Archive | November, 2012

Brotherly advice to Joseph Kabila

27 Nov


The easy capture of the Congolese town of Goma by the M23 rebels a week ago must have made brought home some truths to President Joseph Kabila and his advisors – local and foreign.

First, he must have realised that sabre-rattling, evasion of the truth, name-calling and blame games are clearly not helpful. Also, opting for a military solution to an essentially political problem does not produce the desired results. All of these cannot deter a determined group, driven by a keen sense of injustice and a very real existential threat from fighting for their survival. 

The only alternative is to settle the issue through political and diplomatic means – a point the rebels and other people genuinely interested in ending the conflict in eastern D R Congo have been making, and the Congolese government has rejected, since hostilities broke out in April this year.

It is telling that dialogue and negotiations between the government of Joseph Kabila and M23 rebels were part of the resolutions of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Summit in Kampala0on Saturday, November 24. President Kabila was told that he must listen to and evaluate the rebels’ genuine grievances. Hopefully, he will do so, although one must remain sceptical given his record of going back on his word, especially when he gets back to Kinshasa where he seems to be hostage to forces hostile to a peaceful settlement of Congo’s myriad problems.

The rather weak phrasing of the call for addressing the grievances of the rebels leaves room for doubts about whether he will actually do it. The wording does not commit Kabila to a definite timetable or even categorically ask him to redress those grievances.

Secondly, President Kabila should by now have realised that more genuine help will come from neighbouring countries. They understand the issues and underlying causes of the conflict in eastern D R Congo better than United Nations bureaucrats in New York or politicians and diplomats in various Western Capitals.

In addition, they have vested interests in the stability of the vast country. A stable Congo offers huge commercial and investment opportunities to its neighbours.

Refugees who continue to pour in large numbers into these countries are an immense strain on their resources and services. They would be happy to see them return home so that these resources are freed to benefit their nationals.

The desire to resolve the Congolese conflict showed in the Kampala summit of the ICGLR. The summit offered the best solution to date (of the current fighting); although it must be said the leaders asked the M23 to make more concessions and left some of the recommendations rather vague. Still, they offered a good deal – better for President Kabila. And if he is really interested in peace, he should grab it with both hands.

Thirdly, although not directly, the summit appeared to recognise that at the root of the conflict in eastern D R Congo lies the question of nationality. Successive Congolese governments have denied that their Kinyarwanda-speaking compatriots are actually Congolese. Indeed when Goma fell to M23 last Tuesday, screams for killing and expelling them from politicians and ordinary people in Kinshasa grew alarmingly loud. By calling for the repatriation of refugees, most of them Kinyarwanda-speaking, from neighbouring countries whom the DRC government seeks to keep out, the ICGLR leaders affirmed their right to Congolese nationality.

This is advice Kabila should take seriously because eastern DRC will not stabilise until this issue is definitively addressed.

Finally, Kabila must have realised that the state is not only dysfunctional; it has no army to defend it as well. The weaknesses and character of the Congolese army are historical and systemic. The armed forces in the Congo were created to punish the natives for not doing what the colonial authorities demanded.  They pillaged and plundered on behalf of their employers and also made their own exactions on the people. Since independence, the army has carried out in the same fashion. It has never been a national army sworn to defend the People of DRC.

President Kabila should have seen all these things. But in case he has not, here is some brotherly advice.

Even if you do not like what your ICGLR brothers asked you to do, please do not abdicate your responsibility as the elected leader of the Congolese people. You and your ministers seem to have surrendered your duty to others. You have been asking the United Nations and other Western governments to sort out your problems, and even blaming them for not doing so. This blame game must be a character thing. Please remember that national sovereignty and responsibility can never be delegated.

Also, do not sub-let the state to the NGOs. First of all, they do not pay rent. They actually make you pay for their upkeep. Then they turn your people into dependants and beggars. Ironically, they don’t tire from reminding everyone how naturally endowed your country is. Don’t you find it odd that citizens of such a fabulously rich country depend on alms from the people who plunder it?

Stop listening to the so-called Africa experts. Their expertise is built on your sorry state and they will keep like that so as to remain relevant.

There are some, even within Africa, who profess friendship and offer support to help you kill your own people. Beware of these. The friendship is not for free. The support comes at a price – in the form of lucrative mining concessions on terms not different from those of Cecil Rhodes.

Finally, please listen to your own people and your neighbours. They have only brotherly advice for you. And that has no price.


Congo government is its own enemy

20 Nov


Last week fighting broke out again in eastern DR Congo and all indications are that the government army (FARDC) has got a real bloody nose. As has now become customary, the FARDC has fled in some disarray. All the talk we have been hearing from Mr Julien Paluku, Governor of North Kivu Province and Mr Lambert Mende, minister of information in the Kinshasa government, about crushing the M23 rebels has evaporated.

It is not the first time such talk has been heard. Saddam Hussein threatened the mother of all battles when President George Bush Senior attacked Iraq. He was beaten back to the gates of Baghdad. The younger George Bush eventually finished him off. The mother of all battles gained popular currency, but that was all.

Only two years ago, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi threatened to crush the rats of Benghazi when that city rose up against his four-decade rule. His ignominious ending was as bad as he had vowed against his own people.

Then there was Saddam Hussein’s colourful, clownish minister of information giving out all those stories about giving the invaders a lesson they would not forget even as they were metres away.

Some things never change, and some people never learn.

Predictably, Rwanda has been dragged into the recent fighting in the DR Congo, even when it has been shown it has no hand in it. And in an attempt to create a link between the two, there have been curious coincidences that are not accidental, but point to a pattern, nay, a plot against Rwanda.

Let us illustrate with a few of these contrived coincidences that continue to appear even when they become obvious to most keen observers that they are just that.

The latest fighting in eastern D R Congo broke out just when the United Nations Security Council was discussing the report of the so-called Group of Experts alleging Rwanda’s support for M23. Indeed it was reported that the “experts” were pushing for UN sanctions against some senior Rwandan officials. If their recommendations had been adopted, that would have paved the way for sanctions against Rwanda.

The outbreak of the current fighting was therefore probably meant to influence the decisions of the Security Council.

Predictable, too, have been the actions of some of the permanent members of the Security Council. France was quick to call for a meeting of the council apparently to authorise MONUSCO to get more directly involved in the fighting on the government side. The diplomatic cover for taking sides in the fighting is the much-abused protection of civilians. Note: the meeting was not called to find ways to end the fighting, but actually to escalate it.

This also has happened before in this region. Some members of the Security Council blocked the UN force in Rwanda in 1994 getting the capacity it needed to prevent the Genocide. France actually went ahead to press for an exclusively French force that not only abetted the genocide, but also shepherded the genocidaires into D R Congo (then Zaire) where they were able to regroup and rearm.

Part of what is happening in DRC originates from those actions.

The other arranged coincidence was the leaking of the Group of Experts report to the media at the time Rwanda was in the running for election to the Security Council. The intention was clear – to influence the vote against Rwanda. In the event, accusations in the report had little impact. Rwanda won the vote handsomely.

In 2010 another UN Report, the so-called Mapping Report on DRC in which Rwanda was painted as the very devil, was released to coincide with the presidential election. Again, the intention was unmistakable – discredit President Paul Kagame and the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), influence the result of the election and erode Rwanda’s international standing.

What is not a coincidence is the similarity of the reports and other accusations against Rwanda. They use the same methodology and have similar flaws. – not surprising since they are done by the same people and based on information from the same sources.

It is obvious, however, that it is not the government of the DRC alone doing all this. They are so inept they cannot even tell a simple lie. So who is doing it?

There is a convergence of interests here. The D R Congo government wants to divert attention from its inability to establish effective authority over its territory and denial of its citizens’ rights.

 A small, former colonial power which built itself on the plunder of  Congo’s wealth, but whose fortunes have been steadily declining and now risks becoming completely irrelevant, sees in the crisis an opportunity to resurrect them and make it a significant global player again. 

Then there is the evil alliance between NGOs still smarting from their inability to establish a presence and relevance in Rwanda, a media that feeds off tales of destruction and contempt for truth where Africa is concerned, and a motley collection of genocide apologists and remnants of an imperialist-bashing ideology of yore. Imagine a combination of Lambert Mende, Steve Hege, Jason Stearns and some editors at international news agencies and media. They will cook up something utterly unpalatable.  That is what they have succeeded in doing in D R Congo.


Congo offers the UN redemption

6 Nov


Can the United Nations redeem itself, at least in this region? Yes, it can, provided some of its officials are humble enough to admit their mistakes and correct them.

The United Nations does many good things. So it is not beyond redemption. In this region of the Great Lakes, however, the good things are hardly remembered. They have been swamped by a lot of bad ones over the last fifty years.

The UN had its reputation severely damaged in the 1960s when it first got involved in efforts to bring peace to a newly independent but fractious Congo. Its Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, was caught up and killed in what have since become the country’s intractable conflicts.

Nationalist leaders were killed before a powerless UN. The organisation stood by as reactionary elements in Congo took control of the country and plunged it into a mess it has never recovered from.

More than fifty years later, the UN has not learnt any lessons from its earlier involvement in Congo. Today, the UN is mired in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), propping up an inefficient and incompetent government, standing by as untold horrors are committed against civilians they are supposed to protect and as various armed groups take control of huge chumks of territory. Its reputation is again in tatters.

In neighbouring Rwanda, the story is similar. In the run-up to independence, the majority of Rwandans put much faith in the UN as a guarantor of their quest for freedom from Belgian rule. The UN betrayed this faith. It did nothing as the first massacres of what became periodic pogroms were committed and hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were driven into exile.

The UN was again present in 1994 and did nothing when the genocide against the Tutsi was carried out.

In all instances, the UN has lost its reputation when going against its core mandate and doing the bidding of some of its more powerful members.

 In 1960s’ Congo, the UN was essentially being used as an arm of the United States of America and other Western countries. In today’s DRC, it is being used to serve the narrow interests of some countries.

Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold had foreseen this and sought to assert the organisation’s independence against narrow national interests of member states. It is not surprising that he died at the hands of such interests.

It seems successive Secretaries General learnt the lesson: If you want to keep your job and life, don’t stick out your neck. Better still, be the willing errand boy (there is no girl yet) of the big boys. And that’s how it has been since then. We have had pliant UN Secretaries General.

That was the case in Rwanda in 1994. Then Secretary General Boutros Ghali obeyed the orders of the French – from sending a toothless peace keeping force, the bulk of which was withdrawn at the height of the genocide, to authorising a French-only protection force for genocidaires fleeing the scene of crime and allowing them to continue the genocide (the so-called Zone Turquoise).

Now both the UN and the West have an opportunity to redeem themselves. The rebellion in eastern DRC offers them this unique chance.

This is how it can be done. First, they must treat DRC as a country with citizens and not a free-for-all huge mine with no owner. Considering that greed for Congo’s natural wealth has been at the heart of its problems for more than a century, this might be a tough ask. But then redemption never comes easy.

Second, the UN and countries that use it for their own ends should be able to carry out real analysis of situations they get involved in. Its bureaucrats are the best paid people in the world. They must get down to work and earn their money. This means that they must stop sub-contracting their work to so-called experts, who it turns out are not disinterested specialists, but actually biased activists.

Third, they should also stop relying almost exclusively on the testimony of civil society organisations. The fact is that civil society organisations in Africa are not independent and cannot be objective. They get their agenda and are financed from outside – usually by the same international NGOs and foreign governments who come to them for information. As the saying goes, ‘who pays the piper calls the tune”.

It does not come as a surprise that DRC has one of the largest numbers of civil society groups – itself both a sign of a failed state and the cause for failure.

Once all this is done, it will be found that the real problem in the DRC is not Rwanda, Uganda or even M23, but the country itself and its backers.

Finally, with this realisation, the UN and the West should lift pressure and blame from Rwanda and place it where it belongs – on DRC. It must be pressured (and perhaps helped) to establish effective government over all its territory, treat all its citizens the same way and respect agreements. Doing otherwise is counterproductive.

So, the UN and the West are not beyond redemption. But first, they must be penitent. They don’t even have to confess their sins. It is enough that they recognise them and commit to change their ways. Absolution will then surely be given.