M23, Goma, Congo and Rice: Open Thread
Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi.
Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually.
~ Koffi Olomide, Congolese poet and songwriter
I don’t know that Olomide’s right, but at least insomuch as it might relate to Susan Rice it seems to be true. Once Barack Obama indicated that he might nominate Susan Rice to fill the departing SoS Clinton’s job, Rice’s ghosts of truth seem to be coming back to haunt her. A few journalists are starting to dig a bit further into her role as Bill Clinton’s African expert at State under Madeleine Albright, and now as central to the US failure to stop Rawanda and Uganda from funding and advising, and perhaps staffing, the M23 group’s eight months of insurgency and mineral theft and trafficking in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Two weeks ago they took Goma with ease, ‘humiliating Kabila’s army’. From Nov. 18:
When mafr first mentioned a couple weeks ago that the militia group named for the failed March 23 peace accords had just taken over Goma, I began paying more attention to the few headlines I’d seen. I took a crash course to learn what I could over the past five days, and still probably know less than you do. Any errors I make will be mafr’s fault totally; let’s be clear about that, okay? ;o) The truth is often elusive, and there seem to be many opinions on this one; there are enough charges and countercharges of brutality, corruption and revenge on both sides…all sides, really, to make us despair that peace will ever inhabit Congo.
It’s been called the most mineral wealthy nation on the planet, including large reserves of tin, diamonds, gold, and oil; it holds an estimated 80% of the planet’s cobalt, crucial to the manufacture of cell phones, computers and modern weaponry. A great portion of the mineral wealth lies in the Great Lakes eastern region of the DRC, under the shadow of the Nyiragongo Volcano, which oddly enough massively erupted about a year ago. Goma, population one million, is situated there near a large heavily wooded area that has been the refuge of many people fleeing war over the last two decades, and is rife with various militia groups and illegal mineral trafficking, and of course many weapons.
There have been over 17,000 UN Peacekeepers in Congo over the past year, plus an unknown number of US Special Forces, and when M23 first began their incursion numbered a mere 3000 soldiers . The Peacekeepers seem to have been singularly ineffective in stopping M23, and one has to wonder why that is. Clearly, if the Obama administration wanted to stop the ‘rebels’, it could and would. The UN Forces say their only mandate is to protect civilians; what is the Special Forces mandate?
According to M23, they formed due to the failure of Congo’s military to integrate them into the state military, FARDC, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, which was the core provision of the March 23 peace agreement between the government and the CNDP (National Congress for the Defense of the People) after Second Congo War (1998-2002). The soldiers were paid poorly, the military is corrupt and weak, and they have many other complaints against Kinshasa rule that you can read here; Judith Verweijen at indepthafrica.com also offers her plan for comprehensive negotiations. Many of the complaints sound like genuine grievances, but most of what I’ve read seems to boil down to ‘Dirty Hands v. Filthy Hands’.
This piece at the New York Times seemed to be impressed with the soldiers’ new uniforms and cool burgeoning popularity, mentioned criticism of Rice and her current actions, but at least contained this:
The advance of the M23 has uprooted around 60,000 civilians, say UN humanitarian officials. There have been reports of summary executions, the widespread recruitment and use of children, unconfirmed cases of sexual violence, and other serious human rights abuses. According to Human Rights Watch, some of the M23’s senior commanders have committed massacres, mass rapes and recruited child soldiers in the past decade as they moved from one armed group to another. An M23 leader, Bosco Ntaganda, nicknamed the Terminator, has been indicted by the international criminal court for crimes allegedly committed while he was helping to command another rebel group. At least five of the M23 leaders are on a UN blacklist of people with whom the UN would not collaborate due to their human rights records.
The author left out the long history of the conflict that between 1996 (some say 1994) and 2002 which left 5.4 million Congolese dead by murder, starvation and disease, and that Susan Rice was central to of all of it. We know that her admitted ‘failure to stop the genocide’ in Rwanda was a big part of her passionate advocacy for R2P in Libya, but now more folks are digging deeper into the truth of her part, both then and now.
Glen Ford castigates her bitterly for her failures to call out the early genocide in Congo, and is furious that her Democratic defenders, and especially the black political class, are defending her. He writes in ‘A Second Wave of Genocide Looms in Congo, with Susan Rice on Point’:
Susan Rice has abetted the Congo genocide for much of her political career. Appointed to President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council in 1993, at age 28, she rose to assistant secretary of state for African affairs in 1997 as Rwanda and Uganda were swarming across the eastern Congo, seizing control of mineral resources amid a sea of blood. She is known to be personally close to Rwanda’s minority Tutsi leadership, including President Paul Kagame, a ruthless soldier trained at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and mentored by Ugandan strongman (and Reagan administration favorite) Yoweri Museveni, who is believed to have pioneered the use of child soldiers in modern African conflicts.
The Atlantic is calling Rice’s African policy ‘controversial’ (my bolds throughout):
Things are not quite as amicable at U.N. headquarters. As the conflict in the Eastern DRC escalated, and as two U.N. reports provided extensive evidence of official Rwandan and Ugandan support for the M23 rebel group, Rice’s delegation blocked any mention of the conflict’s most important state actors in a Security Council statement. And in June, the U.S. attempted to delay the release of a UN Group of Experts report alleging ties between Rwanda and M23.
Peter Rosenblum, a respected human rights lawyer and professor at Columbia Law School, says that the U.S.’s reticence in singling out state actors is significant, especially at the U.N. “It shows [Rice] is willing to expend political capital to cast something of a shield over Rwanda and Uganda,” he says. “These are the things that in diplomatic settings, they are remarked upon. People see that the U.S. is still there defending the leaders of these countries at a time when many of their other closest allies have just grown sort of increasingly weary and dismayed.”
The author traces Clinton’s African policy and engagement back to Madeleine Albright’s full pivot to Africa, and what that meant in terms of treating former bad players as equals participating as non-exploited nations becoming self-sufficient and all that may have implied. It’s just one take on the policy, but as Rosenblum reminds us, Clinton, Albright and Rice were all in together, for good or…sadly mainly bad, he writes, in the end. The Rwandan President was a ‘good friend’ to the US, and continues to be, all the while some Congolese and Rwandan activists have been demanding that Kagame be tried for his key role in the Rwandan genocide. Shamus Cooke writing at Counterpunch tells a bit more of the first Congo war, the Clinton ‘green lighting’ Kagame invading Congo, then speaks to Obomba’s silence as M23, under the auspices of Rwanda, invades….again (this is the follow-the-wealth part):
Kabila later distanced himself from U.S. puppets Rwanda and Uganda, not to mention the U.S. dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The IMF, for example, warned Kabila against a strategic infrastructural and development aid package with China, but Kabila shrugged them off. The Economist explains:
“…[The Congo] appears to have gained the upper hand in a row with foreign donors over a mining and infrastructure package worth $9 billion that was agreed a year ago with China. The IMF objected to it, on the ground that it would saddle Congo with a massive new debt, so [the IMF] is delaying forgiveness of most of the $10 billion-plus that Congo already owes.”
This act instantly transformed Kabila from an unreliable friend to an enemy. The U.S. and China have been madly scrambling for Africa’s immense wealth of raw materials, and Kabila’s new alliance with China was too much for the U.S. to bear. Kabila further inflamed his former allies by demanding that the international corporations exploiting the Congo’s precious metals have their super-profit contracts re-negotiated, so that the country might actually receive some benefit from its riches.
Uganda has apparently brokered an agreement wherein M23 will move 40 miles north to one of their staging areas, and negotiations will begin with Kinshasa. It’s in no way clear what might happen next. But they don’t seem to be too worried about the relocation. From the LA Times:
“Leaving Goma is not a problem. We will be just 20 kilometers away, so taking over Goma again is not a problem for us,” said Seraphin Mirindi Murhula, the commander.
About 40 miles to the north of Goma in Rutshuru, the main rebel base, a senior M23 leader echoed that view. “We are pulling out but we can come back anytime. We have thousands of tons of ammunition,” said Benjamin Mbonimpa, the regional administrator of Rutshuru.
A hundred and eighty degrees away, Georgianne Nienaber at HuffPo believes that the atrocity stories about M23 and its leaders are pure propaganda. She’s pissed because the US is blaming M23, and that the Congolese are beginning to get that security lies in their direction. She pointed to Victoria Nuland condemning the violence on the State Department’s website. She claims that there never was a report from the UN Group of Experts, but she seems to be wrong. She’s claiming that Kinshasa refuses to negotiate, which clearly seems to be… not so.
When the Congolese government on Monday refused to accept an ultimatum from the Congolese Revolutionary Army (M23) to open negotiations and accept a buffer zone, Kinshasa opened the door for the fall of the provincial capital of Goma and with it the potential collapse of the government. In spite of a dire narrative of a possible bloodbath at the hands of M23 fighters promoted by international media and human rights groups, the M23 were welcomed “like war heroes,” according to an Al Jazeera report posted on YouTube. “There was no armed conflict and the United Nations retreated peacefully.”
Nienaber featured this video at Al Jazeera as good reporting. By my lights, Nazanine Moshiri has an agenda. ‘Here’s what M23 needs to convince the people about…’ stuff.
Weigh in and educate me/us at will. Obomba’s African policy will be increasingly in the news, as AFRICOM gets juiced up and involved in more nations’ business. Do at least send Ms. Rice a Thought Candygram in hope that she won’t live to regret another genocide in the area, regardless of what you believe should come next for Congo. This is a diary that has been agony; my eyes have been permanently crossed from all the reading, varied opinions, Bad Guys, Worse Guys, and criss-crossing wars that Americans like to pretend are regional battles and can safely be ignored.
Think peace when you can. Dare to dream large.