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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

What's going on in the Great Lakes?

We will start our analysis with this most extraordinary article, courtesy of the BBC, dated 25 January 2013. Note that neither of the named correspondents are in the Great Lakes region (which, very roughly, are the areas of Subsaharan Africa in various shades of brown in the map above).

According to this article:

  1. The Democratic Republic of Congo, an enormous country the size of Europe in central Africa, whose capital is Kinshasa in the extreme west of the country, has accused Rwanda, a very small country on DRC's eastern border some 2,500km away from Kinshasa, of shooting a Russian-made single-seat fighter jet, the Sukhoi-25, that comprises part of DRC's airforce.

  2. The Sukhoi-25 was flying from Goma, a city in eastern DRC, to Gisenyi, a town in western Rwanda, when it was shot at.

  3. The distance between Goma and Gisenyi city centres is 8km and most people walk it in about an hour and a half including perfunctory border formalities (this author has done so).

  4. The distance between Goma airport and Gisenyi airport (the north-south light grey line with a grey box to the right half way along it, just to the north of the darker grey line in the map below as the darker grey line turns from east to south in the map below) is slightly more than 3km.

  5. The cruising speed of the Sukhoi-25 is some 526 knots, or Mach 0.79.

  6. Given that the plane probably took off and would touch down at some 80 knots, and would probably not accelerate between these two 'airports' given how close they are, the time from take-off to touchdown would be approximately 1 minute 12 seconds.

  7. If you think that no DRC airforce aeroplane would ever undertake such a ludicrous journey into enemy territory, you'd be wrong: the BBC article reports that the same plane did the same journey without being shot at in November 2022 and landed at Gisenyi.

In passing we ought to make it clear that contrary to the above map, you would not be driving this route, whether in 18 minutes or otherwise, unless the car you drive has tank tracks. It is a bucket of mud as far as the Rwandan border. You walk. And it's not a great walk.

The border from the Rwandan side

From the foregoing, we may draw the following inferences:

  1. This was not a military flight at all. It was a person who knows how to fly a Sukhoi-25 (a fairly obscure Soviet ground-support fighter), probably based in Goma, going for either a pleasure flight or, more likely, hopping over the border because he couldn't be bothered to walk or because he anticipated some problems at the border.

  2. The pilot, who we shall call P, presumably filed a flight plan with Gisenyi airport. Otherwise there just wouldn't have been enough time for the Rwandan authorities to try to shoot him down. Scrambling anti-aircraft ground batteries for a 1 minute 12 second flight is impossible unless you know in advance that the flight is going to take place. You just don't have time to get ready.

  3. Someone in Rwanda doesn't like this person using a Russian fighter jet to cross the DRC-Rwanda border, something he seems to have achieved at least once before (two months ago), and tried to shoot him down. (They failed; after the anti-aircraft barrage he turned round and landed back at Goma.)

Here are some photos of Goma (top) and Gisenyi (bottom), to give the reader some context.

Before we continue with our analysis, let us identify P:

  1. Only a handful of people in Goma, at most, know how to fly an aeroplane. Goma has very few scheduled flights and those it does are flown in and out by airlines not based in Goma.

  2. Goma does have a military presence. It is called 'M-23'. It's a rough arrangement, being a bunch of paramilitaries who at some point were pro-Hutus escaping the Tutsi domination of Rwanda after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, driven by Hutus, that killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus and led to a Tutsi overthrow of the French-suppported Hutu government in Rwanda's capital Kigali by Anglo-American supported Tutsis and which led to Rwanda's current President, Paul Kagame, to be installed in Kigali.

  3. The leader of M-23 is also the military governor of North Kivu province of DRC (the capital of which is Goma). In practice this means he just runs North Kivu himself. Also he is a genocidal pro-Hutu in charge of a genocidal pro-Hutu organisation. And he is a pilot. His name is Lt-General Constant Ndima Kongba. See here:

We conclude that:

  1. The identity of P is Lt-General Constant Ndima-Kongba, leader of the M-23 pro-Hutu genocidal paramilitary organisation that is de facto in charge of North Kivu Province of DRC.

  2. Lt-General Ndima-Kongba is also the Military Governor of North Kivu.

  3. Lt-General Ndima-Kongba doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with the government in Kinshasa; he is doing his own thing.

  4. He is apparently a Rwandan Hutu, and the reason he flies to just over the border in Rwanda on a Sukhoi-25 fighter jet is because the Rwandan border guards would probably arrest him and kill him if he tried to cross by land.

  5. We don't know where he picked up his Sukhoi-25; it may have been left over in the North Kivu region after the demise of Zaire's President Mobutu who armed himself with Soviet equipment.

  6. The reason why Mr Ndima-Kongba wishes to travel to Rwanda is presumably to conspire with Hutu leaders to overthrow the Kagame regime (Kagame is 65 and his health has been questioned) and reinstall some sort of Hutu genocidal arrangement in place of the current Rwandan government.

  7. Now Mr Ndima-Kongba's Sukhoi-25 exploits have been exposed, the Rwandans are trying to kill him by shooting down his plane.

The backstory

The Great Lakes region of Africa has an extraordinary backstory and we can do no more here than sketch some features of it. Others have written far more comprehensive histories of the region than we can possibly hope to provide. Nevertheless some of the essential details are these:

  1. The Great Lakes region under discussion has been historically been dominated by ethnic disputes between two tribes and associates of those tribes, Tutsis and Hutus.

  2. The various sovereign borders drawn in the region were the result of European colonial powers reaching the maximum extent of their respective territorial occupations rather than reflecting lines of natural territorial division between domestic tribes whose animosity between one-another was in substantial part driven by high population density and competition for limited agricultural and other resources.

  3. The principal differences between the sovereign states that emerged in the region at the expiry of European colonialism was the quality of each territory's infrastructure and political institutions. In this regard Uganda and Rwanda excelled; while DRC was the pits.

  4. The unspoken ethnic conflicts continued after decolonisation with relatively little regard to the sovereign borders the former European colonialists had left behind.

  5. For reasons that cannot be explored adequately here, in 1994 a pro-Hutu regime in Kigali, Rwanda attempted a comprehensive genocide against the Tutsis of the region, killing 800,000 people but eventually repulsed when Anglo-American interests stepped in to stop the genocide and installed a Tutsi government in Kigali.

  6. There followed a series of 'Great Lakes Wars' in which fleeing Hutus and allies from Rwanda recomposed themselves in eastern DRC, a region notorious for its bad infrastructure as a result of Belgian misrule, and who then did battle with Tutsis and their allies across the region with the resulting deaths of millions of people.

  7. The most recent status quo is a pro-Hutu militia group based in the city of Goma in eastern DRC, called M-23, whose raison d'etre is to overthrow the Tutsi regime of the ailing Tutsi Rwandan President Paul Kagame and reimpose Hutu domination of the region, no doubt at the cost of more millions of lives. They have found a charismatic and capable leader in Lt-General Constant Ndima-Kongba, who intends to use the military forces he has acquired to overthrow the regime in Kigali.

  8. It is imperative that the West acts to stop this and puts in place a tenable succession plan for the Kagame regime.


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