Antony Blinken the United States of America Secretary of States may not have accessed the right information about the FDR Armed Group in Eastern DRCongo and this highly affected his Press Conference in Kigali during his recent visit in both DRC and Rwanda. Kindly find Blinken statement here (https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-rwandan-foreign-minister-vincent-biruta-at-a-joint-press-availability/
During his Press Conference in Rwanda recently Antony Blinken was quoted as having said that he was deeply concerned with information indicating that both countries DRCongo and Rwanda are supporting groups which are armed against each other, the Communique said about FDLR (Rwandan Armed Group based in DRC) and M23 Rebel Group based in (Rwanda and in Uganda).
Now, let us pose a minute and ask, what did the USA Diplomacy solve really, what was the purpose of such a high level delegation? And the only thing to tell us was to say that both countries are supporting armed groups? How does such a statement solve the issue of M23 occupying Bunagana currently, which is the concern of all Congolese? Is this new anyway? Who does not know that since 1996 up to now Rwanda claims about this?
This statement did not pass well into the ears of so many Congolese both in the country and outside the country. Congolese believe that despite all that the current government has done to restore relations with the USA, nothing much has changed and the USA is perceived as supporting Rwanda in its aggression agenda against DRCongo since 1994 up to now. Despite the DRCongo support to Rwandan armed groups, the FDLR have never occupied even an inch of the Rwandan territory, but they do exist in eastern Congo.
Now the issue here is this particular armed group known as “The Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda” “FDLR”. It is an armed group based in eastern DRCongo, mostly currently present in North Kivu Province. It may be difficult even at this particular point to establish which FDLR we can talk about, because various sources of information have observed that Rwanda has created its own armed groups in eastern DRCongo, among them many factions of FDLR. \
Still questions remain about information.
Where did Blinken get information about this FDLR? What are the possible options for information about FDLR? Is the source of information credible? What is FDLR fighting for? Is FDLR a threat to Rwanda? Are the actors Antony Blinken contacted worthy to share credible information? How has the FDLR affected the whole eastern DRCongo? What can the DRCongo Government do right to solve the FDLR issue?
There are so many questions we can ask but at the end of it we must work hard to ensure that we bring out credible information which should be well researched and which can help our leaders (DRC Government, the United Nations, and all our development partners) to take informed decisions, as per now we do not have credible information about all these actors in the conflict, and especially that information we have is not credible enough to be trusted. What is certain is that we may not be “impartial” while addressing this situation but what we can do is to present “the truth through clear facts”, that is possible to do, and those in research can do this for the better of this region. However we do regret that it has not yet been done since 1994 up to now.
Now, Anthony Blinken comes in the Democratic Republic Congo and in Rwanda in his efforts to reduce tensions between the two countries, this was a great move. In Kinshasa he declared supporting the regional peace initiatives, in Kigali he declared being concerned about the support to various groups by the two countries.
How much is Anthony Blinken informed about the conflict in eastern DRCongo? Who informed him? Is the source of information credible? Our answers to these questions are negative and we humbly request the USA to do more in terms of research work in order to help this region.
Potential source of information for Anthony Blinken
In Kinshasa Anthony blinken had meetings with the Government, the United Nations, the USA Mission and the Civil Society in the Democratic Republic of Congo, all these actors none has neither programmes nor activities on issues of refugees in eastern DRCongo which is the gate in order to understand very well the issue of FDLR, in order to understand very well the FDLR, none of these actors work directly with FDLR apart from collecting some kind of information from third parties. Currently the FDLR are based around Virunga National Parc in North Kivu Province, DRCongo.
Both DRCongo Government especially the National Commission for Refugees known as “CNR” and the UNHCR are perceived by refugees as being close collaborators of Rwanda and that alone cannot help them to access the necessary information, the United States of America Mission in DRCongo supports the “forced repatriation of refugees back to Rwanda through the USA funding to UNHCR”, and refugees are much informed about this, such move cannot position the US Mission to access true information. Most of the actors of the Civil Society who attended the meeting with Blinken have nothing much they can offer about the situation of refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the UN Mission is known by refugees as working for the interest of Paul Kagame. We do not refute contacts with some FDLR groups by all these actors but information they can give is likely to be different from the reality. Like here in Goma, refugees will give you information depending on who they perceive you are.
In DRCongo, before even getting information from refugees you must first of all ensure that you are not suspected as being close to Rwanda, not close to any UN Agency and not close to any Government Institution, if that is proven then people will share with you all information you may need. That alone is a long work.
In Rwanda Anthony Blinken held discussions with Rwandan Authorities and UN Agencies but as we know there is not independent civil society in Rwanda.
Through their Communique of August 18th, 2022 the FDLR claimed they are refugees fighting for their protection in the Democratic Republic of Congo which they lost since 1996 when the International Community abandoned them. We know that yes these refugees have lost protection since 1996 up to now, and we have to work hard to ensure that we claim back their protection, “Why can’t we recognize that? Why couldn’t Anthony Blinken recognize that these refugees need protection?” but what is certain is that they are also armed against Rwanda as their name indicates “ The Democratic Forces for Liberation of Rwanda” but not the “protection of Refugees”, it is not yet certain if Rwanda ends military operations in eastern DRCongo, would FDLR military activities melt down and disappear? Do they want to attack Rwanda as it is being advanced by Kigali? If yes, why do they not attack Rwanda then? As refugees they ought to go back to their country and contribute to the development of their nation, if they are a threat why can’t Rwanda negotiate with them?
Here in North Kivu FDLR are not far from the border with Rwanda but still most of their activities are just in DRCongo, where they offer security to thousands of refugees in areas they control and beyond. In Goma for example, 2/4 Rwandan refugees believe in the protection of FDLR, and actually are staying in areas where in case they are attacked by Rwandan Army they can easily move to Virunga National Parc. “Why can’t we accept that this is the fact? Why can’t we recognize our failure to ensure the protection of refugees? And why can’t explore the significant contribution of FDLR in the whole protection of refugees in eastern DRCongo?”
What could have they done when they were attacked by Rwanda? Why does the international community including Anthony Blinken not put pressure on Rwanda to stop attacks against refugees? Why do different countries still support UNHCR in order to send these refugees back to Rwanda? And what may happen if these refugees are offered protection opportunities in DRCongo? Including resettlement to a third country?
All these are some of the issues we need to address, we believe that it is now “time to learn, relearn and unlearn” what we have been told about “refugee armed groups” in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We believe that most of us are victims of well-designed propaganda and most of the information we get is based on that propaganda that criminalizes Rwandan refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1996 up to now, but what happens if we may decide to change the narrative? , we need to vivify the debate on access to true information, that is possible and we should invest more in that especially research. “We hold the view that Anthony Blinken did not get the right information which could have helped him to make a right position and because of that, his visit is again a waste of time, resources and energy wasted”.
We remain engaged to ensure that we can provide balanced information to all actors who are interested in peace in the great lakes region. It is not possible to be impartial in this region. That means bringing out information which will build a consensus But it is possible to be True with facts, that means facts that can be contested by some people at a certain point but at the end accept it because it is the truth.
Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos
In-Charge of Refugees and Foreigners
COJESKI-DRC, Coordination of North Kivu