Friday, January 30, 2009

Will the New Administration Understand What's Happening in Congo?

I'm not optimistic. With Susan Rice at the UN, and now--apparently--Samantha Power as the director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council, the top people in the Obama administration who are likely to take an interest in Africa will probably renew the old Clinton policy of viewing the entire region through the prism of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. That means bending over backward to give the current Rwandan government the benefit of every doubt, while at the same time feeling little sense of urgency about the situation in the Congo because it doesn't fit under the rubric of genocide--no matter how many people are dying there.

What's the Security Council Smoking?

Is the UN sticking a yellow smiley-face sticker on a situation they didn't anticipate and can't control? I've just watched the informal press comments of the current president of the Security Council (and Deputy Permanent Representative of France), Mr. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and the assistant SG for peacekeeping, H.E. Mr. Edmond Mulet, on the situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and both of them seem overly optimistic about the joint FARDC-Rwanda operation. Singing from the same hymnbook, they praised it as a positive development and an advance in regional cooperation. Neither gave any indication that they understood how easily things could go wrong. It's a common reaction among bureaucrats who have lost control of a situation to pronounce themselves pleased with the latest developments; it means they don't have to admit to their bosses that they screwed up.

It is possible that this operation will be a success, that the Rwandans will round-up the key ex-genocidaires they've been looking for, and then leave. But you'd have to be smoking some pretty strong stuff not to be aware of the pitfalls, and not to begin preparing contingency plans. This is an operation being led by James Kabarere on the Rwandan side and John Numbi on the Congolese side, both of whom are certifiable psychopaths. (And let's not forget the promotion of Bosco "The Terminator" Ntanganda, fingered in late November by the NYT and HRW for the Kiwanja massacre, and wanted for war crimes by the ICC, as head of the new CNDP.)

What if the Mai-Mai resist the Rwandan incursion? What if the FDLR or the renegade CNDP can't be so easily captured? What if the Rwandans or the FARDC begin committing massacres in the Kivus? Who represents the Rwandaphone community and their (very real) interests in Congo, now that the CNDP has been officially disbanded? And what happens in Kinshasa if the operation goes awry? Will Kabila be able to survive, politically? How will he govern for the next two years if the entire country turns against him?

I hope I'm wrong. But the UN's top people should be much more worried than they are. This has the makings of a real disaster. The UN should be preparing for it--and laying the groundwork to request a significant increase in military assistance and diplomatic pressure from the major donor countries.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Round Up of Blogs on Congolese Music

Need something to cheer you up? Here's an excellent round-up of blogs and radio podcasts on Congolese music. Among their suggestions:
Ambience Congo, which broadcasts every other Sunday out of Richmond Virginia.
NPR's top ten African albums of the year--headed by the Kasai Allstars.
Matsuli music, the place for Juju, dub and afro funk outernational.
ndule2kin, showcases Congolese hip-hop artists such as Al Resis.
Soukous Radio, the longest-running station playing African and Caribbean music online.
Tambour d'Afrique, a weekly radio show entirely devoted to Congolese music on Radio Triomphe in Haiti.
Africa Music Treasures, the venerable VOA program.

And don't forget about Chopteeth, the groovingest group of mzungus on the east coast.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Quote of the Day

South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, speaking today at Davos:
“The short-term prospects for Africa are exceedingly difficult and this is what we must respond to. We are seeing a retreat in some investments. In the Democratic Republic of Congo there are 48 projects in mining that are in various stages of abandonment.”

Economic Woes not Stopping China--Except in DRC

Here is an excellent article on China's continuing expansion in most of Africa, although the global slowdown is having an impact on China's investments in Congo. Money quotes:
"Some developed Western countries hit by the financial crisis are reducing their investment in Africa. Objectively, this is a powerful opportunity for Chinese businesses to expand their investment and market share in Africa," Cui Yongqian, a former Chinese ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, told a China-Africa trade forum this month.

On the other hand, China is reducing its commitments to the DRC:
However, the global slowdown has forced some Chinese businesses to close operations in Africa and prompted a re-think of some of the multi-billion-dollar mega-deals that blazed a trail across the world's poorest continent.

Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea are cases in point.

DR Congo rode the boom in commodities to attract a wave of foreign investment in its rich but long-neglected copper, cobalt, gold and other mineral resources after post-war elections in 2006. Now that dream is fading.

"We have one processing mill and several workshops in Congo. We have closed them. There are many Chinese-invested firms in Congo and I understand most of them have shut down their operations," said a marketing director at a private firm in China's eastern province of Zhejiang, which supplies cobalt and nickel compounds for use in mobile phone batteries.

"I don't think we will resume production in the factories in Congo any time soon. We expect the economic slowdown could worsen in this year and weigh on the prices further," he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Africa's heavy dependence on resource exports means it feels any squeeze more painfully. Global trade fell an annualised 3.7 percent between September 2008 and November last year, its biggest drop since 2001.

Congo's franc has fallen 20 percent against the dollar in less than four months and foreign reserves are at a five-year low. The government is seeking a $200 million bailout from the International Monetary Fund's Exogenous Shocks Facility.

A much-trumpeted $9 billion package of Chinese loans, investment and infrastructure projects in return for Congolese minerals contracts may be cut back to $6 billion, a diplomat in Kinshasa said, partly to appease the IMF which has expressed voiced concern at Congo taking on such huge debts.

FDLR: Brace for More Fighting

The FDLR promises not to go easily.

My question: How are the Mai-Mai reacting? It seems likely to me that they'll take Kabila's arrangement with Rwanda as a double cross. The Rwandans are their sworn enemies; they won't be easily placated. Sources tell me the entire non-Tutsi population of the Kivus are up-in-arms over this deal. If the Rwandans don't get the job done and leave pronto, they could soon face a massive insurrection as the locals turn against them. This could get really ugly, really quickly.

Braeckman More Optimistic than not

Colette Braeckman thinks it's a good thing, although she has her worries. Money quote:
If the operation fails, the consequences will be harder on Kinshasa than on Kigali, where political discussion is more tightly controlled. But if it succeeds, it will delight everyone who believes in African solutions [for African problems], vindicate Kabila and Kagame as statesmen, and advance regional cooperation.

Si l’opération devait échouer, la note sera sans doute plus lourde à payer à Kinshasa qu’à Kigali où l’opinion est plus contrôlée. Mais si elle réussit, elle réjouira tous ceux qui prônent des solutions africaines tandis que MM. Kagame et Kabila auront confirmé leurs galons d’hommes d’Etat et fait avancer la coopération régionale…

A Secret Deal with Kagame?

According to La Lettre du Continent, France's President Sarkozy is going to propose that the Congo permit Rwanda to police the eastern Congo and eliminate the FDLR and CNDP threats. In return, the mineral wealth of the eastern Congo will be put in a "common pot" under the auspices of one or another of the regional economic hubs--either the CEEAC or the CEPLG. The Congo would then issue licenses and garner royalties from the countries or companies exploiting the minerals.

Sarkozy is said to be keen to make this deal happen on his trip to Africa in late March, and Kagame is also said to be enthusiastic about it. France and Rwanda have been on a slow-motion diplomatic game of chicken for some time now, with each country accusing the other's government of either initiating or actively supporting the 1994 genocide. This rapprochement could enable both countries to avert what appeared to be an oncoming train wreck.

The Lettre says that the seed of the proposal was first planted by Herman Cohen in his op-ed in the New York Times. Cohen, the Lettre says, is now a lobbyist for French interests in Africa. As has been well-documented elsewhere, Cohen is one of those frighteningly amoral people, a man who turned his State Department connections into high-paying gigs lobbying for some of Africa's ugliest dictators, including Laurent Kabila. But when his op-ed came out, I couldn't tell what angle he was working, and criticized his proposal merely for being unworkable.

The Congolese newspapers have been in an uproar about Sarkozy's plan since they got wind of it a couple of days ago (here, and here). They believe the ground is being laid, internationally, to trade off Congolese patrimony to appease their invaders. And they see further evidence of that possibility in their own government's decision last week to allow Rwandan troops directly onto Congolese soil, ostensibly to round-up the ex-genocidaires still at large in eastern Congo.

To be honest, I thought the Kinshasa rumor mill was just operating in overdrive, and even thought about writing a piece making fun of their "Grand Unified Theory." Not all dots necessarily connect, as I keep reminding Congolese friends. But Congolese history is just too replete with the most brazen sort of opportunism to dismiss all of this as a mere conspiracy. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Prunier now Alarmed

Gerard Prunier is an excellent historian and usually has a sound judgment about the situation in the DRC. Last week, he sounded fairly upbeat about the Rwandan incursion: "Definitely, yes [this is welcome for the people of the Kivus and the DRC peace process]. These guys were coming anyway in disguised form. So they might as well come openly ... All in all it is a good start. But now let's see how it will end. So many things have gone awry before!"

Today he sounds far more alarmed:
"Problems are already piling up. And the main problem comes from [...] the fact that Kabila did not consult with his constituency before allowing [in] the Rwandese army," Gerard Prunier, a historian on eastern and central African affairs, told IRIN.

"This is a grievous mistake. The people in the East are his voters and calling in the [Rwandan army] is not exactly what they wished for when they elected him."

"I don't think the [Rwandan army] is in Kivu just to cleanse the earth of the FDLR," he said. "The point is to control the mines which the FDLR now controls and to share the proceeds with the Kinshasa administration rather than with the Hutu genocidaires," Prunier said.

"But how can you extirpate the FDLR? It is deeply embedded in the local social fabric. In order to extract the parasite you might have to dig deep into the flesh and it will hurt," he said. "You could do it with local support. But if you try to ram this 'solution' down the throats of a reluctant and fearful local constituency, you are not likely to get the cooperation you desperately need."

This local constituency includes a variety of armed groups collectively known as Mayi Mayi, who in recent years have been broadly allied with the Kinshasa government and the FDLR against the CNDP.

For Prunier, the Mayi Mayi "are the barometer and they are hostile" to the disarmament operation. "The whole thing might end up in a very bloody confrontation indeed," he warned.

Confused? Worried? So Is Everyone Else

An international aid worker reports on the mixed feelings at a camp for IDPs near Goma:
Today, talking to people who have been living in a displacement camp for two years after Nkunda’s rebels attacked their villages, most questioned if this week’s news really means peace for the area.

“How do I know if peace is here?” said a woman moulding clay pots in the middle of the camp. “I’m sitting here with you, how do I know? You want this stone to tell me if there is peace?

“How do you want us to believe there is peace after everything that has happened?” she asked. “We still remember everything.”
Oxfam is worried:
The impact the fighting may have on the estimated 600,000 people living in rebel-controlled areas is deeply concerning. Fighting three months ago, saw a quarter of a million people flee from their homes, and civilians killed, raped, and looted by all armed groups. This new twist in Congo’s violence has the potential to result in similar abuse and could significantly swell the one million people already displaced.

Cartoon Credit: Le Potentiel

Monday, January 26, 2009

What Now?

In a perfect world, Rwanda's incursion into North Kivu and arrest of its erstwhile proxy Laurent Nkunda would be a good thing. Since 1994, the presence of ex-genocidaires operating with relative impunity in eastern Congo has been one of the major irritants in the region. The Rwandan army, which has the capacity and the will to round-up the ex-genocidaires, never had the authority to do so, while the Congolese army, which was ostensibly in control, never had the ability to carry out the necessary police action or the slightest interest in undertaking one.

In a perfect world, then, Kagame would have struck a deal with Mobutu sometime in 1995 or early 1996 to allow Rwandan troops to cross the border and round-up the ex-genocidaires, who were then re-constituting themselves in the munificent refugee camps parked in the environs of Goma or Bukavu. The UN would have been invited to oversee the operation; the ex-genocidaires would have been forcibly repatriated; and the democratization process underway in distant Kinshasa would have proceeded--however fitfully--to its own satisfactory resolution. (Yes, such an incursion would have been illegal according to international humanitarian law, but the Rwandans could have truthfully argued they faced an imminent threat.)

But this is not a perfect world, and what might have made sense fifteen years ago is now, I'm afraid, a case of too much too late. The notion that Rwandan forces will effect a quick, clean military sweep of the FDLR in two to four weeks and then return to their barracks requires a kind of willful amnesia, as though the last decade and a half had taught no lessons, suggested no insight into the character of the principal actors.

The Rwandan incursion of 1996 quickly turned into a full-bore invasion, disguised, in one of history's greatest bait-and-switch operations, as an indigenous uprising against a despised dictator. Kagame's chosen sock puppet: Laurent Kabila, a full-time hedonist and comically inept ex-rebel whose rotund body and shiny bald head looked as if they were carved out of black butter. Meeting little resistance from the moribund Congolese army, the Rwandan troops leading the invasion focused their attention on the thousands of refugees who had fled the camps westward, into the rainforest. To be sure, a fraction of these refugees were genocidaires, but the scale of the killing that ensued, and the silence in which it took place, invites comparison to the Katyn Forest or Babi Yar massacres, and constitutes one of the last, great crimes against humanity in the 20th Century.

Two years on, piqued that his chosen underling was failing to show the requisite deference, Kagame re-invaded, hoping that a quick strike would preclude any embarrassing questions about the invasion's legitimacy. He might have succeeded too, had Angola not been tempted into an alliance with Kabila. But once the Angolans arrived, the combatants established a stable division of the country between east and west. No longer preoccupied by the exigencies of war, the invaders, distracted by the glittering wealth beneath their boots, set aside any pretense that the war was about securing Rwandan borders or eliminating the genocidaire threat. Instead they began stuffing their pockets with Congolese booty. To secure that wealth, they made alliances with their former enemies and made enemies of their former allies. The thousands of Congolese killed in the crossfire between Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers fighting over the gold mines of Kisangani can attest to that.

This is why I've never found the diagnosis that the FDLR is the root of the problem particularly convincing. And why, when I read that "dismantling the FDLR would force the CNDP, the Congolese government, and the Rwandan government to negotiate solutions to the other major tensions driving the conflict," I think to myself, "Force them to? Really? How so?"

The crux of the problem, IMHO, is that there's no effective state, no regional Leviathan, and at the same time plenty of incentive for entrepreneurial rebellion. Dig here, you've got yourself a gold mine; dig there, a tin mine. With no state to enforce property agreements, it's easy to see how things can get out of hand. It's the Wild West, times a hundred.

And so I come back to MONUC, as imperfect as it is, because it's the only disinterested militia on the ground with a prayer of imposing peace. Remember that peace is not the absence of conflict. Still less is it the establishment of justice. It is, simply, the achievement of an environment in which conflicts can be managed, even if imperfectly, through peaceful means, an environment in which justice can be pursued without recourse to the gun.

Clearly, MONUC has neither the capacity nor the mandate to expel the Rwandan army from the Congo. But it can insist that it be allowed to monitor what is going on. Kagame should be asked to account in a timely manner for what his troops are doing, and provide clear, realistic, and verifiable objectives and timetables for the operation. A proud man, Kagame cherishes his reputation as an African Lee Kuan Yew among the globalistas of Davos, but he is also intensely realistic and calculating. Threaten economic sanctions if his soldiers let loose on civilians or begin re-appropriating the Congo's resources, and he will listen. MONUC can't challenge Rwanda militarily, but we can make it very expensive for Rwanda to overstay its welcome. The people of Kivu, who through no fault of their own have been at the very heart of this decade-long conflict, deserve that much.

What Obama Means for Africa

A Cameroonian writer pokes fun at the idea that Obama's Kenyan roots will mean more largesse for Africa. The best thing Obama can do for Africa, he says, is persuade the "old uncles" like dos Santos, Bongo, and Mugabe to retire.

Aftereffects of Violence Continue to Haunt Kenyans

While we're on the topic of NPR, this morning's piece about the one-year anniversary of the electoral violence on Kenya is sobering.

More on "Ruined"

Ruined, a play about the the countless women who have been raped and sexually abused in the Congo, opened last week off-broadway. In this story on NPR, playwright Lynn Nottage and Saidah Arrika Ekulona, who plays Mama Nadi in the play, discuss the message behind the production.

Friday, January 23, 2009

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a . . . Special Envoy?

Oh, please.

Somewhere Nabokov chastises one of his contemporaries for a weakness for phrases like, "under the Chinese moon." Substitute "Belgian," Nabokov suggested, and see how it sounds.

Americans have a similar weakness, only it's our own grandiosity we're fond of. No matter that "The Special Envoy" could be the title of every Quality Paperback Book Club novel ever written about American innocence wreaking havoc abroad. Yet there remains a certain sort of do-gooder who still believes that putting an American in charge is enough to heal the world of its ills. It's the American version of the mission civilisatrice.

Never mind that experience suggests that the opposite is more likely true. Certainly Americans have little to be proud of in Central Africa. From our attempted assassination of Lumumba, to our imposition and three-decade long support of Mobutu, to ourr nefarious bollixing of the Sovereign National Conference, to the greenlight we gave to Rwanda's invasion in 1996, the US has done little to be proud of in the Congo, and much to be thoroughly shamed by.

Now comes the proposal--tendered as an urgent first step--to send in a special envoy. Perhaps a special envoy makes sense if she's got the ear of the president and the resources of American power at her disposal. But without big bucks or big guns to call on, a special envoy's just a respectable matron with a black passport and a tourist's command of the language. Operating in a bubble of diplomatic compounds and Intercontinental hotels, she won't have a clue what she's really up against, and her best efforts will succeed only in perpetuating the status quo. Without the resources to materially affect the situation on the ground, her mission will come down to brokering a deal between the contending armed forces. The whole process gives them more recognition than they deserve while at the same time marginalizing the local, democratic opposition.

The UN already has a heavy presence in the Congo, years of local experience, and a substantial military operation on the ground. Its record has been far from perfect, and it won't soon acquire the strength, or the cajones, to take on the array of militia operating in the region. But it's doing more than the US ever will (in large part, it should be acknowledged, on the American taxpayer's dime). Instead of starting up our own, inevitably feeble and semi-informed effort, the US should strengthen MONUC's military and intelligence capacities, and tell the Rwandan and Congolese governments that they won't get more aid or access to the IFIs unless they try harder to comply with MONUC's requests. In diplomatic parlance, that's called holding them by their short and curlies, and it will get their attention.

In theory, Rwanda has always had a legitimate security interest in eastern DRC, although in practice they've been far too busy looting the country to bother the chasing down the miserable ex-genocidaires who have taken refuge there. If Rwanda says it is in the Congo to round-up the FDLR and won't stay longer than a month, then we should hold them to their word. But we should demand access to the places where they are fighting, and make it clear that neither looting nor human rights abuses will be permitted.

In the longer run--well, the longer run is a fifty-year project. It will take decades to reconstruct the Congo, and ultimately the Congolese themselves have to be the ones to take the lead. It is their country, and we should be wary of the impulse to do for them what we think needs doing. Good intentions are no substitute for humility. That's a lesson Americans keep being taught but rarely learn, perhaps because it so often comes at other peoples' expense.

Will Rwanda Annex Part of Congo?

From Reuters:
A United Nations source said Kabila's main objective was "the removal of Nkunda and re-taking his headquarters" near Rutshuru.

The source said that once the military operation is terminated, the government could create a new administrative entity for ethnic Rwandans, both Hutu and Tutsi, living in Congo.

The resulting buffer zone would give Kigali an unprecedented degree of security on its western border, as well as boost the mineral and crop-rich province.
If Kabila allows Rwanda to carve out a piece of the Congo for itself, either de facto or de jure, it is hard to imagine how he will retain any political legitimacy. Remember that virtually all his support in the 2006 election came from the east. The western half of the country already distrusts him. But the Congolese have not proven terribly effective at organizing opposition, no matter how unpopular the government. Kabila may have figured that Nkunda represented a bigger threat to his power than a disenchanted Congolese electorate would ever pose. Elections aren't until 2011--and that's en principe. He may have decided that giving away a piece of the Congo is a small price to pay to secure his presidency.

On the other hand, Kabila may not have thought through this whole thing at all. As we've learned, he didn't even bother mentioning this little arrangement with Rwanda to his own army chief or speaker of the parliament.

The Question Everyone's Asking

Michelle Faul is the AP's chief of African news and covered Congo from 1990 to 1995 and since 2006. Here's her take on the question everyone's asking:

Q. Will having Rwandan troops back in Congo help end the conflict?

A. Already the cooperation with Rwanda has led to the swift arrest of the biggest warlord in the region, Nkunda. Sadly, it is unlikely to end the intractable fighting in east Congo. If anything, the Rwandan presence could fuel conflict.

The joint operation with Ugandan and Sudanese troops in eastern Congo against rebels of the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army has led the rebels to massacre hundreds of civilians since Christmas. Many Congolese still remember atrocities committed by Rwandan troops when they invaded in the '90s, with the tacit approval of the international community, to get rid of the Hutu militia. Instead, Rwandan troops started plundering Congo's minerals and refused to leave until they came under massive international pressure in 2002.

More on Chagoury

Ken Silverstein digs up more on big-time Clinton Foundation donor and personal FOB Gilbert Chagoury, bagman for Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.

More Reactions

IRIN News rounds up some more reactions to the incursion. They range all over the map.
MONUC, the UN Mission in DRC:
“The humanitarian community is deeply worried by the new deployment of troops in the areas of Goma and Rutshuru… This heightened military presence gives rise to fears of a new humanitarian crisis just as the ceasefire was allowing people to gradually return home and giving humanitarians easier access to several areas.”

Jean-Paul Dietrich, MONUC military spokesman:
“The FDLR are in Masisi but the Rwandans have instead gone to Rutshuru. We don’t really know what they are doing there because our access has been blocked.”

Lambert Mende, DRC government spokesman
“I don’t think the Rwandan soldiers need humanitarian workers in order to deploy, unless the humanitarian workers want to conduct espionage.”

UN Children’s Fund briefing:
“Immediate consequences [are] restricted access to Rutshuru territory and withdrawal of most humanitarian actors from their main intervention zones in Masisi and Rutshuru.
Possible consequences in case of military operations:
- Massive population displacement. A contingency plan (July 2008) anticipates for 350,000 newly displaced persons in North Kivu during the first phase of a military operation; 300,000 persons in the province of South Kivu.
- Current humanitarian interventions for approximately one million persons will be suspended or hampered by the lack of access and permanent displacement of populations.
- The reaction of FDLR might entail exactions on the population and social structures and looting.
- Taking into account that the FDLR have been established in the area for 15 years, their relationship with the population is important. At the same time, the coalition is unlikely to respect the distinction between combatants and non-combatants.
- The reaction of the population with regard to the presence of the Rwandan army is as yet unknown, but could turn negatively toward the government.”

Gérard Prunier, historian and author:
"Definitely, yes [this is welcome for the people of the Kivus and the DRC peace process]. These guys were coming anyway in disguised form. So they might as well come openly ... The new deal is a direct deal between [Rwandan and DRC presidents] [Paul] Kagame and [Joseph] Kabila and they are playing with [rebel leader] Bosco Ntaganda. Now Ntaganda is of course also a criminal (but who isn't in those parts?) But he is trying to parley his new role as a 'peacemaker' (don't laugh) into a respite from an International Criminal Court war crimes indictment. If both Kabila and Kagame want to fish him out, they can try him in some [sham] court that will declare him innocent for the price of his services.

"The present dispensation might sideline [rival rebel leader Laurent] Nkunda and enable the real heavy duty RPF [Rwandan army] boys to hit the FDLR with the approval of Kinshasa, i.e. without Kinshasa playing a double game of saying, yes we want the FDLR dead and then helping them discreetly. In any case, the DRC army is useless and they'll just have token roles while the RPF does the real job .

"All in all it is a good start. But now let's see how it will end. So many things have gone awry before!"

Justin Bitakwira, Member of Parliament from South Kivu:
“The Rwandan government and its offshoot RCD-Goma had already occupied Congo for eight years and we never heard of a single clash between the Rwandan army and the FDLR. On the contrary, all the coltan and cassiterite exploited by the FDLR is sold in Rwanda. So it’s a [complete] contradiction.”

A media analyst in Kinshasa:
“This operation will finally persuade the FDLR to return to Rwanda after 15 years of hesitation. It will put an end to the illicit exploitation of the region’s natural resources and allow the Congolese state to have control over them.”

Enock Ruberangabo, president of the Banyamulenge community:
“The community wants the FDLR and all Rwandan refugees, who have become, rightly or wrongly, the key to the tension between our countries, to return home. To do so by force is not desirable because experience has taught us that not only are results slow in coming but that matters are made worse. There is a need to plan how to ensure the security of the populations of North and South Kivu before any military operation against the FDLR. Any other way would further endanger security.”

Jean Sekabuhoro, president of the North Kivu Hutu communities:
“[We] condemn this treason and reserve the right to use all means at our disposal to scupper this diabolical plan whose clear aim is to bring about the Balkanisation of the country.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kabila Claims Obama Support; Army Chief Surprised at Call, the government-friendly web site, leads today with the claim that the Rwanda incursion had Obama's blessing, but provides no additional details about his alleged support.

I totally don't believe it, although I suspect than many Congolese will find it plausible. To them I say: I suspected from the get-go that Uganda received some military training and assistance from the US for last month's attempted take down of Joseph Kony--and said so. And I was right. But I don't believe for a second that Obama gave any sort of green light to the Congo-Rwanda operation.

Meanwhile, Radio Okapi reports that General Didier Etumba, head of the Congolese armed forces, says that he was unaware of the government's plan to invite Rwandan forces into the Congo to fight against the FDLR. "The joint military operations between the Congolese army and the Rwandan army were not communicated to the chief of the armed forces. They were known only by the government, which announced them." The general promised to learn about the situation and to respect the position of the government.

So Kabila didn't even tell his top general about the operation? That's stunning. And yet somehow entirely plausible.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Are all humans human or some more human than others?"

Back in mid-2005, Foreign Policy magazine reported that when it came to coverage of the wars in the DRC, the US media devoted less than one story to the subject for every 10,000 dead Congolese. TV coverage was even worse: my back-of-the-envelope calculation showed that the network evening news programs devoted an average of one minute of TV time to the DRC for every 300,000 dead. Those numbers probably haven't improved by much since then, although there was a spate of decent coverage on Nkunda's rebellion in the NYT and WaPo in late November/early December. (But see this Columbia Journalism Review article complaining about that coverage.)

To the extent that attention has been paid to the DRC, it's come in the form of stand-alone reports on Nightline, or in Time or Newsweek. These reports always make a point of noting how little coverage the Congo gets, given the deadliness of its wars--as though this lack of coverage was the result of some inexplicable act of nature rather than an editorial decision made by the news organizations themselves. Because the Congo doesn't receive the sort of sustained, ongoing coverage of say, Iraq or the Middle East, even reasonably well-informed people have no idea that the DRC has been mired in a decade-long war, let alone that the number of dead from that war is approaching six million. (The IRC calculated 5.4 million had died by January 2008, with 40,000 more dying each month.)

But at least these outlets are doing something. The more elite, intellectual journals--the New Yorker, Harpers, the Atlantic, the New York Review, The New Republic, etcetera--have scarcely covered the war at all. For them, the war hardly exists, its victims passed over in a silence so complete it's as if they had never lived.

The scale of the wrongs the Congolese people have suffered tends to extinguish one's capacity for outrage. Which is why so few of the people who care about these issues ever raise our voices: even we sometimes doubt their importance. Still, every once in a while, the gap between the depth of the crisis and the world's indifference to it becomes maddening. Recently, for example, Israel's invasion of Gaza commanded international attention and galvanized the capitols of the United States and Europe. It takes nothing away from the Palestinians' suffering to note that had one-tenth of that level of attention been paid last month to the DRC, it's likely the Europeans would have sent that stabilizing force to the Kivus that Ban Ki-moon asked for. That force could very well have prevented the Christmas day massacre of 620 people by the LRA in the Congo's far north, another sad little event that went all-but unreported. And their presence would certainly have precluded this latest invasion.

The world is what it is. And the Middle East is always more newsworthy than Africa. But now the Congolese and Rwandans have sealed off an area to hunt for ex-genocidaires, and who knows what punishment they will inflict on the local population. Forty years ago, activists bemoaned the world's indifference to Biafra, wondering if its plight would have received more attention had the victims been white. And Biafra was a cause celebre compared to today's Congo!

In truth, the episodic media attention Africa has received in the West has largely been a function of how graphic its crises have been--and how accessible they were to Western photographers. The kwashiokor victims of Biafra in 1968-69, the dessicated cattle of the Sahel in 1972-73, the vast refugee camps of Ethiopia in 1984, the Sudan famine a decade later.

Without pictures, how will the great powers be moved to act? Cut off, culturally and geographically remote, victims of a war that even the experts find confusing (unlike the happy dead of genocidal Darfur), the people of North Kivu count for nothing. They have no claim on our attention. "The world is what it is. Men who have nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it." More and more, Naipaul's words are beginning to sound like a prophecy rather than a warning. Some of us are indeed more human than others.

Breaking--4,000 Rwandan Soldiers in North Kivu; Area Sealed from Aid Workers

From Agence France Press:
The UN Mission in DR Congo said Wednesday that up to 4,000 Rwandan troops have entered eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since Tuesday as part of a joint military operation.

"By our observations, between 3,500 and 4,000 Rwandan soldiers are currently in Nord-Kivu," province, MONUC spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich told AFP.

He said around half the Rwandan force had headed west to the Masisi and Mushaki strongholds of the Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of regional capital Goma.
Meanwhile, BBC reports that Congolese soldiers have sealed off an area where an operation with Rwandan troops is ongoing against the Hutu militia. MONUC's peacekeepers and aid workers have been blocked by Congolese troops at checkpoints north of Goma.

Congolese Reactions

Congolese reacted to the incursion of Rwandan troops into North Kivu at the invitation of DRC's President Kabila with a mix of dismay and incredulity. The 1,500 to 2,000 Rwandan troops, who crossed into DRC Monday morning at Kibumba, are said to be there only to "observe" the efforts of the Congolese army as it tracks down the remnants of the FDLR--the militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Le Potentiel's lead article notes that wars are easy to start but hard to end. Uganda's recent botched effort to capture Joseph Kony is a case in point. The Ugandan army is back on Congolese soil, but Kony has yet to be caught, and is leaving a trail of rape and massacre as he flees. Meanwhile, the Ugandan army has set up camp in Dungu and is doing little to hunt down the Ugandan rebels. But it is establishing a foothold on the oil and mining areas of Provence Orientale that border Uganda.

The paper readily concedes that both the LRA and the FDLR are murderous militia that prey on the Congolese population and that the Congolese army has done little to alleviate the situation. But with the official return of the Rwandan army, Le Potentiel wonders if the country isn't seeing a return to all-out war. It is suspicious of Rwanda's intentions, noting that during Rwanda's previous sojourns in the Congo, the Rwandan army was far more interested in looting Congolese minerals than chasing dead-enders from 1994. The fact that the army has moved into the Masisi and Rutshuru regions heightens the paper's suspicions, since these regions are known for their mineral wealth.

The paper reports that Mende Omalanga, Minister of Communication and Media, was given the thankless task of confirming the Rwandan incursion, in a statement to Radio Okapi and Télé 7 made on Tuesday morning. "We have issued an invitation to the Rwandan army who came with information officers. That's their mandate. It is a joint operation by the FARDC supported by MONUC."

[MONUC, however, immediately denied being involved, or even informed, about the decision.]

It is "intriguing and disturbing," the paper concludes, that the joint military operation began while the Congolese Parliament is in recess, and it insists that Kabila is constitutionally required to officially confirm the return of Ugandan and Rwandan armies in Congo.

Radio Okapi reports that the president of the National Assembly, Vital Kamerhe, said that parliament had not been informed that the president had invited the Rwandan army into the DRC. "All I know is that the National Assembly adopted a plan to end the crisis in October 2008, and submitted it to the government in the form of recommendations. The plan outlined the framework for the normalization of our relations with Rwanda," he said.

"Now you tell me that Rwandan troops have entered Congo. I prefer to believe that this is false, since if it's true, it raise all kinds of serious questions. How could we invite Rwanda back in when we have barely begun to recover from Rwanda's previous aggression?"

The radio station also reports that EU development commissioner Louis Michel is by contrast very optimistic about the operation: "This is the beginning of the solution to the problems of the Great Lakes region," he said. It is "a tangible sign of cooperation between the two countries," adding that a sustainable peace can only be achieved through cooperation at the regional level. Michel asked the FDLR to disarm and to refrain from any action against civilian populations. He also encouraged other participants in the operation to make every effort to protect human rights and respect the rules of international humanitarian law. No indication of whether he said this with a straight face.

Meanwhile, everyone is reporting that the communities of North Kivu are outraged by the return of Rwandan soldiers in DRC. Representatives condemned what they called the illegal and unconstitutional nature of the incursion, and demanded the Rwandans' rapid withdrawal. They denounced the Congolese government for failing to establish a coherent force agreement with Rwanda that provides a timetable and territorial limits to their presence, assigns them clear and restricted roles, and outlines their terms of engagement.

In Bukavu last Tuesday, a women's organization asked Comfort Lamptey, the gender advisor to the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations, to tell MONUC to erect a humanitarian corridor to protect against rape and sexual violence during the joint military operation.

Solange Lwashiga, the executive secretary of the Caucus of South Kivu Women for Peace, said that women are concerned that they and their children will again be vulnerable during this period of renewed military confrontation. "And we have asked MONUC to develop strategies so that during these operations, women would not be raped, or women and children not be killed."

Quote of the Day

Desmond Tutu, at a service organized by the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington's historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, Monday morning:
Isn't it awesome that the inauguration of the first African-American president of the United States of America should happen a day after Martin Luther King Day... Hey, is this for real? Is tomorrow for real? No, no, no, no, it can't be true! A black man, president of the United States, in the White House?!
It's his symbolic importance, rather than any particular set of policies he's championed, that is causing so much joy right now. But how long will that joy last? And where will Obama choose to spend the political support he now enjoys? Having raised an army, will he send it into battle, or will he become a thrifty, timid majoritarian, unworthy of the hopes he has aroused?

[In Kisumu, Kenya. Obama's father's home town. Photo credit: Katy Gabel/AllAfrica]

Let the Backtracking Begin, Part Trois

So the White House has a spiffy new website to go along with the change in administration, but you'd have to search long and hard to find anything on it about global poverty, aids, or Africa. In fact, the totality of what they say on the subject comes under one bullet point in a list of other miscellaneous foreign policy objectives:
Fight Global Poverty: Obama and Biden will embrace the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty and hunger around the world in half by 2015, and they will double our foreign assistance to achieve that goal. [Note that they've already backtracked on their campaign promise to do so by the end of Obama's first term.] This will help the world's weakest states build healthy and educated communities, reduce poverty, develop markets, and generate wealth.
I happened to be in a cab yesterday with a driver from Sierra Leone, who was watching the inauguration on a tiny black and white TV he had plugged into his cigarette lighter outlet. He was enjoying himself enormously, but when I asked him what he thought Africans expected from Obama, he said they didn't expect much. "America needs to get its own house in order. There are too many countries in the world for him to care about all of them."

I think he's probably right. Obama is going to be so busy dealing with the fundamental problems of the United States, as well as with the foreign policy disasters in the Middle East left over from the last administration, that the likelihood that he will significantly raise the profile of Africa, aid, or humanitarian programs abroad is probably very low. In fact, David Moss, over at the Center for Global Development, suggests that the Obama administration change very little about Bush's Africa policies.

I agree with Moss that Bush has been unexpectedly generous, especially given the rhetoric from his 2000 campaign, which seemed to assign Africa the lowest rung on the foreign policy totem pole. But in an ideal world, there is a lot more that Obama could do to help Africa beyond what Bush has done. And I suspect Obama could do it right. Although he wasn't raised in Africa and only saw his Kenyan father a couple of times, I have a feeling he is too thoughtful--and too shrewd about the continent--to give himself over to the narcissistic impulse to "save Africa." (As readers of this blog may have gathered by now, I believe that overcoming that temptation is the beginning of wisdom about how we in the West can actually help.) Whether the people Obama hires for the top Africa and USAID positions have that sense of proportion--or whether they will be retreads from the disastrous Clinton years--remains to be seen. (Disastrous for Africa, that is, characterized as they were by wavelets of callow crusading meant to make up with enthusiasm for what they were denied in resources.)

I will be writing more about what we can learn about Clinton and Bush's contrasting African legacies, and what a "maximalist" Africa policy might be, in the days ahead. In the meantime, it is probably wise to follow the cabbie's advice and not expect too much.

Update: There is also this mention: "To make diplomacy a priority, Obama and Biden will stop shuttering consulates and start opening them in difficult corners of the world -- particularly in Africa." I don't think that fundamentally changes the point of my argument.

Round-Up of Views on Rwandan Incursion into DRC

Reuters has a good round-up of views from regional experts about the introduction of Rwandan forces in Congo.

Jason Stearns: "This strategy hinges on the success of the military operations against the FDLR. These kinds of counter-insurgency operations are very difficult and always carry with them the risk of serious harm to the civilian population."

Kinshasa-based diplomat: "I can't see practically how it's going to work."

Regional diplomat: "There does seem to have been a sea change (in relations between the two countries). Whether that is just on the surface or not is not clear. It seems to be the result of some quite lengthy negotiations over the last few months but at no point have they involved the international community."

EU Aid Commissioner Louis Michel is more optimistic: "It (the operation) highlights efforts to find a regional solution to the conflict in Congo." (this quote comes from this article, not the Reuters piece linked to above.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sexual Violence in the DRC: What Do We Know?

The Wilson Center held a seminar on Thursday (yes-the second seminar that day) on the dynamics of sexual violence in DRC, featuring two researchers from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and one from the International Center for Research on Women. The two from Harvard, Michael VanRooyen and Jocelyn Kelly (VR-K), discussed their research on the perpetrators and victims of sexual violence, based on their "mixed methodology" approach.

[Photo on right from CongoWomen, a multimedia exhibit on sexual violence in the DRC.]

Because victims of sexual abuse are often stigmatized and subject to retaliation if they complain or even report their abuse, population-based surveys are not enough to reveal the extent and nature of the problem. They don't, said VR-K, "give us a fine-grained sense of what services and interventions are needed." Instead, the researchers used a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches to address such questions as: Who is committing the rape? When? Of which women? at what time of day? and with what impact on the family and community? What interventions do the victims most value? What interventions can help protect women, or reduce the incidence of rape?

The scope of the problem is difficult to estimate. The UN says that at least 27,000 women were raped in south Kivu in 2006 alone; the NGO Care says that at least 400 women are raped each month, and that the overall number is probably much higher; and journalists often say that there have been more than 100,000 victims in the last few years. VanRooyen and Kelly interviewed victims at Denis Mukwege's hospital in Bukavu. The average age of the victims, they found, was 36 years, with a range from 3 1/2 to 80. On the whole, less than five percent of the victims were younger than 15.

It took the women an average of 16 months to make their way to the hospital from the time of their attack. Only eight percent were able to access medical help within 72 hours. Most of the attacks took place at night, in the victims' homes. Only 36 percent took place during the day. This is in contrast to Darfur, where victims are typically attacked during the day as they gather firewood or water.

Regarding the nature of the rape: 73 percent were gang raped--and the level of trauma the women suffered varied with the number of assailants. 19 percent were ; a similar number were abducted by militia and taken as sex slaves; these women were most likely to become pregnant. Some 4.3 percent were raped in the presence of their family, and one percent were force-raped by family members and other victims. But these statistics come from women who made it to the hospital, and may not be representative of all rape victims.

The after-effects on the women could be as severe as the attack. Some 32 percent were rejected by their own families, particularly their husbands. An additional 15 percent were kicked out out of their communities and forced to forage on their own, even as they still took care of their children. Victims also suffered from HIV and other STIs; experienced fistula and pelvic damage; and gave birth to stigmatized children who face a desperately uncertain future.

Somewhat to the surprise of the researchers, the intervention the women most appreciated--aside from emergency medical treatment--was training in income generation. The women said that having a skill, and being able to make money, not only gave them a sense of empowerment, but helped them reintegrate into their communities, by giving them important, income-generating skills that the communities see as potentially valuable.

Perhaps VR-K's most distressing finding was that there is a broad consensus that the incidence of rape is increasing, not decreasing, even as the war winds down. Rape is becoming normalized, pervasive, and contagious. A culture of rape has developed.

VanRooyen and Kelly suggested that many more local clinics are needed, to give women access to emergency medical treatment, and those that exist need additional training in handling the psycho-social consequences of rape. More robust sensitization campaigns are needed--both to educate men whose wives and relatives have been raped, and to counteract the growing "normalization" of sexual violence. VR-K also suggested that MONUC could be used to patrol neighborhoods and protect women. There is an overwhelming need for punishment and an end to impunity, a severe problem in an area without any effective justice system.

Mary Ellsberg, vice president for the International Center for Research on Women, emphasized that women are not only victims of violence but also survivors, activists, and leaders in the struggle against it. The growing "normalization" of rape in a war zone can ramify through generations, and leave a cultural and humanitarian deficit long after the war has ended. Cambodian university students, for example, still stage gang rapes as a form of entertainment and as a bonding experience--some 30 years after Khmer Rouge "normalized" mass murder. There is a crying need to bring men into the solution, she said, and to find men willing to be spokesmen and role models in developing alternate cultural visions of masculinity.

Both Ellsberg and VR-K stressed how difficult it is to understand the rapists' motivations. Sometimes rape is simply an opportunistic crime. But situations can vary dramatically: some women are horrifically maimed, others taken as "bush wives," and others gangraped as a way to create bonds within militia groups.

I came away from the session sobered by how little is being done about the problem, despite the fact that rape in eastern Congo has become such a well-known and well-publicized problem. Research on the topic remains preliminary; there are still only a handful of clinics and hospitals addressing the needs of the women; police and local authorities still don't have any capacity or willingness to protect the population; and overall it appears that the problem is getting worse not better. That is a pretty distressing record.

It strikes me that it would be an important exercise to map out the ongoing incidence of rape in the region (on the Ushahidi model of real-time crowdsourcing), to plot the localities where clinics are in place and indicate whether those clinics have specialized rape services, and to sponsor a study on what interventions work and how they might be expanded. Such an exercise could then serve as the basis for a lobbying campaign to bring in a serious amount of money from donor governments. Even though many NGOs have done wonderful and heroic work, it's clear they aren't able to scale up enough to address the magnitude of the problem. We need big money--the kind of dollars only governments have. And developing an outline of the interventions that are needed and how much they might cost can be an effective lobbying tool. It is not impossible to imagine that the new Administration would be very interested in promoting a major new initiative on this problem, given Hilary Clinton's known interest in women and Susan Rice's in Africa. And having a serious and credible plan to address the problem would be a very helpful tool in persuading them that this is something that can and should be done.

Who Wants What?

Because so many of the actors in the DRC's conflicts are themselves obscure and evanescent, or proxies operating on behalf of veiled interests, or simply incompetent, it can be difficult to disentangle who wants what in the Congo and who might be capable of delivering it. Is Rwanda in Congo to hunt down the ex-genocidaires, or is it there to exploit the Congo's resources? Is Nkunda a legitimate defender of the Rwandan immigrant communities in eastern Congo, or an opportunistic politician seeking a platform for his own grandiose ambitions? Are the Mai Mai loyal nationalists fighting off foreign invaders, or deluded thugs looking to make a quick buck? Why has the DRC's army proven not merely incompetent, but one of the major abusers of its own citizens' human rights--even in areas where they might be welcomed as liberators?

Marijan Zumbulev of the International Crisis Group attempted to shed some light on these questions in a review of recent developments in the DRC, where he shared a panel with Autesserre at the Wilson Center. I've written earlier that he believes that Bosco Ntaganda has formed an alliance with both Rwanda and DRC governments to topple Nkunda's CNDP and help round up the FDLR. One potentially serious consequence of that is that Nkunda may have no option but to move his remaining forces southward, toward Goma. Zumbulev also indicated that the Rwandan government will say, off the record, that all they really want in the Congo are about a dozen or so of the ex-genocidaires who took refuge there after 1994. (In other words, that they don't really feel the need to hunt down the entire FDLR militia, most of whom had little to do with the 94 genocide.) He was hopeful--more hopeful than I am--that Mkapa and Obasanjo can make significant progress in the region, but he cautioned that there was no military solution to the violence and that peace wouldn't come without persistent cajoling from the international community.

I remain less convinced than many observers of the benefits of ongoing diplomacy. As I've often said in the past, it seems to me that most of the fighting in the region is the result of opportunistic resource grabs. And what we need, in this chaotic environment, where life is indeed nasty, brutish, and short, is a State, properly constituted--and in its absence, a MONUC force capable of acting in loco status until an adequate state and military can be nurtured into existence.

Local Conflicts Need Greater international Attention

Columbia University professor Severine Autesserre said in a presentation at the Wilson Center on Thursday that the international community had failed to give sufficient attention to local sources of the conflicts in the DR Congo. By focusing on the national and regional levels of the war, international mediators have excluded the critical dynamic of local conflicts and their potential for reigniting larger conflicts.

These local conflicts are essential to understanding the region, as most of the violence since 2003 has taken place at the local level, disconnected from the national and regional sources of the violence. These conflicts revolve around land and power, and often the result of power struggles between contenders for traditional chieftainships or local administrative posts. They also concern access to local mining sites.

Autesserre contrasted the situation in Congo with the situation in Kenya after the flawed electoral process there last year, where the outbreak of violence prompted numerous actors to fund local mediation efforts between opposing ethnic groups in neighborhoods troubled by violence. She suggested there might be several reasons international mediators have ignored the local roots of the DRC's conflicts: 1) they see the Congo as a post-conflict situation; 2) they may believe that a certain level of violence is normal for the region; 3) they tend to have a professional myopia to low-level conflicts, in favor of "larger" issues; 4) they put all of their effort into holding elections, which they credited with being able to resolve more problems than they are in fact capable of solving.

Although I agree with Autesserre that local-level conflicts are a vitally important element of the region's dynamics and must be addressed, I remain skeptical of her thesis that resolving these conflicts is the key to bringing peace to the region. Conflict is not the same as war. Conflict is inherent in the human condition, and we do not have to resolve all the conflicts in eastern Congo to achieve peace. Rather, we need to create--or nurture, or simply impose--an environment in which these conflicts are managed, even if imperfectly, through peaceful means. That can only come about if there is one dominant actor in place with a legitimate monopoly on the use of force--a state, in other words, in full control of its territory. That is why I believe, following Anthony Gambino, that the priority in the short term is to strengthen MONUC so that it can function as the de facto state in eastern DRC, while at the same time working on the long-term project of reforming the government and rebuilding a competent, law-abiding military.

Logging Must Stop--DR Congo Govt

From Reuters:
Logging must stop on nearly 13 million hectares of forest in Democratic Republic of Congo after a government review cancelled nearly 60 percent of the vast country's timber contracts, the government said on Monday.

Congo, home to the second largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon, has completed a long-delayed review of 156 logging deals aimed at stamping out corruption in the sector and enforcing minimum legal and environmental standards.

Logging, mining, and land clearance for farming are eating away at the Congo Basin, which accounts for more than a quarter of the world's tropical forest, at a rate of over 800,000 hectares a year -- an area roughly the size of Massachusetts.
Question: Can that possibly be true? An area the size of Massachusetts? That's huge.

New Report from Fair Transactions Focuses on Katanga

Fair Transactions, a network of different European and African NGOs and research institutes headquartered in Amsterdam, has published a new report on violence against artisanal miners in Katanga.
Local human rights activists have reported severe human rights abuses against the poor and unprotected local miners in the north of the province, near the city of Likasi. Ex-combatants are using the remoteness and lawlessness of this mining area to make quick profits; they use violence and force the miners to pay bribes.
While most of the recent media attention has focused on eastern DRC, the report emphasizes that "conflict prone areas such as Katanga should not be forgotten."

Ensler Leads DC Demonstration against Sexual Violence in DRC

Eve Ensler fired up a rally at Lafayette Park in front of the White House this Saturday with a passionate call to end the widespread practice of sexual violence against women in eastern DRC. "I have been to Afghanistan, I have been to Bosnia, but I have never seen such violent desecration of women as I have in the Congo."

The rally was sponsored by Friends of the Congo, the Congo Global Action Coalition and several other Congo-focused groups. Most of the 100 or so demonstrators at the rally were themselves Congolese. They carried placards--some illustrated with graphic photos of the violence in DRC--demanding an end to the war. Many of the preliminary speakers expressed enormous hope that Obama would be able quickly to put an end to the suffering of the Congolese. "2009 will be a different year altogether," said one speaker, who had driven overnight from Atlanta to attend the rally.

But it was Ensler who really put the crowd on fire. "Africa is the heart of the world," she said. "And Congo is the heart of Africa, and women are the beating pulse of that heart."

Ensler spoke of the extraordinary work being done by Denis Mukwege, who was recently awarded the UN Human Rights Prize and named "African of the Year" for his work at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, repairing the physical damage done to raped women. But she spoke of other, lesser-known heroes as well, including women who had arrived at the hospital traumatized by their experiences but who now advocate for justice and help others heal. And she spoke of the many men in the Congo who are outraged by what has been done to the women of their communities and are eager to work on their behalf.

I came away impressed--more impressed than I thought I would be. Ensler is clearly committed to the cause--she's not using it to piggy back on her own celebrity, as some stars seem to do. And unlike some American activists, she believes in, and advocates for, local empowerment. She does not indulge in the narcissistic belief that American power and goodwill are sufficient to solve African problems, if only we engaged enough--which is so often the first response of American activists in this country, including some in our own government. Instead, she rightly puts the emphasis on Africa's true leaders (who are rarely the ones in power), who have the local expertise to address the problems of their communities and who must be the primary architects of their future. Yes, they may need specialized expertise--and they certainly need greater resources that can only come from the West--but they, and not us, are the ones who should be taking center stage. Ensler's the real deal, and you should definitely check out her web site.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bosco's Forces Join Congolese Army

AP reports that after yesterday's talks with Congolese and Rwandan leaders, Bosco Ntaganda said that his forces are now "at the disposal of the Congolese armed forces high command." AP says that although Ntaganda's statement was signed by 10 other rebel officials who identified themselves as colonels and lieutenant colonels, "nobody knows how powerful Ntaganda really is or how many forces he control." But Reuters says that while there has been "no reaction from Nkunda or those still loyal to him... the majority of his top commanders signed Friday's declaration, indicating that his support within the movement has waned considerably."
One Western diplomat told Reuters on Saturday there was now room for fresh optimism that the rebels were finally serious about peace.

"The most significant difference is that it's much more than a cessation of hostilities. It also puts CNDP forces at the disposition of the government command. That is a surrender," he said.

But the price of that peace may be dear. A source in MONUC told AFP that Ntaganda had "clearly obtained guarantees that he will not be handed over" to the International Criminal Court based in The Hague. The news of that possibility dismayed Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch, who responded that "anything that doesn't end in the arrest of Bosco Ntaganda is in flagrant violation of international law."

Friday, January 16, 2009

LRA Sowing Chaos in Northeast

Various outlets in the last couple of weeks have written about the LRA's destructive path through northeastern Congo as the violent rebel movement fled from the Ugandan-led attack on its base in the Garamba forest in mid-December. But this report from Bloomberg is the most authoritative story to date. In it, HRW's Anneke Van Woudenberg says that the LRA killed more than 600 people between December 24 and January 11 in the region bordering Sudan. And the UNHCR says that the LRA have forced 115,000 from their homes since September, as villagers flee from the dreaded rebels.

Meanwhile, Enough, a well-connected Africa-focused lobbying group headed by former Clinton administration officials, confirmed my early suspicion that ‘Operation Lightning Thunder,’ was launched with the support of the United States. It complains that "the joint military operation against the rebel group launched in mid-December by the armies of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Government of Southern Sudan—with the support of the United States—has been poorly executed to date and has so far only made the crisis worse."

In addition, the failure of the operation is beginning to draw criticism against Uganda president Yoweri Museveni, says Rosebell Kagumire, of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. "Support for the war is faltering in the Ugandan parliament," she writes. "As controversy around the operation continues, calls are increasing for a ceasefire and reassessment."

CNDP Signs Ceasefire in Goma

Reuters is reporting that several commanders of the CNDP just signed a ceasefire agreement in Goma in the presence of the Congolese interior minister and Rwanda's top armed forces commander. It's not clear from the story who signed on behalf of the various parties or what the contents of the agreement are.

But back in Nairobi. . .
The third session of the peace talks between the CNDP, Rwanda, and the Congo, was adjourned until 25 January by the Co-Mediator and African Union Special Envoy, Benjamin Mkapa.

And in New York:
The other co-mediator, Olusegun Obasanjo, reported to the Security Council that tensions between the DRC and Rwanda are beginning to thaw as on-going peace talks, aimed at ending fighting in the east of the DRC between the Government and the main rebel militia in the region, are making slow progress.

So to summarize: the official UN-sponsored peace talks are making slow progress in Nairobi, even as top Rwandan and Congolese officials are holding their own meetings, and signing their own ceasefires, with another, break-away faction of the CNDP that has promised to rid the world of the leftover genocidaires.

If this makes sense to anybody, let me know.

Is the Terminator on the Side of the Angels?

Much to write about the two events held at the Wilson Center yesterday. But for me one of the most interesting observations came from Marijan Zumbulev, UN Advocacy Director at the International Crisis Group, who said that General Bosco Ntaganda, aka the Terminator, initiated his attempted coup against Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the Tutsi-dominated rebel movement CNDP, at the instigation of the Rwandan and Congolese governments. Ntaganda has a warrant out for his arrest by the ICC for war crimes, and may have played a major role in November's massacre of 150 people in the Congolese village of Kiwanja.

I had speculated that Ntaganda launched his attempted takeover of the CNDP after learning that Nkunda was about to offer him up as the fall guy for the CNDP's sins. But Zumbulev says that Ntaganda has worked out an alliance with the Congolese and Rwandan armies to go after the FDLR, the remnant genocidaires forces operating in eastern DRC.

Ntaganda has been making noises about going after the FDLR. I had taken them as little more than a cover story for his real aim of taking over the CNDP and securing for himself some sort of immunity from the ICC. But if Ntaganda really does have Rwandan and Congolese backing, then Nkunda is the one in trouble. Time will tell.

Let the Backtracking Begin, Part Deux

New York Times, 1/16/09, blogging Susan Rice's confirmation hearings:
The prospective ambassador [Susan Rice] has been quoted extensively that she would never allow a situation like the genocide in Rwanda to unroll again, so she was asked repeatedly about how she would confront the government in Sudan over the killings in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died since violence between rebels and government-backed militias erupted in 2003, as well as about other crises in Africa. Ms. Rice said she thought the United States could muster more support from countries like China and Russia on Sudan or Zimbabwe or other issues by stressing through quiet diplomacy where the interests of great powers converge with those of the region.

The Washington Post, 10/02/06, Susan Rice, in her own words:
After three years of fruitless negotiation and feckless rhetoric, it's time to go beyond unenforced U.N. resolutions to a new kind of resolution: the firm resolve to act. Will world leaders continue to give the perpetrators of genocide a veto over international action to stop it? Unless something changes dramatically, the answer seems to be yes. ...

History demonstrates that there is one language Khartoum understands: the credible threat or use of force. After Sept. 11, 2001, when President Bush issued a warning to states that harbor terrorists, Sudan -- recalling the 1998 U.S. airstrike on Khartoum -- suddenly began cooperating on counterterrorism. It's time to get tough with Sudan again.

After swift diplomatic consultations, the United States should press for a U.N. resolution that issues Sudan an ultimatum: accept unconditional deployment of the U.N. force within one week or face military consequences. The resolution would authorize enforcement by U.N. member states, collectively or individually. International military pressure would continue until Sudan relented.

The United States, preferably with NATO involvement and African political support, would strike Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets. It could blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan's oil exports flow. Then U.N. troops would deploy -- by force, if necessary, with U.S. and NATO backing.

If the United States fails to gain U.N. support, we should act without it. Impossible? No, the United States acted without U.N. blessing in 1999 in Kosovo to confront a lesser humanitarian crisis (perhaps 10,000 killed) and a more formidable adversary. Under NATO auspices, it bombed Serbian targets until Slobodan Milosevic acquiesced. Not a single American died in combat. Many nations protested that the United States violated international law, but the United Nations subsequently deployed a mission to administer Kosovo and effectively blessed NATO military action retroactively.

I'm not necessarily in favor of bombing Sudan, but you'd have to be willfully blind not to see a profound difference in the tone of her remarks yesterday versus what she said two years ago.

Smuggled Uranium not a Serious Concern

So I did a little research about the smuggled uranium featured in several news stories in Kenya. From what I can tell, there's not much to these stories, if anything.

For example, the material is said to be uranium hexflouride, packed in a 20 cm metal cylinder that weighed about nine kilos. But U-hexafluoride is a corrosive gas, used when enriching uranium, and there are no enrichment facilities in that part of Africa. And if it's in that small a cylinder, then it's not much uranium at all, because U-hexaflouride containers are usually huge.

The stories also describe the uranium as having more than 1,000 and possibly more than 2,000 Becquerel (Bq) of radioactivity per kilogramme--more than the amount that local Kenyan authorities could safely measure. But Bequerels are the tiniest units of radiation -- amounting to 1 disintegration per second. I'm told you could hold 1,000 Bq in your hand without risk. In fact, 1,000 Bq is about equal to the dose of radiation you might swallow as a pharmaceutical to help with medical imaging.

By contrast, the quantity of radioactive material considered "significant" for creating a terrorist "dirty bomb" is usually 1000 Curies -- almost 10 billion times larger than what was mentioned!

So, bottom line: the smugglers probably filled an old container with a bit of unprocessed uranium ore dug out of the dirt in Katanga--and tried to pawn it off to unsuspecting buyers. Apparently, this sort of scam isn't all that uncommon in this part of the world.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Remember that Smuggled Uranium?

I reported on here and here? The Daily Nation follow-up says that the uranium was "too hot to handle" locally, and implies that it was sent to the US for analysis and review. No US media stories on the topic, as far as I can tell.

Adolf Hitler in Police Custody

Hmmm... Where have I heard this before?* According to the Huffington Post:

Adolf Hitler - the three year old, that is - is back in the news. According to New Jersey police, the state's Division of Youth and Family Services took Adolf and his two sisters, one-year-old Joyce Lynn Aryan Nation Campbell and 8-month-old Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, from their parents' home Tuesday night.

Little Hilter and his parents got their first fifteen minutes of fame after a New Jersey supermarket refused to put his name on a birthday cake. Little Hitler's incredulous parents talked to the press about the ordeal in December:

"I think people need to take their heads out of the cloud they've been in and start focusing on the future and not on the past," Heath Campbell said Tuesday in an interview conducted on the other side of the Delaware River from where the family lives in Hunterdon County, N.J.

"There's a new president and he says it's time for a change; well, then it's time for a change," he continued. "They need to accept a name. A name's a name. The kid isn't going to grow up and do what (Hitler) did."

The reason why authorities took the children is unclear. According to NBC news, little Hitler's parents are scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

* I remember, it was right: here: "The Commission to Prevent Genocide got off to a rocky start at its inaugural session last November when Armenian reporters asked the two commission chairs why they supported blocking congressional efforts to recognize the Armenian genocide. "This is basically about the future," said Albright, who had spoken minutes earlier about the need to learn from the past."

Could the Fighting End?

Bloomberg is reporting that the CNDP is on the verge of signing a peace agreement with the Congolese government. “We have made a lot of progress,” said Bertrand Bisimwa, chief spokesman for the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP in a phone interview from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. “It is possible we sign a deal today.” No details yet on the contents of the deal.

It has never been clear exactly what Nkunda wants. He has at times suggested he is fighting to protect the Banyarwanda people of North Kivu, immigrants from Rwanda whose civil rights have been repeatedly violated since the Congo's independence, and at other times indicated he wants to become the head of the government in Kinshasa. Most recently, he complained about the deal the government struck with Chinese mining companies, in an attempt to capitalize on a widespread feeling that the Congolese may have shorted themselves in the negotiations. But the most credible reports, from the UN and Human Rights Watch, suggest that Nkunda is to a large extent a proxy for Rwandan interests--and that those interests are primarily in the region's substantial mineral wealth. None of these motives are intrinsically contradictory--it would be a surprise if several of them weren't simultaneously true. But it will be interesting to see which of them receive priority in whatever agreement is struck with the government.

Friends of Bill Include Tycoons of African Oil

Africa Intelligence (subscription required) points out that some of the biggest contributors to Bill Clinton's foundation made their money screwing Africans out of their oil wealth. Gilbert Chagoury, for example, gave between $1 million and $5 million, making him one of the 50 biggest contributors to the foundation. Chagoury made his money as a chief oil contract negotiator (that is, as a bag-man) for Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. Abacha was the president of Nigeria during most of Bill Clinton's administration. He garnered international opprobrium for murdering--ahem, executing--activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, and died in office as a multi-billionaire. Chagoury, however, maintained profitable relations with subsequent Nigerian leaders, despite being under investigation in France and Switzerland. He has continued to funnel contributions to democratic candidates, and in 2005 Bill Clinton personally awarded him the Ray R. Irani award from the Lebanese American Foundation, calling him a "personal friend" and "citizen of the world." The Wall Street Journal notes that:
Swiss and other European authorities froze a number of bank accounts, including some related to Mr. Chagoury, as part of an investigation by the Nigerian government and others about whether billions of dollars had been improperly taken out of the country during the Abacha regime, according to news reports and a 2001 British court decision in Abacha-related litigation. Mr. Chagoury later agreed to return funds, estimated to be as much as $300 million, to the Nigerian government in exchange for indemnity from possible charges and to unfreeze his accounts, according to the British court decision.

Another big-time contributor is Lukas Lundin, the CEO of Lundin Petroleum, the only Western oil company operating in Sudan. In late 2003, Human Rights Watch wrote this about the oil companies operating in Sudan, and specifically in the concession developed by Lundin:
The means by which the Sudanese government chose to protect the oil companies were draconian and arbitrary: it expelled rural people from their land and livelihood, killed their family members, and robbed and burned their property, because these people lived in areas where oil was found-and were presumed on grounds of their ethnic origin to be opposed to the government of Sudan exploiting that oil. Those it did not expel on the first or second wave were left economically insecure and terrified of another raid. The government not only failed to compensate and provide adequate substitute shelter for the displaced, it actively hindered agencies that tried to reach the displaced with emergency relief.
Human Rights Watch concluded that the participation of the oil companies in the oil concessions amounted to an "inappropriate corporate presence."

The AI article mentions several other Africa oil and mineral companies that gave lesser amounts to the foundation, such as African Rainbow Minerals Ltd, owned by magnate Patrice Motsepe, Lakshmi W. Mittal of ArcelorMittal, Lazare Kaplan, De Beers Marine, BMCE Bank, Veolia Environment, and others.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Let the Backtracking Begin

Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton is appearing at her confirmation hearing today. As is typical for these sessions, she's saying very little of substance while reassuring the senators about how seriously she takes the issues. Her testimony comes in three parts: an opening statement at the start of the hearing, her oral response to questions from the senators at the hearing (a transcript of which is not yet available), and a written response to questions previously submitted to her by the Senate Foreign Relations chair, John Kerry.

It is discouraging to note two things: first, she spends a mere 97 words on Africa out of nearly 6,000 in her opening statement, and those 97 words appear about three quarters of the way down, long after discussions about Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Russia, China, and the polar ice caps. Second, she makes almost no commitments regarding foreign aid--how it should be reformed, what areas need more support, whether the foreign assistance act of 1961 needs to be rewritten, etcetera. But she does say that while President elect Obama promised to double foreign assistance to $50 billion by the end of his first term, the onset of the economic crisis means that it could take "slightly longer" to phase in this increase. Of course, it could be argued that the economic crisis, which is hitting poor countries hardest, is a reason to ramp up foreign assistance, not slow it down.

All of this is, I fear, Washington-ese for the following: despite the rhetoric we might have used during the campaign, Africa isn't really that important, and despite the promises we might have made about helping the world's poor, current conditions render them no longer operational. Also, we'll tell you what we plan to do with USAID after we're safely ensconced in power, but don't expect anything too earth-shaking.

Here is Senator Clinton's entire statement about Africa:
In Africa, the foreign policy objectives of the Obama administration are rooted in security, political, economic, and humanitarian interests, including: combating al Qaeda's efforts to seek safe havens in failed states in the Horn of Africa; helping African nations to conserve their natural resources and reap fair benefits from them; stopping war in Congo; ending autocracy in Zimbabwe and human devastation in Darfur; supporting African democracies like South Africa and Ghana--which just had its second change of power in democratic elections; and working aggressively to reach the Millennium Development Goals in health, education, and economic opportunity.
Um, how do I say this in a way that doesn't sound overly cynical? It's good to see that in this overview of US relations in the world, the Congo merits a few words--well, four to be exact. I was worried that the deadliest war since World War II wasn't going to be a priority for the new administration.

Hunger in Mbuji Mayi

Inhabitants of Mbuji Mayi are deserting their homes in search of food, according to this article in Congo Planete. The drop in the price of diamonds and the high cost of living in town are behind the exodus, forcing people to return to their home villages to reclaim their land. The article says that many of the children show signs of malnutrition and that some of the displaced are dying of hunger en route.

Major Oil Find in Uganda

From Reuters:
British oil explorers Heritage Oil Plc and Tullow Oil Plc said on Tuesday they had made a potentially "world class" oil discovery in Uganda.

Reserves found by the Giraffe-1 well in the Lake Albert Rift Basin and linked discovery Buffalo, which was announced in December, could total more than 400 million barrels of oil, the two companies said in separate statements.

Heritage plans to do more drilling in Block 1 later this year and it could take two to three years to uncover the full potential of the basin, Atherton said.

"Combined with our other finds in the region, we have now clearly exceeded the thresholds for basin development," Tullow Chief Executive Aidan Heavey said. "Options for commercialisation and first oil production are currently being fast-tracked."

Arnstein at Jefferies International said Tullow and Heritage had needed to show Buffalo-Giraffe was able to produce at least 400 million barrels of oil to help them justify the cost of building a $1.5 billion, 1,300 km-long (806 mile) heated pipeline to carry the oil over mountainous and swampy land to Ugandan capital Kampala and the Kenyan coast.

RBC Capital Markets said that although further drilling was needed to reduce the risks inherent in Buffalo-Giraffe, "with 1 billion (barrels worth) of oil-in-place potential, today's result is significant."
Theoretically, this should be good news, but the history of resource boons in Africa has been almost uniformly negative--with the exception, of course, of Botswana. Generally, the elites in government who control access to the resource get rich while the locals suffer from pollution and displacement and receive little if any compensation. In addition, the oil discovery appears to be very close to the border between Uganda and Congo, which could become a source of tension. More to come as this story develops.

Paul Collier says that Uganda's discovery of oil "is in just about the most disastrous place on earth." See about the 6:15 mark of his TED presentation. I'm not sure whether he means the discovery will be disastrous for the region (which is what I first assumed), or simply that the discovery is located in one of the world's most disastrous places.