By Bosco Mutarambirwa
One may reasonably argue that Rwanda, Uganda, and any of those poor African countries contributing UN peacekeepers may have no interest in peace around the continent.
It may seem absurd, but based on the current financing structure of UN Peacekeeping operations; these poor countries have a lot of financial incentives to create instability within Africa so that they can send in their “peacekeeping” troops and make some much needed cash.
It is highly suspected that this may be what’s happening in South Sudan, where Uganda and Rwanda have had peacekeepers since the Darfur crisis era. Now that relative peace was slowly returning in South Sudan, there were plans to scale down the UN peacekeeping operations, meaning that Rwanda and Uganda would be losing a lot of income.
With the recent DRC fiasco of M23, Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni’s creation, these two countries need the peacekeeping cash to compensate for the M23 lost income. As a gamble as it may seem, troubles in South Sudan would also be good for Museveni and Kagame in terms of shifting the spotlight away from M23 defeat.
[Editor emphasis - This has also been the strategy of the Mongolian Emperor Genghis Khan of keeping his generals away from the thoughts of rebelling against him by keeping them busy fighting wars against sought enemies.]
Peacekeeping soldiers are paid by their own Governments according to their own national rank and salary scale. Countries volunteering uniformed personnel to peacekeeping operations are reimbursed by the UN at a standard rate, approved by the General Assembly, of a little over US$1,028 per soldier per month.
The UN also reimburses Member States for providing equipment, personnel and support services to military or police contingents.
Let’s say the average Rwandan peacekeeper is paid US $200 per month according to Rwandan national salary scale (they don’t get paid that much really). Given their lack of accountability and high level corruption, Rwandan dictator and his elite will get to pocket the rest. Based on current levels of approximately 5000 active Rwandan peacekeepers, the government would pay out $1.0 million to the soldiers and put the remaining $4.1 million in the pockets of Kagame and his inner circle every month. Add the UN reimbursements for leasing Rwanda’s military equipment and you get the idea that the deal is too sweet for Paul Kagame to give up.
It is clear that we risk chronic instability in Africa if this conflict of interest is not given a serious look and loopholes are eliminated. It is clear that some conflicts in Africa will inevitably require peacekeeping. However it is imperative that we avoid making worse things worst while conflicts we could have prevented. For instance, MONUSCO cannot be guarding DRC from Rwanda and Uganda’s aggression, then turn around and use the same known aggressors (Rwandan and Ugandan troops) into SS and Mali to keep peace.
Today, it is also being reported that Rwanda is lobbying UN so it can send Rwandan troops in CAR under blue helmets. If Rwanda cannot keep itself from aggressing its neighbors, how can the same Rwanda keep peace for other sovereign nations? There are also detailed reports of criminal charges against Rwandan military Generals commending these peacekeeping operations – namely Jean Bosco Kazura in Mali and others – about their undeniable involvement in war crimes and crimes of genocide. Why have mass murderers keep peace for innocent civilians? [Editor emphasis - Why not avoid using these criminal armies which have been proven to have participated in atrocities in other places across the continent?]
What good can possibly come out of this?
By placing these alleged criminals at the heart of its peacekeeping operations, the UN is putting itself in a trap because. I.e., as soon as the UN tries to reverse Rwandan impunity culture, the UN is blackmailed by Kagame on the grounds that he would pull his troops out. Without Plan B, the UN cannot afford a troop withdrawal; the UN shamefully chooses to keep quiet in the face of absolute impunity and continued humiliation of the people of the Africa Great Lakes region by Kagame’s regime.
The UN’s main plan should therefore be to gradually replace Rwandan “peacekeepers” with more disciplined armies such as Tanzania’s, Ghana’s, South Africa’s and others who are willing to contribute troops. Sending Rwandan troops to CAR would be a grave mistake on the top of many others. The UN has to remember that an error does not become a mistake until one refuses to correct it. The UN must not employ Rwandan troops when it knows too well that they are not interested in peace, people’s unity, and reconciliation.
Finally, the current Rwandan government is a serious oppressor of civil liberties as recently evidenced by the Freedom House index, which ranked Rwanda’s freedom rating to 6 (worst possible being 7) this year – not surprising. If Rwanda cannot set its own people free, it is also in the worst position to provide basic freedom to the people of other countries.