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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Post- Ntaganda, DRC is still in the same old mess as before

Last week, The Guardian’s correspondent Pete Jones, interviewed a Congolese soldier who recounted the hell that he and his colleagues unleashed onto the womenfolk of Minova, a small centre 30 miles north of scenic Goma, the biggest city in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congolese troops are guilty of hideous war crimes.

Congolese troops are guilty of hideous war crimes.

“Twenty-five of us gathered together and said we should rape 10 women each, and we did it,” he said. “I’ve raped 53 women. And children of five or six years old.

“I didn’t rape because I am angry, but because it gave us a lot of pleasure,” the 22-year-old told the British journalist. “When we arrived here we met a lot of women. We could do whatever we wanted.”

According to UN figures, 126 women were raped during the Congolese army’s retreat from Goma after being crushed by an M23 offensive.

The simplistic narrative that one hears from the Congo is that the bad guys are the rebel and the good guys the government troops. However, the truth is that both sides are the bad guys. The angels are few and far between.

Only after pressure from MONUSCO, the UN mission in Congo, did the government deem it fit to attempt to prosecute the errant soldiers and their commanders. UN special envoy to Congo, Roger Meece, warned the Congolese authorities in a March 25 letter they had seven days to take action on the rapes or MOSUSCO would suspend support.

Mind you, not one solider has actually been prosecuted despite the fact that the crime took place in broad daylight and the suspects easily identified. Mind you, there is some progress. 12 officers have been suspended while a probe begins. But to be truthful I doubt that the women will get any justice. Only time will tell.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I feel that many people think that with the arrest of the ‘Terminator’, General Bosco Ntaganda, peace will

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda (R) looks on beside a security guard during his first appearance before judges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague March 26, 2013.

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda (R) looks on beside a security guard during his first appearance before judges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague March 26, 2013.

descend on the lush rolling hills of North Kivu Province and people will hand hands singing ‘Kumbaya’. Sure, taking him out of the equation is certainly a positive move, but the Congo is still not a place for the faint hearted. Days after his March 18 surrender to the US embassy in Kigali, the Mai-Mai, a rag tag militia, had the temerity to attack a UN compound in Lumumbashi, the capital of mineral-rich Katanga Province in Southern Congo. Actually, the attack, in which 35 people died, occurred a day after ICC authorities took Ntaganda into custody and flew him out of Kigali International Airport.

So, how are things in Goma and its environs? Well, peace talks are still taking place in Kampala between the Joseph Kabila’s government and the M23. But as usual, foreign meddling will most likely cause the renewal of the armed conflict. Ever since the UN Security Council authorized a new ‘Intervention Brigade’ with the unprecedented mandate to take offensive action against rebel groups in the East, the Congolese delegation has turned quite belligerent.

126 women were raped by the very troops who were supposed to protect them

126 women were raped by the very troops who were supposed to protect them

In a March 1 press conference, Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Raymond Tshibanda, called on the M23 to disband.  “The M23 may become agitated as they want. We were willing to reach a political agreement with them… The only future for the M23 is to cease to exist as a politico-military movement. If this is not the case, the brigade will look to end their life”, he said.

Of course the M23 isn’t taking those threats lightly.  It recently wrote an open letter to the South African parliament asking it to reconsider its deployment of 1,000 troops under the auspices of the Intervention Brigade. The M23 political leader Bertrand Bisimwa tweeted “if SA Special Forces attack us it will catastrophic and apocalyptic”.

So, as Ntaganda faces the ICC judges for the next few years, the people of Eastern Congo will probably face more hardship, not less.

 

Aid cuts: Now isn’t the time to panic

I’ve been, for the last few days, in a place so remote that even the thought of surfing the Internet would have been a fool’s errand. While being detached from my trusty Google alerts, Twitter and Facebook was somewhat disconcerting at first, eventually I allowed myself to mellow out and enjoy a simply, and honestly, less stressful existence. The news junkie in me didn’t like going ‘cold turkey’ but I managed.

The last time I was exposed to any of my news sources, the UK was still debating revoking our aid, the World Bank and the African Development Bank (ADB) were still above the political posturing and the M23 was still giving the FARDC a good kicking up and down North and South Kivu. And all the while, the member states of the ICGLR were trying to find a path to a sustainable peace in the region.

Britain’s International Development Secretary Justine Greening: ‘Continued support for Rwanda would depend on progress on various issues’. Thats of course before she decided to CUT off British Aid!

Britain’s International Development Secretary Justine Greening: ‘Continued support for Rwanda would depend on progress on various issues’. Thats of course before she decided to CUT off British Aid!

So, imagine my surprise when I got online on yesterday. I discovered that the UK Development Secretary Greening has suspended aid, as did the World Bank and the ADB.  The M23 had left Goma and retreated to its environs while the emboldened FDLR had attacked Rwanda, killing a park warden in Kinigi, causing the American government to issue a travel warning to its citizens, advising them not to travel to see the gorillas. I was amazed by just how much things could change in less than a week.

Yesterday morning, while listening to the Ministers’ of Finance, Defence and Foreign Affairs as they addressed both chambers of Parliament, I instantly understood what they were attempting to do. They were cutting through all the speculation and rumor in order to reassure Rwandans that their world wasn’t crashing around their heads.  As Minister Rwangombwa said, GDP will fall by around 1.5 percent next year, from the expected seven percent growth, if almost all the donor monies are excluded from the national budget.

Juliette is one of Rwanda's success stories - a farmer who increased her harvest thanks to support from UK aid. Picture: Tiggy Ridley

Juliette is one of Rwanda’s success stories – a farmer who increased her harvest thanks to support from UK aid. Picture: Tiggy Ridley

I will not be one of those people who totally dismiss these cuts, because, if we are to be honest, they will affect us in various ways. Inflation will certainly rise, certain development projects will have to be shelved and Rwanda’s international brand will be harmed.  However, we mustn’t allow ourselves to become demoralized.

Just look back and remember how far we’ve come.  Only 18 years ago, our ministries were stripped bare by a retreating genocidal government, with nary a pen, chair or table to be found.  We didn’t have an economy to talk about, never mind foreign exchange reserves. Everything must be put in perspective. While the cuts will affect us, they will not make us grovel, nor should they. We are a proud people who’ve seen worse days than these. When we plunged to the depths of hell, we lifted ourselves up. We weren’t saved by the western media, NGO’s and governments. We sought our own solutions and look at us now.

Will the farmer abandon his farm? Will the moto rider park his motorcycle? Will the civil servant stop serving the populace? Will the shop owner stop stocking their shelves? No.  Tomorrow, they, and I, will go about our lives.

Rwandan soldiers return home after operations in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they participated in joint operations against rebel militias there.

Rwandan soldiers return home after operations in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they participated in joint operations against rebel militias there.

Sibo Mana’. ‘They are not God”.   No truer sentiments have been expressed. There are people who think that they have the power to determine other people’s lives and destinies.  They believe that because they have money, they are allowed to trample on people’s rights. This kind of thinking must be challenged. As the President said, “”we are a small country, not a small people”.

I think that these aid cuts will, fifty years from now, be looked at as the moment that Rwandans challenged the prevailing view on what ‘poor’ nations could and couldn’t do.

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.

The world is wasting its time trying to rescue the DRC. Its a fool’s errand

HUMPTY DUMPTY SAT ON A WALL…  

What it is going on in the DRC is no joke, not for itself and certainly not for its neighbors who’ve been sucked into its internal issues. But I do see certain lessons Congo can learn from the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ nursery rhythm. Like Humpty Dumpty, Mr. Joseph Kabila, against all logic and good sense, decided to ‘sit on a wall’.  His refusal to heed any advice, either from his own advisors or from his Rwandan allies, as recently revealed by Gen. James Kabarebe in a revealing interview with Le Soir’s Colette Braeckman, has been disastrous.

He, and his administration, was urged by Rwanda to negotiate with disgruntled FARDC soldiers, such as ex-CNDP Colonel Sultani Makenga, who were complaining of poor pay and conditions, but he arrogantly refused to. Reminds me of Mr. Humpty Dumpty; what was the delicate egg doing on top of a high wall? Didn’t he worry that a gust of wind could knock him off his perch? Was he suffering from bouts of overconfidence and feelings of invincibility? Shouldn’t he have known just how precarious the situation was? Humpty didn’t and neither did Kabila.

…HUMPTY DUMPTY HAD A GREAT FALL…

While Humpty’s demise affected just him, in Kabila’s case the ‘fall’ affected millions of people on both sides of our common border. A region that was slowly coming out of its shell was forced, once again, to start from scratch. Instead of trying to see the error in his ways and dealing with the real issues besieging his people, such as the question of Congolese nationality and other governance issues, he looked to others to help him out

…ALL THE KING’S HORSES AND ALL THE KING’S MEN…

The international community i.e. ‘The Kings’, came to Kabila’s aid, responding in the form of military counterattacks on the M23 led by MONUSCO troops, human rights reports, aid cuts to Rwanda and, of course, the usual UN Security Council, AU and International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) summits.

I’ve been looking at the ICGLR resolutions emanating from the Head of Governments summit held on Saturday in Kampala and I can’t help but shake my head at the futility of it all. The resolutions talk about ‘expanding the Joint Verification Mechanism and the Joint  Intelligence Fusion Center’ and requesting the  ‘chairperson of  the  ICGLR  to  continue with  his  diplomatic engagement with  the parties to the conflict in  Eastern DRC with  a view  to securing a complete cessation of hostilities and putting an end to the crisis, if feasible, through peaceful  political means’. Which is certainly helpful.

…COULDN’T PUT HUMPTY TOGETHER AGAIN

But no matter what the international community does, whether it is using MONUSCO as a battering ram, putting in place a Neutral International Force or sanctioning Rwanda, its actions will remain futile. It is akin to placing a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. You might staunch a little blood flow but the patient will still bleed to death.

I agree with Minister Mushikiwabo. At the end of the day, the Congolese people need to stop blaming everyone for their problems and find an internal mechanism that works for them.

This brings me to a book that I’ve been reading the last couple of day, Murder in Amsterdam. Written by Ian Bruma, it examines the aftermath of the assassination of Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri and how it affected the Dutch. I found the book especially interesting when the author attempted to describe the Dutch. They were “hospitable, straight talking to the point of rudeness and tolerant”. This description made me wonder, what would I deem as the one truly ‘Rwandan characteristic’?

I would have to go with proud self-reliance. Let’s just look at our past. Did we cry and sit on our hands, waiting for the international community to get us out of the refugee camps in Uganda? No. We understood the NOBODY would ever care about us more than we cared about ourselves. When we needed schools built for the 12 year Basic Education programme, the citizens either contributed their labour or their monies to ensure their children didn’t study under trees. Look at the Agaciro Development Fund. Look at Gacaca. We’ve always found local solutions for our problems.

The solution to the various Congolese problems will not come from Kigali, Kampala, Brussels, Paris, New York or Washington DC. They will have to come from Beni, Katanga, South Kivu and Kinshasa. Let neither the international community nor the Congolese kid themselves and pretend otherwise.