Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Dream of Something that Would Never Be the Same

Soul Power: Coming soon to a theater near you. (Provided you live near an art-house theater.)

From the press release:
In 1974, the most celebrated American R&B acts of the time came together with the most renowned musical groups in Africa for a 12-hour, three-night long concert held in Kinshasa, Zaire. The dream-child of Hugh Masekela and Stewart Levine, this music festival became a reality when they convinced boxing promoter Don King to combine the event with “The Rumble in the Jungle,” the epic fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, previously chronicled in the Academy Award-winning documentary WHEN WE WERE KINGS.

SOUL POWER is a verité documentary about this legendary music festival (dubbed “Zaire ‘74”), and it depicts the experiences and performances of such musical luminaries as James Brown, BB King, Bill Withers, Celia Cruz, among a host of others. At the peak of their talents and the height of their careers, these artists were inspired by this return to their African roots, as well as the enthusiasm of the Zairian audience, to give the performances of their lives. The concert has achieved mythological significance as the definitive Africa(n)-American musical event of the 20th Century.

Link Dump

Blogging is light this week because of family obligations. Two new very important reports are out. Global Witness has a new report out on "War and the Militarisation of Conflict" and Human Rights Watch has one out on "Sexual Violence and Military Reform." I'll have more comment on them next week.

From Global Witness:
The report details how companies are buying from suppliers who trade in minerals from the warring parties. Many mining areas in eastern DRC are controlled by rebels and the national army, who violently exploit civilians to retain access to valuable minerals, including cassiterite (tin ore), coltan and gold. Cassiterite and coltan are used to make mobile phones, computers and other electronics, among other things.

Global Witness wrote to 200 companies and found that most had no controls in place to stop ‘conflict minerals’ entering their supply chain. It says governments, including the UK and Belgium, are undermining their own development assistance and diplomatic efforts to end the 12-year conflict by failing to crack down on companies based within their borders.

Informed by on-the-ground investigations and interviews in North and South Kivu, the report reveals that despite being on opposing sides, the national Congolese army and rebel groups, in particular the FDLR, regularly cooperate with each other, carving up territory and occasionally sharing the spoils of illegal mining. It warns that the recent integration of another armed group, the CNDP, into the national army will make it easier for the former rebels to get ‘in on the act of exploiting the mines.

From HRW:
The 56-page report, "Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone: Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo," documents persistent sexual violence by the army, and the limited impact of government and donor efforts to address the problem. The report looks closely at the conduct of the army's 14th brigade as an example of the wider problem of sexual violence by soldiers. The brigade has been implicated in many acts of sexual violence in North and South Kivu provinces, often in the context of massive looting and other attacks on civilians. Despite ample information about the situation, military, political, and judicial authorities have failed to take decisive action to prevent rape.

"We have seen progress in the prosecution of ordinary soldiers for sexual violence," said Juliane Kippenberg, Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch's Children's Rights Division. "But senior army officers continue to be untouched. Their own crimes and their command responsibility for the crimes of their soldiers must be investigated and held to account."

The UN has issued an unenlightening self-justification for continuing Monuc's support for Kimia II, a decision I believe will one day be judged as one of the saddest and most disgraceful in the history of the UN.

Radio Okapi has a good article on the hundred or so judges who were summarily dismissed on Wednesday over allegations of corruption. Some of the judges are apparently upset about the double standard shown to the judiciary, since parliament and the executive are well-known for their corruption. [Somehow, this doesn't seem like the strongest appeal.] The radio station rounds up several other reactions here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Obama in Ghana

Amid the hosannas, a critique:
At every opportunity, the President emphasized internal African causes for the continent's woes, highlighting especially the need for good governance and ending corruption. So he argued, for example, that "you're not going to get investment without good governance." That's just wrong. For decades most foreign investment in Africa has gone to South Africa first, even under apartheid, and then to such oil-rich nations as Angola and Nigeria. First and foremost, western companies, backed energetically by their embassies, are after Africa's resources--oil, gas and to a lesser extent minerals. These are the very sectors where we find vast corruption, environmental degradation, the vicious exploitation of African labor, and, often enough, Africa's wars....

Of course Obama's obsession about appalling governance is not wrong; I share it completely. Africans have for decades been betrayed by a veritable pageant of monstrous leaders, one more egregious than the other. But another truth is that the United States actively backed almost all of them, and if the US didn't, France did; that's part of the neocolonial record. The west also supplied many of the arms that were used in the appalling internal conflicts that have roiled Africa for so long. Even today, the US, Britain and France continue to remain close to many African leaders whose democratic credentials leave much to be desired....

"Development depends on good governance," Obama lectured Ghana's Parliament. "That is the change that can unlock Africa's potential." With all due respect to the President, this is malarkey. The reality, which surely Obama grasps, is that for centuries, year in and year out, far more of Africa's wealth and resources pour out of the continent to the rich world than the west provides Africa through all sources, from aid to investment to trade. Good governance will not end this perverse truth.

Beyond that, even if every African country was led by a saint, they could do nothing about the severe environmental and economic damage that global warming--for which Africa has no responsibility whatever--is inflicting across the continent. Obama actually mentioned this in his speech, yet ignores it with his obsessive fixation on Africa's sole responsibility for its problems.

Even the most exemplary African leaders could do nothing about the destructive impact on African development of the present worldwide economic crisis, for which Africa has no responsibility whatever.

No African leader has the slightest influence on the drastic increase in food prices that is causing such suffering, including outright starvation, to millions of Africans.

Even a continent of Mandelas couldn't change the massive subsidies that western governments provide to their agribusinesses. When they're in Ghana, the Obamas should do some comparison shopping. They may be taken aback to find that it costs more to buy a locally-bred chicken than a subsidized one that's been shipped frozen all the way from Europe. To this, Obama reassured his Ghanaian hosts, "America can do more to promote trade and investment."

On the other hand, Bill Easterly, the apostle for the view that the best way to help Africa is to do doing nothing at all, loved the speech.

Enough's Action Plan: Not as Tough as it Needs to Be

The Enough Project just published a report based on extensive trip it took to the Kivus with a crew from 60 Minutes. The good news is that Enough recognizes that what the international community is doing right now is utterly insufficient.

It recognizes
"that the conventional image of Congo as a failed state is at variance with a dark and little-acknowledged reality: that the Congolese government often promotes insecurity and lawlessness to allow its top officials to enrich themselves in the illegal smuggling of Congo’s natural resources. Nor do policymakers fully acknowledge the continuing role that neighboring governments—particularly Rwanda and Uganda—play in fuelling violence and profiteering from Congo’s state weakness and chronic conflict."

Enough also finds that Operation Umoja Wetu reshuffled the deck and gave FARDC, CNDP, and Rwanda increase access to looting and illegal commerce to provide for their families. The CNDP and Rwanda have expanded their role in mineral smuggling in the Kivus, an area the size of Oregon that is isolated due to extremely poor roads. The integration process left the command and control of many CNDP units intact. Even though they are wearing Congolese army uniforms they continue to pursue their own agenda.

It notes that the military impact of Umoja Wetu was slight: It displaced the FDLR from some of the mines that it had controlled in North Kivu and put Nkunda’s former forces in control of those areas, but left the FDLR’s chain of command and international network intact. But it applauded the political impact, for providing a unique opportunity to improve relations between Kinshasa and Kigali.

And it recognizes that Kimia II has been a catastrophic failure and should be ended forthwith: The already disjointed efforts to reform the Congolese army have been complicated, and even compromised, by the disorganized nature of this integration, as internal divisions and indiscipline within the army intensify. Several war criminals have been knowingly integrated in the government army command structure, which itself has numerous commanders with horrific human rights records. Bosco Ntagana, the new de facto military leader of the CNDP and an indicted International Criminal Court, or ICC, war criminal, is just the tree that hides the forest of major human rights abusers who are now in command positions. No vetting whatsoever has occurred in the process of integration. “How can you stop impunity when you have these kinds of people in command positions within the Congolese army?” asked one official from an international [ngo].

To all of which, I say Precisely! and Welcome on board! This seems to me to be an enormous advance over their earlier analyses, which so often placed the red herring of the fdlr at the very center of the problem.

When it comes to recommendations, I have a number of disagreements with them, most of which stem from their insistence that the international community work through the congolese government to set these problems right. I tend to believe the Congolese government is a big part of the problem, and would prefer a more direct interventionist force from Monuc, coupled with much more direct assistance to congolese ngos. I've indicated their recommendations in italics, with my responses below.

"Donors and governments with military expertise should work with the Congolese government to forge a major multilateral, diplomatically supported, highly human rights conditioned, decade-long commitment to help reform the Congolese army so that it becomes a source of security to the civilian population rather than one of predation.
But in the immediate term, these donor militaries should work directly with Monuc forces. It will take at least a decade to reform the Congo's armed forces--and it is an open question just how far they can be reformed in the context of the Congolese state, which at the moment is essentially a predatory regime.

Recent lessons learned from army reform endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan should be applied to the Congo. MONUC should further embed personnel in government army units directly.

Applied by whom and to whom? I would hope to Monuc forces by Western governments such as England, Canada, and the U.S. I see no reason to embed monuc in Congolese government army units; if anthing, the reverse should be done.

"Ultimately, if civilian protection is going to be the centerpiece of the mandate for MONUC, there has to be a reset on how the mission is deployed, a major increase in the resources it is given to do its job, and a unified interpretation of the mandate and rules of engagement throughout the chain of command."
Yes, but more than that: Monuc needs to dramatically strengthened, and then it basically needs to take over the chief functions of a state, at least in the Kivus and possibly in Ituri and Orientale.

The international community should pursue a more effective counter-insurgency campaign against the FDLR, by publicly identifying the true war criminals and genocidaires and attempt to induce the rest to turn themselves in. It should sever the FDLR's ties to FDLR leaders living abroad, and it should help the Congolese government secure former FDLR mining sites. [This is a summary, not a direct quote.]
Yes, yes, yes, and no. The yes-es are self-explanatory. But on the last one: why is it incumbent on the international community to secure productive mines, and then simply hand them over to an organization known for using mining profits to rape, pillage, and murder its own civilians? Why replace one gang of thugs with another, just because the latter happen to have a flag and a seat at the UN? The mines should be placed under international mandate until the Congolese government proves itself able to manage its resources and protect its citizens.
Let me put this differently: The price the Congo pays now for its systemic governance failures is, in effect, a loss of sovereignty: because it can't use the enormous resources available to it to establish an army capable of imposing order, it has lost control of the eastern third of its country. For the international community to invest money and blood to establish control of that region, and then restore it unconditionally to the government, would be an abdication of the responsibility it incurred by taking control of the region. It is one thing to demand, as activists sometimes do, that the international community step in to protect people who are either unprotected or under assault from their own government; it is another to demand that the international community relinquish control of a region it has taken control of to a state that it knows will fail to protect its own people.

Enough then proposes that the trade in minerals from eastern Congo be made transparent, by tracing, auditing, and certifying them.

There are three problems with this idea: The first is that the FDLR trade mostly in gold, which is virtually untraceable. So Enough's approach is inapplicable to the main source of income for the nastiest group in the area. The second problem is that there are no good guys in the area to begin with. Just about everybody producing tin, tantalum or tungsten has blood on their hands, including the Congolese government. On a practical level, who gets to say which minerals, mined from exactly which mine, transported by exactly which company, taxed by exactly which authority, are clean enough or not--and on what basis would they make that decision? Third, the transaction costs of imposing a tracing, auditing, and certification scheme on the minerals coming out of eastern Congo are far too high. Remember: they are only worth $180 million; a pittance in the global scheme. It would be much easier for companies to simply stop sourcing their minerals from eastern Congo and buy them from safe harbor countries like Canada, Brazil, or Australia. (As in fact the Belgian trader Traxys has already decided to do.)

In fact, the only way to make the minerals work for the benefit of the people of eastern Congo--the only way to insure that they aren't used to exploit the people--is if the mines and transport routes are administered by the international community. If those mines could be used for the people's benefit, the results would be so extraordinary they would have a major demonstration effect: Look at all these schools, all these clinics and roads and electric grids, now available to us. The people of Congo would very quickly realize how big an investment they have in seeing to it that their mineral wealth is properly managed.

The Congolese government should suspend Kimia II and the international community should work with Kinshasa and with MONUC to plan for more effective military pressure on the FDLR command and control structure. Ideally, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom should plan and mount this operation.
Yes, but Monuc too needs to be pressured to end Kimia II, which is as much its baby as FARDC's. And yes--the world's major militaries need to be involved not just in eradicating the FDLR but in securing the Kivus against the array of militia operating in the region.

The international community should promote regional peace and economic cooperation.
No quarrel here. But the problem is not that still-fragile relationships need to be nourished. Rwanda and Congo proved capable of dropping their decade-long enmity the second it became clear that they had more to gain than lose by cooperating, specifically on the proposed methane gas plant straddling Lake Kivu between the two countries. Ditto, I suspect, with the natural gas extraction plant proposed for Lake Albert between Uganda and Congo. What's needed in these cases is less psychotherapy than hard-headed negotiators trained in handling these kinds of cross-border resource deals. Dispatching these sort of guys as advisors to the two sides would be a useful contribution, and help both pairs of countries get past whatever humps stand in the way of reaching mutually beneficial arrangements.

The paper ends with some nice talk about ending accountability and focusing on sexual violence: "Donors should increase investment in the long-term reform of the Congolese justice system so that it prosecutes the warlords..." it says. Also, the "U.S. and European Union should make ending violence against women and girls a central part of their diplomatic engagement and aid conditionality with the governments in Congo and Rwanda."
Again, these are good ideas, but I don't know why Enough insists on working through them in partnership with the Congolese government. The Congolese government is a part of the problem; by definition, it cannot be part of the solution. By contrast, there are a plethora of local, indigenous self-empowerment organizations that we can and should be supporting until such time as the government proves itself a reliable ally.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Between the Eagle and the Dragon

From Congoblog:

Mineral Contract Renegotiation: Time to Get off the Pot

Le Potentiel reports that a meeting of ngos organized by two Open Society-funded groups, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW), concluded that the Congolese government needs to put a stop to its endless process of contract renegotiations with the mining companies and publish the results. "The state is primarily responsible for the continuing chaos in the mining sector," said Claude Kabemba, the SARW director.

Asadho: French Firm Buying Congolese Uranium

The well-respected Congolese human rights group Asadho reports that the French nuclear power plant firm Areva is buying uranium from artisinal miners working at the Shinkolobwe mine in Katanga. The Shinkolobwe mine, which produced the uranium used in the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, is supposedly closed and locked up, although occasional Western visitors have reported easy access to the site. The report says that authorities are "selling" rights to the mine, and then buying up and re-selling the ore to local purchasers.

Asadho previously reported that Areva signed a deal with the DRC government in March to prospect and mine for uranium in Katanga, a deal condemned by Asadho because its terms were secret and provided no assurances regarding worker safety or environmental impacts. The deal was brokered by Georges Forrest and finalized during Sarkozy's visit to Kinshasa in late March. IPIS has reported on the continuing activity of artisinal miners in the area and episodic environmental accidents involving radioactive ore.

[Update,7/15: I emailed a request for more information from Areva and will post their reply when I receive it.]

South Kivu Now Set to Be "Saved"

L'Antenne Libre ASFCO reports that the humanitarian situation in South Kivu has significantly deteriorated in the last few days since authorities announced they would begin pursuing the FDLR in that province. The territories of Mwenga, Shabunda, Kalehe, Kabare and Walungu have been particularly hard hit. The Congolese NGO says that the government's apparent advances may prove illusory, as the FDLR simply melt into the forest when challenged, only to retake the towns and villages once the army departs--and then, to engage in reprisal killings.

Music, Religion, and Politics

Congolese music and religion tend to shy away from overt political expression. This article by Ed Rackley on Bundu dia Kongo and this review of Bob White's book, Rumba Rules, review the possibilities and dangers of dissent in popular culture.

Money quotes:
[White's] analysis of four recent love lyrics as encoded cries of social uncertainty and isolation -- the kind of interpretive leap that leaves many popular culture scholars flat on their ass with a twisted ankle -- isn't just convincing, it's wrenching. Also illuminated are the Mobutuist complicities of Luambo Franco, the compulsory daily animation politique in which workers at every level were required to sing and dance Mobutu's praises, the evolution and devolution of Wenge Musica, how hard it is to play simple Congolese chords or shake an insecticide-can maraca, the cassette trade, equatorial chieftancy, and the rise of libanga, the prepurchased shout-outs now integral to bandleaders' cash flow.

Rackley: Recent BDK experience marks a clear break with how religious groups of all stripes have historically responded to Congo’s long succession of repressive and brutal regimes. The trajectory of BDK spiritual leader and founder, Ne Muanda Nsemi, from academic lecturer and part-time minister in the late 1960s to gubernatorial candidate in the lead opposition party in 2006, to jailed and excoriated head of a ‘terrorist organization’ in 2008, reveals much about the spectacular failures of Congo’s body politic. Despite the massive loss of life, BDK is also a sign of enormous hope. The BDK challenge to a corrupt and predatory government—to the point of mortal sacrifice—is a long overdue sign of ‘politicization’ among Congo’s destitute and illiterate masses.

Mobutu's Millions Stay in the Family

In a story too depressing to comment on, BBC reports that the Swiss banks holding six million dollars of Mobutu's stolen monies will release those funds to the ex-dictator's heirs, after the banks' repeated efforts to encourage the Congolese government to repatriate the funds failed. It's not like they weren't warned.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Polite Silence

You would think a botched UN military operation that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, caused thousands of needless deaths, and led to untold numbers of rapes would at least merit a small mention in the Western media. You would think an operation branded a disaster by every major international humanitarian organization that has studied the issue would at least generate an op-ed or two in papers that pride themselves on their global reach. You would think an operation that has been vociferously condemned by active and former UN officials--an operation that everyone knew would be a fiasco--would set some tongues wagging, if only on the right-wing side of the spectrum, where UN-bashing rarely needs a good excuse to be indulged.

You would be wrong. Aside from one decent article in the Washington Post and one in Libre Belgique, the entire disaster of Kimia II has been utterly ignored by Western media. This is an astonishing abdication of responsibility. Yes, to be sure, the Western media have not covered the wars in the Congo with anything like the attention that they ought to have--given the number of people who have died. Yes, I get it: for the media, even the responsible media, one American life is worth 50 Arab or Palestinian lives is worth 1,000 African lives.

But these are deaths caused by our actions. Caused by the decisions of one man, an American, acting under the auspices of the United Nations, and with the blessing and say-so of our government, among others. It is criminal that this issue hasn't received more coverage in the press.

Nor is this simply a matter of "attention being paid." I cannot imagine, given the accumulation of evidence that the ngos have assembled regarding the operation's disastrous impact on Congolese, that Kimia II would be allowed to continue if it were being covered adequately by the media. Media attention begets official scrutiny; its absence invites--no, encourages--indifference.

A century ago, Mark Twain wrote a satirical Thanksgiving note condemning the United States for its complicity in King Leopold's brutal exploitation of his colony, which he had, avant la lettre, Orwellianly named the Congo Free State:
Let us be humbly grateful that the good king, our Pet & protege, due in hell these sixty-five years, is still spared to us to continue his work & ours among the friendless & the forsaken; & finally let us live in the blessed hope that when in the Last Great Day he is confronted with his unoffending millions upon millions of robbed, mutilated & massacred men, women & children, & requited to explain, he will be as politely silent about us as we have been about him.
For my part, I hope the massacred turn out to be not nearly so polite when Western editors show up.

Most Gold Smuggled out of Country

Radio Okapi reports that only 123 kilos of gold were officially processed and taxed last year by the Congolese state out of an estimated five tons produced annually. The rest was smuggled out of the country. Efforts to reduce smuggling by cutting the applicable tax to one-tenth the previous rate have proven largely unsuccessful, because most of the tax agents have become, in the lovely French expression, "even greater gourmands than before," and keep "demanding more jugs of wine."

Good Luck with that

From Africa Intelligence:
The vulture fund FG Hemisphere (AMI N°195) is now targeting mining companies. On July 7, the Congolese tax authority, the Direction Générale des Impôts (DGI), announced that the Groupement pour le Traitement du Terril de Lubumbashi (GTL) was not in a position to “honour a tax liability on profits for fiscal 2009 on 2008 revenues”, representing 6.56 billion Congolese francs or about USD 10 million. GTL’s shareholders include OM Group with 55%, Forrest Group with 25% and Gecamines with 20%. The DGI referred to a “garnishment order” taken out with respect to GTL’s accounts as being the cause of the difficulty, without saying who had taken it out.

However, GTL’s financial health is not in question. Contacted by Africa Mining Intelligence, Forrest Group said that the move was in fact an unsuccessful attempt by the American vulture fund FG Hemisphere Associate LLC to gain access to cash that should in normal circumstances be paid to Gecamines and the Congolese government. According to GFI spokesman Henry de Harenne : «There was blocking (of funds) around the month of March but this is not in any way linked to any inability on GTL’s part to pay its taxes.» In addition, GTL was finally able to pay off its tax liability to the Congolese government. GTL generates significant financial income for Gecamines. Indeed, GTL and its subsidiary STL (Société pour le Traitement du Terril de Lubumbashi) represent the state-owned company’s main source of revenue, around USD 100 million/year, which is roughly half its annual income.

FG Hemisphere took on the GTL consortium after its attempt before a Hong Kong court in December 2008 to gain access to entry fees paid by China Railway Group to Kinshasa as part of a deal exchanging infrastructure for commodities. The vulture fund is trying all possible means to lay its hands on Congolese cash since it bought a USD 104 million loan taken out in the 1980s by the Société Nationale d’Electricité Congolaise (SNEL), the Congo’s national electricity company, from the Bosnian company Energoinvest.
I suspect the vultures may have met their match in the Congolese state. Ed Rackley tells a story from Herodotus that may be relevant to this situation. Representatives from an occupying power (Athens?) visit a newly conquered but recalcitrant state that refuses to pay tribute. The messengers say, "We are here with the most powerful of gods, 'power' and 'force', so you must obey and pay us tribute." Receiving officials in the occupied land respond, "Oh that's nice, lucky you. We here are under two other gods, 'poverty' and 'incapacity'."

The moral here being that rule of law and force are impotent before the inertia of destitution, dysfunction and incapacity.

Quote of the Day

The war is far from over for ordinary civilians. Over 80 percent of the people we interviewed said that security is worse now compared to a year ago. The offensive against the FDLR was supposed to bring peace to eastern Congo, but our survey shows people are living in constant fear of violent attack. This suffering is not inevitable. It is happening because world leaders have decided that collateral damage is an acceptable price to pay for removing the FDLR. But as the people we met can testify, that price is far too high.

--Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam in the Democratic Republic of Congo

RIP, Amani Program

The disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program sponsored by the UN has been terminated, after posting consistently dismal results:
The Amani programme, intended for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the miltia of the armed groups of North and South Kivu was completed on 8 July 2009, with an assessment of 3,200 ex-combatants demobilised, a figure much lower than the 28,375 militia declared throughout the process. For Ross Mountain, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in the DRC, "the conclusion of the programme is a milestone in the Goma peace process."

The Amani programme was created following the Goma agreements of January 2008, to be used as framework for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the troops of the 22 armed groups, signatories of the Goma agreements.

Throughout its 15 month duration, the Programme experience numerous set backs on several occasions with groups constantly leaving the process and then returning after negotiation, only to continue recruiting members in violation of the peace agreements they signed.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Just End It

Alan Doss offered a limp defense of Kimia II last week at a briefing before the Security Council and in the pages of the Washington Times, even as evidence continued to mount that his decision to launch a military operation to extirpate the FDLR has been an unmitigated disaster for the people of Congo. After the briefing, the Security Council published a feeble statement of support for Doss patched up with enough caveats to cover their ass in the event anyone ever asks them why they allowed this debacle to continue.

Background for newbies: Early this year, UN peacekeepers in the Congo launched an ill-considered counter-insurgency campaign against a militia group in eastern Congo. To help field an operational Congolese army, Monuc, the UN mission to the Congo, bundled various enemy militias--including one under the command of a war criminal known as the Terminator--together with a rag-tag group of poorly trained and infrequently paid Congolese soldiers. Then, without any serious effort to integrate or train these forces for a complex counter-insurgency campaign, it set them loose against the one remaining militia in the region, the ex-genocidaires.

These were the remnants of the genocidal regime responsible for the murder of 500,000 to 800,000 Rwandans in the summer of 1994. While only a fraction of them participated in the genocide--most were children of the 1994 killers--they were led by men with an indisputable record for indiscriminate physical and sexual violence.

The results were disastrous. In the temperate language of Human Rights Watch, "The attacks on civilians from all sides have resulted in a significant increase in human rights violations over the past six months." And in a region already known for its high incidence of rape, the Congolese army has now become the primary perpetrator of sexual violence against women.

What makes these results particularly distressing is that they were entirely predictable. Indeed, many observers warned against the operation, including the Spanish General Vicente Diaz de Villegas, who late last year resigned his commission as Monuc force commander after learning what he would be asked to do with the resources available to him. Furthermore, there was an example readily at hand of the disasters that could ensue if the operation went awry. In December 2008, the US supported a Ugandan attempt to round-up the Lord's Resistance Army, the cult-like militia that has terrorized northern Uganda for the past two decades. When it failed, the LRA went on a killing spree, slaughtering more than a thousand people as the LRA fled into northeast Congo. And that operation, by contrast, was relatively well-organized.

In this case, Monuc greenlighted and set in motion an operation that required an entirely undisciplined army, in collaboration with known war criminals, to hunt down a murderous and vindictive militia, one that had already lived off the land for fifteen years. 

A host of NGOs have called upon the operation to be terminated, including Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and the International Crisis Group. And Dutch Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former commander for Monuc, recently said that current events in eastern Congo are "shameful" and "destroy the reputation of the UN and of MONUC." No doubt their collective voice, as well as reports from other UN departments such as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, helped bring these concerns to the Security Council, thus precipitating Doss's appearance.  

It would be reassuring to report that Doss's defense of the operation was at least well-thought through. It is not. He begins by suggesting that humanitarian organizations are sputtering naifs, "struggling to find words equal to their anger," and offering "well-meaning" recommendations that would only perpetuate the violence:  "Time and time again we have seen warlords and armed groups re-emerge and flourish when they sense hesitation and vulnerability." 

So what is to be done? Well, first says Doss, "the Congolese government must ensure discipline and end impunity within its own forces." To which one can only reply: well, yes. But what should we do in the meantime, and what if the Congolese government never does get a handle on its army? Come to think of it, shouldn't you have made sure you had a disciplined force in place before launching the operation?  If your child were being held hostage, would you entrust her rescue to drunken, unpaid, ill-equipped and poorly trained men with a propensity for rape? Or would you hold off until you had some reasonably capable force? 

Doss goes on to suggest that the Congolese soldiers haven't been paid because of the sudden drop in world commodity prices: Donor nations must "dig deeper to fund reforms that can help the army gain the confidence of the people." This is disengenuous. Doss knows perfectly well that the soldiers aren't being paid because the Congolese government is utterly corrupt. They weren't being paid regularly even during the commodity boom. Even if the international community could somehow ensure that the Congolese soldiers were paid on time, that would hardly be enough to make up for their lack of training and discipline.

And what of Monuc's mandate to protect civilians? "We are doing so every day across the Kivus," says Doss. "But we are thin on the ground and the reinforcements authorized by the Security Council last year are urgently needed so we can extend our protection network." Again, this begs the question: why didn't you wait for those reinforcements? And are you now implying that these extra 3,000 or so troops, nearly all of them to be drawn from second-tier armies such as India's, will be sufficient to guarantee civilian lives? It is hard to see how, given the extent of the field of operations and the limitations of these troops.

Doss ends by promising that a cornucopia of aid is in the works: "government authorities and donors have committed to a recovery and stabilization package to repair roads, rebuild schools and clinics, create jobs and expand the police presence..." These projects will give young men an alternative to banditry, says Doss. Never mind that the government has so far demonstrated zero interest in rebuilding the country's infrastructure elsewhere in the country.  Some "early action and quick funding" will get these projects rolling. 

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, a new Oxfam survey finds that "rape, forced labour, reprisal attacks and torture are surging in eastern Congo as the result of the recent UN-backed military offensive.''

The survey of 569 civilians living in 20 conflict-ridden communities across North and South Kivu shows that the Congolese government's military operations against the rebel Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) are resulting in escalating insecurity for civilians, who are being attacked by all sides. Many in the Congolese army are committing abuses, with the FDLR increasing its retaliation against civilians for the offensive, the agency said. 

Some 800,000 people have been displaced in North and South Kivu since the offensive was launched at the beginning of the year, according to the UN.
What is needed now is for the operation to be brought to an end, for the senior Monuc leaders who planned and authorized this operation to be fired, and for an investigation to begin into the decision-making process that led to this disaster.

The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love

From the Hindustan Times:

Thirty-six soldiers Indian soldiers have banded together and taken the army to court for dropping them from a United Nations peacekeeping assignment in the Congo. 

UN peace missions are much sought after by armymen, both for their prestige as well as for the tax-free dollar salaries they provide. Soldiers earn almost four times their Indian salary.

Over 4,250 Indian soldiers form part of the Congo mission, making it the army’s largest deployment on foreign soil.

With over 8,600 troops deployed in peace missions, India is the third-largest contributor of troops to the UN after Bangladesh and Pakistan. Indian peacekeepers were dispatched to serve in the Congo mission in January 2005.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

In other News

The wall-to-wall news coverage of Monuc's botched operation in eastern DRC, which has resulted in hundreds of reprisal rapes, thousands of deaths, and hundreds of thousands of refugees, has properly generated global concern. Wolf Blitzer's breakdown of the mai-mai leadership's complex allegiances, the View's dissection of the region's economic potential, and Bill O'Reilly's spirited defense of Alan Doss remind us all of the mainstream media's continuing relevance. Yet it would be a shame if this coverage had the unfortunate effect of eclipsing other developments, perhaps less historic, yet no less human in their significance.

Among these, the death of Michael Jackson may not seem like the most important. Yet we ought to pause, at least for a moment, to remember Jackson's outsize accomplishments. To be sure, the development of the "moonwalk" may not rival the pillage of Walikali; nor do Jackson's Grammy awards justify breaking away from coverage of the Security Council briefing on sexual violence in North Kivu, as a few bug-eyed bloggers suggested the networks do. But Jackson was a man, after all--a gifted, albeit troubled man--and it behooves us to give him a moment of consideration even as we return our attention to the grievous developments in Africa. It would be a real tragedy if we allowed historic developments there to diminish our collective response to the American songster's passing. 

Doss: Who Could Possibly Have Foreseen this?

From All Africa:

Civilians are bearing the brunt of attempts to dismantle armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with the rebels carrying out vicious reprisals and some Government soldiers committing serious human rights abuses, the senior United Nations official to the country told the Security Council today.

Alan Doss, the Secretary-General's Special Representative and the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (known as MONUC), said in a briefing to Council members that there is growing concern about the humanitarian impact of the efforts to disband the armed groups.

The fact is that neither Monuc nor Fardc was remotely capable of undertaking the sort of delicate and yet powerful counter-insurgency operation required to eliminate the FDLR. What has happened there is an entirely predictable disaster, with repercussions for the Congo and for future UN peacekeeping operations that will last a generation. There is no excuse for it. Whoever greenlighted this operation should be fired immediately.

Last Time Wolpe Was Envoy

This happened. From Howard French, who was the NYT correspondent to Africa when it all went down:
According to respectable international estimates some four million people have died in the Congo as a result of wars there since 1996, the greatest toll anywhere since World War II.

There is a powerful argument to be made that this disaster, along with the Rwandan genocide that preceded it, is Bill Clinton’s most important foreign policy legacy, and an Obama policy toward Africa run by many of the same people and carrying forward Clinton era thinking would be a sign of disdain for the continent and its problems.

Memo to Congolese: Expect the Rwandans

Wolpe, who is all-but blind to Rwanda's ambiguities, will almost certainly press Kabila to allow the Rwandans in to "finish the job" of rounding up ex-genocidaires in eastern Congo. That will put Kabila between a rock and a hard place: Allow the Rwandans in, and he will almost certainly lose the 2011 elections. Don't allow them in, and he will be cast as the impediment to peace.

I would not put it past Wolpe, however, to make a deal with Kabila: we'll wink at your electoral shenanigans if you let the Rwandans in to the east.

Wolpe to be Great Lakes Envoy

From Foreign Policy:
Howard Wolpe, a former Michigan congressman who directs the Africa program and the project on leadership and building state capacity at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, will be named President Obama's Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, sources confirmed.

Wolpe previously served as an envoy to the region from 1996-2001 for President Clinton. More recently, he advised the Obama campaign on African issues. He declined to comment on the appointment.

This is dismaying news, and a further sign that Africa cannot expect much from an Obama administration. As envoy during the 96-01 period, Wolpe presided over the single most disastrous time in Great Lakes history, from the first invasion and overthrow of Mobutu to the start of the deadliest war in African history. Throughout that period, as one disaster succeeded another, Wolpe affected a combination of ignorance and arrogant defensiveness. His appointment shows that Obama brings no real new drive, imagination, or interest in resolving Africa's greatest conflict. Wolpe is a Clinton retread, and Africa is the worse for it.

Quote of the Day

Fifty-two years ago, the eyes of the world were on Ghana. And a young preacher named Martin Luther King traveled here, to Accra, to watch the Union Jack come down and the Ghanaian flag go up. This was before the march on Washington or the success of the civil rights movement in my country. Dr. King was asked how he felt while watching the birth of a nation. And he said: ''It renews my conviction in the ultimate triumph of justice.''

Now, that triumph must be won once more, and it must be won by you. And I am particularly speaking to the young people. In places like Ghana, you make up over half of the population. Here is what you must know: the world will be what you make of it.

You have the power to hold your leaders accountable and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease, end conflicts and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes you can. Because in this moment, history is on the move.

But these things can only be done if you take responsibility for your future. It won't be easy. It will take time and effort. There will be suffering and setbacks. But I can promise you this: America will be with you. As a partner. As a friend. Opportunity won't come from any other place, though -- it must come from the decisions that you make, the things that you do, and the hope that you hold in your hearts.

--Barack Obama, Accra, Ghana, July 11,2009

I'm not convinced that preaching responsibility to Africans is necessarily on-point. Africans as a group aren't responsible for what has gone wrong in Africa--African leaders are, and they were often aided and abetted by the West.

Also disappointing to me was that Obama didn't take the occasion to announce any new initiatives, any new programs, for Africa, beyond some tentative food aid. What I hope Africans take away from Obama's speech is this: Don't expect because I am half-African that you will get any special attention or treatment from me. You guys are on your own. Debrouillez-vous!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Quote of the Day

“If a foreigner tells you to clean up your mess, it is regarded as an insult. If your brother tells you, it is good advice.”
--Nameless Ghanaian speaking to reporter Richard Dowden, on Obama's unique capacity to speak truth to African leaders.

Class Assignment

Read this essay by Paul Collier and the various responses to it provided by the Boston Review. Discuss the implications for policy for the Congo.

Link Dump

Radio Okapi says that the LRA kidnapped 80 Congolese from the village of Bayule, in Congo's northeastern Bas-Uele district, in the early hours of Tuesday morning (7/7), and were heading toward Ango.

Monuc is denouncing the decision by mai-mai groups to ally with the FDLR. The two groups are the Alliance des patriots pour un Congo libre et démocratique (APCLS) and les Patriotes résistants Congolais (PARECO), which are active in Nyabiondo, south of Lubero in North Kivu.

Everyone's happy that Congo and Rwanda have exchanged ambassadors.

IRIN reports the situation continues to worsen for civilians in the Kivus. Some 80,000 people were displaced from their homes in North Kivu in June, and 17,000 were displaced in South Kivu. According to OCHA, "Insecurity resulting from [Kimia II] has reduced humanitarian access and prevented aid organisations reaching thousands of vulnerable people."

The ICRC adds its voice to the many others warning of increasing danger to civilians in North and South Kivu. Rape, murder, pillage, and destruction are causing tens of thousands to flee, particularly in Lubero, Walkale, Rutshuru, and Masisi. It estimates that some 300,000 people have been displaced in North Kivu since the start of the year.

According to a recent independent study sponsored by the ICRC, 76 percent of Congolese have been affected in one way or another by the war; 58 percent have been displaced; 47 percent have lost someone close to them; and 28 percent know someone who was a victim of sexual violence. This is for the Congo as a whole, not just for the Kivus.

ICG: Call off Kimia II!

Declaring that Operations Umoja Wetu and Kimia II both failed to root out FDLR militia while further endangering area civilians, the International Crisis Group called for the Congolese military to halt its operations against the FDLR until it develops a more comprehensive strategy for dealing with them. It said the Congolese military should focus on protecting civilians until the Rwandan army and the 3,000 long-promised additional (European?) troops for Monuc are able to take over the hunt against the FDLR.

A few thoughts:
1) The ICG recommends that Rwanda "participate in the planning and implementation of a new FDLR disarmament strategy." I think this is problematic. First, I'm not convinced that Kigali really wants to invest much resources in hunting down the FDLR. I know that over the last decade they've been using the presence of the FDLR in eastern Congo to make all sorts of demands, but it's also true that they never made any serious effort to sweep up the FDLR during that time. Second, I'm not sure how receptive the Congolese will be to the presence of Rwandan soldiers. Their return to Congo could very easily push groups now marginally associated with the FARDC (such as PARECO and various Mai-Mai) into the anti-Rwandan, pro-FDLR camp.

2) In contrast to the recent HRW report, which was harshly critical of Monuc and the Congolese army, the ICG report focuses on recommendations for the future. There are two ways to look at this: on the one hand, the ICG avoids critizing the institutions it feels will need to be part of any long-term solution to the problem. On the other, it sidesteps the question of whether those institutions are capable of being part of the solution, or whether they are just so intrinsically damaged, compromised, or ineffectual that they need to be massively reengineered before they can be called upon to play a constructive role.

3) It is interesting to me that ICG continues to give the "standard" official explanation for the sudden raprochement between Rwanda and Congo. "Their agreement was a significant shift of alliances in the region. In exchange for the removal of Nkunda by Kigali, Kinshasa agreed to a joint military operation against the FDLR on Congolese territory and to give key positions in the political and security institutions of the Kivus to CNDP representatives..."

As readers know, I think the main reason the two governments abandoned their decade-long enmity so suddenly was that they realized they had a lot more money to make together, through this methane gas project, than they did apart. If Kigali really wanted to rid the region of the FDLR, why did they promise they would quit the Congo within a month--and then, more or less, abide by that promise? As ICG notes:

After 35 days, the results of the operation were much more modest than
officially celebrated. The FDLR was only marginally and temporarily weakened in
North Kivu and remained intact in South Kivu. Less than 500 FDLR combatants
surrendered to MONUC to be demobilised in the first three months of 2009. Barely
a month after the end of the operation, the rebels had regrouped and started to
retaliate against civilians they believed had collaborated with “Umoja Wetu”.

Some speculate that Rwanda abandoned the operation out of concern for the political difficulties it was posing for Kabila. I'm not sure Kigali is known for such solicitude.

But if Rwanda and the DRC needed to demonstrate that they were no longer adversaries, and if the point of the operation was simply to secure the perimeter of Lake Kivu for the benefit of the methane plant, then the operation was a definite success.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Emperor in his Homeland

G. Pascal Zachary writes incisively in the Guardian on Obama's upcoming visit to Ghana:

Obama's visit, while heavy on symbolism, also reveals the limits of his power. Burdened by economic problems in America and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he can't act boldly in Africa or make big promises.

Indeed, six months into his presidency, he has already undercut expectations. He has approached with great caution the task of settling the region's violent conflicts – in Darfur, eastern Congo, and Somalia. He has also kept a safe distance from Africa's political failures, notably in Zimbabwe, where he has resisted calls to assist in the removal of Robert Mugabe.

Obama's caution is reasonable. He doesn't want to be pigeon-holed, after all, as "the president of Africa". But, in choosing restraint over intervention, he has disappointed ordinary Africans and international activists alike.

The Minerals Are the Problem—Can They also Be the Solution?

I wrote a longish paper in mid-June on two contending reports by Enough and Resource Consulting Services. In the interest of readers who might have been put off by the sight of so much type on the screen, here is a summary of that earlier paper.

The contest to control the mineral wealth of eastern Congo is behind much of the fighting that has ravaged that country over the past decade. But can a focus on minerals help bring about a resolution to the wars? In the paper, I argued that Enough, an American advocacy organization, and Resource Consulting Services, a British research firm, rightfully place minerals at the center of the conflict but don’t make the case that either restricting or engaging with the mineral trade is likely to help in the war’s resolution. Instead, I argued, what’s needed is a strong, legitimate state, capable of enforcing order and providing an environment in which legitimate differences can be resolved without recourse to violence. With the Congolese government neither capable nor interested in performing these duties, that leaves the international community, in the form of Monuc, as the sole possible guarantor of the lives of the people of eastern Congo. I recommended that Monuc be greatly expanded and strengthened, so that it is able of taking on this assignment.

I began by observing that considerable confusion exists about what Enough is calling for. Its public statements emphatically draw a link between minerals, war, and the most appalling consequence of the war: the ongoing level of sexual violence against women. But its main recommendation—that electronic companies monitor their supply chain more carefully, but not boycott Congolese minerals—seems either incoherent or too narrow to have much impact. I tried to imagine how to reconcile the gap between public advocacy and responsible policy recommendation:

What do we want? Greater transparency in the supply chain linking the minerals produced in eastern Congo to consumer electronic companies! When do we want it? At some point in the future, provided that the transparency we seek doesn’t have the inadvertent effect of dampening demand for Congolese minerals or contributing to the further immiseration of Congolese miners!
In the end, I was left wondering if Enough would have made consumer electronics their principal focus had they found more promising ways of galvanizing public indignation and channeling that concern into productive political action.

By contrast, RCS believes that the state in eastern Congo can be reconstituted by bringing regional stakeholders together in a broad-based, bottom-up effort to rebuild the economy on a more sustainable and equitable basis. I argue that the interests of these stakeholders are too kaleidoscopic and contradictory for that to be viable. In any case, the essentially predatory and patrimonial nature of the Congolese state makes it uninspiring model to emulate.

In placing minerals at the center of the conflict, these organizations follow an intellectual path laid out by Paul Collier, a World Bank economist, who argued that the likelihood of a civil war in any given African country depends on the feasibility of rebellion. In his concise formulation, greed, not grievance, lies at the heart of most African conflicts today.

Recently, a handful of US senators sponsored a bill that would require U.S. companies to track and disclose the country of origin of minerals used in common electronic products. If the bill passes, companies will face an unpleasant choice: either disclose that they are helping fund militia groups operating in the DRC, or demand that their suppliers purchase minerals from other, presumably more expensive sources.

And yet neither Enough nor RCS convinced me that the Congo’s terrible curse, its mineral wealth, can be successfully “instrumentalized” for peace. Collier’s observation that the incidence of civil war reflects the feasibility of rebellion led many of us to foreground the mineral trade. But while resources may make rebellions feasible, it is weak states that make them possible. And that, ultimately, is where the problem lies.

Nicholas Garrett, one of RCS's researchers,wrote to me that the “the Congolese state will remain ineffective if the international community shies away from developmentally effective engagement.” I think this formulation gets it backwards. Some eight years after Kabila junior took power, the Congo remains a dysfunctional mess, incapable of the minimal functions of a state. It can’t gather, account for, or expend the taxes it collects; it’s failed to provide social services for its citizens; and it’s done nothing constructive to improve the country’s infrastructure. Above all, it’s proven utterly incapable of defending its borders or fielding an army willing to take on the enemy rather than its own defenseless citizens.

That leaves the international community. It already has a substantial presence in eastern Congo in the form of the 18,000 MONUC troops. The total bill for maintaining those troops exceeds one billion dollars a year, of which the United States contributes over a quarter. That is a tremendous amount of money, but it is magnitudes less than what the US spends on Iraq or Afghanistan, countries whose main claim on our attention is that they harbored potential enemies. A cynic, I concluded,

might wonder if Congolese are destined to suffer because their people never hated us enough, despite our having imposed on them a dictator who robbed them blind for thirty years. Surely our historical responsibilities--and the sheer magnitude of their distress--dictate a larger response.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Link Dump

Aryeh Neier, head of Open Society Institute, says that despite dire conditions in the DRC,
A recent development has provided a rare ray of hope: the extraordinary mobilisation of Congolese civil society in defence of the DRC’s nascent democratic institutions.
No fewer than 210 Congolese non-governmental organisations, including those enjoying the widest recognition and respect across the country, recently joined in challenging President Joseph Kabila’s attempt to take control of the National Assembly (the lower house of Parliament) that came into office after historic elections in 2006.
The episode that brought together Congolese civil society was Kabila’s insistence in March on forcing the resignation of Vital Kamerhe, the Speaker of the National Assembly. Kamerhe had antagonised Kabila by criticising his secret deal with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda that resulted in joint military operations earlier in the year against a Rwandan rebel force operating in the DRC.
And yes, this comes from The Namibian, South West Africa's paper of record. CR trawls widely to bring you news you can use!

Speaking of which, the Missionary International Service News Agency reports that FDLR rebels set at least 30 homes on fire last night in Miriki, in North Kivu. "According to local witnesses, the attack took place in the middle of the night, causing panic among residents that fled into the forest. Miriki, 120km north of the provincial capital Goma, was for long a stronghold of the FDLR that extorted tributes from residents in absence of a security force."

Congratulations to Finbarr O'Reilly for receiving the best photography award from Diageo for his work on artisinal gold mining in the DRC. He was one of several journalists recognized by Diageo for their reporting on African business. Story here.

Is that hope in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? Jenna Dewan and Emmanuelle Chriqui were among the many lovely young things attending a bash at Hollywood's Jane House a few days ago, organized by our friends at Enough. This seems to have had something to do with raising hope for the Congo.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

HRW: Army Committing most of the Rapes

One important detail from the new HRW report: "The majority of the rape cases investigated by Human Rights Watch were attributed to soldiers from the Congolese army."

Doss Must Go

Human Rights Watch issued a damning indictment of the UN's military operation in the Kivus today, saying it has been a disaster for the people of the region:
United Nations-backed Congolese armed forces conducting intensified military operations in eastern and northern Democratic Republic of Congo have failed to protect civilians from brutal rebel retaliatory attacks and instead are themselves attacking and raping Congolese civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. The attacks on civilians from all sides have resulted in a significant increase in human rights violations over the past six months.
Human Rights Watch joins a growing chorus of organizations, including Amnesty International, Oxfam, Enough Project, and the International Crisis Group, in detailing the massive failures of the operation, known as Kimia II.*

It is time to end this fiasco, confine the Congolese troops to their barracks, and fire Monuc chief Alan Doss. The failure of this operation was foreseeable by any well-informed observer. Indeed, many warned against it, including the Spanish General Vicente Díaz de Villegas, who resigned shortly after his nomination as Monuc force commander once it became apparent what he would be asked to do with the resources available to him. The Congolese army was in no condition to take on a complex counter-insurgency campaign. From the get-go it was obvious they were not only inadequate to the task but a serious threat to local civilians. For their part, Monuc troops are chronically under-equipped and poorly officered. They have never demonstrated any offensive capacity. Their only utility has been to occupy territory previously claimed by militia--and even on that score, their record is mixed.

It was also clear that the ex-genocidaires would retaliate against civilians at the slightest provocation. The 10,000 to 15,000 members of the FDLR active in eastern Congo were remnants of the genocidal regime responsible for the murder of 500,000 to 800,000 Rwandans in the summer of 1994. While only a fraction of them had participated in the genocide--most were children of the 1994 killers--they were led by men with an indisputable record for indiscrimate physical and sexual violence. There was, furthermore, an immediate and cautionary precedent for Kimia II. In December 2008, the US aided an operation by the Ugandan army against Joseph Kony and his small band of followers known as the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda. The operation, known as Lightning Thunder, failed to capture Kony, and the militia fled across the border in small groups that, as the New York Times reported, continued "to ransack town after town in northeastern Congo, hacking, burning, shooting and clubbing to death anyone in their way." The consequences of that operation's failure ought to have raised a big red flag to anyone considering taking action against any militia in the region.

Given that record, it was essential for any operation against the FDLR to be well-prepared and well-executed. If those conditions could not be met, no operation should have been undertaken. Yet it is obvious by now that even the most minimal standards were not in place. To help field an operational Congolese army, Monuc bundled various enemy militias--including one under the command of a war criminal known as the terminator--together with a rag-tag group of poorly trained and rarely paid Congolese soldiers. Then, without any serious training or effort to integrate the forces, it set them loose on a hunt against the one remaining militia in the region, the ex-genocidaires. The results were entirely predictable. To be sure, the Congolese army bears responsibility for the abuses they commit. But Monuc greenlighted the operation, despite knowing exactly what it could expect from the monumentally undisciplined Congolese army. That is why Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former commander for the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC), last week said that recent events in Eastern Congo are "shameful" and "destroy the reputation of the UN and of MONUC."

What is needed now is for the operation to be brought to an end, for Doss and other senior Monuc leaders to be fired, and for an investigation to begin into the decision-making process that led to this disaster.

Then we need to fashion an international response commensurate with the scale of the crisis unfolding in the Congo. The number of Congolese who have died over the last decade as a result of the war is approaching six million. Countless women have been raped. Indeed, rape requiring surgical repair has become the war's signature contribution to the litany of the world's horrors. President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Rice: Where are you?

*The origin of the name remains a mystery, at least to me. Georgianne Nienaber says that Kimia means peace in the local Lingala dialect, although Lingala is neither local nor a dialect. But Eve Ensler says it comes from the Swahili expression for shushing someone. A 1996 report from Amnesty agrees it means silence--but in Lingala. (Swahili is common in the east, Lingala in the West.) Interestingly, the first Operation Kimia in 1996 was also an attempt by the Congolese (then Zairian) army to quell uprisings in the Kivus. It too was characterized by large-scale human rights abuses committed by often unpaid soldiers, and it too ended in failure.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mapping the Congolese Conflict

From Enough, I learn that Jim McDermott (D-WA) inserted an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill that would require the U.S. government to develop a map of armed groups and mineral-rich areas of eastern Congo. Mines in areas under the control of armed groups would be designated as ‘conflict zone mines,’ and the map would be updated semi-annually.

In February, I suggested that we train an extended network of educated local people in the Kivus to report on developments in resource management and sexual violence in their area. This sort of crowd-sourcing would keep us abreast of developments in real time, contribute to local capacity building, and enable us to develop a more comprehensive and up-to-date response to crises as they occur. For example, it would speed the ability of Monuc and Fardc to respond to a local outbreak of sexual violence. Ushahidi began such an effort last year, but seems to have abandoned it, perhaps for lack of funding.

I think this would be a much better use of our money than to send expensive expatriate cartographers out every half year to produce maps that--however sophisticated--will be out of date by the time they are published. The internet and the fact that even remote areas of Congo have cell phone access make McDermott's proposal seem antiquarian.

Fighting off the Vultures

The African Development Bank has launched a legal support organisation designed to level the playing field for cash-strapped African states negotiating complex commercial transactions or facing litigation by vulture funds. Money quote:
The World Bank estimated in 2007 that 38 creditors had won $1bn (€712m, £605m) from lawsuits against countries in its debt relief programme, many of which are African nations. The claims of 10 creditors against Liberia - which was devastated by almost15 years of on-off civil war - amounted to $130m, or almost a fifth of annual gross domestic product.
It is hard to get too excited about vulture funds when they attack countries where the elite skim off the country's own wealth. But in a case like Liberia--where the government is making a good faith effort to improve the lives of its citizens--it's very hard not to view the vulture fund managers as anything other than legalized child killers. This is one of those occasions when you wish a group with the militancy of PETA or GreenPeace existed to fight on behalf of the world's poorest people.