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  • Writer's pictureNicoletta Fagiolo

What Thabo Mbeki got wrong in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Updated: Apr 1




 

 

In an excellent 2011 article What the world got wrong in Côte d’Ivoire, Thabo Mbeki analyzed the patterns of violence on the ground in the west African county and pointed to the main actors which had brought about the crisis.  He had also been personally involved as a mediator and thus had a keen and privileged insight into the Ivorian events. Unfortunately, no one listened to Mbeki and a farce trial, which went on for almost a decade, took place at the International Criminal Court, against one of Africa’s leading contemporary Pan Africanists former President of Côte  d‘Ivoire Laurent Gbagbo. Although Gbagbo was  eventually acquitted the country is today in dire circumstances, with no clear vision for the future and a broken opposition living under the Alassane Ouattara dictatorship.

 

Why does Mbeki at the very least not spearhead a movement for the closure of this criminal court  prone to lawfare which has brought so much havoc, destroying the democratic aspirations of west Africa’s largest economy Côte  d‘Ivoire, as if this were a simple detail one can dismiss and not a dangerous major tool of western neocolonialism, which can bring as in this case destruction for decades to come,  it’s legal actions legitimizing a foreign backed regime change.

 

All the more surprising in a 14 March 2024 recent talk at the African School of Public and International Affairs Thabo Mbeki gets everything wrong on the recent history of the Democratic Republic of Congo: a 28-year-on-going genocide and an international war of aggression is reduced by Mbeki to a simple strife on an identity issue.  No mention of the unimaginable human suffering in this war and occupation which has since 1996 killed well over 12 million Congolese civilians, displaced 7 million people, killed up to 1 million Hutu refugees and raped 500,000 women. Mbeki also omits the word genocide which numerous reports have denounced throughout the decades.

 

Mbeki touts two main Rwandan (and its US and western backers) talking points to explain the reason for their invasion and occupation of the Congo in 1996 and their occupation of eastern Congo to this day.

 

Mbeki falsely claims that when the colonial borders were drawn for Congo they included rwandophone speaking populations, known today as Banyamulenge. This is historically false as no colonial historical account or archival document lists a Rwandan speaking population living in eastern Congo. The term Banyamulenge  actually appeared for the first time in 1977.

 

In a recent book by researcher and historian Charles Onana Holocauste au Congo, l’omertà de la communauté international (Holocaust in Congo, the omertà of the international community) a chapter is dedicated to the fabrication of the term Banyamulenge, and how it suddenly took on the meaning of  “a Congolese ethnic Tutsi group.” There are over 400 ethnic tribes in Congo and they are identified by their language and traditional chieftaincy system and never by place. Banyamulenge instead means “ Rwandan refugees living near the Mulenge hill”, in camps set up for the Tutsi refugees who had fled Rwanda in 1959.

 

Mbeki also accuses Mobutu Sese Seko of not having protected this Banyamulenge population, which is also historically false. Many Rwandans had immigrated to Congo, some during colonial times from 1900 to 1930; many more after the Rwandan Social revolution of 1959. Despite even carrying out revolts in  1964-65 on Congolese territory they were granted Congolese citizenship in 1971 as a group, which in 1980 was changed to granting citizenship on an individual basis. Holocaust in Congo, the omertà of the international community reveals that a Congolese parliamentary inquiry looked into the accusation of discrimination of the Banyamulenge as far back as August 1994 and concluded that the Tutsi refugee and migrant minority had never been attacked.

 

The other main talking point used by Rwanda to justify its invasion of Congo (then Zaire) was  that there were genocidaires, people who committed the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda who had fled to eastern Congo, and that they now posed a threat to the new Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)-led regime in Kigali.

 

This is problematic as the institutionalized dominant narrative of the 1990-94 events in Rwanda have been throughout the last three decades debunked by diplomatic, military and historical accounts.  A recent BBC documentary also raised questions which departed from the dominant narrative.

 

A genocide against the majority Hutu population and a US-UK-Ugandan backed regime change is what seems to have spurred the massacres in Rwanda in 1990-94.  In a ground breaking 2014 book Rwanda 1994: The Myth of the Akazu Genocide Conspiracy and its Consequences, which takes into account a wide spectrum of actors involved in the events, researcher Barrie Collins  sheds a new light on the Tutsi-led RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front’s ) role in the region’s tragedies: “ An ethnically based army destroyed a reform process that had resulted in a democratic constitution being written into law, assassinated a head of state in order to provoke civilian slaughter on a grotesque scale for its own political gain – with the death of a second President being collateral damage – and conducted large-scale massacres of Rwandan and Congolese civilians. It has continued to visit deaths squads upon its political opponents, operate one of the world’s most inhumane prison systems, and to enjoy the trappings of state power in its twentieth year… The myth of the Akazu genocide conspiracy, universally adopted, is a crucial ideological pillar of Africa’s first morally constituted tyranny.”


This meant years of lawfare against the Hutu majority population of Rwanda. In a 2010 book, The Politics of genocide, Edward S. Herman and David Peterson write on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha trials: “During testimony at a major trial of four Hutu former military officers before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Des Forges acknowledged that by April 1992 (i.e., a full twenty-four months before “the genocide” is alleged to have been implemented), the “government in charge of Rwanda [had become] a multiparty government, including Tutsi representatives, and it is for that reason alone that it is impossible to conclude that there was planning of a genocide by that government.” Although Des Forges tried to salvage the Hutu conspiracy model, alleging plans by individual Hutu members of the coalition government to use their “official powers” to carry-out a pre-planned genocide, this model disintegrated on cross-examination.”


They continue  : “In fact, what Kagame overthrew was a multiethnic, power-sharing, coalition government; what Kagame imposed was a Tutsi-dominated dictatorship; and what Kagame turned Rwanda and the whole of Central Africa into was a rolling genocide that is still ongoing— but it is true that he is a shining “star” in the Western firmament and its propaganda system. In Samantha Power’s view, and in accord with this same myth structure, “The United States did almost nothing to try to stop [the Hutu genocide],” but instead “stood on the sidelines”— ”bystanders to genocide.” But this is doubly false. What the United States and its Western allies (Britain, Canada, and Belgium) really did was sponsor the U.S.-trained Kagame, support his invasion of Rwanda from Uganda and the massive ethnic cleansing prior to April 1994, weaken the Rwandan state by forcing an economic recession and the RPF’s penetration of the government and throughout the country, and then press for the complete removal of UN troops because they didn’t want UN troops to stand in the way of Kagame’s conquest of the country, even though Rwanda’s Hutu authorities were urging the dispatch of more UN troops. Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali also wanted to increase UN troop strength, and complained bitterly in his memoirs about the “obstruction” caused by the Clinton administration: “The U.S. effort to prevent the effective deployment of a UN force for Rwanda succeed with the strong support of Britain,” he wrote; the Security Council “meekly followed the United States’ lead. . . .”


Edward S. Herman and David Peterson in Enduring Lies, The Rwandan genocide in the propaganda system 20 years later pointed to the journalistic malpractice on the current officially known version of events of the Rwandan tragedy which tend to “ recite the institutionalized untruths as gospel while accusing critics of this version as genocide deniers.”

 

As to the danger posed by Hutu refugees living in eastern Congo confidential CIA reports as early as 1994 underline that the Hutu refugees posed no threat whatsoever to Rwanda. Later other confidential European Union reports underlined that the FDLR, the banner that some Hutu refugees took in 2000 while in exile in Congo, posed no actual threat to Rwanda.

 

Instead, the pretext for the invasion of Mobutu’s Zaire was to empty refugee camps which housed 1.5 million mainly Hutu refugees who had fled the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s advance in Rwanda.

 

The reality on the ground looked more like an aggression: as early as 4-5 June 1996 Zaire asked for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council with regard to incursions into Bunagana, North Kivu Province, by a force from Uganda; Rwandan soldiers had attacked a hospital in Lemera, South Kivu on 4-5 October 1996 killing patients and its personal; several local NGOs such as Groupe Jérémie, the archbishop of Bukavu Christophe Munzihirwa, as well as countless demonstrators denounced an imminent Rwandan invasion.

 

Yet  Paul Kagame’s main talking point in 1996 (which he disingenuously uses to this day!)  namely that these refugees posed a danger to his regime, was used to justify the bombing of Hutu refugee camps, causing the death of up to one million Hutu refugees who were chased in the Congolese forests for months. By pointing to ethnic and security arguments, the regime change operation was easily over-looked.

 

Vice-President Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni decided to create a proxy movement, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) and gave it a Congolese façade by naming Laurent Desirée Kabila its leader to overthrow Mobutu.

 

Diplomatic history corroborates US financial and logistical support of the ADFL, such as US Ambassador Bill Richardson’s or NGO director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees Roger Winter’s remarks to the House of International Relations Committee in November 1997. At the time US parliamentarians questioned the US support of Kigali as reports were coming forth on the grave human rights abuses the APF, the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), the wing army force of RPF had and was committing. A 8 July 1997 Washington Post article quotes Paul Kagame as saying that Rwandans led the revolt in Congo.

 

The Congolese army has also been rendered incapable of protecting the country’s people  since following  the Sun City accords in 2003 foreign fighters and often war criminals were integrated into the Congolese national army, the FARDC. This caused an "army within an army" problem.

 

Mbeki in his talk stated that “the Mayi Mayi are chasing the Banyamulenge.” Today a new phenomenon, the "wazalendo" – "patriots" in Kiswahili, have replaced the Mayi Mayi of the 1990s. Yet a 22 May 2002 report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of DR Congo (S/2002/565) describes the Mayi-Mayi as “a distinctly Congolese phenomenon and should not be confused with the foreign armed groups explicitly mentioned in the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement. The term generally refers to community-based fighters who organize themselves to defend their local territory, including against foreign armies and their allies.”  Mbeki inverts the aggressor and the aggressed.

 

 “The Panel recently received reports that various Mayi-Mayi groups have adopted a strategy of attacking the locations of mining activities controlled by RCD- Goma or RPA, in an effort to either wrest control of them or disrupt them and make them less profitable. The locations of a few recent battles led by Mayi-Mayi groups correspond with such tactics, such as fighting in South Kivu in Shabunda (gold and coltan as well as the location of an airport) and Kitutu near Kamituga (gold and cassiterite or coltan)”, the report continues, revealing the natural resource exploitation’s role in fueling this war as well as the auto-defense stance undertaken by the Mayi Mayi against an invading foreign army.

 

As early as April 2001 the UN Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of DR Congo looked into processes by which the natural resources were physically exploited by the occupying forces, primarily Rwanda and Uganda, in conjunction with their respective rebel counterparts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These proxies, ex nihilio rebels, are rebels with no societal program or grounded grievances, but rather a well-armed politico-military extension of Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers on Congolese soil. The names have changes throughout the decades from AFDL, RCD-Goma, CNPD, M23 and ADF.


The report underlines that “in the case of Rwanda, things are more systemic. There are linkages and bridges between some key companies, as in the case of Tristar and BCDI and, above all, the relationship between RPA, RPF, BCDI, Rwanda Metals, Grands Lacs Metals and Tristar. The Government of Rwanda made arrangements with RCD-Goma to drain resources from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There is a case of loans made by BCDI to RCD to pay suppliers whose business is related to RPA. This "financial bridge" is statutory; indeed, the RCD statute indirectly recognizes the role of Rwanda in overseeing the finances of the movement and its participation in decision-making and control/audit of finances.“


An EIR (Executive Intelligence Review) article from Jeffrey Steinberg George Bush’s Heart of Darkness dating 3 January 1997 states” when Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, on behalf of London, launched the genocide of the Hutu majority in Rwanda, through to the ongoing invasion by the same Museveni-led forces in eastern Zaire, Central Africa and the Horn of Africa have been turned into a killing field. Local, British-sponsored "countergangs" have been unleashed to depopulate a region that possesses the world's rich­est strain of precious metal deposits, while a string of Club of the Isles metals cartels, including Barrick, moves in for the kill. As you will read below, the invasion of eastern Zaire, by the combined armies of Rwanda and Uganda, which began in September 1996, coincided with the Barrick and Anglo Amer­ican metal grabs in the very same area.”(…) Barrick and the South African Oppenheimer family' s An­glo American Corp. are at the cutting edge of a Club of the Isles drive to recolonize a severely depopulated African conti­nent by busting up the post-colonial nation- states, beginning with Zaire.” On Nov. 27, 1996, the French newspaper Le Monde leaked the news that Barrick had been granted a concession to prospect for gold in Zaire.”


Further criminal allegations have been corroborated by other United Nation Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In its October 2002  report there is a list of business enterprises considered by the Panel to be in violation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises:  12 out of 85 enterprises are based in South Africa. ( and 10 trade in natural resources or mining).


What oversight does South Africa have today on its mining companies working in the DR of Congo?

 

Countless UN reports denounce the Rwandan recruitment of child soldiers and Rwandan men to send to fight in these proxy militias in Congo. In 2012 there were some reactions followed by aide and cooperation cuts. Instead, today although a recent UN reports again underlined Rwanda’s implication in the M23 invasion and crimes in eastern Congo the European Union looks the other way and shamefully replenishes Rwanda with a 20-million-euro fund for fighting a war in Mozambique ( The EU Commission has already allocated 20 million euros to the Rwandan Defense Forces operations in Cabo Delgado Mozambique in December 2022,) as well as the 19 February 2024 Memorandum of Understanding on raw minerals value chain between the European Union and Rwanda. It mentions partnerships covering tantalum tin, tungsten, gold and niobium, lithium and rare earth elements. Many geological experts however say a large part of these minerals exported from Rwanda have been looted in eastern Congo. At the very least an international inquiry should be launched into the production and export of these minerals.

 

I just wonder why Thabo Mbeki gaslights African students by portraying false arguments for the explanation of the Congolese genocide, the same arguments used by one of Africa’s most totalitarian states to justify its cross-border crimes. This is beyond comprehension, especially in light of South Africa’s recent brave denunciation of the Palestinian genocide at the International Court of Justice.

 

Documentary evidence for an accusation for genocide against Rwanda and its western backers exists in abundance from the 2010 Mapping Report, to the UN Expert Panel reports on illegal exploitation of natural resources,  to countless UN reports, the White Book on mass violations human rights and basic rules of law international humanitarian by aggressor countries (Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi ) covering period from 2 August 1998 to 5 November 1998 or the October 2001 document from the Human Rights Ministry La Guerre d’agression en Republique Democratique du Congo, Trois ans de massacres et de genocide a “huit clos” which speaks of a  “State-ocide” attacks, beyond the attributes of the State, attacking its foundations, its very existence, all its constituent elements: public authorities (sovereignty, independence), territory and population,” to name just a few among many.

 

Deliberate ghosting of Congolese history is a centuries-long crime. In Congo the recent genocide has been on-going since 1996, it is time South Africa breaks the silence.

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