Interview with Dr. Helmut Strizek

Helmut Strizek | BERLIN | | ruandakongo-kinshasa
(Helmut Strizek)

BERLIN was talking with Dr. Helmut Strizek concerning German policy toward Rwanda and Rwandan influence in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dr. Strizek had worked in Rwanda and Burundi for many years, was periodically in charge of project management concerning both countries in the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and has published several books on these two nations. You just have published a new book on Rwanda and Burundi. What is it about?

Dr. Helmut Strizek: This book, "Colonies as Gifts. Rwanda and Burundi under German Rule" (Links-Verlag, Berlin), deals with the relatively unknown fact that, since the conference of Berlin 1884/85, Rwanda and Burundi were part of German Colonial East Africa. With little fault of its own, these two, at that time, totally obscure kingdoms had been placed under German rule, which explains the title. Are there still noticeable effects in Rwanda of German colonial rule?

Strizek: An interesting connection can be detected. In 1911 there was an uprising against the Tutsi Kingdom in the north of Rwanda, where the kings rule had not fully been consolidated. In 1912 German guns, requested by the Rwandan king, helped achieved the political dominance of the Tutsi-kingdom. The Tutsi predominance was further extended under Belgian colonial rule. In the course of the preparations for independence in 1961, in a democratically irreproachable referendum under United Nations' supervision the monarchy was voted out. The aristocracy refused to recognize the referendum results and went into exile. The descendants of these exiles took up arms in 1990 and, from bases in Uganda, were able - with the help of the anglophone world - to militarily re-conquer the land of their fathers. The victor at the time, the current head of state, Paul Kagame, is one of the highest representatives of the Ega high-aristocracy, who benefited most in 1912 from the German support. Did the Germans also help in 1994?

Strizek: Yes, especially after the victory in 1994. The Kohl-Kinkel government immediately recognized the rebel-government dominated by Paul Kagame. In particular Undersecretary Harald Ganns (SPD), who headed the subsection Africa in the foreign ministry, spectacularly took the side of the victors and remained loyal to them, after the assumed liberators became dictators. Later, Uschi Eid of the Green Party followed in his footsteps. She vehemently propagated the thesis, spread by the US, that the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, who were killed April 6, 1994, when their plane was shot down, were assassinated by extremist Hutu-rebels to carry out their planned genocide on the Tutsi population. Today we know, among other things through a Rwandan dissident's sworn affidavit to the Rwandan-Court in Arusha on March 9, 2006, that Paul Kagame was responsible for this assassination. His military victory was made possible through the power vacuum thus created. But in this chaos the genocide of the Tutsis could also take place. So as not to jeopardize Kagamé, no German government has insisted on a neutral investigation of the terrorist downing of the plane. How did the German government later behave?

Strizek: At the end of 1996, the German government did not protest against the internationally illegal attack on refugee camps of Hutus, who had fled to East Congo following Kagame's victory. Shortly before the outbreak of the Congo war, there had been preparations to escort the refugees home to Rwanda, under NATO protection. But this was exactly what Kagame and his allies in the United States did not want. Therefore they spread the hoax, that nearly all refugees had already returned to Rwanda. Uschi Eid, a parliamentarian of the opposition, played a peculiar role. After a brief visit to Rwanda, she confirmed the "return" thesis, although she certainly could not estimate how many Hutus had actually returned. Thereafter the German government also took up this thesis, pleading for aborting the preparations for the NATO deployment. Only afterwards could the refugee camps in East Congo be attacked - allegedly by anti-Mobutu-rebels under Laurent Kabila's leadership - the Hutu refugees were driven westward into the Congo forests and slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands. This is not even disputed by the United Nations. Rwanda was significantly involved...

Strizek: Yes, because this war was not waged by rebel Congolese, but by Rwandans and Ugandan soldiers with American financial and logistical backing. This could no longer be denied, after Kagamé admitted, in a July 7, 1997 interview with the Washington Post, that the Americans had supported his troops all throughout the war. Through this military campaign, Laurent Kabila, an old Maoist, long considered an enemy by the USA, was inexplicably brought to power in Kinshsa. Did this end Rwandan military activities?

Strizek: No, because once the old Kabila threw his Rwandan "godfathers" out of the country, Rwandan troops attempted to re-conquer Kinshasa from the Atlantic coast. That was unsuccessful, among other things, due to Angolan support for Kabila. But in East Congo, Rwanda could annex the two Kivu provinces. This was tacitly conceded by the western allies out of gratitude for the engagement during the war against Kabila, who in the meantime had defected their camp. This should enable Rwanda to permanently improve it foreign exchange basis with the East Congolese mineral resources - Gold, Coltan among others. The SPD/Green coalition government did not intervene?

Strizek: Not in the least. The SPD/Green coalition government actually approved the detachment of the Kivu provinces from Congo. After the assassination of Laurent Kabila on January 17, 2001, they also gave their blessings to the "enthronement" of young Joseph Kabila, who, under the protection of the Rwandan General Chief of Staff, Kabarebe, had been brought to Congo during the Congo war 1997. He does not speak any of the main Congolese languages. Beginning 2003 the transitional order was supported, where Joseph Kabila was allowed to preside over an alliance of former civil war parties, after the Rwandan troops had officially left the country. Rwanda could live with this solution, because his governor, Azerias Ruberwa, is one of the Vice-Presidents of this transitional order. Because democratic elections to remove this order is unavoidable, Rwanda believes it can best salvage its predominating influence over the Kivu-provinces through an "organized" victory of a weak Joseph Kabila, who even in the foreseeable future will remain weak. The current German coalition government certainly does not intend to contribute to reaching this goal. They are for the preservation of the currently internationally recognized Congolese borders. But German public opinion would really like to know more precisely, why no one is openly denouncing the Rwandan intentions. Even German soldiers are asking, whether, in the final account, they are not there to guarantee the manipulated election victory of Joseph Kabila, who, for unknown reasons is the Belgian and French favorite. Can the answers to such questions be reconciled with Rwanda's interests?

Strizek: This is difficult, because the military dictatorship in Kigali cannot openly declare, that they are not interested in losing their grip over the Kivu provinces, through a truly democratic order in the huge, rich neighboring country.