Military and Humanitarian Mission Creep: Lessons Learned From the Failed States of Burundi, Congo-DR and Rwanda (The Great Lakes Region of Africa)

by admin on February 9, 2013

According to Wikipedia, “mission creep” is the expansion of a project
or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial
successes.[1] Mission creep is considered undesirable because it is
informed by apparent incremental ‘successes’ which encourage
deployment of risqué tactics, resulting in an altered strategy only
after catastrophe has occurred. The term was originally applied
exclusively to military operations, but has recently been applied to
many different fields. The phrase first appeared in articles
concerning the United Nations peacekeeping mission during the Somali
Civil War (Washington Post-April 15, 1993, New York Times-October
10, 1993).

Burundi, the DR Congo and Rwanda are three contiguous countries in
the Great Lakes Region of Africa still struggling with: the effects of
the demise of the Cold War; with the demise of France-Afrique; with
the shift from single to multiparty rule; and last, but not least,
with the collapse of traditional and religious authority. All of the
above-noted dynamics were perceived within the matrix of ‘means vs.
ends’ by those who previously ruled the three countries, namely,
Pierre Buyoya of Burundi, J. Mobutu of the DR Congo and J. Habyarimana
of Rwanda.

If the cold war presented Mobutu and Habyarimana with the opportunity
to access power in the DR Congo and in Rwanda, the imperial reality of
the France-Afrique shielded them from any competing internal or
external power contenders who might have attempted to overthrow them
and, in fact, helped to sustain them in power positions.
At the local level, both Mobutu and Habyarimana acknowledged the power
of both the traditional and religious authorities. Both effectively
deployed Machiavellian means to divide, conquer and manipulate leaders
in these communities just as the Belgians had done when they colonized
the Congo and Rwanda (1885-1960). For the duration of the Mobutu and
Habyarimana regimes, both the DR Congo and Rwanda enjoyed
socio-political stability and, thanks to the protection of
France-Afrique, deflected many attempted coups d’état .

Compared to the regimes of Mobutu in the DR Congo and Habyarimana in
Rwanda, the Buyoya regime in Burundi was the more unstable and
insecure. Although he survived multiple coups d’état, he eventually
became the casualty of tensions between France and Belgium.

Like most politico-military elites from the DR Congo and Rwanda,
Buyoya undertook his military study in France and not in Belgium.
During his period in power, France exercised what was known in West
Africa as the “France Pre Carre” or the French zone of influence,
generally perceived by observers to be characterized by negative
political strategies and military tactics. Although Burundi, like the
DR Congo and Rwanda, had been a colony of Belgium, Belgians exercised
less influence in Burundi than they had exercised in either the DR
Congo or Rwanda. The Belgians exercised a regional
“invisible-hands-influence” in the DR Congo and Rwanda, effectively
destabilizing the successive Buyoya regimes. The Eastern Congolese
towns of Uvira and Bukavu served as safe havens for the enemies of the
respective Buyoya regimes, but discontinued doing so when Buyoya,
Mobutu and Habyarimana made efforts to harmonize and normalize their
relationships. Now, instead of using Congo and Rwanda as bases from
which to launch attacks on the Buyoya regime, its opponents used
Tanzania as a base. Under Buyoya’s rule, many Burundian refugees fled
to Tanzania and while there exercised considerable influence in
Tanzanian business and politics.

In early 1990, with the demise of France-Afrique, the Kigali regime
under Habyarimana came under repeated attacks just as the Buyoya
regime had been. A generation of Rwandese refugees who had fled
Habyarimana’s brutal regime in the ‘60s were welcomed in Uganda where
they became involved in Uganda’s politico-military dynamics that would
eventually bring Museveni, the current Ugandan President, to power.
Museveni then exerted pressure on the Rwandan refugees in Uganda to
return to Rwanda, not as civilians but as trained professional
military cadres. Attempts by the Belgian military to protect a
friendly Rwandan regime did not succeed. In 1994 Habyarimana and the
Burundi President were killed in a plane crash, an incident that
ignited the ’94 genocide in Rwanda.

Responding to a demand from the UN Security Council, Mobutu opened
the Eastern border of the DR Congo to welcome thousands of fleeing
Rwandans. Unlike Burundian refugees in Tanzania and Rwandan refugees
in Uganda who became trained soldiers, the majority of Rwandese
refugees who crossed into the DR Congo were trained military personnel
or militias known as Interahamwe who had been engaged in the mass
killings in Rwanda.
Like the Tanzanian and Ugandan regimes, members of the former Rwandan
military and militias launched repeated military attacks inside
Rwanda, though to little effect. The current government of the DR
Congo is believed by the current government in Kigali to be
facilitating attacks by former Rwandan soldiers and militias ensconced
in the DR Congo provinces of North and South Kivu, used now as rear
bases from which to attack and attempt the overthrow of the regime in

Regime destabilization in the Great Lakes region will increase as long
as the laws and mechanisms regarding the right-to-protect are lacking,
dysfunctional or simply too complex to implement. The real contentious
issues in the region are cumulative in nature, requiring complex,
comprehensive problem-solving strategies. The thousands of
peacekeepers currently mobilized are not having the intended effect.
Their presence reflects a strategy that did not succeed in Rwanda
before the ’94 genocide, nor is it succeeding now in the DR Congo. In
this complex context, the challenges of a failed state are enormous;
actions initiated to address the problems are either too late or they
are poorly implemented, resulting in dangerous “mission creep”.

Fidele Lumeya
Feb. 2013

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