Skip to main content

Rwanda the key to Congo's peace

By John Prendergast and Sasha Lezhnev, Special to CNN
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Fri November 1, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Authors: Unless root causes are addressed, violence will intensify in Congo
  • They say the key is to focus on Rwanda's role in the war
  • Agreement that involves Rwanda would go far to bring peace, aid economies, they say

Editor's note: John Prendergast and Sasha Lezhnev are co-founder and senior policy analyst at the Enough Project, part of the Center for American Progress.

(CNN) -- The escalation in recent days of eastern Congo's brutal war demonstrates that unless its root causes are addressed in a broader peace process, violence could intensify and Rwanda could be drawn more directly into the fray, regionalizing the war.

Over the past week, Congo's army has nearly militarily defeated the most powerful rebel group, the M23. Rwanda has threatened to strike Congo in retaliation for what it claims was shelling on its territory by Congo's army.

M23 may soon be a spent force militarily, but many other armed groups are still active and could replace it as major destabilizers of eastern Congo unless the root causes of the war are addressed.

Recently suspended talks in Uganda only involve the Congolese government and M23, and address none of the underlying political, economic, or security drivers of violence that have created the deadliest conflict globally since World War II.

Corrupt governance, intercommunal divisions and illegal exploitation of lucrative natural resources allow the Congolese army and a host of predatory militias to operate with impunity. But the most important factor in ending mass violence is the Congo-Rwanda relationship and the economic and security interests that underlie it.

John Prendergast
John Prendergast
Sasha Lezhnev
Sasha Lezhnev

The fates of Rwanda and Congo are deeply intertwined.

The aftermath of the Rwandan genocide spilled over into Congo in the mid-1990s, acting like gasoline on the fire of preexisting ethnic tensions, localized conflict and state collapse. Since then, Rwanda's periodic direct intervention and support for armed groups in eastern Congo have been central drivers of continuing conflict.

Remarkably, however, no major international peace initiative has comprehensively analyzed and addressed Rwanda's core interests as part of a solution.

Nun helps Congo to heal

Rwandan security interests in Congo center on containing the threat posed by the Congo-based armed group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), whose leaders participated in the 1994 genocide against Rwandan Tutsis. Congo's army has at times supported the FDLR.

The Rwandan government, which defeated the regime that committed the genocide, believes that as long as the FDLR is in Congo with supporters around the world motivated by a genocidal ideology, it represents a threat.

Rwanda also has economic interests in Congo in natural resources, land and cross-border trade. Rwanda has its own domestic minerals sector but benefited significantly from smuggled conflict minerals from Congo -- in particular tin, tantalum, and tungsten -- for several years. According to numerous U.N. investigative reports, some Rwandan traders have relabeled Congolese minerals as Rwandan and exported them. Rwanda is reliant on the minerals trade to reduce its significant balance of trade deficit.

Widely divergent opinions focus on Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Supporters cite his ending the 1994 genocide and tout the country's dramatic economic recovery since then, but are uncritical of Rwanda's role in Congo or the lack of internal political freedom. Critics focus only on its destructive behavior in Congo and repressive policies at home but overlook the progress Rwanda has made in other spheres.

The "11+4 Framework" for a peace initiative signed by all the governments in the region provides a new window to address the core causes of the conflict and involve civil society. The appointments of Mary Robinson and Russ Feingold as U.N. and U.S. envoys, respectively, further improve the odds.

The primary key to ending the violence is changing the economic incentives from war to peace and addressing regional security threats. This in no way diminishes the urgent need for political reforms in Kigali, Kinshasa, and elsewhere in the region, as well as the importance of placing targeted sanctions against any officials supporting armed groups, combating spoiler militias like the FDLR and M23 by buttressing the U.N. Intervention Brigade's capacities and prosecuting war crimes.

But the most promising opportunity for peace is in the economic interdependence between Congo and Rwanda. The perceived zero-sum nature of Rwanda's interests that help fuel the war has to be transformed for the war to end.

If the mineral sector alone was developed by serious investment in conflict-free, transparent semi-industrial and industrial mining, and the artisanal trade was more formalized with better equipment and fair-trade small-scale mining, there would be a greatly expanded economic pie for the entire region.

Instead of the current fighting over surface-level minerals left to armed smugglers, there could be exponentially larger revenues for both countries and wealth-building opportunities for Congolese communities from the deeper mines in a legal, peaceful trade. The envoys can help by pressing to finalize the regional minerals certification process and asking the World Bank to accelerate its regional infrastructure programs.

Rwanda and Congo can grow together if Rwanda becomes a gateway for international businesses to invest in Congo's natural resource sector, while attracting investors on the basis of good roads, electricity, transparent business regulations and banking institutions. Singapore grew similarly by attracting investors interested in neighboring Indonesia's and Malaysia's natural resources. All three countries benefited tremendously from this arrangement: Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore are now all in the top 20% of world economies. Congo and Rwanda may not be top 20 candidates soon, but a peaceful sub-region would be a good start.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the authors.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT