A recent report by a group of UN experts panel which controversially accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing a rebellion in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo exhibits “methodological shortcomings”, a top British researcher and lecturer has said.
Dr Phil Clark, a lecturer in comparative and international politics at SOAS, University of London, and a specialist on conflict-related issues in central Africa, says the analysis contained in the report should be treated with caution.
He warns the donor community against taking policy decisions on the basis of the group’s allegations, which have strongly been refuted by Kigali and Kampala.
“In the case of the June 2012 report, apparent methodological and substantive problems suggest that international donors should have treated the GoE’s analysis with much greater caution,” Dr Clark says.
His observations, contained in a paper addressed to British decision-makers with regard to the country’s foreign aid, come just days after the British government announced it would be reviewing its development aid to Rwanda based on the GoE findings.
The UK, Rwanda’s single largest bilateral donor, will mid next month decide on whether to release or withhold the next tranche of financial support to Rwanda after the initial segment was unfrozen back in September – ahead of the final GoE report, released last week.
US, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Union have also withdrawn or delayed their financial support to Rwanda in the wake of the country’s alleged support to the M23 rebels, who last week seized the key eastern city of Goma and threatened to overthrow President Joseph Kabila’s government.
“There are substantial methodological and substantive shortcomings in the 2012 Group of Experts (GoE) report, on the basis of which several foreign donors reconsidered their development aid strategies toward Rwanda,” adds Dr Clark.
In his paper, Dr Clark argues that “decisions to withhold or withdraw aid to particular states should be based on more comprehensive and systematic evidence than that provided by the United Nations Group of Experts (GoE) for the DRC.”
“Most GoE reports in the context of the DRC involve interviews and other forms of information-gathering within confined regions of eastern Congo, with little engagement in neighbouring countries, including Rwanda…This geographical restriction limited the depth of analysis in the report and led to several erroneous claims,” he argues.
Dr Clark echoes the government of Rwanda’s own rebuttal to the allegations of M23 rebel support, including claims that Rwanda trained rebel fighters at Kanombe military barracks in Kigali City.
“The report states incorrectly that Rwanda trained some M23 fighters at the Kanombe army barracks in the Rwandan capital, Kigali – a key claim in showing the extent of Rwandan involvement in the M23 rebellion – when those barracks comprise only a military hospital and a cemetery.
“It would be impossible for such training to take place in those barracks and even a cursory check of the premises would have convinced the GoE of this,” says the British researcher.
He adds, “This error suggests that the GoE conducted insufficient investigations within Rwanda and relied on highly questionable sources, a point that has major implications for the GoE’s wider claims regarding Rwandan complicity in rebel activity in Congo”.
Furthermore, a key dimension of the June 2012 GoE report is the reliance on testimony by unidentified Congolese military commanders and intelligence officials, whose impartiality on the issues at hand must be seriously questioned, he adds.
“The report provides insufficient information regarding how evidence gathered in the field was tested and how the reliability of certain sources was established”.
“Coupled with the geographical narrowness of the GoE’s investigations, questions should be raised regarding the robustness of the evidence which underpinned the GoE’s conclusions.
According to Dr Clark, “the withholding or withdrawal of aid to Rwanda will do little to address systemic causes of conflict in eastern DRC and may undermine important political, social and economic gains which Rwanda has made since the 1994 Genocide (against the Tutsi).”
As such, the academic advocates for the continuation of UK aid to Rwanda “at the same level as before the GoE findings, alongside the continued use of non-aid measures to address the question of Rwanda’s alleged military involvement in the DRC and domestic human rights issues in Rwanda”.
One significant problem with the GoE report and much of the international reaction to it, he said, is the insistence that Rwanda is primarily responsible for current instability in eastern Congo.
“This view neglects the role played by Congolese President Joseph Kabila in generating the M23 mutiny. One key motivator for the rebellion was that President Kabila reneged on deals with these same rebels in 2009, before they were integrated into the Congolese army”.
President Kabila has undermined the 2009 peace agreement between the DRC, Rwanda and a range of Congolese rebel groups, which greatly improved the security situation in eastern Congo, Clark argues.
“Rwanda played a vital role in this peace process and the subsequent increase in regional security – a positive contribution that warrants greater recognition in current policy discussions.”
Not only should there be a closer assessment of the GoE’s findings, but the decision by the UK and other donors in 2012 to withhold or withdraw aid to Rwanda will not address systemic political and military causes of violent conflict in eastern DRC.
He said the vast majority of the aid to Rwanda (more than 40 per cent of the national budget) is spent on education, health and poverty alleviation.
“As a landlocked, resource-poor country, Rwanda still relies heavily on foreign assistance. Most observers – even those highly critical of the Rwandan government – agree that Rwanda has recorded extraordinary successes in these domains since the genocide because of its effective use of international aid and its low levels of corruption.”
These major socio-economic achievements have been the bedrock of the peace and stability that Rwanda has enjoyed over the last 18 years, he added.
“The danger in using aid to alter Rwanda’s perceived military policy in eastern DRC is that ultimately it will be the Rwandan population that suffers from any reduction in social and economic services. Withholding aid will do little to address systemic problems in the DRC and will undermine substantial gains in Rwanda.”
He urged the UK government to seek “more robust field methodologies employed by the UN Group of Experts, to ensure a higher quality of empirical analysis”.
“The Group should display greater transparency about the nature of its informants and its strategies to ensure impartiality and comprehensiveness in its reporting. More effective GoE analysis would provide more systematic insights into conflict-related issues in the DRC and elsewhere and a more informed basis for international policymaking”.
For sustainable peace to be achieved in the Congo, the academic says there is need for what he calls “substantial political and military reform within the DRC”.
The M23 rebellion broke out in April this year after former members of the ex-CNDP and PARECO rebel groups accused the government of reneging on a March 23, 2009 peace deal that had seen them integrated into the army.
Last week, two high-profile regional summits convened in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, demanded the rebels to withdraw from Goma, and the Kinshasa government to “listen, evaluate and resolve the legitimate grievances of M23.”
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, current chair of the 12-nation member International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), has hosted at least five extraordinary Heads of State and Government summits in five months, aimed at finding a lasting solution to the recurrent conflicts in eastern DRC.
DRC is home to more than 40 armed groups, including the so-called Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), largely composed of perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
There are also dozens of local ethnic based militias, including several Mai-Mai groups, and other insurgents fighting the governments of Uganda and Burundi, most of which are notorious for gross human rights violations.
Congo is home to a US$1.4 billion-a year UN force, Monusco, which is widely viewed as inefficient and generally indifferent, and has for the last ten years been dogged by allegations of gross violations, including rape and selling arms to rebel groups operating in the region.