Rwanda’s Intervention in Zaire?

Special Report No 13

The ADFL and the RPA share a community of interest as well as experience. Both represent Tutsi minorities who have suffered under majority rule in their respective countries. Each of their leaders has also long been involved in a guerrilla struggle.

Laurent Kabila, the self-declared ADFL leader, is a former Marxist who briefly joined forces with Che Guevara in the 1960s during his short-lived stint in Zaire. Although Kabila has fought the government of Mobutu for over 30 years, he has also long been a strongman in Zaire’s lucrative ivory, diamond, and gold trades. In the late 1980s, he frequently visited Uganda after Yoweri Musoveni and his guerrillas took power. One of Musoveni’s officers was Paul Kagame; he was later Musoveni’s intelligence chief and helped to secretly organize a Tutsi guerrilla force, the RPF, which invaded Rwanda in 1990. Today, Kagame is Rwanda’s defense minister and head of the RPA.

The ADFL’s recent surprise offensive in eastern Zaire bears an uncanny resemblance to the RPF invasion of Rwanda in 1990. Rebel forces in both cases managed to train, arm and infiltrate fighters almost without detection. Each demonstrated impressive tactical prowess, with operations executed by well-disciplined and highly motivated combatants. Although each force is responsible for specific cases of abuse against unarmed civilians, each made a significant effort to minimize civilian casualties. The question now is: “What are their respective objectives?” They share the goal of destroying the former Rwandan Army and Interahamwe. However, Kabila claims that his primary goal is to overthrow Mobutu and seize power in Zaire.

The ADFL was established on 18 October 1996 as a coalition of four opposition political parties: the Popular Revolutionary Party, led by Kabila; the National Council of Resistance for Democracy, led by Andre Kissasse-Ngandu; the Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Zaire, led by Mosasa Minitaga; and the People’s Democratic Alliance, led by Robert Bugera. None is well known. The ADFL also purports to include various Zairian ethnic groups besides the Banyamulenge, including the Kasai and Babembe ethnic groups, and to represent a number of geographic regions besides North and South Kivu, including Kasai Province. Still, the ADFL is far from marching on Kinshasa.

The most important elements of the ADFL remain the Banyamulenge, its crucial base of support remains the RPA. The RPA has little to gain by promoting a rebel takeover of all of Zaire, but it remains unclear to what extent Rwanda will support the ADFL as it tries to consolidate its hold on eastern Zaire. As long as the Interahamwe and the former Rwandan troops remain active, the ADFL affords Rwanda a useful buffer against Hutu rebel incursions. Such incursions, leaving behind murdered witnesses of the genocide, have escalated dramatically over the past year. Rwanda has responded by killing Hutu civilians whom they suspect of supporting them, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has documented.

The ADFL’s arsenal is limited, so far, to small arms, including Kalashnikov and South African G-4 assault rifles, Uzi sub-machine guns, RPG-7 rocket launchers and 60 mm mortars. The RPA has much of the same as well as heavier weapons, including artillery and anti-aircraft guns, which it has used against ground positions.