Monday, May 18, 2009

Demanding More

I read a lot of news articles on Eastern Congo that seem to miss the full picture of what is going on here.

But here is an AP article that I feel accurately represents some of the security problems facing Eastern Congo.

Please note that this article discusses the atrocities being committed at the hands of the Congolese army. There are many rebel soldiers, who have not been integrated into the Congolese army. They are also raping, burning villages, and killing civilins in large numbers. I have heard many reports from friends here in Goma who say that their family members who live in rural villages are currently sleeping in the forests because the rebels come to their homes at night, to pillage, burn, rape and kill. So the point is that these atrocities are not by any means limited to the Congolese Army, but nor are they limited to the Rebels. The people of Eastern Congo face threat from both sides, and in the end the motivation is largely the same. On both sides there are too many young men with guns but with no sense of order or consequences. Congo has become a culture where one is expected to "pay oneself" and this is particularly true for soldiers, who use the strength of their weapons to exact payment in the form of money, goods, sex, or terror.

This article asks the question of how the UN can continue to operate in such a culture. The Congolese Army is heavily supported by UN forces, and yet the Congolese soldiers continue to commit attrocities. On one hand the protection provided by the presence of UN soldiers is tangible and necessary. On the other hand, if the UN is unable to change the entire security culture, then why strengthen forces that continue to prey on their own people? (Don't get me wrong, I strongly appreciate the presence of the UN here and I think overall they are doing a good job with what they have. However I must admit that there are some hard questions that must be asked) This is a central question not just for the UN, but for the many bilateral donors to Congo, and even for the many aid and development agencies working in Eastern Congo. It is not just the soldiers who prey on their own people. Congo is a predatory country and the government preys on its people, asking for bribes at every turn, while providing few real services in return. The vast majority of people here live in complete poverty while a select group become rich. The ultimate question is whether such a culture can be changed, and whether this is happening. And if not, by choosing to accept such a culture and work within it, are we ultimately liable for the atrocities it perpetuates, whether in the form of killings or in the form of corruption and the neglect of its citizens.

I am often confronted with evidence here that the people of Congo have lost all sense of what they should expect, in fact demand, of their government. I get so frustrated at their ease in demanding that NGOs and the international community provide security to Congo and solve the woes of the country, while they easily accept that their own government does nothing. Yet I can see how overtime it becomes easy to accept that reality that is in front of you, and lose sense of what should be demanded. If we, in the international community, are finding it impossible to hold the Congolese soldiers and in fact the Congolese government to any kind of respectable standards how can we expect a population which has been trodden upon for generations to stand up for themselves?

The problem is not just with the UN. The problem is with all of the countries, especially my own, that heavily support a government that provides so very little to its people. The problem is with all of the international companies that sign mining contracts with the Congolese government, knowing that the official they are working with is acting in his own best interest, and does not in any way, shape or form actually represent the best interests of the Congolese people. The problem is with all of the ex-pats, including myself that shake their heads and say "Oh Congo", while demanding nothing more. If we don't demand it, who will?

Congo ex-rebels accused of rape and killings

By ANITA POWELL – 5 hours ago

GOMA, Congo (AP) — Congolese rebels who became part of the country's army under a peace deal are looting, raping and killing the civilians they are meant to protect, U.N. military commanders told top U.N. officials on Monday.

The failure of integration efforts threatens attempts to bring peace to eastern Congo. The mineral-rich region has been torn apart by violence since Hutu militias who carried out Rwanda's genocide fled there almost 15 years ago.

Congo's violence has previously sucked in half a dozen of its neighbors, destabilizing central Africa.

Since a peace agreement was signed in 2003, about 16,600 rebel fighters have been integrated into the regular Congolese army — itself a notoriously ill-disciplined force of roughly 125,000.

Brig. Gen. Bipin Rawat, the commander of the U.N.'s forces in the north Kivu region, said that had not stopped the former rebels from murdering, torturing and raping civilians.

"We have been insisting to them that they refrain from carrying out human rights violations," he told visiting members of the U.N. Security Council who are touring the region.

A U.N. human rights official, Marie Plamadiala, warned the Security Council that the U.N. could be held responsible for human rights violations committed by the Congolese army.

The Congolese army, "is indeed supported by MONUC. And they are indeed committing these human rights violations. We should address these violations otherwise we could be considered complicit," she said in Kiwanja, where more than 100 people were killed last year.

Lyn Lusi, the director of HEAL Africa hospital, said she had seen an increase in the number of rapes since the rebels were integrated.

"We have to put much more emphasis on the protection of civilians," she said. Her hospital in the eastern town of Goma sometimes treats over 400 rape victims a month. Sex attacks in Congo are infamous for their brutality and frequency.

"The civilian population is under general suspicion from both sides as collaborators," said Marcel Stoessel, a Congo-based director for Oxfam.

The 16,475-strong U.N. mission, known by its French acronym MONUC, says it does not have enough soldiers to protect all civilians in Congo, a country larger than Western Europe but with only 300 miles (480 kilometers) of paved roads.

That forces them to depend on the Congolese soldiers to help defend the population. But Lt. Gen. Babacar Gaye, military commander of the U.N. mission, said the Congolese soldiers had not been paid for five months. He said the U.N. was feeding 20,000 Congolese soldiers every day because they had no food for themselves.

Congo is notoriously corrupt and army officers frequently steal the paychecks they are supposed to disburse, sending their men to prey on the population instead.

Gaye said the violence against civilians was unlikely to stop soon.

"We are on the way of progress," he said. "Unfortunately this way is paved with atrocities."

Earlier this year there was major fighting in eastern Congo, continuing a cycle of conflict that has engulfed Africa's Great Lakes region for years. There has been a lull in the violence since relations with neighboring Rwanda improved, following Rwanda's arrest of a Congolese rebel.

The Congolese government has frequently accused Rwanda of supporting some of the fighters in an effort to flush out the remains of the genocidal forces hiding in the forests.

Congo is the U.N. envoys' third stop on a four-nation tour focusing on some of Africa's hotspots.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserve


Hugo Sarmento said...

Congratulations for the extremely good blogging and for the great job you are doing out there.
I spend a lot of time in the Kivu too (, so I know what you are talking about!
Take care

Colored Opinions said...

I am sorry for answering your question on the number of followers on twitter I garnered over time, soo very late. I hadn't noticed your answer to my post on your blog earlier.

I became a member of twitter during the US presidential elections. At first. It didn't occur to me at the time to be a very friendly medium to use. But through Cem Basman, who has a wonderfull german blog at sprechblase, I got more interested in microblogging. I tried out weveral microblogging platforms, like and recently the congolese (Brazza) akouaba. If you want to get a large following it's mostly adding a lot of followers and responding and writing messages on the platform. So far I see twitter more as a side channel for blogging. I am still discovering it's potential, so if you have any suggestions...