Sunday 17 November 2013

Spectacular turn of events as DRC forces crush foreign-backed M23 rebels

Antoine Roger Lokongo, Pambazuka

The Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), as the Congolese armed forces are known in French, and the Rwanda- and Uganda-backed M23 rebel movement made up of Rwandan and Ugandan demobilized soldiers, other Tutsi and Hutu insurgents and some Congolese, had not clashed since August 2013. The two sides were awaiting the outcome of the peace talks paid for by the Congolese government in Kampala and overseen by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (who also backs the M23). Uganda had assumed the rotating presidency of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.

However, during the talks, apart from acts of terrorism, rapes, massacres and mineral looting (they have made $500 million since the launch of the insurgency last year, according to a report by Enough Project NGO), the M23 who occupied a huge portion of eastern Congo since May 2012 kept on militarily harassing the FARDC, applying Museveni’s and Kagame’s well-known tactic: “talk and fight”. Kinshasa could not tolerate it anymore, and the Congolese government suspended participation in the talks and the Military High Command ordered an all-out offensive against M23 launched on 25 October 2013.

Just within a week, the FARDC, supported by the intervention brigade made up of Tanzanian and South African troops within the UN Mission for Stabilisation of Congo (MONUSCO) recaptured all the key strongholds occupied by the M23, drove them out of eastern Congo, inflicted heavy losses on them (including the seizure of many weapons) and had many of them surrender, 27 in Rutsuru alone. This spectacular string of victories by the Congolese armed forces and defeats for the M23 started with the recapturing of the town of Kibumba, 30 kilometers from Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, on 25 October 2013 where three mass graves were discovered.

On 27 October 2013 the FARDC recaptured the town of Kiwanja, 70 kilometers north of Goma after heavy fighting. Local people welcomed the Congolese armed forces with shouts of joy. Unfortunately, a Tanzanian peacekeeper was killed during the fighting, as the Congo-based UN-sponsored Radio Okapi reported. Just a few hours later the army took control of the city of Rutshuru. The M23 rebels were just fleeing the advance of the FARDC. The people of this city greeted the arrival of the FARDC and encouraged them to pursue the rebels into their last strongholds. On Monday 28 October 2013, the army continued its advance. After Kibumba Kiwanja and Rutshuru, it was the turn of Rumangabo, one of Congo’s biggest military base located 50 kilometers from Goma, to pass under the control of the FARDC. Another mass grave was discovered there. On Wednesday, 30 October 2013, the Congolese military took control of Bunagana, a Congolese town near the border with Uganda which the M23 turned into its political headquarters.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

DRC: The war might be won, but who’s going to win the peace?

Simon Allison, Daily Maverick

AllsionBWThere’s lots to celebrate as rebels in the eastern DRC lay down their arms and surrender, concluding the latest chapter of a long-simmering rebellion. But no one should be celebrating too hard: winning the war was the easy part. Winning the peace will be a lot harder. By SIMON ALLISON.

“It is more difficult to organise a peace than to win a war,” said Aristotle, a long, long time ago. Good philosophy never dates, however, and at moments like these his words are all too relevant.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the rebels have surrendered and white-clothed women are victory-parading through the streets of Kinshasa; the usually sober BBC asks if this means peace in the DRC, finally; and seasoned UN diplomats are dancing in conquered rebel strongholds and crowing about the military success of their new, amped-up peacekeeping force, for which South Africa put the lives of 1 345 soldiers on the line.

Before we get into the headaches of post-conflict resolution - and there are plenty - it’s worth acknowledging that all this congratulatory back-slapping is not entirely misplaced. In the space of a few days, the Congolese Army, with the intimidating support of those heavily-armed UN peacekeepers, was able to deal a decisive blow to the M23 movement’s military capacity. In military terms, it was a stunning success, and achieved the goal of bringing the rebels, tails firmly between their legs, back to the negotiating table.

“The chief of general staff and the commanders of all major units are requested to prepare troops for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration on terms to be agreed with the government of Congo,” said M23 chief Bertrand Bisimwa, refraining for once from his usual bombast to simply acknowledge the new status quo. As a fighting force, M23 are finished. For now.

South Africa has plenty of reason to be pleased. Our soldiers acquitted themselves well (and, more importantly, escaped unscathed), our Rooivalk helicopters saw combat action for the first time in their 23-year history, and our president went ahead and signed a staggeringly large energy contract with the Congolese government, who were no doubt inclined towards generosity thanks to South Africa’s efforts against M23. Such are the spoils of war.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

M23 rebels end uprising in Democratic Republic of Congo

By William Wallis and Katrina Manson, FT

M23 rebels withdraw through the hills having left their position in the village of Karuba, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on November 30, 2012M23 rebels called an end to a 20-month insurgency in the mineral-rich east of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday after being driven from their strongholds by one of the most successful ever offensives carried out by the national army.

Congolese officials announced they had scattered the rebels from remaining hilltop redoubts after a night of intense fighting. The M23’s leader, Bertrand Bisimwa, then called on rebel units to prepare for “disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration on terms to be agreed with the government of Congo”. He said the movement would now pursue its fight through political channels.

The psychological significance of the moment was apparent in the capital, Kinshasa, where witnesses said onlookers were breaking into impromptu celebrations at the sight of passing soldiers, more often feared for their predatory behaviour. A huge billboard was erected near the city centre featuring a government soldier and the words ekolo ya makasi, or “something strong”.

Congo’s army has rarely been known for its strength: it has not claimed a significant victory on the nation’s many battlefields for as long as most Congolese can remember.

In the 17 years since the first of many rebel groups marshalled by neighbouring Rwanda began a campaign to overthrow the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko on the same eastern terrain, soldiers in the ragtag national army have suffered defeat after defeat, most recently when M23 rebels over-ran the regional capital, Goma.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Rebel retreat: Can the Congolese army build on a rare victory?

The Economist

THE army of the Democratic Republic of Congo is not used to being feted with palm leaves. It is also unaccustomed to winning. Its men are better known for rape and pillage. But a snap offensive against rebels in the eastern province of North Kivu which began on October 25th brought a rare military victory.

“They fought well and they behaved well,” said a surprised observer of the troops, who were welcomed by cheering crowds in Rutshuru, the northernmost town they have reached. The government forces did not do it alone. They were helped by a strengthened UN “intervention brigade” and faced a demoralised foe. The M23 mutineers, named after the date of a failed past peace accord in March 2009, were crippled by in-fighting and in the past year by Rwanda’s reduction of the support it once gave.

The rebels, whom Rwanda still denies it backs, suffered heavy casualties on October 26th-27th, trying to defend their frontline positions north of the regional capital, Goma. Their leader, Sultani Makenga, with several wounded men in tow, headed first for Bunagana, an outpost that soon fell as well, and then possibly onwards to the nearby border with Uganda. Hundreds more are reported to have defected.

The UN’s bullish new special envoy, Martin Kobler, said the M23, which briefly occupied Goma last year, was finished as a military force. “The era of cohabitation between armed groups and the UN is over,” he told a local radio station.

Monday 28 October 2013

Emergency UN talks planned as DRC 'push back' M23 rebels

Mail & Guardian

Diplomats say a UN peacekeeper has been killed in fresh violence between the army and M23 rebels in the eastern parts of the DRC. (AFP)The UN Security Council will hold emergency talks on Monday on a new surge in fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in which a UN peacekeeper was killed, diplomats said, as government troops cleared rebels from strategic positions in the country's restive east.

The FARDC regular army took back control of both the city of Rutshuru and the rebel-held town of Kiwanja, home to a base used by the UN mission Monusco that had been repeatedly looted by rebels, said the governor of North-Kivu province, Julien Paluku.

Monusco said a Tanzanian officer was killed in Kiwanja, where United Nations forces joined the army to drive out rebels on the third day of clashes since a fresh flare-up in violence on Friday. The circumstances of his death were unclear, said the UN force.

The soldier was the third Tanzanian with the UN brigade to have been killed in recent months.

"The soldier died while protecting the people of Kiwanja," said Monusco head Martin Kobler in a statement.

The spokesperson for UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said in a statement the UN chief "condemns in the strongest terms the killing of a Tanzanian peacekeeper who came under fire from the M23 movement in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The secretary general offers his sincere condolences and sympathy to the family of the victim, and to the government of the United Republic of Tanzania."

UN 'remains committed'
The statement added that the United Nations "remains committed to taking all necessary actions ... to protect civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo".

France later called for an emergency meeting of the 15-member Security Council to discuss the latest crisis in the troubled region.

Monday 21 October 2013

Dear John Campaign

Congo Justice

M23 peace talks with DR Congo hit snag

Al Jazeera

M23 rebels and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo have suspended peace talks only days after the rebels spoke of "major breakthroughs".

The two sides have been meeting in Kampala, the capital of neighbouring Uganda, which is brokering the peace talks.

The suspension of talks on Monday comes just hours after UN envoys warned of the dangers if a deal was not agreed soon to end the year-and-a-half-old rebellion ravaging the Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile east.

Lambert Mende, the Congolese government spokesman, said the talks had been suspended because of disagreement over the extent of an amnesty for the M23 army mutineers and their reintegration into the national army.

Last Saturday M23 released a statement saying there had been "major breakthroughs" as a result of "the heavy involvement of the international community in the dialogue".

The rebels take their name from a peace agreement they signed with the DRC government on March 22 2009, paving the way for their integration into the national army, but they mutinied in April 2012 over poor salaries and living conditions, renewing an armed rebellion in the country's mineral-rich east.

Mende said Congolese Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda had returned home to Kinshasa, the capital, but added that his departure was "not definitive".

Thursday 10 October 2013

DR Congo: we are all implicated in the carnage – we can no longer ignore it

Vava Tampa, The Guardian

U.N. peacekeepers in CongoDenis Mukwege, the Congolese gynaecologist who treated thousands of rape victims during the war, is tipped to win the Nobel peace prize this week – ahead of Malala Yousafzai. Whatever the decision, his work – and the situation in the country – deserves global recognition.

Some of the horror stories I have heard from women rape victims have truly haunted me. Some of the women, after being raped, had chemicals poured into their inside. Others were shot apart by rifle blasts. One family friend's aunt, Masika Katsuva, was raped with her two daughters and then forced to eat her dead husband's genitals which had been cut off by the rebels.

For the past 15 years, Congo has been the scene of the bloodiest violence since the second world war. The conflict began in 1998 when Laurent Kabila – who, with the support of a loose assembly of regional armies, had forced Mobutu from power 15 months earlier – fell out with his original backers. Rwanda's Paul Kagame and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, under the pretext of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, had enlisted Mobutu's military to reinvade Congo to topple Kabila. The invasion drew in Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia on Congo's side, while Burundi lined up with Rwanda and Uganda, and set the stage for the tragedy that continues to the present day.

The human cost has been in the millions; and the cost in terms of social and human development is incalculable. More than 5 million perished in the first 10 years of the wars and an estimated 45,000 people continue to die each month.

Yet we rarely hear anything about it. Out of sight, out of mind. Though ironically Congo is actually never too far from us. We carry a piece of it with us every single day. One of the reasons the Congo wars have continued is the scramble for its highly valuable minerals. Congo is a home to some of the largest reserves of gold, tin, timber, diamond, copper, cobalt, tungsten and tantalum – to name but a few – in Africa. The most lucrative of all is columbite-tantalite, better known as coltan: a dull metallic ore that stores electricity and makes our mobile phones vibrate.

Saturday 5 October 2013

The Democratic Republic of the Congo: Where hell is just a local call away

Dan Snow, The Independent

Congo RiverAfrican nation is rich in resources – yet its people know only famine, war and disease. Dan Snow examines why

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the size of Western Europe, blessed with resources that ought to make its 70 million inhabitants very wealthy.

Yet it sits at the very bottom of the UN Human Development Index and for a generation has reliably been the worst country on earth in which to be born.

We are headed north to try and find out why. We can’t travel by night because the countryside swarms with the lawless; refugees from the sudden implosion in the neighbouring Central African Republic have fled here with machetes and empty bellies. We stay in a guest house which has not had running water or electricity for two years. It’s plantain and scrawny chicken for dinner, a feast by local standards.

The Land Cruiser rumbles off at 4am, its tyres bald, the windscreen wipers non-existent. The 300km journey will take eight hours if we are  lucky. This vast country has fewer than 2,000 miles of paved roads, and the World Bank estimates that 90 per cent of the entire network is impassable. It is so bumpy that I get seasick.
Hordes of kids roar as we pass but we see only children and pregnant women, no old people. The average life expectancy here has collapsed from 60 in 1960 to 48 today. It is late when we reach Gbadolite, the jungle folly of one of Africa’s most infamous leaders, President Mobutu. The town centre is quiet: modern street signs and traffic lights hang limp and corroding above carless streets.

We are here to film Mobutu’s jungle Versailles. We pass an airport with a runway built for Concorde, which Mobutu would hire for his shopping trips. The marble-clad terminal building is derelict; where the French President François Mitterrand once sipped champagne, families live in lean-tos. We eventually reach the palace to which Mobutu retreated as the Congo collapsed and undiagnosed cancer tore at his insides. Its swimming pool is empty but for a puddle of green sludge, his sunken bed a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Fragments of Chinese porcelain vases lie scattered across the cracked floor.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Democratic Republic of Congo: UPR Submission September 2013

Human Rights Watch

1. Summary
Violent conflict has continued in the Democratic Republic of Congo, mostly in the east, with the Congolese army and non-state armed groups responsible for horrific attacks on civilians, including killings, rapes, and forced recruitment of children. Presidential and parliamentary elections in 2011 were characterized by a violent crackdown on the opposition. Government authorities have sought to silence dissent by targeting human rights activists, journalists, political leaders, and political party supporters who criticized government authorities or participated in peaceful demonstrations.

While the challenges for the Congolese justice system remain enormous and most perpetrators of serious abuses in Congo go unpunished, there are signs of a greater government commitment to fighting impunity for grave human rights abuses. Since 2012, government officials have repeatedly called for leaders of the M23 – a Rwandan-backed armed group responsible for widespread human rights abuses – to face justice, and have stated clearly that the government will neither provide an amnesty to those allegedly responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity nor reintegrate them into the army. The government’s insistence on accountability may have contributed to the surrender of M23 leader Bosco Ntaganda to the US embassy in Rwanda in March 2013. He is now awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court for charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in north eastern Congo in 2002 and 2003.

This submission focuses on the human rights record of the Congolese government and security forces since 2009, when the last UPR on Congo was held.[1]

2. Killings, Rapes, Recruitment of Children, and other Abuses by the Congolese Army

Monday 23 September 2013

Little respite for displaced in DRC’s Ituri District


Civilians displaced by conflict have made a temporary home
 of a church in Nongo, south of Bunia
BUNIA, 20 September 2013 (IRIN) - Over the course of three weeks, clashes between government forces and an armed group in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) displaced so many civilians that the population of one village, Gety, increased nine-fold, from 5,000 to 45,000.

In all, there are around 100,000 people displaced in the south of Ituri District, part of Orientale Province.

“Cases of rape, kidnappings and other abuses by armed men have been reported,” Madnodje Mounoubai, spokesperson for the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), told a recent press briefing, warning that the population was living in precarious conditions.

“Entire villages have been emptied of their populations. Many of those displaced, fearing violence from the belligerents, are believed to still be in the forests in inaccessible areas,” he said.

The most recent clashes, which involved heavy machine guns, mortars and rocket launchers, took place over the weekend of 14-15 September, he said.

“Enormous needs”

“The displaced population have enormous needs,” said Marc Poncin, emergency intervention coordinator for the Swiss branch of the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the only international agency present in Gety.

Poncin told IRIN the main areas of concern were health, shelter and sanitation, as well as access to food and water.

Blood on Your Handset

Is your cellphone made with conflict minerals mined in the Congo? The industry doesn’t want you to know.

Gold miners in northeastern Congo form a human chain while digging an open pit.If you are reading this on a smartphone, then you are probably holding in your palm the conflict minerals that have sent the biggest manufacturing trade group in the U.S. into a court battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission. At stake in this battle between the National Association of Manufacturers and the government is whether consumers will know the potentially blood-soaked origins of the products they use every day and who gets to craft rules for multinational corporations—Congress or the business itself.

The Dodd-Frank Act, passed in 2010, is primarily known as the law that tries to tighten regulation of the financial services industry and improve aspects of corporate governance. It also requires companies to track and report the conflict minerals used in their products. These minerals are tantalum (used in cellphones, DVD players, laptops, hard drives, and gaming devices), tungsten, tin, and gold, if they are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding countries including Rwanda, where the mineral trade has fueled bloody conflicts.

The rule requiring disclosure of conflict minerals will go into effect in 2014. Congress included it in Dodd-Frank out of concern for what is known as the “resource curse”—the phenomenon wherein poor counties with the greatest natural resources end up with the most corrupt and repressive governments. The money earned from selling the natural resources props up these harsh regimes and funds violence against their citizens and neighbors. According to the New York Times, Rep. Jim McDermott, who supported the requirement to disclose conflict minerals, visited a group of rape victims in Congo and traced much of the suffering in the country “to rebel soldiers who sold tantalum and other minerals to finance their war.” As the Dodd-Frank legislation puts it, “the exploitation and trade of conflict minerals originating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is helping to finance conflict characterized by extreme levels of violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly sexual- and gender-based violence, and contributing to an emergency humanitarian situation therein.”

Friday 20 September 2013

DR Congo: Outspoken Lawmaker Gets 3-Year Sentence

Human Rights Watch 

(Kinshasa) – Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo should immediately drop the apparently politically motivated case against a member of parliament. Muhindo Nzangi was sentenced to three years in prison over comments he made on a radio program in proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards. His prosecution reflects a broader government crackdown on free expression in the country.

On August 13, 2013, two days after speaking on a radio program in the eastern city of Goma, Nzangi was tried, convicted, and sentenced for endangering internal state security. On August 20, police violently disrupted a peaceful sit-in by dozens of Nzangi supporters outside the North Kivu governor’s office in Goma. The police beat several protesters and arrested five, who were threatened with rebellion charges, though all were released by the next day. Nzangi is a member of the Movement for Social Renewal (Mouvement social pour le renouveau, or MSR), one of the largest political parties in the ruling presidential majority (Majorité présidentielle, or MP)coalition.

“A member of parliament was arrested, summarily tried and sent off to prison solely for expressing his views,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This sadly is just the latest attempt by government officials to use the courts to silence dissent.”

Congolese authorities should drop their questionable case against Nzangi and end the crackdown against his supporters, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch has documented 84 cases since May 2012 in which politicians, political party activists, journalists, and human rights activists were arrested or threatened by the authorities because of their political views or published opinions.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Eastern Congo's Recent Troubles - Who Pulls the Strings, What Is At Stake, and Why Do Things Happen?

Christoph Vogel, AllAfrica

Considered an overview, this piece combines a wide range of events, observations, and consequent thoughts on the current situation in the eastern DRC. Focusing on M23 rebels, DRC government, and the UN mission it will also take into account main other dynamics and actors.

An accumulation of events
In the last few weeks, the often low-intensity conflict in eastern Democratic Republic Congo (DRC) became not so low in intensity with newsworthy events unfolding on an almost daily basis. North of Goma fresh clashes broke out between the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the notorious M23 rebel movement.

During the ensuing bombing, various neighbourhoods in Goma were hit, as well as Rwandan territory in Rubavu district, bordering the DRC. The UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo, MONUSCO, for the first time engaged in offensive operations through its newly created Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) and faced fierce protests from residents of Goma resulting in tumultuous scenes in the bustling border town. One peacekeeper was killed andthe shelling of Rubavu provoked a military build-up by the Rwandan army on the border. After several days of joint FARDC-MONUSCO offensives (with losses suffered), M23 retreated from Kibati and announced a unilateral ceasefire, asking for the Kampala peace talks to resume.

Relations between the DRC government and its Rwandan counterparts have hit rock bottom and both regional and international mediation efforts have ground to a temporary halt. With opinions varying between anticipation of a window of opportunity and imminent regional war it is time to ask: Who pulls the strings, what is at stake, and why do things happen?

Rwanda defends military deployment along Congo border

RWANDA has responded to regional criticism about its military deployment along the frontier with the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo saying its territory had been repeatedly hit by cross-border shelling.

"Rwanda did not deploy along the border for the sake of it. During a 10-day period our country was shelled 34 times," Rwanda’s ambassador to South Africa, Vincent Karega, told BDlive on Monday.

"That was an invitation for Rwanda to intervene," he said, suggesting that the stray shelling was not accidental but a ploy to try to suck Rwanda into the continuing conflict. It pits Congolese troops, supported by United Nations (UN) "peace enforcers", against the Rwandan-backed Congolese rebels called M23.

Rwanda first complained about the shelling during August’s intense fighting in areas north of the eastern Congo city of Goma. The M23 rebels were forced to retreat and there have been no reports of cross-border incursions by Rwanda’s army, one of Africa’s best.

But Rwanda was criticised at a special summit of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) in Windhoek last Wednesday. Rwanda is not a Sadc member.