Tag Archives: Hutu

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



M23 Triumphs: Protest or Revolution?

2 Dec


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.”


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

Kivu Mai- Mai Return: Raia Mutomboki

30 Jul

Members of the Raia Mutomboki

The word Mai-Mai was taken from the Kiswahili word meaning “water” which is actually “Maji” ( pronounced Ma-gee, like Ma as in mother and gee as in Gee Whiz!). The name currently refers to any of the community militias composed of male Congolese villagers, young and old, who came together during the Second War in the Congo to defend their land and their homes in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Although there are Mai-Mai groups throughout the Congo, it was Mai-Mai of North and South Kivu Districts who played the most crucial role in the Second War in the Congo. These groups were composed of local men from districts in the northeast region of the country who loosely grouped themselves together in order to resist the forces of the Hutu Interahamwe ( Hutu soldiers responsible for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide) who had been driven out of Rwanda and across the border by the victorious Tutsi army in power in Rwanda. The Hutu guerilla fighters called themselves The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda( FDLR) and settled in both Kivu districts. The Mai-Mai also fought against the Congolese Tutsi- supported militias such as the CNDP who were also fighting the FDLR in the area. The enemies of the Mai-Mai were any non- Congolese troops located in the Congo and they sought to either kill or expel any non-Congolese troops. Their goal became difficult to reach when during the second war Laurent Kabila’s new Congolese Army accompanied the Rwandan Army throughout Kivu District helping them locate and kill all Interahamwe living in these districts but many Mai- Mai fought with their own Congolese army when trying to rid their districts of non-Congolese soldiers.

The Mai- Mai had no charters, no commissions, nor were they paid by anyone. They had leaders but no officers in the true military sense of the word. Most came together without guns carrying the hoes and the pangas (machetes) they used in their fields as weapons. These are extremely localized groups that were formed to defend a small number of villages against specific crimes and injustices and have never been connected to district or national political movements. Mia- Mia or Rega societies are local groups that usually serve to protect the residents in no more than several villages. And each Mai- Mai group has its own initiation ceremonies into its own secret society with its own set of rituals and protective charms.

A few culturally insensitive and poorly informed journalists, especially Americans in their attempt to make publishing deadlines, have not bothered to identify the localized nature of Mai- Mia groups within specific Congolese villages, and have glibly attributed the name Mai- Mai to the water used in  pre-battle rituals. First of all, each, Mai- Mai group is its own secret society and performs its own unique set of rituals in order to prepare for battle and as protection from bullet wounds and death. And secondly, the choice of the word Mai- Mai has far greater significance than the use of water as a protective charm.. It refers to the way in which free men of the Congo choose to come together or disband depending on the defensive needs of the people, to the fluid sense of unity which comes and goes, or ebbs and flows – just like water. If one understands why the villagers enter into these loose groupings in the first place then it would be evident why the groups have been named- Mai- Mai. If these journalists would have investigated the history of tribal warfare in northeast Congo before the white man arrived they would have recognized the same sense of fluidity in Congolese tribal warfare. The concepts behind Rega, Mai-Mai, secret societies, and battle rituals are not new; the villagers have simply restructured them in order to meet the needs of a more current struggle.

The membership profiles of specific Mai-Mai groups are hard to pin down and include a wide range of individuals. Some groups that would be considered “Mai Mai” are: private armies led by warlords, tribal elders or village leaders and currently there are a few Mai- Mai groups that espouse limited political agendas. Certain Mai -Mai groups have been known to ally themselves to: established guerrilla groups, terrorists, and even other foreign governments if it helps them to survive. It has been documented that several groups of Mai- Mai are far more harmful than helpful to the villagers placed in their care and are considered to be no more than killers and thieves.

Many Mai- Mai in north and South Kivu districts were historically committed to stopping the infiltration of Rwanda- supported militias in the area but even their allegiances were fluid and changed frequently. Although these groups took part in the Second War in the Congo they were never included in the peace accord that brought an end to the war and were never made to disband. In 2007 The Mai Mai in north and south Kivu districts which border the country of Rwanda repeatedly clashed with the Tutsi militia, The Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD-Goma), a Rwanda- supported military force that had taken over the Congolese city of Goma. Some of the larger Mai-Mai groups received money and supplies from the government of the DR Congo during and after the war. But smaller groups of Mai- Mai were reported to have aligned themselves with the Tutsi militia, the RCD in Goma.

Currently there is a deadly tug of war being played out between the Congolese army, the rebel militias in the area, and the Mai- Mai. The Mai-Mai are often viewed as opportunists who take over land, even occupy towns when the Congolese Army is engaged in fighting the rebel militias elsewhere.  And in true Mia-Mai fashion as the Congolese Army was occupied fighting with M23, an older Mai- Mai group reappeared on the scene, The Mai-Mai, Raia Mutomboki which means “Furious Citizens” in Kiswahili have killed hundreds of innocent Hutu. These killings started at the end of 2011 and seem to have been carried out in revenge against Hutu villagers that The Raia believed were supporting the FDLR. It has been reported by the UN that around 100 civilians have already been killed.

The Raia Mutomboki was established in 2005 in Shabunda territory in order to protect the villagers in the area from the Interahamwe and the forces of the FDLR Twelve Congolese civilians were massacred by the FDLR in March 2005 in the tropical forest outside of the village of Kyoka, in Shabunda. These villagers were hacked to death with pangas (machetes) and fueled the indignation of the Congolese males in the area to the point where they willingly came together to pledge themselves to serve in the Mai-Mai, Raia Mutomboki. Eventually the Raia Mutomboki pushed the FDLR out of Shubunda.

 In the beginning of 2011, the Congolese army left Shabunda, and merged with other units. This caused soldiers of the FDLR to enter the area. They immediately started stealing from the villagers and killing innocent civilians in the area causing the men to come together and talk of resurrecting the Raia Mutomboki commenced among the villagers

 Then the Congolese army returned to the area in late 2011. Initially it used the Raia to help it locate and fight against the FDLR. The Raia helped the Congolese Army track the movements of the FDLR within the local forests. But in time the Raia forces began to resent the presence of the Tutsi soldiers, the ex-CNDP troops serving in the Congolese army which the Raia considered foreigners who had no right to be living in the Congo, let alone serving as soldiers in the Congolese Army. This animosity caused the Raia Mutomboki to attack the Congolese Army on several occasions and open warfare commenced between the two groups.

 As the Raia continued to hunt for the FDLR soldiers, it also began to kill the dependents of the Interahamwe  including women and children, mutilating them before they killed them. FDLR deserters told UN officials that the Raia Mutomboki were their greatest worry and pursued them relentlessly throughout the local forests. The brutal tactics employed by the Raia caused the FDLR to retaliate in kind, causing the massacres of many civilians on both sides of the conflict. In late 2011, the Raia killed close to one hundred people and burned several villages to the ground in northeast Shabunda and in January 2012, over 50 civilians were reportedly killed by the FDLR around Luyuyu, in retaliation.

 In May 2012, the Raia moved into northern Kivu in Tembo and Kano/Rega . They continued to kill FDLR dependents and massacred close to  one hundred people. But now they began killing Hutu villagers with no ties to the FDLR. Members of the Raia Mutomboki have no love for the members of the Hutu or the Tutsi ethnic groups and want them expelled from their country but especially from their district. The Congolese army moved into this area quickly in order to squelch the ethnic violence that once occurred in Masisi and Walikale in 1993.

 Last month, at the end June 2012  a newer and broader Raia took over Walikale town which is located to the west of Goma, but were pushed out when the Congolese army showed up in the town and took control again.

 And now the issues become murky as so often happens when Congolese events play out in the Kivus. First the Raia said that it would “fight the soldiers in the M23 Movement and push them from DRCongo into Rwanda where they rightfully belong.”  But then rumors have been spreading around both Kivu districts that the Raia have been receiving arms and ammunition from M23 and from Rwanda in order to hunt the FDLR.

 What do I think? The Raia Mutomboki hate the Hutu Interahamwe most so will take support from M23 and the country of Rwanda to get rid of them once and for all. Then they will come after the Hutu civilians even if they are Congolese citizens. The Raia want them gone as well. But after that they will turn on M23 and Rwanda in order to either drive all Tutsi from Kivu District or kill them if they will not leave. Nothing has changed- the Hutu and Tutsi are still hated by the rest of the tribes in the Congo and seen as usurpers even though many of their families have lived in the Congo for hundreds of years.  The soldiers in the M23 Movement know this and fight to call attention to this critical situation. Of this I am certain- if the Congolese and the Rwandan governments do not work together to stem the ethnic violence and alter the villagers’ prejudicial attitudes; it will only be a matter of time before a Congolese Genocide will occur that will match the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.


Kat Nickerson                 Kingston,   RI              USA



Congo Wars Will Not End: Unless

23 Jul

M23 soldiers fight for rights of Tutsi villagers

In an attempt to stem the warfare in both North and South Kivu districts, within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States State Department has cut military aid in the amount of 200,000 dollars US to the country of Rwanda after the United Nations Mission in Goma confirmed that Paul Kangame, the current president of Rwanda is indeed backing the movement M23, former members of the Army of the Democratic Republic of Congo and other rebel groups in the area. This is not even a “slap on the wrist” for Rwanda, a country that has shared very close ties with the government of the United States of America in the past and this move on the part of the US will not stop the fighting or bring back the some 200,000 Congolese villagers who have left their homes for refugee camps in Uganda and Rwanda in order to survive the senseless killings perpetrated by both sides in this conflict. If the USA really wants to help then it needs to study the history of the Congo and the ongoing conflict between the Tutsi and the Hutu- past and present in order to create viable solutions that can be used to repair the relations between these two large ethnic groups and the other tribes in East Africa- regardless of country borders.

First of all, there were and are large settlements of Tutsi and Hutu living within the territory now called  East Africa – they live in settlements throughout the countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Tanzania.  Unfortunately, these tribal districts were claimed by different countries when the European Powers divided up the lower continent of Africa in the late 1800’s creating new colonies under the rule of the countries of Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Germany but the Tutsi and the Hutu living in these territories did not understand the limitations of country borders, or view themselves as citizens of a specific colony. They continued to see themselves as members of the same large ethnic groupings that had existed as one entity for hundreds of years before the white man came to govern them. They did not remain in these new colonies either but moved from one village to another other whenever they felt the need. There existed a loosely organized state of allegiance to certain colonies during the late 1800s which continued into the early 1900’s. It was only around World War One when East Africa entered into the war based on the nationality of the country that ruled each colony when “residence of country’ began to matter.

If one reads the history between the Hutu and the Tutsi they lived in a state of tentative peace throughout the 1700-1800’s and traded with each other during their more peaceful periods but did war against each other from time to time, as warfare was an integral part of tribal existence. By the late 1800’s they had became tolerate enough of one another to approve  of occasional intermarriages between Hutu and Tutsi, although they never condoned them. Then the Belgians who ruled Rwanda pitted both tribes against one another- the Hutu against the Tutsi. The Belgians preferred the Tutsi over the Hutu and openly discriminated against the Hutu so much so that the Belgians even created laws to help the Tutsi take the Hutu tribal land away from them. Talk to members of the Hutu tribe today and listen to what they have to say.

 They will give you an accurate accounting of what was done to them by the Tutsi and the Belgians in power in Rwanda as if it occurred yesterday. Some of these transgressions may be over one hundred years old but the Hutu talk about them as if they happened yesterday. Each Tutsi crime is relayed as clearly as when it was first experienced by the Hutu. Nothing has been forgotten or forgiven – no matter how long ago it occurred. If the US wants to end the warfare they will have to think of a way to give the Hutu back the tribal lands that were stolen from them by the Tutsi or reimburse them in some way for what has been taken from them. And how the Hutu will reclaim their self- esteem and self-worth is a much deeper issue but one that must be addressed if the majority of the Hutu nation is to stop this relentless hatred and eventually move forward with their lives.

I believe the lack of self-worth was one of the driving forces behind the Genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutu in1994 that and the thousands of unjust court cases that took land away from the Hutu who could not turn to the colonial government for justice. The stories of these crimes and insults were told and retold around the evening campfires for generations until enough of the Hutu men agreed to join together to even the score.  Generations of young men heard these stories until they became obsessed with righting the wrong, with evening the score; their solution- to obliterate all Tutsi from the Earth. This was even too much for many members of the Hutu tribe to condone. Brave Hutu spoke out against the massacres only to be killed by those Hutu committed to revenge. Starting in April and ending in June of 1994 a whole army of Hutu men joined the revolt and began the wholesale slaughter of 800,000 innocent Tutsi- men, women, and children.

While the Rwandan Genocide took place other Tutsi and Hutu living in villages in the countries of Democratic Republic of the DR Congo. Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania helplessly looked on. By June 1994: Paul Kagame’s Tutsi rebels ended the genocide and pushed the Hutu government and supporting army out of Kigali. The Hutu army fled over the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then called Zaire) and into Northwest Uganda. Paul Kangame entered the Congo along with Ugandan troops to overtake and kill the Hutu “interahamwe”, the soldiers responsible for the Tutsi Genocide once and for all. But more importantly,  more than one million ethnic Hutus also crossed the border in 1994 from Rwanda to DR Congo most of them trying to get away from the conflict and live in peace. The Rwandan army killed many interahamwe and innocent civilians in the process but was not able to destroy all of the militant Hutu. Many of the interahamwe survived and took up residence in North and South Kivu districts in the DR Congo and in northwest Uganda.

By1997 Laurent Kabila named himself president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and established his government in the capital city of Kinshasa with the help of Paul Kangame and the Rwandan government. In 1989 Kangame accused Kabila of not aggressively hunting down the Hutu rebels causing Rwanda and Uganda to enter into the First and Second Wars in the DR Congo. The war ended in 2003 but all of the interahamwe were not destroyed. The interahamwe went on to terrorize the villagers by stealing from them and murdering anyone who opposed them. Hutu militias, Tutsi militias, and Mai- Mai vigilantes from surrounding tribes continued to fight it out. In 2008 the largest Tutsi militia the CNDP marched into Goma, the capital city of the Kivu District located very close to the Rwanda border. The CNDP rebels issued  a list of demands, one of which was to turn their militia, The National Congress for the Defense of the People, into its own political party. By 2009 a peace accord was accepted by the DR Congo government and the former CNDP Tutsi rebels were integrated into the Congolese army.  

It is now 2012 and the interahamwe are still living in DR Congo murdering innocent villagers and absconding with their possessions. They have even been known to camp out near and in the Virunga National Forest and have been charged with killing the endangered Mountain Gorillas there. Recently there has been resurgence in the creation of Mai- Mai militias composed of local villagers who have chosen to stand up and fight against the interahamwe. The interahamwe are Hutu terrorists who have one goal- to return to Rwanda, topple Kangame’s Tutsi government, and install a Hutu government in Rwanda. With the interahamwe in chrage  it would only be a matter of time before the Rwandan Genocide began again.

 “M23” is made up of Congolese soldiers who served in the CNDP and who defected in April 2012 because they say that the conditions in the 2009 peace accord had never been implemented by Joseph Kabila’s government. Remember these men are ethnic Tutsi but do not support Bosco Ntaganda although they defected at the same time Ntaganda deserted taking his own men with him. One of their most important demands was that the government “rid the area of the interahamwe once and for all” and declare both Kivu Districts “disaster areas” in order to help the local Tutsis suffer less ethnic discrimination. They have also asked as Tutsi soldiers in the DR Congo army to be posted only within the north and south Kivu District where the Tutsi population currently resides. They do not want to be assigned to other districts around the DR Congo because they face discrimination when placed in other provinces. 

On Sunday, July 15, 2012 President Paul Kangame of Rwanda and President Joseph Kabila of DR Congo signed a proposal which would allow a neutral force to monitor their shared border. It is expected that the implementation of this proposal would help quell the rebel militias in the area such as M23 and Raia Mutomboki. The proposal was authored by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region but it did not include the name of the country that would supply the troops or how the initiative would be funded.

Edouard Mwangachuchu, a Congolese Tutsi community leader and current President of the CNDP said, “I think the Congolese government is working very hard to finish this war, by negotiation, and I think if Rwanda cooperates with the DR Congo government, this war will end,”

A point still to be addressed is the return of some 50,000 Congolese Tutsi refugees from Rwanda to the DR Congo where they belong. Tutsi ethnic groups face discrimination in the DR Congo and Tutsi citizens of the DR Congo have even been expelled from the Congo during past administrations.  The Tutsi are known as successful business men and have acquired large parcels of land which has caused open resentment among other tribal groups. And many tribes in the DR Congo distrust the Tutsi connection to Rwanda which has continuously supported rebel groups in the area especially the CNDP for years after the wars in the Congo ended. They forget that many Tutsi currently serving in the Congolese army did not defect and are currently fighting against their fellow Tutsi to end the insurrection.

 Proposal or not, the wars in the DR Congo and the creation of militias will not stop until three things happen: 1.) the Hutu interahamwe must be hunted down and all of these terrorists killed. There will be no hope of peace in the Kivu District until this happens because the villagers of the DR Congo especially the Tutsi will live in constant fear until this has been done. 2.) the Tutsi and the remaining Hutu ( not interahamwe) must be shown how to forgive and exist together peacefully. This will be the hardest part and they will need programs and incentives to help them learn how to do so. 3.) the children of the DR Congo will have to learn that “might does not make right” and this will be terribly difficult to undo seeing that most of this current generation has grown up with a steady diet of violence and exploitation. It will take more than a monitored border to stop the wars and the massacres. It will take a unified effort on the part of the United Nations,the United States of America, and the governments of Rwanda. Uganda, Burundi, and the DR Congo  to make them stop once and for all.

Kat Nickerson                         Kingston,    RI             USA

M23 Movement: Will Ntaganda Elude Punishment Again?

24 Jun

Two very different stories have been pitched to the international press corps lately: The first tale was told to local news stations by representatives from the Communication Ministry of the DR Congo located in the capital city of Kinshasa. While the second was emailed by M23 to members of the foreign news agencies as press releases (thirteen in all as of 27/05/2012). These documents were composed by former CNDP rebels, now soldiers in the Congolese army, who had deserted their posts around the same time as Ex-General Bosco Ntaganda left with his own men sometime in early April 2012. This first group of soldiers call themselves the March 23rd Movement or M23 and all they want is a reconciliation with the government in Kinshasa – the same reconciliation promised to them in the March 23, 2009 Amani Leo Peace Agreement  

Both groups have provided vastly different versions of the role Bosco Ntaganda has played in the present conflict in the north-eastern part of the DR Congo. Although the Kabila government informed the international press that M23 fights for Bosco Ntaganda people in the district know differently. According to M23 they do not fight for Bosco Ntaganda, never have. They fight to restore rights awarded to them in the Amani Leo Peace Accord which was signed at the end of the Second War in the Congo in 2003. Bosco Ntaganda is not their leader. Colonel Sultani Makenga leads them and Colonel Vianney Kazarama directs them through their battles with government troops. They have relocated to the Virunga National Forest located directly across from Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda which is also where Ntaganda settled with his troops. This section of tropical forest is home to the Mountain Gorilla (for more information see Blog 6) which is considered an endangered species by the World Wildlife Federation – a total population of 800 gorillas remain.

But in order to make sense of the present situation it is best to look at Ntaganda’s past actions. During the Second War in the Congo, members of the Tutsi ethnic group living in the Congo created the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) to defend themselves against attack by marauding Hutu who had taken part in the Rwandan Genocide. These Hutu soldiers had been expelled from Rwanda by the Rwandan Army once the Tutsi government had taken control of the country sometime in 1995. Laurent Nkunda was the acknowledged leader of the CNDP and he brought Bosco Ntaganda on board to serve as his second in command. Both Nkunda and Ntaganda were Tutsis and former citizens of Rwanda who had fought in the Rwandan War for Independence in 1994. Bosco Ntaganda eventually betrayed General Laurent Nkunda and took over command of the CNDP forces. Rumor has it that Ntaganda was paid a large sum of money by the Rwandan government to remove Nkunda from his position because he would no longer follow orders issued by the Rwandan government. General Nkunda was subsequently turned over to Rwandan military personnel who escorted him to Rwanda where he remains under house arrest to this day.

Ntaganda must have become concerned when President Joseph Kabila openly talked about arresting him in a speech Kabila made this spring after having defended Ntaganda for so long. Kabila’s change of heart was unexpected and contrary to the conditions laid out in the Amani Leo Peace Accord. Under the terms of this agreement, Ntaganda’s crimes should have been forgiven when he accepted his commission as a general in the Congolese army. At the end of the second war in the Congo all of Ntaganda’s CNDP troops were also conscripted into the Congolese Army by President Laurent Kabila in order to ensure a peaceful transition throughout the country especially in the eastern districts that had been plagued by outbreaks of militia warfare.

So in April 2012 Ntaganda gathered around 200 of his former CNDP troops together and defected after hearing the news that his former commander, Thomas Lubanga, had been found guilty by the International Criminal Court of war crimes against humanity and would be sentenced sometime in the summer. Ntaganda had also been indicted by the same international court in 2006 for numerous “crimes against humanity” but had never been arrested even though he lived in the city of Goma where the UN Peace- Keeping Mission was stationed. On May 14th 2012, Louis Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the ICC added the charges of murder, persecution, and sexual slavery to the previous warrant he had issued against Ntaganda. Bosco Ntaganda continued to command his group of men for a time and had positioned them within Virunga Forest as well. But by April 2012 he had begun conscripting young boys into his army again. He sent them into skirmishes with FARC troops and several of the boys died as a result of wounds received in combat.

The appointment of Ntaganda as a General in the Congolese army happened around the time that the peace accord was signed by the Congolese government and the leaders of the CNDP. The M23 troops swear that the government also promised to give them status as a political party. The conditions stipulated in the Amani Leo Accord never materialized beyond the signing of the document. Over time members of the CNDP militia, now soldiers in the Congolese army, split into two separate organizations; those who remained loyal to the ideals of their former leader Nkunda and those who followed Ntaganda. According to M23 leaders this lies at the heart of their issues with the DRC government.

Then something transpired between Ntaganda and his own troops. Did he sell them out to the Congolese Government after making a deal for himself? Or did he just up and disappear one evening? Did his own troops cut him loose because they believed in something more than monetary profit? Or did they discover that Ntaganda had made a deal for himself with the government and was nothing more than an opportunist- a classic narcissist with sociopathic tendencies? Whatever happened, Bosco Ntaganda left his own men and abruptly disappeared from the district.

On May 7, 2012 the Congolese Army claimed that it had retaken the Masisi area in eastern Congo from the M23 rebels. The government claimed that it was still looking for Bosco Ntaganda and had no idea where he had gone. Yet according to an M23 statement in the thirteenth press release the government knew exactly where Ntaganda could be found because they had put him there. It was common knowledge among the villagers in the district that Ntaganda had made a deal with President Joseph Kabila then deserted his troops for his Bunyoli farm in Masisi where he remains awaiting additional orders. And they know this because they have seen him there walking about on his farm.

The suspension of Amani Leo was the impetus for the M23 soldiers to renounce both Ntaganda and the corrupt elements of the Congolese Army (FARDC). And although the M23 leaders have announced that their goal is to reconcile with the Kabila government after the conditions identified in the March 23, 2009 Amani Leo Peace Agreement have been awarded to them, the government says that it is not interested in restoring their rights or in making peace. President Kabila has made it clear that he will not negotiate with the rebels and intends to fight it out until M23 surrenders or has been defeated.

The M23 troops swear that their April 2012 defection from their army posts took place to call attention to the crimes being perpetrated on Tutsi civilians by members the Hutu FDLR and the mistreatment of Tutsi residents by soldiers in the Congolese Army. They wanted to ensure that the government took specific measures to remove these renegade Hutu from the region in order prevent them from committing anymore acts of violence against the Congolese civilian population especially Tutsis. They also sought to pressure the DRC government into implementing the conditions of the Amani Leo Peace Agreement. They want to make it clear that they never meant to wage war against President Joseph Kabila’s troops but were only defending themselves against attack. They say they never wanted to fight; their goal was to return to the conditions set forth in the Amani Leo Peace Accord, be paid a fair salary, and eat. And they want to make it very clear that they have never had any affiliation at any time with General Bosco Ntaganda. They find it extremely unfair that the government of the DRC has “decided to fight them instead of listen to them or help make things better for them.” They want this conflict to end so that they can return to their posts and resume their normal responsibilities as soldiers in the Congolese army.

Unfortunately the leaders in Kinshasa have seriously underestimated the collective talent of the M23 troops who are all seasoned fighters with years of combat experience behind them. They have fought well in the skirmishes so far and have managed to hold off a much larger Congolese Army (FARDC). They took and held the territory along the Congo-Rwanda border, as well as the towns of Mbuzi, Runyoni, and Bunagana. M23 reported this week that it had seized a considerable cache of weapons from the Congolese army after one very heated exchange of gunfire and ground missiles.

Once again, as in the past it has been the civilians in the region who have had their lives disrupted by the impromptu battles and constant exchange of bullets. Most have had to relocate in order to survive. MONUSCO confirmed that around 200,000 refugees have already fled their homes as a result of the latest battles in the area between the M23 rebels, Congolese army, and the Mai-Mai militias. And another 10,000 refugees crossed the border in early May headed for displacement camps in Rwanda and Uganda. About 55,000 Congolese refugees, most of them Congolese Tutsis, have registered for shelter in the Rwandan camps.

Then there are the rumors leaked by the Congolese government and supported by the UN that Rwanda began supporting M23 troops in early May. The government further claimed that up to 300 young Tutsi had been recruited and trained in Rwanda then sent on to serve as M23 troops. The Rwandan government has continued to deny both of these allegations. And then there is the blatant lie that M23 is connected in some way to the Hutu “genocidaires” in Kivu District. The truth of the matter is that during the Second War in the Congo all of the M23 soldiers were once members of the Tutsi militia, CDNP and that the Hutu soldiers hiding in Kivu District were responsible for the deaths of millions of Tutsis. There is no way that M23 troops would align themselves to members of the FDLR after the Tutsi Genocide perpetrated by the Hutus in 1994. This was one of the major reasons they defected in the first place- to make sure that the FDLR Hutu rebels were stopped from attacking and murdering Congolese civilians especially Tutsi in Kivu District. 

The United Nations Organization Mission, DR Congo (MONUSCO) has publically condemned the actions of the M23 soldiers but UN mediators did offer to arbitrate an agreement between M23 and the Kabila government if asked. The UN Security Council has officially petitioned Rwanda and Uganda to help prevent the “flow of supplies” to the M23 troops and to assist in “demobilizing” all armed militias operating in the Eastern Kivu region.

But wasn’t that the reason for the second war in the Congo in the first place? Uganda and Rwanda have no right to enter any section of the Congo without being formally invited by President Kabila first. But it is the Congolese government that has taken an inflexible position in this matter, not M23, and it has already admitted that it will show “no mercy.” By all accounts Kabila plans to exterminate these mutinous troops but why? So why doesn’t he disclose his plans for Ntaganda as well?

Rumors abound as the violence and fear generated by excessive battles in Kivu District rekindle old feuds and rivalries among ethnic groups in the area. Former Mai-Mai militias have regrouped and reports that over 120 people have been killed by Mai-Mai in tribal fighting during the past month have reached Kinshasa. Two Mai-Mai militias, the Raia Mutomboki and the Kifuafua have been credited with the murders in Masisi. Mai-Mai militias were originally formed as tribal defense organizations in the Second War in the Congo and both fought against the Hutu FDLR who were hiding out in the forests near their villages.The Mai-Mai militias took over the Masisi region after the M23 soldiers left the area at the beginning of May. It has been reported that both of these militias killed Tutsi civilians which is highly doubtful because both of these militias fought against the Hutu in the past and defended the Congolese Tutsi populations. It was the Mai-Mai militias who took on the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) forces.

On May 14th, eleven Pakistani UN soldiers were seriously injured in an attack on their base camp by over a thousand people in the town of Bunvakiri, South Kivu. Bystanders at the scene reported that the crowd was led by members of the Mai-Mai militia, Raia Mutomboki. The soldiers were part of a peacekeeping detail with the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).

Is the Congolese government getting ready to blame this entire incident on M23 and excuse the actions of Bosco Ntaganda like it has so often done in the past? If so, remember that this time the world is not only watching, President Kabila, but it will demand that justice be done.  If these soldiers have to pay for their defection then Bosco Ntaganda must be punished too! There is nothing that these soldiers have done that in anyway compares to the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Ntaganda. Arrest him and send him to the Hague where he belongs along with the rest of the madmen who will eventually stand trial there. Let him be tried by the ICC as the war criminal he was and still is. Because if you protect him one more time, President Kabila, the next warrant issued by the ICC should be for you.

Kat Nickerson   Kampala,  Uganda

The Second War in the Congo: The Lendu and the Hema

9 Jun

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Just a short explanation. I arrived in Kampala, Uganda on Sunday evening of this week and resumed my duties as a visiting professor in the Education/ Psychology Departments at Kyambogo University on Tuesday. I leave for Gulu and Kitgum tommorrow with a team of professors. From now on my posts will be written in Uganda and will  help educate you about the most current civil war -related issues Iwill continue to investigate in northern Uganda.

 The second war in the DR Congo commenced directly after the first war and lasted for fifteen extremely long years.  There was never any lull in the conflict between the first and second war. Known as the “Great War”, it was fought mostly in the northeast region of the Congo- Ituri District. It has been estimated that some 3.3million people died there between August 1998 and July 2003. Some residents of the northeast believe that based on the level of violence still occurring in the area the second war continues on. According to the International Rescue Committee ( IRC, 2003), “ It was the most deadly war ever documented on African soil with the highest death toll anywhere in the world since World War II.” It began because President Laurent Kabila in order to secure the capital city of Kinshasa and topple the Mobutu government ensconced there accepted help from the countries of Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi in the form of troops, training, arms, and general aid. After he had established his own government in Kinshasa he tired of their interference in what he considered to be “Congolese” matters and so in July 28, 1998 he released a public announcement calling for all Ugandans and Rwandans serving in his government in any capacity, administrative or military to immediately leave the country.

Ugandan and Rwandan troops had been crossing the border between their own countries and the DRCongo without permission under the guise of chasing down the Hutu rebels responsible for the Rwandan genocide. The Interahamwe, (Hutu militia responsible for the Rwandan Genocide) were living directly across the border from Rwanda and the Ugandan rebels had created bases in the far northeast sector. But Kabila was aware that each country had begun illegal mining operations in eastern Congo and had been transporting the raw materials back to their home countries to sell on the world market.

Five days later on August 2, 1998 the newly allied countries of Rwanda and Uganda invaded the DRCongo with most of the fighting taking place in the north-eastern region of the country and the city of Goma. Soldiers in the Congolese army stationed around Goma who were of Tutsi descent deserted their battalions and joined the Rwandan troops stationed in the area. The Rwandan army combined with Tutsi militia and Ugandan troops formed the RDC which took over the diamond mines of Kisangani on the upper Congo River. The Rwandan president even flew troops near the capital city and they took key positions surrounding Kinshasa. The commanders had orders to initiate a coup in which they would take over Kabila’s government.

But the Uganda/Rwanda aggressors had not counted on the countries of Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, and Libya entering the fray and coming to the defense of DR Congo with additional support from the Sudan. The allies succeeded in repelling the RDC’s strikes in the Northwest and Southwest region of the Congo but the war in the Northeast degenerated into open insurgence. Local residents armed “to the teeth” with whatever weapons they could lay their hands on engaged the Ugandan and Rwandan troops in combat on the main road to the capital city before they could take Kinshasa. Zimbabwean forces secured Ndjili International Airport just outside of Kinshasa. In the end many Congolese soldiers and civilians died in the fighting but President Laurent Kabila was able to keep his government intact.

The first four allies mentioned above were fellow members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) along with DR Congo. They each had vested interests in the welfare of the DR Congo. Zimbabwe had loaned Kabila millions of dollars to fight his first Congo War and Angola needed a stable Congo which would not harbor Angolan guerrillas.

The feud between the Hema and the Lendu persisted and then began to include other tribal groups in the area concerned about their fair share of arable land and mineral resources. Desperate Hema, seeking to evict Lendu from what they considered to be their rightful land and mineral rights, pleaded with Ugandan forces to help them. The Uganda’s People Defense Force (UPDF) was only too willing to comply because this provided them with the opportunity they needed to intervene and take control the natural resources in the mineral –rich region of Ituri. Once involved, Uganda used its position in the region to illegally export Congo resources, especially gold to the international market. Some of this money was used to assure the continued loyalty of local Hema warlords and to back the rebel group Rally for Congolese Democracy   RCD-K led by Kisangani.

The Ugandan army with the help of the Hema managed to drive the Lendu in Ituri District from their lands. Hema guerrillas formed the Union Of Congolese Patriots (UPC/Hema). They also began to enslave Lendu males and females who had been captured during their raids on Lendu villages forcing them to work in the Ugandan-controlled mines. In 1999 the leader of the UPDF forces in Ituri created a new province and named a man from Hema descent as governor. This move on the part of the Uganda forces convinced the Lendu that the Ugandans and the RCD-K were rallying the Hema against them. In response to the assaults by Hema civilians, who were backed by the Tutsi in the area and the Ugandan soldiers, the Lendu formed their own militant organizations in order to protect their land. They called upon members of the Hutu community to stand with them. The fighting between the two groups culminated in the Bluhwa Massacre when 400 Hema were murdered by Lendu villagers and the UPDF although staunchly allied to the Hema did nothing to stop the slaughter.

In reaction to the Lendu’s vehement response the UPDF named a new governor for Ituri region but wisely sent him to Kampala to serve out his term. In 2001 The Hema and Lendu began fighting again causing the UPDF to replace the current governor with a man of Hema heritage further incensing the Lendu.  Physical conflicts fueled by unjust land distribution claims lodged by the Lendu against the Hema erupted in the years 1972, 1985, and again in 1996.  

Long after the fighting in the west had ended Uganda continued to fuel the war by supporting rebel groups located in Ituri District.  Rwanda did so as well by backing the Reassemblement Congolaise pour la Democratie, (RCD) and the Movement de Liberation du Congo (MLC).

Congolese rebel groups also appeared in the vicinity especially around the Kivus which was under the control of the Congolese Tutsi who were supported by the Rwandan army and the rebel group, the Rally for the Congolese Democracy (RCD-Goma).

They were referred to in the villages as Mai-Mai and came together to resist the invasion of the Rwandan army and strikes made by Congolese Tutsi, These were fluid groups that came together and disbanded according to the defensive needs of the district but some groups were no more than bandits who used their notoriety as rebels to amass great wealth by exploiting all villagers regardless of ethnic affiliation.

The Great War changed how wars have since been waged in Africa. No longer do two armies come together and fight it out until one is victorious. No more are civilians considered exempt under the “rules of war”. Confrontation in this new type of combat is short and deadly and limited to quick fire fights and short skirmishes that determine the right to claim specific pieces of land which provide access to valuable minerals. In their haste to control these resources even the Ugandan and Rwandan armies fought it out to see who would control what territories. Civilians suffer most in this new type of warfare as rebel groups deliberately terrorize local residents using tactical methods such as torture, mutilation, and the systematized rape of women to keep all of the local inhabitants compliant and subdued.

Residents who are unlucky enough to find themselves within the area of conflict have been enslaved, tortured, mutilated, starved, murdered, and even eaten by rebel groups on both sides. Men and women in Ituri district have been forced to work in the mines by Congolese, Rwandan, Ugandan, and Burundian troops for no salary or any form of compensation at all. Rwanda went as far as to sell mining rights to Congolese land to foreign firms. Ugandan troops openly conducted mining operations in Ituri District where they removed valuable minerals and sold them on the world market as Ugandan resources up until 2003.

 Not only have the rebel militias and the Congolese army used the citizens of the Congo to their own advantage but they have intentionally left them with nothing: no land, no resources, no wildlife, no farms, no crops, no livestock and above all, no chance at a reasonably happy life. Approximately 5.4 million Congolese citizens died in the Second War in the Congo as a result of war-related afflictions. The insurgents have forced millions to become refugees, to leave their villages for displacement camps where thousands are crowded together within tiny fenced-in compounds controlled by impatient soldiers and well-meaning NGO’s. It is as if they live in suspended animation just waiting for the day that they will be told to leave so that they can begin their lives once more. In the soldiers’ relentless greed not only did they abscond with the people’s lands and resources; they stole their futures as well.

The Second War in the Congo officially ended in July 2003. Troops from Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi publically withdrew from all regions of the DR Congo although rebel groups financed by Uganda and Rwanda still inhabit sections of Ituri and North/South Kivu. The Hema and Lendu continue to hold on to their grudges against one another only they are more concerned at the moment with staying out of the rebels’ way. The warlords and rebel commanders have not been punished. In fact many were made generals in the Congolese Army at the end of the war and their men inducted as soldiers into the Congolese Army as well. There are citizens of the DR Congo who believe that the Second War in the Congo never stopped – it continues on today especially in the resource –rich territory of Ituri District. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued indictments but has yet to sentence anyof the militia leaders for human rights violations perpetrated during this war.

 If ever there was a country that needed vindication it is the DR Congo. If ever there was a people who needed relief it is the Congolese people. How can a country as large and as rich in natural resources as the DR Congo remain home to one of the poorest populations in the world?

 According to Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja,director of the Oslo Governance Centre of the United Nations Development Programme and professor emeritus of African studies at Howard University, Washington, D.C, “For if billions of dollars can be spent in fighting against ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in the Balkans, why it is difficult to devote even a small fraction of that amount to combating similar crimes in Africa?”

Kat Nickerson      Kampala,      Uganda

First War in the Congo:Tribal Hostilities Reappear

28 May

 The most important cultural and political unit in East Africa is one’s “tribal affiliation”. Usually when a Kenyan or Ugandan is asked, “Who are you?” He/she will usually respond by naming the tribe to which he/she belongs such as Kikuyu or Lango. These tribes have coexisted together for centuries and have fashioned many different types of relationships with one another. Some have built harmonious collaborations together while others have engaged in open warfare. Many tribes in the Congo considered the members of other tribes their mortal enemies and fought in vicious battles where they enslaved the vanquished until King Leopold and then the Belgian parliament intervened and introduced strict, punitive measures which helped to end most of the tribal conflicts. But even though the tribes were no longer permitted to fight, they never forgot just who their enemies were and passed down these grudges and resentments to subsequent generations. Once the Belgian administrators returned to Belgium and the Mobutu government demonstrated that it could not  rule the country as efficiently as the colonials had done, tribal leaders came forward to manage the Congolese people as before. Once the tribes were in control again, age-old feuds and quarrels resumed as their leaders resurrected old hostilities and past offenses. And it was both old and new tribal hatreds that helped to sustain the First War in the Congo

 Revolution, liberation, ethnic tension and feuds, as well as a ceaseless influx of refugees from Rwanda and sometimes Burundi were primarily responsible for the First War in the Congo which lasted from November 1996 until May 1997. It was a short war but in order to understand its impact and the reason for the Second War in the Congo, it’s necessary to know something about the different ethnic divisions and the tribes who became mired in this conflict.  Ituri province is located in the northeast section of the DRC and shares Lake Albert on its eastern border with the country of Uganda. The largest city in Ituri is Bunia. Members of the Lendu and the Hema ethnic groups make their homes in this area and have done so since before Leopold of Belgium took over in the late nineteen hundreds. Traditionally the Lendus lived off of the produce they grew in the soil of Ituri. They were farmers who tended to their family-owned fields and maintained their plots within the tribal compounds. 

Over a century ago, another tribe began frequenting this area of the Congo. They called themselves Hema and maintained a living as pastoralists who moved their camels, cattle, and goats from water hole to water hole over vast ranges of grazing land. The Hema eventually settled in this area. In many ways these two tribes mirrored the Hutu and Tutsi who lived in Rwanda and in sections of Burundi at this time. The Hutu had established an agrarian society like the Lendu and the Tutsi depended on herding their livestock like the Hema. Historical accounts confirm that both tribes, Lendu and Hema complimented each others’ lifestyles and managed to live together in relative harmony until the Belgian colonialists took over in the late eighteen hundreds and instituted new administrative policies which favored the Hema over the Lendu in the Congo in the same way they had supported the Tutsi over the Hutu in Rwanda.

 The area eventually called Rwanda was originally settled by the soil- loving Hutu but the semi-nomadic Tutsis who had traveled down from North Africa eventually established migratory patterns for grazing routes throughout Rwanda as well. For almost half a century the two groups survived by trading their animal products and crops with one another. Eventually they shared a language, some common traditions, and the same nationality- they even began to marry one another. Then everything suddenly changed when the Belgians assumed control of the country of Rwanda and implemented a British colonial policy to rule the people of Rwanda. The Belgian colonialists selected one ethnic group over another in an attempt to keep the tribes’ divided and in contention with one another rather than with the colonial government.  The Belgians chose the Tutsis as their “favored” tribe because they preferred the “look” of the Tutsis. They thought that the tall, willowy Tutsis with their sharper Ethiopian features were “esthetically more pleasing to the eyes” and they realized that many members of the Tutsi tribe were already landowners giving them a certain level of status in the area. The Belgian colonial governors enforced policies that required Tutsi males to attend primary school in order to train them to serve in intermediary positions between the white colonials and the Hutu natives.  This blatant discrimination deliberatley employed to denigrate the Hutu caused a great deal of tension between the two groups.

 The colonial governor did the same thing in the Belgian Congo by openly preferring the Hema over the Lendu which caused the Lendu to break off the close connections they had once had with the Hema.  But the Belgians went on to openly interfere with the ownership of the tribal lands that historically had belonged to the Lendu by providing the Hema with a legal technicality to help the them steal away Lendu real estate by enforcing the “Land Law of 1873.”

 This law allowed the Hema to buy land that they did not live on and then wait two years and the land would become legally theirs. The residents living on the land at the time had the legal right to buy the land within two years but most were never informed that they did not own the land. The concepts of deed transfers and land ownership were not something the Lendu understood. So the Hema patiently waited out the two years required by law then evicted the Lendu families from their homes and fields. According to the law there was no way for the Lendu to appeal this eviction after two full years had elapsed because the Hema had followed the letter of the law if not the moral intent. Many times the Lendu had been living on ancient tribal lands which had been farmed by their families for hundreds of years. The Hema, with the help of the Belgians, managed to accumulate vast tracts of land throughout Ituri District this way. Years later both tribes would learn that rich mineral deposits existed beneath the Lendu tribal lands- the same ones that had been taken over by the Hema. Knowledge of this would lead to open warfare between the two groups.

There were also Tutsi groups living in Northeastern Congo who were citizens of the Congo not Rwanda although they had originally entered the Congo by way of Rwanda.  The earliest Tutsis settlements in the Congo were established in Ituri District long before King Leopold of Belgian arrived in the late 1880s. Another large group of Tutsis had been brought into the country by Belgian colonials to serve as laborers at the turn of the century. They never returned to Rwanda  but stayed in the Congo when the Belgians left the country after the Congo declared its independence from Belgium. Again in 1959 large numbers of Tutsis crossed the border into eastern Congo to avoid living under the Hutu government that had just claimed power in Rwanda.

The Kanyarwandan War raged on for three full years from 1963 to 1966.  Congolese tribes, Hunde and Nande who had traditionally lived in North Kivu pushed the Rwandan emigrants (Hutu and Tutsi) entering their lands out of their tribal territories and were responsible for brutally massacring thousands of Hutu and Tutsi refugees. In 1965, President Mobutu gave those Tutsi groups living in Ituri who were actual citizens of the Congo administrative control in the district even though they were in the minority compared to the other tribal populations living there. His motivation for awarding this special power to the Tutsi community was never clearly understood but his actions turned the other tribes in the area against the Tutsis turning an already volatile situation into outright war.

In 1972 thousands of Hutu refugees fled Burundi and entered the Congo after a coup by Hutu armed forces failed against the government of Burundi. Tutsis who previously resided in the Congo before 1960 were referred to as “Banyamulenge”.  In 1972 all Tutsis living in the Congo before 1963 were awarded official Congolese citizenship by the Mobutu government. All Rwandan and Burundian Tutsis residing in the Congo from 1959-1963were also granted citizenship.The Tutsis who settled in the Congo after 1963 were not considered legal citizens of the Congo. Most of the tribes native to the Congo did not consider any of Tutsi ethnic groups, no matter how long they had lived in the Congo legitimate members of the Congolese union of tribes.

By 1981 the political situation gradually worsened for the Tutsi. Citizenship was restricted to those who could prove that their ancestors resided in the Congo as far back as 1885 or earlier. This law was enacted to counter the growing economic power of the Tutsi groups in the Kivu region. Tensions worsened as the Banyamulenge openly supported the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), Tutsi rebel forces hiding in Uganda whose goal it was to topple the Hutu-supported government currently in power in Rwanda.  By March 1993 the governor of Kivu, caving into demands made upon him by the other Congolese tribes in the area, proclaimed that all Tutsis must leave the Kivus and if they remained, he would have them executed. His announcement prompted the other tribes to declare war upon the Tutsis and 14,000 Tutsis were killed in the next two months. By May 1993 President Mobuto had managed to stop the killing but then in an illogical move ordered Tutsi representation in the local Kivu government increased.

In 1994 the “Rwandan Genocide” began in the country of Rwanda where in three short months 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis but some moderate Hutu as well, were systematically killed by the army of the Hutu-backed government. It has been estimated that three fourths of the Tutsi population then residing in Rwanda at that time were killed and that thousands of Hutus who opposed the genocide were also murdered. The slaughter in Rwanda caused the previous tensions between the Hema and the Lendu in Ituri to escalate into physical violence throughout the district. Armed Lendu who indentified with the Hutu army roamed the country side looking for vulnerable Hema to kill and terrified Hema turned to the local government for help but the government turned a blind-eye to the violence.

In 1995 Mobutu’s Parliament ordered any people from Rwanda or Burundi living in the Congo to return to their own countries of origin, including any Tutsi who did not qualify for Congolese citizenship.

By 1996 Laurent Kabila began a unified revolt against the thoroughly corrupt President Mobutu who had been kept in power by the efforts of the United States and its European allies. Immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union relations between Mobutu and the West totally deteriorated as the need to support Mobutu in order to keep Communism from spreading throughout the governments in East Africa petered out.

Mobuto Sese Seko had ruled Zaire, his new name for the Belgian Congo, for thirty years and left the country destitute.  Kabila named his forces, The Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo ( AFDL) and began recruiting tens of thousands of children from among the local villages in Eastern Congo to serve as soldiers within its ranks. Millions of Hutu swarmed across the Rwandan border into the Congo once the Tutsis in Rwanda had won the Rwandan War for Independence. Some of these Hutu were dangerous soldiers who had been involved in carrying out the genocide while others were merely Hutu civilians fleeing for their lives. Most of these refugees sought asylum in the Ituri and Kivu Districts.

In 1996 the First Congo War began as Rwandan forces invaded eastern Congo to protect the Tutsis there and to destroy any extremist Hutu militia camps they found in the Congo. Kabila’s government opposed this action but did not have the military strength to stop the Rwandan army’s movements and needed their help to bring down Mobutu. Kabila had no choice but to allow Tutsi soldiers from the victorious Rwandan Army to accompany his AFDL troops in order to capture and kill the Hutu extremists now hiding out in the area of eastern Congo.  It has been proven that both AFDL and Rwandan Tutsi troops killed defenseless Hutu refugees who had no connections to the genocide and even killed local Congolese villagers in their quest to locate the Hutu extremists.

Still some of the Hutu extremists responsible for the genocide in Rwanda managed to survive the wrath of the Rwandan army and the Congolese troops. Small groups settled in North Kivu and Ituri District and eventually formed the guerilla group, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). They are still there to this day and are presently living in the tropical forests around The Virunga National Forest. Their primary goal is to return to Rwanda to bring down the Tutsi government currently in power there. 

 Laurent Kabila and his ADFL troops backed by Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, and Burundi finally marched into Kinshasa in May, 1997 and toppled the Mobutu Government ensconced there. Mobutu fled the country and was granted asylum in Morocco. Laurent Kabila named himself president of Zaire on September 17, 1997 and directed his new government to change the name of the country from Zaire to The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Uganda also played a major role in the First Congo War. Ugandan soldiers were present in Zaire throughout the conflict and were responsible for training AFDL troops.

The ethnic feuds in Ituri and Kivu continued. All Tutsis regardless of their Congolese citizenship continued to be hated by the rest of the Congolese tribes except for the Hema in Ituri. Tutsis were considered “outsiders” especially after the Rwandan army had come to their defense. Meanwhile, the Hutu extremists had not been eradicated by the Rwandan army as expected and were still living somewhere up in the eastern mountains of the DRC. Without leaving troops in the DRC, the Rwandans would not be able to successfully remove the threat of an attack on their country by the Hutu guerrillas who had participated in the Rwandan genocide. There was no doubt that they would try and reclaim their country once again and reestablish a Hutu-based government in Rwanda. The Rwandan army dug in their heels and refused to leave North-eastern DRC until it had successfully accomplished its mission and Uganda would not agree to depart either. Uganda and Rwandan had begun to mine “conflict minerals” in secret although each country denied it when asked by UN mediators in the Congo in 1997

By the end of 1997 President Kabila was strong enough in his position as President of the DRC to demand the withdrawal of all Rwandan and Ugandan forces from his country. This request and the hatred between the Lendu and the Hema led to The Second War in the Congo in 1998.

 Kat Nickerson   Kingston, RI  USA

Mountain Gorilla in Peril: Ntaganda Continues His War

20 May

It’s the third week in May, 2012 and Bosco Ntaganda, along with many of his former CNDP troops, was finally driven out of the Masisi highlands in the eastern Congo through a unified effort by soldiers from the Congolese Army. But he and his troops were not captured so were able to  move off into a section of The Virunga National Park presently occupied by the endangered Mountain Gorillas. The world’s remaining mountain gorillas live within four national parks in Central/East Africa, split in two territories that are about 28 miles apart. One group inhabits the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda where a 2006 census identified that about 302 gorillas lived there. The second group lives at a higher altitude in a mountainous region called the Virungas, which includes Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda), Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) and Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of Congo). A 2010 census revealed that about 480 gorillas live throughout this mountain range. The World Wildlife Federation has reported that a total of 23 adult mountain gorillas have been killed by rebel forces during the first and second Congo Wars that had been fought throughout this region. It is not known at this time how this new round of conflicts has impacted the daily lives of the gorilla groups. But in total, 782 are all that is presently left of the Mountain Gorillas in this region.

What’s more is that the latest Human Rights Report ( HRW:May, 2012) states that Ntaganda has started to conscript child soldiers again. This time he has taken about 149 boys and young men between the ages of 12 and 20, some  from their classrooms and is making them fight alongside his troops. Ntaganda has already been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for recruiting children as a deputy commander in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an armed political group that fought in the northeast Congo during the country’s second civil war.

The Virunga National Park was created in 1925 by the Belgian colonial government making it one of the first national parks created in East Africa and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The park covers over 7,800 square kilometers in Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The park’s territory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo stretches between two mountain ranges: the Virunga ( Southern border) and the Rwenzori (Northern border). The Virunga National Park also abuts Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and two national parks in Uganda: Rwenzori National Park and Queen Elisabeth National Park. This park is currently managed by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) as well as the British Africa Conservation Fund and receives most of its financial support from the European Union.

Mountain gorillas are large, powerful primates with long, muscular arms, massive chests, and broad hands and feet. They prefer colder climates and dwell in the higher latitudes up in the Virunga Mountains. Despite their enormous size and strength they are gentle, shy animals who have demonstrated close connections with other members of their primary group. A gorilla family can consist of anywhere between 2 and 40 gorillas, and the average number of gorillas within one family is about 11. Each family is led by a dominant male referred to as a “silverback” and named for the swath of silver hair present along the top of its back. Although strong and powerful, the leader will only fight to protect  members of his family and usually only attacks as a last resort. The leader decides all of the everyday affairs for the other members of the family, like when and where the family will eat or sleep. He also settles disputes between family members and protects the family from being stolen away by other dominant males or harmed by human predators. The total population of Mountain Gorillas in Virunga will not increase rapidly because females give birth only every three to five years and might have between 3 and 8 babies during their entire lifetime. This slow reproduction rate leaves the Mountain Gorilla groups very vulnerable and is the primary reason they have been placed on the endangered species list. These foraging herbivores are known to ingest more than 100 types of trees and shrubs. In one day an adult gorilla can consume about 40 pounds of plant material, so the  survival of the group depends on ensuring that a large territory of protected forests is reserved to meet their needs. The Mountain Gorilla of Central-East Africa has been placed on the International Union for Conservation and Natural Resources, Red List of Threatened Species( IUCN,2012).

Bosco Ntaganda’s situation seems to be steadily worsening though. Two days ago Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands announced to the world press that he was adding the charges of murder, ethnic persecution, rape, and sexual slavery to the existing criminal indictments brought against General Ntaganda and is also issuing an arrest warrant for Sylvestre Mudacumura, military commander of the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR). This group composed of Hutu militia was forced out of Rwanda after its participation in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 where it fled into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and has been camping out in the region around the Virunga National Park ever since. Several of Ntaganda’s compatriots felt that he would have already been given asylum in Rwanda. Ntaganda, although a General in the Congoloese Army before his defection,  is actually Rwandan and a Tutsi. He has had very close ties in the not so distant past to Rwandan President Paul Kagame through his former leadership in the CNDP. Several Congolese Army officers currently involved in routing out Ntaganda and his old CNDP troops believe that Ntaganda is already receiving monetary support which he has used to continue the fighting in Masisi. When asked in public to comment upon Ntaganda’s actions, President Kagame coolly replied that Bosco’s mutiny was a “Congolese affair.” Yet the world community is aware that Rwanda has continued its relationship with the CNDP, a Rwandan rebel militia group living in the Kivu area, and still profits illegally from the sale of “conflict minerals” that have been mined in the DRC and shipped to Rwanda.

And as if this situation was not confusing enough there is a second group of soldiers who are not allied with Ntaganda but did leave the Congolese army at the same time Ntaganda’s men deserted their camps in eastern Congo in April 2102. These other soldiers are led by Colonel Sultani Makenga, another Congolese army officer who launched a separate mutiny on May 3, 2012. Colonel Makenga has made it clear that his men do not fight for Ntaganda. About 300 of these former Congolese soldiers mutinied because of grievances they had with low salaries, lack of promotions in the Congolese Army, and concerns about the mistreatment of members of the Tutsi community in Eastern Kivu by soldiers in the Congolese Army. This second group of soldiers are Tutsi and also served in the CNDP during the second Congo War. They call themselves “M23” in reference to the March 23, 2009 peace agreement between the CNDP and the Congolese government. Ntaganda and Makenga are also Tutsi and served together during the second war in the Congo in the Rwanda-backed CNDP rebel militia but are not aligned together at the moment. The Congolese army is now also battling these “M23” deserters in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu as well. President Kagame of Rwanda has urged President Kabila of the DRC to investigate “M23’s” claim that Tutsi civilians are being harassed and attacked by members of the Congolese army. The Rwandan president stated that “ this is why the Tutsi community have left the eastern Congo region and are now fleeing into Rwanda.”

This new series of conflicts between Ntagnda and the Congolese Army have caused fear and mistrust to move through the area again. Tens of thousands of Congolese citizens have fled their homes for refugee camps in the neighboring countries of Rwanda and Uganda. Some 30,000 Congolese have entered Uganda in order to escape the fighting that began on May 10, 2012 and more than 8,000 Congolese refugees have been registered in the Rwanda camps since April 27th.

This is the most recent blog posted by Park Ranger Emanuel on May 18, 2012: “It has, once again, been a long week, with the sounds of war in the distance.  We are still trying to understand the conflict on our doorstep, and much of our information suggests that it will get worse before it gets better.  There was heavy shelling again this morning towards Bikenge on the edge of the forest.  This is where the Rugendo and Lulengo gorilla families tend to live, so we are very worried about them.  It is also hard on our staff, as the fighting in 2008 and the attack on Rumangabo is still fresh in their memories.”(ICCN, 2012)

Gorilla ACDBlog:  http://gorillacd.org/blog/

Some 400 very loyal and courageous park rangers protect Virunga National Park. Two previous civil wars in the Congo have taken their toll on the Park Ranger Corps and around 160 rangers have died as a result of poachers’ bullets or from conflict-related crimes in the past ten years.  In January of last year, three rangers and five Congolese soldiers were killed when their car was hit by a rocket-launched missile while patrolling the main road that runs directly through the Virunga National Park. Their attackers were members of the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) Hutu militia who had taken up residence in the park after they had been expelled from Rwanda because of their participation in the genocide in 1994. Officials confirmed that the attack was in retaliation for the destruction of  the Hutus’ camps by park rangers the previous year. It was reported that around 700 Hutu rebels had been living in the park where they were burning sections of the park’s tropical forest in order to make charcoal which they then sold in the local markets for money. According to the rangers, four different armed militia groups have been camped out in the park since May 2012. While these rebels may not deliberately seek to harm the gorillas around them,who knows what the consequences of the fighting will be on the two gorilla families? Remember that in the two previous civil wars male gorillas had been deliberately killed and sometimes eaten by rebel forces.

Despite the two wars and by the use of effective park management techniques the rangers have actually helped the gorilla population in the DRC to increase. At the very end of the war in 2006 there were only about 300 Mountain Gorillas left in the world, but by 2011 the population was  estimated to be closer to 800. But now at least two gorilla families have been caught up in the middle of the conflict and are in peril as the Congolese Army has begun to launch  land missiles towards the rebel troops. Park officials have only been able to monitor the situation from planes because it has become too dangerous for the rangers to complete their ground patrols. We can only pray that the gorillas will sense that they are in real danger and move higher up into the mountains to avoid being killed during the fighting.

It will be interesting to learn if Bosco Ntaganda has remained with his men during this most recent encounter with the Congoloese Army or if he has already been transported to a safe location by one or more of the sympathetic governments he has so graciously helped out in the past. Will Ntaganda be arrested and sent to the Hague to stand trial for his war crimes against the Congolese people or will he be made to stand trial in the Democratic Republic of the Congo instead? Or in the end, will General Bosco Ntaganda suddenly and totally up and disappear saving all parties involved a lot of  embarrassing publicity? Who knows what the “korongo” will bring forth next? 

Kat Nickerson   Kingston, RI   USA

There Are No Good Guys Here: Bosco Ntaganda

8 Apr

When I told you in my previous post that Kony’s tactics although vicious were not unusual I meant it. On March 14, 2012 Thomas Lubangu Dyilo, leader of rebel militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots ( UPC) during the Second War in the Congo, was convicted by a three- judge panel at the International Criminal Court, in the Hague, Netherlands for war crimes against children during the years 2002-2003. The charges levied against him were: 1.) abducting children against their will. 2.) enlisting children to serve as soldiers in a rebel militia. and  3.) requiring children to fight in combat. Lubangu was arrested and sent to the Hague in 2005 and if given 30 years, the maximimu sentence, could spend the rest of  his life behind bars. This is the first trial ever conducted by the ICC although it has served as an established court for ten years.

Reaction to his sentence the next day was subdued around his District of Ituri, located in the northeast section of the DRC especially among his Hema supporters. Most consider him a hero, who saved them from the wrath of the Lendu. The villagers did not believe that there would be a conviction, so are still trying to make sense of the news after hearing it on a local radio broadcast yesterday. Many residents insist that he will not spend time in jail adding that if he were sentenced to prison then other  militia leaders known for their abuse of children should be arrested and made to stand trial too.  Still others think that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction over events in the DR Congo and should leave them alone. A few feel betrayed even angry about the verdict claiming – “He didn’t do anything worse than other rebel commanders had done.”  No riots or violent outbreaks have erupted around the district as of yet, but a general sense of uneasiness and caution permeates the local  markets and cafes.

And Lubangu was not the only one who had war-related warrants issued against him by the ICC. Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui are Lendu commanders who have been charged with crimes against children, mass murder, rape, and sexual enslavement, outrages upon personal dignity, intentional attack against the Hema population, pillaging, and destruction of property in the village of Bogoro, Ituri district in the eastern DRC from January to March 2003.  Katanga is the proclaimed leader of the Force de Résistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI) and Ngudjolo is the leader of the National Integrationist Front (FNI) at the time of the charges although as part of the peace agreement at the end of the Second Congo War both were integrated into the National Army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (NADRC) and held the rank  of general in this army until the time of their arrest.

 Katanga was arrested by DCR troops, surrendered to United Nations officials, then sent to the ICC in October of 2007. Ngudjolo was also surrendered by DRC officials and sent to the Hague a year later. In March 2008 the court decided to join the Katanga and the Ngudjolo Chui cases together because the two defendants would be prosecuted for the same crimes.

In 2008 the court accepted all but three of the charges against Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui both Generals in the Army of the DR Congo ( FARDC). They listed seven counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity. They found that there was insufficient evidence to try Katanga and Ngudjolo for inhuman treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and inhumane acts.

On March 25, 2012 Jerome Kakwavu, another militia leader was indicted by the DRC military court accused of raping two women, the youngest of whom was thirteen years old at the time.. From 1998 until 2006 during the Second Congo War Kakwavu led the rebel militia group known as the UDC/FAPC.  He was also absorbed into the Army of the DR Congo ( FARDC)  at the end of this conflict and was serving as a general in this army at the time of his arrest. 

And now that leaves Bosco Ntaganda, an infamous figure in Central African politics who by all accounts is one of the most powerful people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and as far as my sources can tell is undoubtedly the wealthiest. General Ntaganda was also indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2006 for enlistment and use of child soldiers in the 2002-2003 Ituri conflict, in north-eastern DR Congo but has not, as of yet, been arrested and turned over to the United Nations Authorities in Kinshasa like his former compatriots. President Kabila has made no move to arrest Ntaganda and although he has cooperated with ICC in the past by arresting and packing off Generals Lubanga, Ngudjolo, and Katanga everyone on the ground in the DRC  understands that Ntaganda may be too closely connected to the Rwandan government for President Kabila to detain him without jeopardizing his presidency or possibly causing a military coup in which Ntaganda will surely challenge him for the leadership of the DRC.

 In a most tactful response President Joseph Kabila alluded to this possibility during a news conference in October of 2011 when under criticism from several International Human Rights groups for not going after Ntaganda, he answerd, “peace outweighs all other considerations.”

In a state visit to the DRC last week, the Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didieu Reyenders warned President Kabila that his creditability was being called into question by members of the international community because of his failure to arrest General Ntaganda. This warning was particularly insensitive and outrageously hypocritical considering it came from a country that refused to censure its own king, Leopold for the atrocious crimes he committed against the Congolese people of the DRC when he personally owned this country in the late 1900’s.  

Bosco Ntaganda is a 39 year old Rwandan, who has alligned himself with the Hema in the East Congo conflicts.  He ia a Rwandan Tutsi, and former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army who fought for the overthrow of the Hutu government in Rwanda in 1994. He is something of a flamboyant character, always impeccably dressed, and known to enjoy the finer things in life such as haute cuisine eaten in the finest hotels. It is commonly known that he was first invited into the DR Congo to hunt down and kill the remaining Hutu who had fled into the DRC and taken refuge there after the Rwandan War ended. Eventually he joined the Union of Congolese patriots (UPC) –  Lubangu’s boys, and became its chief of military operations. It is common knowledge in Ituri that he distinguished himself by engaging in several massacres of Lendu civilians and by developing training programs for child recruits

He has very close ties to officials in the present Rwandan government and has continued to reside in Goma, near enough to the Rwandan border to cross whenever he chooses. He visits Rwanda  frequently and has been allowed to pass back and forth even though the United Nations Security Council declared him “a sanctioned individual” subject to a travel ban and to having all of his  assets frozen. Obviously this international censure has not affected his movements nor his wallet. 

By 2005 he had left the UPC and joined the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP)  where he served as its chief of staff. He  fought throughout the Second Congo War in this position. When the war ended in 2006 he was inducted into the DR Congolese army as a  general even though he was already wanted by the ICC. And now my story will morph into something more like a cheap “B” movie rather than a serious post about human rights violations

 About a year ago Ntaganda’s story became outrageously fantastical and would not have been believable except that the entire account was officially recorded in a report issued by a United Nations investigation team. A retired NBA basketball player, born in the DR Congo, persuaded an American oil executive and a few other investors to hand over 10 million dollars to gold traders in Kenya and DR Congo in order to purchase 4.5 tons of pure gold ingots that would be worth 30 million US dollars if sold on the world market. Several Americans representing the oil executive’s interests would eventually hand over 5 million dollars to two bogus gold traders in Nairobi who would then con them into leasing a jet in order to fly to Kinshasa where they would be forced to hand over another 3 million dollars US  to – wait for it- none other than General Bosco Ntaganda.

 And the story gets even better. As soon as the plane landed it was met by soldiers in the Congoloese Army who took the Americans’ passports and confiscated the plane. The Americans were brought to a hotel to meet Ntaganda where he told one of them to return to the plane and bring 3 million US dollars back with him. Once the money’s had been brought back and handed to Ntaganda it suddenly disappeared. Everyone in the airport was in on this scam except for one lowly customs agent who demanded that the passengers who had just disembarked from the plane  open up their luggage for inspection. Imagine his dismay when he caught sight of the remaining two million dollars in cash that had been left on the plane. For a man who will probably earn less than $300 US dollars for the entire year it must have been a incomprehensible sight.

The next day the Congolese government seized the plane, arrested all passengers and crew, and removed the two million dollars US.  Then in a dramatic about-face the Congolese government dropped all criminal charges against the Americans. When the United Nations team interviewed Ntaganda he informed them that he had been working with Kabila’s government all along to bring these criminals to justice and that he was the one who had uncovered this gold smuggling operation. He reminded them that he was only doing his civic duty to his country. When asked to produce the 3 million dollars US that he had requested be brought to him he handed over a large satchel with 3 million dollars of poorly counterfeited bills  inside.

Word on the streets of Kinshasa confirmed that Ntaganda was now the proud owner of 3 million dollars US and that he had masterminded the entire deal.  It was also common knowledge that he had been given the lion’s share of the other five million US dollars turned over to the bogus gold traders in Nairobi. Everyone was aware that Ntaganda was several million dollars richer in a country where anyone can have another person murdered for a five dollar bill. So now Ntaganda had a lot more money to add to his war funds. Everyone knows that no deals take place in the eastern Congo unless Ntaganda is given his fair share.

Will Ntaganda finance his own rebellion now or has he already made a deal with the Kabila government by funneling the two million US dollars their way to overlook the arrest warrants issued on him by the ICC? If you’re looking for good guys in this story, there aren’t any -accept for the customs agent- maybe. The opportunity to amass personal fortunes worth millions of dollars seems too overpowering a motive  for men to continue to act morally or decently especially in a country where the average person make less than $2.00 US a day.

I had started this post on Ntaganda on Monday of last week but by Thursday, April 6th there was more interesting news. For some reason Ntaganda left Kinshasa and headed back to Goma where he barricaded himself away in the ex-CNDP Head Quarters in Runyoni and Mushaki taking one month’s worth of pay destined for the FARDC regiment in Lubero with him.  

Then several commanders in the Congolese army (FRDC) defected and around 300 of his most loyal troops about 35% of the troops formerly militia under his CNDP command went with him taking their guns and ammunition with them.. They have regrouped in  Mushaki,  Runyoni, in the Virunga National Park, Bunagana/Rutshuru  near the Ugandan border; and Katale. They have set up roadblocks where they continue to extort money from vehicles using the local roads. Ntaganda has reason to be nervous especially after he heard that his former boss Thomas Lubanga had been convicted by the ICC on March 14.  It has been estimated that about 2,000 soldiers currently serving in the DAR Congo Army (FRDC) could follow him having already served under him in the powerful Rwandan –supported rebel militia named the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) during the Second War in the Congo. According to current reports, more CNDP rebels have left their current FRDC units.

More Congolese troops situated in the northeast might join him just because they have gone for months now without being paid fair wages by the Kabila government or because have been reassigned to new regiments without confirmation of their previous ranks. They know from word on the street that Ntaganda has a lot of money and they know from experience that he has the organizational skills to effectively lead them. Kabila’s government in a move to stop the rebel skirmishes in the northeast and end the conflict for good in 2009 integrated the former rebels into the main Congolese army including Ntaganda. Some say that this was a very foolish move on Kabila’s part that will eventually lead to Ntaganda taking control of the entire army then the government much like the dictator Idi Amin did in Uganda.

This situation will get very interesting in the next few weeks and may ultimately decide the fate of the Congolese people. Ntaganda must have heard something  that troubled him or he wouldn’t have left his current location in such a hurry and if he’s moving to an old militia headquarters he may be looking for a fight. Will Rwanda continue to stand by Ntaganda or will they silence him in order to avoid being exposed for their dealings in “conflict minerals”? If the International Criminal Court tries him, he might just tell all that he knows about the intrusive and corrupt business practices conducted by the other countries that border the Congo. I can see this ending one of four  ways: 1.) Ntaganda will make his move ( with the support of Rwanda) and stage a military coup in which Ituri and the rest of the Northeast region will secede from the DRC. 2.) Ntaganda will suddenly disappear because Rwanda will see to it that Ntaganda never makes it to The Hague to stand trial.  3.) Kabila will give in to the commanders’ demands and continue to protect Ntaganda from the ICC and the United Nations.  or 4.) The ICC will get its way because Kabila will follow through and Ntaganda will be removed from the Democractic Republic of the Congo once and for all. Whatever happens I have a feeling it will all end in one very dramatic conclusion!

A dear friend once compared the current situation in the northeast Congo, one of the most violent places on Earth right now, to the famous “bar” scene in the movie “Stars Wars™”.  He cautioned, “”You know that someone is about to  make a move  but you’re just not sure which killer will strike first.”       Heads-up Ntaganda!

Kat Nickerson   Kingston        RI     USA

 For those of you who want to read the entire story about the NBA basketball player and Congolese gold I have included the link.