War in Congo : James Kabarebe Spills ‘Secrets’ About DRC, M23


Who in the Congolese establishment caused the latest international uproar over alleged Rwanda link to M23 rebels? What is the role of President Kabila? Why in the first place did it all happen so fast? Is the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) comparable to the Belgian army? You will be surprised after reading the latest interview from Rwanda’s Defense Minister, General James Kabarebe. In an interview with Belgian journalist Colette Braeckman, the General tells it all. The interview is originally in French.

QUESTION: On the eve of elections in Congo last fall, you said that if you were able to help the country become more stable, you would. Given the current situation, what went wrong?

It is not just on the eve of elections that we had tried to help the Congo. In 2009, we tried to solve the problem of CNDP, which led to the arrest of General Laurent Nkunda and the sidelining of many other groups, Pareco, the Mai Mai, Kifwawa, Nakabaka group, FRC … All were eventually integrated into the government army. Since then, we have restored diplomatic relations with the Congo, our presidents met several times. It was positive evolution that surprised everyone, including ourselves.

What happened? This is a question we ask ourselves too, but nobody is there to answer. But some people, especially in the West, have decided to question only Rwanda for whatever is happening in the DRC.

QUESTION: After the elections, President Kabila was put under pressure by the international community demanding the arrest of General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court. Has at any time there been some kind of agreement between Kinshasa and Kigali to get rid of the general and to replace him?

This is where the confusion began.

For a genesis of the situation, we must go back to the 2009 agreements and remember that even after the elections in Congo and until April 2012, there was no problem. In 2009, we helped solve the problem of CNDP by supporting the integration of its soldiers in the government army, just as well for Pareco, Mai Mai Kifwawa, Nakabaka, and a dozen other groups. But thereafter, the management of this situation was to be the responsibility of the Congolese themselves…

CNDP was integrated as a result of the Nairobi agreement under the supervision of Presidents Obasanjo and Mkapa. Rwanda had contributed to this agreement, which for three years, had helped pacify the eastern Congo. But today the integration of these forces has failed. This failure is not the fault of Rwanda, but it is due to the mismanagement of the military integration process.

QUESTION: What happened in this past year?

In December, after his election, President Kabila sent a special envoy to Kigali, accompanied by some soldiers. Presidential Adviser, the late Katumba Mwanke, brought a message comprising four points: the first is that President Kabila was seeking the support of Rwanda to transfer soldiers of Rwandan origin who were based in eastern Congo to other provinces. He also wanted our support as the west was demanding the arrest of General Bosco Ntaganda. After achieving these above two points, we would have conducted joint operations to neutralize the FDLR. And finally, from successfully working well together on the previous points, we would have strengthened economic cooperation between our two countries, launched several projects that have remained unfinished.

The delegation told us that the Rwandophone soldiers had refused to be deployed outside of Kivu and hoped that we would be able to convince them, given our historical relationship not only with former CNDP soldiers, but also with other Congolese officers.

According to them, these men refused to be transferred to other parts of the country because Bosco Ntaganda forbade them … As usual we offered our help even if my feeling was that such problems should be solved on a national level.

Regarding Bosco Ntaganda, remember the international community, which demanded his arrest, had a UN peacekeeping force of 20,000 with tanks, helicopters, Special Forces – a force located partly in Goma, next to Bosco. Together, the officers played tennis, they frequented the same clubs, the same bars and restaurants. Why couldn’t they take charge of his arrest, why would they ask us to do it? We made it clear that the arrest was not our responsibility, as it was a Congolese officer very close to President Kabila, with whom they had done business together. Do you remember the story of a plane load of gold intercepted in Goma? Very senior Congolese were involved in this case. Ntaganda was no longer under our control…

We were told by the members of the delegation that they would arrest Bosco, but would not hand him to International Criminal Court. It was the 5th February and the delegation returned to Kinshasa. Two days after this encounter, Mwanke Katumba was killed in a plane crash in Bukavu.

In late March, President Kabila sent another delegation to Kigali, headed by head of the security services, Kalev, Colonel Jean-Claude and others. They still wanted our assistance because they indicated they could not solve the problems of the East without our support. What support? They insisted that Bosco Ntaganda was blocking the transfer of Rwandophone soldiers in the country.

We proposed to hold a meeting in which Bosco Ntaganda participated and during which we would try to convince him to let these officers be deployed outside of Kivu.

The meeting was set for April 8, during when, we expected these gentlemen, but they arrived without Ntaganda because a rumor had spread that the governments of Rwanda and Congo were preparing to arrest him. Frightened, he refused to come. The Congolese arrived with three officers, Colonel Sultani Makenga, Colonel Faustin Muhindo and Colonel Innocent Zimurinda. The meeting was supposed to convince Ntaganda, but he was absent. “He had disappeared the previous night with 200 of his men outside Goma … Maybe he was on his farm in Masisi …” I then pointed out that “if Bosco is no longer there, it cannot prevent the deployment of his officers, the problem is solved …”

I was told that in fact there was still a problem and that is why the three officers were here. We listened to our interlocutors, with the desire to help the DRC, in a manner that was friendly, fraternal. The importance of this meeting, April 8, is that it was an issue of a missed opportunity. It marked the turning point of everything that would happen later in the Congo.

If our interlocutors had listened to the advice that we gave them that day, things would have been very different.

This date is crucial because at this meeting we listened to government officials including Kalev and General Yav. They accused the Rwandophone officers of refusing to be deployed elsewhere in the country, of not being part of the system … Kalev explained that the President was determined to protect Bosco Ntaganda, not to transfer him to ICC but to refer him to Congolese courts.

They raised so many points, I kept all my notes, meeting minutes … The three Rwandophone officers for their part explained: “It is not that Bosco blocks us, but the fact that many issues contained in 2009 agreement have not been implemented. As a prerequisite for our deployment to other parts of the Congo, it was necessary to restore security in Kivu, the problem of the FDLR, allow our parents who have for long lived in refugee camps in Rwanda to return home.” They added: “Our integration was never complete, we were paid differently than other members, we received grades but they were never confirmed by Order, and any time we might be driven out of the army.” These officers were facing segregation, exclusion, being regarded as second-class military…

They mentioned that more than 50 of their comrades, who had been transferred to Dungu in Orientale Province, were killed in one night and that the government had never conducted any investigation. They cited the name of the person responsible for their deaths, a Colonel still in service … “We were integrated of course, but we are still frustrated. We were ready to contribute to peace in the Kivus, but we are not supported: we lacked transportation, communications, vehicles, money. Nothing! And how could we conduct operations against the FDLR and other armed groups?”

“And even when we start these operations, the FDLR are informed in advance by people from the government side, they pass the information.”

There were so many complaints that I cannot remember them all. I then spoke to Kalev, asking if he knew all this already. He replied in the midst of the others that he had heard it so many times, that he had often spoken to the president, but he had nothing to do!

I then asked how they could get out of this situation. They repeated that they could not deploy outside of Kivu. The others said that the government could not tolerate indiscipline and they should leave. I then warned government officials, telling them that this was a bomb, they had to find solutions before it is too late.

As I know very well the situation in Kivu, I know everyone there, I concluded that it was on the verge of war. I said it should be avoided at all costs and that if they wanted any assistance, we are willing to help find a solution. War, we said, will affect everyone, the Congolese population, Rwanda. From our perspective, if war breaks out, the FDLR will regain ground.

At the same time, April 8, while we were seeking a peaceful solution, the Congolese government sent a large military force to Goma, rocket launchers, T52 tanks, helicopter gunships. Goma was suddenly heavily militarized. At the moment, with Kalev and Yav, the head of military information, we were trying to solve problems peacefully, the Chief of Staff, General Etumba and the head of the land forces Tango Amisi landed in Goma to strengthen the military effort.

We repeated that the military option was not the best, but they went forward.

It is at this same time that officers began to desert their units, others refused deployment.

I then advised them to reunite the army to stop the transfers, because the situation was dangerous, look into the administration of the army – because there were too many irregularities, problems of command, discontent was general.

About Bosco Ntaganda, we said that if he were indisciplined, this could not be tolerated, he had to stopped wherever he was. They told me that this was not possible because he was in his farm. I offered we carry out together a new operation against the FDLR, then plan, carry it out. As for commanders who refused to move to Kinshasa or elsewhere, I advised them not to be too hard on them, because it would create chaos. The situation was so volatile that using military force against them could be dangerous.

After the meeting, President Kabila came to Goma, where he announced that he had to stop Bosco Ntaganda at all costs, at any price. This message was the opposite of what I had heard the night before, where I was told that Bosco could stay on his farm.

At this time, so many things happened! When Colonel Zimurinda arrived in Goma, he was disarmed, but the same evening, he was given back his weapons and his escort and he immediately joined Bosco Ntaganda. The next day, Colonel Baudouin Ngaruye was also disarmed and when in the evening his weapons were returned after negotiations, he joined Bosco.

The same day, in Rutshuru General Amisi ordered to disarm all the former CNDP soldiers. Then there was a clash between these soldiers. Then, in Fizi ex-Pareco officers, Nsabimana and Saddam were disarmed, there were skirmishes and they fled to Uvira. The commander of the area, Delphin Kahimbi, deployed forces to fight in Uvira and Bernard Nyamungu tried to protect the fugitives before fleeing himself to Bukavu, where he was arrested. Thus began the chaos.

As for Colonel Makenga he returned to Bukavu after our meeting. When President Kabila arrived in Goma, Makenga was supposed to return to attend a meeting, on the road from Bukavu to Goma, there was an ambush mounted by Delphin Kahimbi. Makenga escaped and arrived in Goma anyway but never returned to Bukavu.

QUESTION: This version is controversial because according to other sources, Makenga fled through the lake towards Rwanda…

No, he escaped the ambush and after a few days he called Jean-Claude Yav saying he could not return to Bukavu as long as Kahimbi would be there and he remained in Goma…

QUESTION: Are you sure he did not travel to Gisenyi at this time?

No, he remained in Goma. Makenga never used to come to Rwanda because he thought he would be arrested because he was close to Laurent Nkunda. During those few days, operations began against Bosco Ntaganda, the FARDC attacked his farm and they brought reinforcements from South Kivu. Delphin Kahimbi even advanced from Bukavu to Goma. Realising that, Makenga left Goma and went to Runyionyi, a place he knew well.

This movement when Colonel Makenga moved to Runyioni changed the whole scenario of war; yes Bosco was not popular among the soldiers, not even with Rwandophone, but not so with Makenga: for him he was very popular with soldiers … His departure caused a mass desertion among FARDC…

The ex-CNDP, were almost defeated in Masisi and reinforced when they did move to Runyonyi. That’s when the alleged support of Rwanda emerged…

This is false, hopeless. They were defeated, why were they not captured? Between Masisi and Runyoni, there is a long distance, more than seven hours. They could have been stopped, blocked…

QUESTION: But a ceasefire was declared, which allowed them to escape…

No, there was no ceasefire. What happened was that this force was intact, with its weapons and commanders; we cannot say it was defeated. It was perhaps left to pass intact.

What is important is that when Makenga reached Runyonyi, he had 200 soldiers. In the days that followed, thousands of soldiers, officers had converged and then defected to join Makenga, and it was not only Rwandophones. According to our information, 80% of the forces of M23 are Hutus, Pareco veterans. Bashi, Hutu, Nande, Barega, and many other groups joined the M23. Even members of President Kabila’s protection services, Katangans, Kasaians, defected and joined Makenga, so there was discontent…

The poor management of the troops is the heart of the problem. How can you send troops into operation by giving them only a handful of beans! Instead of sending them food, you give them a bag of beans, water, and salt-free rice casserole or without firewood … This is impossible.

You cannot say that the Congolese army failed to beat the M23 because the M23 was backed by Rwanda. No! They failed because they cannot fight in conditions in which they are. They could not even kill a rat….

QUESTION: They could have fought if they were fed properly…

The food is not enough. It also requires a good command structure … Having joined the M23, the deserters began to fight better. Not only because of the food, but because they were fighting against a system that abused them … Saying that Rwanda supported the M23, this is wrong and I will show you how…

QUESTION: Are you saying no reinforcement have crossed the border?

I knew this area once. Runyonyi is not on the border, walking from the Rwandan border to Runyonyi, it takes at least eleven hours of walking, you cross the forest because there are no roads, and there is no link between Runyonyi and Rwanda. This whole story of support that Rwanda supposedly provided is a manipulation. But also a very complicated manipulation.

It involves the Congolese government wanting to save face after its military defeat and trouble to explain why its soldiers did not fight. It is supported by the West, which is disappointed by the fact that Bosco Ntaganda was not arrested by the International Criminal Court and that Rwanda has not cooperated in the arrest. Rwanda is punished because it did not cooperate with the International Criminal Court, this is the real problem. Everyone knows that Rwanda does not have a single soldier within the M23, it gives them no support. Even the Congolese know this, they said it to us face to face, but they had to save face…

QUESTION: But in Goma in late June, defectors testified that they were recruited in Rwanda to come to fight in Congo … What do we think?

You know the Congo; you know Goma, Bukavu, is a melting pot of lies aired on radio by the governor, the minister of information…

QUESTION: Still, those who spread these stories that you call lies were many, from different backgrounds, including UN observers…

This is why I speak of a conspiracy against Rwanda, in connivance with the Congolese government and the international community. The problem is there. MONUSCO has been in Congo for more than ten years, and it has not solved anything. It does business with the FDLR, conducts trade in gold, coltan, we all know that.

As for the UN Group of Experts, these young men and women who wrote the report, like Steven Hege, who advocates negotiations with the FDLR, they were also manipulated by the Congolese government.

How can the United Nations designate as experts people as young and inexperienced, who are lost in acronyms? Even their integrity is questionable … They do not have the minimum required level of understanding of this area.

For us, we’re not going to stop having contact with the DRC. On the 1st of May, we had contacts at the level of Army command. They asked us to help them and we will. We reminded them that on April 8 they had missed an opportunity to avoid war. We asked them to stop fighting so we can see what to do, how to help.

At this time, our Congolese interlocutors explicitly asked us to move our forces into the Congo to help solve the problem. We refused to move our forces….

QUESTION: However you have forces based in Rutshuru…

Yes, they were destined to fight the FDLR. It is two companies of Special Forces, along with two companies of Congolese Special Forces. For two years they are there and they are still there…

On May 3, when we had another meeting in Kigali, the Congolese minister of defense also asked us to intervene. But we could not see how we could solve this problem militarily. On May 12, another meeting of defense ministers in Rubavu, they raised the same request. On May 18, another meeting in Kigali, May 26 a new meeting in Kigali, was including the Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs. At this time, the defeat of government forces was obvious. And it was at this meeting that, for the first time, the Congolese began to accuse Rwanda of aiding the M23, and that is while we already had many meetings to discuss how to help.

They only mentioned this charge on our side and we said some commanders had integrated FDLR. We proposed to establish a joint verification mechanism.

On May 29, the Joint Chiefs of Staff launched the verification mechanism to dispel rumors. On June 19, there was another meeting in Kinshasa, but two days before the Congolese government, the UN accused Rwanda…

QUESTION: Meanwhile, in Goma, defectors had told Monusco they had been recruited in Rwanda to join the M23…

We were informed that there was going to be fabricated evidence to challenge Rwanda and we informed our Congolese interlocutors. We asked them why they did that.

First there was the case of the 11, the FDLR who were in the camp Mutobo and were allegedly sent to Runyonyi. After I had spoken to Colonel Yav, the story disappeared. But then they reappeared and the 11 defectors were found in a MONUSCO camp. Kalev, the head of the ANR, is the origin of all these falsifications, the story was fabricated in Goma, presented to MONUSCO and from there it was left to the UN…

There are so many stories … there was this one of captain Saddam who was allegedly captured somewhere by the FARDC. They found on him a Rwandan identity card and presented it to the group of UN experts. But we do not know this person; he is not included on the lists of our army… The truth is that while we were in Goma for a meeting, the head of the Congolese military intelligence came to me in my room, and spoke about the story of the captain, he said, “we made a big mistake by making these kinds of stories against Rwanda, it has already cost us so dear … this Captain Saddam belonged to the Congolese army, but it was Kalev who decided to make a fake Rwandan identity card and send fake testimony to the UN… Can you imagine that decisions are made on such a basis?”

QUESTION: If Rwanda is the victim of a conspiracy, it is still huge, with the participation of different people, it is enormous…

There have been so many, it’s true … But let’s face it now: Congolese are victims of chaos they have created themselves, the international community knows, I have the minutes of the meeting of the eleven foreign ministers during the conference on security in the Great Lakes in Nairobi. The Congolese government there clearly states that the primary cause of instability in eastern Congo is the international pressure put on them for the arrest of Bosco Ntaganda. And then they put the blame on Rwanda!

As for us, we will continue meetings and contacts with the Congolese. But we happened to see two delegations land in Kigali from Congo. Each has its own message, different from the other and refuses a joint meeting … It’s total confusion.

But what is clear is that President Kabila has been fed lies by his people on the ground…

I think that starting this war, the Congolese have thought it would be a fast operation. They under estimated. But when things started to change in the field, they began looking for a pretext, and to accuse Rwanda. Much more so that whenever things go wrong in Congo, Rwanda is held responsible. To this was added the frustration of the West who wanted to arrest Bosco Ntaganda and President Kabila pushed to do so. All this created enormous chaos.

QUESTIONS: I’m back with the same question: you may doubt the UN experts, their expertise, their level, you can speak about Kalev and manipulation of the ANR, but don’t you think that the Americans, British, and as well as Belgians also have their own sources of information. However, all confirm the same facts. Are they all victims of a collective hallucination?

We have large embassies in Rwanda, and they have the means to gather intelligence. They certainly monitor troop movements, logistics, and movements toward the border. But for the past six years at least, there is no movement towards the border … How could Rwanda fight in DRC without any visible movement?

What they say, is information that has been transmitted from the other side of the border, nothing they found themselves … In Rwanda itself, they saw nothing…

How, in this densely populated country, could the passage of hundreds of soldiers, weapons, trucks have gone unnoticed? No evidence can be provided…

QUESTION: The Belgian Minister Reynders suggested that “uncontrolled Rwandan elements” could be involved. Sounds possible?

I am sure that Rwandan soldiers are more controlled and better organized than the Belgians. If rogue elements exist somewhere, it is rather in the Belgian army than within the Rwandan army. The Rwandan army is strong, well organized, orderly, well-disciplined, rogue elements within it cannot exist…

QUESTION: And the uncontrolled recruitment of Congolese of Tutsi origin that lives on the territory of Rwanda, it could be impossible too?

That is possible. We have refugee camps in Byumba, Gatsibo, Kibuye and Kigeme and other refugees are not in camps. That there could be recruitment in these areas; it is very possible 100%. I told the Congolese that if they had information about the recruitment, they could give us, such that we end it. But the Congolese prefer to make noise and accuse Rwanda…

QUESTION: Private interests, mafia, have they been involved in this?

It is imagination, fantasy, total confusion. How could Rwanda tolerate such movements? Rwandan society is very disciplined, we cannot have such elements … And even if it were, it does not explain how an army could have been beaten by a few hundred elements … Twenty two thousand troops, equipped with tanks, helicopters were defeated by a few hundred rebels. This shows that in Congo there is no government or army, only a large emptiness.

QUESTION: With all these observations made, the pressure being put on Rwanda, what are the possible solutions?

Rwanda is not under pressure. Do you really believe that the UN could put pressure on Rwanda? This is nonsense. Even sanctions cannot frighten us, they mean nothing…

QUESTION: But if funds are cut, budget support blocked, it could hurt…

Money is not a problem. In the bush we survived without resources … Without help, we will develop better; it will give us even more energy. If they are basing their point for sanctions on lies, let them do it, it will not influence Rwanda. In Congo, we did not start these stories, neither did we support them, and now we will not go there to clean up their mess.

We rely on ourselves as we have always done…

QUESTION: What are the possible solutions?

It is up to the Congolese to find them. And also to the Member States of the International Conference on Security in the Great Lakes Region, which will review on September 5. I’m not sure if the neutral force will never be born. By contrast, it is the Joint Verification Mechanism that will work, which will be composed of three representatives from each member state of the conference. The command will be exercised by Uganda, the number two will be from Brazzaville, the others will come from DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Tanzania … These officers will watch the border between the DRC and Rwanda, as well as monitor the implementation of the ceasefire between the Congolese army and M23, and the FDLR presence in the field. All this as we wait for the eventual deployment of a neutral force. If it ever comes…

QUESTION: Are negotiations with the M23 possible?

It depends on what the conference decides. Now we must let regional mechanisms play their role. We refer to the decisions of the Conference chaired by Uganda…

If you want to get out of this crisis, the international community needs to understand that pressuring Rwanda about the situation in the DRC, is not good to the DRC: the problems are born there, that is where they should be resolved. And Congolese must know that the solution to their problems will not come from the international community, but themselves. It is relying on themselves, building their own governance mechanisms, their own system, that the Congolese will come out……

If in Kasai or Kinshasa people are hungry and revolt, in which way is Rwanda responsible for this situation? Where is the link … If the Congolese continue to look for the causes of their problems from outside, they will still encounter more difficulties … It’s themselves that must find solutions…

Original French version here:


Interview done in Kigali, August 29


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