Under The Tree Of Talking | Congo: The Unpopular Struggle

As the crisis in Congo creeps into the headlines, JJ Bola provides an account of the recent developments, international involvement and the immense suffering the world continues to ignore.

Columns, New in Ceasefire, Under the Tree of Talking - Posted on Thursday, December 27, 2012 14:35 - 2 Comments

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On the 20th of November Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, in the eastern Congo, fell under the occupation of the recently formed M23 rebel group – who stated that they will march on until they reach the capital city Kinshasa – with little resistance from MONUSCO (United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in Congo) or the FARDC (Armed Forces of Democratic Republic of Congo).

‘M23′ is an abbreviation of March 23rd, the day in 2009 when a peace treaty was signed between the DRC government and the CNDP – the militia group fighting against the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) government at the time – stating that soldiers from CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People) were to be integrated into the FARDC. M23 was formed on 4th April 2012, when hundreds of soldiers from the CNDP defected and formed the faction, with claims that the Congolese government were not honouring their part of the peace treaty. They were led by Bosco Ntaganda, popularly known as “The Terminator”, who is now wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

According to Human Rights Watch, M23 are being funded by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose involvement in the region has been known for a number of years, with further accusations that the leader has been attempting to create a proxy military rule. The UN Group of Experts report published on 15th November 2012, states that:

“the government of Rwanda has continued to support M23 and other armed groups in all categories of arms embargo violations…officials have provided military support to M23 through troops reinforcement and clandestine support through special units of the armed forces…recruitment for M23 has continued in Rwandan villages, and Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) members have collected funds for the movement”. The complicity of neighbouring countries Uganda and Burundi, led by Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Pierre Nkuruziza respectively, have also been named in the looting and exploitation of Congolese resources. These parties, however, have denied their involvement vehemently, with President Kagame – who is active on social networking site Twitter – saying on 3rd December “the actual truth will always prevail. People need to support on-going efforts by ICGLR and stop blame game #E.DRC”.

On Nov 26th the International Conference of Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), which is comprised of 10 countries including DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, met to discuss the security situation in Eastern Congo. There were twelve objectives concluded at the meeting, which essentially urged the DRC government to listen to the “grievances” of M23 rebels. On the 1st December, M23 withdrew from Goma – allegedly stealing arms, cars and $3 million from the Goma Central Bank. However, analysts have argued that this is simply a tactical decision as a result of the increased international pressure on President Paul Kagame.

The Congolese government and M23 recently sat down in talks and begun the negotiation process, to which M23  have openly demanded that President Kabila resign from his post. In his recent state of the nation address, President Kabila – who is not without faults of his own –publicly stated, for the first time ever, the Rwandan governments complicity in the balkanisation of the Congo. However, there was little mentioned in regards to a plan of action on the situation. What was important, he asserted, is that the sovereignty of DRC must be decided by the people. This remains to be seen.

The UK is the biggest bilateral aid donor to Rwanda; DFID (Department for International Aid and Development) planned to spend £75 million in total on aid this year. Approximately 40% of the Rwandan economy is dependent on donors. The United Kingdom first withheld an aid instalment of £21 million in November, and later decided to cut aid to Rwanda citing involvement with M23 rebels as the cause. However, many have criticised this move saying that it is the poor who will suffer most. The United States have also decided to cut military aid to Rwanda for the same reason.

However, the US Government has rejected imposing sanctions on Rwanda, even though President Obama, in an official call to President Kagame on the 18th December, stressed “the importance of permanently ending all support to armed groups”. This shows a discrepancy in the course of action. If Kagame has given support to the rebels, as identified in the UN report, then the leader must held accountable for crimes indictable by the International Criminal Court. This remains to be seen. Nonetheless, one thing is for certain: Paul Kagame’a reputation – once deemed “a visionary leader” by Tony Blair – is changing, as the truth about his involvement in the Congo conflict is revealed.

To reduce the conflict in Congo to mere nationalism, tribalism or ethnic rivalries – a false narrative all too familiar in African conflicts – would be an oversimplification, and in fact, a false argument. This conflict is economically profitable for many actors domestically and internationally.

Congo is rich in mineral resources, it contains more than 80% of the world’s Coltan – used in modern technology such as mobile phones, computers, laptops and televisions – 30% of the world’s cobalt, not to mention gold, silver, copper, diamond, tin, cassiterite, which, despite being traded on the global stock market for approximately $400 per 50kg bag, earns Congolese miners only $5 dollars a day. The African Business Magazine estimates that Congo has a total mineral wealth of $24 trillion dollars, larger than the GDPs of the United States, United Kingdom and China combined, however, its people are amongst the poorest in the world and continue to suffer needlessly.

The conflict in Congo is not a recent phenomenon, this has been a 16-year-long struggle in which over 6 million people have been killed, and over 500,000 women have been raped by militia men as a weapon of war. And yet, the conflict has received very little global attention. It is this disorder which creates the conditions for the exploitation and extraction of the aforementioned resources by the Rwandan and Ugandan governments. According to the United Nations Rwanda and Uganda then sell these products on to multinational corporations from Europe and North America, with the help of the military aid provided by wealthy nations such as Britain and the United States. This is the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II. It would take a 9/11 every day for five years to equal the number of lives lost in this conflict, and yet, there is relative silence.

This global consensus of silence on the roots of the problem is perplexing; perhaps because the suffering is too heavy for the human conscience to bear, or perhaps because the suffering is so normalised. We only pay attention during the extreme moments that images are flashed on our screen. Congo is the unpopular struggle; however, it is the human struggle. One that we must all wake up to, in order to reclaim our humanity, as the roots of Africa’s first world war leave little doubt that we are all responsible.

JJ Bola performs his poem “I Cry”

JJ Bola

JJ Bola is a Congo born, London raised writer & poet. He tweets at @JJ_Bola

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Andy
Dec 28, 2012 5:31

It sounds to me like this is the “restive youth problem” rearing its head again. Armed groups (political, ethnic, “criminal”) flourish on mass unemployment among young people, who can be recruited to get a stab at resources, status and power. The neoliberal peace model – demobilise, integrate, power-share – brings elite fractions out of the cold, but leaves the underlying unemployment/poverty issue unsolved. So-called DDR initiatives tend to be precursors to downsizing army and rebel forces, and only provide short-term relief for ex-combatants, assuming the market will do the rest. This usually leads to a return to armed conflict or failing that, a proliferation of armed banditry by disarmed former combatants.

Since the lack of a job or income, and the possibility to obtain an income by taking up arms, are key drivers of ongoing conflict, the simple solutions in terms of sustained peace, seem to me to be either: basic income with dignity for all; full employment; maintenance of an oversized army to provide an income; or pensioning out ex-combatants to keep them quiet. The successful model here would be Somaliland post-(de facto) independence, which basically used state payouts to ex-combatants to end the war. The other key aspect of the Somaliland peace process was an emphasis on resolving grassroots “root causes” such as land scarcity and land conflicts. Of course all of this runs strongly against the neoliberal “consensus”, and would require some kind of sustained input of resources from somewhere.

There’s also a strange continuity of African civil wars like the Congo war, with Guevara’s foco strategy (create a million Vietnams through small armed rebel groups made up of dissatisfied youths)… basically, it looks like foco strategy without the politics – and with a corresponding plundering of the civilian population. It’s surprisingly effective at forcing centralised power either out of marginal reasons, or into dirty deals with local actors to keep resources flowing (example: MEND in the Niger Delta), but it seems to be ruined by the lack of radical politics, and the resultant emphasis on hypermasculinity and ultraviolence (according to Paul Richards, some of these armed groups are actually imitating Rambo!) I daresay the missing link is the role of elite fractions in channelling the grievances of the excluded into what are basically power-grabbing machines (with the result that neither the grassroots soldier, nor the alleged civilian constituency gains much from the eventual resolution of the conflict). Though I also wonder if Guevara exaggerated the revolutionary potential of militarised youths – he didn’t seem to foresee how hypermasculinity and dominatory power arise as byproducts of militarisation, even in a “good cause”.

I wonder how/whether it would be possible to politicise the grievances behind these struggles. A Chiapas the size of Congo would be a great boon to the people of Congo, and to the world.

GPJA #450: WAIHOPAI SPYBASE PROTEST JANUARY 18-20, 2013 « GPJA's Blog
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[...] Under The Tree Of Talking | Congo: The Unpopular Struggle – As the crisis in Congo creeps into the headlines, JJ Bola provides an account of the recent developments, international involvement and the immense suffering the world continues to ignore. http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/congo-unpopular-struggle/ [...]

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