/ 4 December 1998

Why Rwanda has to fight on

Gregory Mthembu-Salter

French President Jacques Chirac looked particularly pleased with himself when he announced progress towards a ceasefire in the Congo at the Paris Franco-African summit last week, but in reality the chances are slim.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s President, Laurent Desire Kabila, resumed his fighting talk immediately after the Paris discussions. Rebels in the east of the country said since they had not been invited to Paris the talks did not concern them, and in Kigali senior Rwandan government officials made it plain that their troops intended to ensure Kabila’s downfall.

Emmanuel Gasana, representative for Rwandan Vice-President, Minister of Defence and widely acknowledged de facto leader of the country Paul Kagame, said: “We do not care who is president in Congo. Kabila has assembled genocidal forces and says he will bring war to Rwanda. We are clear that Kabila is a genocidaire and we want him to fall. Our forces are in Congo to ensure Rwandan security, and with Kabila our security is not assured.”

The Rwandan government does not seem particularly perturbed by the threat posed to its plans in Congo by Zimbabwe’s intervention. It noted the distinct lack of territorial gain from Zimbabwe’s bombing campaign in the east and is following with satisfaction the mounting opposition to the war in Zimbabwe.

Angola’s involvement is far more troubling to Kigali, where officials privately admit having miscalculated Luanda’s response to Rwanda’s invasion of Congo in August.

However, having prevented the fall of Kinshasa in the early stages of the war, Angola now seems more interested in keeping central Congo’s diamonds out of Unita’s hands than in joining Zimbabwe’s assault. Angolan and Rwandan troops have yet to clash in the eastern Kivu region.

But Rwanda has a problem with its donors, on whom the still impoverished country is relying to bridge the yawning gap between its meagre export earnings and hefty import requirements.

Both the British and United States governments, Rwanda’s two main international backers, were angered by Rwanda’s three month-long denial of its presence in Congo, only broken in early November by Kagame at a press conference with President Nelson Mandela.

Rwandan officials concede the damage done to their government’s credibility by its stubborn denial, but insist that it was necessary in order to force the world’s recognition of significant internal as well as external opposition to Kabila’s rule.

However plausible they considered the justification for the incursion and its cover-up, donors regard Rwanda’s presence in Congo as illegal under international law. Nonetheless, the donors appear to have agreed to withhold public condemnation for now in order to give forthcoming talks in Lusaka in early December a chance of success.

But should Rwanda fail to sign a ceasefire in Lusaka, or sign one and fail to honour it, it is likely to find that aid disbursals will slow considerably.

Already, aid inflows are erratic. During his presentation of the 1999 budget to the national assembly on November 10, Rwandan Minister of Finance Donat Kaberuka stressed: “Rwandans must realise that international generosity is over. Aid levels … are now falling. The little that remains has become unpredictable and comes with too many conditions attached.”

These conditions stem mainly from the fact that donors do not want to pay for Rwanda’s war in Congo, though Rwanda’s army has cultivated its own sources of income to such an extent that an International Monetary Fund (IMF) team visiting recently was unable to find any evidence of increased military expenditure by the state since the war began in August.

Kaberuka is fairly confident that the World Bank will deliver the funding it promised, but is concerned about the European Union, which has to answer to an inquisitive Parliament.

Apart from the general problems that less aid will mean for Rwanda, Kaberuka reckons it will fail to meet targets it previously agreed to with the IMF on the levels of its foreign exchange reserves.

Meeting these targets is a key condition for continued funding from the IMF for Rwanda under the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility, on which the country is particularly reliant.

An IMF team is coming to assess Rwanda’s performance in January. Kaberuka hopes that Rwanda’s impressive economic statistics for 1998 – gross domestic product growth of 9% (2% higher than predicted) and an expected inflation rate of only 5% – and its privatisation programme will encourage the IMF to be lenient.

However, the IMF blew most of its money earlier this year bailing out Indonesia and the United States Congress has refused to give it much more to play with.

The other option for Rwanda is to pull its troops out of Congo, which would lead to increased donor funding, a satisfied IMF and the continued flow of financial support under the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility, which would keep the government’s much-needed anti-poverty strategy on track.

But that means handing Kabila victory and leaving genocidal Rwandan militia at large in eastern Congo. For the security- obsessed Rwandan government that option is no option.