Tag Archives: M23

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

13 Jan
http:// Africareview.com

http:// Africareview.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kat Nickerson                                                    Kingston, Rhode Island                                                                                       January 12, 2014

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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

 

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

20 Dec
Photo:Al Jazeera, 2012

Photo:Al Jazeera, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kat Nickerson    Kingston, RI    USA

 

 

 

 

M23 Triumphs: Protest or Revolution?

2 Dec

2012-11-21T200916Z_3_CBRE8AK0O7A00_RTROPTP_2_CONGO-DEMOCRATIC

M23 Soldiers Enter Goma: Photograph by James Akena , Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.m23mars.org/ 

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

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

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

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

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

Kat Nickerson    Kingston, RI     USA

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
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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