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The Trial of Jean- Pierre Bemba: A Study of Avarice

14 Apr
Http://Washingtonpost.com

Http://Washingtonpost.com

 

Jean- Pierre Bemba- Gombo is one of the richest men in all of Africa let alone the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the country in which he was born. This is hard to believe at first, seeing that the DRC had been classified by the United Nation’s Human Development Index for 2013 as one of the poorest nations in the entire world. How is it he came to accumulate such a vast fortune estimated at millions of dollars US during such an unstable period in the DRC’s history- as the country struggled through two consecutive, devastating wars? How did he manage to create and maintain personal businesses in the eastern and north –western sections of the country while over 5,000,000 people died- most as a result of war- related illnesses such as Malaria, Pneumonia, Diarrhea, and, Malnutrition? Ironically it was because of these wars that Bemba prospered, expanding both his legal and illegal businesses in the north and east while so many others lost everything: their land, their homes, their families.

By the end of the Second War in the Congo Bemba attempted to change his image by serving as a Vice President in the transitional government, a Presidential candidate in the 2006 election, and as a Member of Parliament. But his reputation would not improve so easily no matter how hard he tried to explain away his past transgressions after relocating to Kinshasa. When asked, most villagers in North Kivu Province recalled a very different Jean- Pierre Bemba. The one they remembered was a brutal warlord who used his personal army to: take their tribal lands away by force; kill and rape innocent men, women, and children; seize others’ businesses especially coffee and timber; establish lucrative diamond and hardwood smuggling operations with the countries of Uganda and the Central African Republic; and plunder his country’s natural resources at a time when his service as a patriot was desperately needed.

Ironically, Mr. Bemba was arrested in Brussels by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on May, 2008 charged with two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. But these five counts had nothing at all to do with his horrendous deeds in the DRC rather they were issued as a result of offenses allegedly committed by the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) in the Central African Republic from 2002 to 2003 after having been invited there by President Ange- Felix Patasse to quell an attempted coup against him. As the recognized leader of this militia the court held Bemba personally responsible for their actions.

Bemba’s trial at The Hague began on November 22, 2010 and continues on. But the end is in sight as the court recently declared all submission of evidence suspended and ordered both the prosecution and defense teams to file their closing briefs by June 2, 2014. Meanwhile Mr. Bemba had friends and members of his defense team working on an alternate plan -an illegal one that would ensure all of the charges against him would be dropped. Eventually the ICC was made aware of this plot and arrested four men suspected of perpetrating crimes against the court. Aime- Kilolo Musamba, lawyer-lead defense council, Jean-Jacques Mangenda- Kabongo, lawyer-case manager, Fidele Babala- Wandu, Member of DRC Parliament and Deputy Secretary of the MLC, Bemba’s militia turned political party, as well as Narcisse Arido, defense witness. Each man including Bemba was charged with presenting false/forged evidence and tampering with witnesses for the prosecution. On April 2, 2014 the trial judges determined that the additional charges of presenting false or forged evidence and tampering with witnesses would be treated as a different case and tried separately.

But who is Jean- Pierre Bemba anyways? Born into a wealthy, political family in Bokata, Nord- Ubangi District, Equateur Province on November 4th, 1962 young Bemba grew up in the palatial estate of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko mingling with Belgian aristocrats. Bemba’s father, a successful businessman himself, traveled in the same social circles as Mobutu acting as his advisor when needed. It was a small, elite group of wealthy Congolese families who along with Mobutu divided their time between the Congo and Brussels so much so that Bemba’s older sister eventually married Mobutu’s son and Jean- Pierre became quite close to the former dictator as he neared the end of his tenure even serving as his personal assistant in the early 1990’s. After Mobutu had been exiled Bemba‘s father went on to serve Laurent Kabila as his Minister of the Economy and Industry in the newly- formed government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then as a senator representing Equateur Province situated in the north-western part of the country while his son did not fare as well. The First War in the Congo would last one year (1996-1997) and as a result Laurent Kabila would capture the capital city of Kinshasa and declare himself President. One year later the Second War in the Congo would erupt when Rwanda and Uganda along with Burundi would invade the DRC after Lauren Kabila refused to keep his promises to them -lucrative mining deals in exchange for their military and monetary support during the First War. Plus Rwanda discovered that Kabila had a much closer relationship with the Hutu Interhamwe then he’d admitted.

During the First War in the Congo Jean- Pierre Bemba lost his businesses plus experienced open mistrust and discrimination by Laurent Kabila and the rest of his new cabinet because of his close connection to Mobutu. But during the Second War he rebounded and by the end of the war controlled most of Northeastern Congo as well as the major smuggling route between the DRC and Central African Republic ( CAR). This was due in no small part to Uganda’s help. Bemba gradually created his own militia, the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) a local militia composed of Congolese males from the north and eastern region of the country. He soon worked out a deal with the Ugandan government: he would help Uganda gather the hardwood from Kisangani and transport it back to Kampala while in return the Ugandan army would supply, arm, and train his men. Under this transaction Bemba’s militia prospered making his force a feared name throughout North Kivu Province while at the same time Bemba began cashing in on local products from diamonds to coffee beans. According to expert witness testimony presented to the UN’s National Security Council the Second War in the Congo centered on “trade and money”. The militia that controlled the wealthiest caches of natural resources triumphed over the rest so much so that battles were no longer fought to protect the people but to control the most lucrative diamond, gold, and mineral deposits as well as secure the rights to smuggling routes across the eastern border. Eventually Uganda and Rwanda formally withdrew and the Second War in the Congo came to an end but Bemba and his militia continued their smuggling  operations as usual. According to Global Witness (2003-2004) Bemba maintained a lucrative diamond and coffee smuggling ring into the Central African Republic (CAR) using its capital city of Bangui as his base. He smuggled timber into the CAR cut from the Ituri Forest and was paid large operation fees by European hardwood companies operating in the area.

During the Second War Bemba began a deliberate campaign of terror against the local Mbuti Pygmies living in the Congo’s Ituri Forest. In 2003 Sinafore Makelo, an Mbuti pygmy, told the United Nations Indigenous Peoples Forum that during the war Mbuti pygmies were “hunted down and eaten like game animals” by the militias and that none was more deadly than the group known as the “Effaceurs” (erasers). According to Minority Rights Group International “ Les Effaceurs” were soldiers in none other than the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC), Bemba’s men who used “mass killings, cannibalism, rape, and the threat of violence” to clear the Mbuti from the forests of North Kivu Province. According to testimony provided by Bantu farmers in the area Bemba wanted the pygmies to leave the local forests where they had lived for generations so he could expand his illegal mining and logging operations without witnesses.

Once he returned from the CAR and before leaving for Kinshasa Bemba swore he’d disbanded his MLC turning it into a political party instead but he purposely kept many of his soldiers with him claiming they now served as his personal guards. It was common knowledge around North Kivu Province that the MLC continued to oversee his smuggling operations while Bemba started newer, legal business endeavors such as his airline company and television station. By 2003 he had been named Vice President of Finance and served as one of four VP’s in the new transitional government of Joseph Kabila. He challenged Joseph Kabila by running for President in the 2006 election where he came in second then after a final face-off between the two candidates lost the election.

And then things became dangerously unclear. Mr. Bemba claimed that Joseph Kabila had used fraud to win the election but then said he would “bow out gracefully for the good of the country.” At the same time he did not attend the swearing–in ceremony nor did he give Kabila his official endorsement as President of the DRC. Yet by 2007 he had succeeded in winning a seat in Parliament as a Senator representing the capital city, Kinshasa.

It was common knowledge that Bemba housed many MLC members at his residence in Kinshasa who served as security guards. On March 22, 2007 a fight broke out between these guards and soldiers in the Congolese Army. It seems Bemba’s guards had been ordered by the government to register at a local military base where they would be eventually absorbed into the Congolese army but Bemba claimed these men served as his personal guard and for reasons of security would remain with him. Soldiers in the Congolese army showed up at Bemba’s house then tried to take his “body guards” into custody. The guards refused and started shooting at the soldiers. Although government reports were deliberately vague on the matter, eye- witness accounts around Kinshasa maintained that hundreds of Bemba’s soldiers flooded the streets resulting in open fire fights between them and Congolese troops. Many witnesses became convinced that Bemba was staging a coup in order to seize control of the government buildings. Eventually government forces brought the city under control as Bemba’s men suddenly began withdrawing from the streets. Although the government made no public announcement about the battle between the two sides and at no time referred to the fighting as a coup reports of over six hundred wounded or dead were filed by local hospitals and news agencies around the city. Meanwhile Bemba and his family fled to the South African embassy where he asked for and was granted asylum. One day later, on March 23, 2007 an arrest warrant was issued by the government charging Bemba with high treason. Bemba responded by blaming Kabila saying that the government soldiers had been sent to his home to kill him and that his body guards had only been defending him.

On March 26, 2007 the President of the DRC, Joseph Kabila charged Bemba with using his militia to seize control of the capital city of Kinshasa. Bemba denied these charges claiming that his only goal was to leave the country safely in spite of the thwarted assassination attempt on his life. But before he left the country Bemba ordered the members of his militia to comply with the government’s orders and hundreds of his men registered then were integrated into the Congolese army without incurring any punitive charges.

During April, 2007 Bemba and his family lived in Portugal. While there he continued to talk openly about his fear of reprisal from Kabila’s government and the fact that he planned to return to the DRC to take up his senate seat in Parliament. But by June, 2007 he was still traveling throughout Europe claiming that he feared for his life if he returned to Kinshasa.

One year later on May 24, 2008, Bemba was arrested near Brussels and surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 3. 2008 where he was immediately held in its detention center at The Hague. Before leaving he informed local reporters that these were false charges engineered by Joseph Kabila in order to discredit his good name and prevent him from serving as a politician in the DRC ever again.

Jean- Pierre Bemba Gombo  is a highly dangerous man and not just because of his crimes. It is his ambition that worries me most due to the fact that he has an unlimited supply of money at his disposal with which to buy his way in and out of any situation. My hope is that the ICC will sentence him to prison for a very long time and take his money away in the process. There is more than enough evidence on record to prove that the bulk of his wealth was amassed through illegal means and really belongs to the people of the DRC. And like I have warned many times in the past until the natural resources of the Congo are protected and regulated by an outside, impartial enforcement group such as the United Nations the lives of rural villagers in the east will never improve. Unfortunately, for every warlord and militia group arrested another man and his minions will come forward to take their place. There’s just too much money to be made not to take this chance.

Kat Nickerson                                                             Kingston,  Rhode Island, USA

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Allied Democratic Forces Take Charge in Eastern DRC: Why This? Why Now?

28 Mar
ADF    FoxNews.com

ADF FoxNews.com

 

On Friday, January 17, 2014 the Congolese army (FARDC) successfully drove soldiers in the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) from the city of Beni, North Kivu Province backed by the UN’s 3,000 strong  “Intervention Brigade” assigned to subdue all rebel activities occurring throughout Eastern Congo.  This happened after the same Congolese forces secured the city of Kamango the day after Christmas once ADF troops had claimed it the day before. While attacking the city ADF soldiers burned down buildings, wounded many residents, and were responsible for over fifty deaths causing the populace of the city to flee in terror. But the reason for this take-over is still a mystery. The members of ADF are no strangers to the people of Kamango having settled into this area themselves many years ago. Could it be that with the surrender of the M23 rebels from the same region ADF leaders have moved in to take over the lucrative illegal gold trade between the DRC border towns and Uganda? And once the ADF militia has been subdued who’ll move in next to control the smuggling operation?

But who are the ADF and where did they come from? Originally it was composed of a small band of rebels from Uganda who settled in the rugged terrain of the Rwenzori Mountains lying between the countries of Uganda and the DRC. These rebels espoused a specific Islamic ideology known as Tablighi prevalent in the Sudan. In time, their cause- reclaiming the Ugandan government brought them in contact with another group of rebels known as the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). This rebel group had also been pushed into the DRC by the Ugandan army when the DRC was known as Zaire and under the dictator, Mobutu’s control. Many of NALU members were Islamic Ugandans but there were others who had lost their political clout and /or personal fortunes once Museveni and his freedom fighters secured Kampala and ousted anyone connected with the former dictators Obote or Idi Amin. In time the ADF/ NALU morphed into one group. That happened in the mid- 1990’s but by all accounts the ADF camps reported on in recent years have dramatically changed their goals and it seems that retaking the government of Uganda is no longer a top priority for them. Plus after having been forced out of Uganda by the Ugandan army the ADF established permanent camps moving into the Congo- side of the Rwenzori Mountains for good. It’s estimated that as much as 60% of ADF’s current fighting force is composed of Congolese rather than Ugandan nationals now.

The Ugandan NALU integrated into the Nande community in Eastern Congo settling near the city of Beni. Their leader Enoch Nyamwise became a famous Nande politician who was contracted by the dictator Mobutu during the first war in the Congo and used his men to patrol the border between the Congo and Uganda. As the revolution raged on Nyamwise and his men became heavily invested in both legal and illegal activities as they began trading with neighboring villages in Uganda and it is said that it was these contacts between Congolese rebel militias and the Ugandan army that served to establish the first gold smuggling routes. By the time the ADF joined them they began augmenting their smuggling revenues by adding “kidnapping for ransom” ventures, mineral mines, logging industries, taxis, and borda-borda drivers to their economic empire.

Eventually most of the village militias on both sides of the revolution morphed into political parties after the wars in the Congo ended but the militias attached to each party never formally disbanded and remain armed and active to this day. This easy access to organized groups accustomed to using violence to get what they want has had a significant impact on the continuation of the war-like atmosphere pervasive throughout all of Eastern Congo.

By the time the year 2000 arrived gold smuggling had become “big” business in Beni. In 2013, the Enough Project reported that 98% of all the gold illegally leaving Eastern Congo was being sold out of Uganda specifically mentioning the actions of one Major Helaire Kembi, a former officer in the Congolese Army who deserted his post along with many of his men to head a highly lucrative gold smuggling operation in the area. One Congolese official confessed that gold worth millions of US dollars crosses the border into Uganda each and every day making it an extraordinarily profitable venture. Right now there are at least 15 different rebel militias operating in the Beni region alone- all jockeying for trading rights to the gold but it seems that M23 managed to gain control of the largest portion of the operation less than one year ago.

Then everything changed; the United Nations Intervention Brigade entered the fight and the Congolese Army began defeating M23’s troops so much so that M23  formally surrendered in November of 2013 ending their 20 month rebellion. Colonel Makenga and his men took refuge in Uganda where they still remain so what has happened to their gold smuggling operation? And around this same time ADF began changing its image from a small, local militia of less than 1,500 men into something far more dangerous.

Intelligence videos made by Ugandan operatives showed ADF troops engaged in formal training sessions led by men suspected of having connections to the Somali terrorist organization, al- Shabaab. According to the African Defence Review Burka –clad women were also observed living in certain Rwenzori camps while helicopters began making regular supply deliveries.
Rumors that new ADF recruits had been sent to Somalia to train began circulating throughout the area. It was common knowledge that the ADF continuously received funds from the UK, Kenya, and the Sudan but these monies had never been thought to be that significant. Then their troops were spotted carrying new, more advanced weapons including rocket launchers. Has the current leader of the ADF, Jamil Muhula rekindled his ties with al- Qaeda or has a new connection been forged between the two groups? Is al- Shabaab training ADF soldiers to become mujahideen – international mercenaries of terror? And if so, who’s paying for their services? Or does al- Shabaab or al- Qaeda seek to become the next masters of the illegal gold trade themselves now that M23 has been removed from the picture?

ADF’s motives remain unclear. Why would the ADF attack Kamango on Christmas Day after attacking it for the first time at the end of July, 2013? Why did they return three days later to take the city again only to behead 21 civilians? Why did they urge the villagers to flee to Uganda and above all, why would they act like an invading army when they too live in the Beni area and were sure have relatives and friends living in the city. Most ADF soldiers are Bandandi – Congolese ethnic Bakonzo so why would they turn on their own people. It’s not a logical move to invade a city knowing that UN troops are in the vicinity with orders to destroy all wayward militia groups. These men may be smugglers but they are intelligent business men as well who sell the produce from their farming operations in the local markets. What would possess them to anger and alienate their customers so? What was their motivation? It had to be something dire enough to cause them to jeopardize their livelihood. I suspect it had something to do with warning other groups in Beni away from M23’s operation? Was this the reason for the beheadings? Did they conquer Beni to lay an official claim to M23’s former gold operation by murdering the competition or were they paid to provide military support for another much stronger group like al- Shabaab- intent on picking up where M23 left off?

According to my sources in the area prior to Kamango ADF troops always followed an unofficial set of guidelines but predictable ones nonetheless: 1.) Never attack the Congolese Army only fight back in self- defense. 2.) Never attack large groups of Congolese civilians, and 3.) Avoid residing in villages; remain in the forest camps.

Whatever the reason, the ADF managed to anger the United Nations Security Council which on January 30th of this year reiterated its former mandate to MONUSCO ordering that all rebel groups be made to disband and that M23 troops be prevented from regrouping. It also resolved to continue to enforce its previous arms embargo, travel bans, and asset freezes on the DRC especially on those in the Kinshasa government. The UN Intervention Brigade presently consists of a force of 3,000 soldiers from the countries of Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi as well as another 17,000 troops serving in MONUSCO, the United Nations fighting force assigned to the protection of the Eastern Congo.

Defeating the rebels may lessen the immediate crisis but it is far from a real solution to the problem. Until the United Nations makes a unilateral effort to connect all sections of the country together by providing a reliable infrastructure nothing will change. Men will continue to come forward declaring themselves warlords and forming entirely new militias because there is no mechanism in place to stop them. The DR Congo is estimated to contain 24 trillion dollars US in untapped deposits of raw mineral ores, including the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s diamonds, gold, and copper. That sum is equivalent to the Gross Domestic Product of the European Union and the United States of America combined. With that much money at stake there are millions of men even other countries willing to do whatever it takes to secure some of that wealth for themselves.

According to the Encyclopedia of Nations, The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the third largest country in Africa and at 903,563 square miles is about ¼ the size of the United States of America. Yet according to the United Nations Development Index for 2013, 87.7% of its citizens live below the international poverty level. How can a country that rich in resources provide so little for its own people? The biggest problem is that most of the country’s wealth is being illegally smuggled across its Eastern border because the DRC has no infrastructure; which means – no dependable roads connect the 11 separate provinces in this country together, the government is located too far to the west of the country to do anything about it, while the rich deposits are located in the East in a very isolated mountainous region lined with tropical rain forests much too dense to cross.

Travelers in North Kivu district constantly come across roads that merely stop in the middle of nowhere suddenly turning into foot paths. Most roads turn to mud as soon as it rains and there are little to no repairs made on the existing ones. Plus traveling by car for any length of time is an impossible task for there are no dependable gas stations, hotels, stores, or restaurants in the rural areas- and above all, no law enforcement agencies. That means no police force and above all, no one to turn to if something goes wrong unless you’ve been adopted by the local tribe. No one travels far in the Congo except for Congolese soldiers grouped together in small bands who walk the roads by day with automatic weapons in hand dispensing justice to those who pay them the highest fees. There are local buses but they will only take you one or two villages away from home and operate within the same province. Pulling into a border town feels very much like entering the bar scene in Star Wars I where violent assaults literally occur at the “drop of a hat”.

The rule of thumb when entering Eastern Congo – “if you haven’t packed everything you’ll need to take you in and out of there, don’t go!” Nothing will ever improve for the people of Eastern Congo until the minerals have been adequately protected and North Kivu Province is opened up to the world at large.

 

Kat Nickerson                      Kingston, Rhode Island                                                                                               March 27, 2013

Congo’s Conflict Gold: Now Who Controls the Gold Corridor?

13 Jan
http:// Africareview.com

http:// Africareview.com

As with any issue there are basic facts that need to be considered before the rest of the story makes any sense. So I shall start by posting the most crucial information first. According to a 2013 United Nations Report concerning “Conflict Gold” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), “98% of all gold taken from mines in the DRC in 2013 was smuggled out of the Congo illegally and sold to gold traders in Uganda. The value of this gold has been estimated to have been between $313 million dollars (US) and $409 million dollars (US). Potential tax revenues collected by the government of the DRC would have been over $8 million dollars (US) had this gold been sold though legal channels. Could the many wars in the Congo as well as the diverse rebel groups living there be nothing more than a ruse used to cloud the real objective- the illegal removal of gold and minerals from the DRC by the countries which border it and the countries which profit by selling this gold on the international market?

On Thursday, December 12, 2013 a representative for M23 signed two documents agreeing to lay down their arms and fight no more while the government of the DRC promised to support the eleven points agreed upon by both parties in the newly- composed peace settlement. This meeting took place at the State House in Nairobi, Kenya arranged and brokered by Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya while Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda and Joyce Banda, President of Malawi looked on. At the conclusion of this eighteen month war many living in East and Central Africa felt that this truce continued to be an uneasy one. Only one month earlier to the day DRC’s government negotiators had refused to sign a cease-fire agreement with M23 in Kampala, Uganda because they objected to the title of the settlement agreement. Some of the major concessions in this pact: 1.) M23 will transform into a political party. This is nothing new; most of the political parties in the DRC today started out as militia groups. 2.) An exchange of prisoners on both sides. 3.) Resettlement of the 800,000 people displaced by the fighting. 4.) Establishment of a national committee charged with investigating claims and awarding damages related to the confiscation or destruction of property and/or goods during the war.5.) Reintegration of M23 troops into Congolese society.

Both sides agreed that “there would be no amnesty for those soldiers wanted for war crimes” but the specific terms of this condition is relatively unclear. Does this mean that all officers indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands for “Crimes against Humanity” will stand trial there or does President Joseph Kabila have something different in mind? Might the government of the DRC conduct its own “war” trials and if so, just how impartial would they be?

By November 2012, M23 appeared to have the better army as it had won most of its major engagements against the Congolese Army (FARDC). Eventually it fought its way into Goma; taking this, the capital city of North Kivu Province  located but a few miles from the border shared between the DRC and Rwanda. About this time civilians on both sides of the border began a running dialogue about the improved quality of M23’s weapons (unique AK-47 rifle barrels); the brand new uniforms and mud boots they had been issued; and especially the hats they wore which were identical to those worn by soldiers in the Rwandan army. In the opinion of many residents close to the fighting Rwanda had openly supported M23 from their side of the border going as far as to help plan the entire insurrection.

But by November 2013, M23 began to incur severe losses. Two possible reasons for this turn of events: 1.) the appearance of MONUSCO’s UN Intervention Brigade in the eastern Congo, a 3,000 member force composed of African soldiers from Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa. This military arm of the UN has been charged with eliminating the armed rebel groups in the Great Lakes Region. Their knowledge of the region as well as the use of advanced technology when added to the original Congolese forces (FARDC) in the area helped them outmaneuver and outfight M23. 2.) It also appeared as if any monetary support as well as the weekly supply train of weapons, materials, and recruits donated by Rwanda suddenly ceased. Although Rwanda has always denied any involvement in the M23 revolt, government officials there may have become reluctant to continue supporting M23 once Britain, the United States then the UN Security Council began to openly question their level of participation in this war.

But it was also common knowledge that M23 also supported its war through funds raised by smuggling gold across the border into the neighboring countries of Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda but especially Uganda. Word on the street was that M23 forged a lucrative arrangement with the government of Uganda then opened a special smuggling route that it used to move large amounts of gold into the capital city of Kampala right into to the hands of specific gold traders there. Almost any citizen of Uganda can tell you that his/her country removes some gold out of mines located near the border between Uganda and the DRC; but none of them produce enough gold to justify the immense amount traded in Ugandan markets then funneled into the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by shady gold dealers. From where did all of this gold originate?

In a November, 2012 a special report to The United Nations Security Council’s Sanctions Committee written by a “Group of Experts” stated that a major smuggling ring led by M23 officers moved conflict gold through the border town of Bunagana straight into the Kampala gold market. The town of Walikale was also named as another locale where the “gold corridor” operated in North Kivu Province.

And the more pressing question? Now that M23 has agreed to the conditions of this latest peace accord what rebel group will inherit its gold smuggling operations? Who out of the more than 30 other political militias operating in and around the border region along eastern Congo as of 2014- has the power and the contacts to make that happen? My money is on the new and improved ADF- NALU an organization created by the merger between the Allied Democratic Forces and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda. ADF has recently changed its ideological objective from that of a small, grass-roots retaliatory group seeking to overthrow Musesveni’s government in Uganda to a more structured Islamist- governed Congolese organization with official ties to al- Shabaab. It’s not the same group it was even three years ago which made some Ugandan journalists doubt that it was ADF who launched the first attack on the settlement at Kamango on July 21st, 2013. Two attacks later- the final one coming on December 28th, 2013 and most reporters were convinced that ADF-NALU had been responsible for all three raids.

But what would induce the ADF to change its operational tactics as well as its political affiliation? It has always had close ties to Sudan’s Sunni Muslims (Tabliq) and still receives some monetary support from them. The old ADF would have never attacked the Congolese army save in self- defense. They have nowhere the resources of the Congolese army nor could they hold off an attack by armed military forces (FARDC) for long. So why risk the lives of their men? They are a small locally-based set of camps spread throughout Beni -Lubero territory with about 1,200 men at their disposal; although their numbers may have increased lately as they have been visited by members of other terrorist organizations who have conducted training sessions at their camps. Most of these rebels are no longer Ugandan citizens as before and this new generation of fighters has Congolese  Bandandi roots and relatives living in the local communities surrounding them. So it would be unusual for them to attack and kill Congolese civilians without a compelling motive. And why would they try to capture an entire town when they do not have the manpower to hold it for very long? What would they gain by provoking the Congolese army and alienating the very people with whom they conduct business every day?

When interviewed after the third Kamango attack in December, 2013 many of the residents there reported that “the armed men urged them to flee into Uganda”? Seems like the ADF wanted the people to vacate the premises immediately rather than secure the town for themselves and if so, why? This shall all be discussed at length in my next blog.

Kat Nickerson                                                    Kingston, Rhode Island                                                                                       January 12, 2014

Are Street Children Witches in the DR Congo? Or Victims?

10 Jun
K. Nickerson 2009

K. Nickerson 2009

Street Children have an unassuming but marked presence in every third world country and if the truth be known are prevalent in many prosperous nations as well. The amount of children forced to live out on the streets in the DR Congo are staggering and according to the United States Department of State, 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Democratic Republic of the Congo there are an estimated 8.2 million displaced children, orphaned or vulnerable, living this way. According to this report a startling 91% eek out their daily living in any way they can and only 3% of them have access to medical care. In 2006, The UNICEF/ World Bank Initiative estimated that 30,000-40,000 children were living on their own without adult supervision on the streets of the DR Congo with the highest concentration in the larger cities like Kinshasa, Goma, and Mbuyi Mayi. Many of these children were forced to leave their homes by members of their immediate or extended families while others ended up in the cities by way of displacement camps as refugees or war orphans. With the fighting in the eastern districts continuing to escalate since 2006, it is a fair assumption that the number of “ street” children have steadily increased.

A common occurrence children experience after the death of a father is watching their relatives descend into their homes on the day of the funeral and physically cast out them- mother and children out into the streets with only the clothes on their backs. And the question of inheritance may depend on just how the deceased’s property has been passed down within a tribal system- through a matrilineal or patrilineal source of ownership. The prevalence of an entire family’s eviction is far greater in cases where the husbands’ extended family is involved in the funeral preparations but is also known to occur when the wife is a much younger woman and a member of a different tribe. In all patrilineal tribes throughout the DR Congo when a husband dies even in a monogamous marriage the widow is required to share the running of the household with one of the husband’s males relatives.

And what threatens these children’s futures even more is that polygamy is an accepted form of marriage throughout Central and East Africa especially prevalent in rural areas no matter the governments’ official positions on the practice. Rwanda, Burundi, and the DR Congo claim that polygamy is not legal in their respective countries yet there is no doubt that it has been and is widely practiced in each one of these three countries. In November 2012, the Kenyan government actually passed a bill legitimizing the practice within the country. Uganda, South Sudan, and Ethiopia acknowledge the practice of polygamy under civil law while Kenya and Tanzania support polygamous practices under customary law. In all of these countries as long as a man is able to provide for and maintain a separate household for each wife and her children he is allowed to have more than one wife so when this man dies, his death and the conditions of his will can affect the livelihood of several different families. And although the Constitution of the DR Congo prohibits parental abandonment of children this is a daily occurrence on the streets of Mbuyi Mayi and other large cities around the Congo. Congolese law stipulates that the sentence for child abandonment is imprisonment for parents and any other adults found guilty of the crime but as of 2013 the government had yet to arrest or try any adults for breaking this law.

But there is a unique twist connected to the abandonment of children in the DR Congo- a darker, more even more dangerous reason for throwing the young away. As fantastical as it sounds many parents in the DR Congo feel that they have no choice but to cast their children aside because they are convinced that these children are witches (ndogi).  These parents are certain that these witch children are slowly ruining their lives and that in time will eat them or turn them over to other witches who will devour their bodies and souls. The idea that witchcraft, sorcery, and witches are all acceptable daily occurrences is so ingrained in Congolese society that it is believed by everyone- no matter their station or calling in life. And where witches in rural villages are elderly men and women capable of performing both good and bad deeds the belief in “child witches” is connected to sorcery and  spawned from a whole different set of magical outcomes created and practiced exclusively in urban areas. The idea of “evil children” seems to be an entirely new phenomenon  beginning about  ten years ago which many community leaders believe is a reaction to the stress and the uncertainty of life in a modern city.  The urban street myths used to explain away unexpected tragedy and  human suffering seem  to place children in an even more vulnerable position. Everyone living in East Africa has heard the justification that “when parents die of AIDS- it is their children’s doing” and or the advice that “having sex with a young virgin will cure a man of AIDS.”

And the cruelest superstitions of all brand children as witches merely because they have been born with physical or mental disabilities. Children, who in the United States of America would qualify for Special Education classes and special services, are thrown out onto the street to fend for themselves in cities all around the DR Congo. It is common midwife folklore in the DR Congo that a woman who gives birth to a physically disabled child has sinned during her pregnancy and a mother who gives birth to a mentally disabled child was cursed by a witch during her pregnancy. And these birthing tales are not just unique to the DR Congo when I was living in Kitui, Kenya the Kamba women there told me the exact same stories about “children of the second world.”.
A mother and father might begin to suspect a child of being a witch if he/she suffers from epilepsy and has physical seizures, or if he/she becomes moody, disrespectful, contrary, violent- all signs healthy adolescents might exhibit as they move through their teenage years. These children could also be displaying symptoms related to severe stress, worry, or even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But any one of these behaviors is enough to alert families to the presence of a witch in their homes and parents begin to distance themselves  physically and emotionally from the child  during a very important stage in the  his/her life.  According to UNICEF 2011 it was reported that as many as 70%  of the street children it assisted in its outreach programs in DR Congo claimed to have been accused of witchcraft.

And what makes this a double tragedy is that the very organizations and institutions that should be supporting these children do not exist or have found ways to exploit the parents and children even further. Currently, the DR Congo  government has no social service agencies in place to help these parents. Therefore parents who are concerned over the likelihood that one  or all of their children may be witches have no choice but to bring them to a certain Pentecostal churches where cruel and inhuman exorcisms are performed on these children for a price. Each pastor conducts his/her own unique form of exorcism by starving, isolating, beating, whipping, and feeding purgatives and laxatives to these supposed witches against their will. In rare cases some children are cured and sent back to their parents but most children continue to reside on church grounds, kept as prisoners and requiring that their parents pay out even more money to church authorities to maintain their residence there. In instances where their parents can no longer afford the children’s upkeep, the youngsters are quickly turned out into the street to fend for themselves. According to 2012 UNICEF reports around  50,000 children may have been currently turned over by parents to churches claiming that they are capable of  curing the child of witchcraft.

According to the 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Democratic Republic of the Congo.” The constitution of the DR Congo prohibits parental abandonment of children who are believed to have committed sorcery. Nevertheless, parents or other care providers sometimes abandoned or abused such children, frequently invoking ‘witchcraft’ as a rationale, regardless of whether or not they believed their child was a “witch.” The law provides for a sentence of imprisonment for parents and other adults who accuse children of witchcraft. Authorities have yet to implement this law effectively.”

So just who is a street child? In the DR Congo it is an unwanted child usually under the age of fourteen or eighteen seeing that minimum legal age for consensual sex in the DR Congo is 14 years for females and 18 years of age for males. But either way it is a legal minor who has ceased to be supported in any way by the adults in his/her immediate or extended family and forced to live on the streets or in market places for any number of reasons. For many of these children their immediate families disintegrate when either: mothers and fathers die off from AIDS or Malaria: the living parent remarries due to the death of the other partner: members of the extended family such as grandparents, aunts or uncles die off or move away: or when either parent deserts the immediate family to seek work in other sections of the country. And when unexplainable, life-changing events such as this happen to families it is the child who suffers the most dire repercussions and may suddenly find him/herself unwanted and alone.

The street children of East and Central Africa have learned to band together into a unique underground culture. They have assembled into one body like a scene out of Lord of the Flies and most have joined loose-knit “family units” run by the older boys and girls from whom they receive protection and to whom they hand over a large percentage of their daily profits. During the day you’ll see them sleeping in the parks and tree-lined boulevards around the city when everyone else is up and busy moving from one place to another. Or you will observe them begging motorists for money at stop lights and ‘turn-arounds’ especially during the morning and evening commutes. You’ll know them by their dirty clothing and their street-wizened smiles even on the faces of the youngest who have a certain edge to them that lets you know they can handle themselves in any situation and do not fear violence. Some of them will have a dazed, dislocated look in their eyes from sniffing glue sold to them by pushers in grimy plastic bottles for five pennies a go but even these poor souls would slice your throat in an instant if they got you in an alley way alone and you were unarmed and carrying something of worth. The daytime hours are far kinder to these youngsters than the nighttime ones when predatory adults appear looking to exploit or harm these children. But encased in sunlight they move with a dogged determination and display a certain pride in their accomplishments because they have perfected the skills needed to survive on their own. Whereas the others- the more timid, peaceable ones, they are already dead -because they could not.

A few very lucky street children grow into adults and the really blessed ones somehow manage to find a wealthy sponsor and maybe a wonderful, new home but that only happens to a small percentage of this population. Many of them will die of simple things like blood poisoning or dysentery from which they could have recovered had they been given the proper medicines or treatment. Others will be killed by all manner of human predators from policeman who will use them for target practice to slave traffickers who want to exploit their young bodies. Another group will be picked up off the streets by police during the day and sent to Remand Centers where the older children will receive vocational training and some will excel in these careers like tailors and seamstresses and  leave the streets to open their own businesses.

The most vulnerable street children are those who make their living through some form of prostitution and they will die from all manner of sexual diseases including AIDS. According to a 2010 World Bank report, 26% of children living on the streets of the DR Congo were girls, and of those, nine out of 10 were involved in prostitution while seven out of 10 had reported that they had been raped.

The majority of street children have learned to survive in a world where they have neither the power nor the resources to succeed. And most find out very quickly that the rules protecting “wanted children” do not apply to them. According to World Vision in September of 2004 adult miners in Mbuyi Mayi hunted down and killed sixteen street children many younger than ten years of age and wounding hundreds more until stopped by the municipal police force but no one was arrested for these murders. Again in 2005 a nine year old boy was knocked to the ground and burned alive by truck drivers in the courtyard of the Longo School because he was suspected of being a witch and no charges were ever filed against him.

Whenever I consider the reason for “street children” I think of wise Mzee S. owner of his own clothing shop on the second floor of a building in Karen, Kenya. I am including the transcript from his interview  in July of 2006. I think what he had to say was the most straightforward and meaningful account of the reason for the existence of street children I have ever heard. I thank him for his honestly for revealing the truth of the matter in the sincerest way he knew how. Read what he had to say then think of his words whenever you’re inclined to make a hasty, impractical judgment.

Mzee S: Things use to be different when I was a child and people didn’t have AIDS. The families in my village would take in every orphan right into their own homes like they were born into the family and they treated these new sons and daughters just like the other children.

Mzee S: But then people started to get sick and it made them very weak- some could not even get out of bed and then they would die. Other villagers left to work in Nairobi and we did not see them for years. Some came back but they had married out of their tribe without the leaders’ blessing and had children from these marriages. We treated them well when they visited here but didn’t think of them as Kikuyu any more.

Mzee S: And then I went to live near Nairobi too and after working hard for twenty years opened my own clothing store. I used to see these small children walking around outside my shop. A couple times I even called the police because I would notice a young boy crying by one of the kiosks asking for his mother. The police came and took him away. I didn’t think then to ask them where they were taking him.

Mzee S: Soon there were a lot of the children on the streets of Nairobi and you could tell that they had nowhere to go. I even talked to my wife about it but there were just too many of them for one man to do anything about it- and it frightened me.

Mzee S: You know there are just too many orphans around here now- too many of them and its making Kenya too crowded. These streets kids have no one to lookout for them so are treated as goods by savy adults just looking to make a profit any way they can. I will not do that but I understand why they do it.

Mzee S: You know this can happen to every family in Kenya. One day your business is doing well and the next your wife dies and your shop catches fire. Then what happens to your own children? Before they know it they’re out on the street too and cannot afford their school fees. All the shop owners I know around her are just one day ahead of catastrophe and you have no idea how thankful I am to God every night I get to lock my shop doors cause everything is OK.

Mzee S: But you are a white person ( m’zungu) from the United States of America- a professor. What would you know what I and the other shop owners face each and every day? Sometimes I forget my fears but not often. I am a father and my responsibility is to my own children. But I know deep in my heart that someday if things do not go well I could find myself out on those streets along with those children.

Kat Nickerson                                                                                                                            Kingston, Rhode Island USA

Bosco Ntaganda: A New Twist to an Old Story

16 Apr

Bosco Ntaganda 2013

New York Times Pool photo by Peter Dejong, March, 2013

On the third Tuesday of March, 2013 former Congolese general Bosco Ntaganda 39, calmly introduced himself to the military personal guarding the gates of the American Embassy located in the capital city of Kigali, Rwanda then asked to be escorted to the office of the highest ranking U. S. official on duty that day where he surrendered himself over to the United States government to face the charges that had been leveled against him by the lead prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although neither the United States of America nor the country of Rwanda are participating members in the ICC, both countries assumed responsibility for his safety then arranged to have him flown to The Hague, Netherlands where he was immediately transferred over to a special security detail sent by the ICC as soon as he landed.

The question of the hour is why? Why would Bosco Ntaganda freely relinquish his freedom after years of flagrantly ignoring the indictments that had been leveled against him by the ICC during 2006 and again in 2012? The ICC had charged Ntaganda with crimes against humanity during his tenure as a commander in different Tutsi militias, specifically for his actions during the Second War in the Congo ( 2002-2003). The 2012 indictment charged him with murder, rape, pillaging, sexual slavery, and the conscription of child soldiers. Although to be fair, Ntaganda was not the first Congolese rebel leader to use children as soldiers.  Laurent Desire Kabila, father of the current president of the DR Congo, Joseph Kabila was the first to conscript child soldiers to fight in his revolution to overthrow the Congolese dictator Mobuto  and his “kadogos” played a crucial role in the battles that brought Kabila to Kinsasha finally placing him in the Presidential palace. These child troops led by the dynamic young leader, Anselme Masau helped make it possible for Kabila to declare himself President of the newly named  Democratic Republic of the Congo which had been previously called Zaire.

Ntaganda first distinguished himself as a master of terror while in the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC) and again while in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) where as Chief of Military Operations he became famous for his methods used to recruit and keep child soldiers in these militias. He demonstrated a real talent for terrorizing villagers and making non-combatants submissive. His use of force in the form of rape, torture, and murder of innocent civilians was legendary during the Second War in the Congo and he was not above stealing their meager possessions in order to personally profit from their suffering. Ntaganda’s fellow militia commander Thomas Lubanga had already been found guilty by the ICC during his summer 2012 trial of conscripting child soldiers into his rebel army ( 2002-2003) and is currently serving an eight year prison sentence for this crime.

Rumors and speculation abound, some more plausible than others. Ntaganda had openly lived in Goma, a large Congolese city near the border between the DR Congo and Rwanda or on his farm in Maisisi, North Kivu since the Second War in the Congo had ended. There he enjoyed a life of leisure while cultivating an image as a warlord and demonstrated time and again that he was exceptionally good at making money. He owned shares in several illegal mining operations throughout  Ituri District and made vast sums of money  engaging in various, sorted extortion and illegal taxation schemes which eventually made him a very wealthy man- some say a millionaire in his own right. So why wouldn’t he have fled to cosmopolitan Johannesburg, South Africa where money can  purchase a great deal of anonymity or to Dubai where total exclusivity can be had for the right price? He seemed to have squirreled away enough money to ensure himself a life of luxury as an expatriate, so why didn’t he take the far easier route and run?

Well some say that the United States had placed a huge international bounty on his head making his chances of survival slim to none, thus giving him no choice but to turn himself in. Others say that the United States had put tremendous pressure on Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and great friend to the United States Government, to cut all ties with Ntaganda even though he unofficially remained a soldier in the Rwandan army and never stopped carrying out Kagame’s orders. Others state that Joseph Kabila, President of the DR Congo after sheltering Ntaganda for years possibly because he did not want to alienate Rwanda announced in April of 2012 that he was considering arresting Ntaganda on the ICC’s charges but had considered trying him in the DR Congo instead of the Netherlands. And then there is M23, a Rwandan- supported rebel group operating in the Congo, who some say ousted Ntaganda from their ranks and swore to kill him if he returned with any of the 700 men still loyal to him.

This rebel movement composed of Congolese soldiers of the Tutsi ethnic group deserted their posts in April of 2012 and began fighting against the current president, Joseph Kabila and his government.  They have managed take over a good portion of Maisisi region from Goma to Sake from the Congolese Army and claim that their mission is to improve conditions for the citizens of the DR Congo by forcing Kabila to give into their demands but they seem to be doing this mainly for the people of the northeast region of the country namely the Tutsi who continue to face discrimination in North and South Kivu.

But this is an old story with basically the same cast of characters and some say that the present rebellion is no more than a continuation of the Second War in the Congo when the neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda entered the DR Congo illegally and refused to leave. There is irrefutable evidence that neither government ever departed the northeastern region of the Congo and that both continue to profit from illegally operated mines and the sale of conflict minerals. But for Rwanda, there is a much greater objective and that is the annihilation of the Hutu “Interahamwe”. Many claim that Laurent Kabila gave many of these Hutu extremists asylum in northeastern Congo after an estimated two million of them fled to surrounding countries once the Tutsi freedom fighters (RFP) had taken back the government of Rwanda in 1994. Rumors also attested to the fact that Kabila owed these Hutu militias for helping him oust Mobutu and assume the Presidency of the DR Congo. Rwanda who had also helped Kabila secure his position as president requested permission to enter the DR Congo to hunt down the Hutu rebels but although Rwandan soldiers did so for a time, they were subsequently denied permission to “cleanse the area of all “Interahamwe”. The descendants of these “Interahamwe” still exist in North and South Kivu and Paul Kagame will not rest until every last one of them has been killed. And so M23’s agenda is also the Rwandan agenda and even the United Nations has irrefutable evidence that Rwanda with Uganda’s help has been supporting the M23 Movement.

One only has to reread the history of Laurent Nkunda to understand how Rwanda has had and still has only two goals: it will not leave the Congo alone until the “Interahamwe” are destroyed for good and until the Tutsi have been properly accepted into Congolese society.

Nkunda began his career as a soldier by joining the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) helping to overthrown the Hutu government responsible for the Rwandan Genocide. Then he returned to the Congo and joined Laurent Kabila during the First War in the Congo (1996-1998)  helping him become President of the DR Congo.

By the Second War (200-2003) Nkunda had been promoted to major in the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) a Tutsi militia supported by Rwanda. By 2004 once the wars had ended, Nkunda had risen to the rank of general in the Congolese Army but soon resented his treatment and those of his fellow Tutsi serving in the ranks so he and his men deserted their posts in North Kivu District and fled into the rural areas of Masisi. This became known as the Kivu Conflict and Nkunda claimed that he had no choice but to defend the Tutsi residing in the region who were being murdered by the Hutu rebels living there as well

By August 2007, Nkunda controlled most of the territory in Masisi and Rutshuru and had formed his own Tutsi militia he called the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). Word on the street was that his militia was being financed by Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda.

By 2008, Nkunda advanced on Goma, a large city near the Rwandan- Congo border where he led his fighters against the Congolese army and United Nations troops. The recent fighting displaced around 200,000 civilians, bringing the total number of civilians uprooted by the Kivu Conflict to around 2 million diseased and starving residents of the northeast region of the Congo. Nkunda swore that he would not stop until President, Joseph Kabila accepted his commands.

Although Nkunda had been accused of crimes against humanity especially in his recruitment of child soldiers he firmly denied this allegation stating that he did not advocate the use of child soldiers and had sent them home when he had been given the opportunity to do so. And them something happened – it Joseph Kabila did not reach an agreement with Nkunda but had been negotiating with Paul Kagame instead. Kabila’s demand: If Nkunda was removed from the leadership of the CNDP then Rwandan soldiers would be allowed into the DRC to destroy the Hutu “Interahamwe”  once again”. Now a lot of people believed that Nkunda had only been following Kagame’s directives in the first place and after M23’s similar demands this seems very likely.

And then who took over the leadership of the CNDP but Bosco Ntaganda! Some accounts maintain that he usurped leadership of the militia but that was totally untrue.  The CNDP was a Rwandan militia through and though -supported and operated by the country of Rwanda. Both Nkunda and Ntaganda remained soldiers in the Rwandan Army and did only what Kagame  ordered.

Laurent Nkunda was arrested four years ago by the Rwandan Army in 2009 after he had crossed into Rwanda but he has yet to be charged with any crime by a Rwandan military court. He had been under secret house arrest since that day but many feel that he is free man in Rwanda and even acts as a military advisor to the President of Rwanda concerning DR Congo affairs. The Rwandan government has continually refused to hand over Nkunda to the Congolese courts even though the DR Congo had issued an international warrant for his arrest. The Rwandan government had substantiated the fact that Nkunda remained a Rwandan soldier by ruling in 2010 that Nkunda could only be tried by a military court. They gave the reason that this was because the military had been responsible for his apprehension but that claim would only be accepted by the court if he was considered to be a legitimate soldier in the Rwandan army in the first place.

But the plot continues to thicken. Who was it who also fought alongside Laurent Nkunda and Bosco Ntaganda during the North Kivu Conflict? Why it was Colonel Sultani Makenga also accused of having committed crimes against humanity by massacring 67civilians in Kiwandja, North Kivu during the Kivu Conflict. This is the same Colonel Sultani Makenga who  now leads of the M23 troops. And predictably he professes the  same concerns as Nkunda for the safety of the Tutsi in the Congo and is waging the same war against the  Hutu “Interahamwe” as Nkunda did. Now from where did he receive his marching orders and his money?

One thing is certain, at some point Ntaganda became an unavoidable embarrassment to Paul Kagame but has Rwanda deserted him for good? This remains to be seen but based on Rwanda’s treatment of Nkunda- maybe not? Is M23 against Ntaganda or is this all just an act in order to distance themselves from his despicable reputation- maybe so? Ntaganda entered the courtroom a humble man on the first day of his trial, the decorated officer now wore the reserved, black suit of a European gentleman- far from the boisterous warlord and brutal militia commander responsible for carrying out the heinous charges that had been leveled against him.

He was not asked to enter a plea on the first day of his trial but stated for the record anyways, “I was informed of the crimes but I am not guilty.”

When Judge Trendafileva asked him to state his profession, he answered, “I was a soldier in the Congo.” Maybe had he replied, “I was a Rwandan soldier operating under orders in the DR Congo .”- he might have come somewhat closer to the truth of the matter.

Kat Nickerson                       Kingston         R.I.                  USA

State of the DR Congo: Part Two

14 Jan

JB Pres

Joseph Kabila, Current President ot the DR Congo ASCN Press.com

The Lusaka Peace Accord, the document that officially ended the Second War in the Congo, was signed by representatives of the warring countries on July 10, 1999. In reality, fighting among respective militias and rebel groups would continue on for years and many claim that this war has never ended and continues on into the Twenty-first century. The first country to sign the agreement was the DR Congo, the aggrieved victim in this invasion by Uganda and Rwanda. Then Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe who had helped Laurent Kabila oust the previous dictator Mobutu and rise to the Presidency of the DR Congo. Lastly, Rwanda and Uganda signed, both of whom were the aggressors in this war with help from Burundi but that country had not been required to sign the document.

It took longer for the rebel militias to make it to the table because of the number of signers (around 50 for the RCD) and the internal disputes that had to be resolved among the different factions prior to their arrival in Lusaka, Zambia. Finally the Uganda -supported rebel militia, the MLC (Movement de Liberation) signed the accord on August 1, 2009 and the Rwanda-sponsored RCD (Rally for Congolese Democracy) was the last to sign but did so, on August 31, 2009. Terms of the Accord stipulated that all military operations related to the war cease immediately, that all prisoners of war be returned to their respective armies and militias unharmed, and that a UN peacekeeping force would be assigned to the Northeastern region of the DR Congo to assure that the terms of this agreement were carried out in a timely and efficient manner.

There were other agreements that the rebels swore had been approved in the document but these would not be implemented and  would be some of the grievances raised by the M23 rebels in their recent April 2012 rebellion in Kivu District.

A year later by August of 2000, President Laurent Kabila would publically state that he had no intention of honoring the terms of the Peace Accord because he felt that the DR Congo had not been treated as a sovereign nation in the peace talks and should have been the only nation involved in negotiating with Uganda and Rwanda. Furthermore, he had gone on to implement a transitional parliament without any input from other political parties around the country causing more unrest and disenchantment with his presidency among his citizens.

 Laurent Kabila had had to mortgage his country’s resources to pay for the military and financial assistance he had received during the First and the Second War in the Congo.  As a result of their support, he had signed over licenses for copper/cobalt and diamonds in the DR Congo to Namibia and Zimbabwe and Angola was allowed to create a subsidiary oil company, Sonangol-Congo there as well. Angola’s military was also allowed to enter the DR Congo to search out and destroy UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) the rebel group that continuously threatened the current Angolan administration with revolution.

But Kabila had played both sides of the fence when using Angola. Apparently he was also receiving large sums of money from the UNITA rebels and had been doing so since his ‘March to Kinshasa’. Once he had established himself in power he charged UNITA exorbitant fees to operate a $200 million dollar (US) a year diamond exchange managed in the local markets by a family of Lebanese diamond merchants. Little did he know that his tenure as president of the DR Congo had almost come to an end.

By the evening of January 16, 2001 Laurent Desire Kabila was dead, assassinated in his presidential office by one of his personal guards – himself a child soldier who had fought with Kabila during the revolution to liberate the DR Congo. According to the official transcript, the president was speaking with his economic adviser when his bodyguard Rashidi Kasereka entered his office and bent down seemingly to talk to the president. Instead Kasereka  took out his pistol and fired several shots into Kabila’s head.  Then he tried to escape but was shot and killed dead outside of the office by either the head of palace security or another bodyguard.

A long, tedious legal trial ensued and hundreds of soldiers, administrators and women related to the supposed assassins either received the death penalty or were sentenced to life in prison. The official version read at the trial identified Kasereka as one member of a plot by kadogo (child soldiers) to assassinate Kabila because he had had their leader, Anselme Masasu executed but many other theories circulated around Kinshasa as well. Eddy Kapendi swore that Kasereka at the time of his death was carrying a card from the US embassy on him signed by the military attaché in residence there and the words: “Should there be a problem, call this number” written on the back. The presence of this card on Kasereka’s body was also confirmed by the Minister of Justice. Few people in the DR Congo believed that the men and women convicted as a result of the trial were guilty but all official attempts to have their sentences commuted have fallen on deaf ears and the late President’s son has refused to rescind any the prisoners’ harsh sentences.

Even before the funeral began several respected Congolese politicians and reporters openly accused Rwanda of masterminding the plot in which Laurent Kabila was assassinated.  The driver of the get-away car, an admitted participant in the plot, managed to escape during the night of Kabila’s death along with a Lebanese businessman. They both immediately fled to Rwanda. Once there, they were given asylum, protected by armed guards, and allowed to settle there. Eventually both of them were offered positions in politics and business arranged by officials in the Rwandan government.

And new testimonies accusing Paul Kagame have also surfaced since then.  In March 2012, in a meeting of Rwandan  political organizations in Brussels, Theogene Rudasingwa, the former Rwandan Chief of Staff for Paul Kagame, stated that Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda«  was the primary instigator of the death of Laurent Desire Kabila, President of the DR Congo. »

A month after that, Gerard Gahima, the former Prosecutor General of Rwanda andone of the  founding members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), without directly accusing Paul Kagame said, « the strongman of Rwanda wanted at any price to get rid of Kabila, a President he had put in power a year earlier. »

A young Joseph Kabila was named President of The DR Congo on January 26, 2001- one day after the murder of his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila. At thirty years of age, he  was an inexperienced leader yet it was his responsibility to negotiate a peace agreement with the same rebel groups that had helped his father overthrow the dictator in Kinshasa three years earlier. On April 19, 2002 some of the participants in the Second War in the Congo signed the final Peace Agreement at Sun City, South Africa.  Under the terms of the agreement Joseph Kabila was to remain President and head of state of the DR Congo during his 18 month interim administration but four vice presidents would help him lead the country. Two of those vice presidents would be selected from each of the country’s largest rebel militias ( Jean- Pierre Bemba from the MLC and Azarias Ruberwa from the RCD) and two other vice-presidents would represent the civilian opposition and the present government. Former members of the MLC and RCD would be assimilated into positions within the government ministries, the Congolese Army, and the police force.

The document also provided a chronology that would be used to ensure that the DR Congo established a constitution, a multi-party government, and a time schedule for conducting free elections around the country. Although the peace agreement was successful in reducing the size of the conflicts- it did not end them.

 While an elected parliament continued to revamp the constitution, the real power remained with Joseph Kabila as president of the country. The constitutional amendments describing the conditions and the calendar for presidential elections as well the decentralization of the government’s power into 27 separate administrative provinces has yet to be fullyrealized in the manner in which these were originally stipulated in the document.

The fragile government of Joseph Kabila continued to be challenged. On March 28, 2003, the army was required to subdue angry mobs in Kinshasa organized by followers of the dictator and former President of DR Congo Sese Seko Mobutu. And on June 11, 2004, a group of soldiers, supporters of the dead Mobutu’s policies and led by Major Eric Lenge, attempted a military coup and takeover of the government in Kinshasa but were defeated by regulars in the Congolese Army.

In December 2005, amendments to the new constitution were ratified and by June 2006 Joseph Kabila was required to run for re-election as stipulated in the new constitution. In March 2006, Joseph Kabila registered as a candidate for President of the DR Congo. Although Kabila registered as an independent, he was one of the founding members of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy ( PPRD) which chose him as their candidate for this election. Although the new constitution stipulated that a debate must be held between the two remaining candidates these debates never took place causing some constituents to declare that the 2006 election was unconstitutional

 Elections that included multi-party candidates took place on July 30, 2006. They were the first free elections in DR Congo since 1960. The field of presidential hopefuls was enormous, over 33 individual candidates ran on the ticket. In the first election Joseph Kabila received 44.8 % of the vote while Jean- Pierre Bemba, Leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) the very same rebel leader who fought against Kabila in the Second War in the Congo came in second place receiving 20%  of the vote. After the second election was held between the two candidates with the largest totals on October 9, 2006 Kabila received 58% and Bemba 42% of the vote. Bemba immediatelyclaimed that many votes for Kabila had been fraudulently cast and pledged that he would contest the results. Bemba was responsible for instigating several violent riots in Kinshasa and in the northeast region of the country after the post-election results had been approved by the electoral commission but Joseph Kabila had finally been officially elected President of the DR Congo. More will follow.

Kat Nickerson             Kingston.  RI                   USA

 

The State of the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Part One

6 Jan

 Laurent Kabila

President Laurent Kabila Inaugeration   framepool.com

What if a movie script was pitched to a group of Hollywood moguls about a war that never seemed to end in a country where ethnic cleansing was practiced daily on a scale infinitely larger than the 100 days of genocide in Rwanda in 1994, where 30% of all the diamond resources in the world were located, where an estimated $157 billion dollars (US) in minerals such as cobalt coltran, and copper lay under the ground, and where gold worth billions of US dollars could be had for the taking? What if the greediest players in this conflict were a band  of international arms dealers, former Russian and Israeli soldiers and intelligence agents who fueled the conflict by keeping everyone in the region armed to the teeth with an endless supply of automatic weapons and the ammunition to keep them continuously shooting back? And what if one of those Russians took control of an entire island in order to store his enormous cache of arms and ship all matter of deadly munitions to the mainland?  And what if other countries surrounding this unfortunate nation crossed its border at will in order to loot and pillage whenever possible- even maintaining illegal mining operations there for decades. What if business transactions that in no way benefited the residents of this country were conducted there on a daily basis by corporations based in some of the wealthiest nations on earth; like the United States of America, China, and Great Britain.  And lastly what if the rest of the world looked on in silence and did nothing.

Seem like too fantastical a plot for a blockbuster movie? Even James Bond might fail when charged with sorting out problems of this magnitude.  But this is the real state of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as of December 2012. In my next several blogs I shall attempt to explain each step in this highly complicated drama, piece by piece, in a logical fashion so my readers can come to understand just where the DR Congo is headed and who the major players might be.

But in order for my audience to watch this movie and have it make any sense at all, they will have to know something about the country first. I have removed less important dates so that the reader is not distracted and can concentrate on what actually occurred but all of my facts are current, accurate, and truthfully stated. The reader can Google each date by searching for specific topics. I have collected the citations and references for all of my facts and keep them with me.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is located in Central Africa. A total area of 875,520 sq miles makes it the second largest country in Africa and the eleventh largest one in the world. It is about one-fourth the size of the United States and has a varied terrain that contains many different ecosystems within its borders: The central plateau in the heart of the country is covered by dense tropical rainforests fed by large and small river systems, mountainous regions occupy the west and north west regions, expansive savannas top the south and southwest plains, a large area of grasslands fills the northlands gradually turning into the Ruwenzori Mountain Range in the east, a high, steep line of mountains shared with the bordering countries of Uganda and Rwanda.

According to International Rescue Committee, the DR Congo “is the world’s least developed country  in terms of life expectancy, education, standard of living and key health indicators, like maternal and child mortality. The government is unable to provide protection and basic services to its people, who continue to suffer from dire poverty and neglect.”

And the latest United Nations Development Index (UNDP, 2011) which rates the quality of life in 187 countries and territories around the world ranked the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the last one on their list, number 187 out of 187 countries.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) for 2012 reported that “The Democratic Republic of the Congo has recorded very little democratic or economic progress during the period under review (January 2009 – January 2011).  According to the BTI factors such as severe human rights abuses, the inability to follow constitutional law, widespread corruption within the administration, and the president’s inability to create and implement essential policies has left the government weak and barely functioning in some of the country’s more remote districts. BTI is a global assessment of transition processes in which the state of democracy and market economy as well as the quality of political management in 128 transformation and developing countries are evaluated.

 The report continues on to reveal that the country’s economy has not progressed satisfactorily  even though there was some growth in the GDP during 2009 – 2010, but this had no affect on the people of the country who live marginal lives at best. And the BTI blames the government for this, stating,“The implementation of economic policies has only been possible as a result of constant pressure from the IMF, World Bank and other international donors. The country’s leaders have not really shown the willingness or the capacity to devise appropriate policies and implementation strategies to set the country on a sustainable course for democracy and economic development.”

http://www.bti-project.org

While the western section of the country has managed to achieve a relative level of stability, the eastern part of The DR Congo has faced constant war and destruction as a host of different militias, warlords, and the Congolese army vie for control of the vast mineral reserves located there. The UNHCR has reported that over 64,000 more villagers left their homes just in the last month of 2012 due to the most recent battles between M23 rebels and the Congolese army in Goma.  Hundreds of thousands more have been forced out of their towns and villages in the past few years and trudged down extremely treacherous roads to make it to the UN- subsidized refugee camps like Mugunga III as well other UN camps established in the countries of Rwanda and Uganda. These UN camps have had to service millions of refugees due to the unstable and violent conditions encountered in East Kivu District. According to the UNDP, it is not easy to live in the DR Congo where life expectancy is a mere 48years, the education rate for adults is 3.5 years, and the majority of the population survives on less than $1.25 US a day.

http://www.unhcr.org/50d049206.html

The current president of the DR Congo, Joseph Kabila, is the son of the man who liberated the country from its previous dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May of 1997. Mobutu, who was originally supported by countries such as the United States and Great Britain, squandered the wealth of his country on himself and his friends. Laurent Kabila was the first revolutionary leader in Central Africa to recruit “child soldiers” and he used thousands of them to fight his way from Katanga in the East of the country to Kinshasa, its capital city located in the west. But unable to create a trained army of professionals he also used  forces provided by  his allies, Angola and Zimbabwe to hold fortifications in the west, and on the Hutu Interhamwe  to launch attacks on Mobutu’s Congolese troops in the east.  Once Kabila secured Kinshasa he claimed the government offices, there and named himself President of the entire country. Then he changed the name of the country from Zaire to what it is today, The Democratic Republic of the Congo- not to be confused with the Republic of the Congo which is another country in Central Africa altogether. Laurent Kabila remained president for less than four years. Meanwhile the First and consecutively the Second Wars in the Congo raged on despite the Sun City Peace Agreement signed in 2002. By April 2002, more than 2.5 million people had died but the fighting had not stopped.

 In August 2007, a rebel militia leader, named Laurent Nkunda, who had once fought with Laurent Kabila in the First War in the Congo, resumed fighting in the Kivu Districts uprooting 200,000 civilians again. Nkunda who had fought in the Rwanda- supported RCD durng the Second War had been taken into the Congoloese army at the end of the Second War where he earned the rank of General. But by 2007 he with many of his former soldiers deserted to form a new version of the RCD. Nkunda who was a Tutsi, maintained that he was forced to do this to save  his fellow Tutsi from the Hutu Interhamwe living in the DR Congo. He accused Joseph Kabila of protecting the  Hutu Interhamwe , the ones responsible for the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, and claimed that Joseph’s father, the former president had  allowed the Interhamwe to live in these districts after they had fought for him during the First War in the Congo.

Nkunda was detained on January 22, 2009 by Rwandan forces after he had crossed into Rwanda to help them hunt down other Hutu  Interhamwe operating in the area. Joseph Kabila had made a deal with President Kagame of Rwanda: he would allow Rwandan soldiers into the DRC to eradicate the  Hutu Interahamwe  militants there  if Rwanda would stop Nkunda  from waging further war in the Kivu Districts.  Although there has been an international warrant issued for his arrest Nkunda has not been tried either in Brussels or in Rwanda. He is currently being held under house arrest in Gisenyi, Rwanda and has yet to be charged with any crime.

 As part of the terms of  Nkunda’s capture his Tutsi militia would be re-absorbed into the Congolese Army once more and awarded the same ranks they had held in Nkunda’s militia. Also, as part of the agreement, forces from DR Congo and Rwanda would work jointly together until all of the Hutu Interhamwe had been exterminated from the eastern region of the Congo. This mission lasted about five weeks but then the Congolese soldiers were abruptly reassigned to other duties in the area and the Rwandan forces were asked to pull out of Kivu Districts for good and return to Rwanda. Now some of the elders in the region say that the troops left as ordered and others say that many of the Rwandan soldiers were ordered to insert themselves into smaller Tutsi militias that had refused to disband and continued to hunt down the Hutu extremists. Either way, this region was much too isolated and inaccessible for anyone to know for sure.

In a report released in January 2008, The International Rescue Committee found that “despite billions in aid, the deployment of the world’s largest peacekeeping force, and successful democratic elections, some 45,000 people continued to  die each month in DR Congo, mostly from starvation and disease.” (IRC, 2008)

I will continue on with this story in my next Blog Posting: The State of the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Part Two

Kat Nickerson             Kingston, RI                   USA

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Update on the Conflict in Eastern DR Congo: Filling in the Holes

20 Dec
Photo:Al Jazeera, 2012

Photo:Al Jazeera, 2012

 On November 30th, 2012 Great Britain stopped its remaining yearly allocation of 25 million (USD) to the country of Rwanda after an important United Nations Report identified  Paul Kagame’s administration as the government responsible for supplying and training the M23 rebels. This news might have shocked  the UK but everyone and I do mean everyone living on the continent of Africa knew that Rwanda was involved a couple months into the M23 rebellion. Just look at the pictures Al Jazeera took of the rebels entering Goma and you’ll know by the crispness of their green fatigues and the shine of their new rain boots that someone with power and money had to have been supporting them. Even their guns gave them away as many carried rifles exclusively issued to soldiers conscripted into the Rwandan Army. But the most damning piece of evidence was their hats. Soldiers in the Rwandan army wear a distinct type of brimmed cap- the same cap that scores of M23 troops were photographed wearing on their heads as they entered Goma.  And above all, no rebel army could have looked this polished and pressed if it had been left to scrape by on its own merits in the brutal terrain of Kivu district for the past eight months.  

This withdrawal of monies may not hurt the government of Rwanda right away but if the UK decides to stop its total monetary award in aid to Rwanda for the upcoming 2012-2013 year, an estimated 118 million (USD) this could decidedly have a disastrous effect on the quality of life for the people living in Rwanda. After acknowledging the same report, the Netherlands withdrew 6.15 million (USD) in funds that had been earmarked to help Rwanda upgrade its current judicial system. And the United States stopped the transfer of a measly 200,000 (USD) in military aid this past July.

Uganda, also identified as involved in supporting the M23 forces to a lesser extent, suffered its own setback in aid when the UK withdrew around 44 million (UDS) in funds last month( November 16, 2012) after allegations of embezzlement were reported and linked to the office of Patrick Mbabazi, Prime Minister of Uganda. According to the charges, officials in the Prime Minister’s office diverted a portion of these monies into their own private bank accounts. During the 2011-2012 year the UK was supposed to send a grand total of 44 million (USD) to Uganda but decided to withhold the final 18 million (USD) until a thorough investigation of the allegations has been completed. The UK had intentions of sending a total of 161 million (USD) to Uganda during the upcoming 2012-2013 year but according to officials in the government funding offices these new charges of fraud must be investigated and resolved before any further monies will be transferred into Ugandan government accounts.

The M23 rebels, true to their word, withdrew from Goma peacefully on late Saturday afternoon, December 1, 2012 but remained close by- near enough to the city to retake it if necessary. They did leave a small band of troops at the Goma Airport and if reports by local residents and United Nations personnel are to be believed- who but the illusive General Bosco Ntaganda, fellow Tutsi and current resident of Rwanda, led the M23 troops that secured the airport. The rebels agreed to leave the city after The International Conference of the Great Lakes Region negotiated a ceasefire and persuaded them to relinquish their eleven day occupation of Goma on the condition that they would be given the opportunity to present their demands to the president of the DR Congo, Joseph Kabila during formal negotiations hosted by Uganda. A team of M23 representatives are currently locked in negotiations there with the Foreign Minister of the DR Congo. M23 troops wait to see if the terms they previously stipulated, those awarded to them in the Lusaka Peace Accord Agreement at the end of the Second War in the Congo will be upheld by President Kabila. The United Nations Security Council refuses to condone the actions of the M23 Movement and showed their disapproval by placing two more of M23’s leaders, Baudoin Ngaruye and Innocent Kaina on their Sanctions List.

A battalion of the Congolese army (FDRC) subsequently reentered Goma and hundreds of policemen resumed their duties but neither group was welcomed by the local citizenry after the violent way in which they conducted themselves as they retreated from the city once it was evident that M23 had been victorious. Incidents of rape, murder, and extortion of innocent citizens by soldiers in the Congolese army were reported throughout the city and it’s evident that residents who’ve chosen to remain in Goma do not trust the actions or the intentions of the Congolese troops that have been newly assigned to the city.

The M23 rebels, according to the first-hand testimonies of people on the street, entered and exited in a far more peaceful and organized manner despite the scary rumors that had been spread throughout the city about M23 rebels engaging in raping women, murdering civilians, and conscripting young boys into their army. And in spite of this hype, no one was able to provide inquiring reporters with the names and details needed to support these vague claims. M23 was even credited with robbing currency worth millions of US dollars from the Central Bank of Goma and first- person accounts of the robbery were cited by reputable news agencies around the globe including The BBC until the Bank president came forward and provided factual information about the safe which proved that the numerous stories about the alleged bank heist were all untrue.

Meanwhile negotiations at the Speke Resort in Munyonyo, Uganda between M23 and Kabila’s foreign minister have broken down once again. On Sunday, December 9th, M23’s secretary accused Kabila’s government of “doing nothing” to fix the severe problems in the eastern provinces and charged him with encouraging “the social exclusion of particular ethnic groups within the region”. In stating this, the M23 representatives were specifically referring to the prejudicial treatment that Tutsi in the eastern provinces have received from the members of the other tribes in the region especially Hutu extremists. This has been an important concern all along for M23 and one of the primary reasons they left their posts in the Congolese army and formed the M23 Movement. By Monday, December 10th, 2012 the M23 delegation refused to attend the daily negotiation session.  And why should they?  According to information about the negotiations published in the Ugandan dailies when M23 emissaries made the monumental request: that “ Joseph Kabila step down as President of the DR Congo and help create a transitional government approved by the people of the DR Congo, Kabila’s minister countered by offering the rebels a personal incentive: “full integration back into the Congolese Army”.

There is no way that Dr. Kiyonga, Uganda’s defense minister and chief facilitator in these talks will be able to lead these two groups towards a compromise when their fundamental view of the situation is so vastly different. Does Joseph Kabila think he can bully and bluff his way through these negotiations and that somehow this volatile situation will disappear with no cost to his administration? Does he not recognize that the eastern region of his country is suffering through a rebellion and that those men sitting across from his defense minister are the very ones who’ve been winning the war?

And what about the critical injustices that have not been mentioned as of yet? The ones that lay at the heart of M23’s rebellion- like how President Joseph Kabila has continued to support the Hutu Interhamwe, and other anti-Tutsi militias in the Eastern provinces just as his father did when he was president. The FDLR is made up of the same men, Hutu genocidaires whose main mission has always been to exterminate all Tutsi from Central and East Africa beginning with Rwanda. They were deliberately given asylum within the Eastern provinces by Laurent Kabila and used by him during the First and Second War in the Congo against Tutsi militias such as the CNDP. These extremist Hutu continue to live and prosper within northern Kivu District to this day and are responsible for the murders of thousands of innocent Congolese Tutsi and anyone else who stands in their way.  

On November 22, 2012 General Gabriel Amisi, an associate of Joseph Kabila and Commander of the Congolese Infantry in eastern DR Congo was openly charged with distributing weapons to militias and other criminal elements operating within the eastern provinces according to a United Nation report submitted by a team of conflict specialists assigned to investigate this situation. The report specified how General Amisi administered the regular distribution of automatic weapons and ammunition to rebel forces and criminal groups operating in villages throughout the eastern districts. The weapons were identified as the same make as those issued to soldiers in the Conglese army and had been distributed at no cost to members of  Mai-Mai militias and other rebel groups including the extremely violent Raïa Mutomboki, a Congolese militia accused of supporting the Hutu Interhamwe in the murder of members of the Tutsi ethnic group. The report also identified General Amisi as the individual who charged large sums of money for weapons  he sold to poachers operating out of the Volcanoes National Park. This supports what the M23 rebels have claimed all along- that the government of the DRCongo is directly responsible for instigating the prejudicial treatment and murder suffered by the Tutsi living within its borders.

It is no surprise given Paul Kangame’s personal history that as the current President of Rwanda and member of the Tutsi ethnic group he will not rest until he sees to it that all Hutu extremists have been hunted down and eradicated from Central and Eastern Africa. He has survived through more than one war fought to exterminate the Tutsi and has demonstrated that he is determined to stop any future attempts at another genocide. If this means he must start a Third War in the DR Congo in order to stop this senseless slaughter- so be it. He went to war over this once before and will do so again. Three essential experiences have helped bring him to this juncture in his life: his boyhood as a refugee in Uganda, his friendship with Fred Rwigyema, and the regeneration of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). Kagame owes the Tutsi population living around the Virunga Mountains a great personal debt for their support during a time when the RPF may not have stayed together as a fighting unit without their unfailing support.

Kagame was born in October of 1957 in a small village in southern Rwanda but by the time he was two years of age the 1959 Rwandan Revolution had begun when Grégoire Kayibanda overthrew the Tutsi monarchy in power. Enraged Hutus began slaughtering Tutsi that the Belgians had so openly admired and favored with civil service positions and land grants. Upwards of 100,000 Tutsi fled Rwanda seeking refuge in the neighboring countriesof Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi. The Hutu ethnic group was and still is the largest population living in the country of Rwanda. According to the Joshua Project (2012) Hutu account for 85% of the total population of Rwanda, Tutsi make up only 14% and the Twa (pygmy people) account for the other 1%. Eventually like other Tutsi in southern Rwanda, Kagame’s family were forced to leave their village and make their way into Uganda. By 1962, they had settled in the Nshungerezi refugee camp. Paul Kagame knew what it felt like to live as a Tutsi refugee.

Uganda treated its Tutsi refugees harshly. All refugees were required to remain in their assigned camps and children born in Uganda to refugee parents did not qualify for Ugandan citizenship. In time, many hardworking Tutsis moved their families out of the crowded camps and settled in the surrounding countryside or in Ugandan villages. Some managed to establish businesses in the area. The Tutsi also sent their children to the United Nations Camp Schools that were established in order to educate the refugees. These schools helped a new generation of Tutsi qualify for civil service positions and land better paying jobs. But the success of the Tutsi refugees in Uganda caused a bitter resentment to fester in the hearts of the Ugandan tribes living near them. The leaders of those tribes feared that this ever-increasing population of Tutsi would eventually outnumber the total number of families in the Ugandan tribes and that the Tutsi would gain control over them. Eventually the local Ugandan citizens close to the camps became so intolerant of Tutsi culture that they openly discriminated against Tutsi in public and would not hire Tutsi for local positions even though they more than qualified. Paul Kagame must have experienced this type of prejudice and discrimination as he spent his youth within the camps.

Milton Obote, President of Uganda from 1966- 1971 actually passed a bill claiming that all Tutsi and Hutu Rwandese were “ inferior to citizens of Uganda” and declared that they could be held by police and any other government officials without any charges. He ordered all Tutsi and Hutu fired from their jobs in the Civil Service. This affected the livelihood of many Tutsi and Hutu, some of whom had migrated to Uganda decades ago. Obote also prepared to conduct a country-wide census in order to better determine how many and where the Tutsi and Hutu populations were located in Uganda. He intended to use that data to deny them citizenship and the right to vote in national elections but a coup led by a military officer named Idi Amin ousted him from office in 1971.

The young Paul Kagame met his close friend and comrade Fred Rwigyema in a refugee camp and both men joined the National Resistance Army ( NRA) led by a young Ugandan leader named Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, currently President of Uganda. 

Eventually after receiving military and intelligence training from Museveni, Fred Rwigyema along with James Kagame help found the Rwandese Patriotic Front ( RPF)- an army of young Tutsi  willing to die in order to liberate their fellow Tutis from the suppression of the Rwandese Hutu during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s..  Rwigyema began his war by crossing from the town of Mirarna Hills into the Rwandan town of Kagitumba but the RPF found that they were outmanned during the skirmish and Rwigyema was eventually killed. Kagame hastily returned from military training in the United States to take command of what was left of the RPF troops. The main army of the RPF consisted of less than 2,000 men by the time Kagame was able to join them again and he knew that he needed to find a safe haven from which to recruit and train his new soldiers as well as adequately supply them for the push into Rwanda.

So he took his men west into the Virunga Mountains, (the same mountain range in which M23 hid out at the beginning of their rebellion). Living in secluded compounds located within these mountains gave Kagame access to the Tutsi population in western Uganda, Rwanda, and Eastern DR Congo. Hidden from the enemy while locked within these mountains, Kagame was able to take the time he needed to reorganize his army. And although the Tutsi population in the surrounding districts did not have much, they contributed what little they did have to the army that would go on to liberate their fellow Tutsi in Rwanda. He was given money and supplies; even fed his troops off of donations of food provided by these good people. With their help, Kagame eventually trained and equipped his soldiers for the war to come. He was able to leave his mountain stronghold in January of 1991 and continue his war on the Rwandese Hutu by initiating an attack on the Ugandan town of Ruhengeri.

And that is why Paul Kagame has every intention of re-entering the DR Congo, eradicating every last one of the Hutu Interhamwe living there, and securing the freedom of the Tutsi residing in eastern Kivu districts once and for all. And if, along the way he can annex the very lucrative areas of North and South Kivu Districts to Rwanda or make them a separate country, I believe he will.

And that is why President Joseph Kabila went straight to President Museveni of Uganda and President Kagame of Rwanda to air his grievances when the M23 rebels started winning battles and taking over towns. There was no doubt in his mind that both countries were behind these Tutsi patriots. Each of these three men are well accquainted with one another and have crossed paths on many occasions in the past. When asked, veterans of the First and Second Wars in the DR Congo will tell you that not only did Joseph Kabila attend Makerre University in Kampala but he also received his military training from the Ugandan army. 

Maybe if Mr. Kabila actually took part in the negotiation process he’d get to observe the level of conviction in the eyes of the rebels sitting directly across the table from him. And he might recall that it was the same dogged determination that fueled his father’s “kadogos” (child soldiers) and allowed Laurent Kabila to fight his way from Katanga into Kinshasa. Somewhere deep inside Paul Kagame and Yoweri Musesveni, the guerrilla fighters they once were continue to reside- ready to forfeit their lives for what they believe. Men such as these, willing to die for conditions they are convinced must improve,  have no intention of standing down.

Kat Nickerson    Kingston, RI    USA

 

 

 

 

M23 Triumphs: Protest or Revolution?

2 Dec

2012-11-21T200916Z_3_CBRE8AK0O7A00_RTROPTP_2_CONGO-DEMOCRATIC

M23 Soldiers Enter Goma: Photograph by James Akena , Reuters

In the middle of the night last April around two hundred Congolese soldiers silently withdrew from their barracks located in Northern Kivu District and headed into the surrounding countryside. All had served in the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a Tutsi militia during the Second War in the Congo that ended in 2009. These men were experienced warriors who had not left their posts out of fear but from a need to publically expose the intolerable conditions under which they currently served in the Congolese Army. They blamed Joseph Kabila, President of the DR Congo for refusing to grant them the military ranks they had previously held in the CNDP after having been inducted into the Congolese Army at the very end of the war. They had been awarded these ranks as part of the conditions stipulated in the formal peace accord that had ended the Second War in the Congo in 2009. They objected to the way they were being openly discriminated against by the Army’s commanding officers just because they were Tutsi. They also wanted to publicize the way in which civilian members of the Tutsi tribe in north-eastern DRCongo were being openly harassed even murdered by angry mobs of individuals from other tribes. They had selected the name M23 based on the specific date of March 23rd, the day the peace accord had been formally accepted.  For whatever reason, they left the same night troops loyal to the warlord Bosco Ntaganda also deserted to join him in the forest but the M23 rebels have been quite emphatic in their claim that they do not serve Ntaganda and are in no way connected to the former CNDP military commander even though he  is a member of the Tutsi tribe and originally from Rwanda.

Reporters across Africa, including those from the mighty BBC wrote them off as a “fly-by night” group of deserters predicting that this “rag-taggle” group would be quickly subdued in a short amount of time by the more powerful and better equipped Congolese Army. And it certainly did seem that way at first but then M23 began winning small skirmishes fought against the Congolese Army. Soon the rebels were winning full scale battles and started taking over entire towns. To the utter amazement of everyone but the countries of Rwanda and Uganda, new recruits continued to join their group, their military tactics vastly improved, and miraculously they never ran of weapons or ammunition. By August they were a noteworthy item again and reporters from Al Jazeera sought them out to give them an opportunity to air their grievances by mobile phone and they did. This week they stated that their final goal had expanded from that of improving their tours of duty in the Congolese Army and publicizing the racial prejudice that currently divided Kivu District to “liberating” the entire country. Prior to taking the city of Goma on the third Tuesday in November, the rebels had sought to draw Kabila into negotiations but this goal had radically changed by August and now they are focused on revolution. They no longer seem interested in retribution in their press releases but have called for the establishment of an entirely new government- one in which Joseph Kabila is not president. Somewhere before the taking of Goma M23 renamed its army and now refers to its forces as “The Congolese Revolutionary Army” – or ARC for short, based on its French acronym. Local informants have claimed that hundreds of former  Congolese Army soldiers ( FARDC) and municipal police officers have willingly joined their ranks which they claim have increased from a couple hundred to more than 4,000 men.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is 1/4 of the size of the total area that makes up the United States of America. As large as it is, it is one of the poorest countries in the world -listed at the very bottom of the U.N.’s Human Development Index. The entire country has yet to be connected by roads, let alone highways. It is an extremely difficult  place in which to travel and no one just hops in his car and drives across the country to Kinshasa. Most villagers are transported by private buses that travel within a set route among a limited range of villages located in the same districts or catch rides from the heavy trucks coming or leaving the country for the Kenyan seaport of Mombasa. Four wheel vehicles are expensive and usually only rich people like NGO’s, and the military have enough wealth and resources to own them. Even then, these SUV’s must carry everything they will need to ensure a safe trip including a “safe hole” in the vehicle within which to store money and passports, at least five bottles of whiskey used as bribes with marauding gangs, Congolese soldiers, and tribal leaders along the way, and an assortment of rifles and ammunition with which to repel attempts at robbery or attacks by wild animals. The absolute necessities include 4 extra tires, replacable car parts like water hoses and wires, and lots of gasoline packed in aluminum cans – enough to make the trip there and back. Professional drivers and safari guides  have learned the hard way- no one expects that they will encounter gas stations along the way and even if they do, because of the fighting in the east, these stations may not have any gasoline left in their pumps. Once a person moves beyond the city limits, gasoline is an expensive and scarce commodity. There is no national infrastructure and the farther one travels east the more primitive the dwellings and roads become until you find yourself driving by small mud huts on grass- covered foot trails. That is why anyone with resources like a government offcial or business executive travels by means of small “bush” airplanes when crossing this vast country.

For his part Kabila has consistently refused to enter into negotiations with M23 but did agreed to sit down with officials from Rwanda and Uganda- the same countries his father fought against in the second war in the Congo. There is no doubt in my mind that these are also the same countries that have been supplying M23’s army with men, military training, and weaponry since the fighting began in earnest last May.    But after the city of Goma’s fateful fall last Tuesday and with M23 moving towards  Bukava,  Kabila made a quick about- face and reversed his position. He now claims that he will investigate M23’s grievances. Goma is a pivotal city in controlling northern Kivu district because it’s one of the provincial capitals and home to at least a million people. It is also located near the border with Rwanda.

By Wednesday the fighting had stopped in the city and M23 had organized a peaceful victory rally at the largest soccer stadium in Goma. “The journey to liberate Congo has begun,” Vianney Kazarama, spokesman for M23, cried out to a crowd of over one thousand people. “We’re going to move on to Bukavu, and then we will go to Kinshasa.” Although many residents were scared and expected the soldiers to shoot them, then loot the city, this did not happen. Once the M23 rebels had secured the town the soldiers left the populace of Goma unharmed. There were no reports of rape, theft, or murder perpetrated by the victorious troops which usually occurred when there was a change of control in armies during the second war in the Congo. “The M23 rebels say they want to bring change,” a man who identified himself as Peter offered as soldiers walked past him in their new green fatigues and were greeted as heroes by small groups of supporters. “But we don’t want to hear them, we need to see what they will do for us.”

A separate force of rebels left Goma Wednesday morning  and reached the town of Sake, a 15 mile trek by the mid-afternoon where Congolese troops had regrouped only to move out of the town before fighting could commence. The M23 troops overtook the town with no opposition then moved on to assume control of the main road leading by Lake Kivu and into Bukavu.

So far M23 has conducted itself with honor and established administrative centers that provide healthcare, police training, and proper sanitation in the towns it governs. Contrary to the negative rumours spread by government officials in Kinshasa about how M23 had conscripted children, raped women, and looted buildings upon entering villages none of the people of northern Kivu District have supplied honest testimonies that attest to this type of behavior. No one has been able to substantiate that serious human rights abuses against the civilian population have been perpetrated by M23 troops. But these men will not win support easily. They are still Tutsi warriors and systemic prejudices against their tribe die hard. There are villagers from other tribes in the area who will not trust them just because they are Tutsi unless the members of M23 offer these people something that they have never known before: a peaceful, safe, and prosperous environment in which to live. If M23 can do this as they wage their revolution then they may just find that the villagers will eventually come to think differently of them and join their cause.

 “Before, we didn’t have medical services,” said Jean Sebagabo, a 37-year-old cattle farmer in Runyoni, which has been under rebel control for months. “Now the rebels are providing free treatment to my son.”

And M23’s honest solicitude may just be working. Kivu residents are thoroughly disgusted with Kabila, who has allowed the Hutu Interharambe (Hutu responsible for the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda) to reside in the mountainous forests in northern Kivu for years. They have even prospered by habitually raiding local villages to take by force what little food the residents have managed to harvest. Kabila has protected warlords like Ntaganda who lived like a king in Goma right under the noses of the United Nations Mission there even though he had been formally indicted by the International Criminal Court ( ICC). Kabila even failed to suppress the local Mai- Mai militias who were responsible for “repeated, serious violence” against members of the Tutsi ethnic group and any other tribes that stood in their way.

“Joseph Kabila has shown he can’t run the country,” Bishop Jean Marie Runiga, civilian president of M23 replied. “The population is living in appalling poverty, the army doesn’t work, and the police are corrupt, so why should we support the president?” M23 has even created its own website on which it clearly states its position and its goals in order to garner support from a world audience..”We gave the army a new name to show people that we’re not a rebellion but a revolution, and we intend to bring change,” he said. “M23 is … a movement for everyone.”

http://www.m23mars.org/ 

And what’s up with the UN peacekeepers? As the M23 rebels entered Goma just after the Congolese soldiers fled the city United Nations soldiers at the regional headquarters there (MONUSCO), had their helicopters fire rockets at the rebels but then simply stood by and watched as the city fell and the M23 troops moved into the city.”Since the occupation of Goma by M23, there have been violent protests and demonstrations aimed at the U.N. staff and facilities,” Roger Meese said. “The risk of seeing this spread to other cities in the Congo is not to be excluded.” The residents of the city were frustrated at the refusal of the UN troops to help save their city from the rebels.

The question of the hour- Is M23 a protest composed of a small group of  Tutsi soldiers serving in the Congolese Army, or is it a cleverly orchestrated invasion masterminded by the country of Rwanda that has vowed to eliminate the rest of the Hutu Interharambe from the DR Congo and  also help itself to this region’s vast mineral wealth. In miles, Rwanda is actually much closer to the Kivu Districts than the capital of Kinshasa where President Kabila resides. Both Rwanda and Uganda deny these charges but Kabila went straight to the Presidents of Rwanda and Uganda in order to interceed on his behalf with the M23 rebals and in no time at all the rebels agreed to leave Goma.   To most people living around Kivu District, Kinshasa is as vague an idea as living on the moon. Human Rights groups in the area have continuously reported that both Uganda and Rwanda have conducted illegal mining operations in north Kivu district for years. If fact, they suggest that neither country stopped mining after the Second War in the Congo ended, they just laid low for a short period of time then resumed their operations as usual. But the area these mines can potentially cover is so vast that no one quite knows for sure. There is also a distinct possibility that both northern and southern Kivu districts may secede from the DRCongo and either become their own country or annex themslves to Rwanda and Uganda. I think that there is a very good chance that things may play out this way and that MONUSCO is very aware of the upcoming changes to their mission. The people of the northeast districts have suffered through two wars and two decades of continuous fighting that have left millions dead and  has allowed murderous warlords and hostile militias to  benefit from its estimated 42 billion US dollars in mineral wealth with no real help from their President. Kabila’s own Congolese troops have been filmed  by several Human Rights groups operating their own mines for profit and enslaving local villagers to work in these mines. The residents of the city of Goma have much closer connections to the border towns of Rwanda than the ever-distant capital of Kinshasa; they share a common culture and tribal heritage with the larger Rwandan cities.  Tens of  thousands of Congolese citizens have currently crossed the borders into Rwanda and Uganda seeking asylum in the refugee camps that have been established as a result of the conflict between M23 and FARDC.   

What role will Rwanda and Uganda actually play in determining whether President Joseph Kabila’s survives this insurgency, especially as theM23 troops begin to move across miles of  deep jungle in order to remove him from power. The three leaders met to discuss this in mid-November in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala. Right now, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda seem to be backing Kabila urging M23 to halt the fighting and pull out of Goma “immediately” but what is their ultimate goal?

Was this meeting just for show?  Recent United Nation reports have accused Rwanda and Uganda of financially backing the M23 rebels, a charge that both countries deny and one United Nations report has gone as far as to specifically accuse Rwanda’s Minister of Defense, General James Kabarebe of leading and orchestrating the M23 revolt. Regardless of the outcome, this conflict is and always was a matter of Tutsis intervening  to defend their fellow Tutsis from harm.

National Liberation Day is observed on May 17th each year in the DR Congo. This May 17th, 2013, who will be sitting in the president’s office and in control the government? Will Joseph Kabila have survived the M23 revolt or will another man have taken his place in Kinshasa, or will North/South Kivu Districts have seceded from DRCongo and created their own country; one aligned to Rwanda and Uganda? If the last scenario occurs Rwanda will immediately enter Kivu District and finally eradicate the remainder of the Hutu extremists located there. This has been a priority for Paul Kangame throughout his entire presidency. Ironically it was Laurent Kabila who came from the same Northeastern Kivu district decades earlier to wrestle the presidency of the country from the dictator Seko Mobuto and his son, Joseph Kabila knows this well. He understands how easily a revolution could topple his rule and dismantle his government. Two things we do know about M23 at this point in time: 1.) the M23 rebels have no intention of ending the fighting and 2.) this movement has escalated from a local protest into a full- blown revolution.

Kat Nickerson    Kingston, RI     USA

China’s Deal in the DR Congo: Rape or Revitalization?

10 Oct

Congo, Conkouati National Park, 2007
In the Cotovindou logging concession a Congolese worker for the Chinese timber company Sicofor saws down a 22-meter moabi tree that will be loaded the same day on a truck bound for Pointe Noire. From there it will be sent to China. It will probably end up as luxury furniture. Moabi takes about hundred years to reach maturity. In the Congo forest elephants and Moabi could disappear at the same time. Moabi has been included in the red list of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) in 2004.

According to the most current UNEP report, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) holds almost 24 trillion US dollars in the raw materials: copper, cobalt, and coltran as well as millions of dollars in gold underneath its land but was designated as the world’s poorest country by the International Monetary Fund ( IMF, 2012). “The Congo is the 5th leading producer of tungsten and 6th of tin, holds 5% of the world’s copper and 50% of cobalt. Moreover the Congo possesses an estimated 80% of all known coltan which, refined as tantalum, is a vital component in the phone and computer industry.” ( WPI, 2012) This country is also one of the largest and poorest countries in the world with a history of war, murder, and violence unsurpassed on the continent. One would think that this excess of valuable resources would be used to improve the lives of its 71 million people but that has not been the case beginning with Leopold, King of Belgium who managed to kill over ten million residents of his Congo State in thirteen years.

According to Nathan Myer of the World Policy Institute ( WPI.com), July 20, 2012 “the DR Congo ranks last on the UN’s human development index and Transparency International’s 2011 corruption perception index ranks Congo at 168, tied with Libya. Average life expectancy is less than 48 years. One in five children will die before five years of age. 60% of the country lives on less than $1.25 per day. More than 400,000 women a year are victims of rape. And most recently members of the pygmy tribes have been cooked and eaten by assorted militia groups as a way to assure success in battle.”

Many years ago when I first came to Kenya in June of 2005, I was formally introduced to an English doctor who had lived most of his life in East Africa helping the people in the slums by working in one of the many free clinics located within the slums of Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa. After we had gotten our initial greeting out of the way and were standing together on one of the many narrow pathways in Kibera, I went on to ask him what his take was on the most crucial problems facing East Africa in the next twenty years. He resolutely told me two things: One, that the people in these slums of East Africa were suppose to die of AIDS or we, the people of the west, would have already created a vaccine to cure them by now and Two: that China would eventually take over the continent of Africa and steal its raw materials from under the African people.

I must admit that I walked away from him thinking he was a bit daft in the head. I could understand the rationale behind his first statement but his second prediction was absurd. Well, I must say that seven years later and many more experiences in the countries of Uganda and Kenya have led me to believe that he was absolutely correct in his analysis of the two situations especially China’s secret occupation of Africa. His words have resonated in my head more than anyone else’s thoughts about the situation in Central and East Africa and if I ever meet him again, I owe him a sincere apology.

He knew way back then what I know now; that China’s ubiquitous presence can be found in every country in East and Central Africa especially in those countries like the DR Congo that have faced war or famine but still have a wealth of raw materials and natural resources in the land. But you won’t find these Chinese emissaries from China in the cities and villages unless you look long and very carefully. They do not live with the East African people but keep themselves locked away in hidden facilities surrounded by ten to twenty feet walls and security guards who patrol as if these were military facilities -which they very well may be. When the Chinese executives do go out in public they travel together in cars equipped with smoked windows accompanied by other cars containing armed security guards in front and back. They do not mingle with the African businessmen socially and do not frequent the African restaurants or shops around their settlements. They stay behind their high walls and live as if they still resided in China. I remember observing one of these settlements last year off of the national highway on the way from Kampala to Ginja, Uganda. It was a large settlement surrounded by twenty foot walls and topped by a sign written in Chinese letters. It might have been the friendliest place in the world but looked totally secretive and foreboding to me. These type of settlements do nothing to endear the Chinese who hide inside these walls to the Ugandan people.

And this makes it most difficult for the few Chinese shop keepers who live openly around East and Central Africa and try to earn a living each day in the local markets or who have established their own Chinese restaurants. It upsets Kenyan and Ugandan friends of mine who think it very rude of them to stay in another person’s country and not get to know him or her and they’re right. I only met Chinese business representatives of the Chinese government once and that was at an American Rotarian Party held on the Fourth of July, 2007 and they did not mingle with the rest of the guests, American, English, or African but stood off in a group by themselves over in one of the back corners of the banquet hall.

One of my Kenyan cab drivers confided in me one day while driving me to Nairobi that he did not like or trust the Chinese and that on the weekend he and his buddies would get drunk and  drive around to see if they could find some Chinese out on the streets of Nairobi.

“Why” I asked.

“Because we’d beat them up good if we found them.”

“But why would you do that?” I persisted trying to understand his motivation for harming them.

“Because they just keep bowing and smiling at us but they won’t talk to us,” he responded.  “They look down on us and then think that they are better than we are. They want to make our country theirs.”

“Unfortunately,he blamed the poor Chinese shop keepers who are not responsible for any of this. They do mingle with the Kenyans and are not connected in any way to the corporations managed by the Chinese executives who represent the Chinese government. I have been told by many  friends in Kenya and Uganda about how the Chinese provide money and support for any projects that improve the infrastructure in East African countries like roads and wells but will not give money to help out the local people. They may build the hospitals but they will not staff them nor will they stock these medical facilities with the proper medicines or supplies.

So it will come as no surprise when I recount some of their other exploitations especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In 2008 China talked President Joseph Kabila president of the country and son of the man who took over the DR Congo from its previous dictator, to agree to exchange 9 billion US dollars worth of much needed infrastructure to connect the country by road and train for millions of tons of copper and cobalt ore through the establishment of a co-owned mining corporation between the DR Congo and China. Kabila was either desperate, greedy, or naïve enough to convince his government to sign this agreement even though the northeast region of his country in which these ores are found, is far from stable.

But it didn’t take long before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found the entire agreement objectionable and forced China to renegotiate the deal in May of 2009. China’s initial $9 billion investment was later amended by the IMF to $6 billion with half to the creation of the mine and half to infrastructure projects. The IMF was suspicious of China’s motives from the beginning and thought of the agreement as pure theft of the Congolese people’s raw materials under the guise of assistance.

The deal involved China’s  Eximbank, owned by the government of China. It would provide the 3 million dollars US necessary to establish the mine in Katanga province, DR Congo. Then it would invest another 6 billion US dollars in projects that would improve infrastructure of the DR Congo, the most important of which would be the creation of highways connecting the country from end to end and the repair and maintenance of existing roadways. The money lent to the DR Congo would be repaid to Eximbank from the profit earned by the SICO Mines co-owned by the China and the DR Congo as it extracted 10 million tons of copper and 600,000 tons of cobalt from its Katanga mine.

The DR Congo initially protested the IMF’s decision but is already in debt to the IMF for millions of dollars so in the end it consented to the change in the total amount from 9 to 6 million dollars US.

And China is no stranger to these type of negotiations. Their deal with the DRC is just more of the same. In 2004 China approved a $2 billion public investment package for Angola and in 2006 struck a $3 billion deal with Gabon that would be invested in infrastructure projects such as dams, railroads, and ports in return for their iron ore reserves. In 2009 it made similar deals with Guinea and Zimbabwe for $7 and $8 billion respectively by trading their mineral wealth for Chinese investment in their infrastructures. Sound familiar?

But in the end China’s deal with the DR Congo may totally backfire and they may get pushed out by some very nasty warlords before their new mine shows any real profits. North and South Kivu Districts located in the northeast region of the country are the areas in which the largest mineral and gold deposits have been found. And these regions are still violent, lawless places where might makes right and the man with the gun makes all the rules.  The causes of the First and Second Wars in the Congo have yet to be resolved and Uganda as well as Rwanda may just put a monkey-wrench in China’s investment plans. According to the United Nations Development Fund (UNDF, 2012) over 50% of the mines in these districts are controlled by armed forces, many of them members of the Congolese national army and people’s militias which employ extortion, forced labor, and murder to ensure removal and transport of the minerals. Does China really think that it is going to be allowed to establish its own operation there when such enormous sums of money are at stake??

A CNN expose on eastern Congo’s claimed that armed groups such as these enslave the residents of this area and generate some 180 million dollars through the illicit sale of tin, coltan, tungsten, and gold which are easily transported across the Ugandan and Rwandan borders then purchased by international dealers. The country of Uganda is currently credited with the highest sales of gold in all of Central Africa yet has no gold mines of its own? Surprising? This shows the rate of illegal trade connected to these mines. With this much money to be made no existing operations, illegal or not, are going to sit idly by and watch China move in to claim these minerals for themselves. The Chinese will have to fight long and hard to establish themselves in the Kivus and fight even harder to hold on to their mined ore as they try to ship it back to China.

Congo’s eastern frontier is still an ongoing battleground that has claimed over 500,000 lives per year and caused over 1.5 million people to uproot and move to refugees camps in Uganda and Rwanda in order to escape the slaughter. With the M3 rebellion in full swing and the tensions between Rwanda and the Congo over the existence of the Hutu extremists in the Congo rising, a Third Congo War could break out at any time. And what would happen to China’s good intentions and civic  projects then?  China needs to rethink its investment policies and its previous methods of absconding with the mineral wealth of certain African countries. Until then, it will continue to appear the bully bent on taking advantage of vulnerable third world countries in need of a friend.

Kat Nickerson                    Kingston, RI     USA