M23 rebels have seized large swaths of territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including the eastern city of Goma. According to the UN, the rebels' advance has already displaced 140,000 people, and violence seems likely to continue. Last night, World Policy Journal's Adam Scholl interviewed Patrick Muyaya, the youngest member of Parliament in the DRC's National Assembly, to get his take on the upheaval. Muyaya places much of the blame on the governments of neighboring Uganda and Rwanda—something Rwandan President Paul Kagame flatly denies in a World Policy Journal interview in our forthcoming winter issue.
World Policy Journal: Are Western media reports of what’s going on accurate reflections of what’s happening on the ground?
Patrick Muyaya: Yes, and I think things are going to be fine. After the meeting of the heads of state of the region—at the special Great Lakes international conference that took place in Uganda last week—we have been waiting. They gave the rebels 48 hours to leave Goma; they [the rebels] have said that they can’t do that because they want to discuss directly with President [Joseph] Kabila before they leave. We have to wait to see whether the rebels will leave or not, like the heads of state, the African Union and all organizations—especially the United Nations—has asked them to do.
But in general, it is very to sad to see that we have over five million people who have been killed since the beginning of this conflict. We have the biggest mission of United Nations in the world, and we can’t understand why these wars are continuing, why the world can’t do more to resolve the situation. It’s very sad for us as a country. We know that we have a lot to do regarding human rights, about democracy. With women’s rights, with security—everything is in trouble in my country because of what the rebels want in Goma. And in all countries, students in universities, political people, civil society, church—everybody, black and white—are angry at the international community, especially the United Nations.
World Policy Journal: What do you think the world should do to help?
Patrick Muyaya: So, first the world has to put more pressure on Kigali [the capital of Rwanda], because we think that these rebels don’t have the weapons without them to do what they are doing. Do you remember, back in 2008, General Laurent Nkunda and his troops advanced on Goma? It was the first time we had this kind of movement. We need to end this situation because we have to begin building our country. If you have war for 16 years, you can’t do anything, because it means our budget is very poor; we have just $6 billion for 72 million people. For more than 2,300,000 square kilometers as a country—it’s a small country now—we have a lot of challenges: we have to build up democracy, we have to build schools, but when we have war, we can’t do anything.
What we need today is, especially the United States if it is possible, to put more pressure on Kigali to end the support of rebel troops, because Kigali doesn’t talk frankly with us. They need to maintain the war situation to help them to do business, to make money.
You know, electoral democracy is a process. And in the United States, you gained independence in 1776, and, as a country, you built your democracy over centuries. We are trying to do it here; we organized the second election of our history last year. It wasn’t good, but we are in the process. We have to correct a lot of things about our election process and we are doing that, but if we have war, it stops all of what we are doing. And my country is in central Africa; if Congo begins in war, I think all countries will go to war with Congo, because we have a lot of minerals in some states, and we have a lot of possibilities for transportation. If, instead, people want to help Congo to develop, I think Africa will be a lot more peaceful.
World Policy Journal: Why is this violence happening now? What is the motivation of the rebels?
Patrick Muyaya: The rebels—officially, they have asked our president, Kabila, to respect the agreement they made on March 23rd, 2009. They ask President Kabila to give them some responsibility in the army and to be integrated. Since 2009, the rebels think that things haven’t gone according to that agreement. They went to Goma to put pressure on Kinshasa to negotiate, especially about the original reasons for the war.
But the rebels asked for things in addition to the terms of the 2009 agreement. They are asking, for instance, that Kabila meet with all political people, especially rebels, opposition, and Congolese in the United States and around the world. They would like to form a roundtable about the Congo and then have President Kabila share his power. But it will be very bad for us to return to that kind of situation. We’ve had a constitution since 2006 and if the rebels want to find another way to share power, it will violate our constitution. The most important thing we have to do, actually, is to try to build our democracy. And we like the process of democracy. We have problems, but the most important thing when you have problems is to recognize that you have problems and make a commitment to change things. And I think actually, as a member of parliament, we have a special goal to make changes to the electoral commission. We hope that the next election will be clearer and more fair than the last election. Politically, we are working for changes.
World Policy Journal: What is the government doing to stop the violence, and why can’t it stop an insurgency with just a few thousand people?
Patrick Muyaya: So, the government—we don’t have an army.
World Policy Journal: Right.
Patrick Muyaya: We don’t have an army. We can’t face the rebels in a war. They are stronger than us because they have the support of Kigali. So we have maybe two solutions: a political solution or a military solution. Militarily, we don’t have weapons; we don’t have an army, so we can’t do the war. The only solution we have to stop this is to negotiate with the rebels. We hope that the people who are supporting them in Kigali will tell them to accept and to come to a roundtable to discuss, not to review everything we’ve done in the past, like elections, but to see what the government can do for this part of the army.
You know, it’s a big challenge. We can’t finish this in one week or one month. No, it will be very hard to end this situation. But we have to begin to make a foundation that will help us to build something, even if it’s in five or ten years, to finish this matter.
World Policy Journal: How does that foundation involve Rwanda? What is Rwanda’s role in this?
Patrick Muyaya: Ah, well Rwanda’s role in this—you know this part of Congo is very rich in minerals. And on the other side in Kigali, they don’t have riches like us. They don’t have space. In Kigali, you have a lot of people; the country is too small for all its people. In Kigali, people are thinking that they have to move one part of the population to the Congo—that is one of the reasons. Then, there is the economic reason: when you have war in that part, people can make business out of it. People can take minerals from Congo and make like these guys from Kigali. We are very happy for the Dodd-Frank law that President Obama passed last year, but we are waiting for its application because we think that if Dodd-Frank law begins to work on the ground, people will avoid doing this kind of business.
As a country, we are Rwanda’s neighbor. We have to try to build peace between both countries. It’s very hard to build peace between both countries, because there are people in Kigali who think that President Kabila will one day make them leave Kigali. It’s like that. There is no confidence between both presidents, between President Kabila and President Kagame. That’s why we have war today. President Kagame kept General Nkunda in Kigali and I think he will do the same with the actions of the rebels. We know that Kigali works closely with the rebels.
World Policy Journal: We recently interviewed Kagame for the World Policy Journal, and he told us he was not involved in supporting the rebels at all. Do you have proof that he is?
Patrick Muyaya: We don’t have proof. As a member of Parliament, I can’t say that we have proof, but United Nations experts say that President Kagame and President Museveni are involved in the war. Officially, they can’t accept, but let me tell you that between Congo and Rwanda there is no river, there is no mountain—it is land. It is like if I leave New York for New Jersey, I don’t need to cross a special river or a special mountain. People can move whenever they want between both countries. And the rebels, they are about 1,500 people. Our troops can't face them, because our troops are maybe 500. The rebels have some special information from Kigali, because they knew about the position of the national army. And they use a special kind of weapon that we don’t have. They can see at night [because they have night vision technology]. We are a very new army. We don’t have this in Congo. But it wouldn’t be possible for them to get this technology if Kigali closed its borders to people who bring arms or weapons to these people. We think that if the countries on our border work closely with us, with our government, maybe the rebels won’t get the strong arms that they have. President Kagame can’t say officially that he supports the rebels, but if you see the way these rebels are fighting, if you see the weapons they have, if you see the communication materials they have, you realize where they get these materials.
Adam Scholl is an Editorial Assistant at World Policy Journal.
[Photo courtesy of ENOUGH Project]