Tag Archives: DRC

US gets it wrong on Rwanda

8 Oct

 

In this region, some things never change regardless of the facts on the ground. For instance, when it comes to issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda inevitably gets drawn into the mess even when it is evident that it has nothing to do with it.

And so predictably, last week the State Department announced that the United States government was suspending military aid to Rwanda. Rwanda’s crime? Aiding and abetting the recruitment and training of child soldiers for the M23 rebels in Eastern DRC.

When this was announced, there was a collective sense of shock and disbelief. What? Child soldiers in Rwanda? Impossible. Not in a million years!

I believe some in the State Department were equally flabbergasted by the utterly wrong and illogical accusation.

But in the Congolese jungle, now also inhabited by the United Nations and the big powers, logic is an alien concept; truth doesn’t matter; shock and puzzlement don’t count. What matters is to advance the plot of a narrative that has been created about Rwanda.

The accusation against Rwanda raises an important question. Who actually shapes the Obama Administration’s policy on the Great Lakes Region? Is it crafted by the State Department as indeed it should be? Or is it fashioned elsewhere and then brought to bear on the State Department?

Apparently, Obama’s Great Lakes policy is made elsewhere, not at State Department. This is why.

The United States embassy in Kigali, the US Army’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the US military in general know and understand the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) very well. They all know its composition and reputation. They are aware it is a highly respected, disciplined, professional and an efficient fighting force. It therefore has no need or place for child soldiers.

The US military has cooperated with the RDF in training and peace-keeping missions. So has the United Nations.

All top AFRICOM Commanders, almost as a rule, call on the Rwandan ministry of defence and RDF at the start and end of their tour of duty, and many times between.

On the basis of all the information gathered by the different agencies, the US Departments of State and Defence have the correct picture of Rwanda and the region.

So where does this obviously misinformed policy come from?

For one, it has the unmistakable imprint of Human Rights Watch, the UN Department of Peace –keeping Operations (DPKO) and their media allies like Reuters, For some inexplicable reason, Human Rights Watch has President Obama’s ear and is able to influence his policy towards the Great Lakes Region.

For long Human Rights Watch has set itself in opposition to Rwanda. It has carried out a hate campaign against this country and attempted to implicate it in the anarchy, numerous rebellions and human rights abuses in the ungoverned Eastern DRC. This crusading rights group has done so through misinformation, lies and fabrication which are then spread as truth by their partners in the media.

None of this has stuck. Which is why they keep on rehashing it or looking for fresh accusations like the new crime called the recruitment of child soldiers. If everything else fails, surely thi will work. Apparently it is a worse crime than extensive massacres, mass rape, pillage, extortion and wanton destruction of property, and even genocide.

How else can one explain the complete lack of condemnation of the FDLR and the Congolese army’s adoption of the genocidal group as their comrades in arms? Or the total absolution of the DRC government from all blame by MONUSCO’s chief of child protection, Ms Dee Brillenburg Wurth with her laughable assertion that DRC has zero tolerance to the use of child soldiers? She has effectively become DRC’s spokesperson. A certain Mr Lambert Mende had better watch out.

There is another sinister motive behind the present accusation against Rwanda. It follows a familiar line peddled by MONUSCO and its parent body, the UN’s DPKO, Human Rights Watch and associated media, and the DRC government. They have always insisted that M23 is not a Congolese rebellion but rather a Rwandan creation.

Denying that the rebellion is a Congolese problem removes the responsibility for its solution from the DRC government and from the huge UN peace-keeping operation in the country. On the other hand, making it appear like external aggression gives the enemies of Rwanda, especially the foreign backers of the FDLR and remnants of the genocidal regime that created it the pretext to continue supporting them so as to destabilise the country.

Equally dangerous, the denial of M23 as a genuine Congolese rebellion with legitimate grievances is also denial of the right of thousands of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese to Congolese nationality. This is at the root of M23 grievances. It is hardly surprising that the so-called international community refuses to discuss the plight of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese refugees in neighbouring countries. 

In seeking to punish Rwanda for crimes it has not committed, the Obama Administration is placing itself into a trap. First, it is ceding American leadership in the region to non-state actors and special interest groups as well as certain countries with a vested interest in the continuation of instability in the region.

Second, it risks becoming complicit in ethnic cleansing and probably genocide.  Neither of which does anything to advance peace and security in the region or globally, not to speak of Obama’s legacy in Africa.

Advertisements

Lull before the storm in DRC?

22 Apr

It has been unusually quiet in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of late. Is this a sign that things are getting better there? Don’t fool yourself. They haven’t for the last fifty years and won’t now unless several things happen.

First, the Congolese government must take responsibility for what has gone wrong in the region and correct it. It cannot continue blaming outsiders for its own failures. In the same way, it cannot rely on outsiders for solutions to its own weaknesses.

Second, the United Nations and others in the international community should stop treating Congo like a country more sinned against than sinning. They must show it its sins and pressure it to put its house in order. In any case they share the blame for the mess in Congo and have an obligation to put the situation right. That requires that they own up and see the situation as it actually is, not what they would like it to be. It requires respecting the lives of millions of Congolese and not putting narrow and selfish economic and political interests above them.

The silence is not about improvement in the Congolese situation. It is perhaps because the international media and their rights kin, those creatures who seem to enjoy beating war drums and then gleefully cheer as people tear each other apart and then pretend to be horrified,  have their attention turned to other areas that feed their lust for violence. Or it may be the proverbial lull before the storm. It is probably both.

While there hasn’t been much fighting on the ground lately, there is still an atmosphere of belligerence. There has been a great deal of sabre-rattling from all sides involved in the conflict in eastern DRC apparently caused by the imminent arrival of a military intervention force in the region.

The Congolese government has high hopes in the force and has felt so emboldened as to order the M23 rebels to disarm and disband. They give the impression that the intervention brigade has come to help the government fight M23.

Notice they do not mention other rebel groups like the FDLR. Is it because it has ceased to exist or is no longer a threat to its citizens and neighbouring countries? More likely, it is because the Congolese government and FDLR are now allies and the latter’s fighters have agreed to fight alongside  the government troops.

As usual in Congo, the government and the international community are living under self-delusion. Even if the M23 were the major problem and even if they were to disappear, it is doubtful that peace would return to eastern DRC. M23 is not the cause of the conflict. it is merely a response to an existing situation.

In their excitement about the intervention brigade, the government in Kinshasa has ignored the peace talks with M23 in Kampala, which shows they were never committed to them in the first place.

On its part, the M23 has been warning both the government and the countries that will contribute to the force against attacking its positions and has promised them a bloody nose if they do. They have reminded them that they have a cause to fight and even die for while the intervention brigade does not.

The M23 rebels insist that there are ongoing peace talks in Kampala which should be given a chance. They have therefore put the UN on the spot for its apparent preference for a military solution to eastern Congo’s problems, when its mandate should be working towards a political resolution of the conflict.

Countries contributing troops to the intervention brigade have also been flexing their muscle. For instance South Africa has said it is not afraid of a fight with the rebels. They obviously want to prove a point – that they are a capable force despite suffering heavy casualties inflicted by the Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic. There are, of course, other reasons for South Africa’s involvement, among them, protecting South African individual and corporate business interests in DRC.

Tanzania has been spoiling for a fight for different reasons.

Ever since Mrs Joyce Banda became president, Malawi has been cosying up to the west, and contributing troops is part of the effort to ingratiate itself to them. Besides, Malawi has a large Rwandan refugee population that includes Interahamwe, and it would not be beyond them to want to use the opportunity to infiltrate into Congo and join their FDLR confreres.

These are all the ingredients of a major conflict in Eastern DRC if good sense does not prevail and restraint exercised.

Amidst all this, the UN and the international community are making the same mistakes they made in Rwanda in 1994.

In Rwanda, they withdrew UN peacekeeping troops and looked on as the genocide was committed.

In DRC they are reinforcing an already huge force with a brigade that has been given a shoot to kill mandate. However, its role is not to protect vulnerable civilians, but to prop up an inefficient government and protect business interests of outsiders. It has nothing to do with getting rid of armed groups in, or return peace to, the region.

G8 on rape in DRC – what effect?

15 Apr

The G8 usually meets to discuss international politics and economics – or more precisely, how the most powerful nations can maintain a stranglehold on the world’s resources, international trade and dictate other relations among nations. Their meetings are all about power.

Rarely do we associate the G8 with concern for social issues, especially in the third world. Certainly not with sex crimes such as rape in conflict situations. Nothing could be further from power politics at the meetings.

But strange as it seems, rape was on the agenda at the G8 foreign ministers meeting in London last week. They even agreed to put up US$350 million to help fight the vice.

And the champion of international action against war zone sex crimes is Mr William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary.

Now, it is very difficult to think of a more unlikely defender of the cause than William Hague. He comes across as a cold, uncaring figure both in appearance and speech. You cannot, with all the generosity in the world, associate him with compassion. Hague is cut in the same mould as the late Margaret Thatcher (bless her soul. No? Some would beg to differ insisting she had none). Still, being African, we must be respectful to the dead. They have a knack for visiting misfortune on the living, and if what she did in life is any indication, what she could do from the afterlife is terrifying.

Anyhow, Hague wants to reinvent himself as a compassionate man. No one seems to have told him that part of that might include smoothing the hard edges on his face, softening his speech and occasionally allowing a smile on his lips.

He is trying nonetheless. And as part of reconstructing his image, he recently came visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with the American actress Angelina Jolie in tow. He even made a brief stopover in Rwanda.  Her superstar status would presumably soften his uncaring reputation and advance his cause.

DRC is a good choice for Hague’s reincarnation. Everything that takes place in that much abused country happens in excess – including sex crimes.

Rape of even one individual is, of course, a most reprehensible crime. It is infinitely worse when done indiscriminately on a mass scale as regularly happens in DRC and other conflict areas.

Sexual violence must therefore be condemned in all its forms, wherever it occurs and for whatever reason. That is why the initiative of William Hague and the G8 is a good thing and deserves the support of all people of goodwill.

However, I am sceptical about whether the approach they have adopted will end sexual violence.

First of all, they are treating sex violence in conflict situations in purely legalistic terms – of trial and punishment. It is more than that.

Why would ordinarily decent people commit mass rape? It is not because of the absence of sanctions against the crime or because the perpetrators do not know it is wrong and that their actions have consequences. They know all that and yet go ahead and do the most horrible things.

The cause lies in the nature of conflict. People live under the illusion that the anonymity of belonging to a large group – army or militia – removes individual responsibility from them. And the power that bearing arms gives them adds another dimension to the illusion – no accountability.

This is what happens when ordinary social and moral restraints no longer apply as in most conflict situations.

And so Congolese soldiers will rape hundreds of women and feel no remorse. American and British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan will urinate on dead bodies of enemy soldiers or even civilians, force prisoners to perform unnatural sex acts and commit other acts that humiliate and debase fellow human beings and laugh about it.

If Hague and the G8 want to end sexual violence in war zones, they should address the root cause of the conflict and not simply its symptoms or consequences.

In the DRC as we have argued in this column many times before, the problem is the absence of the state in large parts of the country. Ending conflict and crimes that arise from it requires extending governance to the entire territory. It is that simple. Hague and co. should spend their time, energy and money in more useful ways by helping the Congolese and other conflict-prone areas exercise more effective control over their countries. The rest will fall in place

The G8 has allocated 435 million to fight sexual violence in war zones. Again I am not sure that money will be effective – not because it is little but the way it will be used. Most likely it will be channelled through western NGOs, who will spend most of it on administration, luxury cars and on other indulgences of lavish living. Little will go to hunting the perpetrators of the crimes or their victims. They will probably introduce alien and strange sexual behaviour that will compound the existing problem.

The G8 needs to get to the roots of conflict, otherwise their current initiative, though perhaps well-intentioned, will be viewed as mere moral posturing.

Atale of two rebel groups: M23 and Seleka

26 Mar

The Seleka rebels marched into Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic on Sunday, 24th March and effectively ended the rule of President Francois Bozize. The president is reported to have fled his palace and the country as the rebels advanced.

The swift capture of Bangui and the flight of Bozize occurred as four African presidents were in neighbouring Congo Brazzaville discussing peace and security issues in another neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Presidents Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Joseph Kabila of the DRC were meeting in the northern Congolese town of Oyo.

The talks were about the situation in the east of DRC resulting from the rebellion of M23 against the Kinshasa government. For most of the 52 years of independence of the DRC, the east of the country has been in a state of armed rebellion of one sort or another.

There are interesting similarities between the two rebel movements (Seleka and M23) as well as glaring differences especially in the way the international community has responded to them.

The Seleka rebels say they marched on the capital because President Bozize had broken a peace agreement reached between them on January 11 this year by which rebel forces were to be integrated into the national army.

The rebellion had been going on for a while – in two phases. The first started in 2004 shortly after Bozize seized power and ended in 2007 when the rebels led by their present leader, Michel Djotodia, signed a power-sharing agreement with Bozize’s government. The second was launched in December 2012 when the rebels accused the government of going back on the terms of the peace agreement.

The rebels made swift advances across the country in fighting that broke out in December. Regional leaders then brokered a peace deal in January this year in which power would be shared between the government, the opposition and rebels.

A week ago, the rebels moved on the capital, alleging that the Bozize government had once again reneged on the deal it had struck with them.

The rest as we now know is that the rebels have taken over power and Bozize is in full flight.

The story of M23 is similar up to a point. Nearly a year ago, the M23 was formed by soldiers in the Congolese army who accused the government of not honouring an agreement reached with a previous rebel group, the CNDP, on March 23 2009 after many years of fighting.

Like Seleka, M23 moved swiftly across the east of DRC and captured the provincial capital, Goma, in November 2012. They were soon pressured to leave the town.

That is where the similarities end. The rest of the story is about inexplicable differences, hypocrisy, double standards, falsification and utter disregard of evidence on the ground.

The M23 rebels were roundly condemned in the western media and in foreign capitals. They were accused of all manner of crimes against humanity even when such accusations flew in the face of the logic of rebellion. Rebels usually do not harm the people among whom they operate, especially if they are the ones they have vowed to protect. In fact, evidence showed that people enjoyed greater security in the areas the rebels controlled.

No such condemnation has been heard of the Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic. The French, with a military presence in the country, stood by as the rebels marched into town, only saying they would send in troops to protect their citizens.

There has been no word from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International or the other members of the rights’ brigade.

The foreign media only reports the towns that have fallen and, inevitably, the looting in Bangui because it suits their constructed image of Africa.

True, there has been some protest from the UN Secretary General. But that has been feeble and more formality than heartfelt concern.

When in November the M23 took over Goma, it was like that single event would bring the world crumbling down. The international community mobilised massively to push the rebels back. Immense pressure was brought to bear on M23 and their alleged supporters to pull out of the town immediately.

The Seleka rebels marched into Bangui without as much as a finger being raised to stop them. Instead of warnings about dire consequences if they stepped into the capital, they have only been asked to be good boys, behave themselves and it will be business as usual.

From the moment M23 was born, fingers began pointing at foreign sponsors. The argument was that they could not have such weaponry, organisation and tactics, and skilled fighters without external backing. Allegation of foreign involvement were loudest when Goma fell. The chorus was: the rebels could not do it because they did not have the capacity in equipment, men and expertise.

Seleka have made more spectacular gains. But we have not heard mention of a foreign backer. No effort has been made to identify and punish them.

So, what are we to make of these glaringly different reactions to similar situations? Is it perhaps because in the Seleka case the sponsors are the ones who usually make the accusations? Or is it because the Central Africans have not earned the ire of some powerful people with talk about the right to make their own choices in matters affecting them, or about agaciro?

Who wants peace in DRC? Not the media, rights groups or even some countries

11 Dec

 

Since May this year, the Great Lakes Region has been in the spotlight – with events in eastern D R Congo dominating the headlines. In March, the world’s attention turned on the region with greater intensity when the M23 rebels marched on Goma and captured it from Congolese government forces.

Smelling possible stories of savage brutality and eager to invent them should those they found on the ground not be sufficiently horrific, the international media descended on DRC with heightened, if slanted, imagination. They led a very noisy condemnation of the rebels and their alleged backers. Not a word about the myriad other armed groups in the region and the atrocities they committed. Nothing said about the cowardly national army, pillaging, looting and raping as it retreated.

The international human rights brigade and humanitarian mega business fed the media with material for selective condemnation in the Congolese conflict. They shouted like the onlookers in that famous trial two millennia ago urging the judges (this time not an individual but a few countries calling themselves the international community) to crucify (not an innocent individual but an equally innocent country).

Various governments, as has now become familiar practice, took their cue from the alarm raisers (never mind that they are often false or raised on behalf of the wrong people) and brought out trees and nails for the crucifixion.

Then just over a week ago, the M23 rebels, on the directions of the International Conference on the Great Lakes (ICGLR), withdrew from Goma and other towns it had captured as a condition for negotiations with the Congolese government.

With the prospects of peace and the consequent absence of blood and stories of horror, the scene was no longer interesting for the international media. They packed their cameras and notebooks and disappeared. Screaming, shock-filled headlines became fewer.

The rights and humanitarian groups suddenly fell silent. They had achieved their aims.  Not only had they stopped the M23 advance, they had also forced it to withdraw, and more importantly, had the rebels’ alleged supporters punished.

Such quick disappearance from the scene when prospects of peace increase, raises a few questions.

Are all these groups – the media, human rights and humanitarian agencies really interested in peace and stability in DRC? Do they want to see the conflict there resolved?

Clearly not. If they were, they would be putting pressure on their countries to force them to get the DRC Government and M23 rebels to talk peace – the same pressure they had exerted to get them to cut aid to Rwanda, ostensibly to force it to rein in its supposed protégés.

At the very least, they should be supporting the ICGLR mediation efforts

They have done neither of these. At best, they have remained silent. At worst, they have continued to harp on their favourite blame game.   Or they have been very loud in expressing doubts about whether they can work. On other occasions, they have undermined ICGLR efforts outright.

In this atmosphere of lack of enthusiasm for, or hostility to, an enduring solution to the conflict in eastern Congo, other complications have come in. Different interests seem not to be prepared to give ongoing efforts a chance to succeed. They are pushing other, parallel efforts that are bound to distract from the primary objective and make the situation even more confusing. 

For instance, even as the ICGLR mediation efforts continue, the French Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr Gerard Araud, has been canvassing support from his colleagues for a more robust mandate for MONUSCO, the UN force in Congo.

There are several problems with this proposal.

One, MONUSCO has not failed because of a weak mandate or insufficient equipment. Their failure is a result of lack of interest in a resolution of the conflict. None of the troops – nearly all of them from faraway places – are keen to understand the issues, let alone lay down their lives to resolve them. In any case, as has amply been reported, they stand to gain materially from maintaining the status quo.

Two, the French have a record in this region of hiding behind the UN mandate to advance narrow national interests that are often counter to the stated aims of the mandate. Their proposal cannot inspire confidence that it will be otherwise this time around.

Equally, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has been dying to get directly involved in the current conflict in DRC. Although they appear to support ICGLR mediation efforts, they would (at least the more powerful ones) be happy to be taking the lead.

Again, there are problems with SADC positioning itself to replace ICGLR.

Firstly, SADC cannot be impartial. Already in a statement after the meeting in Dar es Salaam at the weekend, the leaders restated their support for DRC against M23 which they labelled a negative force. That does not help improve the atmosphere at the ongoing talks in Kampala.

Secondly, nearly all the southern African countries, especially the big ones, have mining interests in the DRC. Their offer of support is more likely to do with safeguarding these interests, and even acquire new ones than with the search for peace and stability.

Besides, an increasing number of players in the DRC will only confuse the situation a lot more and not lead to a resolution of the conflict.

In the current circumstances, the most sensible thing to do is to support efforts that are already underway. New proposals can only distract from these, or even take the region back a few months. That is not in anyone’s interest.

Who gains from the conflict in DRC?

12 Jun

As so often happens with events in the DRC, fact and fiction fuse into a sticky mess that has come to define the history of that country.  And there seems to be a preference for fiction over fact.

This is the case now with regard to the fighting in Eastern DRC in which Rwanda has been implicated. A web of lies – not particularly clever – has been woven around the fighting in the area. Incredibly, these third rate lies, unverified claims and clearly fabricated tales have been picked up and spread by media organisations hitherto thought to be beyond reproach in their reporting. Because of this the lies have been passed off as truth..

As I said in this column last week, the DRC has the history of being the graveyard of many reputations. And once reputations have died and been buried in the Congo, any attempts at revival and redemption end up having them buried deeper. If you doubt this ask the United Nations.

Media organisations are no exception to being strangled in the DRC. This will be the inevitable consequence for disseminating lies as people begin to reassess their credibility. The reputation for impartiality, objectivity and thoroughness associated with some of them will disappear, or if not, will be severely damaged.

Naturally in an atmosphere of lies, truth is nearly always completely smothered. Again this is the case in the DRC. The same media organisations that jump at the latest made-up allegations suddenly become silent when confronted with facts contradicting the lies.

For instance, MONUSCO’s rather belated denial that it ever produced a report naming Rwanda as supporting the M23 rebels has received scant coverage. So have the consistent denials by the Government of Rwanda about its alleged backing of the rebels. Perhaps more telling is the total disregard for the findings of a Joint Verification Team made up of Rwandan and DRC officials.

Clearly, there is something sinister here. And who stands to gain from it all? Apparently there are many.

One of the oldest tricks in the book to divert attention from oneself is to direct blame at other people. Equally, one of the most effective ways to get anyone to do what you want is to get them when they are at their weakest and therefore most vulnerable.

It is common knowledge that the government of the DRC has been under sustained pressure since the last presidential and general elections in that country. Both were reported to have been massively flawed.

But why a country with an incredible abundance of natural wealth should in the first place hold out its hands to donors beats all logic. Why it should cower before them is utterly incomprehensible. If I were the DRC government I would make them sing and dance and stand on their heads before they can lay their hands on my precious wealth.

Again, despite its enormous wealth and huge foreign support and the goodwill of neighbours like Rwanda, the government has failed to establish effective control over its entire territory. And no satisfactory explanation can be advanced for this dismal failure.

The lazy way out of multiple failures is to look for a convenient fall guy, and for a variety of reasons, Rwanda is the most convenient.

There are other elements interested in muddying the waters of the Congo so as to hide their responsibility for the mess in the wider Great Lakes Region. The current violence in Eastern DRC can be traced to the coming into the area of armed ex-FAR and Interahamwe. These forces were shepherded there and continued to be armed by some in the international community. That support for their genocidal protégés has not stopped.

A key player in the Congo has been a coalition of NGOs, mostly in the human rights movement, led by Human Rights Watch. Ironically their existence depends on the continuation of conflict. And to carry on their work, they need funds, and to get them, must justify their existence – which is the continued presence of violence. So we come full circle.

In addition, the NGO movement harbours a grudge against Rwanda for refusing them the opportunity to set up as alternatives to the state and thereby keeping the country in perpetual dependence to hand-outs.

They behave like a jilted partner in a love relationship gone sour – never giving up hope of reconciliation, but also doing everything possible to wreck the life of the other partner.

And let’s face it. The Cold War may have ended, but not so the rivalry between East and West. We see it everywhere in the world where there is conflict these days. It is present where there is competition for resources, and the Congo is a classic case.

In the Nineteenth Century control of the two Congos by Europeans triggered the Berlin Conference that partitioned Africa among them. Today’s continued rivalry over Africa’s resources will ensure that the continent remains partitioned and impoverished and therefore easy to exploit. What easier way to do this than keep us in perpetual conflict – and especially keep down those attempting to raise their heads.