LAST month, as I was driving down a backbreaking road between Goma, a provincial capital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kibumba, a little market town about 20 miles away, I came upon the body of a Congolese soldier. He was on his back, half hidden in the bushes, his legs crumpled beneath him, his fly-covered face looking up at the sun.
The strangest thing was, four years ago, almost to the day, I saw a corpse of a Congolese soldier in that exact same spot. He had been killed and left to rot just as his comrade would be four years later, in the vain attempt to stop a rebel force from marching down the road from Kibumba to Goma. The circumstances were nearly identical: a group of Tutsi-led rebels, widely believed to be backed by Rwanda, eviscerating a feckless, alcoholic government army that didn’t even bother to scoop up its dead.
Sadly, this is what I’ve come to expect from Congo: a doomed sense of déjà vu. I’ve crisscrossed this continent-size country from east to west, in puddle jumpers, jeeps and leaky canoes. I’ve sat down with the accidental president, Joseph Kabila, a former taxi driver who suddenly found himself in power at age 29 after his father was shot in the head. I’ve tracked down a warlord who lived on top of a mountain, in an old Belgian farmhouse that smelled like wet wool, and militia commanders who marched into battle as naked as the day they were born and slicked with oil — to protect themselves from bullets, of course. And each time I come back, no matter where I go, I meet a whole new set of thoroughly traumatized people.
Some are impossible to forget, like Anna Mburano, an 80-year-old woman who was gang-raped a few years ago and screamed out to the teenage assailants on top of her: “Grandsons! Get off me!”
Congo has become a never-ending nightmare, one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II, with more than five million dead. It seems incomprehensible that the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa and on paper one of the richest, teeming with copper, diamonds and gold, vast farmlands of spectacular fertility and enough hydropower to light up the continent, is now one of the poorest, most hopeless nations on earth. Unfortunately, there are no promising solutions within grasp, or even within sight.
News from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is usually grim. But it has been particularly so in recent weeks, as the M23 militia overran the town of Goma, the capital of the mineral-rich province of North Kivu. The militia has already started to withdraw, but reports of random killings and human rights abuses still abound. Meanwhile, parts of the city lack power, and garbage and human remains have been left to rot in the streets.
The violence in eastern DRC might look like the disruption of the fragile calm that followed the 2009 peace agreement between Congo and the M23’s precursor, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). In truth, however, it is part of a continuum of chaos that has gripped the region for some 15 years. Reliable studies have shown that five million Congolese have died due to the fighting, many of them in eastern DRC, making the region home to one of the worst humanitarian disasters since World War II.
There is plenty of blame to spread around for the seemingly endless bloodshed and mayhem: countries in the region, the rebels, and the international community are all somewhat responsible. Although the history of the violence in the area is local, the international community has refused to intervene decisively as fighting has dragged on. In addition, and perhaps more ruinous, some halfhearted attempts to curb the conflict have exacerbated it. For example, the United States’ effective ban on the purchase of so-called conflict minerals — ores mined in war zones — has made the region’s fighters more desperate and thus more aggressive.
In Rebel Country: How Did 1,000 Skinny Militiamen in Rubber Boots Conquer a City of 1 Million People in a Matter of Hours?
The lives of millions of poor Africans living under corrupt regimes and equally corrupt rebel groups are being upended by a relative few. How did this come about? What do the rebels want and what does the ‘Devil you know versus the Devil you don’t’ mean for the people affected?
While no one really knows how the story will end, history teaches us the likelihood of a positive outcome are remote. Tribal rivalries, criminal gangs and leaders jockeying for the opportunity to impose an iron grip on a hopeless and hapless populations are not even denied.
Will Africa ever see daylight? What will it take? And what will take for the western world is outraged at the tragedy that is Africa today?
After three days of sporadic fighting in and around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the city fell to the M23 rebel movement last Monday night, November 19. The following Thursday morning, the military spokesman of the M23, Col. Vianney Kazarama, was standing at an intersection in central Goma, addressing a group of young men. Government troops were said to be in the hills planning a counteroffensive, and United Nations peacekeepers, who had attacked the M23 forces with helicopter gunships before fleeing, were nearby, awaiting new orders. Kazarama didn’t care, he said. He was thinking ahead. The M23 was going to create a better future not just for Goma but for all of Congo, he told the young men, and it needed their help.
“We have to go to Bukavu!” said Kazarama, referring to the capital of South Kivu province, some 60 miles south, and the presumed next step in the M23′s march, “and on to Kinshasa!” Kinshasa, the country’s capital, is a rather more ambitious goal, lying some 1,000 miles west across a dense mass of jungle. Kazarama then repeated what has become his favorite refrain since his group burst onto the world stage last week, calling on the president of Congo to step down. “Joseph Kabila must leave the country!” he said. Then he promised the young men that the M23, which officially formed in April, would provide them all with jobs.
How does the ongoing massacre of tens of thousands slip off the radar? Why? Is it because the what is going on in the Congo is too complicated to easily explain or is it because what is going in is too clear with little or no room for discussion- and that may force us to sit up, take notice and act?
These questions and others like them force us into an uncomfortable corner. How do we decide what outrages us and what doesn’t? Why don’t we seem to care about almost 50,000 victims in Syria with over half a million refugees but obsess over a hundred plus dead in Gaza? Why are the 1.7 million Palestine in Gaza the focus of so many while the many million more Palestinians languishing for decades in camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere forgotten?
Does race play a role? Does it matter who the victims are who the perpetrators are?
A few years ago, a pair of white security contractors embarked on a journey deep into the African bush. Their mission? Unknown. A week later, a seemingly innocent man lay dead on the side of the road, and the two soldiers of fortune were the targets of an epic manhunt through the Congolese jungle. James Bamford retraces the strange odyssey of Tjostolv “Mike” Moland and Joshua French—and discovers that more than one hundred years after Heart of Darkness, some things never change.
The white men seemed nervous. There were two of them—one tall, one a few inches shorter, both conspicuously “other” from the sea of African faces. The tall one with the goatee carried a green nylon bag that he kept suspiciously close to his body, peering into it several times as he and his partner negotiated with the locals in the dusty parking lot.
The muzungus—that’s the Bantu term for foreigner or, in the literal translation, “aimless wanderer”—needed a ride. That much was clear to Kasimu. But they were struggling to communicate with his boss, the driver of the white Toyota Land Cruiser the white men had singled out among all the beat-up trucks and sedans as big enough and rugged enough to transport them and their broken-down motorcycle across the jungle. At first the muzungus balked at the driver’s price. Then they complained when they realized that Kasimu and his friend Kepo, who needed a lift home to his village, would be riding along. Finally, at about 6:30 p.m. on an early-spring evening in the crumbling colonial city of Kisangani, Congo, all five men piled into the Land Cruiser and settled in for a long drive through the jungle. Kasimu and Kepo shared the open back of the vehicle with the motorcycle—a white Yamaha trail bike—and the tall muzungu. The shorter one rode up front with the driver.
Congo conflict: Rebels set sights on capital Kinshasa
Published on Wednesday November 21, 2012
By Olivia WardForeign Affairs Reporter
Turning a new and bloody page in Congo’s tragic history, the increasingly muscular M23 rebel group said Wednesday that after taking the main eastern city of Goma, it was prepared to capture the capital of Kinshasa and overthrow the government in a military coup.
‘We will go to Kinshasa, we will unite the country,’ the group’s military spokesman Col. Vianney Kazarama told a cheering crowd of civilians, police and government soldiers in Goma just one day after UN peacekeepers held their fire and watched the city fall, and Congolese troops fled for their lives.
Kazarama later softened his stand, according to the Guardian, saying that the rebels would take the capital ‘if people invite us. We obey the people.’
But the rebels’ recruitment efforts were in overdrive, and by the end of the day, starving, scantily paid Congolese government troops had swelled M23 ranks by nearly 3,000 defecting soldiers.
Rwanda is a mainstay of the rebels’ success, said a damning UN report tabled Wednesday. Written by a group of experts, it exhaustively documents how the thousands-strong M23 militia morphed from a small band of Congolese army defectors just eight months ago, to a sophisticated, well-armed and virtually unstoppable force that dominates Africa’s Great Lakes region.
The report said Rwanda had violated an arms embargo ‘by providing direct military support to the M23 rebels, facilitating recruitment, encouraging and facilitating desertions from the armed forces of (Congo) and providing arms, ammunition, intelligence and political advice.’
And in the most serious allegations of Rwandan involvement yet, it said that the ‘de facto chain of command’ for the rebels ‘culminates with the Minister of Defence of Rwanda, Gen. James Kabarebe.’
Mitt Romney’s position is very muddled, so both Rape and Abortion should come up as questions in the first Debates.
THE claims of Representative Todd Akin that women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape” now live in infamy. But a few things you may not know:
¶If an American woman in uniform is raped and becomes pregnant, Congress bars Tricare military insurance from paying for an abortion.
¶If an American woman in the Peace Corps becomes pregnant, Congress bars coverage of an abortion — and there is no explicit exception even if she is raped or her life is in danger.
¶When teenagers in places like Darfur, Congo or Somalia survive gang rapes, aid organizations cannot use American funds to provide an abortion.
he Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) remains among the most persistent perpetrators of grave violations against children, says a new United Nations report.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s first report to the Security Council on the situation of children affected by the LRA documents violations committed against children, and measures taken to address the LRA threat between July 2009 and February 2012.
Over the reporting period, at least 591 children, including 268 girls, were abducted and recruited by the LRA, mostly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but also in the Central African Republic (CAR), and in South Sudan.
The LRA is currently believed to be made up of between 200 and 500 fighters. Formed in the 1980s in Uganda, the LRA mainly directed its attacks against Ugandan civilians and security forces for over 15 years. By 2004, it had largely been driven of the area through a sustained military effort. It then exported its activities to Uganda’s neighbouring countries, with practices that include the recruitment of children, rapes, killing and maiming, and sexual slavery.
“The LRA continues to cast a long shadow across central Africa, causing enormous suffering for children,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, at a press conference at UN Headquarters today.
The brassy title of Jason Stearns’s book, more like that of an old rock album than a history, comes from a speech by Laurent Kabila. President of the Congo from 1997 until his murder in 2001, Kabila had replaced the interminable tyranny of Mobutu Sese Seko with his own much shorter and more erratic tyranny. He said: “Who has not been Mobutist in this country? Three-quarters of this country became part of it! We saw you all dancing in the glory of the monster.”
The remark is like Kabila himself: ambiguous, weirdly alluring, useless. It seems to accept that everyone with ambition will naturally be drawn into the dance around the autocrat, and yet (“We saw you all…”) to threaten those dancers with retribution. Who are “we”? The one quarter of the Congolese who did not become “part of it”? And does that mean that the nondancing minority has the right to rule the capering majority? It leaves you wondering if you have to be a monster in order to be glorious.
Jason Stearns himself does not believe in the glory of monsters. Neither does he accept a “Heart of Darkness” view of the Congo as a zone of hopeless, endemic monstrosity. This is a country he knows well (if it is possible to know well a place so enormous and so roadless). Stearns led the 2008 UN mission to study violence there, and worked on conflict and human rights in the Congo with a series of agencies and charities.
He does not swallow the rhetoric about a “failed state.” For him, the appalling events in the belt of Africa between the Atlantic and the Great Lakes are about remediable human failure: jerrybuilt social and political structures that collapse at the first tremor, lack of trained elites, the alternate meddling and indifference of the outside world, and—above all, for Stearns—the weakness of nation-state authority. “Failed state”? If independent Congo/Zaire had ever possessed a state coherent enough to fail, matters might have been less disastrous.
His book has been put together out of many dozens of interviews, sustained research, and Stearns’s personal experiences. He mentions that in the Congo a politician requires un bon carnet d’adresses—a high-value contact book. His own, judging by the access he has acquired, must be a very valuable carnet indeed.
This is not the story of the Rwanda genocide in 1994, in which 800,000 people—almost all civilians—were massacred by their ethnic rivals in the space of a hundred days. That great atrocity is now relatively well known. Instead, this book tells of the war that broke out in the same region two years later, and that was in many ways its consequence.
The conflict that became international in October 1996, when tiny Rwanda invaded gigantic but inchoate Congo, has been called “Africa”s First Great War.” At different times in the course of its three phases, the two local adversaries were joined by armed forces from Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Chad, Namibia, and Burundi. (Cuba, which had sent troops under Che Guevara to fight in the Congo in the 1960s, stayed out of this one.) The war lasted, with one pause, for six years. Beyond overthrowing Mobutu, who fled the country after the first year, it achieved absolutely nothing.
Joseph Kony, the brutal commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, has been introduced to millions through a video on YouTube. But that denunciation of his war crimes skirts his claim to be motivated by Christianity, an omission not applied to violent extremists who embrace Islam, notes Mamoon Alabbasi.
By Mamoon Alabbasi
There is no doubt that the 30-minute video “Kony 2012” by the advocacy group Invisible Children has raised much awareness regarding the relatively under-reported atrocities committed by the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
It is also true that the video, which boasts over 80 million views on YouTube so far, has been subjected to much - I think fair - scrutiny. Criticism of the motives, accuracy and objectivity of the video’s makers has stirred a rather healthy debate on the issue, where alternative ways forward were discussed.
Graphic for the group, Invisible Children
However, I could not help but wonder how Invisible Children - whose founders are reported to have evangelical leanings - would have fashioned their video had the LRA been a Muslim extremist group (instead of being a Christian one, whose former name was the “Uganda Christian Democratic Army”).
I am not suggesting here that the group’s professed Christian beliefs are behind their abduction and enslavement of more than 30,000 children over the period of 25 years, where some of the boys become child soldiers, forced or brainwashed into murdering their own parents, and many of the girls end up as sex slaves after being captured.
The LRA fighters would chop off the arms, legs or ears of their victims. Sometimes they would padlock their lips. As a result of their terrorising violence, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.
The group does - bizarrely - claim to be fighting for the establishment of the rule of the Ten Commandments in a theocratic Uganda (although they have been active in three other African countries: South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic).
Blasts rocked the capital of the Republic of Congo Sunday after a weapons depot caught fire, officials said, killing at least 206 people and pinning countless others underneath collapsed buildings, including a church.
A morgue in Brazzaville took in 136 bodies Sunday afternoon, as more continued to arrive. A local hospital reported at least 237 patients wounded in the blasts.
Didier Boutsindi of the presidential office said untold numbers of people were trapped in St. Louis church, which collapsed.
“Many of the faithful are trapped in the debris of the church,” he said. “Several of the dead have been taken out and I confirm there are more deaths inside.”
He said others were killed in their homes.
“My uncle is among the people killed,” he said. “He was killed by the collapse of his house as he slept.”
Sunday’s blasts flattened buildings and shattered windows in the northern part of Brazzaville and sent more than 2,000 fleeing their homes, a witness said.
The munitions depot is near the president’s private residence, but he was at his official residence in another part of town and was not hurt. President Denis Sassou-Nguesso later visited the morgue, a hospital and the military hospital. He did not speak publicly.
The explosions echoed across the Congo River to Kinshasa, the capital of neighboring Congo, which is some 6 miles (10 kilometers) away. Residents there reported seeing plumes of smoke and feeling buildings shake.