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Rwanda’s Long Arm?

Update: See here for an article written by historian David Newbury in 1997, in which he discusses the map presented by President Bizimungu.

The Economist posted an article last week that would raise the hackles on many a Congolese’s neck. In the article, the paper ran over the familiar argument that Rwanda is trying to become a Singapore of Central Africa and that it is doing quite a bit better than most countries in the region in terms of good governance.

There is a good debate to be had about this, but will confine myself to a small nuance in the article: “Rwanda wants to be a regional trade hub, linking all the areas where Kinyarwanda is spoken (see map).”

Here is the map:

According to this, Kinyarwanda is spoken from Lake Edward to Lake Tanganyika and as far west as Province Orientale. Perhaps a cartographic error, but one that will touch a raw nerve among many Congolese. Kinyarwanda is indeed spoken through much of this area, but not due to a native population (that is confined to a smaller area): Hutu and Tutsi soldiers have been deployed throughout this region, much the the chagrin of locals, who often perceive them as foreigners and as abusive. Ugly xenophobia against Rwandans is widespread, but so are resentments left over from fifteen years of war during which many Kinyarwanda-speakers held positions of power in this area.

This map will – for the few Congolese who read the Economist – spark memories of a similar map presented by Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu to the diplomatic corps in Kigali in 1996, on the eve of the Rwandan invasion into the Congo. On the map, he had drawn a similar line into the Congo, claiming that this was all part of an area ruled by Rwandan kings in the pre-colonial era. While this was largely a fiction (kings received tribute from some of these areas, but did not rule over them), it helped justify Rwandan intervention.

In any case, one does not have to speak the same language in order to trade. Much of the economy of this polka-dotted area is indeed linked to Rwanda, but more because of the good roads and low taxes there, as well as the military networks of the ex-CNDP soldiers, than due to a common language.

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