Ben Buchwalter

Nkunda Cound Instigate Conflict Between Rwanda and the DRC
January 7, 2009, 8:18 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs | Tags: , , , , , , ,

rwandakivudrc-11The murders that transpired in Rwanda between April and June of 1994 are well known to the world. After the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, the country’s Hutu majority rose up to murder approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. This was largely a backlash against a history of colonial preference that favored Tutsis for their “whiter” features. But the genocide was also intensely political.In the absence of power, Hutus were afraid that the Tutsi elite minority would ascend to the Presidency and favor their own.

The Western World knows less about the period following the violence. After the genocide, the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) consolidated power under the leadership of President Paul Kagame. Nearly fifteen years later, Rwanda is mired in a new, subtler turmoil that will either remain under the surface or erupt with catastrophic results.

For the past months, the Tutsi rebel leader and former General Laurent Nkunda has led an offensive to protect Tutsis from the Hutus who fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to escape retribution following Rwanda’s genocide. Their survival instinct was correct. Many have criticized the RPF for manipulating the legal system to seek revenge against all Hutus rather than appropriate justice limited to genocide perpetrators.

Genocidal justice is always a difficult task. In Rwanda, hundreds of thousands of people were involved in murders, injuries, or damage to property associated with the genocide. In the United Nations sponsored International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), it would take upwards of one hundred years to try all the perpetrators. But the RPF has established a series of lower courts to increase the efficiency of trying perpetrators of lesser crimes. These courts are named after a traditional form of justice – gacaca– which literally translates to “on the grass” because community members meet on their village’s common lawn to discuss genocidal violence and determine guilt or innocence.

Though gacaca courts were founded on a truly restorative model, they are poorly implemented and often yield vigilante justice at the expense of due process. This is not to say that the system is inherently misguided. In fact, many scholars argue that gacaca, if implemented correctly, could be the answer to a democratic transition in Rwanda. But the RPF has sullied this goal in its transparent goals of revenge.

The danger lies in Rwanda’s ethnic favoritism that benefits the Tutsis, and the suggestion that the Rwandan government is quietly supporting Nkunda’s rebellion in the DRC to maximize its campaign to find every last Hutu. Just as the RPF turned to gacaca to convict the maximum number of perpetrators possible, Nkunda took matters into his own hands to hold Hutus who escaped to the DRC accountable for their actions.

If Rwanda is proven to be complicit in Nkunda’s war, then the rebellion could conflate to a multi-national conflict that would certainly ignite the region.


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