Tag Archives: USA

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.


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.