Saturday, May 02, 2009

Bright, hopeful, sunshining Africa

As an African living in the diaspora, there re few things more frustrating than having to constantly dispel apocalyptic views about our continent, or our country. From the preconceptions that people all live in mudhuts, and roam around with lions and leopards, to the assumption that all of Africa is nothing but a collection of sempiternal, unsolvable ethnic/tribal wars, coming to the defense of Africa is often an exhausting task with limited returns.

People in the West (and in China or India for that matter) are so comfortable with the image of Africa as a basket case that the world media has created over the years, that it has become difficult for them to think outside the box, thus, in many ways, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy: because of this erroneous assessment of the situation in Africa, the policy prescriptions by the international humanitarian/development industry end up worsening the situation, or at least perpetuating the status quo.

Now, any longtime reader of this particular blog will know that I do not shy away from pointing out the downfall of our continent, its leaders, its corruption, especially when it comes to the Dem. Rep. of the Congo. But that is just part of the story of Africa. As Nicholas Kristof put it yesterday in the New York Times, in his review of Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, by Richard Dowden:
"My own take is that we in the news media and in the aid world can and should do a much better job providing context and acknowledging successes."
I concur: what is often lacking is context. But I would go further in saying that stories about Africa sell only when there is no context. The story often has impact only when it reinforces the Western public view of poor, exotic and hopeless Africa, that pulls at their heartstrings, and that they can "help" by throwing money/charity at the problem. What people don't stop to think about, is how it is possible that after decades of charity, Africa is poorer than ever before, and the humanitarian industry is healthier and more lucative than ever before...

I think it is time to look at Africa differently. In that same New York Times article, Kristof links to a website titled See Africa differently, dedicated to provide an alternative, more positive view of the realities on the mother continent.
See Africa Differently:

"When you think about Africa,
what do you see? Drought, hunger, disease…OR… progress, education and opportunity. We’re here to tell some pretty amazing news about the world’s second largest continent."
What I like about this website, and with people like Dambisa Moyo (author of Dead Aid, is that they are, finally, breaking with the various (and often counterproductive) "Save Africa", or "Save Darfur", or other initiatives, to begin to focus more on empowering Africans to generate African solutions to the challenges the continent faces.

Many of the messianic (almost evangelical) organizations trying to "save Africa" (ONE, Save Darfur, CARE, and even the ENOUGH project at times), though often very well-intentioned, tend to deny Africans their natural and civil right to have agency in addressing their own challenges. It becomes a case of "Don't worry little Africans. We have the solutions to all your problems. Let us impose them on you, because we know better". The humanitarian industry often becomes an extension of the "white man's burden" complex. It is as though it is unimaginable to the magnates of the humanitarian industry, that Africans could actually have the best interest of their continent at heart, or that Africans could actually have the integrity, and the intellectual capacity to be part of the solution. As long as that will be the prevailing paradigm, it will guarantee the humanitarian industry stays in business, and gather expat salaries, and Africa will continue its downward spiral.

I am not one to claim that the humanitarian/development industry is simply unnecessary, or pointless, or without its place in the equation. As I stated earlier, they are often well-intentioned, and they wield resources, contacts, and influence that could be crucial for the future of Africa. But the well-being, development, accomplishments and future of Africans should be at the center of their actions, something that is not - in my view - the case today. Africa is not a complete basket case, nor a hopeles case. There is a lot going on in Africa, and the continent has a bright future. The people, the human resource of Africa, is the key to that future. And any action that does not focus on developing that partcular resource at a grand scale, is simply a band-aid, and ultimately counterproductive. In my view anyway.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Why am I not surprised...

This was bound to happen eventually.
BBC NEWS | Africa | Rwanda bans BBC local broadcasts:

"Rwanda has suspended BBC broadcasts in the local language Kinyarwanda because of what it says is bias in BBC reports concerning the 1994 genocide."
I always find it very interesting to see how quickly the Rwandan regime retreats to a defensive posture whenever the issue of further openness about everybody's role in the terrible - and very real - 1994 genocide comes up...

I have never been a fan of historical fundamentalism. For instance, I believe the Holocaust did occur, because every evidence that has been offered to me tells me it did. And until proven otherwise, I will try to debate down anybody that says otherwise. But that, there, is the key, see. I will debate them, allowing them to offer up whatever evidence they claim to have. I will not validate their paranoia, and/or their conspiracy theories by trying to silence them. I believe that when something is factually true - like I believe the Holocaust is - the facts should be my tools, not dismissal. It is not always easy, of course, but that is the true genius of freedom of speech.

This, in my view, applies equally to the genocide in Rwanda. I was there. People died. Hundreds of thousands people in fact. And the facts accumulated so far seem to show that these people were quite disproportionately from the Tutsi ethnic group, and were - at least partly - the result of the coordinated actions of people in power in Rwanda at the time, who were overwhelmingly from the Hutu ethnic group; actions targeted primarily (and quite explicitly) towards Tustis. Thus, the intent of genocide behind the killings seems quite clear to me. So, just like for the Holocaust, I will debate anybody, any "negationist" that thinks the Rwandan genocide did not occur, or was not a genocide, etc, etc.

That is, unless someone can prove me wrong. Because although the genocide is a fact, it is not the whole story. There are holes of astronomical proportions in the narrative of the causes, masterminds, genesis and aftermath of the genocide, that need to be addressed if we want to ever have peace in the Great Lakes region. That is a fact, and I challenge anyone to prove me otherwise. Just as an example, I, for one would like all the light to be shed on the assassination of the late Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, and late Burundi president Cyprien Ntaryamira. I, for two, would like the broadcasting content of Radio Muhabura (the radio of the Rwandan Patriotic Front) to be as scrutinized as the broadcasts of Radio Mille Collines was (and rightly so). I, for three, would like to see more scrutiny of the actions of the RPF towards Hutus, in the north of Rwanda between 1990 and 1993, and in my native Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1996.

This is not to deny the genocide. I was in Rwanda in April 1994. My family and I lost close friends in the genocide. Two friends of mine ran away from their home after seeing their Hutu father kill their Tutsi mother by decapitation with a machete. So the genocide happened. There is no doubt in my mind about that. There is however a doubt in my mind about the liberator status of Paul Kagame and the RPF. I have doubts about the cleanliness of the RPF's hands in the whole matter. After all, the RPF was the biggest... "winner" of the genocide. And I cannot help but noticing that as long as the path to power was murky, the Tutsi-leader Kagame hid behind Hutu figureheads (Alexis Kanyarengwe, Pasteur Bizimungu), while pulling the strings in the background... And I cannot help but to notice that Kagame - admittedly and unsuccesfully - tried to pull a similar trick with Laurent Desire Kabila in the Congo...

Something simply seems fishy. But that, once again, is just my perspective. I am a great fan of freedom of expression, so I welcome anybody who can talk me down on this. That, President Kagame, is what freedom of expression is. That is how we eventually manage to find the truth, the WHOLE truth. So, if you have nothing to hide, I do not see what benefit you could possibly garner from hindering the free flow of information. Debate these negationists. Prove them that you have the higher moral ground, and prove them wrong, publicly and openly.

The Holocaust of the Jews (and the concurrent massacre of gypsies, communists, homosexuals, etc) by the NSDAP was - and still is - one of the dirtiest stains on humanity's consciousness, but it does not even begin to justify - in my view - the dispossession, mistreatment, massacres and pogroms of the Palestinians. Saying so is not, nor should it be considered, antisemitic. Similarly, scrutinizing, questioning and criticizing the actions of the RPF, or Paul Kagame, and the current Rwandan leadership, is not, and should never be considered anti-Tutsi, nor anti-Rwandan. The fact that the Kagame regime has been trying to conflate all the above, in order to maintain the sympathy of the world, and maintain zones of secrecy and opacity about its own actions, appalling, and quite telling... As I said in the title, I am not surprised. I mean, what else can one expect from a military leader that has used the plight of the Tutsi people to justify maintaining an unshakable grip on power in Rwanda for 15 years, and wrecking havoc in the entire Great Lakes region?

I wonder...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fighting Congopessimism...

(Someone that most readers of this blog will recognize, wrote this interesting piece.
x-posted at Le Salon, and published on Black Commentator)

The case FOR the Congo
A response to There is No Congo, by Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills, posted March 2009, Web Exclusive,

by Ali M. Mamina

Foreign Policy magazine recently published a rather disturbing article on the Congo (There is No Congo, posted March 2009, Web Exclusive,, by Jeffrey Herbst of Miami University of Ohio, and Greg Mills who directs the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation. The article makes a case against Congo as a unified entity. As a Congolese citizen, I could not disagree more with their arguments, and I believe they warrant an appropriate rebuttal. Their article is a perfect illustration of the flawed approach with which much of the so-called international community, and some scholars on Africa, have analyzed the situation in the Congo since its nominal independence in 1960, and frankly, part of the reason why they never get it right. It is often not due to inaccurate facts, or lack of knowledge on the region, but more due to inadequate prisms molded in the inside-think of Western-world-centric academia. In my view, and to illustrate some of the points I am rebutting, the article boils down to the following citations:

" … And indeed, for centuries, this is precisely what Congo's colonial occupiers, its neighbors, and even some of its people have done: eaten away at Congo's vast mineral wealth with little concern for the coherency of the country left behind. Congo has none of the things that make a nation-state: interconnectedness, a government that is able to exert authority consistently in territory beyond the capital, a shared culture that promotes national unity, or a common language. Instead, Congo has become a collection of peoples, groups, interests, and pillagers who coexist at best."

"The very concept of a Congolese state has outlived its usefulness. For an international community that has far too long made wishful thinking the enemy of pragmatism, acting on reality rather than diplomatic theory would be a good start."
There is one general sense in this article that is right: the Congo has been a disappointment. With the vast swathes of fauna, flora, mineral, agricultural, hydroelectric, and human resources it inherited at its independence, one would expect the Congo today to rival if not exceed such rising powers as South Africa, Brazil, India, China, Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia or the UAE. Instead, as the article justly points out, the level of deliquescence in Congo today is almost unprecedented; not acknowledging that reality would be intellectually dubious.

Nevertheless, what is equally dubious, is the misdiagnosis of the root causes of the current situation. The authors of this article repeatedly, and I believe questionably, confuse causes and consequences, to support and justify a desire, long-held in certain circles, for the balkanization of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The authors point out the weakness of the Congolese central state in governing the vast country, without fully and honestly addressing the international geo-strategic reasons why that reality came to be. The authors point out the various secessions and minor uprisings during the past 40+ years to justify their diagnosis of the Congo. Yet they fail to shine a light on the multiple foreign state and corporate backers that participated in those early attempts at derailing the Congo. The authors claim that " the Congolese government's inability to control its territory has resulted in one of the world's longest and most violent wars", without actually addressing the reasons why the government was - and still is - not able to control its territory in the first place.

My contention is quite simple. The current conflict(s) in the Congo, the deliquescence of the state, the lack of infrastructures and "interconnectedness", are not merely unforeseen, pathological consequences of bad colonial and/or cold war policy gone awry. The current situation is a direct, calculated, and progressively manufactured result of a long-standing operation by Western nations to maintain a weak state in this vast mineral rich swath of land in the heart of Africa and perpetuate the systematic plunder of Congo's resources by various foreign interests, and their proxies in the local elite.

Seems far-fetched? Let us consider that, until proven otherwise, the Congo is a sovereign country, recognized as such by International law, the United Nations, and, in theory, every country on the planet. Yet despite that, over the past five decades, these very countries, (including supposed champions of the rule of law like The United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and South Africa), have allowed their mining companies (like Banro, Freeport-McMoran, Anglo American, DeBeers, and others) to enter into odious contracts with corrupt elements of the leadership in Kinshasa, and worse, with murderous warlords, and near-genocidal militias, unhindered, and unpunished. Furthermore, several of these very countries and their corporations have provided the military, logistical and ideological support to the secessionist regimes in the 60's and 70's, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, their proxy militias AND/OR their rival militias, thus destabilizing and creating a de facto partition of the country, and further guaranteeing maximized profits through cheap/slave/child labor under warlords. That is not happenstance, but cold, calculated, predatory business planning. In fact, one only has to examine the history of the ties between the Oppenheimer mining magnate family of South Africa - which founded, and finances, the Brenthurst foundation that one of the authors of There is No Congo, Greg Mills, leads - and the various regimes and rebellions we have seen in the Congo, to understand how integral these foreign corporate and state interests are to the conduct of ANY business in the Congo.

I contend that it is not so much that there is No Congo; nor is it that the Congo as a country is not possible. I contend that since 1959, it was deemed too much of a potential threat to several world and regional powers, and to the coffers of their corporate acolytes, to allow the rise of a strong, large, potential Brazil-type power, in the heart of Africa. And we can see why. Let us consider the Congo today. Despite being one of the poorest, badly-managed countries in the world, by virtue of its position and of its potential, the country is poised - should there be a great deal of change in leadership - to be a major guarantor of the development of a truly functional African continent, and African Union. As Herbst and Mills themselves justly point out, "the country is the region's vortex". Former South African President, Thabo Mbeki notes “There cannot be a new Africa without a new Congo.” President Barack Obama himself rightly notes “If Africa is to achieve its promise resolving the problem in the Congo will be critical.”

Over the years, despite all the adversity the Congo faces, and despite the desires they secretly harbor to see the Congo disintegrate to begin annexing its pieces, its neighbors in the region were forced to recognize its central and crucial position for the advent of further economic development for the entire continent. As a result, despite currently being, admittedly, an economic drag on all of them, the countries of Southern, Central, and Eastern Africa have all secured some form of regional economic/political supranational alliance with the Congo, whether through SADC, CEPGL, CEEAC or COMESA (all groups that constitute regional clusters in the building of the larger African Union).

There lies the issue for this country. Left to its own devices, a big, strong, unified Congo would be a powerful engine for the development, and the industrialization of the entire continent. Herbst and Mills, I believe justly state that "economically, the various outlying parts of Congo are better integrated with their neighbors than with the rest of the country." But that is not in Congo's disfavor. Whether in terms of its abundant precious and strategic minerals, the tremendous amount of renewable energy that could be generated by the Inga dam project on the Congo river, the natural gas in Lake Kivu or the geo-thermal potential of the volcanic mountains in the east, the second lung of our planet that is its rainforest, or the extraordinary - and exhaustively demonstrated - resilience of its people, the Congo has everything to be the central pillar around which Africa rises. Should the people of the Congo find a way to build the infrastructure to interconnect its outlying parts, the country would instantly become the key piece in regional development. That prospect has always unsettled many, whose interests might not be as well served should there be a strong government, a functioning army and police, and rule of law.

Herbst and Mills claim that "the very concept of a Congolese state has outlived its usefulness." When was it ever truly - and democratically - implemented, I ask? When, since 1885, have the affairs of the Congo ever truly been left to the Congolese people? See, I contend that the Congo has, intentionally, never even been given a fighting chance to live up to its potential. Its challenge since 1885 has been both an internal and external one. Under colonial rule, the people were voluntarily under-educated, and the infrastructure built was limited to basic transportation needs for minerals, and the comfort of colons. Under Mobutu, the regime, backed by Western powers, ruled with an iron fist, promoted corruption, allowed the deliquescence of the already meager infrastructure and mining industry, and progressively engineered a weakening of the state apparatus, the army and the police, in order to strengthen and impose Mobutu's personal rule, and better protect the mechanisms of the systematic plundering of the country's resources. The Congo today is the result of a systematic, documented, and fully reversible process of manufactured under-development, with roots in colonial and neo-colonial policies, but more importantly, in greed. Fomenting and perpetuating misery, turmoil, tribalism, destructive autocratic rule, and angling for the "Somalization" of the Congo, was more profitable to key greedy domestic elites and foreign groups, and more dependable for key foreign powers, than actually allowing this country to build the infrastructure it needed - and still needs - to succeed.

That is a far more accurate prism to consider the events that have befallen the Congo over the decades. It explains the secession of Katanga, the mineral rich southern province, only 7 days after independence in 1960, with the help of Belgium, the very colonial power the people of the entire country had just successfully sought to get rid of. It also explains the assassination of the first democratically elected Prime Minister, Patrice E. Lumumba, with, at the very least, the tacit backing of Belgium and the United States. It explains, for instance, the documented contacts between the Oppenheimer family of South Africa and Albert Kalonji Mulopwe, the "Emperor" of the secessionist South-Kasai, Moise Tshombe, leader of the Katanga secession, and rebel groups of more recent years. Finally, and most tragically, it explains how the Congo's neighbors - Rwanda, Uganda, and to some degree Angola, their proxy militias, their rival militias, and corrupt elements of the so-called leadership of the Congo and their militias, have been not only allowed by the international community, but backed and supported primarily by the United States and Britain:
  • to systematically destroy, ransack and plunder an entire country, unhindered and unpunished;
  • to brutally rape and sexually terrorize tens of thousands of women in front of their sons, fathers and husbands, unhindered and unpunished;
  • to turn children into soldiers, unhindered and unpunished;
  • and to cause the death of nearly 6 million people - a scale for another century - to this day, seamlessly, unhindered and unpunished.

All the above has been accomplished in blatant violation of every principle of International Law, and every principle of human decency, and in full view of the inadequately-led, inadequately-sized, ineffective, inept, overhyped, overpriced and overpaid so-called "largest United Nations peacekeeping force" (MONUC), and with logistical support from Western powers, and recently, the dreaded AFRICOM of the United States. Herbst and Mills argue that "the international community does not have the will or the resources to construct a functional Congo"? It seems more accurate to say that over the years, the international community has been - more or less intentionally - actively, and systematically undermining a functional Congo. It is for this reason that Antonio Guterres, High-commissioner of the UNCHR reminded us in his interview with the Financial Times, in January 2008, that we must not forget that “the international community has systematically looted the Congo” and that is a far different and, in my opinion, far more easily remediable problem.

The ultimate solution to the Congolese situation lies in investing on a key element that Herbst and Mills discount too quickly, and wrongly so: the Congolese people, its sense of citizenship, and its resilience. Through all the humiliations of colonialism and dictatorships, the scheming, the gaming, the profiteering, the raping, the oppression, the daily humiliations of poverty, the hunger, the injustice, the corruption, the tribalism and the morbid reality of living in a needlessly war-torn country, the Congolese people have emerged as quite the resilient people, AND quite the cohesive people; at least as cohesive as can be expected for any multi-cultural people, whether in the Congo, in South Africa, or in the United States. Congo may yet have "none of the things that make a nation-state", but I contend that you would be hard-pressed to find a Congolese citizen, rural or urban, who does not identify with the Congolese nation, and the "boundaries that the king of Belgium helped establish in 1885 ".

Yes, the lack of infrastructures makes the task to establish and solidify the regal functions of a strong, centralized state on the entire territory, unusually daunting. But the Congo is not the first, and will certainly not be the last, multi-cultural nation, that has to, in its formative years, struggle with translating their sense of national identity into stable, and accepted state institutions. It may be hard, but the argument that it is not worth thriving for, fighting for, and supporting, is simply untenable; especially coming from two scholars from the two countries in the world - the United States and South Africa - that symbolize the most (and I admire them for that) the possibility of overcoming tremendous and varying odds to build united and strong countries, that combine multi-cultural peoples, and effective, democratic states. Maybe the Congolese can learn from them, and Brazil, and India, and establish a strong, but truly federal state. When the Congo's affairs are left to the Congolese people, the possibilities are endless.

Now, that is definitely not to say it will be a cakewalk. The Congo we envision, thrive and advocate for is possible, but it will entail a great deal of work and investment from the Congolese people. Those in the “learned class” – economists, agronomists, engineers, teachers, doctors, etc - that have managed to maintain their integrity by not partaking in the plunder of the Congo, will have to outgrow this sense of cynicism, hopelessness and apathy that has seeped into their consciousness due to years of despair and lack of prospects for change, and roll-up their sleeves. The Congolese will need to revitalize the education sector, so as to ensure that the coming generations have access to the knowledge they need to continue the task of rebuilding their country. They will also need to organize education/training initiatives for urban and rural adults, in various fields, among which – and most importantly – sustainable agriculture, construction, urbanization, sanitation, and salubrity. They will need to reinforce notions of civics, citizenship, human rights, civil and civic rights, law and order, and respect for women, which years of oppression and mis-education, of Leopoldism, colonialism, Mobutism and other -isms have caused to somewhat crumble away in the general consciousness. Finally, on a national level, they will need to seek worthy partners to do all the above, and also begin the work of reconnecting the Congo to the main grids of modern technology, starting with the electrification of the country, through the rehabilitation and completion of the Inga hydroelectric complex. The task is not complex for the Congolese people; it is simply tedious. The prescriptions we put forth imply a laborious, time-consuming but necessary grassroots work, that needs to start yesterday, but is absolutely achievable. And given a true opportunity, I believe the Congolese people are up to the task.

So, instead of giving up on the Congo, and dismissing it as an irredeemable failure, I say let the Congo and its people truly amaze you. Give the Congo a fighting chance. It is quite simple, really. Intel, Nokia, Dell, T-Mobile, IBM, Banro, Freeport-McMoran, Anglo American, Chevron, Tullow and all the other companies identified in the Financial Times and United Nations Reports from 2001 – 2003, that romp through Congo for coltan, cassiterite, tin cobalt, gold, diamonds, oil, etc, should cease and desist from buying minerals illegally from warlords, from neighboring countries that have looted our resources, or through odious or illegal contracts. By all means, invest in Congo, but be deliberate and intentional about doing it through the proper channels. Stop financing and arming warlords. All people of goodwill should discourage the Congo's neighbors from meddling in its affairs and support and finance education and healthcare institutions. Support local institutions, and help the civil society hold the central government, the provincial governments and the security forces truly accountable.

And finally this time, this time, help the Congolese ensure that they conduct truly free, fair, transparent and democratic elections in 2011. The International Crisis Group's 2007 report "Congo: Consolidating the Peace", shows quite clearly that the last time around, the International community was more concerned about access to lucrative mining contracts as opposed to a democratic process that would reflect the interests of the people. Let us all thrive to prevent a repetition of that. The Congolese have an imperfect constitution, with imperfect prescriptions, and imperfect institutions, but they are all theirs to perfect. Let the Congolese people choose its own leaders, and manage its own territory. Give them the chance they have never had: to demonstrate their capacity to be a viable nation, and establish for themselves a state that helps their country live up to its full potential. Is that really a concept that has outlived its usefulness? I dare think not.

Ali Mamina is a Congolese Political Sciences graduate with an international focus from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and an adviser to The Friends of the Congo

The FOTC was established at the behest of Congolese human rights and grassroots institutions in 2004, to work together to bring about peaceful and lasting change in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Author can be contacted at this address (FOTC), a 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt advocacy organization based in Washington, DC.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brokers of Death

Once again, something I missed in the past few months of absence from the blogosphere, but that is worth noting.
A new report from the International Rescue Committee has indicated that the number of people dying from the results of the war in the Congo has gone up to 5.4 million. It's time to name the individuals and corporations who have profited from this. In addition, I will suggest appropriate sentences for the crimes, based on Nuremberg Trial standards.

Samuel Bodman of the Cabot Corporation, and now US Secretary of Energy, has been involved in looting millions of pounds of cobalt from the area, encouraging and turning a blind eye to the many atrocities that occurred to extricate the minerals.

Sentence: Death (based on Göring and Fritz Sauckel's sentence at Nuremberg)

James P. Mooney (former CEO) and Joseph M Scaminace (current CEO) of OM Group, mining and chemical company
I believe the only way we will be able to make headway in the Congo, at least on the corporate front, will be to constantly name and shame those corporations that are fueling the conflict in the Congo. So shame on you Cabot! Get your act together and act right!! (well, actually, if you read their website, they claim to be acting right now. Can someone verify that?)

The Trouble With Congo | Foreign Affairs

So, I cannot believe I did not read this when it came out. I came across this article by Severine Autessere, on Foreign Affairs magazine:
The Trouble With Congo | Foreign Affairs

Summary -- Although the war in Congo officially ended in 2003, two million people have died since. One of the reasons is that the international community's peacekeeping efforts there have not focused on the local grievances in eastern Congo, especially those over land, that are fueling much of the broader tensions. Until they do, the nation's security and that of the wider Great Lakes region will remain uncertain.

SéVERINE AUTESSERRE is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University.
This is the comment I made on the article:

What Ms Autessere argues here is partially true. There are land disputes in the Congo, just like there are at the border regions of most African, European, Latin-American, Asian countries. These often lead to ethnic/tribal tensions in societies where villages, families, local customs, languages and traditions are still strong. That was true not so long ago (and in some ways still is) in Alsace-Lorraine for instance. In that case the Congo is not unique.

What is unique in the Congo, is how the greedy need by some interest groups, mostly foreign, but also domestic, for cheap access to the vast mineral resources of the Congo, have maneuvered to stir, fuel and escalate these tensions, ultimately even funneling funds to warlords using the sexual terrorism of systematic rape, to guarantee a perpetuation of the situation of lawlessness, fear and chaos that they deem good for their business.

If one really wants to solve the issues of the DRC, those interests have to be targeted first. Only then would we have a chance to bring the Congo out of chaos.

Let me know what you think.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Dangerous comparisons...

Ever since that day of April 1994 when I left Rwanda under a cloud of flying bullets, in the first fiery and chaotic week of the Rwandan genocide, and throughout all the havoc that has been wrought in its aftermath in my country, the DRCongo, I have been dreading some of the "parallelism" in the article below, and its dangerous implications
Lessons from Rwanda, the 'Israel of Africa' | Op-Ed Contributors | Jerusalem Post: "In some ways, Rwanda is the 'Israel' of Africa. The conflagration there set the entire region on fire - witness the two Congo wars, which were largely the outcome of the events in Rwanda. The two peoples - Tutsis and Hutus - had been at each other's throats for decades, and foreign powers had not desisted from meddling in their conflict.

The president spelled out the lessons, as he saw them, in precise, cogent, terms: self-reliance, because you cannot rely on help from the world when you are in trouble; and reconciliation, the need to live in peace with the 'other.'

'If we could do it, after all that happened here, surely you can, too?' he said.

For me there was a third lesson - the need for an outstanding leader. If it had not been for President Kagame - who, in my opinion, is one of the most remarkable and preeminent leaders in Africa, and possibly in the world, today - Rwanda would not be the peaceful and stable country that it is. It would not be called 'the Singapore of Africa.'

Rwanda is lucky in having its own David Ben-Gurion at a critical time in its history. We were lucky in having the original, back then when our state was established. What we need now is to have our own Paul Kagame!"
First of all, I must say, quite honestly, that I hold President Paul Kagame, and his regional policies, personally responsible for much of the mess in the Great Lakes region, and for the proliferation of militias, warlords, and sexual terrorists. His tendency to use the guilt of the Western world for its inaction in 1994, to get away with expansionism, and facilitating the plunder of the Congo's resources, is exactly the fuel that allows for this conflict to fester. And that is why the parallelism with Israel is so dangerous.

See, Israel does its share of shaming the Western world, to get away with murder (no palestinian would disagree with me), and that is a bloody shame. Using the past, tragic suffering of your people, to get away with illegally and brutally usurping another people, is simply despicable (Bible notwithstanding). The relationship between Israelis, and their Palestinian distant cousins, could have been worked in much more constructive ways over the years. But despite that, the one thing Israel has, is democracy. A stratocratic democracy, yes, but a democracy nevertheless. Kagame's regime is far from a democracy, and the tensions that spurred the genocide are simply dormant because of the threat of military anihilation. My fear is that if we start allowing the Kagame-regime to cast Rwanda as Africa's Israel, the 5 million people that have already died in the past 12 years of Kagame and his multinational corporate allies' foray into Congo, will pale in comparison to what we will see then.

Kagame is not a model for Israel; if anything because, quite officially, Israelis do not want a truly multicultural country - it must be a Jewish state. Kagame, officially, wants a united Rwanda, with equal rights for all. Kagame needs to beware. If there is no true, heart-to-heart, open national dialogue in Rwanda on the real, deep-seded tensions between Rwanda's ethnic groups, the Great Lakes will be Tchernobyl II. Should this dialogue occur, and should Kagame realize the error of his ways in the Congo, then, and only then, would Kagame be a model-leader for Israel.

Congo: One hundred years of colonialism, dictatorship and war (1908-2008) | San Francisco Bay View


by Kambale Musavuli and Maurice Carney
January 2, 2009

Congo's holocaust by Khalil Bendib
Congo's holocaust by Khalil Bendib
2008 marked the 100-year anniversary of the removal of the Congo from King Leopold II of Belgium as his own personal property. Global outrage at the King’s brutal rule resulted in his losing the Congo treasure trove on Nov. 15, 1908.
Leopold II accumulated spectacular wealth for himself and the Belgian state during his 23-year dominion (1885-1908) over the Congo. During this period, an estimated 10 million Congolese lost their lives while Leopold systematically looted the Congo of its rubber and ivory riches. Congo was then handed over to Belgium, which ruled as a colonial power from 1908 to 1960.

Congo finally got its independence on June 30, 1960, when Patrice Emery Lumumba, its first democratically elected prime minister took office. Unfortunately, the Western powers, primarily the United States and Belgium, could not allow a fiercely independent African to consolidate his power over such a geo-strategic prize as the Congo. Lumumba was removed from power in a Western-backed coup within weeks and assassinated on Jan. 17, 1961.

Belgium apologized for its role in Lumumba’s assassination in 2002, yet the U.S. still downplays its role in murdering this great young leader. The U.S. replaced Lumumba with the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and backed him until he was overthrown in 1997.

The overthrow of Mobutu unleashed an ongoing resource war that has caused deep strife and unbearable suffering for the Congolese people, particularly the women and the children. It is estimated that nearly 6 million Congolese have been killed since the 1996 invasion by Rwanda and Uganda with support from the United States and other Western nations.

A century later, Congo is at another crossroads. In spite of the advances in technology and the shrinking of the world, it is curious that there is such silence around the suffering of the Congolese people due to the exploitation of powerful corporate and foreign forces beyond its people’s immediate control. Unlike the early 1900s, remarkably, today there are few if any voices the likes of Mark Twain, who wrote “King Leopold’s Soliloquy,” Joseph Conrad, “The Heart of Darkness” (often misread as Congo or Africa being dark, but he was referring to the dark hearts of the exploiters of the Congo), and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, who wrote “Crime in the Congo.”

The Congo Reform movement that drew from the work of African Americans such as William Sheppard and George Washington Williams and led by European figures such as Robert Casement and E.D. Morel gave birth to the modern international human rights movement.

One hundred years later we are again calling on the global community to be at the side of the Congolese. This time, there is one fundamental difference: The Congolese are agents in this narrative and the call this time is not for a handover to a colonial power or neo-colonial institutions but rather to the people of the Congo.

The clarion call is for combating the forces - local elites and rebels, foreign governments, foreign corporations and multi-lateral institutions - that have the Congolese people in a death trap. The charity prism of the humanitarian industry is not the answer. It only perpetuates dependency and dis-empowerment.

Should Congo be truly liberated, the Darfurizaton (emptying of agency from the afflicted people) of the global movement in support of the Congo must be avoided at all costs. Congolese must be agents rather than objects in the pursuit of the control of their land and their lives.

The sovereignty of the people and control and ownership of the riches of their land is the fundamental human right for which we must advocate. It is a call not only for the Congo but the entire African continent.

Become a part of the global movement to “Break the Silence” as the Congolese pursue true sovereignty and liberty.

Maurice Carney is executive director and Kambale Musavuli is student coordinator of Friends of the Congo, 1629 K St. NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20006, (202) 584-6512,,

Friends of the Congo is led by people of African ancestry and others of goodwill. With strong support from friends of the Congo throughout the globe, the vast human and natural resource potential of the Democratic Republic of Congo can serve as an instrument to meet the great needs of the people of Congo and Africa.

Monday, February 16, 2009


(This is partly a response to a comment by Nshuti Habimana, on a post by Friends of the Congo, here)

I am fed up. I am fed up of people always blaming the victims of the conflict in the Congo, of creating the conflict. I am sick and tired of hearing so-called experts on Congo, and duped well-meaning entertainment personalities, mis-characterize the reality of the conflict in my country. So, I have decided to accuse, as objectively and as concisely as I can, those people that are the main causes of this conflict, so that maybe people can finally go after them. This is a work in progress, and I get precisions on specific names of people, with accessible and tangible proof, I will update this. So I ACCUSE:

- I ACCUSE elements within the current leadership of the Republika y'Urwanda, of having planned, engineered, and masterminded a series of social, political and military operations, to effect the vicious, deliberate and meticulous destabilization of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, directly and/or by proxy, and consequently, to be responsible for the chaos, and the Shoah-proportioned fatalities that resulted from said planing, between 1996 to 2008.

- I ACCUSE these same elements of the said current leadership of Rwanda of having exploited pre-existing ethnic tensions in the Great lakes region, and the world's LEGITIMATE sympathy towards the victims of (and DESERVED guilt for their inaction during) the 1994 genocide, to guarantee some level of impunity in their massacre of millions of Congolese people and non-combatant Rwandan Hutu refugees, and subsequent rabid exploitation of mineral resources in the East of the DRC.

- I ACCUSE these same elements of the said current leadership of Rwanda of having expansionist aims at the expense of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and of using the aforementioned legitimate and deserved sympathy and/or guilt, to endear Western powers into adopting these blatantly illegal and abhorrent expansionist ambitions as potential solutions to the conflict they themselves generated.

- I ACCUSE these same elements of the said current leadership of Rwanda of having engineered the use of rape and the HIV virus as a weapon of war in the East of the DRC, and of having financed multiple shell-rebel organizations to achieve their ignominious aims in the DRC.

- I ACCUSE certain elements of the leadership of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to be in traitorous collusion with the aforementioned elements of the said current leadership of Rwanda.

- I ACCUSE eminent members of the leadership, and the intelligentsia of the United States of America, the UK, France, Belgium, Canada, China and South Africa of willfully, and criminally, turning a blind eye to the actions of the aforementioned elements of the said current leadership of Rwanda, in order to allow several of their ventures and corporations to benefit from the cheap labor, and general lack of regulations, resulting from the chaos created by the aforementioned vicious, deliberate and meticulous destabilization of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

- Finally, I ACCUSE those among us Congolese, Rwandan and Western principled citizens that have the required information to nominally identify (with tangible proof) the aforementioned negative elements of the leaderships of Rwanda, Congo, and the International community. I ACCUSE them of genocidal cowardice at worst, or genocidal apathy at best.

I have accused. Prove me wrong!!

Friday, February 06, 2009


I have not been writing on The Salon for a while. That's because I have lost a bit of the grasp I had of the situation back home, in the Congo (DRC). Both the political power-players and the political game itself became blurry. There was a point when I could discern between constructive forces, and the destructive ones in a clearer fashion. Who pulls Kabila's strings? How to uncover the multiple layers of the mystery Kagame? What realistic and pragmatic alternatives exist on the field? Those are all things that I am trying to reacquaint myself with. But one thing I know: Laurent Nkunda may simply be a symptom of a larger problem, but he is definitely a parasite to be dealt with. That is why I was outraged when I saw this on Facebook:

A Fan-page for Nkunda? Are you serious? You have got to be kidding me!! A murderous warlord like him? I mean I wouldn't even tolerate a Fan-page for Kabila (because he is shady too), and he is the President!! I mean, this is not acceptable. I am all for freedom of expression, do not get me wrong, but this deserves some responses. I would appreciate suggestions.

What is appalling here is the proficiency and sophistication of Congo's foes in communication, media manipulation, and staying on message. They are always miles ahead of those of us standing for Congo, and we are always playing catch up. That needs to change. The narrative needs to change.

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