Earlier this week, Rwanda was elected to a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. They ran uncontested as the representative from the African continent, but their election and term on the Council will not be without significant controversy. While many still regard Rwanda as a triumphant story of successful reconciliation after unspeakable tragedy, troublesome allegations of political suppression and illegal support of rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have recently marred the reputation of Rwanda in the international community.
President Paul Kagame has been lauded around the world for his efforts in moving Rwanda past the genocide and civil war that ravaged his country eighteen years ago. Kigali, the Rwandan capital, is quickly becoming known as the “safest” city in Africa. Rwanda has made impressive strides toward the UN Millennium Development Goals in the past decade, especially in education and child mortality, and the country touts the highest percentage of female parliament members in the world.
The resounding applause for the Rwandan government under President Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), however, seems to be dying down as of late. In 2010, President Kagame won reelection with an unbelievably high 93% of the vote, but this landslide election was secured only through the exclusion of the three major opposition parties. The leaders of two of these parties were sentenced to prison, and the third remains in exile. There also has been a concerted campaign against journalists throughout the country.
Most ominously, a new report has been compiled by the UN Group of Experts detailing support from Rwanda and Uganda for M23, a rebel group that operates in eastern DRC. Rwanda has roundly dismissed the allegations, but if they are true, it is a serious violation of the UN arms embargo on insurgent groups in eastern DRC. The report accuses Rwanda and Uganda of directly supplying troops to M23 for assaults in July. These charges are not new — in fact, the United States, United Kingdom, and other European Union members suspended military aid to Rwanda in June as these allegations surfaced in the first report by the UN Group of Experts.
Understandably, there is concern regarding Rwanda’s election to the Security Council. The Democratic Republic of the Congo vociferously objected to Rwanda joining the Council, given the accusations that Rwanda supplies M23 and harbors rebels that continue to destabilize the DRC. Many countries, especially the DRC, believe that Rwanda will use its position on the Security Council to “argue its case,” and that no action can be taken to halt outside support of rebel groups such as M23.
However, there is an optimistic lens through which to look at Rwanda’s position on the Security Council. As Richard Gowan of NYU suggests, it will more difficult for Rwanda to continue to “hide its activities,” both in the DRC and domestically. Rwanda would be reluctant to play a “spoiler” role in the Security Council with the eyes of the United States, as well as the international community, on it.
Perhaps a stint on the UN Security Council, its first since the Rwandan genocide in 1993–94, is exactly what Rwanda and President Kagame need to root out the corruption, political suppression, and human rights abuses that have plagued the country over the past few years.