Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thierry Michel's Film about the Assassination of Floribert Chebeya

Youtube has the entire film, which is well worth watching.

Allegations Of Rwandan Complicity Go Back a decade

The Rwandan government is vociferously denying that it has anything to do with the M23 rebellion. These are lies, it says, being spread by a group of experts wedded to a poisonous anti-Rwandan agenda. In recent months, however, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Crisis Group have all advanced similar claims. Rwanda, they say, is heavily involved in funding, arming, and directing the rebels. Prior UN reports, composed of different groups of experts, have also reached similar conclusions. In fact, Rwanda's history of plundering Congo's resources and committing atrocities on its soil are among the most well-documented human rights violations of our time.

Here are selections from a few of those reports:

 12 April 2001

Illegal exploitation of the mineral and forest resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is taking place at an alarming rate. Two phases can be distinguished: mass-scale looting and the systematic and systemic exploitation of natural resources.
Mass-scale looting. During this first phase, stockpiles of minerals, coffee, wood, livestock and money that were available in territories conquered by the armies of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda were taken, and either transferred to those countries or exported to international markets by their forces and nationals.
Systematic and systemic exploitation. Planning and organization were required for this phase. The systematic exploitation flourished because of the pre-existing structures developed during the conquest of power of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire. These pre-existing structures were improved over time and new networks for channelling extracted resources were put in place. However, the systemic exploitation used the existing systems of control established by Rwanda and Uganda. In both cases, exploitation was often carried out in violation of the sovereignty of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the national legislation and sometimes international law, and it led to illicit activities. Key individual actors including top army commanders and businessmen on the one hand, and government structures on the other, have been the engines of this systematic and systemic exploitation.
The consequence of illegal exploitation has been twofold: (a) massive availability of financial resources for the Rwandan Patriotic Army, and the individual enrichment of top Ugandan military commanders and civilians; 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Wall Street Journal Confirms ad hominen Nature of Akin Gump Attack on Hege

The Wall Street Journal reports that the law firm Akin Gump, hired by the Rwandan government to review the UN Government of Experts report on the rebellions in eastern Congo, did not limit its attack to the substance of the allegations, but instead went after the personal credibility of its chair, Steve Hege:
In its review to be delivered to the U.N. sanctions committee Friday, Akin Gump, the law firm hired by the Rwandan government, takes direct aim at the authors of the U.N. independent report, primarily its coordinator Steve Hege, calling him biased against Rwanda and therefore "unfit to continue in his current position."
It also says the group didn't provide Rwandan officials with sufficient opportunity to address the findings before they were submitted to the U.N., in several updates in recent months as well as the final report to be delivered Friday, nor did it include what the government did submit.
Mr. Hege declined to comment, citing U.N. policy. An earlier addendum from the Group of Experts said, "The Group has made extensive efforts to engage with the Rwandan government regarding its findings, with some limited success." It added that during an official visit in mid-May by the group to Kigali, the Rwandan capital, the government "didn't receive them in any substantive meetings to discuss these issues."
Let me reiterate that I am astonished that a major law firm would stoop to this level. Law firms of Akin Gump's caliber are allergic to publicity and assiduous about protecting their reputation. Nobody wants to be known at their law school reunion as the guy who trashed the personal reputation of a human rights investigator on behalf of a regime guilty of mass murder.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Conflict Gorillas

 Photograph: Eric afforgue/Gamma-
Rapho/Getty Images
The guerrillas are cashing in on the gorillas. According to The Guardian, M23 rebels in eastern Congo are taking groups of tourists on treks to visit the gorillas of Virunga national park and using the proceeds to fund their insurgency. They're only charging $350, which if memory serves is considerably less than the Congolese had been charging lately. (It cost me $300--in 1987).

So say what you will about the M23. They might be guilty of rape, murder, and pillage, but at least they are good conservationists. The government, on the other hand....

The Chumps at Akin Gump

So Rwanda is reported to have hired the law firm Akin Gump to pursue legal action against the UN Group of Experts and its chief, Steve Hege, in particular. I have had my own quarrel with the GoE, as seen here, but this strikes me as an alarming development. A major law firm can land on your back like a load of bricks. What if governments routinely start to hire law firms to attack people who are critical of them? Will the staff at Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International be next? What about journalists? Or university professors? And precisely what line won't those law firms cross in pursuit of their quarry?
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, speaking yesterday to New York based Metro Newspaper, had tough words for the UN Group of Experts, and in particular its coordinator, Steven Hege.
"We will not take this kind of treatment lying down," Mushikiwabo stated.
The Foreign Minister categorically stated that Hege's long history of opposition towards the Rwandan government is well documented and that the panel has been "hijacked" by his political agenda.
She also revealed that in order to clarify matters once and for all, the government had retained the services of Washington, D.C., law firm Akin Gump to review Mr. Hege's prior writings on Rwanda, which carried out extensive research into Hege's writings and concluded that his placement as chair of the committee was questionable at the very least.
Listen, I'd go to the stake to defend a lawyer's right to defend a client at law, but applying your skills on behalf of a regime alleged to have committed mass murder by attacking the integrity of the people investigating those allegations seems to me to be dirty pool. It's reminiscent of the Scientologists' approach to their critics, and not something I would think a major law firm would want to be associated with. So I gave Akin Gump a call.

 Not surprisingly, the firm refused to answer questions about its work for the Rwandan government, or about much of anything else for that matter. When I spoke to Ben Harris, their director of communication, he told me I should direct all questions about Akin Gump's work to the Rwandan mission at the UN.
Me: "So to be clear, Akin Gump has done some work for Rwanda?"
Gump: "I have no comment for you. Direct your questions to them."
Me: "Has Akin Gump worked for the Rwandan government for long, or was this a one-off event?"
Gump: "I have no comment for you."
Me: "Does Akin Gump represent other, non-democratic leaders in Africa?"
Gump: "Again, you need to direct your questions to the Rwandan mission."
Me: "But this is specifically about Akin Gump. Does it work for other African dictators?"
Gump: "I told you I have no comment. I think you can see where this is going."
Me: "But I'm just wondering, given the prominence with which Akin Gump trumpets its commitment to ethics and integrity, how you square that with--"
Gump: "Goodbye."
 Clearly not one of Akin Gump's proudest moments. I can only hope that the inherent conservatism and code of honor that prevails at most big law firms will prevent this from becoming a trend. Otherwise, we could witnessing a chilling new development for journalists and human rights investigators.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Quote of the Day

From Stephen Walt, no one's idea of an ignoramus, talking about how he felt while reading Howard French's article in the New York Review of Books about the wars in the DRC:
I was aware of this conflict, of course, but as I read French's essay, I realized that I knew very little about its origins, evolution, or the prospects for ending it. I'm a full-time professional in the field of international relations and security studies, and I teach an undergraduate course on "the origins of modern wars" here at Harvard. I go to seminars on various international relations topics almost every week. And yet I knew next-to-nothing about the greatest international bloodletting of my lifetime.
This is a stale quote, but I just came upon it while searching for something else. It certainly corresponds to my experience. While I was working at the US Institute of Peace, for example, there was almost no interest in or knowledge about the conflicts in the Congo. Despite: a) the fact that the institute was putatively dedicated to world peace, and the wars in the Congo are the deadliest since WW II; and b) the fact that the Institute was staffed by highly intelligent professionals, many (but not all of whom) had experience in the various agencies of the government's national security apparatus, from the US air force to the State Department to the CIA.

The Conflict Mineral Curse

This from press accounts regarding the leaked Group of Experts report, which I have not yet seen:

But profits by armed groups from trade in tin, tungsten and tantalum have been dented by a 2010 U.S. law requiring companies to disclose if they use minerals from the Congo. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved guidelines in August to enforce the conflict minerals law.
Companies need to conduct a due diligence check to track minerals through the supply chain to their origins to identify if any conflict minerals were used in their products.
The 44-page report by the U.N. Security Council's Group of Experts - a panel monitoring compliance with U.N. sanctions and an arms embargo for Congo - said those profiting from the conflict mineral trade had easily adapted to the drop in price for some resources by shifting their focus to gold.

Let me remind you of this, particularly items 3 & 4.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


This was cute. A French TV show about Hollande's trip to DRC. I don't really know anything about Le Petit Journal, but the comic irreverence was a nice change of pace from the "heart of darkness" approach (some) American journos take.

Four more NGOs Outed as Sleeper Agents for the Chamber of Commerce

In yet another demonstration of its sinister reach and influence, four more NGOs outed themselves last month as sleeper agents for the US Chamber of Commerce. The NGOs, including two based in England, one at the UN and the fourth in South Africa, all produced reports critical of Dodd-Frank 1502.

In writing about the negative impact the law has had on local communities in eastern Congo, they join numerous other seemingly legitimate scholars and NGOs who have thrown their lot in with the all-powerful Chamber, the earthly representative of the god Mammon. "We must not underestimate the scale of the Chamber's influence," said Enough founder John Prendergast. "Not only has it penetrated seemingly legitimate organizations all over the world, it did so decades before anyone knew what they were up to."

International Alert
Ending the Deadlock: Towards a New Vision of Peace in Eastern DRC
September 2012
by Alexis Bouvy and Maria Lange

The issue of conflict minerals has long been at the heart of the international debate about the priority steps to be taken for peace in eastern DRC. The links between mineral exploitation and the financing of armed groups were officially established by the UN panel in 2001. However, mining traceability and due diligence initiatives started gaining momentum in the run-up to the July 2010 adoption of the US Dodd-Frank Act/Section 1502 on “Conflict Minerals”. This law aims at stopping the exploitation and trade of minerals fuelling conflict and human rights abuses. Section 1502 requires companies reporting to the US Securities and Exchange Commission to disclose their use of minerals originating from DRC or neighbouring countries. This means that companies have to spend huge sums on audits to ensure minerals in their supply chain are not sourced from DRC; if they do source there, the companies have to provide evidence that they have done everything possible to avoid these minerals funding armed groups. ...

A major unintended consequence of Section 1502 has been to reduce the income of those generating a livelihood from the mineral trade (artisanal miners, transporters and traders), along with those working in other economic sectors that rely on the cashflow generated by the mining sector. The mining sector is a crucial part of the economy of North and South Kivu provinces, both in terms of provincial taxes and populations’ livelihoods. However meagre the income is, most people making a living in this sector do not have alternative sources of income or livelihood. This is in a context where insecurity continues to prevent the development of the agricultural sector which in the past – at least in North Kivu – was a more significant economic sector than the mining sector. Rather than addressing the funding of armed groups, the unintended result of the Act could be to reinforce smuggling networks and illegal economic activity, which undermines the implementation of traceability and certification initiatives.

Chatham House
Conflict Minerals: The Search for a Normative Framework
by Louise Arimatsu and Hemi Mistry
September 2012

As some experts have noted, the oversimplification of the causes of armed conflict or of endemic violence in post-conflict environments such as the DRC has often led to the introduction of inappropriate and, occasionally bad, law. Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act has not only come under attack by its critics for simply being bad law, but even its supporters have raised a number of concerns with the terms of the provision; whether the standards demanded are even achievable, because not practicable; whether the demands set forth in the provision are such that the risk of reputational damage as a consequence of inadvertently violating the statutory requirement are too high; and whether the cost of the disclosure requirements are so prohibitive that businesses simply can no longer afford to source from the DRC. The SEC has estimated that the initial cost of compliance will be approximately US$3–$4 billion, while the annual cost of ongoing compliance is likely to be between $207 and $609 million. But setting aside both costand risk to US businesses, are these drawbacks outweighed by the potential benefits that the legislation seeks to deliver?

The initial signs are not reassuring since even before coming into operation, the Dodd-Frank Act has produced a number of unintended consequences of an adverse nature for mining communities in the eastern provinces. This was demonstrated by the events following the announcement by the EICC that, as from 1 April 2011, its membership would no longer permit purchases from refiners and smelters of tin, tantalum and tungsten that accepted material which did not comply with the regulatory requirement under section 1502. The announcement prompted an initial rush among traders to unload their stock with little concern as to whether any due diligence standards should be applied. Once the deadline had passed, traders in the Kivus and Maniema were unable to sell their remaining stock to those smelters and refineries that were seeking conflict-free smelter status under the CFS initiative. This left many traders with little choice but to sell to refiners and smelters not seeking CFS status, but at discounted prices. As revenue flows decreased, businesses were forced to close, unemployment rose, and poverty levels worsened.

The United Nations University
September 2012
by Estelle Levin, Cristina Villegas et als

 There has been a lack of socio-economic impact assessment and risk management planning on the legislation’s effects within DRC and GLR. The de facto embargo has devastated markets for artisanally mined tin, tantalum and tungsten, removing ASM as a viable livelihood option for tens of thousands of miners and their families, forcing them to relocate in search of work opportunities, move into gold mining and also other, less preferable livelihoods to them as individuals but also to society, e.g., bushmeat hunting and charcoal making which pose serious threats to local and international ecological resilience.

 Institute for Security Studies
Addressing the "Conflict Minerals" Crisis in the Great Lakes Region 
September 2012
by Andrews Atta‐Asamoah and Nyambura Githaiga

The year 2011 heralded the convergence of various initiatives seeking to curtail the financing of conflict in the Great Lakes region through the illegal exploitation of minerals. The combined effect of seeking to comply with the various processes has had significant implications at the national, regional and international levels by altering the dynamics of mineral exploitation in the region in both positive and negative ways. The positive impact has been in the area of the immense contribution of the initiatives to increased awareness of the role of illegally exploited minerals in financing conflict in the region and the need for various stakeholders to exercise responsibility in the sourcing and trading of minerals so as not to inadvertently fuel insecurity. On the flip side, however, this increased awareness has led to the labelling of minerals from the region, particularly gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten, as potential conflict minerals. While this has been important in boosting efforts at minimising conflict financing through the exploitation of minerals, the ‘conflict mineral’ label associated with the region has led to interrupted demand for minerals from the Great Lakes, the closure of some businesses dealing with the purchase and export of minerals, the loss of employment and a reduction in income within the local economy, and ultimately threatens to negatively reinforce the crisis created by the various conflicts in the region if nothing is done to stem the trend of unintended consequences.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why is Rwanda Supporting M23?

It's never been clear to me why Rwanda has been willing to pay so much diplomatic capital on its support for M23. A poll at Jambo News explores some possibilities:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An Illustration that Should Anger every Congolese

It's easy to forget what we're talking about when we talk about Rwanda's exploitation of the Congo. The truth is that Kabila's inability to stop Kagame and the M23 is completely inexcusable. Not only is Congo 80 times larger and eight times more populous, it is also vastly, almost unimaginably richer. 

To be sure, Rwanda is behaving atrociously, but what is happening now in the Kivus reflects as badly on the failures of the Congolese government as it does on Rwandan avarice. Kabila has been in power for more than a decade. The prices for Congolese minerals have never been higher. There is no reason why a tiny, landlocked, ethnically riven, resource-deprived country should be taking such advantage of the Congo. The first responsibility of a state is to protect its territory and defend its hegemony. Kabila needs to take a serious look in the mirror and ask himself whether he wants to be known to history as a loser and failure, a figure of international contempt and ridicule. Because that is what he is fast becoming.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Developing a Comprehensive Information Network for Eastern Congo

Once again eastern Congo is being torn apart by armed conflict—and once again, we have at best a partial and fragmentary sense of what’s going on. To the extent that international attention is being paid, most of it is focused on the depredations of a rebel group called the M23, a Rwandaphone militia which fell out with the Congolese government in April over terms of their incorporation into the national army. While evidence of their brutality--and their links to Rwanda--continue to pile up, other militia are also on the rampage, including a group called Nyatura and another called Raia Mutomboki (more here); altogether, the latest violence is estimated to have displaced more than 300,000 people.

Yet we have only the most partial understanding of who is fighting whom and why. A few researchers and journalists are bravely venturing out to remote villages to chase down the latest developments.[i] But their reports are flashlights of information on a vast and dark plain. It is almost impossible to know what is happening from day to day outside of the major towns. NGOs and the UN are hard-pressed to respond in a timely way when it can take days or weeks for news about mass killings or rapes in remote areas to reach them. At a policy level, I suspect part of the reason that the international community pays so little attention to the region—despite it being home to the deadliest conflict since World War II—is that we remain woefully ignorant about the ongoing details of the conflict.

That is why I was particularly impressed by a recent paper written by Peter van der Windt and Macartan Humphreys at Columbia University. Building on der Windt’s 18-month experience directing Voix des Kivu (VdK), a USAID funded project in eastern Congo, the paper shows how feasible it is to set up a regional information network with a little training and such readily available tools as phones, sms tabulation software, and cheap solar generators.

The results were impressive. During the life of the project, Van der Windt’s village-based collaborators sent thousands of pre-coded and text messages on events that affected their daily lives, from disease outbreaks and crop failures to population movements and conflict incidents. More than that, the project gave local communities a system for communicating with the rest of the world.

Previous efforts to map developments in the Congo have not been especially successful.[ii] In 2008, Ushahidi itself tried to map the conflicts in eastern Congo. But the coders never generated the response rate they had achieved in Kenya, and eventually abandoned the effort. A volunteer-led program to map electoral problems during the 2011 presidential election foundered in part due to inadequate preparation but mostly because Kabila ordered the telephone companies to cut SMS messaging in the country during the critical period. The impression I got during my last trip to Bukavu (July 2011) was that the UN and most NGOs were in need of greater data and a platform by which to share it, yet lacked the time and technical expertise to properly develop the system themselves.

The desire for more comprehensive reporting is clearly there. Various organizations—most notably the Belgian International Peace Information Service (IPIS)—have conducted some excellent one-time surveys of the territory. Dodd-Frank 1502, the so-called Conflict Mineral legislation, calls for the State Department to produce a map of the region’s “mineral-rich zones, trade routes, and areas under the control of armed groups” every six months. To date, the department has produced three such maps, most recently this one
Unfortunately, the department has been unable or unwilling to conduct its own on-the-ground research and has instead relied on the now-dated IPIS maps and supplementary information from the UN peacekeeping force, Monusco. (Although I have heard rumors that IPIS will be working with the Congolese government on developing more robust and current maps in the future.)

So Van der Windt’s achievement is especially remarkable. In my reading, there were three keys to its success. The first is the astonishing spread of mobile telephone coverage, which in the last few years has reached into villages in eastern Congo that still take days to get to overland. Equally important were two of Van der Windt’s own innovations. Instead of trying to “crowd source” the information, Van der Windt went out to villages and provided training and phones to three people in each: a traditional chief, the head of a women’s group, and a third person elected by the village itself. Then he provided each person with a small weekly allowance to make the calls. (Later on, he realized that villagers had trouble recharging their phones because the villages often lacked electricity, so he gave each village a $25 solar-powered charger) [iii] He calls this process "crowd-seeding," in contrast to crowdsourcing. 

Van der Windt is a doctoral student in political science, so a lot of his paper deals with the robustness of the data and the possible academic uses to which it can be put. For non-academics, the main lesson is that it provides a proof-of-concept.  As Van der Windt writes, “obtaining verifiable, high-quality data in real-time from these hard-to-reach areas is not only possible, but needs much less expense and oversight than previously thought.” In short, we now know that it is possible to develop a comprehensive information network across vast reaches of eastern Congo,[iv] and that we can do so cheaply, reliably, and safely.[v]

If a scaled-up version of this project ever gets funded, I would suggest adding three elements. First, I would uplink the data to a mapping program such as Ushahidi. Van der Windt used a free program from the American NGO Frontline SMS to auto-generate reports, graphs and tables, which he then distributed to relevant organizations. I suspect, however, that layering the data onto maps would provide the intelligence in a more actionable-ready format. Elsewhere in Africa, mapping reports have shown where and how crop diseases are spreading, revealed the paths taken by rampaging militia, and helped improve the overall situational awareness of humanitarian organizations.[vi]

Second, I would do more to make sure that the information flow is bi-directional, and that it is both embedded in and eventually owned by the Congolese. If it’s important for the UN and humanitarian organizations operating out of provincial capitals to learn which way a militia group is moving—and it is—then certainly it’s even more important for local radio stations to have this information, because they can get the word out to affected populations. The Humanitarian Innovation Fund has recently introduced a crisis mapping project for the Central African Republic. While the project has only been operational for a few months, its emphasis on sharing data with local journalists and the communities they serve strikes me as a logical and commendable extension of the Van der Windt's work.

Third, I would hope that the project gets greater buy-in and use from the relevant actors, including humanitarian organizations and the UN peacekeeping force. Van der Windt acknowledges that the project elicited more curiosity than action from the relevant actors: “At the scale in which we have been operating many organizations expressed great curiosity in the concept and the data; but we do not know of any serious reactions from international actors to the messages coming in, including real time reports of attacks and abuses. Phone holders have continued to engage with the system despite the poverty of reactions, but we cannot expect that to continue forever.” I think that’s exactly right. At some point, if the exercise is not going to be solely academic, the information it gathers can and should be used in real time by a variety of actors, including Western NGOs and the UN peacekeeping force, to develop strategies, plan operations, and assess and reconfigure missions. 

[i] Among them: Simone Schlindwein, of the German newspaper TAZ (Tageszeitung); Jason Stearns, of the Rift Valley Institute; and freelancers Melanie Gouby and Christophe Ethuin.
[ii] I have been calling for a real-time mapping project on the conflicts in eastern Congo since 2003, when I worked with a couple of internationally recognized Congolese journalists on a proposal to map the presence of armed actors and incidents of violence (including rape and pillage), against mining sites and arms deliveries in the region. Needless to say, we got nowhere. 'Who cares about nobodies in a place nobody gives a shit about?' was the attitude we generally encountered, its millions dead notwithstanding. Do I send cynical? Angry? Shucks.
[iii] Van der Windt writes: “Crowdseeding has three main advantages for data quality: 1. The data is received from a representative set of areas; 2. All senders are known to the system and are in a  long term relationship with the Voix des Kivus program; 3. Because more than one holder is selected in each village “internal validation” is also possible.” It also overcomes the main problem with crowdsourcing: the weak supply incentive.
[iv] An area larger than the United Kingdom, but with fewer kilometers of paved roads than Oxford.
[v] The safety of his collaborators was a paramount priority for Van der Windt, and he took several measures to minimize the possibility that they might suffer reprisals for reporting sensitive data. None did, but he warns that the risks might increase if the program is ever scaled up and used to plan or design counter-operations.
[vi] Police departments in this country began using mapping programs in the 1990s to track crime and plan counter-measures; many criminologists say that crime’s sharp decline in that decade is to some significant extent attributable to those real-time tools. This suggestion is far from my area of expertise, but I would think peacekeepers could use real-time maps to similar effect.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What's Happening in Congo is Real

I'm getting tired of reading excuses from Western intellectuals about why what's happening in Syria, Egypt, Sudan, or Colombia is so much more relevant or important than what's happening in the Congo, despite the Congo's grossly larger number of victims.  Even worse is when people use the Congo as an excuse for inaction: Why are you criticizing country x, people ask, when what's happening in Congo is so much worse? In neither case is Congo's suffering treated as anything other than a rhetorical cudgel for agendas that have nothing to do with it. So when I came across this interview with Judith Butler in Guernica, I exploded:
As a Congo scholar/activist, I find it dismaying that Congo typically comes up in these sorts of discussions as a way of scoring debating points, rather than out of any genuine concern for the place. Still, it might be worth asking Butler why she, like the vast majority of public intellectuals in the West, pays so little attention to DRC and its six million dead. The canard that US complicity justifies greater attention to the West Bank than to the Kivus is risible. As the NYT’s Howard French has written, a case could be made that the wars in Congo are Clinton’s most significant foreign policy legacy. My own suspicion is that our public intellectuals are indifferent to Congo for the same reasons our elected officials are: race, ignorance, and apathy.
Only later did I realize I was two years late to the party: the interview was published in March 2010.