Friday, February 27, 2009

Have the Rwandan Troops Left?

So remember when this was supposed to be a big step forward? Congo and Rwanda would stop arming each other's enemy militia, Rwanda would neutralize Nkunda, and Congo would allow Rwanda into the Kivus to eliminate the FDLR threat. Then Congo would throw a big party for Rwandan troops as they marched back to Rwanda, mission accomplished. And remember how a few of us grumps (AdF, GP, and yours truly) said, WTF?, even as the UN, the US, and several media outlets draped hosannas on the arrangement? And then remember when the Congo actually held that party, and Rwandan troops actually marched back home, and Alan Doss and Joseph Kabila said, "Thanks, guys, we'll take it from here?"

Turns out, not so much. More and more evidence emerging that many of the Rwandan troops may not have left, after all. More and more allegations that Rwanda's installed a new set of Banyarwanda overlords in North Kivu. More and more proof that Congolese have finally said Ilunga! and begun to challenge Kabila's authority. We'll see how this turns out, but I get the feeling that this is one story that has only just begun.

So what happens next? Could Kabila's government fall? Could the mai-mai become the scourge of the newly adopted CNDP, now wearing Congolese army uniforms? Who will protect the real interests of the BanyaRwanda, or adjudicate between their interests and those of the autochtones? How and when will the FDLR re-establish themselves--and who will protect the Congolese from them when they do? When will unequivocal evidence emerge that Rwandan troops have remained behind? And why is Doss so eager to go along with this whole charade?

My recommendation, as it's been for a while, is to declare the Kivus a UN Protectorate, to establish military control over the entire region and operate the mines in accordance with some minimal set of labor laws (eg., you got to be 16 to work them, you get paid a decent wage regularly), to sell the minerals at an open auction, and to distribute the money earned to local social providers and/or directly to the local population. Gradually, over a period of time (say three years), to relinquish these powers to nascent indigenous military and political institutions, which in the meantime we will have been busy building up. Yes, this requires that we commit far more resources to the region than we have to date. But these are not problems we can help solve on the cheap.

Slow Movement on Obama's Africa Agenda

Reed Kramer has an excellent review at on the personnel filling out Obama's Africa team. I came away more hopeful than I had been. The bottom line: while Africa may not be today's priority, Obama is putting together an effective crew who in due time may make some serious policy changes in how the US deals with the continent. I was particularly interested to learn that the Obama transition team had compiled a lengthy dossier, authored by prominent U.S. and African experts, "of 23 thematic and country-specific papers, looking at energy, governance, peacekeeping and women, as well as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola, Uganda and the Mano River states (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, plus Cote d'Ivoire)." I'd be interested in seeing the Great Lakes section, or at least in learning who authored it.

That said, I still worry that Obama will have neither the resources nor the political capital to make significant changes in US policy towards Africa, given the scale of the domestic crises that confront him. For example, a number of the most effective things Obama could do for the continent would require that he take on entrenched domestic constituencies, for example on banking, on food aid, and on agricultural subsidies and textiles. For another, I worry that much of his policy may come to be predicated--if only by default--on a belief in the magical powers of US diplomats. The notion that a sprinkling of special envoys--the main policy prescription of a leading advocacy group with close links to the new administration--can bring a resolution to the complex emergencies in Darfur, the Great Lakes, Zimbabwe and elsewhere seems . . . a little optimistic. The Onion's featured a few good pieces over the years satirizing America's messianic complex towards Africa. Unless the Special Envoys come equipped with the kind of checkbooks and military might that back up Ross, Mitchell, and Holbrooke, there's no reason to believe they'll be any more effective than Houser or Merlin Olsen. And on the Great Lakes, in particular, I worry that many of the same people who presided over the catatstrophic policies of the Clinton era are back in the saddle, and still none the wiser about what drives the conflict, or how truly ambiguous the characters they once saw as "the good guys" really are.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

They're Gone

BBC has the pictures to prove it.

Now what?

Number of Times Obama Mentioned Africa in his State of the Union Speech:


Ross's Plans Contradicted by Internal MONUC Memo

Reuters reports that it has seen an internal UN memorandum that underlines just how unrealistic Alan Doss's plans for the Kivus are. At a press conference on Saturday, Doss indicated that the Congolese army was preparing to launch a second wave of strikes against the FDLR in South Kivu, while MONUC forces maintained control over the areas already seized by the joint Rwandan-Congolese operation in North Kivu.

The memo indicates that at least one person at MONUC knows what most sentient people have known for a long time: namely, that the FARDC are completely incompetent, and MONUC woefully inadequate, to accomplish either of these missions.

From Reuters:
The pullout [of Rwandan forces] has prompted fears within the United Nations' biggest peacekeeping force that the mainly Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels, who have mostly avoided clashes with the joint force, will seek revenge.

"The planned pullout of (Rwandan) troops raises concerns about the protection of the civilian population, given the limited capacity and professionalism of (Congolese) troops," read an internal U.N. memorandum, which was seen by Reuters.

"Although the FDLR has mostly vacated the areas upon the arrival of the joint forces, it is likely that they are waiting in the bush for the forces to retreat and then come back to retaliate on civilians perceived as being traitors," it said.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Le Phare: Rwandan Troops Posing as CNDP to Infiltrate FARDC

Le Phare says that Rwandan troops are infiltrating FARDC under the guise of being ex-CNDP militia seeking to integrate into the national army.

Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, Alan Doss says that the Congolese army is set to launch a second wave of strikes against the FDLR in South Kivu, while MONUC forces maintain control over the areas already seized by the joint Rwandan-Congolese operation in North Kivu. He wouldn't deny or confirm whether Rwandan troops would be involved, but a Rwandan army spokesman said they would not be.

Curiouser and curiouser. Why would Doss believe FARDC capable of launching an effective counter-insurgency operation against the FDLR? Why would he believe MONUC capable of holding territory the Rwandan army briefly seized by scaring off the FDLR? Given that neither force has ever demonstrated anything like the capacity needed for these missions, why embark on them now--unless you had some reason to believe that they've suddenly gotten substantially more competent?

But soyons raisonnable. The idea that the UN would conspire with Rwanda to keep its soldiers in eastern Congo to help maintain the peace strikes me as ludicrous. First, they wouldn't do that, and second, they couldn't possibly keep something like that a secret.

So once again, I'm just baffled.

The Christmas Day Massacre--Video

Reuters has an excellent video on the Christmas Day massacres at Faraje.

That Didn't Take Long

From BBC:
Hutu militias have re-occupied areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo despite the recent offensive against them, UN officials say.

Fighters of the FDLR group were driven from their bases by a joint force of Congolese and Rwandan troops.

But United Nations refugee agency officials say the FDLR has returned, as Rwanda starts to withdraw its troops.

From Bloomberg:
Rwandan rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo attacked civilians and forced thousands to flee their homes, the United Nations said, a day before the two nations are expected to announce a successful end to a joint hunt for the insurgents.

The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, killed and raped civilians in several villages in North Kivu province, ”sparking a new wave of displacement” since Feb. 13, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said today in an emailed statement.

From Radio Okapi:
For his part, the president of civil society in North Kivu worries that the FDLR will only increase their activities after the Rwandan troops retreat. Jason Luneno says, "The FDLR have not returned to Rwanda. Their combat forces were dispersed into the interior of the province. And we worry that the acts of revenge they have already started to commit against our population will only get worse."

De son côté, le président de la société civile du Nord-Kivu craint que l’activisme des FDLR ne s’accentue avec ce retrait des troupes rwandaises. Jason Luneno se plaint : « Les FDLR ne sont pas partis au Rwanda. Les forces combattantes ont été dispersées à l’intérieur de la province. Et nous craignons que les exactions qu’ils ont déjà commencé à commettre sur nos populations, ne puissent s’aggraver. »

Monday, February 23, 2009

Meanwhile, back at the Ranch

Jeune Afrique is reporting that food is becoming increasingly scarce in northeastern Congo in the aftermath of the LRA's sweep through the region. An official in Dungu says the region has become completely unsafe and that people there are unable to tend their fields.

And Bloomberg reports that Australian mining giant BHP Billiton has stopped exploring for copper in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s southern Katanga province after five years. In December, BHP withdrew from two diamond exploration joint ventures in Congo. This decision constitutes a real vote of no-confidence in the global economy or the Congolese government, and probably both.

That Guy who Resigned Speaks

Remember General Vicente Díaz de Villegas, that Spanish guy who was force commander for MONUC for about 24 hours last year? He just gave a lengthy interview to a Spanish newspaper about why he resigned. Unhelpfully, the interview is in Spanish. From what I can understand, he resigned because he was being micromanaged from New York and put in charge of a force totally inadequate to the mission(s) he was being told to undertake. What triggered his resignation was the command to conduct a "cordon and search" operation against Nkunda, a command he felt unable to accomplish on either a strategic or tactical basis. Nkunda's forces were quite capable, unlike the Congolese military; he had little effective intelligence capacity; and his Benneton forces, comprised of leftover soldiers from dozens of nations, was perpetually reinventing the wheel, as staff came and went.

I guess we knew most of this, but what's interesting is the heat he was getting in late October to take out Nkunda. Why him? Why, of all the nasty little militia in the Kivus, was the UN suddenly so interested in neutralizing Nkunda's forces? Could it be that they were getting a sense that Nkunda was about to cause Rwanda all kinds of diplomatic problems, once the Experts Report came out? Or am I just being bunco?

The Senators Speak

Le Potentiel has the bill calling for the convening of an Extraordinary Session of Parliament to discuss President Kabila's agreement to allow Rwandan troops into the DRC.

Basically, they're a) pissed the agreement was made in secret; b) worried about reprisals against Congolese civilians; c) nervous about Rwanda's long-term intentions, and d) anxious to hold a special session of parliament under such and such article of the constitution so that they can . . . Well, that part's not so clear. Legislators everywhere like to think that holding a meeting is the same thing as doing something, and that goes octuple for the Congolese. But it's not at all clear what options they have once they do convene. Impeach the president? Invalidate the agreement? Demand Rwanda's withdrawal? Even if they agree on any of these actions, how would they implement them?

The Bishops Speak

I haven't been able to find the actual declaration put out by the Catholic Bishop's Conference* that took place earlier this month, although I've seen several allusions to it. But this story in an unofficial publication of the Catholic Church provides a good summary.

Briefly put, the declaration calls for the promotion of good things and an end to the bad things, but adds a twist of nationalism to the usual bromides. Titled, "Be on Guard! Peace in Justice and Truth," the declaration makes a series of unsurprising recommendations to the usual suspects, for example, that the international community should do all it can to help the internally displaced.

But in addition, the declaration alludes frequently to the presence of foreign armies on Congolese soil and aggressively calls for their removal. "We continue to deplore the slowness in setting up an army to defend our people and ensure the integrity of our territory," they say. The continuing presence of foreign armies on the land worries the people, still "traumatized by the actions committed by these forces in the recent past."

The declaration asks the Congolese people and civil society organizations to be vigilant in unmasking any hidden plan and to oppose by all legal and peaceful means any attempt to balkanize their country and illegally exploit its resources. "Territorial integrity and national sovereignty are inviolable and non-negotiable under any pretext," say the bishops.

Over to you, Rwandan prelates. Will it be swords or pistols at dawn?

*Which in French is confusingly called the National Episcopal Conference, la Conférence épiscopale nationale de RDC.


I continue to be baffled at Kigali and Kinshasa's insistence that all Rwandan troops will leave the DRC this week. The idea that the mission has accomplished its objectives doesn't make any sense. Even if 3,500 FDLR have been repatriated, most of these are women and children. The FDLR's fighting force has been scattered, but can easily reassemble itself once the Rwandans go home. Kigali says it's overrun the FDLR's various command centers, but what does that mean? We're talking about a few derelict colonial-era houses with backed-up toilets and a dozen kalishnokov-totting teenagers loitering around the periphery. It's not exactly the White House Situation Room.

Then there's the fact that Rwandan government propaganda continues to agitate for an extension of the mission. Read this story in Rwanda's New Times for an example.

One possibility is that Rwanda is setting up conditions for a more permanent return. They'll leave, the region will regress to its chaotic state, there will be a scattering of massacres, and then Rwanda will triumphantly return to the region claiming an obligation to stabilize it. That's sort of what Rwanda and Uganda did earlier in the war, in the 2000-2002 period. Another possibility is that Rwandan soldiers have grabbed most of their high-value targets, the score or so of real ex-genocidaires among the FDLR. But there's not much evidence of that. Another is that when Rwanda says they've secured FDLR strongholds, they mean the mines the FDLR controlled. But I don't know how they plan to control those mines once they depart. They certainly can't count on FARDC to do that for them--or to honor any sub rosa agreements once they've left. And leaving troops behind to control the mines outright after that devastating UN report? Well, no one ever accused Kagame of lacking chutzpah. Still, it's a risky idea. If they stay long-term and control the mines, Kabila will be under tremendous political pressure to demand that Rwanda leave. And if he does, Rwanda will be hard-pressed to ignore all the international pressure they'd be under. They don't want to start a cascade of donor nations withdrawing their aid.

Bottom line: I got nothing. Is this a rare mistake by Kagame, or has he got something up his sleeve? I'm willing to bet it's the latter, I just can't figure out what it might be.

And yes, this means that my boast last week that I understood what was happening in the DRC turns out to have been ... premature. The crow is plucked and in the pot.

Reyntjens: EU in the Tank for Kagame

Filip Reyntjens says the EU Electoral Observation Mission's final report on the legislative elections held in Rwanda in September 2008 cooked the books to favor Kagame:
Last Monday, the EU Electoral Observation Mission released its final report on the legislative elections held in Rwanda in September 2008. The presentation happened quite discreetly in Kigali, and the story was not picked up by the international press. When reading the report, one understands this discretion and why this release happened months after the date initially announced....

Indeed, according to several of its members, the mission found out that the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) had been too efficient in intimidating the voters and fixing the ballot, as it obtained 98.39% of the vote. This observation is based on a very robust sample size of 24.96% of the total vote (which gives a standard error for the smallest sample of under one percent). Realising that this result looked too “Stalinist”, the regime modified the results: officially the RPF obtained 78.76%, and two other parties were credited with 13.13% (PSD) and 7.50% (PL). Although the mission is fully aware of this manipulation, it is not mentioned in the report, which is thus as fake as the elections it pretends to analyse.

Graphic: Relative Number of Deaths in Israel/Palestine Conflict and in Congo Conflict


Now we should do a graphic on the relative amount of ink spent on either conflict in the major US newspapers. My bet is that the graphs would be flipped, at best, and would likely be even more imbalanced.

See my rant about all this here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Official: Rwanda to Leave by Next Week

From Reuters:
Rwandan troops will start withdrawing from eastern Congo on Saturday and the entire force will have left by the middle of next week, a Rwandan military spokesman said on Friday.
OK, this is a very surprising development given that 1) the joint operation hasn't even begun to seriously reduce the presence of the FDLR in the Kivus, its stated objective, and 2) Rwandan government propaganda has been agitating for an extension of the mission.

I don't know what it means. If they do leave next week, I don't know what Rwanda will have accomplished. Certainly they won't have eliminated the FDLR. If next week they claim they've left, but actually leave forces in place under the guise of being "advisors" to the Congolese troops, that will become apparent quickly enough, especially if those advisors happen to control the mining areas. So holding a parade and claiming they're gone won't fool anybody. And the third possibility is that they won't in fact leave, in which case this promise of theirs will only aggravate matters between Rwanda and the Congo.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Time Magazine Slams Kristof

I see Time Magazine labeled Kristof's On the Ground blog as one of the year's five most overrated: "Globe-trotting NY Times columnist regularly ventures into the eye of the storm only to find the "I" of the storm. Self references abound, it's all Kristof all the time even as wars rage and children starve around him." For the record, my quarrel with Kristof is that he's got a tourist-eyed view of the crises in Central Africa, not that he's got a self-centered blog "persona."

Child Labor in Congo

Monuc: Check; the US: Check; the Chefs Coutumiers: Check

L'Observatoire de l'Afrique centrale reports that Kabila brought together the chefs coutumiers of North and South Kivu for a meeting on Saturday. The traditional chiefs had been until recently fierce opponents of the Rwandan and Ugandan invasion of their country. But now, Obsac dryly notes, one could scarcely recognize them. Emerging from their meeting with Kabila, they were united in praising the joint Rwandan-Congolese operation. One even suggested the Rwandans should stay indefinitely, until the FDLR menace was completely eradicated. "One can only imagine whether, in addition to considerable political pressure, large briefcases of American bills helped sway the chiefs' feelings toward the new Congo-Rwanda brotherhood."

En guise de parade à la fronde des députés, Joseph Kabila a décidé de réunir samedi dernier autour de lui à Kinshasa, les chefs coutumiers du Nord et du Sud-Kivu. On rappellera que ces mêmes chefs coutumiers étaient, jusqu'à très récemment, adeptes de la thèse de l'agression du Congo par les trois pays voisins du Rwanda, du Burundi et de l'Ouganda. Au sortir de cette rencontre, certains d'entre eux, interrogés par les médias, n'on fait que louer l'intervention des troupes rwandaises pour démanteler les forces des rebelles FDLR. Un des chefs coutumiers est même allé jusqu'à préconiser un séjour indéterminé en sol congolais des Forces de Défense du Rwanda, ceci afin de véritablement éradiquer la menace des FDLR. On a bien du mal à reconnaître le discours des Mwami du Kivu dans ce genre de propos. On peut bien s'imaginer que, en plus des pressions politiques exercées par la présidence, que de grosses caisses de dollars américains ont été nécessaires pour convertir les grands Mwami à cette nouvelle fraternité rwando-congolaise.

US: Clueless as Usual

From AFP:
Washington's ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday praised the joint Congolese-Rwandan offensive against Rwandan Hutu rebels in the east of the country.

"The joint DRC-Rwanda military operations in the east of Congo are showing real successes," William John Garvelink told reporters.

Two Weeks to Go

AFP says that John Numbi, the lieutenant general in charge of the joint Congo-Rwanda military operation against the FDLR, said on Wednesday that the operation should conclude before the end of the month.

"We've accomplished 95 percent of our objectives. That is, all of the headquarters of the FDLR have been destroyed at every level--brigade, company, and battalion," he said.

Really? Somehow, I doubt it. Take a look at this picture. It's worth the proverbial 1000 words:

A fighter from the FDLR rebel group, which is being hunted by the Rwandan and Congolese armies, stands guard deep in the bush of eastern Congo, February 6, 2009. Rwandan Hutu rebels are melting into the forests of eastern Congo before advancing Rwandan and Congolese forces, in a sign the surprise joint offensive has little chance of quashing militia groups at the heart of 15 years of conflict. Picture taken February 6, 2009. CONGO-DEMOCRATIC/RWANDA REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quote of the Day

From an interview in Le Potentiel:

"The most significant problem in the Congo is the weakness of our institutions. We are incapable of organizing ourselves, of defending our interests, of promoting the well-being of our people."
--Georges Nzongola Ntalaja

Le probleme majeur du Congo, c'est la faiblesse de nos institutions. Nous sommes incapables de nous organiser, de defendre nos interets, de promouvoir le bien-etre de notre peuple.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Alison Des Forges 1942 – 2009

“But we still needed you”--that was my first, entirely selfish thought on hearing of her death. Like many of her admirers, I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Alison Des Forges on a personal basis, only from her work and from the occasional public presentation or interview she gave. Yet the news hit me hard: I felt, as so many of us do who care about Central Africa, that we had lost our champion.

We had grown so used to her voice we assumed she would always be there. And why wouldn’t we think so? That Friday morning, skipping over front-page stories about a plane crash in the cold dark of Buffalo, I read two articles that quoted her. In the Times, she was defending a Rwandan professor living in the U.S. against possibly spurious accusations of genocide. In the Post, she was raising awkward questions about Rwanda’s officially sanctioned return to eastern Congo. Rereading them later, in light of the news out of Buffalo, was like receiving a postcard from the dead.

As it happens, both stories showed Des Forges in vintage form, standing up against the convenient consensus, the authorized stance. The railroading of an apparently innocent man and a troubling new political development in the Great Lakes; the newspaper accounts made it clear that these events were being acceded to and even applauded by highly placed people, including a college president, a major television network, U.S. government bureaucrats, and high-ranking UN officials. Opposing them was Alison, never disputatious or angry, just patiently pointing out the inconsistencies of their arguments. As her friend Colette Braeckman wrote, she stood up to bureaucrats and politicians the same way she stood up to warlords in the bush: with a flinty stubbornness that came from knowing the facts, gathering the evidence, presenting the case.

“How I can’t stand that woman,” one politically connected Africanist once told me. “You say something and she comes back at you with all these facts and figures.” And another, presuming to lecture her at a presentation she gave at a DC think tank, urged her to be more careful in what she said, because “words have political consequences.”

In truth, no one was more careful with her words, more tempered in her judgments. This latter outburst came from a leading refugee advocate after the new regime had come to power in Rwanda. The official line at the time--emanating as much from the State Department as from our leading periodicals--was that President Paul Kagame was part of a new wave of African leaders piloting the continent out the wilderness. Pointing out, as Des Forges insisted on doing, that the new regime was hardly blameless; this just wasn’t done. It was human rights absolutism, said her critics; it was principle carried to the point of obstinacy. Later, after the 1996-97 rebellion that toppled Mobutu, it slowly emerged that the Rwandan forces leading the rebellion had killed thousands of Hutu refugees, on a scale that invites comparison to the Katyn Forest or Babi Yar massacres. This was what Des Forges had warned us against: Acquiescence to a worldly realism that counsels peace at the price of justice.

In the version of the myth told in the Iliad, Cassandra is given the gift of foresight but cursed so that no one believes her when she warns of the dangers facing Troy. Like Cassandra, Des Forges’ fate was to be ignored over and over again, beginning with her dire warnings before the 1994 genocide. Yet she never lost her cool. She never gave up or dropped out, never lost her faith in the aggregate human effort. Anyone who works in this business quickly learns that most of the real heroes are local, the ones without a plane ticket home. We meet people who humble us by their dedication, their courage, their unconscious decency. Alison belonged among them; she was the best we had. Now she is gone; her publications testify to her prodigious scholarship and advocacy, but to her admirers she has left something even more valuable: a code of conscience and a model of how to act.

Friday, February 13, 2009

No, No, No

Alison Des Forges is dead. She died in the crash of Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo on February 12, 2009. Colette Braeckman's eulogy is here, the NYT obit here, the New Yorker's here, WaPo's here. NPR's interview with Ken Roth, the director of HRW, is here. Other eulogies are beginning to trickle in, as the news spreads, here, and here, and here.

I will post others as they come in. From Tatiana Carayannis, here; Slate here, Lindsey Hilsum in the Guardian, here. The Economist, whose lovely obituaries almost make it worth dying, remembers her here.

Step Two: Dispose of the Overseers

Step One was re-entering the Congo. Step Two is disposing of the overseers. Today, Rwanda's government-sponsored newspaper published an editorial calling for MONUC to start winding down its operations, since its mission has been accomplished. "There is little or no work left again for UN peacekeepers in DRC. If anybody claims there is, it will no longer be worth the huge budget in billions that is allocated to that mission."

Rwanda clearly doesn't want MONUC glancing over its shoulder as it settles back into the Kivus, siphons off the region's mineral wealth, and eliminates the opposition.

Step Three will be fashioning an excuse to stay in the Kivus beyond the end of February. They're already working on it.

Why You Should Be Reading this Site

Check out this entry from Monday, November 17, 2008. I don't know that there was anyone else alerting the world to the possibility of Rwanda's return to the Congo three months ago.
Kinshasa to Allow Kigali to Chase down Rebels

Le Potentiel is reporting that Congolese Foreign Minister Alexis Tambwe Mwamba is open to the proposal that Rwandan intelligence officers help hunt down Rwandan Hutu rebels of the FDLR based in the eastern Congo. The journal quotes Mwamba from an interview he gave with Radio Rwanda on Saturday morning, in which he says that "We are very open to [the idea that] your intelligence officers can be part of the troops that will hunt down the FDLR, so that the accusation that we support the FDLR can be put to rest once and for all."

Kigali has argued for over a decade that the continuing presence of the FDLR in eastern Congo constitutes a major security threat. Yet previous peace agreements called on Congolese troops to round up the remaining Hutu rebels in eastern DRC--a task they were neither capable of nor committed to. In principle, allowing Rwandan officers to be "part of the troops" hunting down the FDLR makes sense. In practice, the proposal is rife with potential complications: who would they accompany? Who would be their commanding officers? What would be the rules of engagement? We'll wait to see whether this idea gets any traction.
I know bragging is unattractive, but sometimes you got to blow your own horn. Consider mine blown.

The Long Arm of the Rwandan Government

Wronging Rights has an excellent post about Leopold Munyakazi, a Rwandan expatriate Goucher College professor, who was indicted by the Rwandan government of aiding and abetting the genocide after giving a controversial speech last year describing the events of 1994 as a "fratricide." Although Alison Des Forges reviewed the indictment and publicly expressed her doubts about its merits, Goucher nevertheless suspended him, and a few days later the US government arrested Munyakazi at his home and began deportation proceedings against him.

Hey, Munyakazi is getting off easy. The corpse of Juvenal Uwilingiyamana, a Rwandan dissident living in exile in Belgium, ended up floating naked in a canal in Brussels. Seth Sendashonga, another dissident, was shot dead in Kenya, as he was preparing to give testimony against the Rwandan government at the Arusha Tribunal. And poor Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of Hotel Rwanda, lives in fear of his life here in the US after being branded a "swindler" and "gangster" by Kagame.

What Happened at Camp Kasiki?

ASADHO wants to know. The 74 ex-combatants and their 94 dependents were assembled at Camp Kasiki, located 200 kilometers southwest of Butembo, awaiting repatriation to Rwanda. But they disappeared overnight on February 8, two days before they were to be repatriated, leaving behind their animals, clothes, blankets, and even their eating utensils.

No one has any idea what happened to these people or knows where they are now. ASADHO is worried that they were "victims of reprisals of an armed group currently active in eastern Congo." It is asking the DRC government to investigate and for MONUC to assist in that investigation.

This brings back bad memories. During the 1996-97 war, I first began to hear of massacres begin committed by Rwandan troops from religious and refugee agencies. The relief workers would discover small groups of Hutu refugees in remote areas and radio in their location to their agency's headquarters, to arrange for the refugees' rescue and eventual repatriation to Rwanda. But when the trucks arrived, the refugees would have disappeared, leaving behind their goods and traces of violence. The relief agencies eventually realized their radio transmissions were being intercepted by the Rwandan army. They could only speculate about what had happened to the refugees.

FDLR Massacre 100

From Human Rights Watch:

The rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) brutally slaughtered at least 100 Congolese civilians in the Kivu provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between January 20 and February 8, 2009, Human Rights Watch said today.

"The FDLR have a very ugly past, but we haven't seen this level of violence in years," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "We've documented many abuses by FDLR forces, but these are killings of ghastly proportions."

Rwanda's Annexation of the Kivus Will Test Congolese Resolve

MEMO TO THE CONGOLESE PEOPLE: The success of Rwanda's effort to annex the eastern portion of your country depends on whether you are able to organize a coherent and effective opposition. The international community is moving toward the consensus that Rwanda's re-entry into the Congo is a good thing. Your own president invited them in, so it's not illegal or an act of war, either of which might have required the international community to respond. Rwanda will now impose some rough order on the region, reducing the chaos of war and its humanitarian toll. This, again, is something the international community will applaud.

In the end, only you will be troubled by the dismemberment of your counry. The question is whether you can take on your president, for sacrificing a portion of your country's sovereignty, while at the same time confront the occupying power that has come to dominate the east and exploit its resources. Kagame--and the international community--are betting against you. Do not make the mistake of seeking justice in international fora or of asking your friends and patrons in the West for help; they are both just as glad to see Rwanda take over in the Kivus, since it means one less headache for them. In this fight, you are on your own.

The Washington Post Raises Questions about Rwanda's Intent

Stephanie McCrummen has a good piece in today's Washington Post about Rwanda's real motives for entering the Congo. Money grafs:
Although the two Rwandan invasions [in 1996 and 1998] were devastating for the Congolese, they were hugely beneficial for Rwanda, which is still struggling to rebuild after the 100 days of well-planned violence in 1994 when Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Many Rwandans became involved in the lucrative mineral trade out of eastern Congo after the genocide, and some observers speculate that the current military operation aims to solidify Rwanda's economic stake in the region.

"It was a period of great economic boom for Rwanda -- a lot of people got rich, including military officers," [HRW's Alison] Des Forges said, adding that the current military operation could help Rwandan President Paul Kagame relieve internal pressures on his government, which allows little room for dissent. "Presumably, if the troops were back in Congo for a substantial period of time, they could expect to reap certain benefits. It could also be beneficial for Rwanda to have greater control over economic resources than they've had before."
McCrummen reports that Rwanda was deeply embarrassed after the UN report came out in December documenting that country's close ties to the rebel movement led by Laurent Nkunda, accused of committing numerous human rights abuses. Pressure mounted on Rwanda to cut its ties to Nkunda and resolve its differences with Congo. At stake were hundreds of millions of dollars from the European Union, the World Bank and other donors.

That money is supposed to be officially released next month, when Rwanda and Congo restore full diplomatic relations. McCrummen reports that a number of Western diplomats are buying the official line coming out of Kigali, that "Congo's deal with Rwanda represents a mature realization by Kabila and Kagame that their interests are better served by working together officially, rather than through rebel proxies."

But Des Forges points to some flaws in the official account. As recently as October, Rwandan officials had cast the militia as "a Congolese problem," saying it did not pose an immediate military threat to Rwanda. "Is the FDLR now suddenly on the verge of becoming more militarily powerful? I don't think we've seen that," she said. "And if they haven't, then what you have is Rwanda trotting out an old warhorse of an excuse to go in again. The question is, what is the intent?"

Des Forges has been proven right so many times in the past that you'd think the Western diplomats and bankers who oversee the Great Lakes would take heed. But they won't. It's so much more convenient to believe the government line. In Greek mythology, Cassandra was fated to be ignored only once, when she warned the city elders about the Trojan Horse; it has been Des Forges' fate to be ignored over and over again.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Know Hope

Every once in a while, the news gets so bad, you have to remind yourself why you're in this business. Here are a few stories I've been saving up for a bad day.

Yohannes Gebregeorgis, an Ethiopian who found asylum in the United States, returned to his native land to help foster literacy programs. Lacking the money to establish a central library and regional branches, he developed a unique way to bring books to village children. Here's CNN's take. And here's a clip on youtube.

With his brother filming the journey, Béla Fleck, a young American banjo virtuoso, traveled through Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Mali to uncover the African roots of an instrument widely regarded as American hill-billy. Everywhere he went, he made friends and jammed with local musicians, many of them enormously talented artists in their own right. Here's a youtube clip that gives a good preview of the movie.

And here's an account of how hard Zimbabwe University students struggle to provide themselves with an education despite their country's collapse. The campus remains a idyllic setting, with elegant modernist buildings, even as it's slowly becoming a ghost town.

How Will the Economic Downturn Affect Congo?

Short answer: Not well. Excellent report from Joe Bavier, at Reuters:
An economic crash that may empty Congo's state coffers within weeks has saddled the country's poor masses with rising prices and a sliding currency, threatening yet more instability in the vast African state.

The global downturn has stalled Democratic Republic of Congo's minerals-driven recovery from a 1998-2003 war, raising fears of a return to the social chaos and hyperinflation suffered under late kleptocratic dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

"The prices have all gone up, and the economy is on its knees," said a woman haggling for bread with a kerb-side vendor at the chaotic central market in Kinshasa, the dilapidated capital and home to over 8 million people.

"A child can't just eat bread. It's not enough," she said, shoving a loaf and a half into a bag before storming off.

A loaf that cost 100 Congolese francs just two months ago today sells for 150 francs. Essentials like flour, rice, and meat have been subject to similar price hikes.

For many of Congo's poor, paying more is not an option. They must simply eat less.

How Will the Economic Downturn Affect Africa? Part Deux

Maybe a lot worse than I first thought. From (EN)Africa, a blog maintained by Shanta Devarajan, the Chief Economist of the Africa Region at the World Bank:
The U.S. sub-prime crisis triggered a financial market meltdown which, in turn, has led to a global recession. These developments are already having a significant, negative effect on African economic growth (the latest World Economic Outlook projects Africa’s growth rate in 2009 at 3.5 percent, down from 5.4 percent in 2008.) Drawing on the work of Jorge Arbache and John Page, I did the following calculation: If Africa experiences a growth deceleration that is typical of the average deceleration of the past, the infant mortality rate will rise by about 28 per thousand (see Table). Given that there are 28 million births a year in Africa, this translates to over 700,000 additional babies dying before their first birthday.

Not Just Kenya's Problem

From AllAfrica:
Members of [Kenya's] Parliament each receive total monthly salary, allowances and benefits of Sh 1,435,846. This is an average figure. Some MPs may get more, some may get less. Considering it is mostly tax free, this equates to monthly remuneration in excess of Sh 2,000,000.
That's roughly $25,000 per month.

Quote of the Day

"The Rwandan army was here for seven years and never bothered us. What can they do now?"
-- a mid-level commander of the 6,000-8,000-strong Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who refused to give his name. From Reuters.

Today's News, Yesterday

Yesterday I wrote that large blocs of the international community will applaud Rwanda's annexation of eastern DRC, seeing in it a possible end to the violence that has plagued the region. I added that Kristof, in particular, would continue to pen fawning editorials about Kagame. Today, surprise surprise, one of Kristof's correspondents, writing from Kigali, says: "Regardless of the various interpretations floating around, it appears that directionally, the events of the past few weeks augur well for regional peace and prosperity."

You heard it here first.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Allegations on Secret Deal between France and Rwanda

So Antoine Glaser reports in the latest La Lettre du Continent that Sarkozy and Kagame are engaged in a well-orchestrated diplomatic ballet in an effort to head off a direct confrontation regarding each other's responsibility for the 1994 genocide. As part of that effort, France has essentially signed off on a deal to let Rwanda siphon off a portion of eastern Congo's mineral wealth.

According to Glaser, the ballet began on 26 July 2007, when Kouchner took a call from Kagame to discuss how the two countries could resume diplomatic relations. According to Glaser, the report of the Rwandan Justice Jean de Dieu Mucyo and the report by French judge Louis Bruguière established a "balance of terror" between the two countries. Mucyo's report claimed that French forces participated directly in the genocide and specifically accused 33 civil and military French leaders, including Edouard Balladur, Alain Juppé, Dominique de Villepin, Hubert Védrine and Bruno Delaye. Bruguiere's report called for the arrest of a dozen of Kagame's closest associates, whom it accused of shooting down the plane of President Juvénal Habyarimana, the event that precipitated the genocide.

Whatever the merits of either report, they clearly have the capacity to give the other's government considerable embarrassment. Obviously, it would be in both countries' interests to make them go away. To allow France to save face, Rwanda allowed one of Bruguiere's accused, Rose Kabuye, to be arrested on November 9 in Frankfurt and be transferred to Paris for trial.

France responded by orchestrating a deal giving Kagame access to Congolese coltan and tin. In return for putting an end to the depredations of Laurent Nkunda, Congo would enter into a free trade deal giving Rwanda access to the Congo's mineral wealth: "Arrêtez d'agresser votre voisin et de lui piquer ses pommes, et il vous en donnera la moitié." Thus, at a stroke, Rwanda's illegal exploitation of the Congo's mineral wealth, condemned in one UN report after another, would cease to be illegal, and its problems with the international community, which were threatening to come to a head, would be defused.

That's Glaser's story. Whether it's true or partially true or not true at all, I can't say. But I do know this: Ain't no Congolese not going to believe it.

What Happens Next

For a while there, after Rwanda's officially sanctioned return, I no longer had a clear sense of what was happening in the Congo. Too many balls were up in the air. But things have settled down, so for what it's worth, here's what I think is going to happen next:

The Rwandans will stay in eastern Congo for the foreseeable future, essentially occupying it. From time to time, they'll extradite some FDLR back to Rwanda, but for the most part, they'll avoid serious confrontations that could lead to Congolese and international condemnation. They'll buy off local, indigenous opposition, and they'll deal off-camera with those they can't buy off, such as any recalcitrant Mai-Mai. Meanwhile, below the radar screen, they'll expropriate the productive mines (today it's the gold mines that are particularly valuable). Every so often, Kabila will make vague noises of one kind or another, depending on the political pressure he's under at the moment, but do nothing to undercut the Rwandans. The Congolese people will fume, but won't be able to force their government to act decisively against the occupation. (Which it couldn't do, even if it wanted to.) The international community will conclude that it might as well put a smiley face on the whole situation, since it's incapable of changing it. With Rwanda eliminating opposing militia, the incidence of bloodshed and sexual violence in the region will decrease, pleasing some of the humanitarians. MONUC will gradually stand down, its troops and funding needed for crises elsewhere on the continent. The United States will tacitly approve of these developments, since it means one less African disaster to deal with, although Obama officials will be careful to express the hope that Rwandan troops will eventually be able to return home. France, too, will support these developments, and seek to build on this budding detente with Rwanda to defuse lingering recriminations about the 1994 genocide. Belgium will utter some muted and impotent dissent. But in the end, Rwanda's long-standing ambition to annex the Kivus will become a fait accompli. The usual Rwandaphiles will applaud. Kagame will continue to take his seat at Bill Clinton's right hand during Davos and CGI meetings, and Kristof will go on inking fawning editorials about their joint efforts to improve Africa's investment climate.

Quote of the Day

"I am now convinced that the lives of Congolese don't matter to anybody. Not to those who kill us like flies, not to our brothers who help them to kill us, and not to those who you call the international community... Not even to God himself."
--anonymous Congolese, quoted on Radio Okapi

««Je suis convaincu maintenant […] que la vie des Congolais ne signifie plus rien à personne. Ni à ceux qui nous tuent comme des mouches, ni à nos frères qui les aident à nous tuer, ni à ce que vous appelez la communauté internationale […] Même Dieu lui-mê»

Ground Being Laid to Extend Umoja Wetu

Well, color me surprised. Although Congolese President Kabila two weeks ago promised the Congolese that Rwandan troops would finish their job and return to Rwanda by the end of February, Rwanda is laying the groundwork to extend its incursion into the Congo indefinitely.

The Rwanda New Times "reports" that members of Rwandan parliament want to see the deadline for the Rwandan incursion into Congo extended:
Members of Parliament yesterday expressed dissatisfaction with the deadline set for the Joint Task Force (JTF) operations in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and asked for the mandate to be prolonged for the exercise to be successfully completed.

This came up in their meeting with the Minister of Defence, Gen Marcel Gatsinzi, who was updating them on the current situation of the "Umoja Wetu" operation.

MPs expressed great concern about the time boundaries being a possible obstacle to the total success of the joint action.

"The forests in Congo are very thick and huge, you can't rout all FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) out of these jungles in just 15 days," said Aimable Nibishaka, an MP.
The New Times also "reports" that the British army chief Sir Richard Dannatt has given full support to the ongoing joint operation.
Shortly after holding talks with the Chief of Defence Staff of Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) Gen James Kabarebe, Dannatt said that he was impressed by Rwanda's professional peace mission.

"Rwanda should keep the pressure against negative forces, it is the way to restore full peace in the region," he encouraged.
And, finally, it "reports" that North Kivu's traditional chiefs are asking that the mission be extended.
North Kivu's "Bami" or Traditional Chiefs (Les chefs coutumiers) requested government Friday to consider extending the ongoing joint military offensive against ex-Far/Interahamwe beyond its earlier set time limit of 15 days.

Meanwhile, 270 (of 500) members of the Congolese parliament have petitioned the speaker of parliament, Vital Kamerhe, to convene an extraordinary session of parliament to examine what they call the extra-constitutional agreements signed by President Kabila with Rwanda and Uganda allowing their troops into Congo. However, it is not clear to me that the parliament has the power to demand that the agreements be canceled, or that Kabila would be legally bound to respect that demand. So the Congolese may find they don't have any say, legally or politically speaking, regarding the presence of foreign troops on their soil, at least not until the next presidential election.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

OK, Scratch that, It Can Get Worse

From the London Times Online:
It is the 85th birthday of President Mugabe this month and the zealots of his Zanu (PF) party are determined that it should be an occasion that their great leader will never forget.

In recent days they have been out soliciting “donations” from corporate Zimbabwe and have drawn up a wish list that is scarcely credible in a land where seven million citizens survive on international food aid, 94 per cent are jobless and cholera rampages through a population debilitated by hunger.

The list includes 2,000 bottles of champagne (Moët & Chandon or ’61 Bollinger preferred); 8,000 lobsters; 100kg of prawns; 4,000 portions of caviar; 8,000 boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates; 3,000 ducks; and much else besides. A postscript adds: “No mealie meal” — the ground corn staple on which the vast majority of Zimbabweans survived until the country’s collapse rendered even that a luxury.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Every Body Pays

"They control your money. They control your government. They control your life. And everybody pays."
--Tagline for the forthcoming feature film, The International.

Every time you think, Nah, it can't really be that bad, it turns out to be worse. According to the left-wing propagandists at Novosti Press Agency--I mean the Financial Times--the IMF and the Paris Club are holding up Chinese investment in the Congo in part because the DRC still owes them money from the Mobutu era. (The Chinese, you will remember, offered to pay for a raftload of infrastructure projects such as roads, schools and clinics, in return for access to Congolese minerals.)
On paper, even if the details contain flaws, the deal could benefit Congo. If it has not turned out so, it has much to do with the toxic legacy of Congo’s relations with the west. The country is saddled with $10bn of external debt stored up from the days of Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator. It has little to show for it, and certainly no roads or schools. This was money used to appease a cold war ally long after it became clear President Mobutu was stashing it in Swiss banks. Yet Congo’s western creditors are reluctant to write it off only to see new debt contracted to China on commercial terms.
This story is so outrageous that had it appeared in the Nation I'd have blown it off. Let's recap: The IMF loans billions of dollars to Mobutu, knowing perfectly well that . . . but now they claim they are concerned . . . and won't let the Chinese pay for schools, clinics and roads... and actually have the stones to say. . . even though the DRC desperately needs . . .

Oh, screw it. You can't make this stuff up. A forthcoming movie depicts an inscrutable all-powerful IMF-like bank that assassinates anyone who exposes its secrets. Which goes to show you that even in Hollywood's most perfervid imaginings, the IMF only kills people on retail. This is murder on a wholesale basis, the killing of innocents by policy prescription.

Whose Peace, Whose Justice? [Updated 2/12]

So riddle me this: how much justice are you willing to sacrifice for peace? Rob Crilly over at African Safari has a squib about whether we should let warlords off the hook if they're willing to go quietly, or risk continued fighting for the chance to put their punk asses in jail. It's one of those rare questions that is at once philosophically pregnant and real-world relevant. Crilly traces the roots of the question back to the seemingly eternal division in Western philosophy between a utilitarian and a Kantian, rule-based ethics. He also suggests that the closer you are to events, the more you favor the utilitarian.

As you might imagine, there's a whole truckload of literature about these questions. But I find myself getting impatient with how they're typically answered, for two reasons. First, the people answering them rarely seem to consult the people most deeply affected. I know it's an immensely difficult challenge, but surely we ought to have a much deeper and better understanding of Darfuri or Sierra Leonean preferences. A good argument could be made that their wishes ought to be the controlling factor in making these decisions. [Update 2/12: A valuable exception is this example from the International Center for Transitional Justice, although I suspect there are methodological difficulties inherent in this sort of survey that it doesn't fully address.]

Second, we often act as if terms like peace and truth and justice were unproblematic--cultural universals that we can all agree on. In practice, this results in a kind of cultural imperialism: our view of what counts as peace or truth or justice prevails, because we're the ones with the money. In fact, these terms are far from universal. A brilliant effort to understand how people in Sierra Leone feel about these issues is Rosalind Shaw's Rethinking Truth and Reconciliation Commissions: Lessons from Sierra Leone. In it, she argues that we (the West) have unthinkingly imposed upon Sierra Leone a particular social practice that arose out of our own, highly idiosyncratic cultural history, a practice that may cause more harm than good in the Sierra Leonean context:
# Sierra Leone's TRC, like South Africa's, valorized a particular kind of memory practice: "truth telling," the public recounting of memories of violence. This valorization, however, is based on problematic assumptions about the purportedly universal benefits of verbally remembering violence.
# Ideas concerning the conciliatory and therapeutic efficacy of truth telling are the product of a Western culture of memory deriving from North American and European historical processes. Nations, however, do not have psyches that can be healed. Nor can it be assumed that truth telling is healing on a personal level: truth commissions do not constitute therapy.
# In northern Sierra Leone, social forgetting is a cornerstone of established processes of reintegration and healing for child and adult ex-combatants. Speaking of the war in public often undermines these processes, and many believe it encourages violence.
A thriving subdivision of anthropology focuses on the provision of medical services to non-Western peoples. We need a similar, joint effort between anthropologists and lawyers--both Western and native--to focus on the questions at the intersection of justice and peace. Because something tells me that the situations that occasion them aren't going to disappear any time soon.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

You Heard It There First

The New York Times confirms a story that first appeared in the Ugandan newspaper New Vision nearly two months ago: that the US military aided Operation Lighting Thunder.
The American military helped plan and pay for a recent attack on a notorious Ugandan rebel group, but the offensive went awry, scattering fighters who carried out a wave of massacres as they fled, killing as many as 900 civilians.
The Times suggests that the US failed to prepare the Ugandan troops for some predictable contingencies. For example, the troops "did little or nothing to protect nearby villages, despite a history of rebel reprisals against civilians."

Because the operation's failure had such serious consequences--Kony's escape, the death of 900 Congolese, the displacement of 10,000 more--it's easy to condemn the US military for its participation in this mission. But it's important to remember that even the best operations can go awry. This one, for example, seems to have handicapped by some unexpected fog that threw off the timing. And it's not clear exactly what role the US played--or how much latitude they had to pressure the Ugandans to improve the planning.

In any case, I find I'm not as angry about this as I might have expected. I'm on record, after all, for initially praising the US for deciding to participate in this mission. Diplomacy isn't going to work with Kony or the LRA; sometimes, the only solution is military. Make no mistake: The autopsy should be done; the lessons should be learned. But my gut reaction is that it's a shame the mission didn't work out, not that it's a shame we participated.

On a different note, I wish the Times would give credit to New Vision. How hard would it be for the newspaper of record to give a little nod to their African colleagues, working at 1/50th their pay and with one thousandth of their resources? A slight rewrite in the third paragraph would have sufficed: "The United States has been training Ugandan troops in counterterrorism for several years. The Ugandan newspaper New Vision first broke the story of an American involvement in this operation, but details regarding the extent and nature of the US role have remained murky. According to senior American military officials, it is the first time the United States has helped plan such a specific military offensive with Uganda."

If I were an editor at New Vision, I'd want to dig as deeply as I could into the autopsy of this mission and the role the US played. The American journalists have gotten the US military's side of the story. They've said, in effect, don't blame us: "In the end, it wasn't our operation." It's up to Ugandan reporters to get the Ugandan side of this story. How do they feel about the American role?

I'd also be tempted to write the NYT a letter congratulating them on their "scoop," and pointing out that Ugandan readers had been in the know for the better part of two months. But that's just me.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Memo to ICG and Enough

For much of the past decade, the International Crisis Group and (later on) Enough have said that the key to peace in the Congo lies in neutering the FDLR.* And for just as long, I've insisted that just because Kagame tells you that his troops are in Congo to chase down the FDLR (or that they are not, but that if they were--wink wink--it would be because of the FDLR), doesn't mean it's true.

Let me suggest that current events allow us to turn this into a testable hypothesis. If the FDLR is really the crux of the issue, as ICG and Enough have consistently maintained over the years, then we can expect to see Rwanda take advantage of its invitation into the Congo to engage in a systematic, concentrated effort to extirpate the FDLR and then return home. Kabila has said the Rwandan soldiers will be done and gone by the end of February, but to be fair, let's give them an extra month or two. If that happens, I'll be glad to eat crow. But if the Rwandans overstay their welcome in Congo, don't appear to engage in an energetic effort to hunt down the FDLR, and leave behind--if and when they do leave--a covert commercial network that continues to siphon off Congolese resources, then can we stop taking Kagame at his word? And can we then focus on the resources--a topic those two organizations have until recently treated as a secondary consideration?
*Here are four examples from each group:

12/11/08, Enough: "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."

6/3/08, Enough: In 1994, at Rwanda’s moment of greatest need, the world turned its back. The Rwandan genocide and the subsequent flight of the genocidaires into the Democratic Republic of the Congo spawned eastern Congo’s complex crisis—one that has led to the deaths of 5.4 million Congolese and threatens the future of millions more. The world has had 14 years to take action against the perpetrators of the genocide and those who now terrorize eastern Congo in their name, but the international response remains sorely inadequate. Absent an international action plan to finally remove this scourge, eastern Congo will continue to suffer.

3/19/08, Enough: As ENOUGH has argued in a previous strategy paper international efforts to end the crisis must concurrently negotiate an end to the conflict in North Kivu province between the Congolese government and dissident Congolese General Laurent Nkunda, and remove the predatory Rwandan Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, from eastern Congo.

9/10/07, Enough: The international community must immediately develop a "carrots and sticks" approach to avoid the resumption of full-scale war and deal with the intertwined challenges of Nkunda and the FDLR.

1/29/09, International Crisis Group: Kigali and Kinshasa should immediately suspend their joint military operations until they define clearer military and political objectives for their new cooperation, work with the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) and humanitarian agencies to minimise the risk to civilians of any combat and develop a comprehensive strategy to foster disarmament of the Rwandan Hutu insurgents (FDLR).

5/12/05, ICG: The continued existence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo of 8,000 to 10,000 Hutu rebels with links to the 1994 genocide in their home country, Rwanda, is a key source of regional instability. Though too weak to imperil Rwanda's government, and though many of its members are not themselves genocidaires, the FDLR (Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda) gives Kigali justification for continued interference in the Congo and threats to invade.

12/17/04, ICG: A key bargain that remains unfulfilled is definitive Rwandan withdrawal in exchange for disarming of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the insurgent force with strong links to the génocidaires of 1994. It is time to end the cycle of impunity: donors should link progress on these agreements directly to their aid and those who undermine the agreements need to be held personally responsible for their actions.

1/24/03, ICG: Rwanda’s four-year occupation of the Kivus did not deal successfully with the Hutu rebels who have been supported and re-supplied by the Congolese government. Since the Rwandan army’s withdrawal, all Rwandan Hutu units previously based on Kinshasa-held territory have now joined forces with their comrades in the East. They have regrouped under the name of Forces démocratiques de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), an organisation created three years before in Kinshasa, and constitute a military force of 15,000 to 20,000 in the Kivus that remains, despite the recent reduction of external support from Kinshasa, a genuine security concern for Rwanda.

Now in fairness, it must be said that most of the reports these two organizations publish are informative and useful. A few even seem to recognize that the FDLR is not the primary source of the region's problem. For example, this ICG report from October 2007 seems to me to give the FDLR the right degree of emphasis. But too often, these two organizations--the second one is a partial offshoot of the first--have spoken as if the FDLR were the central, key, and abiding problem in the region. And that just isn't so.

By contrast, the reports from HRW, AI, the UN's Special Experts, and others have been more balanced. They acknowledge--no one would deny--that getting rid of the ex-genocidaires in eastern Congo would be a good thing. The FDLR have been killing and raping a lot of Congolese, and they provide Kagame with a perfect pretext for continuing Rwanda's overt or covert presence in Congo. But they recognize, in a way that these two NGOs have not, that the FDLR is a problem but not the problem, a symptom rather than the underlying disease. It's a degree of emphasis, but it makes all the difference.

Their reports, in fact, strike me as the converse of a lot of the stuff that comes out of the World Bank. It doesn't matter how chaotic, corrupt, and mismanaged a country is. The World Bank will robotically issue reports declaring that prospects are good for development, if only the country does X and Y and Z. In fact, the more disastrously run a country is, the better the World Bank finds its prospects for development to be. (Like a realtor promising a prospective buyer that the dump they're being shown has "real potential.") It does that by disaggregating the economy from the government, so that the economy becomes some autonomous piece of machinery that can be fixed through the straightforward application of a set of "instrumentalities." The resulting policy prescriptions are invariably sophisticated and daunting--but totally divorced from reality. Because of course the people in government use their power to access the country's wealth. In fact, for many African leaders and bureaucrats, that's the point of being in government.

Just as the World Bank ignores the political side of the equation, ICG and Enough have tended to ignore the economic side. Too often, they've written as though the resources were a secondary issue, and the political dimensions of the conflict were primary. Whereas, as I've argued for years, what's needed is more analysis of the political economy of the conflict. This is what Paul Collier and his colleagues have been doing at a theoretical level, and what Global Witness, for example, has been doing at nitty-gritty, local and regional levels.

Global Witness: The Most Relevant NGO of them All

In a post on 12/29/08, I noted that the recently passed UN resolution re-upping MONUC was relatively weak on resource exploitation:
Moreover, the UN's new mandate for MONUC is weak when it comes to natural resources. It calls on the government of the DRC "to conduct... a mapping exercise of the main sites of illegal exploitation." And it calls on MONUC to use its "monitoring and inspection capacities" to curtail the illicit trade.

Neither of these proposals is likely to accomplish much. Ask peacekeepers to take notes, and you are all-but guaranteeing that they'll have a lot to take notes about. And telling the DRC government to make a map and check it twice--well, I'm not sure how many illegal coltan or tin traders are quaking in their boots as a result.
Global Witness has just published a letter it sent to MONUC chief Alan Doss asking that MONUC take a more active role in policing natural resources. Needless to say, I think it puts its finger on exactly what is needed.
Mr. Alan Doss
Special Representative of the Secretary-General
U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Kinshasa, DRC
5 February 2009

Dear Mr. Doss,

Thank you for your letter of 12 January 2009. We very much appreciate your support for Global Witness’s work on natural resources and conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and are keen to work with MONUC on this issue.

We also recognise the challenges of peacekeeping in eastern DRC, particularly at a time when the joint military operations by Congolese and Rwandan troops have thrown the region into a renewed state of political flux. Whatever the impact of this development, however, DRC’s recent history suggests that natural resource exploitation and security will continue to be intermeshed for many years to come. This link therefore needs to be addressed in the search for long-term solutions to the conflict.

As you point out, Security Council resolution 1856 establishes protection of civilians as MONUC’s priority. We believe that this is entirely appropriate and necessary. We believe, moreover, that this underscores the need for MONUC to take action to suppress the trade in minerals that finance the armed groups. As the December 2008 Group of Experts report makes clear and resolution 1856 acknowledges, the finances derived from the mineral trade are what sustain the armed groups and their capacity to commit abuses against the civilian population.

Indeed, this is why the Security Council has called on MONUC to “use its monitoring and inspection capacities to curtail the provision of support to illegal armed groups derived from illicit trade in natural resources.” The resolution makes it clear that the monitoring and inspection – which you mentioned in your letter – are a precursor to action, rather than ends in themselves. The resolution “authorizes MONUC to use all necessary means” to carry out this task. By invoking Chapter VII powers to break the links between support for illegal armed groups and illicit trade in natural resources, the Security Council has made this an urgent priority.

We would be very grateful for any details you can share on how MONUC intends to execute this aspect of its mandate. We remain willing to contribute information and ideas on this issue. [My emphases]

Yours sincerely,

Patrick Alley
The resources are the crux of the issue--and always have been. Global Witness has consistently identified the centrality of resources to the conflict, performed outstanding research on the issue, and helped bring it to the forefront of discussion in a way that no other NGO has done. (Although shout-outs are also due to groups like Fatal Transactions, Southern Africa Resource Watch, and a couple of others, who I in no way mean to slight by applauding GW.)

P.S. Just to be clear: I don't know the GW people from Adam's off ox. Nor do they know me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

We Need an Information Network

This story on how the internet is reaching remote African villages prompted this thought:

Train an extended network of educated local people in the Kivus to report on developments in their area. Provide them with cell phones that they can use to call, toll-free, an information hub in, say, Goma. The hub would focus on issues of specific concern to the Kivus: resource management and rape, to begin with. This would keep us abreast of developments, and enable us to develop a more comprehensive and up-to-date response to crises as they occur.

Photo: Congolese villagers watch as Rwandan troops march through the village of Pinga in eastern Congo, February 5, 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

New Film by Michel on Katanga

Good news. A new film by Thierry Michel is out, this one about resource exploitation in Katanga.

Can I just suggest to Thierry that he make his films available in a DVD format playable in the US and Canada? There's a market on this side of the Atlantic too.

Stop Ripping Off Your Country--A How-To Guide for African Presidents

From the Guardian:
A how-to guide for the political leaders of poor countries on how to manage natural resources was launched this week, aimed at ending the so-called "resource curse" plaguing the economic development of poor nations rich in oil, gas and other natural assets.

The Resource Charter [website here] is an 11-point plan prepared by a group of high-profile economists, lawyers and political scientists, including Michael Spence, 2001 laureate of the Nobel prize in economics; Robert Conrad, an expert on natural resources economics at Duke University, and Tony Venables and Paul Collier, professors of economics at Oxford University.

"We want to provide a policy toolkit," says Collier, who is also the author of the 2008 book The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. "We're not here to tell government off. We are saying to them: 'If you want to turn national assets into broad-based development, these are the key steps that you need to get right'. These steps are not obvious, as governments and societies have got them wrong over the years."
Question: But what happens when the governments aren't interested in using the resources for development? What if they're mostly interested in using them to pay off friends and buy off enemies? It's not exactly a hypothetical question. What's the agenda for activists in Africa, and their allies here in the developed world, to force them to use these resources for good?

Kouchner: It Wasn't Illegal

So Kouchner's defense appears to be that he never, as foreign minister, asked Omar Bongo to cough up the money he owed Kouchner's health advisory company--in other words, that he never mixed his private affairs with his public responsibilities.

It should be noted that his accuser, Pierre Pean, is all that one might want in an accuser: a partisan wingnut upset with Kouchner for everything from his glamorous lifestyle to his rapprochement with the Kagame government. And his book is a jumble of policy disputes tendered as character faults mixed with a whiff of anti-semitism that even those of us not particularly sensitive to the smell can detect. Pean's previous oeuvre argued that since Kagame's RPF shot down President Juvénal Habyarimana's plane, the event that triggered the 1994 genocide, that Kagame himself bears a large measure of responsibility for the genocide. (Most reasonable observers believe that it's possible that the RPF shot down the plane, but that the perpetrators, led by Colonel Théoneste Bagosora and his merry band of interahamwe, are of course primarily responsible for the killings.)

Pean may be a little deranged, but unfortunately for Kouchner, that doesn't bear on the truth of the one specific allegation that has brought the French political class to its feet, straining for a view of the crash: That Kouchner essentially traded on his connections and reputation to make cynical and highly remunerative deals with a couple of Africa's sleaziest dictators. He may not have been the enforcer in this little arrangement, but it sure looks like he was the barker. Nor has Kouchner specifically denied that allegation. Instead, he's attempted to reframe it as an honest effort to improve these countries' health care systems. Which may have been the story he told himself as he pocketed the money, but shouldn't pass anyone's smell test.

Here's the best account I've read so far.
And here's Kouchner defending himself.

It's Ilunga Time for the Congolese

Back in 2004, a panel of linguists identified the 100 most difficult words to translate. These are words that are so idiosyncratic, so culturally specific, that it is nearly impossible to find an equivalent word in another tongue. In second place, for example, was the Yiddish word “shlimazl,” which is “a chronically unlucky person.” Coming in 7th was the Portuguese word “saudade,” which means “the hope that what is being longed for might return, even if that return is unlikely or so distant in the future to be almost of no consequence to the present.”

But the most difficult word to translate, according to the linguists, was the Tshiluba word “ilunga,” meaning “a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time but never a third time.”

Reading the Congolese newspapers, it strikes me that it is now ilunga time in the Congo. There is in the air an anger, a militancy, I haven't seen before. The Congolese believe that the Rwandans and Ugandans have entered the Congo to establish, under the auspices of the international community, some sort of "free trade zone" in the Kivus and Ituri with the express purpose of exploiting their country's natural resources. And this prospect is infuriating the Congolese in a way that even the 1996 and 1998 invasions did not. They feel like they're being sold out, as much by France and the United States as by their own president.

As I've said before, not all dots necessarily connect. But here's what the Congolese see:
12/16/08: Herman Cohen, a nefarious influence peddler now working on behalf of the French, publishes an op-ed in the New York Times proposing an economic common market in the region. The market "would allow the free movement of people and trade. It would give Rwandan businesses continued access to Congolese minerals and forests. The products made from those raw materials would continue to be exported through Rwanda."

12/16/08: Ugandan troops helicopter into the Congo to stamp out the LRA. Kony, apparently alerted to the danger, manages to escape an hour or two before they arrive. Dubbed Lighting Thunder, the operation is described as a joint Ugandan-Southern Sudanese-Congolese effort, although the latter two's contributions are minimal. The widespread belief that the US was involved in its coordination is later confirmed by an NGO with close ties to the new administration.

12/25/08: The LRA disperses into northern Congo, where, like some sort of hideous Terminator, it reassembles itself and on Christmas Day slaughters several hundred innocent Congolese, apparently just for the hell of it. The Congolese death toll will soon approach 1,000.

1/13/09: Heritage Oil announces the discovery of a "world class" oil find in Lake Albert, straddling the Uganda-Congo border.

1/20/09: Five thousand Rwandan troops enter the DRC to root out the FDLR, under an arrangement so secretive that Kabila didn't even tell the chief of his own armed forces or the speaker of parliament about it. Kabila later goes on TV and promises that the Rwandans will be out of the Congo by the end of February.

1/28/09: La Lettre du Continent reports that 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.
Cynics point out the following:
1) The Rwandans occupied eastern Congo from 1998 to 2003 and failed to crush the FDLR. In fact, they didn't even spend much time chasing them, pre-occupied, as they were, by looting Congolese resources.
2) The FDLR are semi-integrated into local communities, which makes it all the more unlikely that the Rwandans will be able to conduct a quick, surgical strike against them.
3) That some eyewitnesses say that the Rwandan army arrived with their women, children, and cattle in tow. That hardly suggests that they are planning a quick return.
4) That the Ugandan troops ostensibly hunting down the LRA have instead hunkered down near the oil-rich Lake Albert, several hundred kilometers from where the LRA were last spotted.

The Congolese sometimes appear paranoid, but in their defense nothing in their history gives them reason not to be. And you must admit: it is an odd constellation of events.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A few Questions Raised by the Save Darfur Discussion

So the Darfur people are having a terrific kerfuffle over what to do next, which I will now summarize using a medieval literary genre.
The Head: The situation's horribly complicated, there are no good guys, and the only solution is to try to bring pressure on everyone to behave a smidgen more nicely.
The Heart: Only citizen-generated activism can move the US and other major governments to hit Bashir and his janjaweed thugs hard enough to take notice.
The Head: But that won't stop the killing, since the number of thugs operating in the region has proliferated wildly: even if you take out Bashir, people will still be killing each other.
The Heart: It can't hurt, and besides, Bashir is still at the root of this mess.
The Head: But in the meantime, Bashir is taking out his anger on those of us on the ground--the humanitarians and specialists--while you activists (knowingly) promote a simplistic view of the tragedy.
The Heart: Perhaps we do, but unless we succeed at convincing the US and China to act, you'll be staying in Darfur, handing out bags of rice to raped mothers, until Nyala freezes over.

This is what they call a teachable moment. And while I don't have the answers, I thought it might help to generalize the questions, since they've come up, in one guise or another, at nearly every politico-humanitarian crisis to have occurred since Biafra. Figuring out what the right questions are is a start toward developing a framework for responding to future situations. So here's my first stab at it.

What policies undertaken by the US and other major industrial powers have been shown to discourage other countries from harming their citizens? When and under what conditions are those policies effective? When are they not? What perverse impacts might they entail? How do we tell, in any given situation, whether the policies we pursue are likely to be effective, neutral, or perverse? If the political process is unable to reach a consensus on pursuing a given policy, are there any special dangers in pursuing halfway measures? What if some of the impacts will be bad and others good, some short-term and others long-term, and some likely and others less likely? How do we weigh all of these costs and advantages against the costs and advantages of pursuing some other policy? Or are there times and places when instrumental logic is inadequate, when we simply shouldn’t cooperate with a regime because it has crossed some profound moral boundary?

Stipulate that most governments most of the time seek to get along with other governments; they seek to cooperate on areas of shared concern, resolve tensions peacefully, and avoid quarreling. Stipulate also that how a government treats its own people can become a matter of concern but rarely a fundamental interest to citizens of other countries. (Former countrymen or co-religionists being a partial exception.)

How effective, then, can citizen lobbying efforts be at encouraging the governments of major powers to adopt humanitarian policies? When and under what conditions can these efforts be effective? What tactics are most effective? What policies are more likely to be adopted? Do activists run the risk of over-simplifying or exaggerating the situation in order to “market” it to a broader audience? Does that sometimes entail a tasteless application of mass marketing techniques? If so, who, really, is insulted? Those whom the activists seek to help, or merely other activists with more sophisticated palates? On the other hand, does the necessary over-simplification of complex political problems entail the promotion of policies that will have predictably negative impacts?

Finally, who gets to make these decisions?

Without going into a Ph.D.'s worth of discussion, I think we can agree that some situations, at least in retrospect, were relatively straightforward. The divestment campaign against South Africa, for example, seems to me to have been vindicated by history. Others, like the "cause" of Biafra, misconstrued the situation--describing it as a genocide where there was only a terrible amount of reciprocal nastiness--and were probably badly misguided. (The evidence that there was never any genocidal intent on the government's part is that the killing stopped once the war did. Nigeria, as troubled as it is, is better off today than it would have been had Biafra seceded. And Africa, as a whole, would be that much worse off if secession had proven a viable option.)

I would argue, again without going into a dissertation-length discussion, that the cluster of questions I've posed could have gone some way toward elucidating those situations in real time, and not just in retrospect. And that therefore they might serve as a useful basis for thinking about new situations as they arise. How they might apply to Darfur is not for me to answer--in this brawl, I'm just the piano player.

The Women of Congo

While we're on the topic of African women being photographed, some Congolese women are the subject of this art installation in Chicago.

The Trains of Kibera

From JR Art:
Today, after more than a year of planning, 2000 square meters of rooftops have been covered with photos of the eyes and faces of the women of Kibera [the slum on the outskirts of Nairobi]. The material used is water resistant so that the photo itself will protect the fragile houses in the heavy rain season. The train that passes on this line through Kibera at least twice a day has also been covered with eyes from the women that live below it. With the eyes on the train, the bottom half of the their faces have be pasted on corrugated sheets on the slope that leads down from the tracks to the rooftops. The idea being that for the split second the train passes, their eyes will match their smiles and their faces will be complete.

And someday, this will be seen on Google Earth, although I'm not quite sure why the faces don't fit together. It looks like one of those block puzzles where you have to slide the grooved pieces around on a square to get them to align: