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.
On November 14, President Obama vigorously defended U.N. ambassador Susan Rice during a press conference in the White House’s Rose Garden, perhaps signaling that he was unworried by the possibility of a drawn-out battle with Republicans looking to block Rice’s possible nomination as secretary of state. Rice, who has been criticized for her promoting a now-disproven explanation for the deadly attack on an American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, apparently has the full support of the president that could nominate her for the highest diplomatic position in the land.
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.”
Sarah Margon of Human Rights Watch agrees that the U.S. should be more active in naming potential obstacles in resolving the eastern DRC conflict. “It’s unacceptable for Rwanda to be violating UN Security Council resolutions and meddling in international peace and security,” she says. “I think the U.S. government has a very powerful voice and they need to use it.”
For some, Rice embodies a period in American policy in which U.S. influence was not put to particularly effective use in Africa. Rice served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during Bill Clinton’s second term as president. As Rosenblum explained in a 2002 article in Current History [$], the second Clinton administration began with a full-fledged pivot to Africa, with Madeline Albright undertaking a high-profile visit to the continent early in her tenure as secretary of state. It was a substantive trip — Albright gathered some of Africa’s most dynamic newly-installed heads of state in Entebbe and Addis Ababa, where she articulated America’s intention to change its relationship with the continent.
If humanitarian crises were listed by some sort of moral — or editorial — standards on the stock exchange, to help indicate which ones urgently require international news coverage and political action, shares of the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) would have commanded international news headlines and extensive press coverage over the past 12 years.
The U.N. has labeled the DRC, Africa’s second largest country, as the “rape capital of the world” because of the pace and scope of the use of rape as a weapon of war by proxy militia gangs fighting for control of Congo’s easily appropriable and highly valuable natural resources, destined for sale in Europe, Asia, Canada and the United States.
The wars in that country have claimed nearly the same number of lives as having a 9/11 every single day for 360 days, the genocide that struck Rwanda in 1994, the ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, the genocide that took place in Darfur, the number of people killed in the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — all combined and then doubled.
Yet we rarely hear anything about it. Indeed, one only need contrast media coverage of the latest Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza strip and Hamas rocket attacks into southern Israel, which have made front pages around the world, to the stunningly limited media coverage afforded to graphic accounts of atrocities committed that same week by M23, the newest militia gang terrorizing the local population.
Kofi Annan’s tenure as Secretary General of the United Nations has been marked by failure. The genocidal massacres at Srebrenica and in Rwanda occurred on his watch and the underlying conditions which led up to those tragic events are still unresolved. Annan has had successes as well but they have been overshadowed by those monumental events. His final years saw his credibility besmirched by corruption allegations and nepotism.
Nevertheless, Annan’s moral credibility remains intact. Is it because of the man or the institution? Is Annan a survivor and crafty politician or does the United Nations take care of it’s own? And what are the characteristics of a great United Nations Secretary General?
How do we explain Kofi Annan’s enduring moral prestige? The puzzle is that it has survived failures, both his own and those of the institution he served for fifty years.1 Personal charisma is only part of the story. In addition to his charm, of which there is plenty, there is the authority that comes from experience. Few people have spent so much time around negotiating tables with thugs, warlords, and dictators. He has made himself the world’s emissary to the dark side.
To these often dire negotiations, he brought a soothing temperament that became second nature early in his Ghanaian childhood. His father, Henry Reginald Annan, lived across two worlds, as a senior executive with a British multinational corporation and a hereditary chieftain in a country poised on the eve of national independence. In the Ghanaian struggle, the Annan family occupied the cautious middle, supporting independence but keeping their distance from the revolutionary nationalism of Kwame Nkrumah.
From these experiences, Annan became adept at circumspection and skillful in dealing with all sides, while keeping his own cards concealed. It was a temperament perfect for the UN. When he found his career in Ghana blocked by a succession of military regimes, he enlisted in the UN and has spent all his life in its upper reaches in New York and Geneva. Like Barack Obama, he learned early to live across racial divides and to position himself as the rational and relaxed confidant of all, while belonging finally to no one but himself.
Rwanda has been elected to sit on the United Nations Security Council for the next two years.
The vote comes a day after a leaked UN report said Rwanda was supporting a rebellion in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Five non-permanent seats to the 15-member council were decided at the United Nations on Thursday.
Argentina, Australia, South Korea and Luxembourg have also been elected to sit on the Security Council.
According to a confidential report by the UN Security Council’s Group of Experts, seen by Reuters news agency, Rwanda’s defence minister was relaying military orders to M23 rebel leaders who have been fighting DRC’s army since April.
The experts also accused Uganda of backing the rebels.
Both governments in Kampala and Kigali strenuously denied the allegations.
The DRC raised a formal objection to Rwanda’s candidacy but one of Kigali’s UN diplomats said voters would not be swayed by the “baseless report”.
Rwanda will take the seat currently filled by South Africa on 1 January.
Just days after a poacher’s snare had killed one of their own, two young mountain gorillas worked together Tuesday to find and destroy traps in their Rwandan forest home, according to conservationists on the scene.
“This is absolutely the first time that we’ve seen juveniles doing that … I don’t know of any other reports in the world of juveniles destroying snares,” said Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program coordinator at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Center, located in the reserve where the event took place.
“We are the largest database and observer of wild gorillas … so I would be very surprised if somebody else has seen that,” Vecellio added.
Bush-meat hunters set thousands of rope-and-branch snares in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, where the mountain gorillas live. The traps are intended for antelope and other species but sometimes capture the apes.
Adults are generally strong enough to free themselves. Youngsters aren’t always so lucky.
Humans are boken. That is all.
The suspected leader of an extremist Hutu militia was arrested in eastern Congo after years on the run, a Congolese official said Friday.
Bernard Munyagishari was wanted on charges of genocide and other crimes.
North Kivu governor Julien Paluku said Munyagishari was arrested and taken to Kinshasa, Congo’s capital. The prosecutor of the Tanzania-based United Nations court for Rwanda’s 1994 genocide says he will be brought for trial.
Munyagishari is alleged to have led the Interahamwe militia that committed mass rapes and killings of Tutsis in western Rwanda.
An 84-year-old immigrant accused of participating in the 1994 Rwandan genocide is headed to trial in Kansas in an immigration case that the Justice Department says is the first of its kind in the U.S.
The case - which hinges on whether Lazare Kobagaya committed atrocities in Rwanda and therefore lied when he told U.S. immigration authorities that he had never committed a crime - is the first criminal prosecution in the United States requiring proof of genocide, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Jury selection was scheduled to start Tuesday morning, and more than 50 foreign witnesses from five countries have been brought in to testify under tight security.
Kobagaya is charged with unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006 and with fraud and misuse of an alien registration card. Kobagaya denies committing acts of genocide, and defense attorneys say they plan to call more than 20 witnesses from around the world, along with family members, to testify on his behalf.
KINSHASA — Rogue army officers, local militias and Rwandan Hutu rebels have been forcibly recruiting hundreds of young men and boys in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said Monday.
The New York-based rights watchdog said the wave of recruitment, which began in September, “signals a possible collapse in eastern Congo’s peace process.”
HRW said it had interviewed dozens of escaped recruits, as well as teachers and local officials, who had described the forced or underaged recruitment of more than 1,000 young men and boys, including at least 261 minors, since September.
“Armed groups in eastern Congo are pulling youths from schools, homes and fields and forcing them to fight,” Anneke Van Woudenberg, HRW’s senior Africa researcher, said in a statement. “The Congolese government should urgently stop this recruitment and prosecute those responsible.”
HRW said the recruitment was taking place in the Nord and Sud Kivu provinces by the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a former rebel group that integrated into the Congolese army in early 2009, as well as by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a predominantly Rwandan Hutu rebel group, and by local Mai Mai militias.