Demonstration Reveals Africa’s Worst Kept Secret

Today I took an early lunch break to participate in a Washington, D.C., demonstration sponsored by the African Faith & Justice Network and the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition. Held not far from the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit, the group of mostly African dissidents made some important points that do not get much play in the U.S. media. Here’s a brief summary of what I learned:

  • U.S. aid to Africa has to be re-examined. It makes dictators and their inside circles rich, but rarely helps the citizenry as a whole.
  • At least five sub-Saharan Africa dictators have been in office for more than 25 years  (four more than 32 years). They are so entrenched and enriched — “presidents for life” — that it makes it relatively easy for them to rig elections and stay in office.
  • While the dictators get rich, many citizens suffer from inadequate education, health care and economic opportunity.
  • It is very dangerous for the citizen’s of these countries to speak out against the dictators. They end up imprisoned far away from their families. Some disappear for a long time or are never seen again. Some are tortured. Others are found murdered.
  • For the above reasons, the more educated citizens of these countries who can often flee to safer societies in Europe or the U.S. and ones that offer any kind of economic opportunity.
  • Political and economic elites in the U.S. and other affluent countries too often cozy up to the dictators of these countries for political or business reasons.

While some of the sessions at this week’s U.S. Africa Leaders Summit addressed human rights and good governance issues, I got the sense from the demonstrators that even the multi-billion dollar pledges from U.S. country for business investments would not change this situation. In fact, they could lead to even more corruption unless the business investment is coupled with democratic reforms including presidential term limits, authentic elections, and an end to torture of dissidents.

As we have written about in this blog, the last election in the Democratic Republic of Congo was far from fair. In January 2012, Catholic bishops in DR Congo condemned the elections, complaining of “treachery, lies and terror.”  DRC President Joseph Kabila has made his friend Israeli businessman Dan Gertler a billionaire through various mining contracts and has no doubt also made himself a very wealthy man. The Congo remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

This corrupt system is no secret, at least among Africans. While conversing with my Ethiopian taxi cab driver on the way to the demonstration, I mentioned where I was going — to protest torture in African prisons — and boy did I get an earful about how dangerous is was to speak out against the government in his country!

Then in today’s New York Times I read about how Tony Blair is making himself rich as a middleman between some of Africa’s notorious dictators –notably Rwanda’s Paul Kagame – and outside business interests. No surprise there!

Interesting to me is that the young Africans I talked to today, and early this week at a news conference hosted by Friends of Congo, said they were not opposed to the summit or business investment in their countries. They are just opposed to U.S. support of dictators and deals done with outsiders that don’t benefit most people in their countries.

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The War the World Ignores in the Congo

The Syrian civil war, with all of the harm done to civilians, now has the world’s attention. The Obama administration, by threatening a missile strike, is claiming the moral high ground in responding to the use of chemical weapons. Meanwhile, millions of Congolese are asking: why does the world continue to look the other way at the war of aggression in their country where millions of civilians have died over the past 18 years, where rape is on a massive scale, and children are still being kidnapped and forced into the fighting?

Unlike Syria, the situation in the Congo is not a civil war. No one internal rebel group is seeking to overthrow the government. Nor is it a war between African tribes, as so often suggested by cynical Western observers who shrug their shoulders at African conflicts as if the warring parties are hell-bent on killing each other.

The war in the Congo, on the other hand, involves a purposely weak central government fighting against militias that are backed by outside interests. These interests by many accounts are fighting for control of one of the most resource rich areas in the world. The Congo is flush with tantalum, tungsten, and tin required to make our electronic gadgets work; gold and diamonds; copper; timber; and an abundance of water for drinking and hyrdro-electric power.

The most powerful of these militias, M23, is backed by Rwanda. Life in areas controlled by the M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is one of daily suffering and fear. A recent, dispatch by Human Rights Watch’s Ida Sawyer, reports: “Families worry their children will be forced to the frontlines, their wives, sisters, and mothers might be raped in their fields, or their brothers and husbands killed for being “on the wrong side.”

“Just in the last two weeks, M23 fighters executed two local chiefs, shot and stabbed to death a boy, and shot dead at least three other men. Their shelling of populated neighborhoods in and around Goma killed at least seven civilians and wounded more than 40. A 16-year-old girl was killed while bathing when a mortar landed outside her home. A 14-year-old boy was killed when a mortar hit his home as he slept. Another mortar landed on a school, crushing to death a child playing.

“Since April 2012, the rebels have committed widespread war crimes, including summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment of children. Yet Rwanda has supplied them with weapons and ammunition, provided them new recruits, and backed them with military forces. Other armed groups and Congolese soldiers have also committed serious abuses.”

We recently talked to representatives of the North Kivu Civil Society who sent a delegation to the Washington, D.C., area to communicate their plight. They described the daily oppression of their villages being controlled by M23. They demand “taxes,” grains and food from each family member each week. They call it a “war contribution.” They impose a curfew on farmers then harvest their fields. Rwandan soldiers are in the M23. Arms and munitions are being delivered to the M23 through Uganda, violating the most recent brokered agreement.

While President Obama, the State Department, and the United Nations have sought to hold Rwanda accountable for its sponsorship of violence in the Congo, their efforts have lacked political clout.  Why?  We have made the case that former president Bill Clinton whose foundation is active in Rwanda and who has expressed deep regret at not responding effectively to the Rwandan genocide, is white washing Rwanda’s destructive activities in the Congo. Tony Blair has performed the same service for Rwanda before the UK public, applauding Rwanda as an Africa success and down playing their sponsorship of terror in the Congo.

Rwandan troops have invaded the Congo twice during this 18-year conflict. Their sponsorship of M23 is in line with a well-orchestrated Rwandan strategy of using proxies in the DRC to wage a permanent war of predation; M23 is just the last such Rwandan creation following many others. During the course of the past 18 years Rwandan backed militias AFDL, the RCD and the CNDP have contributed greatly to the death toll in the DRC.

For the people of Eastern Congo, particularly the North Kivu province, these Rwandan backed militias have raped, plundered and murdered civilians and caused tens of thousands of Congolese to flee from their villages toward refugee camps. And yet the big media outlets in the U.S. rarely report on the conflict.

The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, where UN envoy Mary Robinson has encouraged the M23 into direct negotiations with the M23, is deeply problematic. According to a recent blog post by Jason Stearns, despite the resumption of talks, the parties effectively remained deadlocked, with M23 saying “they would only put down their weapons if the FDLR are neutralized and Congolese refugees are allowed to return to the Congo, two goals that will take years to fully achieve”.

Those two goals are impossible to achieve. Why?

1. For many years now, different conjoined operations (with  Rwanda)  have taken to disarm the FDLR, without success. The evidences show that among the soldiers of the FARDC imprisoned there the Hutu militias that are recycled to fight in the ranks of the M23.

2. The repatriation of Tutsi refugees is a false pretext that only allow their implantation in villages who fled the atrocities of the M23 and are thousands of displaced in camps in the interior of DRC. This requirement be valid only insofar as internal displaced have found their villages.

3. The problem of impunity of the M23 and especially the Congolese army does not even seem to be in party talks. The M23 will put down their weapons and  will live quietly without being worried by the justice among the scared by suffering population (rape, massacres, etc) for over 18 years.

According to these village leaders, the long oppressed population of North Kivu considers that the so called peace brokers “have spit on the dead and victims of wars of aggression imposed by Rwanda and also Uganda by signing a deal with criminals who may integrate the military, police and political institutions.”

In conclusion, the international peace brokers are following a similar pattern that continues the destructive status quo in the Congo, the repetitive and cloaked aggression of Rwanda.

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Bill Clinton: Central Africa Needs You as a Peacemaker

When it comes to Rwanda, former U.S. President Bill Clinton appears to be at odds not only with the Obama Administration, but also some outspoken members of Congress, the United Nations, and notable human rights groups.  Rwanda’s support of the M23 militia, currently warring against UN and Congolese national army troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is denied by Rwanda, downplayed by Clinton, while all of the other above parties are vigorously calling for Rwanda to quit their support.

“The M23 has been recruiting inside Rwanda,” reports Human Rights Watch. “Rwandan military officers have trained new M23 recruits, and have communicated and met with M23 leaders on several occasions… Not only is Rwanda allowing its territory to be used by the abusive M23 to get recruits and equipment, but the Rwandan military is still directly supporting the M23. This support is sustaining an armed group responsible for numerous killings, rapes and other abuses.”

During December 2012 when M23 was attacking the provincial capital of Goma in Eastern DRC, President Obama called Paul Kagame and “underscored that any support to the rebel group M23 is inconsistent with Rwanda’s desire for stability and peace”. The White House said the US president stressed “the importance of permanently ending all support to armed groups in the DRC, abiding by the recent commitments he made… and reaching a transparent and credible political agreement that includes an end to impunity for M23.”

The same month at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the Conflict in Eastern Congo congressional representatives were asking why so little accountability for Rwandan officials named in the United Nations report for supporting the M23 militia.

The UN Security Council, which is currently supporting an intervention force in the DRC, demands that the M23 fully disband and disarm calling for Rwanda to stop supporting the M23 militia.  Just last week the UN has “credible and consistent information ” on a support of the Rwandan army and rebels of the M23 in the fighting in the Congo.

Not much has changed with Rwanda’s destructive role in the Congo except for the name of the militias they have supported. An in-depth report by Global Witness in 2009 documented Rwanda’s exploitation of Congo’s mineral wealth by means of backing vicious militias, claiming, “Rwanda’s relative stability was, and still is, inextricably intertwined with the continuing chaos and human suffering in eastern DRC.”

Bill Clinton, on the other hand, whose foundation has major initiatives  in Rwanda, is dismissive of any criticism of the country. During a recent visit to Rwanda and other African countries, asked by a BBC reporter about Rwanda’s activities in the Congo, Clinton curiously responded, “Well first of all… the matter has not been fully litigated.

“Secondly it’s complicated by the fact that the section of Congo near Rwanda is full of people who perpetrated the genocide, who spurned the president’s offer to come home and not go to prison and you can’t get around the fact that the economic and social gains in Rwanda have been nothing short of astonishing under Kagame, and he says he’s going to leave when his time’s up.

“So I understand that there’s some people in the human rights community who believe that every good thing that has happened in Rwanda should be negated by what they allege that they have done in the eastern Congo.”

With these kinds of comments it appears that the former president is continuing to provide political cover for Kagame to operate aggressively in the Eastern Congo while many leading voices in the region are calling for peace.

As a Congo peace advocacy group made up of U.S. citizens — Congolese and American born, our question for Bill Clinton is: Why not step up to the plate and use your international stature to seek a political solution to the ongoing crisis rather than covering up for the Rwanda? This would in no way take away from the good work the Clinton Global Initiative supports in Rwanda but could greatly contribute to a regional peace.

In this effort, Clinton would find such a helpful allies as Mary Robinson, United Nations special envoy and the newly appointed U.S. special envoy to the Great Lakes former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold.

Clinton was among the most prominent speakers at the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I have a dream speech.” Not mentioned at all by Clinton or much by the other speakers was how MLK, toward the end of his life, spoke out not only against the Vietnam War, but also encouraged peacemaking in the developing world. “We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors.” (Beyond Vietnam speech, New York City, April 1967).

The world’s worst conflicts — and with 5 million deaths the Congo has this distinction — need public figures who have the stature to be a positive force for peace. Bill Clinton, here is your opportunity to join forces with others to seek a regional peace in Central Africa. But to do so will involve a more realistic view of Rwanda that holds it accountable for sponsoring violence in the Congo.

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To Save Congo, Listen to the People of Congo

Jeffrey Herbst’ and Greg Mills’ recent Foreign Policy article “The Invisible State — It’s time we admit the Democratic Republic of Congo doesn’t exist” comes at a time when the soporific medication administered to the international community by the proponents of the “break Congo in pieces” theory is starting to lose its effectiveness. It is therefore not surprising that, in despair, new ways of repeating the same incorrect refrain and the use of repetition be made to salvage the investment made in ensuring the implementation of their conceptualized Congo. However, what’s wrong will remain so; what’s incorrect can’t be safeguarded!

J. Peter Pham, another proponent of breaking up Congo, wrote in the New York Times, “To save Congo, Let it Fall Apart”.  Some of the authors are more subtle and suggest to the international decision-makers, most recently to the newly appointed Special Representative to the Great Lakes region, a person who is widely appreciated in the Congolese Diaspora, a line of actions where transpires a complete inversion of typical political science’s theory.  They suggest that the decentralization of the D.R.C. must happen now, at a time when no responsible government exists at all levels, no defense forces exist, no serious administration is present in the entire country; such a suggestion is tantamount to advocating for the same theory of break apart to save Congo. Justly stigmatizing the incompetence and the irresponsibility of the D.R.C. government and advocating for its responsibility to carry out such a critical task, the creation of a decentralized Congo is simply hypocritical; an effective decentralized body requires the support of an effective central government, a strong defense force and a well organized police force. The effective government is the postulate, all others are corollaries. Trying to do otherwise is going to doom the entire process. This is what the people of Congo have been advocating for; however, they are not listened to since it is supposed they have the least expertise on Congo.

Comparisons with U.S. formation fall short

Also, reasoning on Congo through the historical process of the construction of the United States is not completely correct. The U.S. started as a decentralized body where structured states already operated; the D.R.C. needs to be constructed as a decentralized body where the provinces need to acquire their force of action from the commitment of the central government. Improving the latter is where the international community’s effort is to take place now, Congo needs at the central level, leaders who believe and are committed to the creation of an effective administration that will wisely implement the decentralization.

A central government that would create an effective defense force and police was a  responsibility bestowed upon the D.R.C. president following the Sun City accord of 2002. Eleven years later there has been no progress on this front. It is fair to say that Joseph Kabila lacks the will, the moral fortitude and the intellectual capability to carry out such a task. Decentralization should not become the new avatar for the international community’s failed concept of Congo. It sadly creates another scenario where the people of Congo will once more be the ones to blame when the consequences of an ill-conceived plan materialize. Blaming the people of Congo or at least implicitly referring to them as incompetent to govern a country that they have never had the opportunity to rule but that they have been able to maintain existent is extremely condescending. The D.R.C. exists because it has been the will of the people of Congo; that will has been reinforced by their understanding of the reasons behind their suffering, being a part of Congo.

Too big to govern?

One of the themes constantly touted by the authors of “doomed Congo” theories is that Congo is too big and that Congolese leaders are too incompetent to govern the country.  At the same time, the authors picture the leaders as unwilling to apply proper governance rules. Moreover, Pham suggests that breaking the country into pieces is a way of alleviating the burden put upon the UN and the international community which are trying to awaken that drunken elephant. In that light, how would the authors expect that these leaders would be willing to do a better job with the smaller organic units, whatever that might be? It is rather likely that their solution will create a more expensive and dangerous structure than the existing one. Indeed, one would have to count with the multiplicative effect of several D.R.C. entities, with a multiplication of incompetent and corrupt leaders such as the ones artificially maintained in power today.

Propping up leaders elected unfairly

What Herbst, Mills and Pham overlook in their arguments is that the Congolese people are the victims of the collusion between some major players in the international community and the Congolese political elites which maintains corrupt “leaders” in power. A recent illustration is the disastrous presidential and legislative elections of November 2011. Despite the rejection of the results by every observer to the elections, one of them being the Carter Center, the Obama administration provided the ultimate rubber ring to Joseph Kabila, claiming to recognize him without any supporting rationale, as the president for the next five years. Ambassador James Entwistle came out to provide Kabila with the legislative support necessary to continue messing up matters of governance in the D.R.C. It is Ambassador Entwistle who called upon the “elected” M.Ps to get to the parliament in a language reminiscent of master-slave’s decision made and application required style.

Joseph Kabila’s incompetence is not an unknown factor to those who support him; it is not seen as a liability but rather a perceived advantage since it maintains the direction of the affairs over their hands. None of the leaders since 1960 is an emanation of the Congolese political will; so far, interests of the strongest have always supplanted those of the Congolese people in the choice of their president and other political “leaders”. However, from a subtle twist, the blame is primarily on the people of Congo for the predictable results brought upon by the international community’s chosen incompetence and brutality. Not that the Congolese are without blame but the “rapport de force” has forced them to live with decisions that have been known to be disadvantageous to them.

Tribal realities ignored

Congo is made up of more than 450 tribes. Contrary to the endemic cyclical wars breaking up in bi-tribal countries like Rwanda (the Tswa people being a small minority), Congo’s multi-tribe structure is a natural deterrent and a sociological advantage that must be maintained; each tribe plays a damper role among all. Those who really know the D.R.C. and try to remain impervious to the flow of interests that drive the Congo’s matters know that one certain Mobutu’s legacy among his many felonies is the Congolese sentiment of belonging to the D.R.C.

Do the authors really believe that breaking Congo down to “smaller organic units” would stop the string pullers from negatively influencing the outcome or would it just provide them with easier access to Congo’s minerals wealth?

President as protector of criminal activity

Non-Congolese don’t understand the level of frustration many Congolese feel toward their “president”; his incompetence is so flagrant, his brutality so backward and his arrogance so childish, that no serious Congolese would sympathize with his hardship. However, it is again the people who suffer the most from his clinging to power and from the consequences of his ill- conceived leadership.

Outsiders also don’t fully understand the internal Congolese politics. The M23 militia is a descendant of C.N.D.P.; C.N.D.P. is a member of the presidential platform (M.P.).  Joseph Kabila is the real protector of many the criminals who make up the D.R.C. institutions, particularly the army. For years, he claimed that despite his well known crimes, Ntanganda could not be arrested because of his critical role as a peacemaker. International pressure over the arrest of Ntanganda and the need to diverge public and international attention over Ntanganda is what led to the recent war in eastern Congo; indeed, M23 is just another A.F.D.L., R.C.D., C.N.D.P., all creations of Paul Kagame that he uses to maintain his control over eastern Congo and the Congolese institutions, and consequently his control over the illegal minerals’ exploitation in eastern Congo.

Contrary to the theory developed by J. Peter Pham, Jeffrey Herbst, Greg Mills and other doomed Congo theorists, dismantling the D.R.C. would bring havoc in the entire continent. The perception is that the potential ease of resources’ grab that would derive from the restructuring of the Congo political space is the main interest among doomed Congo theorists. The sociological catastrophe that would ensue is completely neglected for that reason. The breaking of the equilibrium provided by Congo in the region and the continent would generate waves of pandemonium all over the continent, which would be very difficult to control afterward. Apparently, the authors like saving money from U.N. operations; this won’t. The only solution to the Congo problem is for the international community to accept to change course and listen to the voices of reason from the people of Congo; they know better the solutions to the problems confronting them and they need a genuine help of the international community. We believe that a better Congo is a better world, and it is a real possibility.

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Those Who Dare to Oppose the DRC Regime

Joseph Kabila, the president of the DRC, was re-elected in December 2011 in an election that was roundly criticized by international observers as corrupt. Since that election the Congo continues to be a very dangerous place for anyone who questions the regime. This includes opposition leaders, religious leaders, human rights activists, journalists, and other prominent figures.

Congolese journalist Guylain Chanjabo was found dead last month, the second journalist to be killed in the DRC this year. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova condemned Chanjabo’s murder and has called for an investigation.

Floribert Chebeya, a leading Congolese human rights activist was killed three years ago this month. Chebeya was murdered in the police offices where he and his chauffeur Bazana showed up to respond to an invitation by the Police Chief. At the time, he was the head of the human right organization “The Voice of the Voiceless” which according to the New York Times, “pursued multiple investigations at the same time… the repression of political opposition, awful conditions in the prisons, the suspicious death of a young woman who had said she was Mr. Kabila’s sister.” At the time of his death, he was investigating the mass killings of Bundu Dia Kongo’s members by government forces in January-February 2007.

Dr. Denis Mukwege, who has helped heal tens of thousand of female rape victims in the DRC, barely escaped an assassination attempt last year. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times suggested that Dr. Mukwege was targeted because of a strong speech he gave at the United Nations denouncing mass rape in Congo and the impunity for it. “President Kabila has long been angry at Dr. Mukwege, and the UN speech can’t have helped,” wrote Kristof. Meanwhile, Dr. Mukwege has also offended Rwanda with his denunciations of Rwanda’s role in the slaughter and rape in eastern Congo.”

Evangelical leader Archbishop Kutino Fernando has been jailed for more than seven years for launching a political/religious movement called Sauvons Congo (Save the Congo). It was reportedly created to denounce corruption, human rights abuses and to promote a democratic system of government.

More recently Parliamentarian Eugene Diomi Ndongala, the leader of an opposition party, has been jailed. Congo Peace has sent a letter to James F. Entwistle, the U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, seeking this release. His wife Patriza Diomi reports that for more than two years her husband has been the subject of a “continuous political harassment because of his political views and his desire to exercise his freedom of expression as leader of the political opposition. My husband is subjected to inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment.” She reportedly began a hunger strike on May 20.

In a letter to his wife from jail Ndongola wrote:

“They can imprison us, as they did with Tshisekedi, but the spark of dignity in us will never be extinguished. No other people in this world have endured suffering as much as Congolese have in recent history: Their natural resources are not their own anymore, millions of Congolese are forced into exile to escape the war, dictatorship, persecution and hunger. Everything is corrupt and what remains of the Congolese state collapses under the weight of betrayal, incompetence and the oppression of citizens. Our last bastion was our fertile land, of an unparalleled beauty in the world, land that has given birth to a dignified, strong and generous people. Now they want us out of our land, a land nurtured for years, with the remains of our mothers, fathers and children they massacred by the millions.”

In our letter to the ambassador and other elected officials, we wrote: “The United States, as the world’s most powerful democracy, has always publicly maintained that the foremost focus of United States foreign policy is to encourage, build and strengthen democracy worldwide.  However, President Kabila, a leader who the U.S. has been supporting as the DRC’s democratically elected head of state, even after the apparently corrupt presidential elections in 2011, has been pursuing his own policy of violently suppressing opposition leaders, pastors, human rights activists, journalists and private citizens, who speak out against the oppressive actions of his regime.

“On May 5, 2013, the Parliament of Great Britain tabled Early Day Motion 85, in which this body of representatives expressed “its gravest concern at the continued detention of the Congolese MP and Opposition Leader, Eugene Diomi Ndongala, his aide, Verdict Mituntwa and Etienne Tahisekedi’s deputy chief of staff Jean-Claude Ndala…

“Should not our Congress be united in a like manner that the world can hear, protest this regime’s mockery of the democratic principles that we in the United States of America hold dear?

“We ask that you exert the power of your office to make clear to President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry that it is time for the United States to demand the immediate release of Parliamentarian Diomi Ndongala, and all other citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo who are wrongly imprisoned.”

 

 

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Peace Deal Signed, But Accountability Lacking

African leaders, meeting in Ethiopia, signed a U.N.-mediated deal on February 24, a “comprehensive framework agreement” intended to bring peace to the the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The previous week at the Brookings Institution U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson presented an outline of the Obama administration’s policy position on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), signaling U.S. position in advance of the signing of the agreement.

Kambale Musavuli, spokesperson from Friends of Congo, offers a thoughtful analysis of U.S. foreign policy toward the Congo, articulated by Carson, and the limitations of the UN-brokered peace agreement. We agree that key omissions from the U.S. and U.N.’s approach to Congo peace are adequate measures of accountability and justice. Read statement by Kambale.

 

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Our Plea: More Truth, More Accountability

As our group participated in protests in front of the White House and attended a Congressional hearing on the Congo last week, there was a sense that the long-submerged truth about the cause of the violence was beginning to emerge.

In front of the White House, Congolese and their friends called for peace in the Congo, NOW!

At the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the Conflict in Eastern Congo congressional representatives were asking why so little accountability for Rwandan officials named in the United Nations report for supporting the M23 militia.

We agree with Friends of the Congo that “despite the abundance of evidence demonstrating Rwanda’s involvement and command of the M23 militia, the response from the international community remains tepid and inadequate.

“Peace talks, resolutions, reports, summits and Congressional hearings may be held, however, stability will be unattainable if the illicit networks and militia backed by Rwanda and Uganda are not dismantled. The lack of political will at the international level to hold accountable the key leaders responsible for the instability and suffering in the region (particularly Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Joseph Kabila of DRC) has helped to perpetuate the conflict in eastern Congo.”

In a previous post we criticized US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice for her callousness toward the Congo and unwillingness to hold Rwandan officials accountable for backing the M23. Still, we ask, given all of the evidence why isn’t she speaking out? We have the same questions for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama.

There is talk of appointing special envoys to the region from the U.S. and U.N. but what is needed are calls for accountability.

 

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Rice Should be Replaced as US Ambassador to UN

President Obama will decide soon whether he wants to nominate Susan Rice for secretary of state.

It is the opinion of our group that not only is Rice unfit to be Secretary of State but because she also has had a hand in a disastrous U.S. policy toward Central Africa the president would do well to replace her as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Why should Rice be replaced? Let’s start with the current situation in the Congo. While it becomes increasingly clear to the French and the British that Rwanda should be held accountable for backing the M23 militia, Rice continues to both delay and water down any proclamations.

In his Foreign Policy blog, Column Lynch explained: “Since last summer, the United States has used its influence at the United Nations to delay the publication of a report denouncing Rwanda’s support for the M23, to buy time for a Security Council resolution condemning foreign support for the rebellion, and opposing any direct references to Rwanda in U.N statements and resolutions on the crisis.”

What’s even more disturbing is a callous remark Lynch attributed to Rice when she was recently pressed by France’s U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, to “apply greater political pressure on the M23′s chief sponsor, Rwanda, a close American ally, that stands accused by a U.N. panel of sponsoring, arming, and commanding the insurgent M23 forces. The French argued that threats of sanctions were needed urgently to pressure Kigali to halt its support for the M23 and prevent them from gobbling up more Congolese territory.”

Lynch reported that “Rice pushed back, reasoning that any move to sanction Rwandan leader Paul Kagame would backfire, and it would be better to work with him to find a long-term solution to the region’s troubles than punish him. “Gerard, it’s eastern Congo. If it were not the M23 killing people it would be some other armed groups,” she said, according to one of three U.N.-based sources who detailed the exchange.”

Her chilling remark is reminiscent of another widely reported comment attributed to Rice in 1996. As recently relayed by author and Central Africa expert Jason Stearns: “When Rwandan troops were carrying out vicious revenge massacres against Hutu refugees who fled into the Congolese jungles, killing thousands, Rice, then senior director of African affairs at the National Security Council said in a private conversation reported by French academic Gerard Pruniers and confirmed by New York Times journalist Howard French: “Museveni {of Uganda] and Kagame agree that the basic problem in the Great Lakes is the danger of a resurgence of genocide and they know how to deal with that. The only thing we [ie., the United States] have to do is look the other way.”

While acknowledging that Rice is “bright, ambitious, and extremely hard-working,” Stearns concludes, “…In her reluctance to criticize the Rwandan’s government’s involvement in the Congo, she has also demonstrated critical lapses in judgment. Senators would do better to scrutinize this history, rather than focusing on the Benghazi attacks.”

There is another troubling aspect of Rice’s unwillingness to apply pressure to Rwanda for its destructive role in the Congo. While Rice, a multimillionaire, has been criticized by the Left for six-figure investments in the company behind a controversial oil pipeline, what hasn’t been scrutinized are her investments in mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., which operates a copper mine in the DRC. How can she be an effective peacemaker in the region when she has an economic interest?

If anything good can come out of the highly politicized conversation about Rice as a possible secretary of state it might be the exposure of a failed U.S. foreign policy in Central Africa that has contributed to the millions of deaths and massive violence that have occurred in the country since the mid-90s. Aljazeera recently unpacked the U.S. role in the conflict in a broadcast, which refreshingly presented a Congolese point of view.

Ambassador Rice’s replacement as UN ambassador would signal a new, more productive posture toward peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central Africa.

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US Should Do More in Congo

Last week while the media was fixed on Gaza, the Rwanda-backed militia known as M23 took over Goma, the most important city in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This latest surge of violence, which started months ago, has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Congolese fleeing for their lives.

Since the mid-nineties, the Congo has been emeshed in conflict that has resulted in 3 to 5 million deaths and tens of thousands of rapes. In addition to weak, corrupt governance in the Congo, Rwandan and Ugandan back militias have been a big part of the problem. In fact, the United Nations issued a report last week claiming that the Government of Rwanda is providing direct military support to the M23 rebels. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame denies backing M23.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, has not taken a strong stand against Rwanda and has delayed or watered down UN proclamations critical of Rwanda. Perhaps she is responding to the White House’s directives.

Rwanda and Uganda, U.S. allies in the region, have been supporting rebels in Congo for more than a decade destabilizing the country. The U.S. has looked the other way while these militias have killed millions of Congolese and raped tens of thousands with complete impunity. It’s time for the U.S. to exert more pressure on Rwanda and Uganda to quit meddling in the region, while helping the Congo to establish a more disciplined military.

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Calling on Congress to Address the Crisis in the Kivus

The M23 rebel group, who U.N. experts say are backed by neighboring Rwanda, on Sunday advanced to within 5 km of Goma, the provincial capital of Congo’s North Kivu province, after pushing back U.N. peacekeepers and government troops, Reuters has reported. Our sources say that the U.N. has begun to evacuate humanitarian workers in the area.

Clearly, it looks like a major resurgence in the violence that has already taken more than 5 million lives.

This should come as no surprise to U.S. officials who have monitored the situation closely. Last August a group of 11 members of Congress sent a letter to Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame to express their “deep concern” about the recent and growing conflict. They cited U.N. reports and other sources, including impartial eyewitnesses to conclude that they were “absolutely convinced” that Rwanda is involved in supporting the unrest in the Kivus. They were calling Kagame to work things out with the DRC government to end “the enormous human suffering” and displacement of Congolese that is taking place.

With this escalation of violence, it should be clear to all that Kagame has ignored the pleas of these members of Congress and has in fact given his proxy militia even more free reign to destabilize the Kivus.

We urge everyone to contact the members of Congress who wrote this letter to Kagame and ask them to escalate the situation not only in Congress but with President Obama and Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

The U.S. should cut off all aid to Rwanda until this situation is resolved. Here is the letter from the 11 members of Congress.

 

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