Archive | July, 2013

is UN in Congo beyond redemption?

23 Jul

Just over a year ago, I wrote an article suggesting that DR Congo was the unlikely source of redemption for the United Nations whose reputation has suffered greatly in that country (see The New Times 12/5/2013).

I posed the question whether the world body could redeem itself, at least in this region. The answer was yes – provided it was prepared to admit that it had done mistakes in the past and was now ready to correct them.

As you may recall, this was the beginning of the M23 rebellion in DR Congo.  The UN, because of its heavy presence on the ground, was bound to get involved.  And because of its historical blunders in the country, this was an opportunity to put things right.

Getting involved it did – by putting out dubious reports that placed blame in the wrong place and glossed over the real problems, doing nothing as atrocities were committed against civilians, or shielding the authors of such evil.

This was not the expected level and type of involvement.

The opportunity for redemption also presented itself. The UN could become the neutral arbiter, and with the amount of force and money at its disposal, force the DRC government and rebels to end hostilities.

Better still, the UN could use its organisational and financial clout to help the Congolese government reform and rebuild its institutions and extend control over the whole country.

The United Nations failed to seize the opportunity to redeem itself. It seems the organisation has not learnt any lessons from its earlier involvement in the Congo.

Today, the UN is again mired in the DR Congo, propping up an inefficient and incompetent government, standing by as untold horrors are committed against civilians they are supposed to protect and as has been reported recently, facilitating the cooperation of some of those rebel groups with the government army to commit more atrocities. Its reputation is again in tatters.

In almost every instance where the UN’s reputation has suffered, the reason has invariably been because it has gone against its core mandate and instead did the bidding of some of its more powerful members.

Successive UN Secretaries General since Dag Hammarskjold have learnt and perfected the art of self-preservation. The tenets of this art are very simple.

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. Inaction seems to be the unspoken rule within UN circles in DRC. It is not surprising that chances for salvation come and go and are not taken up.

But this region is generous and offers endless opportunities for redemption. The latest was the February 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for DRC brokered by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and signed by the eleven countries that make up International Conference for the Great Lakes Region.

Among other things, the Framework for peace and security recognised that the “recent crisis has created a window of opportunity to address the root causes of conflict and put an end to recurring cycles of violence”. It also recognised that “the current path is untenable”.

The Framework for peace urged the DRC government to make necessary reforms, extend its authority to all regions and to embark on reconciliation and democratisation and exercise tolerance.

Countries in the region were urged to not interfere in Congo’s problems, respect the territorial integrity of neighbours and their legitimate concerns of interest.

The international community was supposed to facilitate the realisation of these goals.

Everyone thought the framework for peace was the right way to go. Ban and his special envoy to the region, Mary Robinson, former president of the Republic of Ireland, were very enthusiastic about it. Finally here was an opportunity for redemption not to miss – for the DRC, the UN and the many meddlers from outside the region.

But that, too, has been spurned. The agreement was signed and shelved and business went on as usual.

The “untenable path” of war has been resumed. Indeed sabre-rattling has reached a new high with talk of the arrival and deployment of the UN Intervention Brigade. Peace talks have, for all practical purposes, collapsed.

MONUSCO seems to have finally abandoned any pretence to neutrality or playing the role of honest broker. It is in cahoots with various rebel groups, including the genocidal Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

Last week Rwanda complained about shelling of its territory from areas in DRC under MONUSCO and Congolese army control.

Rwanda has also reported to the UN Security Council that commanders of the much-touted Intervention Brigade that is under MONUSCO Command have met and planned military strategy against M23 rebels with commanders of the FDLR. The force has actually gone ahead to deploy its troops with FDLR fighters as the capture of a Tanzanian soldier belonging to the brigade demonstrates.

It looks like the UN in DRC is not penitent enough to earn salvation. Still, one hopes it can yet be saved – it is not beyond redemption. But for that to happen, it has to change its ways.


Youth task Rwandans on forgiveness

18 Jul

Politicians in most of our countries swear by the might of the youth – at least in public. They say they are a very important section of society, that they are the future of the nation and that its very survival depends on them.

Of course, the youth are a very important, if vague, demographic, not just in numbers but in attitude and outlook to life.

With most young people what you see is what you get. They are full of energy born out of their very youthfulness, idealism and conviction that everything is possible. They are genuinely concerned about making a difference in the world. Most of them do not carry any ugly baggage from the past – no heavy guilt to weigh them down, not many scores to settle or favours to return, certainly no skeletons straining to burst cupboards.

Because of this, they have not yet developed a high degree of cunning, calculation, intrigue and hypocrisy that is usually associated with older people, particularly politicians. And politicians know this. That is why many political parties have youth wings/leagues or individual politicians use interns. They want to use the youthful energy and enthusiasm of young people to further their particular cause and in a sense to sanitise their not-so-pure positions.

But there is always the danger that idealism, once not realised, can quickly turn into disillusionment, enthusiasm into despair and energy get channelled into violence. Anyone watching the revolutions of the Arab streets and squares in North Africa and the Middle East must be aware of this.

Politicians also know the negative and dangerous potential of the youth and will therefore tend to keep them close so as to keep them in check. And so they become a sort of tool in the hands of older, more calculating and cynical politicians.

That is why politicians’ public pronouncements about the youth, or their response to demands by the youth to live up to their expectations, do not necessarily match what they think in private.

There is little sincerity in the many platitudes about the youth. Indeed, sometimes referring to them as the ‘future of the nation’, ‘leaders of tomorrow’ and many other things about a time that has not yet come is a cunning way of denying them responsibility for things happening now. It is a cynical way of using them to further certain ambitions while putting off potential competition. It is a way of saying, ‘yes, you are important, but your time has not yet come. You must wait’. By the time it does, they are no longer youthful and a lot of opportunity has been lost.

In Rwanda, however, the situation is different. The youth as the future of the nation is not an attractive but empty slogan; it is taken seriously in its literal sense. In fact, the role of the youth is taken so seriously that it does not have to wait for the future but is real here and now and an indispensable part of the present. And from their standpoint in the present, they want to leave the past behind and forge a new future where what counts is the contribution of everyone.

And they match words with action. They are entrepreneurs, leaders in government and non-governmental organisations and even politicians. They have taken the initiative on many issues without waiting for directions from government or other leaders. Often, they lead and government follows.

Rwandan youth have been so bold as to broach subjects their elders would consider taboo.  For instance, they have taken the lead in proposing that some Rwandans should seek forgiveness for their role in the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. Now, this is a matter about which some people get touchy, yet one that must be confronted.

It is well-known that many Rwandans were compli0cit in the genocide – either directly as planners and killers, or indirectly through inaction or the deliberate refusal to help those in distress. They share a sense of guilt and cannot run away from it.

Difficult as it may seem, many survivors of the genocide have unconditionally forgiven people who killed members of their families. Some killers, too, have asked for forgiveness and been pardoned.

Is it too much to ask those who killed or stood by as the killing was done, or turned away those looking for a place to hide from the murderers to seek forgiveness?

This is all the young people are asking. It does not merit the angry reaction from self-exiled Rwandans, some with good reason to ask for pardon.

More importantly, in doing this, Rwandan youth have shown that they have been liberated from the world still inhabited by their elders and are prepared to march on. As President Paul Kagame has observed, they are way ahead of the older Rwandans.

Significantly they have are not doing this from a political party position or on the instructions of anyone. They have taken a position based on the national interest and the direction they want Rwanda to take. It is in our interest to support them.


Arab spring scorched in desert summer

18 Jul


A few days ago, Mohamed Morsi was deposed as president of Egypt by the military following many days of mass protests. Mr Morsi had won the popular vote but was accused of promoting an Islamist agenda and stifling secular voices. So the Egyptian experiment in democracy has lasted barely one year.

That is a little longer than what the Palestinians experienced in 2006 when Hamas won in the legislative elections of the Palestinian Authority. United States President George W Bush refused to recognise Hamas’ victory. Hamas was accused of being a terrorist organisation.

But even that was a little better than the annulled victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS by its French acronym) in Algeria in December 1991. The FIS had won 188 seats out of 231. The army cancelled the elections in January 1992 and banned the FIS. Civil war ensued and lasted several years and killed thousands of ordinary Algerians. The FIS, although popular among ordinary Algerians, especially the poor, small traders and business people and rural communities, was outlawed allegedly because of pursuing an Islamist cause.

In Libya, the much anticipated democracy following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi is as distant as it has ever been. Libya remains a faction-ridden, militia ruled, largely lawless country.

Even Iraq where billions of US dollars have been poured and thousands of American troops died reportedly to remove a dictator and install a democratically elected government remains torn by sectarian violence. True, elections have been held, but along old factional lines. No real democracy exists there despite George Bush’s avowed aim of promoting democracy in the Middle East.

Many people are now asking questions. What is wrong with democracy in Arab countries? Is the much-touted Arab Spring being scorched in the Sahara and Arabian deserts in the summer?

The Western promoters of democracy face a huge dilemma (or do they?). Can they recognise and therefore endorse a democratic process in which the winners are their sworn enemies? Or are they prepared to reject a clear people’s mandate and call into question the very principle of free choice on which democracy is founded?

In the end, the dilemma is not that big, or at any rate Western democracies are not shy about preaching one thing and practicing another. They don’t mind about the contradictions.

In the ongoing Egyptian case, there is a great deal of ambivalence. No outright condemnation of the military has been heard, except from Senator John McCain. The US government has made vague noises. So has the European Union. Ironically the loudest voice has come from the African Union which has suspended Egypt from the organisation.

Instead there have been attempts to explain and rationalise the removal of Morsi from power. Tony Blair penned a piece in the London Observer titled “Democracy on its own doesn’t mean effective government” in which he tried to justify the course of events in Egypt and the West’s actions in the wider Arab world. It’s a brilliant piece. I only wish his analysis was universally applicable.

When Algerians were being killed in their thousands in the crackdown on the FIS, no western voice was raised in defence of the democratic choice of the people. None will ever be heard condemning the US government for refusing to recognise Hamas’ victory in Palestine.

All of which confirm western doublespeak where democracy is concerned. The people’s will doesn’t count when it does not serve their purpose.

Arab countries have not helped their cause either. Some of the political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and FIS and so on, have failed to make a distinction between religion and the state. There is an understandable difficulty. The western concept of religion does not quite fit Islam. For Muslims, Islam is not simply a set of religious beliefs and rituals for worship, but an entire social, political, economic and judicial system.

The trouble is, there is no agreement among Muslims about the extent to which Islam and the modern state should relate, and more particularly, the role of religious leaders in state organisation. Equally contentious is the place for people of secular or different religious beliefs in an Islamic country. Until all these issues are sorted out, there will always be problems of democracy in the Arab world.

Also, until democratic standards are applied universally and not selectively, the world will continue to experience fits and starts in establishing enduring democratic societies.

The democratic experiment in Egypt is not dead. It is going through a process of definition and refinement and hopefully will come out with a system that is able to accommodate divergent views and harness their power for effective government. That way Tony Blair will not have to labour to explain the difference between democracy and effective government.