Painting by Cheri Samba

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

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The UN report on Rwandan intervention in the eastern Congo

The UN Group of Experts on the DR Congo submitted the celebrated addendum to its interim report yesterday. The addendum (apparently the correct terminology) is due to be published later today or tomorrow, but, Security Council politics being what they are, leaked copies are already circulating. I have obtained one; here is a summary and a brief analysis. 

The report deals exclusively with Rwandan support to armed groups and sanctioned individuals in the eastern Congo, and the findings are extremely damning. The Group finds that Rwanda is providing extensive support not just to the M23 rebellion, but to six other armed groups in the eastern Congo. Some of the support allegedly dates back to last year, although most of Rwanda's early involvement was aimed at assassinating individual FDLR leaders, using proxy militia such as Sheka Ntaberi's NDC or the FDC (aka "Les Guides"). At some point, however, Rwanda's aims changed, and they began backing groups that opposed the Congolese government. These included the M23, but also include a new coalition of armed groups in Ituri, an abortive mutiny in Bukavu, the irredentist former governor of South Kivu (Chiribanya) and a local militia in Masisi. This attempt to build a cross-regional coalition is reminiscent of Nkunda's CNDP, that was always trying to break out of the Kinyarwanda-speaking community and rally other communities and leaders to its cause.

However, most of these other groups are either barely alive or not (yet) very important. As in the case with the CNDP, the outreach efforts have not gained much traction. The main group is still the M23.

But when it comes to the M23, the allegations are hard-hitting. The support they document consists of providing ammunition and guns, health care, training, and new recruits. They also provide details of meetings organized by top Rwandan officials, including senior defense ministry representatives, to mobilize Congolese business and politicians to join M23. They claim that the Rwandan government has used its demobilization commission networks to mobilize ex-combatants, many of whom used to fight in the FDLR, as well as allowing recruitment to happen in the refugee camps largely populated by Congolese Tutsi. Most egregiously, they report that Rwanda has sent its own army into the Congo to support the mutiny on several occasions. 

The Group names individuals within the Rwandan government by name, saying that the following people played key roles: Defense Minister General James Kabarebe, the Defense Forces Chief of Staff General Charles Kayonga, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry of Defense General Jack Nziza, and Rwandan army division commander General Emmanuel Ruvusha. These officers have attended mobilization meetings, been in direct contact with mutineers, and have been seen organizing logistical support to the M23. 

On the M23 side, besides Col. Sultani Makenga and Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, Laurent Nkunda is making a reappearance in M23 meetings and mobilization. The Group has also found that Rwanda is supporting individuals – Gen. Ntaganda, Col. Zimurinda and Sheka – who are on the UN sanctions list.

The Rwandan government has already attacked the Group's methodology, so it is worth saying a few words about who they are and what standards they use. 

The Group consists of six experts: Steve Hege (USA, coordinator and armed groups expert), Marie Plamadiala (Moldova, customs and aviation), Ruben de Koenig (Netherlands, natural resources), Steven Spittaels (Belgium, finance), Nelson Alusala (Kenya, arms), and Emilie Serralta (France, regional issues). Most of them - like Hege, who is a former MONUC official and has worked for Jesuit Refugee Service and Refugee International in the region - have spent over five years working on the region.

The Group usually requires three independent and reliable sources to make a claim. In this case, however, given the severity and importance of the allegations, they say they rely on at least five such sources. Most of the evidence is eye-witness testimony - they interviewed 80 deserters from these various armed groups, including 31 Rwandan nationals, along with senior Congolese army and intelligence officers and active members of the various armed groups. They have some documentary evidence, including internal Congolese army reports and radio intercepts, as well as pictures of M23 weapons and ammo that are not in Congolese army stocks. 

In other words, there is extensive evidence of systematic Rwandan intervention in the DRC in violation of the UN sanctions regime, not to mention of Congolese sovereignty. Many questions, however, remain open: Why is Rwanda doing this? What is their ultimate goal? When did they decide to back these rebellions? What will the international community, which provides almost half of Rwanda's budget - including military cooperation and support to the demobilization commission - do? And what will the Rwandan reaction be, given that donors have invested billions in successful development projects, and Rwanda provides much-needed troops to the African Union mission in Darfur?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

So how do we help the eastern Congo?

In her lucid opinion piece published in The New York Times last week, Séverine Autesserre argues that the international community has gotten it terribly wrong in the Congo. Drawing on an argument laid out in her popular 2010 book, The Trouble with the Congo, Autesserre says that this failure stems from our failure to understand the causes of violence. We have, she argues, for too long obsessed about the national and regional causes of the war, and neglected the local dynamics of conflict. She says about diplomats and UN officials:
They neglect to address the other main sources of violence: distinctively local conflicts over land, grassroots power, status and resources, like cattle, charcoal, timber, drugs and fees levied at checkpoints. Most violence in the Congo is not coordinated on a large scale. It is the product of conflicts among fragmented local militia, each trying to advance its own agenda at the village or district level. Those then percolate and expand. (My emphasis)
While she is right to emphasize the local dynamics of conflict, her argument is flawed. She falls victim of her own critique: she, too, ends up being overly reductive, failing to account for the different kinds of armed actors, each with its unique underlying dynamic, in the eastern Congo. In fact, reading her op-ed, one might think that the reason for the uptick in violence in the Kivus this year is due to land conflicts and struggles for power at the village level.

But the main protagonists since the beginning of the transition in 2003 have not been fragmented local militia with parochial concerns, but rather armed groups that are tightly linked to regional political and business elites, such as the CNDP, PARECO, and, most recently, the M23. It is these groups that have set the tone and the terms for the conflict that has percolated until today; in this sense, Autesserre's article is strikingly anachronistic, published the same week the controversy over Rwandan support to the M23 came to a head at the UN Security Council.

Take the CNDP, for example, which has been the first mover of the main conflict that has simmered in the Kivus since 2003. The group did not emerge at the grassroots level due to land conflict, and the group has few links to customary authorities. Rather, it emerged as an elite-led response to the politics of the peace deal that reunited the country. 

When the RCD joined the transitional government in 2003, it stood little chance of survival. It was internally divided and was unlikely to garner many votes in the 2006 elections. The stakes were high: Much of Goma’s elite had prospered thanks to the patronage and protection of the RCD and Rwanda. To safeguard these interests, the CNDP was formed by senior members of the RCD military, in coordination with officials in Kigali and Goma. In response to the CNDP, over twenty other armed groups sprang up, many linked to political elites, professing opposition (and often hatred) to the CNDP and hoping to benefit from demobilization programs.  

This is not to say that land and identity do not matter. The CNDP draws on inveterate fears of abuse within the rwandophone community of North Kivu; other armed groups in Masisi, which mobilized in response to the CNDP, are indeed outraged by historical discrimination and the power of large landowners. But the level of analysis is misplaced: it is not customary chiefs and peasants who are the CNDP's driving constituency, but rather political and military elites.

This is not true for all groups. Some Mai-Mai groups, for example, have more tenuous links to elite networks, and are more rooted in the realities of rural life, with its land pressures, poverty and histories of communal violence. Even here, however, Autesserre's recommendation to increase funding for NGOs like Life and Peace Institute (LPI) and Action pour la Paix et la Concorde (APC) may be off-mark. Groups like the Tsheka Mai-Mai have been tightly linked since their creation to the military and political networks in the Kivus. Tsheka himself, for example, is well-known to have close to with Congolese army officers in Goma - first Etienne Bindu, later Bosco Ntaganda - and is probably unlikely to be swayed by local community leaders in Walikale, most of whom have disavowed him.

Local reconciliation work is only likely to be successful if those being reconciled can sway the armed actors; LPI and APC - both good, solid organizations - have carried out valuable such work in Kalehe, for example. However, many groups that emerged due to local grievances have since taken on interests of their own and become integrated into regional business and political networks. In these cases, local land tribunals and reconciliation workshops may have little impact.

Autesserre also does not mention the hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone into precisely the kinds of programs she is pushing for. The government-led STAREC program, which has received hundreds of millions of dollars from donors, is supposed to re-establish state authority, boost local infrastructures and consolidate the gains of the various peace deals. For example, UN-Habitat has received over $8 million to set up land mediation committees to address land conflict at the local level. Yes, STAREC has been caught up in controversy and has desperately lacked strategic vision (see here, for example) and government ownership - but it may be worthwhile trying to figure out why this effort has failed before asking, as she does, for MONUSCO's mandate to be redrawn to support grassroots projects dealing with local conflicts.

I certainly sympathize with Autesserre's complaint that, all too often, we see the violence in the Congo through the lens of sexual violence and conflict minerals. And I am sure we can do more to tackle land tenure problems and conflicts over local power. But I worry that she, too, has adopted her own particular lens, one that neglects the complex power base of armed groups, and that does not address the various, often flawed, efforts undertaken by donors and the Congolese government.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Controversial UN report stalled in the Security Council

After a dramatic build-up, the UN Group of Experts report on the Congo was submitted to the Sanctions Committee of the Security Council yesterday. However, the bit that everyone was waiting for - an annex that addresses allegations of Rwandan involvement in the eastern Congo - has been separated from the report and has not yet been submitted.

Diplomats say that the reasons for the block are in part procedural - the annex was submitted after the bulk of the report, which has to be edited and translated into all UN languages, as the situation on the ground was evolving rapidly. But others suggest that the real reason for the block is that UN member states are worried that these allegations could further sour relations between Congo and Rwanda, and that they are best dealt with behind closed doors. High-level meetings took place between the two sides in Kinshasa yesterday, where Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikwabo led a delegation to security and political officials to meet with their counterparts.

In the meantime, the Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende lashed out against Rwanda in an interview with Reuters, saying that, "I think (the report) confirms everything that has been said. I don't think the Rwandans are at all happy that it should be officially endorsed by the U.N." He also suggest that Rwanda and its allies, including the United States, were trying to block the publication of the report. At the same time, President Kagame said in a press conference in Kigali that the Congolese should stop scapegoating Rwanda, "And you Congolese, don't run away from your responsibilities and start claiming that this is our problem."

Sources close to the Security Council suggest that the annex may still be released in the coming weeks. It should be emphasized that the contents and conclusions of the annex are not yet known.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fighting in the Kivus divides the UN Security Council

Is Rwanda backing a new rebellion in the eastern Congo? Is the region returning to the turmoil of 2008, when the Rwandan-backed CNDP, battled the Congolese army, which was allied to a host of local militias? These are questions that many hope might be answered, at least in part, by a UN report that will be submitted this coming week. There are, however, indications, that the publication might be vetoed.

Rwandan involvement in the recent fighting, which is still confined to a tiny patch of land of about twenty square kilometers, has fueled much debate in recent weeks. Most foreign diplomats in Kinshasa - as well as some in Kigali I have spoken with - privately agree with the conclusions of Human Rights Watch, that Rwanda is helping M23 recruit soldiers, and is possibly also supplying the rebels with food, weapons and free passage through their territory.

Kigali, however, has vehemently denied the allegations, and aside from expressions of concerns by diplomats - including a letter from Washington a few weeks ago - there have been few concrete demarches by capitals. Meanwhile, after a week of calm, the fighting saw a brief peak again on Thursday, when M23 was almost able to take a large military camp at Rumangabo and cut off the Bunagana road.

Now the diplomatic focus is shifting to New York, where, in response to the allegations of Rwandan involvement, the UN Security Council called yesterday for a "full investigation of credible reports of outside support to the armed groups."

This statement was more than puzzling. At the same time at the Chinese president of the council signed the statement, the UN Group of Experts was in the process of submitting its interim report, which reportedly includes investigations into these very allegations. According to diplomats working for Security Council members, one of their colleagues is threatening to obstruct the publication of the report in the coming week. The justification given for this would be that the submission of the report flouted procedural rules, but the diplomats I spoke to pointed to larger, political disagreements linked to the allegations of Rwandan involvement in the eastern Congo.

Meanwhile, Congolese diplomats have upped their campaign against Rwanda, with their foreign minister traveling to Dar es Salaam and Bujumbura, while security officials visited Kampala during this past week. Ambassador Ileka Atoki, who is currently posted to Paris but used to be the Congo's permanent representative to the United Nations, is headed to New York this week to make the case to the Security Council, and specifically asking for the UN report to be made public.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Military stalemate, diplomatic positioning

Despite official indications by the Congolese government, the military situation on the ground against the M23 rebellion has not changed much. Several days ago, the government launched another push up the mountains against the rebellion. According to the government spokesman, they took several hills and victory appeared to be within reach. On Monday, the armed forces commander Gen Didier Etumba gave a presentation to a ministerial meeting in which he said that they had killed 200, wounded 250 and prompted 374 others to surrender.

Other reports from the ground, however, contradict this picture. A senior Congolese military officer told me, "We advanced a little, but then withdrew again. Nothing has changed much." A United Nations official reported that the offensive had smaller than expected, and that few gains had been made on either side.

At the same time, there are persistent rumors that M23 is trying to open a second front in Masisi, and that further meetings are taking place to mobilize political leaders, especially from the Hutu and Tutsi communities, to join the movement.

Meanwhile, talks between Rwanda and the Congo continue. Last week, a joint verification team interviewed the 11 Rwandan M23 defectors who were in a MONUSCO demobilization camp in Goma. The defectors' story changed slightly, as they now denied that Rwandan officers had taken them to the border, and they said the uniforms they had received were Congolese, not Rwandan. But they still maintained that they were recruited in Rwanda, passed through Kinigi, and provided with weapons and ammunition there. Following this joint verification, the two countries have not yet been able to sign a joint statement reflecting the defectors' testimony.

Rwanda continues to maintain that they played no role in supporting the rebellion, while in private many Congolese officials insist on the contrary. The dossier is now reportedly in President Kabila's hands - he will have to decide on whether to continue to treat these allegations bilaterally, through the joint commission, or to take the debate into the open, or at least to lobby diplomats more forcefully. (Meanwhile, the US State Department put out a statement that tried to placate all sides, warning against "outside support" for FDLR as well as M23.) Yesterday, there were indications from Kinshasa that the latter strategy might prevail, which could change dynamics.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The M23 rebellion: Leading with the chin

Since the beginning of the M23 rebellion in late March, the mutiny has appeared rushed and ill-planned. "Something was indeed in the works," one of the M23 supporters told me, "but it was not yet ready." This may explain why the initial wave of defections between March 31 and April 7 was quickly brought under control, many of its protagonists arrested and the rank-and-file troops re-defected back to the national army. According to this theory, Col. Makenga and Gen. Ntaganda had panicked after it appeared the Congolese government might try to arrest Bosco and break up the ex-CNDP parallel chains of command in the eastern Congo.

While the M23 has since gained military momentum with a new wave of defections, it has lacked a political base.

Enter the political wing. Its embryo became visible on May 6, when the CNDP's media arm was revived in a press statement. There have also been a series of declaration by members of the Congolese Tutsi community (see here and here), reporting an alarming spate of abuses against its members by the Congolese security services.  The movement's backers have also been reaching out to Hutu and Tutsi leaders in an effort to bring together the two communities behind M23. "Given the track record of the AFDL, RCD and CNDP here," one Hutu chef de poste who had been contacted told me, "they know they can't succeed without bringing our communities together."

It was little wonder that, given this context, the arrival of former North Kivu Governor Eugene Serufuli - who wields huge influence in the Hutu community - in Goma ten days ago sparked debate. Rumors began making the rounds that he had come to throw his weight behind the M23 mutiny; the fact that he passed through Kigali to reach Goma whipped up further banter. Nonsense, Serufuli and his allies demurred. "We have nothing to do with this rebellion, for which we were never consulted," one of his associates told me.

The movement is apparently trying to create a political and social foundation for itself to bolster its military ambitions. What are these exactly? While it is seems that the initial aim was to defy Kinshasa's attempt to break up CNDP networks in the East, that ambition has evolved as the mutiny has suffered setback after setback. Some officers now speak of taking Masisi and the official stance is to achieve the implementation of the March 23 Agreement, still others wax lyrical to their troops about federalism or even autonomy. While no one in the rebellion seems very sure of what the ultimate objective is, it will inevitably involve negotiations with the government at some point.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Human Rights Watch Slams the Rwandan Government

This article was updated to reflect MONUSCO's official stance regarding Rwandan involvement and additional quotes from the Rwandan government.

 After the BBC, now Human Rights Watch. The human rights group yesterday slammed the Rwandan government for providing support to the M23 mutiny. The group conducted research in the field, interviewing local villagers and several dozen M23 deserters. They concluded that, since Gen. Bosco Ntaganda gave orders for his followers to defect from the Congolese army in late March, Rwanda has been complicit in the recruitment of between 200 and 300 fighters, with Rwandan officials present at recruitment meetings and escorting recruits to the border.

According to these interviews, Rwandan officials also provided weapons, ammunition and free passage through their territory. The path allegedly taken by the new recruits has almost always been through a Rwandan military outpost close to Kinigi, then into the Congolese Virunga national park.

The report fleshes out accusations provided in an internal report by the UN peacekeeping mission that was leaked to the BBC last week. It also places Bosco at the center of the M23 rebellion, contrary to claims by the rebels. Defectors that I have spoken to separately suggest that Bosco is playing a key role in commanding M23 operations, although there are also clear tensions within the group, in particular between Col. Sultani Makenga and Bosco.

The Rwandan government has fiercely denied these claims, calling them "categorically false and dangerous." They are particularly furious that an eyewitness report of seeing Bosco Ntaganda in a bar in Rwanda with an army officer would be seen as evidence of support. A Rwandan security official, who did not want to be named as he was not authorized to speak with the media, told me: "The Rwanda Defence Force is accused of running a massive recruitment and training mission, and yet HRW could not come up with a single piece of material evidence, just self-serving hearsay accounts from an unspecified number of anonymous witnesses. [...] Despite this complete lack of factual evidence, that HRW expect people to believe the RDF was actively recruiting former FDLR militia - Rwanda's sworn enemy - [...] is beyond far-fetched."

The UN peacekeeping mission has also since stated that, despite their internal report, they do not have proof that Rwanda is playing a direct role in the conflict.

Nonetheless, foreign donors are uneasy about the mounting evidence of Rwandan involvement. A senior American diplomat told me that his government was taking these reports very seriously and that they would be discussing these developments with their Rwandan counterparts. Foreign aid has contributed to between forty and fifty-five percent of Rwanda's budget in recent years.

These accusations, however, have not taken the wind out of the sails of the mutiny. Over the weekend, members of the CNDP political party ended their alliance with President Kabila due to the rebellion, claiming that the government had not implemented the March 23, 2009 peace deal. The CNDP provincial minister of justice, Francois Rucogoza, resigned, and there have been reports of a small defection from the Congolese army to the mutiny over the weekend.