FDLR: Why President Kagame will not negotiate

By: Jennifer Fierberg

The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) remain a topic of much debate among those who research and spend time in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. There are a few schools of thought as to who this group is and what their motives are.

The first school of thought is the ‘official narrative’ provided by the Government of Rwanda which states that the FDLR planned out and committed genocide in 1994, fled into the DRC to live in refugee camps in order to escape persecution by the government that “stopped the genocide” and took power in Rwanda. Less than two years after the genocide the ruling party in Rwanda, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), invaded  Eastern Congo in order to seek vengeance on these escaping ‘genocidaires’ and bring justice to them. 

In contrast to the official report, Wikipedia states:

“The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda is the primary remnant Rwandan Hutu rebel group in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is often referred to as simply the FDLR after its original French name: the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda. It has been involved in fighting from its formation on 30 September 2000 throughout the last phase of the Second Congo War and the fighting which has continued since then. It is composed almost entirely of majority ethnic Hutus opposed to minority Tutsi rule and influence in the region. The FDLR was formed after negotiations between the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda and the remnant Hutu military command agreed that the ALiR be dissolved. Paul Rwarakabije was appointed commander in chief of the entire force, but ALiR had to accept the political leadership of the FDLR.”

On May 26th 2013, during the 21st African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the President of Tanzania, Kikwete, advised the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, to negotiate with the FDLR in order to stop the 16 years of war that this situation has created. President Kagame did not respond himself rather his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, stated “they would not negotiate with a terrorist group,” and demanded an apology from President Kikwete. A spokesperson for the government of Tanzania stated in reply to a request for an apology that, “President Kikwete will not apologise because his statement was based on facts. We ask Rwanda to take this advice. Our President cannot apologise for the truth.”

The FDLR published a press release in response to President Kikwete’s request and stated in part:

“The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) are rejoicing and firmly support His Excellency Mr Jakaya Mrisho KIKWETE, Tanzanian President’s proposition of setting about global and pacific solutions of the conflicts which have been prevailing up to date within the African Great Lakes region in general and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in particular; which proposition suggests a resolution by means and ways of organizing relevant dialogues between all the involved warring parties.”

The decision to seek peace seems to remain in the hands of President Kagame, yet he has emphatically stated that he will not negotiate with the FDLR under any circumstances. There has been a long war in Eastern DRC at the hands of Paul Kagame and his endless quest for “justice” against the FDLR. If there remain members of the FDLR who committed genocide in 1994 they would be a least 50 years of age now.  It would appear that Kagame’s motives are out of vengeance rather than justice.  

Ironically, in 1993 Paul Kagame and his rebel group, the RPA, were in the midst of negotiations with the then President of Rwanda Juvenal Habyarimana, in Arusha, Tanzania in order to reach and sign a joint power sharing agreement. Paul Kagame was leading a group of Tutsi refugees who were returning home to Rwanda. These negotiations were to provide a path for peaceful return. On April 6, 1994 President Habyarimana was returning home by plane after having just signed a power sharing agreement to incorporate the RPF into the government when his plane was shot out of the sky on the orders of Paul Kagame and his rebels triggering the 1994 genocide.

Sharing power with the previous government of Rwanda was not enough for Paul Kagame; he wanted total power which he seized in the weeks following the assassination of President Habyarimana. 

For President Kagame to negotiate with the FDLR and come to an agreement then he would be giving up his strangle hold on Eastern DRC thereby giving up his unlimited access to the minerals and other geostrategic interests keeping his pockets lined and full. Peace in Eastern DRC means there is no need for Rwanda to be in Eastern DRC. Since the government of Rwanda has stated that “Peace in Eastern DRC is in the best interest of the region”, President Kagame should be willing to prove that by negotiating for that peace through talks with the FDLR.

 Time will tell whether history will repeat itself in Rwanda or if the trajectory of this country will change resulting in peace in The Great Lakes Region of Africa.

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