been part of these negotiations for years now, you must have a vision of how Congo can be pacified; what is that vision?
For us, first of all we need peace, reconciliation and the return of refugees because in Congo we make a mistake of considering wealth first. We have too much under soil, forest, water but we forget the human resources. And to lead human resource very well, sometimes, you need to change the regime. We are not able to change the regime but may be this might give it the opportunity to address governance, bring peace.