The Congolese state is more a fiction than a reality. There is little semblance of a state in most of the country. What the international community recognizes and accepts for a state is a greedy cabal of elites in Kinshasa involved in a spree of anarchical grabbing of their national resources, which they steal and invest abroad. Whatever exists of their army goes unpaid for months. So it lives by scavenging on the citizenry from whom it loots to pay itself. Many Congolese citizens are protected by their own ethnic militias from the national army, whose major preoccupation, whenever it gets into contact with them, it to loot, rape and pillage.
This is the state of affairs that the international community, in its ignorance, naivety and sometimes self-interest is defending against the legitimate cries of victims who have taken up arms to challenge this injustice. Although international media are focused on the M23 because they share a common ethnicity with some in the leadership of Rwanda, there are over 20 ethnic militias in eastern DRC fighting Kinshasa. Rwanda would need super-human ability to organise such large-scale insurrection. In fact, it is self evident that a combination of an absentee state, mountainous terrain, thick forests and rich minerals is enough incentive for rebel groups to form in eastern Congo. They would not need Rwanda’s encouragement – or anyone else’s for that matter.
As I write this article, Congolese state elites in Kinshasa are on radio, television, and newspapers making open calls for genocide against their own Tutsi citizens on radio, television and newspapers. Meanwhile, the international community either looks the other way or sometimes acts as an accomplice in this scandal. Never in my life did I imagine that the UN, after the horrors of the Nazis and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda would side with a government calling for genocide against its own people. Now the UN calls victims of state terror perpetrators of that terror while calling architects of terror in Syria liberators.
There is one nation that was saved from the “salvation” of the UN and the international community – Rwanda. In 1994, Tutsis in that country stared mass extermination in the eye. In the face of widespread massacres, the UN did what it does best – it withdrew its troops. One million people were slaughtered in 100 days. For moral reasons, everyone I have read or listened to has condemned the UN for that withdrawal – including the RPF leadership. I have always celebrated that single, inhuman act of the UN. It saved Rwanda. It created room for that country’s internal actors to solve the problem decisively even though at high human cost.
The UN was trying to impose a textbook solution on an extremely complex and volatile situation in Rwanda in 1994. It wanted a ceasefire between government troops and rebels i.e. between genociders and their victims. After the ceasefire, it wanted a government “of national unity” (national destruction would be better used) between killer and victim. And this was in circumstances where each side felt strong and was confident of victory. International pressure would have created the most conflict-ridden coalition government in history. This is because the belligerents did not see mutual accommodation as a better alternative to further combat. Hence such a government would have been characterized by low intensity but widespread violence over many years, making it difficult to reconstruct the Rwandan state.
Precisely because the UN withdrew, the Rwandese had to fight their way out of their own mess. That taught them a lesson – that there is no fifth cavalry of the international community to save them. The decisive victory by RPF destroyed its opponent’s organisational infrastructure – thus allowing the victor to mount relatively unified action to reconstruct the state, rebuild the economy and begin reconciling the people. Today, Rwanda has the most effective state in Africa. International intervention in Rwanda in 1994 would at best have achieved short-term humanitarian objectives and saved lives. But this would most likely have been at the price of crippling the growth of a more durable solution for the country over the long term.
The international community can blackmail neighbours with cutting aid and other sanctions to force them to pressure rebels to stop their offensive. However, that will no solve the inherent crisis of governance in Congo. The solution for Congo’s deficiencies in managing itself will come from that country’s elites. And this will happen when they are left to pay the price of their political folly. Congolese elites indulge in political practices that undermine the evolution of a robust state and enrich a few at the expense of the many. Their politics is detrimental to the strengthening of their national institutions and the growth of their economy. Until they face – not just a strategic threat – but existential threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity over their vast country, the ruling elites in Kinshasa will not change their ways.
In many ways, Congo’s crisis shows the dangers of foreign aid to poor countries – whether that aid is financial, technical, military or humanitarian. Our governments are subsidized with foreign financial aid, a factor that has disarticulated them from their citizens. For every fiscal shortage, they look to Washington, London, Paris or Brussels for aid rather than ways to improve the productivity of their own firms and farms. Humanitarian aid has disarticulated our people from the political struggles that are shaping their destiny. Thus, rather than join political and armed movements fighting for control of their nations, our civilians retreat to refugee camps where the international community gives them food, shelter and medicine as they vegetate as passive spectators of the struggle.
Baby-sitting Congo and scapegoating Rwanda and Uganda as the source of trouble will not solve the deeply entrenched problems of governance in that country. The international community’s everlasting attempts to prop the smoldering edifice of the Congolese state is the problem, not the solution for that country. It has blinded Congolese elites from seeking internal social integration and from building a much more viable state.
The best the world can do for Congo is to sit on its laurels and let it burn. From the ashes of such catastrophe, lies a glimmer of hope that a more durable solution has a better chance to emerge. The country will either break-up or remain unified by the emergence of a political and military movement that will impose order. Left on their own, the Congolese people will triumph. Sustained on the drip of the international humanitarian community, Congo will remain the mess that we see today – with an army that cuts and runs at the sound of the first shot.