The fighting in Goma has stopped, now is the time to start talking

Hundreds of fighters from the M23 group entered Goma after days of clashes with UN-backed Congolese soldiers that forced tens of thousands of residents to flee. A senior UN source told Reuters that international peacekeepers had given up defending the city after the Congolese troops evacuated.
Picture: REUTERS/James Akena

So, Goma has fallen, not with a bang but a whimper. And who expected any different? Certainly not I. You’ve heard the old saying, ‘an empty tin makes the most noise’, haven’t you? Well, in this case, we aren’t talking about merely a tin, but rather an entire country’s leadership, both military and civilian. Top down, the entire system is rotten to the core.

If one was to take the war-like talk from Kinshasa seriously (which anyone in the know didn’t), M23 was going to meet its Waterloo, beaten back due to the combined firepower of the FARDC and Monusco.  But like the proverbial empty tin, all the noise was just that. Noise.

What happened to the ‘fearsome’ heavy artillery and Belgian-trained FARDC

Goma’s capture will be an embarrassment for President Joseph Kabila, who won re-election late last year in polls that provoked widespread riots in Kinshasa and which international observers said were marred by fraud Picture: LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images

commanders? The artillery was barely fired and the commanders simply vanished, leaving their troops to do the time honored Congolese army party trick, looting and terrorizing the very civilians they’re supposed to protect.  What happened to the hundreds of well-armed Monusco troops, availed with helicopter gunships? They stood aside because, “we (Monusco) have had no trouble with M23, to be honest,” an unnamed South African Monusco soldier told the Guardian correspondent in Goma. In other words, they really didn’t care who won, a lesson that the DRC needed to learn. The Uruguayan, Indian and South African troops are too well paid to die for a corrupt, inept state. They want to go back home to their wives and children, not die fighting in a civil conflict in a faraway hellhole.

What I think we need to do is examine why Kinshasa believed that it could hold Goma. Were the politicians so buffoonish that they couldn’t realize that their troops would flee at the first sound of serious gunfire? They had done that on countless occasions before, what was going to be different this time? Monsuco gunships and heavy weapons obviously.  But hadn’t they seen the evidence of its impotence? This UN mission was been unable defeat and disarm rag-tag genocidal forces (its stated mandate) and opted to trade with it instead, giving them arms in exchange for minerals.

Well, Kinshasa refused to see that they were playing a game of Russian roulette,

The body of a dead Congolese army soldier lies in the road between Goma and Kibati Picture: PHIL MOORE/AFP/Getty Images

banging the war drums, refusing to talk to M23 and attempting to play amateurish international politics, by blaming Rwanda and Uganda for M23. Well, it has seen the result of that; a hard slap in the face and the loss of one of DRC’s biggest cities to a force no larger than 3,000 lightly armed mutineers. So, what’s next?

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The IGCLR peace process was doing a great job until Kabila, fooled by his advisers (both local and international) thought that he could use force to resolve an issue that only diplomacy and talks could solve.  If M23’s Goma advance was meant to force Kabila to the negotiating table, it has worked like a charm. Yesterday, he flew to Kampala in a panic, to meet other ICGLR leaders, including our very own President Kagame. I am willing to bet that M23’s delegates will not be given the cold shoulder this time around. There is a lot to talk about, and the faster  direct talks between the two sides commence, the better for the entire region.

I only hope that the international community gives the ICGLR process a chance now. Its meddling has done nothing except make a bad situation worse. Rwandans don’t need to fear for their lives because Goma is under siege again. The mortars that landed in Rubavu District, killing two innocents, must become the last one’s fired across the border.

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Who is still having unprotected sex in this day and age?

“Sometimes I end up having sex without protection. Sometimes, some of the clients with a lot of money prefer sex without protection”- Chantal, sex worker. 

Those are the words I read yesterday morning, recoiling in horror. ‘HIV infection at 51 percent among sex workers’, an article in The New Times stated. This statistic, put forward by the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, is extremely scary especially when compared to the countrywide HIV rate of three percent, according to the 2010 Demographic Health Survey.  Someone is obviously infecting and getting infected by these sex workers. So, two questions must be asked; why are sex workers risking their lives by discarding condom use and why are the clients choosing to risk their lives just so they can go in ‘live’?

While I totally understand why sex workers, plagued by poverty and destitution, play Russian roulette with their lives, I can’t, for the life of me, understand why their clients do the same. Are all these men (and women) already HIV positive, and therefore uncaring of what happens to them as a result? I doubt that. Therefore, we have a significant number of Rwandans, simply throwing away their lives for a few minutes pleasure.

Which then makes me wonder, are these people all crazy OR is the anti-HIV message somehow being lost in translation? If it’s the former, then there is nothing that we can do, after all, they are adults. However, if it is the latter, we all have a responsibility to educate and influence a behavioral change.

For one to prove just how precarious our anti-HIV drive is, all you have to do is look north, to Uganda. Along with Chad, Uganda is the only country in Africa where HIV prevalence is increasing. This, despite the fact that Uganda was at the forefront of the HIV fight less than a decade ago. While there is more than one explanation for this, a major cause of this is the prevailing blasé attitude towards this pandemic.

Frank Matsiko, a counsellor with the Ugandan NGO Integrated Community Based Initiatives, told Think Africa Press that “some people – especially those who are not well sensitised – have relaxed and taken it for granted that one can have HIV and go on treatment and stay as long as he  (or she) wants.”

The ‘relaxed attitude’ issue is extremely pertinent here in this country, more so   because Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) is free. While our HIV rates are low, we must not take our eyes off the ball.  In just seven years, Uganda’s HIV rate has increased from 6.4 % in 2005 to 7.3% today.

Must our leaders be angels?

I’ve watched the General David Patraeus imbroglio with a lot of amusement, and a bit of bewilderment as well. The former head of the CIA and decorated army man, had an affair with Paula Broadwell, cheating on his wife of 38 years. Throw in the fact that it seems that the good general was also seeing someone else on the side as well, and we have a good ol’ scandal on our hands.  While I cannot condone marital infidelity, I really cannot be bothered about what an official does in his spare time. Oh course the media jumped on the story, and why not? It is juicy and has attractive protagonists. However, should a man have lost his job? Not in my opinion.  There has to be a clear divide on what is private and what is public.

In this case, the infidelity was a matter between his wife and himself and I’m of the opinion that the US President shouldn’t have accepted his resignation.  After all, as a wise man once said, “he without sin, cast the first stone”.

Gen Petraeus, his wife and the mistress lurking about

Uganda has every right to pullout of Somalia

Will Somalia see the backs of these UPDF troops? Somali’s are probably hoping not.

The Prime Minister of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi (a high school alumni of mine…but that’s a story for another day) last week read the United Nations the Riot Act,  asking why “should we (the Ugandan Government) continue involving Uganda where the only reward we get is malignment? Why should the children of Ugandans die and we get malignment as a reward? Why should we invite retaliation by the al-Shabaab by standing with the people of Somalia, only to get malignment by the UN system?”

This reaction came in the wake of the leak of the final report by Steve Hege and the rest of the ‘experts’ comprising the UN Group of Experts on DRC. The report accuses Uganda (and Rwanda, of course) of supporting M23 in the form of direct troop reinforcement in DRC territory, weapon deliveries, technical assistance, joint planning, political advice and facilitation of external relations. The team also claim that units of the UPDF and the Rwanda Defence Forces jointly supported M23 in a series of attacks in July, 2012 to take over major towns in Rutshuru.

The Ugandans were particularly aggrieved by the fact that the Group of Experts (GoE) choose not to

Steve Hege: Probably the most hated man in Central Africa

speak to them and get their side of the story, a discourtesy that Rwanda only knew too well. While Rwanda’s hands were effectively tied by the UN Security Council nomination, and therefore couldn’t counter the charges as robustly as it probably wished, Uganda had no such qualms. Taking a page from Rwanda’s playbook (Rwanda threatened to recall its troops from Darfur, Haiti and Sierra Leone unless the UN Mapping Report, which effectively accused Rwanda of committing genocide in the DRC in the 90’s), it played its trump card. It’s vowed to withdraw its 5,700 troops presently stationed in Mogadishu and its environs.

This decisive action caught the UN napping (nothing new there). Backpedaling furiously, the UN official who received Uganda’s official letter of protest, India’s Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, threw Hege and his team under the bus, saying that the “views expressed by the independent experts do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations”.

Instead of understanding the very real frustrations that Uganda (and Rwanda) feels, especially since it’s the head mediator in the ongoing ICGLR diplomatic initatives, certain observers have sought to downplay the hurtfulness of the GoE report and the seriousness of the situation.

Simon Allison, a journalist with the South Africa based magazine Daily Maverick, calls the threat a piece of political theatre. He theorises that, “Uganda is asking the international community to choose between exposing the roots of the conflict in the eastern DRC and maintaining Somalia’s tenuous hold on stability. There’s no doubt that Somalia will win this particular trade-off, especially given America’s heavy investment in a successful outcome there. It seems less likely, however, that Uganda’s involvement in the DRC will be forgotten. If anything, the heavy-handedness of its response – coupled with the evidence in the controversial UN report – suggests that there is some truth to the accusations”.

Somali Militia of Al-Shabab seen during exercises at their military training camp outside Mogadishu Tuesday Nov. 4, 2008.

First of all, anyone who thinks Uganda (or Rwanda for that matter) is at the root of the conflict in the DRC needs to read a few history books. Secondly, to call Uganda’s response ‘heavy-handed’ is a misread of the situation. The Ugandan army, the UPDF, has lost between 83- 2,700+ soldiers in the line of battle depending on your news source, while similar numbers have been injured.  Their five-year commitment to Somalia is not to be trifled with. Instead of attempting to blackmail Uganda (it’s a sovereign nation with its own foreign policy) through guilt, perhaps we would be better served to ask ourselves, ‘Why is Uganda so aggrieved by the GoE report that it is willing to leave the guiltless Somali people high and dry?

I doubt that it is because there is truth to the GoE report. If the Report was so wrong about Rwanda, I cannot believe that the Ugandan section is miraculously accurate.  I believe that Uganda is tired of being treated like a second-class country. For too long, the international community treated developing nations with arrogance and unfairness. How can they, on one hand, call us peace-builders and essential members of the international community, and then on the other hand, use unaccountable mechanisms to keep us in their pocket. We are left with no choice to push back, in any way we can. Uganda has no need to explain itself; it did what any self-respecting country would do. Just because it’s poor, doesn’t mean it is without any recourse.