EA is a tough neighbourhood, where only the strong survive.

Charles Onyango-Obbo



War has flared up in the DR Congo again, and President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa is accusing Rwanda of supporting the M23 who took to arms in April, claiming they had been cheated of the spoils of a 2009 peace agreement.

The Rwanda government has been denying any involvement. One interesting thing is that without Rwanda, Kabila wouldn’t be president today. The Rwandese led the war that ousted the thieving Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, and installed Kabila’s old man, Laurent Kabila, as president.

Kabila only helped himself at the last election by, according to his opponents, stealing the vote.

Rwanda’s denials of being M23’s godfather has roots in the disastrous “Congo war” of 1998-2002 when it and Uganda found themselves getting serious stick, disgraced internationally for allegedly plundering the DRC. The two countries escaped a UN Security Council resolution to slap sanctions against them by the skin of their teeth.

And, in my reading, the real change is that Rwanda feels the need to strenuously deny involvement in the DRC. That is not the way of the wider East African region. Uganda’s military dictator Idi Amin attacked Tanzania openly in 1978.

The Tanzanians struck back and kicked him out of power in full view of international cameras in 1979. If Uganda had opposed the Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front totally, they would never have taken power. There was a UN monitoring force at the Rwanda-Uganda border to make sure Kampala wasn’t in cahoots with the RPA/RPF. I was one of the people who routinely beat the monitoring team to enter Rwanda to cover the war. It was a joke.

Without Uganda’s – and the USA’s – military support, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army would still be in the bushes fighting. And when the Somalia mess dragged on too long, Uganda and Burundi put on African Union uniforms and went in. Ethiopia didn’t bother with cosmetic cover. It just sent in an invasion force, twice, and has controlled parts of Somalia near its borders for nearly 15 years now.

Khartoum too repaid Uganda in kind, bankrolling the Lord’s Resistance Army, and on many occasions bombing the northern regions of Uganda.

Last October, Kenya ended a 38-year-old tradition of not poking its military nose into neighbouring countries, when it sent its army into South Somalia.

The lesson is clear. This is a tough neighbourhood, almost like no other in Africa. If you can’t keep your house in order and you allow groups that pose a threat to your neighbours to thrive on your territory; or if you back rebels opposing your neighbours, expect their armies or proxy rebel groups to come knocking.

Kabila needs to take charge of business in the DRC. If not, the neighbours will do it for him and help another Congolese eat his presidential lunch — whether they deny or admit it. If you are weak, you survive by sucking up to the big boys in the hood. A short political memory or amnesia is also dangerous in our region.

Hate it or like it, it is the East Africa way. Only the strong and shrewd survive.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com. Twitter: @cobbo3

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