Saturday, August 28, 2010
Songolo asked Rose if she wanted to return to Rwanda. Rose shook her head no
Songolo asked Rose if she wanted to return to Rwanda. Rose shook her head no. This may seem strange, since Rose is ethnic Rwandan, and being married to the FDLR she is hardly a member of accepted society in the Congo. However, once you look at the bigger geopolitical and historical picture, it makes a bit more sense. Kagame’s Rwanda would be hardly peaches and cream for a “Hutu” attached to the Interahamwe like Rose, even if she had nothing to do with the genocide in 1994. Rose had been in Congo even before the genocide; her daughter and grandchildren were born here, and they’ve never seen their “homeland”.
Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and his allies, such as Yoweri Musevini in Uganda, toppled Mobutu’s regime in 1997, intending on installing Mobutu’s wily old opponent Laurent-Désire Kabila as their puppet. The excuse for the invasion was that the Interahamwe had fled into then-Zaire and were plotting their return, with support and shelter from Africa’s consummate troublemaker Mobutu. While this was somewhat accurate, it was also a cover for Rwanda’s neocolonialist plans for Eastern Congo. Since the international community was very ineffectual in stopping the Rwandan genocide, and since their post-Cold War realpolitik no longer needed Mobutu, they were shamed and manipulated into playing along with and even supporting Kagame and Museveni.
While Kagame and Museveni succeeded in pillaging Congo’s resources and terrorizing the population, they did not count on Kabila père being an extremely incapable ruler, even for a puppet, and he eventually turned his back on his Rwandan and Ugandan supporters. In 2001, Kabila père was assassinated by one of his own child-soldiers, which precipitated another power vacuum that Congo’s neighbors tried to fill. Instead, Joseph Kabila, the son of Kabila père, became president and rallied international support to regain Kinshasa’s control over the eastern provinces. He even won a national election in 2006, the first real election in Congo’s history.
Nonetheless, the government of Kabila fils is still a kleptocratic mess, and its military is now accused of committing the grand majority of sexual violence in Eastern Congo. The armed groups kicked out of Rwanda and Burundi still operate within Congolese territory with some impunity. In addition, international mining companies are exploiting Congo’s mineral resources with a very heavy human toll. Joseph Kabila is definitely anything but a national hero. In other words, things still suck.
If you are Rose Shukurami, you have to worry about your fate if you are deported back to Rwanda, where you don’t know anyone and your chances of being persecuted for being attached to the Interahamwe. When Kagame’s RPF took over Rwanda, they immediately started intimidating, persecuting, massacring, and assassinating anyone they felt stood in the way, both Hutu and Tutsi. People who had sheltered Tutsis during the genocide found themselves the targets of the RPF. The “coalition” government formed in Rwanda after the genocide did not last as a diverse coalition for very long.
If you are an ordinary Congolese person who isn’t married to the FDLR, you not only have to worry about Rwandan FDLR and Burundian FDD marauders, but also your own notoriously brutal and predatory military, the FARDC. To complicate things, the homegrown Mai Mai militia does not hesitate in abusing the civilian population as well. Your country is being drained of its mineral resources, and you do not see a red cent of it. Infrastructure is crumbling, “modern” healthcare is terrifying, and there are no jobs.
War, violence, exploitation, and death are what these people have known for almost 15 years. Rose’s grandchildren have never known anything different. People in Congo are played like pawns, while we in the States yawn and flick off our televisions. Probably not a lot of Americans know that the U.S. government gave military support to Kagame’s invasion of the Congo in 1996. Not a lot of Americans could tell you about Congo’s state of war and upheaval from 1996 onwards, but here it is everyday life.
Two days after our visit, Rose Shukurami, her daughter, and her grandchildren were released to the UNHCR refugee camp in Sange.