Tag Archives: Rwanda

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

14 Apr
Http://Washingtonpost.com

Http://Washingtonpost.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kat Nickerson                                                             Kingston,  Rhode Island, USA

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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

Conflict Minerals Primer: The Reality of the Northeastern DR Congo

23 Sep

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a vast resource of minerals under its mountainous terrain that presently brings in large sums of money in the millions of dollars so much so that individuals, companies, and countries have risked everything to enter the DR Congo legally and illegally in order to mine out these materials and sell them on the world market.Vastfortunes can be made in a very short time if the labor is cheap, the mine is accessible, and the travel routes in and out have been secured. Precious materials such as Cassiterite, Wolframite, Coltan, and Gold, are all found within the ground in the northeastern section of the country. They are used in the manufacture of a variety of popular electronic devices that are highly sort after in the world markets such as I-Phones and Androids, laptops, and MP3 players

Kivu District of northeast DR Congo is also the region where open warfare between several factions is currently taking place leaving this region highly unstable and its residents tremendously vulnerable. The most brutal exploiter of the local population is the entire Congolese National Army from Generals to foot soldiers who operate hundreds of mines unchallenged in Kivu District alone and man them by forcing the local residents to work for them. They make up the largest number of illegal groups currently operating in the area and are known for their open exploitation of workers through their use of rape, torture, and murder to subdue their mine laborers. A recent study by IPIS indicates that armed groups are present at more than 50% of mining sites. At many sites, armed groups of soldiers illegally tax, extort, and coerce civilians to work for them. Miners, including children, work 48-hour shifts in dangerous conditions such as mudslides and tunnel collapses and thousands of workers have already died from what is referred to by the Congolese soldiers as “ mine incidents.”

Then there are the rebel groups including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). These are the Hutu extremists who led the Rwandan Genocide in 1984. They are still entrenched in the mountains of Kivu District and have even established a stronghold in The Virunga National Forest which they have occupied for some time now. It is time that they were hunted down and eradiated by the Congolese Government but they have managed to survive quite well and also use forced local labor to maintain their own mines and sell their ore through middle men located in Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. Although the government likes to claim that they have seriously curtailed the FDLR’s mining operations, they still remain a formidable force in the area. Koni and his Liberation Army spend time in the region of the DRCongo too and while camped out there operate mines through enforced local labor and manage quite well on their profits. All of the rebel groups use their proceeds to replenish their weaponry and ammunition through black market arms dealers.

Rumors abound that both the countries of Rwanda and Uganda still operate private mines located throughout the foot hills of the Ruwenzoru Mountains, far away from prying eyes. The idea of stealing the DR Congo’s natural resources by other countries originated during the First and Second Wars in the Congo. The countries of  Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi invaded the DR Congo and while they were at it opened mining operations as well in remote areas on the eastern regions of the Congo that bordered their specific countries. The Congolese government had not the forces, the resources, or the time to stop them. They were finally embarrassed by the United Nations into claiming that they had stopped but local residents of Kivu district will swear to you that these mines still exist today and that their mining operations were never shut down. At one point near the end of the Second War in the Congo it was documented by MONUSCO, the UN mission in eastern DR Congo, that agents from Rwanda went as far as to sell mineral rights located in the DR Congo to private companies located in Europe. It is common knowledge throughout Kivu District that these three governments continue to smuggle resources out of the DR Congo to this day.

Before the reason for this crisis can be properly understood it is imperative that the reader have some idea of the vast size and geographic diversity within this country in order to understand the reasons for its almost non-existent infrastructure.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo covers roughly 905,063 square miles. That makes it about the same size in area as the United States of America from the Mississippi River to the East Coast and according to BBC News is the 12th largest country in the world. It contains many distinct regions, each with its own climate and geological formations. The central area if covered by tropical rain forests and rivers, surrounded by mountains in the west, that merge into savannahs and plains in the south and southwest , and grasslands in the north. On its northeastern and eastern border the Ruwenzoru Mountain Range stands majestic and tall. It contains the Albertine Rift Mountain Forest which is home to the last of the Mountain Gorilla and which still contains active volcanoes. It is the northeastern area where the majority of the mineral resources have been found.

The Equator plays a major role in its climate and dry versus wet months are all determined by a district’s position from this line. In regions that lie South of the Equator, the rainy season lasts from October to May but in places north of the Equator, from April to November, the exact opposite. On the Equator, rainfall occurs quite regularly throughout the 12 month year. It rains   a great deal in the central basin especially and  average rainfall for the entire country is about 42 inches per year.

Moving around from one place to another by land in the DR Congo has always been precarious at best. The mountains of the north and west as well as the dangerous terrain and wet climate found in Central Congo Basin has impeded the buildings of cross –country highways and railroad tracks. This country has yet to be unified through roadways in any way and to do so would take many years and billions of dollars to cover the existing area. For years the citizens of the Congo used their rivers to move from place to place and continue to use them to this day. Traditionally water transport is the dominant means of travel in the Congo for two-thirds of its population.  Due to the poor road conditions use of small transport planes referred to as “Bush Planes” fly men of means and status where they need to go in Central and East Africa. Travel by car and bus is discouraged by foreigners in the DR Congo and for good reason. Roads are not paved or only small sections of each road has been paved and are not subject to regular maintenance. Even then hundreds of large, deep holes which can ruin an automobile tire, cover individual roads making all cars travel at a snail’s pace. During the rainy season even adequate roads will deteriorate and sections crack open especially the pavement on bridges built over the rivers. The National Highway II which connects the city of Brazzaville to Pointe Noire is one of the country’s best functioning highways but still remains largely unpaved and sections of it are often impassable during the rainy season.

Unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel are frequently unavailable in the major cities and may be non-existent in the more rural regions of the country. There may be no predetermined price for gasoline with foreigners paying double, even triple the cost for which it’s sold to the residents of the area. There are few road signs directing the traveler in what direction to continue and either police or Congolese soldiers will conduct routine check-points along the way which they will extort money from both residents and non-residents alike before cars are allowed to pass by their gates.  Only four- wheel vehicles and trucks are recommended for use on these roads especially during the rainy season.

The Congolese government even if it was willing to regulate the mines in northeastern districts cannot supervisee what it cannot get to and so thousands of small mines dot the mountainous landscape from the northeast corner all the way down the eastern border of the DR Congo. But it is common knowledge that many members of the Congolese National Army instead of doing their assigned jobs help themselves to the mineral wealth found in the northeastern districts instead. And that this practice is so pervasive that no one in the Kabila government is aware of it or is disturbed by their actions in the slightest? If this is true, all of the forced regulations from the rest of the world will not change the present conditions until Kabila’s government in Kinshasa has effectively found a way to oversee the movements of his troops in the east.

The primitive conditions of Congolese roads keeps the rural towns and even the more populated cities isolated from one another and the feeling of being connected to the DR Congo as a citizen has not yet occurred. People tend to stay in the villages in which they were born or settle close to this area unless fate intervenes and forces them to move somewhere else. When asked who they are, villagers will begin by telling you the name of the tribe to which they belong, then the town or city in which they reside. They will not refer to themselves as Congolese citizens unless prompted by questions to respond and even then, many of them have no idea how to define themselves in a broader way.

In April 2009, Sam Brownback, a Republican Senator from Kansas introduced the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 (S. 819). This act would require all electronics companies to verify and disclose their sources of Cassiterite, Wolframite, and Tantalum. His legislation died in committee but Brownback did not quit and added similar language as Section 1502 of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which eventually passed Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on July 21, 2010.

“On August 22, 2012 The Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which will require companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals that originated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or an neighboring country.

The regulatory reform law has directed the Commission to issue rules requiring certain companies to disclose their use of conflict minerals that include tantalum, tin, gold, or tungsten if those minerals are “necessary to the functionality or production of a product” manufactured by those companies. Companies are required to provide this disclosure on a new form to be filed with the SEC called Form SD.”

California is the first state in the United States to pass its own Conflict Minerals legislation. Their legislation follows Section 1502 of the national legislation, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 and aims at regulating the problem of conflict minerals originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and purchased by California- based companies especially those located in Silicon Valley.

The Dodd- Frank Act is not the first legislation to try and supervise the mining and export of conflict minerals in the northeastern DR Congo.  The government of the DR Congo has released its own mining regulations which are suppose to guard against illegal exploitation of all mineral resources and establish a certification program that would be regulated by the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).  There are also OECD, (European Union) and the UN sanctions in place against private and public companies that purchase conflict minerals or operate illegal mines in the Congo. MONUSCO working out of the city of Goma has begun to establishing plan for the construction of checking stations within the eastern districts to supervise the trading of these minerals.

This may sound like there are effective plans in place to stem this crisis but none of them will work successfully unless the fighting stops and the rebel groups in this region are removed.  The Congolese government has to find a way to monitor the movement of its troops in these districts, curtail their illegal mines and the enslavement of the local villagers. There must be plan to gain access to these mines in order to ensure that the operations are legal so new roads and trails will have to be cut through the mountainous terrain in order to gain quick access to the sites. And all government, United Nation agencies, and NGO’s will have to work closely together to protect those local people whose livelihoods will be affected by the closing of these mines.

In my next blog post I will talk about the choices the Congolese government must make and M23’s position in all of this. Please view this film clip if you want to get an idea of the brutal conditions the villagers face each and every day. This is an older film but one that tells and shows waht the workers face like no other film I’ve ever seen about illegal mining and forced labor.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1FQmUQ1-mM

This film gives you a thorough idea of what is happening.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLoPU9Wdwh0&playnext=1&list=PL6270CE25B6C45AC6&feature=results_main

Kat Nickerson                    Kingston, RI           USA

Do M23 Rebels March Towards Kinshasa? : Are They the Good Guys?

12 Sep

Sept. 11, 2012

A tentative ceasefire between M23 and the Congolese Army has existed for four weeks now but the fighting is not over. No agreement has been reached between Joseph Kabila’s government and the M23 rebels.

Yet contrary to what Kabila’s government predicted in May, 2012 the M23 troops have not been defeated. It has been four months of continuous skirmishes for theM23 rebels in North Kivu District and they have shown themselves to be brave warriors- proven themselves to be superior fighters much more so than the far more numerous and better equipped Congolese army. This July, their leader, Sultani Makenga vowed that they would slowly advance towards Kinshasa and topple Joseph Kabila’s government there within the next 60 days. By August M23 had taken over the Northern Kivu town of Rubare near Rutshuru, and had come within 30 miles of the city of Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu where the United Nations Mission in North-eastern Congo is located. Accurate reports have surfaced that the M23 rebels control the main road and are extorting money out of all truck drivers bringing food into the city and that their outrageous taxes are being passed on to the consumers by the retailers in Goma making food a very expensive commodity to purchase in the city.

The Afro-America Network, a blog which discusses events in the Great Lakes District reported in July that the order to march on Kinshasa was given on June 30th in a meeting attended by M23 leaders, ex-CNDP Commander, Gen. Laurent Nkunda, and top military leaders from Rwanda. They have also stated that 3,000 more Rwandan troops have crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) bringing the total to 5,000 Rwandan troops ready to support the M23 forces as they move forward? Is this true?

But these newest accusations are highly unlikely and seem to be the government’s way of maligning  M23’s image. According to a report published this week, Sept. 11, 2012 by The Human Rights Watch ( HRW), M23 has been charged with taking part in war crimes in north-eastern Congo, such as executions and the whole scale rape of women. The report also charged that M23 had forcibly conscripted at least 137 youth and killed at least 33 young men and boys who tried to escape from their camps. War is a messy business at best and maybe there are individual soldiers in M23 who have taken it upon themselves to commit these horrendous acts but they were not ordered by their senior officers to do so. According to my sources around Goma the members of The Human Rights Watch who produced this report were deliberately misled by government- financed informants. The HRW were fed a pack of lies by people paid by the Congolese government to discredit M23. It makes me highly suspicious that after five months of waging one of the cleaner campaigns in the district compared to the whole-sale slaughter perpetrated by a host of Mai- Mai militias currently operating in the area and the remaining Hutu guerrillas (FDLR) entrenched in northeast DR Congo and responsible for the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda; the M23 forces would suddenly dismiss their ideals, change their operational policies, and become just like the soldiers in the Congolese Army they were fighting against. Now there is a group that could be charged with a long list of crimes against humanity any day of the week.

And just where was Human Rights Watch when reporters from the BBC traveled into the forced labor mines operated by soldiers in the Congolese army( See June 23 Blog, M23 Movement: Will Ntaganda Elude Punishment?) where the workers regularly die from the lack of safe conditions and proper sanitation while down in the mines digging up Coltran. How come there was no report written about that? And what about the return of the Mai- Mai militias especially the Raia Mutomboki which has reared its ugly head in Kivu District? Aren’t they responsible for committing war crimes as well? Why have the M23 rebels been singled out and labeled as monsters? And how can we be sure that these atrocities were not deliberately committed by Congolese soldiers posing as M23 troops in the first place?

I and several of my colleagues have reason to believe that this is another government ploy to discredit the M23 movement. President Kabila has not been able to subdue these men through combat so now has taken a different route and has chosen to malign their character around the world. He has even convinced a, not too savvy, Human Rights Group to help him in this endeavor. In a place as poor as Kivu district even one US dollar buys a lot of lies from a desperate person. The truth is a very selective thing in war-ravished areas and people will say whatever they must in order to survive.

Everyone in the area knows that Col. Sultani Makenga, the M23 leader runs a very tight unit and that his men have been hand-selected and are very committed to their cause. They fight for a reason known by all and he has strongly denied these allegations. Col. Vianney Kazarama, the M23 spokesman, was reached by Aljazeera the only news agency that actually visited the area in which the fighting took place and posted impartial reports of  M23’s position.  “We invite everyone to come investigate on the ground and see the truth. These are false accusations and we regret that Human Rights Watch publishes false reports.”

The M23 rebellion began in April when these soldiers defected from the regular Congolese army at the same time General Bosco Ntaganda, the true criminal, left with his own men. Ntganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity committed during the Second War in DR Congo. Let it be understood again that the M23 movement has in no way aligned itself to General Bosco Ntaganda contrary to what the government in Kinshasa wants us to believe.

The M23 rebels do not fight for or with Bosco Ntaganda and the government knows this well because according to my sources, the government is hiding Bosco Ntaganda even though they have publically stated that that they intend to arrest him. They have claimed this for several months now and nothing has happened maybe because everyone knows that Ntaganda is hiding out at his farm waiting for orders from the President. And why hasn’t the Human Rights Watch filed a complaint about that with the United Nations?

It is a dangerous game that the government now plays and they know it. But what I don’t understand is how the UN officials in Goma can be so widely off the mark on just about everything that’s happening in North Kivu District. Why do they keep backing the wrong side?

Here is where the government has deliberately released confusing reports about the truth of the matter. What the government does not want brought to light is that the M23 rebels were all past members of the Tutsi army, The National Congress for the Defense of the People, (CNDP) of which Ntaganda was a military leader during the Second War in the Congo. As part of the conditions of the 2009 peace accord, these CNDP soldiers were brought into the Congolese army- no questions asked and Ntaganda, also a Tutsi was made a general.  These soldiers have  continued to identify with their Tutsi heritage and have dearly suffered for it. They have faced severe discrimination in their assignments as Congolese soldiers in northern Kivu district. They have been laughed at, even spit on by the villagers of other tribes when performing their duties and these same villagers refuse to carry out their orders. This hatred of Tutsis exists within the Congolese Army as well and has been condoned by the Kabila government in Kinshasa. Tutsi soldiers do not advance within the ranks as quickly as soldiers from other tribes. Tutsis face condemnation even death at the hands of vigilante mobs and Mai- Mai militia for no reason at all. Although many Tutsi are legal citizens of the Congo they are hated by the other tribes in the area and considered foreigners. Most Tutsi families live in fear that they will either be hunted down and killed by the Hutu Interharmwe (Hutu guerillas) hiding out in the Kivus or by their own neighbors who live right next door. This is one issue that M23 intends to rectify. They fight to call the government’s attention to the plight of the Tutsi all over the DR Congo but especially in north and south Kivu Districts.

At the beginning of August Joseph Kabila swore that there would be no negotiations with the M23 rebels and that they would be eradicated from Kivu District. But was that the case? At the  the end of August The Observer reported that a small group of M23 officers had been invited to Kampala, Uganda to enter into an important meeting with President Museveni and that the meeting had actually taken place. Although details of the meeting are still not known, Museveni was said to have called on the M23 leaders to agree to a ceasefire and enter into formal peace negotiations.

Then leaders from 11 nations in the Central and East Africa region, including the DR Congo and Rwanda  met in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on August 5th to discuss the formation of a neutral force composed of soldiers from several of those countries that would regulate the Great Lakes Region as well as establish an international committee of defense ministers whose charge would be to devise a solution to the escalating conflict in the north-eastern DR Congo, specifcally the Great Lakes District by the end of the week.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced from their homes by this ongoing conflict but most are Tutsi who have left their homes to avoid the local Mai-Mai miltia and FDLR ( Hutu guerillas ) in the north east- Kivu. UN refugee workers have interviewed Tutsi families staying in the camps in both Rwanda and Uganda and many have no intention of returning to their old villages because of the violence they have been subjected to by their neighbors. Now why doesn’t The Human Rights Watch report about that?

As I have warned before in several of my previous blogs postings, there has been a great deal of ethnic violence in this area for some time now, most of it against Tutsis, and it could escalate to genocide if the villagers are left alone. This is what the M23 has been fighting for: to find a way to stop the ethnic discrimination and protect the Tutsi communities in North Kivu. Hopefully this international committee of defense ministers will think of a way to bring together all of these warring tribes and stem the murders of innocent people. The M23 soldiers fight for this as well.

What is true and what is staged is hard to know for sure at this point in time but based on what I know is going on in this region at the moment it looks like the  M23 troops may just be the good guys in all of this tumoil and the only ones who are truly looking out for the people.

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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