Source: Congo Research Group
By Jason Stearns
Since the M23 rebellion re-emerged in November 2021, there has been a lot of noise––to call it a discussion would be to exaggerate its nuance and sophistication ––about discrimination against Congolese Tutsi and its role in the violence. At the heart of this debate are issues critical for Congolese democracy and stability.
On the one hand, there are those who argue that the crisis was caused by discrimination against Congolese Tutsi. This was the argument made by researcher Felix Ndahinda, writing for the Clingendael Institute and the Journal for Genocide Research, arguing that hate speech amplified by social media was a “key driver” in the current crisis, and that protesters were allegedly killing and even cannibalizing Tutsi. Similarly, on October 26, 2022 the Rwandan deputy permanent representative to the United Nations chastised the Security Council for not focusing on the “root causes” of the conflict there, citing in particular xenophobia and the longstanding presence of the Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR) in the eastern Congo The New Times, the Rwandan government’s newspaper of record, has had over a dozen articles over the past year calling out the hate speech and discrimination against Congolese Tutsi, and has featured warnings of genocide issued by the M23. President Kagame, in his New Year’s message––which focused almost entirely on the Congo––spoke in similar terms:
“The reason this [conflict] prevails is because [conflit] DRC is unwilling or unable to govern its territory. Should Rwanda be the one to bear the dysfunction of this immense country? The situation of the Congolese refugees, whose very right to nationality is denied by their home country, is a case in point. It is not just a question of‘hate speech’, but of active persecution, over decades.”
On the other side, many Congolese officials have rejected allegations of discrimination. President Tshisekedi has fulminated that “the enemy has always played on the victim to make a business out of it,” and has met with Congolese Tutsi and Hutu communities to reassure them that the government will protect their rights The spokesperson of the government said recently that accusations of hate speech are a “fiction: “They cannot come and invent discourses of ‘genocide’ when we have nothing that confirms such a context.”
What is the truth of the matter? There are two misconceptions that I will address here, often mentioned by either side of this debate.