I say “enough” to Congolese bombs and external cues

Rwanda is once again being called 'home’ by the hundreds of Congolese civilians who are fleeing the renewed fighting between the Congolese army, FARDC, and the M23 rebels

Rwanda is once again being called ‘home’ by the hundreds of Congolese civilians who are fleeing the renewed fighting between the Congolese army, FARDC, and the M23 rebels

As I had feared, Rwanda is once again being called ‘home’ by the hundreds of Congolese civilians who are fleeing the renewed fighting between the Congolese army, FARDC, and the M23 rebels. I will not put my head on the block and choose sides. However, I find it extremely unfortunate that the nascent peace talks that were taking place in Kampala, Uganda, and mediated by the Ugandan government, weren’t allowed to yield fruit. It seems that the aggressors, whoever they are, have chosen to fight it out. However, in my humble opinion, the issues that made the M23 rebel in the first place will still exist. To think any different is naïve.

Will the Rwandaphone population in North Kivu feel protected? Will the question of who is and who isn’t a Congolese citizen disappear in the gun smoke? What about the Mai-Mai? What the FDLR? Will they stop robbing, raping and killing? I’m not too hopeful. And, I know that I’m about to spout an opinion that might be unpopular to some, if any more FARDC bombs fall on our territory and, god forbid, kill our nationals, I hope that our armed forces swiftly act.

I know that if we did we’d be lambasted by all and sundry, but what are we supposed to ask our

In my humble opinion, the issues that made the M23 rebel in the first place will still exist. To think any different is naïve.  Will the Rwandaphone population in North Kivu feel protected? Will the question of who is and who isn’t a Congolese citizen disappear in the gun smoke? What about the Mai-Mai? What the FDLR? Will they stop robbing, raping and killing?

The issues that made the M23 rebel in the first place will still exist. To think any different is naïve. Will the Rwandaphone population in North Kivu feel protected? Will the question of who is and who isn’t a Congolese citizen disappear in the gun smoke? What about the Mai-Mai? What the FDLR? Will they stop robbing, raping and killing?

army to do? To become Christian and turn the other cheek? If that is so, what’s the point of even having one if it can’t take offensive action? Under international law, we’d have every right t do so. But, I hope that Rwanda’s protests are heeded because, at the end of the day, the nations of the Great Lakes region should do all they can to reduce tensions, not increase them. I will continue to follow the events across the border with interest. I only hope that the FARDC aims its mortars better next time.

A few weeks ago, I wrote ‘Overrated and in a critical state? May Rwanda always remain thus’ in which I lampooned the FP 2013 Failed State Index. After dissecting the magazine’s research methodology, I came to the conclusion that it was based on faulty information. It wasn’t the first time I had found fault with foreign reports, either made by human rights groups or publications. I’ve waited with bated breath every year, preparing myself to counter their allegations with some homegrown ‘truths’. And on the other hand, I’ve waited for ‘positive’ reports from the World Bank, IMF and others, which I’ve then used to justify just how well we were doing.

Well, after giving it some thought, I came to the realization that by taking my cues from foreigners I was ceding my independence to them. Wittingly or not. I could not, in all honesty, say that I was ‘proud’ of my country when I cared about what others thought about of it. And not what I, and other Rwandans, thought.

For example, I was pleased that the Rwanda Governance Board took it upon itself to carry out a survey among Rwandans to find out how they perceived media freedoms in the country. According to the Rwanda Media Barometer, 89.5 percent believed that the environment was conducive to freedom of expression and media freedom.  This survey will be rubbished by those who’ve made it their life’s work to see fault in everything (I call them professional finger-pointing judges). However, the Barometer gives voice to those who actually live in the country. And those are the people who are important.

I’ve been following the third-term debate closely. One of the reasons some people give to oppose it is because it will ‘look bad’ internationally. I think that that way of thinking is wrong. We shouldn’t be worried about how people, who will never walk in our shoes, will feel. At the end of the day, they will have to deal with whomever Rwandans want them to deal with.

As the President said in the middle of the aid-cut saga, “we are a small country, but not a small people”. I feel that he was asking us to be more self-confident and self-sufficient. We should stop being affected by either those who laud or demean us. Lets take our cues from Rwandans.  I will start today by promising you, dear readers, that I will never again spend precious time (and valuable newsprint) on foreign reports. Let us ‘play’ our own ‘game’. And ignore those who want to ‘play’ theirs.

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Congo: Forget who started the fire, who will put it out?

As I’ve done before, I have a guest writer on my blog, Rama Isibo. His views are not necessarily my own. 

Congolese refugees displaced within their own homeland by militias and armies, fighting with foreign weapons for foreign purposes, face extremely rough conditions in makeshift Camp de Kahe in Kitchanga in the Masisi district of Congo’s North Kivu Province, near the Rwandan border. – Photo: S. Schulman, UNHCR

Congolese refugees displaced within their own homeland by militias and armies, fighting with foreign weapons for foreign purposes, face extremely rough conditions in makeshift Camp de Kahe in Kitchanga in the Masisi district of Congo’s North Kivu Province, near the Rwandan border. – Photo: S. Schulman, UNHCR

The recent crisis precipitated by the M23 rebellion is the latest in a long saga dating back to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Since the Genocide, we have seen an escalation of the conflict to the extent that there are now 23 armed groups fighting to fill the vacuum left by the state. The governance model of DRC going back to the days of Mobutu was to have a weak central government, weak army, a corrupt civil service which was hardly ever paid on time, and hope for the best. Instead of disarming or fighting these groups, the government has accommodated, used one to fight the other, and therefore not helped the situation. We all know the history, but history will not solve the crisis, Rwanda has been blamed but didn’t understand this blame was a cry for help. The blame was a call for Rwanda to solve the crisis, the fact that we are going to suffer as a nation means that we are compelled to drive home a solution. We cannot afford to go through the five stages of grief over aid cuts; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We must sort this out before it derails our development and makes it Vision2025.

 The birth of a nation

The New York Times ran an article called “To save Congo, we have to let it fall apart.” The piece called for what the Congolese fear the most “Balkanisation” or fragmentation, but this in itself is not viable in the short-term. There is little support for the Republic of Kivu among most Kivutians, yes they are fed up with the Kinshasa government but know that all areas of Congo are let down by Kinshasa, just that they suffer the most. They are patchwork-quilt of tribes that have rarely gotten along, but to ask for statehood in an era where states are coming together under Superstates is hard. Even the recent example of Southern Sudan needed a referendum even though it was obvious that nearly all Southerners wanted to secede. To start a state is one day of happiness, then years of work, a Kivu state would need billions of dollars of aid to start. Even with billions of dollars under its soil in the form of minerals, Kivu would start at the bottom, with the highest infant mortality, highest number of rape victims, 90% of the people exhibiting trauma, and every other negative. The dynamics are pulling Kivu away from Congo but not just yet, the solution is better governance.

The Katumbi effect

There is an accepted myth that Congolese are inherently stupid and ungovernable, it is shared by people in the

Moïse Katumbi Katebe Chapwe, a multimillionaire, is the powerful governor of the Province of Katanga. He is also a member of President Joseph Kabila’s ruling party PPRD.

Moïse Katumbi Katebe Chapwe, a multimillionaire, is the powerful governor of the Province of Katanga. He is also a member of President Joseph Kabila’s ruling party PPRD.

Kinshasa government, NGO’s, the international community and even many Congolese themselves. This they say, is a result of two men whose shadows loom over Congo; King Leopold and Mobutu Sese Seko, it is true that with a broken down society the Congolese revert to their most disagreeable nature but exceptions exist. Moise Katumbi, the Governor of Katanga is undoubtedly a future president of Congo, he rules Katanga, the richest province with a vision that is rarely seen in Africa. Born to a Jewish father and Congolese mother, he changed his name from Moise Soriano to Katumbi Chapwe, this gave him authenticity among Congolese. It was his works that have earned him respect all over Congo, he hardly asks the Kinshasa government for anything, he builds roads, schools, hospitals, public works with royalties taxed direct to mining companies and sends taxes to Kinshasa. It also helps that he has the most popular football team in Congo, TP Mazembe. If he chose to run then Kabila wouldn’t stand a chance as Katumbi would take his powerbase among the Luba in Lumumbashi with him. Governance can start with one man, under Katumbi all the uniquely Congolese traits have been calmed, Kivu needs a Katumbi, a man who governs for the best interests of his people like they are a separate state.

A uniquely Rwandan solution

congo-war-2012Rwanda is going through a spin at the moment, several months of political pressure from donors and western media have left it reeling. We have vehemently denied, got angry, tried to bargain but to no effect. It was amazing to see ministers saying “we don’t need aid” as if it is a fait accompli, the aid is not off the table it is merely suspended, we can and will get it back if we can find a permanent solution to this Congo crisis. In that way we can kill two birds with one stone, but first we need honesty on both sides. Rwanda has been in a covert proxy war with DRC and Zaire since 1994, we should openly admit that, just as Congo has been supporting FDLR against Rwanda. There has to be a peace and security treaty between the two nations with a genuine cause for mutual security. There is no solution without Rwanda, Rwanda has a genuine security threat but some individuals in Rwanda have benefited from the chaos in Congo. The FDLR has to be disarmed, as well as other groups, the Wild, Wild West that is Kivu must be tamed, the UN must leave and Africans must solve this problem. We as Rwanda must move past the GoE report, and present viable solutions to end this crisis as we are suffering from its effects, we need to be honest about our involvement citing our genuine security concerns and draw a line under it.

Hope for Kivu

Kivu can have peace, the people are exhausted by war, exhausted by running for refuge, it is not an interminable problem, there are drivers to this crisis. The breakdown of the Congo state; foreign rebel armies, the greed for minerals, the inactive UN, and lack of investment and infrastructure must all be solved. One critic, Gerald Prunier said “M23 is a pimple, but there is a deeper cancer in Congo” and this is true indeed. Kabila might fear a strong army in Kinshasa but he needs a strong army in Kivu, not strong in numbers but as ideological motivated and disciplined as the M23. Not all Banyamulenge have supported M23, others have stayed loyal like Patrick Masunzu, if he could appoint a loyal local general who is acceptable to all sides, as a governor of North Kivu, then M23 would not have a reason to exist. The current Governor Julien Paluku is a joke to say the least, spat upon in the streets for his comical blunders, he was hounded by mobs out of Kisangani. If he had a Patrick Masunzu or a similar figure, who can start to disarm these groups, rule the area like a sovereign state but still remain loyal to Kinshasa, to follow the Katumbi model. The West will also have to pump some clean money into Kivu because most of the money there is derived from illegal means, they need clean money in Kivu. They also need investment in roads, just like the railroad pacified the Wild Wild West, a highway would open up Kivu.

Rwanda cannot afford to look back and continue the denial game, it is what the West wants, someone to blamecongo-war and buy time while the war continues. That is what the GoE UN report was, a litany of blame, blame the wrong guy and force him to fix it. I saw this personally in UK, when the police would arrest a wrong guy for murder just so people could name the real murderer and exonerate him. This is the situation Rwanda is in, they have prior involvement in Congo so they must be the ones, other than deny, deny, deny, we should come up with an equitable solution that keeps Congo together, brings peace to Kivu, guarantees our security, and helps develop the region. We can take hope from a previously “interminable” conflict in Northern Ireland, though they are not the same the dynamics are similar. A divided community, a part wants to be part of one country, a part wants to be part of another, and they are living street by street. We also had UK and Ireland fighting proxy wars, funding militia and terrorists, international crime meets ideological warriors. Devolution saw all sides reaching an equitable solution, it needed Britain and Ireland first to agree to solve the situation, then it was a complex negotiation between various groups for power-sharing. We all know the solution for Kivu but no one has the guts to utter the solution. We must just accept the West’s ignorance as just that, but help fix it not because the West told us, fix it because you cannot live next door to a burning house without the burning embers reaching yours. While we argue about who started the fire, the fire is just burning out of control. Rwanda needs to be talked off the ledge, it is not all over, this can be resolved, and the sooner the better.

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.