Category: Africa

Fertile land the prize that could reignite ethnic conflict in DR Congo

By admin, August 26, 2010 5:06 pm

Fertile land the prize that could reignite ethnic conflict in DR Congo

Land remains the greatest prize in North Kivu as residents grow uneasy over the return of the Congolese Tutsis from Rwanda

Young CNDP soldiers in the town of Rugare, north of Goma Young CNDP soldiers in the town of Rugare, north of Goma. Photograph: Sean SmithLeaving behind the mass of humanity that is Goma, the dirt road climbs steadily as it switchbacks through the emerald hills. Clear streams run in the valleys, and on the slopes both cows and vegetables grow fat from the lush grass and fertile soil.

For more than a decade North Kivu has been at the centre of the fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Rebel groups’ and foreign armies’ lust for mineral riches is usually cited as one of the main causes of the war.

But high up in the vast Masisi territory on the Rwandan border, 50 miles and several hours’ drive north-west of Goma, the riches are not under the ground. It is the land itself that is the greatest prize.

And now – after a reduction in open conflict, if not civilian suffering – tensions over land have again risen so high that local government officials and rebel groups say they could spark a new round of ethnic conflict.

The friction stems from the planned homecoming of 54,000 Congolese Tutsis, a minority group in eastern Congo, who have been living in camps across the border in Rwanda since the mid-1990s. The repatriation was agreed by the two countries and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) earlier this year.

Aid groups questioned the decision, since military operations against rebels are continuing in North Kivu, and nearly 800,000 people remain internally displaced there. But for many local residents, who have been deeply mistrustful of Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government since it first sent its army across the border in the late 1990s, the fears are not for the refugees’ welfare, but their own.

They believe the refugee numbers have been vastly – and deliberately – exaggerated by Rwanda in an attempt to grab their land and to consolidate the local rule of the CNDP, a powerful Tutsi-dominated rebel group turned political party that controls more of North Kivu than the government.

The fears among ethnic groups such as the Hunde, Nande, Hutu and Nyanga are so strong that some civilians and militias “are arming themselves for when the Tutsis return to try to take their land”, according to one senior government official in Masisi territory.

Meanwhile, the CNDP and Rwanda say the overall refugee figure is well over 100,000 when Congolese Tutsis living outside the camps are taken into account, adding to the confused – and highly combustible – situation.

“I can tell you for sure that if these returns happen now there will be catastrophe,” said Jason Luneno, president of the civil society of North Kivu. “People say they will protect their land until the last drop of blood is spilled.”

The Congolese Tutsis trace their history in North Kivu to before independence from Belgium in the 1960s, when their forebears crossed from Rwanda to escape famine and ethnic clashes, and adopted a new nationality.

But in 1994 the arrival in Congo of fleeing Hutu killers, who had tried to wipe out Rwanda’s Tutsi population, caused many Congolese Tutsis to seek sanctuary back across the border when Paul Kagame’s Tutsi rebel army had taken power and promised safety.

Since then, much of eastern Congo has been in crisis. The Hutu militiamen created a feared rebel group called the FDLR (Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda), which remains the major obstacle to stability in North Kivu.

In time, with backing from Rwanda, the CNDP emerged as a powerful – and wealthy – counterforce, with the stated aim of protecting local Tutsis.

Taxes and control of the illegal charcoal trade yielded – and continue to yield – millions of dollars a year, much of it channelled to powerful Rwandan political and army figures. The same elite also imported many of the cattle – or “vaches sans frontières” as locals describe them – that graze the pastures in Masisi.

Following a peace agreement with the Congolese government, CNDP forces were integrated into the Congolese national army last year. But they retained their command structures, and the party continues to run lucrative parallel administrations across much of North Kivu. Together with the Rwandan government, which claims there are tens of thousands more Congolese Tutsis living outside the camps in Rwanda, the party is leading the push for the refugees’ return.

“The CNDP is following this closely: nothing should prevent our brothers from coming home,” said Rutagarama Ntavutse, leader of the Tutsi community in North Kivu. “The refugees were cow farmers before they left, and had a lot of land. But now people have taken that land. That’s why they don’t want them back.”

But leaders of non-Rwandophone communities in North Kivu tell a different story. Alexis Tussi, chief of the Osso district in Masisi, said many of the refugees who left his area in the 1990s had sold their farms beforehand, so they had no right to the land on their return.

He also claimed that the 54,000 figure used by UNHCR was impossibly high, based on the number of people that fled at the time.

Biiri Ngulu, the king of the Biiri district, further up the road, said that unknown people had recently arrived in his district from Rwanda, claiming to be Congolese refugees, yet they could not speak the local language and did not know the geography. Separate reports from the US-based Refugees International and Enough group earlier this year also mentioned cases of Rwandans falsely claiming to be returning Congolese – a phenomenon that has further raised suspicions among local people.

“War in Masisi always runs around land,” Ngulu said. “So this can create another war.”

During a heated meeting in Goma in July, designed to ease tensions, Rwandan, Congolese and UNHCR officials agreed that traditional leaders from North Kivu would be allowed to travel to the Rwandan camps to verify the refugees’ claims of Congolese nationality.

Salif Kagni, the UNHCR’s co-ordinator in eastern Congo, said that when repatriation did occur, it would be voluntary, and would take place only in areas that were considered safe.

But many wonder where is safe. This week reports emerged of a mass rape and assault against 150 women and children in a town in Walikale, where the FDLR is strong. The ongoing Operation Amani Leo (meaning Peace Today) by the Congolese army, backed by the UN, has succeeded in driving the Hutu rebels away from some of the more populated areas in most other parts of North Kivu.

But in numerous villages in Masisi territory, displaced people said they are still too afraid to go back to their homes.

In her hilltop office in Masisi town, territory administrator Marie-Claire Bangwene Mwavita said the area was still far from secure. The FDLR rebels were less than five miles away. Mai Mai rebel groups – community-based militias – were also a threat, as their integration into the national army had failed, she said.

Indeed, Didier Bitaki, spokesman for all the Mai Mai groups in Congo, warned that a formal repatriation of people from Rwanda would be extremely provocative – and dangerous. “These people [the refugees in Rwanda] are not Congolese. When they lived here they claimed they were Rwandan. Now they want to come back. Repatriation is impossible.”

One area where the refugees might feel safe is the CNDP stronghold of Kitchanga, several hours’ drive from Masisi. Government soldiers – mainly former CNDP rebels – man a roadblock at the town entrance. Others stroll around town with AK-47s and grenade launchers. Many of the non-Tutsi residents look on warily. The soldiers take food from farmers’ fields, and force locals to carry heavy loads for them, according to residents. Now, many fear they will to lose their land if the refugees return with the CNDP’s blessing.

“The soldiers even broke my window to frighten me,” said Etienne Mabudnana, a district chief based in the town, pointing to a shattered pane. “If a chief can be frightened, what about the population?”

Leaked UN report accuses Rwanda of possible genocide in Congo

By admin, August 26, 2010 4:59 pm

Unprecedented investigation by human rights commissioner says Hutu deaths ‘cannot be put down to margins of war’

Hutu refugees at UN’s Goma camp The UN’s Goma camp in 1994. The Rwandan army attacked the camp, which was full of Hutu refugees, forcing hundreds of thousands deeper into Zaire. Photograph: Jon Jones/Sygma/CorbisThe United Nations has accused Rwanda of wholesale war crimes, including possibly genocide, during years of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An unprecedented 600-page investigation by the UN high commissioner for human rights catalogues years of murder, rape and looting in a conflict in which hundreds of thousands were slaughtered.

A draft version of the report, revealed by Le Monde and expected to be published next month, says the abuses, over a period of seven years and two invasions by Rwanda, amount to “crimes against humanity, war crimes, or even genocide” because the principal targets of the violence were Hutus, who were killed in their tens of thousands.

Among the accusations is that Rwandan forces and local allies rounded up hundreds of men, women and children at a time and butchered them with hoes and axes. On other occasions Hutu refugees were bayoneted, burned alive or killed with hammer blows in large numbers.

It is the first time the UN has published such forthright allegations against Rwanda, a close ally of Britain and the US.

The Rwandan government reacted angrily to the report today, dismissing it as “amateurish” and “outrageous” after reportedly attempting to pressure the UN not to publish it by threatening to pull out of international peacekeeping missions. Rwanda’s Tutsi leaders will be particularly discomforted by the accusation of genocide when they have long claimed the moral high ground for bringing to an end the 1994 genocide in their own country. But the report was welcomed by human rights groups, which called for the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes.

The report covers two periods: Rwanda’s 1996 invasion of the country then called Zaire in pursuit of Hutu soldiers and others who fled there after carrying out the 1994 genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, and a second invasion two years later that broadened into a regional war involving eight countries.

Rwanda’s attack on Zaire in 1996 was initially aimed at clearing the vast UN refugee camps around Goma and Bukavu, which were being used as cover by Hutu armed forces to continue the war against the new Tutsi-led government in Kigali.

Hundreds of thousands of the more than 1 million Hutus in eastern Zaire were forced back to Rwanda. Many more, including men who carried out the genocide but also large numbers of women and children, fled deeper into Zaire. They were pursued and attacked by the Rwandan army and a Zairean rebel group sponsored by Kigali, the AFDL.

The UN report describes “the systematic, methodical and premeditated nature of the attacks on the Hutus [which] took place in all areas where the refugees had been tracked down”.

“The pursuit lasted months and, occasionally, humanitarian aid intended for them was deliberately blocked, notably in the eastern province, thus depriving them of things essential to their survival,” the report said.

“The extent of the crimes and the large number of victims, probably in the several tens of thousands, are demonstrated by the numerous incidents detailed in the report. The extensive use of non-firearms, particularly hammers, and the systematic massacres of survivors after camps were taken prove that the number of deaths cannot be put down to the margins of war. Among the victims were mostly children, women, old and ill people.”

The report goes on to say that “the systematic and widespread attacks have a number of damning elements which, if proved before a competent court, could be described as crimes of genocide”.

The UN also adds that while Kigali has permitted Hutus to return to Rwanda in large numbers, that did not “rule out the intention of destroying part of an ethnic group as such and thus committing a crime of genocide”.

The Zairean army collapsed in the face of the invasion and Rwanda seized the opportunity to march across the country and overthrow the longstanding dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. Laurent Kabila was installed as president. He promptly changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Rwanda invaded again in 1998 after accusing the new regime of continuing to support Hutu rebels. The following five years of war drew in armies from eight nations as well as 21 rebel groups in a conflict that quickly descended in to mass plunder of the DRC’s minerals as well as a new wave of war crimes.

The UN report accuses Angolan forces of using the cover of the war to attack refugees from Angola’s conflict-plagued Cabinda province who had fled to the DRC. Angola is accused of “executing all those they suspected of colluding with their enemies”. Angolan soldiers also raped and looted, the UN investigation said.

International human rights groups welcomed the UN report and said it should be used to bring the accused to trial. “This is a very important report,” said Human Rights Watch. “We hope that it can form the basis for ending the impunity that has protected the people responsible for some of these crimes.”

The UN’s damning conclusions will prove hugely embarrassing to Rwanda, which is attempting to project itself as a rapidly modernising state that has put its brutal recent history behind it.

President Paul Kagame’s office attempted to dismiss the report. “It’s an amateurish NGO job, and it’s outrageous,” said a spokeswoman, Yolande Makolo. “Nobody reasonable believes that it’s helpful to anybody. The countries mentioned in the draft report have rejected it and will continue to reject it.”

Makolo did not comment on reports that Kagame last month warned the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, that Rwanda would pull its troops out of peacekeeping missions in Darfur and elsewhere if the report was made public. Le Monde said that threat was reiterated in a letter to Ban by Rwanda’s foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the leaked draft was not the final version and the report to be published next month had undergone revisions.

“It’s only a draft from about two months ago and the proper final version will come up very soon,” he said.

But if there are substantial differences, the UN is likely to stand accused of bowing to pressure from Rwanda.

Atrocities detailed in the UNHCR document seen by Le Monde

Kinigi, 7 December 1996 “Elements from the AFDL/APR killed nearly 310 civilians, many of them women and children. The troops had accused the local population, mostly Hutu, of sheltering Interahamwe [Hutu paramilitaries, who] had already left the village. At first the troops sought to reassure the civilians [whom they gathered together] in several buildings, including the adventist church and the primary school. In the afternoon, troops entered these buildings and killed the villagers with hoes or axes to the head.”

Luberizi, 29 October 1996 “Elements from the AFDL/APR/FAB [Burundi's armed forces] killed around 200 male refugees. The victims were part of a group of refugees told by the troops to regroup so that they could be repatriated to Rwanda. The troops separated the men from the rest of the group and killed them with bayonets or bullets. The bodies were then buried in mass graves [near to] the church.”

Bwegera, 3 November 1996 “They burned alive 72 Rwandan refugees in Cotonco (cotton company) headquarters, one kilometre from the village.”

Mutiko, December 1996 “Special units from the AFDL/APR started to hunt down refugees, killing several hundred. Once they had been intercepted at barriers put up by the troops, the victims were given food and told to get into UN lorries waiting at the exit of the village. The victims were then taken out on to the road, then killed with blows to the head with canes, hammers and axes. The troops encouraged the local population to take part in the killings.”

Basil Davidson’s soul cannot rest in peace

By admin, August 26, 2010 3:57 pm–peace_7832155


Thursday, August 26, 2010

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After 95 years, the last of which were spent in the fog of unknowing, this great but simple man died in July. He trekked through the jungles with Mondlane, Machel, Cabral and Neto, and now he has joined them in that immortality of the spirit created for those who rebelled, who said no to tyranny and oppression. Before his African odyssey he had evaded Nazi storm troopers hunting Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia.

As a son of the privileged, a European whose forebears were members of the imperial navy, he could have become a member of the aggressors who benefited from the labour of masses oppressed by colonial Europeans. But in a rejection, later described by Cabral as “committing class suicide”, Davidson gave up a future assured him by his membership in the ruling class, and joined his fate to that of the oppressed.

In this he was following in a long line of “rebels’”who believed that the future belonged to those whose prospects had been blighted by the nihilism of their ancestors – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Chou, Gandhi, Nehru. Later Garvey, Du Bois, Castro, Guevara, Mandela, Nkrumah, Fanon, Mondlane, Neto, Cabral and Machel joined the ranks of those who preferred the terror, risks, uncertainties and loneliness of rebellion to the comforting illusions of the certainties of the predators.

Literature on freedom fighters was rare, and Basil Davidson’s works were a welcome contribution to understanding why it was the children of the oppressed, offered the opportunity to join the party of their parents’ oppressors, had turned to lead rebellions. In the Caribbean it had been slaves, given rare benefits in the system, such as Toussaint, Sharpe, Bogle and Nanny, who had sacrificed themselves for their comrades who remained in shackles.

In the mid-1970s when the Angolan war against Western imperialism was at its height, I received a warm letter from Davidson, congratulating me for an article I had written in The New Nigerian. Davidson was in Kano working on the great series on African civilisation he was making for British television. I was impressed because at the time he was someone who had been in the struggle for decades, and had acquired fame even among his enemies, and I was an obscure young lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University.

When I was abducted and expelled from Nigeria by Ibrahim Babangida in 1988, I received a sympathetic note from Davidson, while many of my “comrades” in Nigeria were oiling the nether regions of the “Maradona of the Niger” with fulsome praises. Davidson kept in touch, until he was struck down by Alzheimer’s, never afraid to stand up and be counted among those who defended principles and fought against corruption and barbarism.

As many of my former students who have remained faithful to these principles, and some who have not, will remember, Davidson’s books were required reading for those who wanted to understand the dynamics of neo-colonialism and decolonisation. If they had continued to follow the path of his thinking, they would not now preside over a country noted for poverty, disorder, kidnapping and advanced-fee fraud.

Without Davidson’s works it is unlikely that the world would have become acquainted with the lives and struggles of men in the obscure colonies of the most backward and dictatorial of European colonial powers. Western imperialism regarded these Portuguese colonies, Namibia, and apartheid South Africa as part of its “sphere of influence”, which had to be protected from communism by armies, air forces and navies. Portugal was a member of NATO, and its troops were equipped by factories in the USA, Britain, France and Belgium.

Apartheid and colonialism were sanctified as part of the West’s “civilising mission”, and freedom fighters were defined as “terrorists” , “dupes of communism”, and “rebels” against democracy, who deserved to be exterminated. Davidson’s works helped to transform this dominant perspective of imperialism, which glorified the assassination of Lumumba, Mondlane and Cabral as victories against communism, and would have justified the massacres of Sharpeville and Luanda as necessities for imposing order.

For those who still have copies of Davidson’s works, and the works of Fanon, Cabral, Guevara and others, it would be useful to look again on their analyses of why the people fought, and made the necessary sacrifices against an imperialism which condemned them and their children to perpetual slavery. The people fought not for ideas which existed in the heads of individuals, but to improve the conditions of their lives.

The people in the slums of “independent” countries did not fight to destroy British, French, or Portuguese oppression, to replace European masters with African ones. In a sense, Davidson was lucky to have spent the last years of his life unable to see what had become of the countries he helped to “liberate”. The slum dwellers of Luanda and the victims of narco-dictators in Guinea (Bissau) cannot appreciate the anti-colonial rhetoric which was used to mobilise them in the struggle. Basil Davidson’s soul cannot rest in peace when he surveys the mass suffering which persists amidst shameful, European-style excess.

Patrick Wilmot, who is based in London, is a writer and commentator on African affairs for the BBC, Sky News, Al-Jazeera and CNN. He’s a visiting professor at Ahmadu Bello and Jos universities in Nigeria.

“There Is Almost Total Impunity for Rape in Congo”

By admin, June 28, 2010 12:06 pm

“There Is Almost Total Impunity for Rape in Congo”
Jennie Lorentsson interviews MARGOT WALLSTRÖM, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 28, 2010 (IPS) – Sexual violence against women has become part of modern warfare around the world. In some countries, women cannot even go out to draw water without fear of being attacked and raped.

On Apr. 1, Margot Wallström became the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Her job is to investigate abuses and make recommendations to the Security Council.

The appointment of Wallström, currently a vice president of the European Commission, comes amidst continued reports of gender violence, including rape and sexual abuse both locally and by humanitarian aid workers and U.N. peacekeepers, mostly in war zones and in post-conflict societies.

The incidents of sexual attacks, both on women and children, have come from several countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Haiti, Burundi, Guinea and Liberia.

One of Wallström’s first assignments was a trip to the DRC, a nation she calls “the rape capital” of the world. Excerpts from the interview with Wallström follow.

Q: Tell us about your trip.

A: Congo has attracted attention in the media [as a place that is suffering] systematic rape in war. One statistic quoted is 200,000 rapes since the beginning of the war 14 years ago, and it is certainly an underestimate.

When in Congo, I met government representatives and particularly women who had been raped and violated. It was interesting but also disappointing – nothing is getting better and more and more civilians are committing rapes.

But I should be fair and say that there has been progress, the government has introduced laws against rape, it has a national plan and there is political will. There is a lot to do to implement the legislation, but now there is an ambitious legal ground to stand on to be implemented by the police, judiciary and health care.

Q: What are the roots of the problem?

A: The sexual violence in Congo is the result of the war between the many armed groups. To put women in the front line has become a part of modern warfare.

Men often feel threatened in times of conflict and stay inside, but the women have to go out and get water and firewood and go to the fields to find food. In many cases they’ll be the first to be attacked. Especially if there is no paid national army that can protect civilians, rape is a part of the looting and crimes against the innocent. In addition, there is almost total impunity for rape in the Congo.

Q: The U.N. has its own force, MONUC, in Congo to protect civilians. What is being done to help women?

A: MONUC has had to adjust their operations after the conditions in the country. For example, MONUC has special patrols which escort women to health care clinics and markets.

Q: The U.N. and the Congolese government are discussing when the U.N. should leave the country. What would happen if the U.N. left the Congo now?

A: We have reason to be worried if the United Nations would leave the Congo. It is still unsettled in some parts of the country and the U.N. provides logistics for many of the NGOs operating in the country, and they rely in the U.N.

What is happening right now is that [the government] wants to show that it can protect the country itself – it’s a part of the debate on independence.

Q: How do feel when you hear about U.N. peacekeepers committing atrocities?

A: Just one example is too much. It destroys our confidence in the U.N.’s ability to do great things.

Q: There is criticism that the U.N. is a bureaucratic and inflexible organisation. Do you agree?

A: In every large organisation there is critisism like this. After 10 years in the European Commission, I can recognise such trends here, there is always. But basically, there are high hopes and great confidence in the U.N. and the energy and passion that exists for the U.N. is very useful.

Q: The Security Council has promised to focus even more on the issue of violence against women. Which countries should be focused on?

A: Congo is a given, also Darfur and a number of other countries in Africa. We will also focus on Liberia, where it is more a post-conflict society which has been brutalised and where rape is the most common offence. We cannot be in all countries with conflicts, we will comply with the Security Council agenda. This is a problem that not only exists in Africa.

Q: What can your staff do on site?

A: Our team of legal experts can help a country to establish a modern legislation. Impunity is the foundation of the problem, the women have to go with guilt and the men go free. We must try to understand how such a culture is created and how it can be a method of warfare. Then we can stop it.


My cancer is arbitrary. Congo’s atrocities are very deliberate

By admin, June 14, 2010 5:42 pm

My cancer is arbitrary. Congo’s atrocities are very deliberate

Illness and treatment only reinforced my determination to shake global indifference to the terrible violence in Congo

Some people may think that being diagnosed with uterine cancer, followed by an extensive surgery that led to a month of debilitating infections, rounded off by months of chemotherapy, might get a girl down. But, in truth, this has not been my poison. This has not been what pulses through me late at night and keeps me pacing and awake. This has not been what throws me into moments of unbearable darkness and depression.

Cancer is scary, of course, and painful. It tends to interrupt one’s entire life, throw everything into question and push one up against that ultimate dimension and possibility of dying. One can rail at the gods and goddesses: “Why? Why now? Why me?” But, in the end, we know those questions ring absurd and empty. Cancer is an epidemic. It has been here for ever. It isn’t personal. Its choice of the vulnerable host is often arbitrary. It’s life.

For months, doctors and nurses have cut me, stitched me, jabbed me, drained me, cat-scanned me, X-rayed me, IV-ed me, flushed me and hydrated me, trying to identify the source of my anxiety and alleviate my pain. While they have been able to remove the cancer from my body, treat an abscess here, a fever there, they have not been able to even come close to the core of my malady.

Three years ago, the Democratic Republic of Congo seized my being. V-Day, a movement to stop violence against women and girls, was invited to see firsthand the experience of women survivors of sexual violence there. After three weeks at Panzi hospital in Bukavu, where there were more than 200 women patients, many of whom shared their stories of being gang-raped and tortured with me, I was shattered. They told me about the resulting loss of their reproductive organs and the fistulae they got – the hole between their vagina and anus or vagina and bladder that no longer allowed them to hold their urine or faeces. I heard about nine-month-old babies, eight-year-old girls, 80-year-old women who had been humiliated and publicly raped.

In response, taking the lead from women on the ground, we created a massive campaign, – Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource: Power to Women and Girls of DRC – which has broken taboos, organised speak-outs and marches, educated and trained activists and religious leaders, and spurred performances of The Vagina Monologues across the country, culminating this month with a performance in the Congolese parliament. V-Day activists have spread the campaign across the planet, raising money and consciousness. In several months, with the women of Congo, we will be opening the City of Joy, a community for survivors where women will be healed in order to turn their pain to power. We have also sat and pleaded our case at Downing Street, the White House, and the office of the UN secretary general. We have shouted (loudly) at the Canadian parliament, the US Senate, and the UN security council. Tears were shed; promises were made with great enthusiasm.

As I have lain in my hospital bed or attempted to rest at home over these months, it is the phone calls and the reports that come in daily from the DRC that make me ill. The stories of continued rapes, machete killings, grotesque mutilations, outright murdering of human rights activists – these images and events create nausea and weakness much worse than chemo or antibiotics or pain meds ever could. But even harder to deal with, in the weakened state that I have been in, is knowing that despite the ongoing horrific atrocities that have taken the lives of more than 6 million people and left more than 500,000 women and girls raped and tortured, the international power elite appear to be doing nothing. They have essentially written off the DRC and its people, even after continued visits and promises.

The day is late. It is almost 13 years into this war. The Obama administration, as in most situations these days, refuses to take a real stand. Several months ago I visited the White House to meet a high official to engage the first lady in our efforts to end sexual violence in Congo, believing that her solidarity would galvanise attention and action. I was told, essentially, that femicide was not her “brand”. Mrs Obama, I was told, was focusing on childhood obesity.

It surprised me that a woman with her capabilities lacked ambidextrous skills (or was it simply interest and will that was absent?). Then we have Secretary Clinton, who at least after much pressure visited the DRC almost a year ago, and made promises that actually meant a huge deal to the people. They were excited that the US government might finally prioritise building the political will in the Great Lakes region to end the war there. But, of course, they are still waiting. And then there is the UN. The anaemic and glacial pace and the death-like bureaucracy continue to allow and, in the case of Monuc and the security council, even help facilitate a deathly regional war.

Two weeks ago, in Kinshasa, one of Congo’s great human rights activists, Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, was brutally murdered. In the same week, at Panzi hospital the family of a staff member were executed. A 10-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl were gunned down in their car on their way home. Murdering and raping of the women in the villages continues. The war rages on. Who is demanding the protection of the people of Congo? Who is protecting the activists who are speaking truth to power? At a memorial service last week in Bukavu, a pastor cried out: “They are killing our mammas. Now they are killing our children. What have we done to deserve this? Where is the world?”

The atrocities committed against the people of Congo are not arbitrary, like my cancer. They are systematic, strategic and intentional. At the root is a madly greedy world economy, desperate for more minerals robbed from the indigenous Congolese. Sourcing this insatiable hunger are multinational corporations who benefit from these minerals and are willing to turn their backs on the players committing femicide and genocide, as long as their financial needs are met.

I am lucky. I have been blessed with a positive prognosis that has made me hyper-aware of what keeps a person alive. How does one survive cancer? Of course – good doctors, good insurance, good luck. But the real healing comes from not being forgotten. From attention, from care, from love, from being surrounded by a community of those who demand information on your behalf, who advocate and stand up for you when you are in a weakened state, who sleep by your side, who refuse to let you give up, who bring you meals, who see you not as a patient or victim but as a precious human being, who create metaphors where you can imagine your survival. This is my medicine, and nothing less will suffice for the people, for the women, for the children of Congo.

Say No To Canadian Troops For The Congo

By admin, April 24, 2010 9:13 am
Say No To Canadian Troops For The Congo
By Bodia Macharia
Global Research, April 22, 2010

As Canada’s Governor-General Michaelle Jean visits the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), much speculation abounds regarding the new-found attention being paid to the DRC by the Canadian government. It appears that Canadian General Andrew Leslie is primed to head the 20,000 strong United Nations Mission in the Congo.

There is speculation that the anticipated Canadian troops withdrawal from Afghanistan may result in Canadian troops presence in Congo.

Canadian troops should stay home. The DRC does not need more militarization, it needs justice. Canada can help to advance justice, peace and stability in the Congo without sending a single soldier. Should the Canadian government and people in general do the following, it would go further to advance peace and stability in the Congo more than any number of Canadian troops:

1. Call on the United States and England in particular as well as other nations throughout the globe to make Congo a top diplomatic priority.

2. Call on the United States and England to pressure their allies Rwanda and Uganda to cease the destabilization of the Congo, open political space in their own countries and engage in sincere and earnest dialogue with their countrymen who are wreaking havoc in the Congo.

3. Canada should also leverage its position with Rwanda to open political space inside Rwanda and engage in dialogue with Rwandan rebel groups inside Congo.

4. Canada should call on its corporations and those raising capital on the Toronto Stock Exchange (an estimated half the mining capital in the world is raised on the Toronto Stock Exchange) to cease their exploitation of Congo’s riches. Companies such as Banro, First Quantum, Anvil Mining, Barrick Gold via its partner Anglo-Gold Ashanti and others have or continue to benefit at the expense of the Congolese people. A good start would be for the Parliament to pass Bill C-300. In addition, assure that the Canadian Investment Fund for Africa is used for its original purpose – African companies, not Canadian companies that have ready access to capital markets.

5. Provide support to local institutions as opposed to authoritarian regimes (Rwanda and Uganda for example) that oppress their populations with the support of Canadian tax dollars.

Remember to join Friends of Congo on the Break the Silence Tour as we make over 30 stops during the month of April.Click here to see where you can join us on the tour!


phone: 202-584-6512


Bodia Macharia is the President of Friends of Congo, University of Toronto

The Class Context of Today’s South Africa

By admin, April 6, 2010 10:21 am

The Class Context of Today’s South Africa

by Ajamu Nangwaya

The following unpublished Letter to the Editor from the summer of 2009 was written by Ajamu Nangwaya, a Toronto-based union activist with Canadian Union of Public Employees.

It is being reproduced here to provide the social and economic context of the recent assassination of the white supremacist in South Africa, Eugene Terreblanche. The title to this letter is our own. -BASICS Editor
“South Africa is an instructive example of the idea that political democracy will remain a farce, if it is not accompanied by economic democracy”

Dear Editor:

A recent strike by the South African Municipal Workers Union [late July / early August 2009] and protest action by members of the working class who live in the slums around wealthy cities in that country have exposed the fact that the collapse of the walls of apartheid has brought little economic benefits to the poor. The faces looking up from the bottom of the economic well of prosperity in South Africa are those of the African rural and urban working class. We should pardon them, if they believe that they are still living in the nightmare of the apartheid regimes of the past.
The economic and political tragedy of the urban working class and agricultural labourers in South Africa should not be reduced to the governing style of a political party or an elected official such as President Jacob Zuma. The unfolding drama of industrial and social unrest in that country has everything to do with the relationship of the workers to the means of production and the fact that the machinery of governance is not in the hands of the “wretched of the earth”.

Control over the productive resources has remained in the hands of the economic and political elites. South Africa is an instructive example of the idea that political democracy will remain a farce, if it is not accompanied by economic democracy. How do we expect the citizens to make political decisions or set national political priorities, but exclude the economic ones in the workplace or the wider society from their power, influence and control? It is hard for a rational person to not think that a cruel hoax is being perpetrated on the citizens when economic democracy is not a part of the self-governance package.

The United Nation’s HABITAT report State of the World Cities 2008/2009 revealed that the rates of income inequality in South African cities were the highest in the world. According to this 280-page report, this country has failed to break “out of the apartheid-era economic model that concentrated wealth and opportunities.” South Africa has a poverty rate that is just under 50 per cent, which stood at 58 per cent in 2004. Although white South Africans make up about 9 per cent of the population, they still own 87 per cent of the agricultural land.

The current global economic crisis is certainly compounding the oppression of the working class in South Africa. An important policy option to get South Africans out of poverty and give them control over the country’s wealth is a programme of worker ownership, control and management of the workplace.

Last Updated ( Monday, 05 April 2010 13:09

Selling South Africa: Poverty, Politics and the 2010 FIFA World Cup

By admin, March 23, 2010 9:44 am
Socialist  Project - home The   B u l l e t Socialist  Project - home
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 333
March 23, 2010

Selling South Africa:
Poverty, Politics and the 2010 FIFA World Cup

Chris Webb

Why is it that governments can find billions of dollars for global sporting events and little to deal with the grinding poverty that affects impoverished populations? Canada applauded itself for the $135-million in aid and disaster relief it sent to an earthquake ravaged Haiti while spending nearly $6-billion on the two-week long Vancouver Olympics. A similar contradiction is revealing itself in South Africa, where massive amounts of public and private spending on the upcoming 2010 Soccer World Cup are expected to salve a faltering economy and crippling poverty. Most South Africans, however, will see little direct or sustained economic benefit from the games let alone muster the funds to even purchase a ticket.

What is trumpeted as a branding and investment remedy to South Africa’s economic woes may very well become another Greek tragedy – where the legacy of the 2004 Athens Olympics has contributed to an economic meltdown. These global games offer dual incentives to both local and foreign business elites and little to a frustrated local population. On the one hand, investment, sponsorship and tourism opens new markets to foreign capital while local business elites profit from a heightened global image. At least, this is the story sold by both the state and World Cup planners. Central to this strategy is selling South Africa as a marketable and consumable brand.

Protesters in the Ramaphosa squatter settlement, east of  JohannesburgProtesters in the Ramaphosa squatter settlement, east of Johannesburg.

The transition from apartheid to democratic rule in South Africa has been well documented. During this period, the pressures of both domestic and foreign capital forced the emergent African National Congress (ANC) government to follow the economic paradigms of the past and encourage foreign investment. The sanctions that once crippled the economy gave way to a period of increasing investment and relatively stable economic growth. Promoting a comfortable and gentrified image of South Africa perfectly serves the ruling African National Congress’s redistribution through growth policy that is intended to drum up foreign investment while selling off government owned assets. The Soccer World Cup effectively opens these economic and political spaces necessary to further neoliberal policies and development.

Spectacle During Recession

The recent mobilizations against the 2010 Winter Olympics by members of Vancouver’s poor and indigenous communities indicate the contradictions of increasing corporate welfare amidst economic recession and instability. The effect of the economic recession has taken its toll on Canadians, but its most vicious impact has been reserved for the economies of the developing world. In South Africa, unemployment, inequality and poverty have been greatly exacerbated by the global recession. In late 2008, South Africa ended its decade long economic growth spurt. The economy shrank by 1.8% in the final quarter of 2008 and by 6.4% in the first three months of 2009. A few weeks after replacing ousted Thabo Mbeki as President, Jacob Zuma admitted, “we have entered a recession.”

South African planners have estimated that the World Cup will contribute approximately $5.5-billion (U.S.) to the economy and create 415,000 jobs, but these figures – like the supposedly positive economic impact of the Vancouver Olympics – are ephemeral and unmeasurable. For the 50 per cent of South Africans living below the poverty line the games will not lead to better housing, healthcare or employment. Government and private sector rhetoric of ‘global competitiveness’ has also had to face the very real image of a South Africa still scarred by deep racial and economic divisions. The World Cup is the playing field for many of the debates dominating South African currently: the nationalization of mines and resource industries; land redistribution and privatization of energy and telephone services. This debate also reflects the bad blood and deep divisions between the ANC and its trade union and communist allies. The international football body FIFA, and its corporate sponsors, want South Africans to forget this debate is happening. Their belief that global games are beneficial to the world is not only highly misleading, but it presents neoliberalism as the only solution to national economic development. It asks the leading question: How would South Africans get better roads and sporting facilities if not for the World Cup? Their discourse is hard to counter. Behind it are the powers of a world built upon power relations – adding the sexiness of sport gives great symbolic force to these unequal relations.

Selling Spectacle

Like Coca-Cola and Adidas – both official sponsors of the World Cup – South Africa is a brand. To foreign investors and business elite, a stable rand and inflation rate are as desirable as a positive brand image before the world. Like Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, the complexities of ongoing struggles in South Africa can be reduced to inoffensive pabulum and fed to global audiences. The dominance of the global market in South Africa is now reified by liberal Hollywood spectacle. Globalization and brand recognition have led many nations to market their identities as international brands. In fact, many developing nations have little choice but to resort to these international spectacles to lure the brands and investment encouraged by the IMF and World Bank. As Essop Pahad, former minister in the Presidency told the 2010 National Communication Partnership Conference: “This event is about much more than sports – it is about Africa and Africa’s ability to host the world.”

For one month an estimated 400,000 fans will descend on cities throughout South Africa, and millions more will tune in to watch the largest sporting spectacle hosted, for the first time, by an African nation. Beer guzzling soccer fans at World Cup stadiums will have no choice but to down American Budweiser and Coca-Cola in terms with strict FIFA sponsorship rules. Fans will fill seats at stadiums costing over $1.8-billion (U.S.) and travel on railways and roads specially upgraded for them. From this vantage point they will see the World Cup’s real winners: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Sony, Hyundai, Visa, Budweiser, Castrol Oil, Continental Tire, McDonalds, YingLi Solar and Indian IT supergiant Mahindra Satyam. In addition, there are five national sponsors, which include South Africa’s largest bank FNB, British Petroleum and the semi-privatized telecommunications company Telkom.

This spending in stadium construction and infrastructure renewal comes as the nation is experiencing its first recession in seventeen years with GDP growth for 2009 now in the red at -0.3 percent. High levels of private investment are supposed to dampen the negative impact of global recession, but as some analysts have pointed out, the games need to do more than just ensure a short-lived tourism boom. If public funds can be found to pad tourist seats, then funds can, and must, be found to deal with the impact of low economic growth on the most disadvantaged sectors of the population. Township shack dwellers, for example, whose numbers have grown by 50 per cent in the first ten year of post-apartheid democracy, have little to gain from billion dollar stadiums.

For the embattled President Jacob Zuma and his fractured African National Congress, the World Cup serves an invaluable political function. It is a diversion from the many unresolved questions of society, such as increasing income inequality, rampant unemployment, the run-down health system, a national housing crisis and the president’s battered personal image resulting from his apparently unquenchable libido.

To create a marketable image of South Africa, the national government and the International Marketing Council of South Africa formed a 2010 National Communication Partnership. The group is working closely with public relations firms across the continent to “change the image of the continent from one which is perceived as poverty stricken and unstable to one that is stable, prosperous and proactive.” The Council’s “Brand South Africa” strategy was most recently featured at the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where it pushed “South Africa’s role in influencing the global economic agenda and building the country’s reputation as a trade and investment destination.” The Brand South Africa group is a private-public partnership made up of government and domestic business elites, some of which are official World Cup sponsors.

The World Cup Local Organizing Committee chose “Celebrate Africa’s Humanity” as its slogan. While these glib slogans are never truly intended to reflect the complex diversity of national culture – see Germany’s “A Time To Make Friends” – this slogan simplifies issues dramatically for viewers, investors and tourists. As Local Organizing Committee chairman Irvin Khoza puts it: “Africa is a continent rich in resources. But its biggest asset by far is the warmth, friendliness, humility and humanity of its people.” It is not only South Africa being viewed, sold, bought and broadcast; the entire continent is, in the words of Brand South Africa, “open for business.” Former president Thabo Mbeki hopes “the event will send ripples of confidence from the Cape to Cairo – an event that will create social and economic opportunities throughout Africa.”

Selling Africa is tricky. Most African nations since independence have a shoddy record of upholding human rights and democracy. A report in African Business says distressing images of suffering in neighboring Zimbabwe are threatening the branding campaign of the World Cup. Blemishes like these have led spin-doctors to roll out an image polishing campaign that makes situations like the national emergency in Zimbabwe entirely separate from African development as a whole. When, in fact, they are intricately linked. Thabo Mbeki’s policy of quiet diplomacy with Zimbabwe drew fierce criticism in South Africa, and his inability to prevent a social and economic meltdown in the country has been blamed for the masses of migrant Zimbabweans still streaming across the South African border. “From a branding point of view,” says Dr. Nikolaus Ebert, the man responsible for branding the event, “the greatest threat to South Africa’s image is blowback – the unintended consequence of an unsympathetic or cynical foreign policy.”

But as the Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani says, South Africans have always seen themselves as unique from the rest of Africa. Selling Africa means highlighting the successes of South Africa’s wholesale embrace of neoliberalism and distancing it from the unsavory actions of its neighbours. The marketing and media campaign behind the World Cup will no-doubt seek to smooth out the complexities of growth and development while framing South Africa as the success-story of African neoliberalism. A glossy picture its neighbours should attempt to emulate.

A national survey reveals that 74 per cent of South Africans are optimistic about the employment and economic impact of the World Cup. But does this mean they will directly benefit from the billions poured into the games from their own pockets? The record indicates the opposite. If the World Cup is to bring any domestic benefits, it must serve the interests of ordinary South Africans before those of Budweiser and Coca-Cola.

Global Games and Social Change

Media portrayals of South Africa have focused heavily on the alarming rise in violent crime in South Africa and the daily-increasing rape and homicide rates (50 murders a day). Domestic and international pressure to take action on violent crime before the World Cup was so intense that South Africa’s chief of police told Sky News that his officers should kill criminals if they came under attack. A British company has even begun marketing a 2010 stab-proof vest for football fans visiting the country.

International concern has largely been for the safety of tourists and players visiting South Africa during the tournament and not for those poor and disenfranchised South Africans who face violent crime while living in dire poverty. Indeed, few commentators have asked what benefit the games will have for those living in townships in sight of the new million dollar stadiums. Daunting economic problems remain from the apartheid era – particularly poverty in black communities, lack of economic empowerment among disadvantaged groups, and a shortage of public transportation and housing. More than one-quarter of South Africa’s population currently receives social grants, leading some to label it the largest welfare state in the world. South Africa has a 24 per cent unemployment rate with 50 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. At the same time, the richest members of society have increased their annual earnings by as much as 50 percent. According to the Gini Index – a measurement of household income inequalities – South Africa has the second most unequal distribution of income in the world, just behind its neighbor Namibia.

For these reasons ordinary working South Africans may see the billboards and advertising brought by the World Cup, but they are unlikely to see the games themselves. The ticket prices to the big event are likely to deter most of Africa’s soccer enthusiasts. With 3 million tickets available, less than 100,000 have been sold in Africa as most Africans are not able to afford the expensive entry fees. Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Danny Jordaan said that it is the first time in World Cup history that the host nation is not topping the ticket sales list. According to FIFA, the cheapest ticket will cost 55 Euros (570 Rand) for tickets that will entail the holder to sit behind goals. The cheapest ticket for the final is going for 275 Euros (2,842 Rand).

At the bottom end of the economic scale, are those who will only be impacted negatively by the World Cup. Like Cape Town’s street sellers, who are reportedly being driven from the city’s streets by police and a private security company. Police also recently relocated 600 people who had been camping alongside an inner city railway line in Cape Town to a transit zone on the outskirts of the city. While Danny Jordaan has promised no evictions, the record is against him thus far. These forced relocations draw on the legacy of apartheid era racial and spatial segregation. In this practice South Africa is not alone. It is estimated that the 1988 Seoul Olympics resulted in the eviction of 700,000 people; and the 2008 Beijing Olympics displaced 1.5 million residents.

Udesh Pillay and Orli Bass, researchers with South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council, suggest “inequality may even be exacerbated by the hosting of the World Cup… There is no proof that the hosting of mega-events will result in meaningful job creation.” They argue that billions invested in stadium construction and infrastructure renewal may not trickle-down as many politicians expect. “The success of the games will be measured not only in terms of how South African cities are made more competitively global, but in terms of how an undertaking to the poor and indigent can be fulfilled.”

Energy, Climate Change and Privatization

The cup will occur at a delicate time for South Africa’s energy mogul, Eskom. The national energy utility has warned that power cuts that have plunged millions of households into darkness for years could continue right through to 2010. “Eskom’s power system will remain tight over the next five years with an increased likelihood of power interruptions. This trend is set to continue at least until the first new coal-fired base load power station is commissioned in 2011,” the utility reported last year.

Eskom is the continent’s largest energy utility and is the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions in South Africa. South Africa is also the biggest greenhouse gas emitter on the continent, with 73% of African emissions. Coal is the major fuel source used by Eskom, and the utility used 94.14 million tons of it in 2001. Eskom receives its coal at rock bottom prices because the high volume of supply contracts awarded to coal companies allows them to sell non-export quality coal cheaply. Despite these high emission levels, South Africa is already engaged in doubling its electricity generation capacity from coal-fired power stations by 2025.

While Eskom avoided the large-scale privatizations that swiped many South African utilities from the public, it has consistently been on the neoliberal chopping block. Increasing electricity prices and restructuring led to some 20,000 Soweto households being disconnected every month in 2001, until resistance from militant communities rolled back the process. Access to water and electricity has become a key struggle in South Africa’s townships. One study conducted through the South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council found that an estimated 10 million people have suffered water cutoffs and electricity disconnections under privatization, mostly because they couldn’t afford new, higher rates. Instead of selling off large chunks of Eskom, the government has moved toward partial privatization of projects, which has been identified as a new source of funding in Eskom’s search for solutions to its financial woes.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the grassroots Anti-Privatization Forum (APF) believe that electricity should remain publicly owned and controlled. The APF, which has actively campaigned against electricity cutoffs, evictions, and supported workers’ struggles against privatization in Johannesburg, has heavily criticized Eskom for doing nothing to bring basic electrical services to the poor and for continuing to rely heavily on fossil fuels. According to COSATU, the privatization of Eskom would contradict the Government’s previous commitment to enhance services for the poor and support economic development.

The partial privatization of Eskom and the on-going debate over privatization and nationalization in South Africa plays into the ideological battle being waged around the World Cup and within the ruling African National Congress. Behind the rhetoric of global competition and brand identity, is the fact that global capitalism has not delivered the goods for the vast majority of South Africa’s population. In the townships outside Cape Town and Johannesburg, dreams of real liberation – and even basic service delivery – have been put on hold while the country reintegrates itself into a neocolonial system that is intent on draining further wealth from an already exploited continent. As the late political economist Giovanni Arrighi commented, “there may be little that most states can do to upgrade their economies in the global hierarchies of wealth.” Global games represent one option, but as his colleague John Saul points out “the fact is that Southern Africa simply cannot compete with more powerful capitalist centers at playing their own game.” •

Chris Webb is a South African journalist, scholar and activist living in Toronto. His writing has appeared in Canadian Dimension, New Internationalist, Canada’s History and the Winnipeg Free Press. He is the Publishing Assistant at Canadian Dimension.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~(((( The   B u l l e t ))))~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


By admin, March 14, 2010 9:43 pm


by Bathseba Opini and Aline Nizigama


The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the most devastating post-independence conflicts on the African continent. It has disrupted the social, cultural, economic and political conditions of the people. It is widely estimated that, to date, more than 5 million people have lost their lives and/or been displaced. Women and children are the most affected. Widespread rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated by armed forces, militia, insurgent groups and even civilians have made the DRC a precarious territory for women and girls to reside in. However, one has to remain hopeful. An array of practical short-term and long-term solutions could be implemented to address this problem. Before such solutions are suggested, a brief look at the history behind the gender-based violence that women and girls are experiencing in the DRC today is in order.

Background to the DRC Crisis

The roots of the DRC conflict lie in its great wealth of natural resources and people’s desire to control and exploit them. In pursuit of rubber wealth, up to 25 million people died in the DRC under King Leopold II’s rule, and his repressive leadership style was inherited by the post-independent elites. It started in January 1961 with the assassination of the first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, purportedly because of his anti-capitalist stance. Lumumba had been dismissed from office by Joseph Kasavubu, the then president, who was himself ousted by Joseph-Desire Mobutu in 1965.  Mobutu ruled the country as his personal property and misappropriated its resources. The nation’s wealth became the preserve of a few “well connected” elites while the majority of the Congolese people remained landless peasants, low-ranking civil servants or unemployed. The gap between rich and poor became intolerable and there emerged open conflicts between them. Political dissent became wide-spread and it resulted in organized resistance.

“The roots of the DRC conflict lie in its great wealth of natural resources and people’s desire to control and exploit them… The nation’s wealth became the preserve of a few ‘well connected’ elites… The gap between rich and poor became intolerable.”

In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, approximately 1.5 million Hutus fled Rwanda to the Congo and settled in refugee camps. Among these refugees were Hutu militants who were a threat to the Tutsis in eastern DRC. Finally in 1996, when the Tutsis were deprived of DRC citizenship and threatened with expulsion, an anti-Mobutu rebellion led by Laurent Kabila emerged with support from several neighboring African countries, particularly Rwanda. Mobutu finally fled the country and died in exile in 1997. Laurent Kabila declared himself head of state.

The Congolese people hoped that Kabila was going to change conditions, but he did not. Like Mobutu, he squandered the country’s resources and banned all opposition political parties. People resisted, and Kabila began to lose his grip on the country. After a year in power, Kabila broke his alliance with the Tutsi-led government of Rwanda (who had greatly assisted him to power), an action that turned Rwanda and Uganda against his regime. These two neighbouring countries, in turn, backed Congolese rebel factions to topple Kabila. At this point (1998), Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia came to Kabila’s rescue, supplying troops and military equipment. The Hutu militiamen responsible for the Rwandan genocide and who had sought and obtained refuge in the Congo also fought on the side of Kabila’s government.

In 2001, in an ongoing manifestation of DRC’s violence, Kabila was assassinated and his son Joseph took over. He tried to negotiate a peace deal with Rwanda and Uganda in 2001, but the conflict reignited in 2002. In 2006, the DRC held its first multi-party elections, which Joseph Kabila won in spite of allegations of voting irregularities. Joseph Kabila continues to lead the country in 2010. The country is still experiencing significant economic, social and political challenges. Inflation is on the rise, corruption is widespread, and all administrative and economic structures suffer from a lack of resources and transparency.

“All administrative and economic structures suffer from a lack of resources and transparency… (and) the desire by African nations and international players to profit from the country’s mineral wealth.”

Compounding the problems of leadership in the DRC is the desire by African nations and international players to profit from the country’s mineral wealth. Lured by the Congo’s mineral resources, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Namibia have all taken advantage of internal conflicts in the DRC and sided with either the government of the day or with rebel groups. Rwandan and Ugandan armies are said to have grown wealthy as a consequence of the conflict and minerals of the DRC. Indeed natural resources in the Congo have been more of a curse than a blessing for the country.

The DRC crisis is thus not of the Congolese people’s making alone; external forces have also played a role. We should be aware of the complicity of western powers and neighbouring African nations. We should consider who is supplying the warring camps with arms, financing and training the soldiers and militias, and why. We cannot ignore the role of the international community especially its supply of arms and investment in illicit mining. The wealth generated from these activities ends up in western countries, a fact documented by more than one UN Security Council report.

Vulnerability of Women and Children in the War

There is a Kiswahili saying that goes ” Wapiganapo ndume wawili, aumiaye ni nyasi ” (When two bulls fight, it is the grass that suffers). The common people of the DRC, especially women and children, have always paid a hefty price for these conflicts and this is particularly true of the conflicts of the last decade in eastern Congo. Sexual violence against women and girls in this part of the DRC is rampant and it can serve specific war purposes. It is utilized as a tactic of political and psychosocial control (Beneduce, et al, 2006). In Rape in War: The humanitarian response (2000),  L. Schank and M.J. Schull see rape as a weapon to “terrorize communities and to achieve ethnic cleansing.”

“Sexual violence against women and girls in this part of the DRC is rampant and it can serve specific war purposes. It is utilized as a tactic of political and psychosocial control.”

Such sexual violence has immediate and long-term physical, psychological and social consequences. Physically, the women’s bodies are destroyed. There have been incidents where rapists push objects up the women’s and girls’ vaginas after rape, destroying their reproductive system (Human Rights Report, 2002).  Rape in the DRC conflict has also contributed to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Psychologically, many women and children remain traumatized following their horrible rape experiences. Socially, those who are raped often experience stigma and being ostracized from their families and communities.

There are also broader economic and political consequences. When the lives of women and children are threatened, the state is also threatened. Women in the DRC play a crucial role in the country’s economy. According to C. Suda (1996), the survival of the family and that of the future of the nation depends on the well-being of the female population. Women’s efforts in producing and processing food in the country are under serious threat. With the current war, women do not feel safe enough to go to the farms to till the land. Rape is thus contributing to famine in the region. The subsistence sector has collapsed leading to further tragedies, such as sickness and malnutrition.

Respecting and Protecting Women and Girls: A Framework and Approaches

What has happened to the old proverb “A woman must not be killed”? She is the mother of life and to kill the woman is to kill children, and thus to kill humanity itself. A woman should be handled with respect in society! The privileged classes in the DRC are busy amassing wealth for themselves while the people are suffering. The country cannot prosper when a large percentage of its population is insecure and poor. The following paragraphs outline some recommendations to protect women and give them the role they should have:

  • There is an urgent need for a holistic and sustainable framework to find solutions to the problem in the DRC. The framework should address the social, cultural, political, economic, and spiritual wounds resulting from the war. Such a framework requires the goodwill of the leaders in the DRC and its people, the countries in the African region that are currently involved in the crisis and their citizens, together with the whole African continent and the international community. J. Ward and M. Marsh (2006) argue that rape and other types of sexually violent practice in wartime used to be taboo subjects that victims hid and that society dared not address.  Slowly but surely, gender-based violence has now become part of global public discourse. Today, discussion of the condition of women in the DRC has increased tremendously. The use of rape as a weapon to terrorize communities is no longer just a crime but a crime against humanity, punishable by international law. Systematic rape during political unrest is considered a violation of human rights. Leaders in the DRC should now follow suit and condemn and bring to justice all those involved in the sexual abuse of women in the country. There is also a need to address the stigma that accompanies rape. Survivors of sexual violence should be encouraged to come out and speak about their experiences without fear of being shunned by their families, rejected by their spouses or by the whole community. Local and international governments should develop community programs aimed specifically at helping such women reintegrate with their communities.

  • Traditionally, children and youth were taught important moral standards of behavior. They learned about personal discipline, exercising self-control, respecting parents, elders and other community members, and they understood the consequences of violating such standards. It is important to tap into this rich indigenous African ethic of respect and honour for women and children. In traditional African settings, the protection of women and their participation in the decision making process were fundamental. Colonization saw women’s roles redefined as subordinate to those of men. Today men remain the power holders and women barely have any leadership positions in civil society or the political arena. Even in peace and reconciliation dialogues, women either have no representation at all or they are tokenized.  Traditional teachings should be used to sensitize the soldiers, militia and other youth who are violating women and girls. The church, educational institutions and government should also incorporate these indigenous teachings in their programs to propagate peace and reconciliation.
  • In 2001, women’s rights advocates around the globe acclaimed the implementation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) because of its potential for developing a meaningful accountability framework for sexual violence against women in armed conflict. L.S.R. Jefferson (2004) believes that its formulation provides a clear definition of what constitutes war crimes particularly as they relate to gender-based violence, including rape, sex traffic, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, and forced marriage.  Moreover, the statutes in the ICC have a provision for aiding the investigation process and the protection of witnesses. The ICC started monitoring the evolution of the situation in Ituri, eastern DRC, in July 2003. This region has been disproportionately hit by sexual violence but thus far not many of the criminals have been brought to justice. Within Africa itself, the African Union is committed to promoting peace and security, democratic institutions, good governance and human rights on the continent. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), formed in 2001, also seeks to address and prevent political conflicts; to strengthen democratic, political and economic governance systems and institutions, and to address challenges related to poverty and to underdeveloped infrastructure. While we may boast of the ICC, AU and NEPAD guidelines, we also need to ask, who is doing what? Where are the women in all these initiatives? If the men who head these bodies are genuinely committed to promoting democracy, good governance, equity and human rights on the continent, they ought to give women equal representation in the running of the organizations, decision making power and a role in planning and, in this case, implementing solutions for addressing the plight of the women in the DRC.
“While we may boast of the ICC, AU and NEPAD guidelines, we also need to ask… Where are the women in all these initiatives?”

The Way Forward

Because the aftermath of the atrocities committed against women and children lasts for a long period of time, and because intergenerational trauma is inevitable, important question are: How is healing to be attained? How do we create sustainable peace? What is the best way forward?

Africa has for a long time looked to the West to solve its problems. Gerald Caplan (2008) as well as Nhema (2004) believe that while advice and prescriptions from the West may be helpful, the solutions to some of Africa’s conflicts will have to be home-grown, drawing on local resources to address the challenges that face the country. Nhema argues that when negotiation and reconciliation efforts are put within the framework of existing local socio-economic, political and cultural structures, and given opportunity, they work. The envisioned framework which draws on indigenous conflict resolution methodologies should have a good representation of women. This is one crucial way society and those in power can begin to take seriously the problems that women and girls are facing. Government decrees and directives and policies by international NGOs and governments are not going to help resolve the problem when they come down as statements detached from the lived realities of the affected women. No significant change can truly take place without the participation of these women in shaping their future.

Engaging women to be active builders of tomorrow’s DRC civil society needs to become a political goal. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security, passed in October 2000, reaffirms the crucial role that women can play in preventing conflict in the first place, and in promoting lasting peace after conflict. Recovery is possible in post-conflict zones and it starts with turning the page and, in Jefferson’s words, imagining a society founded on “improving the future outlook of rape and gender-based violence survivors” and on empowering and “promoting civil, political, economic, cultural, and social rights for all women.” For instance, in addition to ending violence, as D.C. Gondola (2002) suggests, DRC women should be allowed access to banks and credit facilities so that they can engage in trade and commerce and hence attain economic independence/success. Access should also be extended to politics so that there is more female representation in parliament where policies are made.

Finally, those violating women and girls should remember that they are destroying the nation’s future. We are hoping for the day when all the people of DRC and the external players will say enough is enough and stop warring, end the sexual violence, pick up the pieces and build a united DRC. It is never too late. For until now, whenever “two bulls” have fought in the DRC, it has been the women and girls who suffer.

(Bathseba Opini enseigne dans le Teacher Education Program à l’Ontario Institute for Studies in Education de l’Université de Toronto. / Bathseba Opini teaches in the Teacher Education Program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.)

(Aline Nizigama est originaire du Burundi et a passé neuf ans dans le Midwest des États-Unis. Elle réside présentement à Toronto et est étudiante en  dernière année du Health Policy Program à l’Université York. / Aline Nizigama is originally from Burundi and spent nine years in the Midwest of the United States as an immigrant. She currently resides in Toronto and is in her final year of the Health Policy Program at York University.)

Bibliography & Links:

Beneduce, R., L. Jourdan, T. Raeymaekers & K. Vlassenroot (2006). “Violence with a Purpose: Exploring the functions and meaning of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Intervention 4(1): 32-46.

Caplan, G. (2008). The Betrayal of Africa. Toronto: House of Anansi Press.

Fried, S.T. (2003). “Violence against Women.” Health & Human Rights 6(2): 88-111.

Gondola, D. C. (2002). The History of Congo. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Human Rights Watch (2002). The War within the War: Sexual violence against women and girls in Eastern Congo. New York: Human Rights Watch.

Jefferson,  L.S.R. (2004). “In War as in Peace: Sexual violence and women’s status.” Health & Human Rights , 2004.

Koen, K. (2006). Claiming Space: Reconfiguring women’s roles in post-conflict situations. Occasional Paper 121, February 2006. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.

Nhema, G. A. (2004). “Introduction.” In A.G. Nhema (Ed.). The Quest for Peace in Africa: Transformations, democracy and public policy , pp. 11-21. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: OSSREA.

Rodriguez, C. (2007). “Sexual Violence in South Kivu, Congo.” Forced Migration Review , 2007.

Shank, L. & M.J. Schull (2000). “Rape in War: The humanitarian response.” Canadian Medical Journal Association 163(9): 1148-1149.

Suda, C. (1996). “The Centrality of Women in the Moral Teachings in African Society.” Nordic Journal of African Studies 5(2): 71-83.

Vlassenroot, K. & T. Raeymakers (2004). Conflict and Social Transformation in Eastern DR Congo. Gent: Academia Press Scientific Publishers.

Wakabi, W. (2008). “Sexual Violence Increasing in Democratic Republic of Congo.” The Lancet 371(9606): 15.

Ward, J. & M. Marsh (2006). “Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in War and Its Aftermath: Realities, responses, and required resources.” A Briefing Paper Prepared for Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Beyond, 21-23 June 2006 Brussels (Belgium). Retrieved January 2010 from

Rwanda and the D R Congo resource: Following the mineral trail

By admin, February 23, 2010 12:26 am

Title: Rwanda and the D R Congo resource: Following the mineral trail
Author: John Lasker : Ohio
Category: Resource Extraction
Date: 2/18/2010
Source: Towardfreedom
Source Website:

African Charter Article# 21: All peoples shall freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources for their exclusive interest, eliminating all forms of foreign economic exploitation.
Summary & Comment: This article highlights Rwanda’s role in Congo’s resource wars through the support it gives to militia groups and as the trade route for the illegally exploited minerals. It also implicates the USA as a major backer and beneficiary of the exploited minerals. A US proposed bill, the ‘conflict mineral act of 2009’ that outlines measures to solve the conflict, falls short of mentioning Rwanda, a key ally in the conflict. What are the implications for peace in the region? MUB

Following the mineral trail: Congo resource wars and Rwanda

The Rwandan government and its military have largely been suspected by a UN Panel of Experts, human rights organizations and independent journalists, of financially supporting a number of violent militias that have destabilized the eastern Congo region to illegally traffic millions-of-dollars worth of minerals such as coltan, gold, and cassiterite. These minerals are then brought from neighboring Congo into Rwanda for eventual sale on the international market.

In 2000, Rwanda, an African ally of Washington, produced 83 tons of coltan from its own mines but found a way to export a total of 603 tons that year, as discovered by Danish journalist Bjorn Willum, after he requested the figures from the National Bank of Rwanda. Willum also found the Rwandan army, which at the time was receiving funding and training from the US military, made $250 million that year by selling stolen Congolese minerals, most likely purchased from their shadow militias.

Roughly ten years later, a UN Panel of Expert’s report titled The 2009 Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo states that the illegal traffic of Congolese minerals still flows into Rwanda mostly from these violent militias that continue to profit greatly, presumably passing earnings onto their Rwandan backers. The report also implicated a number of Western-based mining companies and metal brokers of indirectly financing the resource war as their buyers simply waited in Rwanda for the minerals to make their way across the border.

What’s more, this is not the first UN Panel of Expert’s report on the exploitation of Congolese resources; similar findings were also publicized in 2001 and 2003. While a consensus can not be reached among government agencies and human rights groups, the International Rescue Committee believes the resource war which started in the mid-1990s has taken the lives of 4 to 5 million people, most of whom are Congolese.

Given the implication of such violence and illegal trade, one would expect US embassy officials in Rwanda to have an opinion on the subject. Sasha Lezhnev is the director of the Grassroots Reconciliation Group, a nonprofit that aids former child soldiers. Of late, he’s spent time in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2008 Lezhner spoke to the outgoing US ambassador to Rwanda about the resource conflicts in the region.

“I asked the ambassador,” says Lezhnev, “‘What are your feelings about Rwanda’s influence in the eastern Congo?’” The ambassador immediately responded: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Lezhnev was shocked at what he believes is simply the former ambassador’s ignorance of Rwanda’s influence. “We have to open our eyes to what’s going on,” he says. Yet after years of apparent indifference to the eastern Congo resource wars, it appears the US is finally starting to take measures to help end the conflict; the U.S. Senate is pushing forward the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009. The bill calls for, among other things, a system of oversight to keep watch on all US-based industries that utilize Congolese coltan, cassiterite, wolframite and gold, and make sure the minerals were not extracted from conflict mines controlled by illegal armed groups.

However, the bill makes no mention of the Paul Kagame regime, which has led Rwanda since the genocide of 1994, or his administration’s influence in eastern Congo. Kagame has said any strategic maneuvers on Rwanda’s part in the eastern Congo, which also includes the deployment of regular Rwandan troops, is so to keep the pressure on those groups that took part in the 1994 massacre.

But according to Professor Yaa-Lengi, who runs the New York-based Coalition for Peace, Justice and Democracy in the Congo, millions of Congolese – a number corroborated by several American-based human-rights organizations interviewed for this article – believe Kagame’s claims are a ruse, a smoke-screen to loot Congolese minerals. He says it is part of an elaborate plan that many Congolese believe was initiated by the US; and thus Rwanda is an American proxy with a mission to keep Congolese minerals moving cheaply to Western-based mining companies. Yaa-Lengi says these theories, deemed far-fetched by many experts, don’t end there. “Bill Clinton was behind the (1994) genocide,” he stated. “Millions of Congolese believe this.”

Lezhnev and representatives of other human rights groups working in the eastern Congo scoff at Yaa-Lengi and the charges he levels against the Clinton administration. But they agree the Congolese have plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the US and their regional interests. For instance, David Sullivan of the Enough Project says during the Bush administration, the White House had a public relations official working in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa. When Bush’s term ended in 2008, he says the official quickly took a job with the mining company Freeport-McMoRan and its operations in the country, which mainly extracts copper and cobalt. “There are some really dangerous arguments about this [US interests in the Congo],” says Sullivan. “There are a lot of conspiracy theories. And many people overstate the influence of the US in Rwanda and the region.”

Fueling those conspiracy theories in part is President Kagame, who gained power immediately following the 1994 genocide. Kagame went through a U.S. military training program on American soil during the years leading up to the massacre. There’s also historical evidence that points to how important Congolese minerals are to the US; the US military acquired uranium from a mine in the DRC town of Skinkolobwe to build the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. The U.S. continues to maintain strong ties with Rwanda: US assistance to the country “has increased four-fold over the past four years,” according to the US State Department.

Lezhnev says, “We have a lot of leverage with Kagame and we have to use that.” Meaning that the US needs to pressure the Rwandan government into ending its destabilizing role in the eastern Congo. Yet what specific influences the US ultimately has over Rwanda remains a mystery. One element that contradicts the conspiracy theories offered by Yaa-Lengi, however, is the new Senate bill. Sullivan says it could end the resource war in eastern Congo. But he acknowledges the bill is no panacea.

“We would like to see a provision in the bill that makes [all metal brokers who sell minerals acquired from the eastern Congo] disclose the minerals exact origin, the exact mine it came from,” he says. “If they say they are getting the minerals from Malawi, then they have to have an independent verification saying so.” When selling their minerals onto the international market, metal traders have faked records saying the minerals were actually from countries other than the Congo.

Essentially, what Sullivan and the Enough Project are calling for is an independent auditing effort based in the eastern Congo. This could be expensive, but if established, could lead to new successes in the fight against the looting. For example, say a metal broker is caught selling minerals from a mine that is a source of conflict and controlled by a violent militia – a reality for many eastern Congolese mines. In this case “[the metal broker] will lose access to international markets,” says Sullivan. Some experts on the eastern Congo say the bill is flawed and if passed, won’t have the muscle to end the resource war.

“Given the many links in the supply chain [of eastern Congo minerals], any of them can simply claim they don’t know where the minerals are coming from and it is currently difficult to prove them wrong,” says David Barouski, a student from the University of Wisconsin, who has documented first-hand the resource war in the eastern Congo. “The U.S. claims it wants to help implement ways to certify this chain, but how are they going to do it for every mine in a conflict zone? Certification at the mines would require agents to go on site, but with such poor infrastructure it would be years before this is feasible and there would need to be peace to rebuild the infrastructure.”

Besides the U.S., the Congolese people don’t trust the UN either, says Yaa-Lengi. Throwing fuel on their UN speculation, he says, is the 2009 UN Panel of Experts’ report on the eastern Congo, The Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At first the report was leaked, angering members of the Security Council. Then its official release was delayed.

“The UN delayed publishing it because it points a finger back to the UN and the Security Council,” says Yaa-Lengi. “This is because they are allowing the Congolese to die and be raped. The UN knows it, but they are allowing it. All members of the Security Council are benefiting from the resources of the Congo. The UN does only what the Security Council wants and by that we mean what the super powers want.” The U.N. Security Council is comprised of the U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia and China as permanent members and two other rotating member nations. Companies in every one of these nations, claims Yaa-Lengi, have benefitted in some way from the cheap minerals taken from eastern Congo, one of poorest nations on the planet. But according to the African Business Magazine, the DRC currently has an estimated total mineral wealth of $24 trillion, equivalent to the GDP of Europe and the US combined.

Sullivan of the Enough Project agrees the Congolese are suspect of the UN, as they are of the US. Yet, he says to “keep in mind the [UN] Panel of Experts is independent of the Security Council.” For the most part, this UN Panel of Experts is made up of regional experts of the eastern Congo, its culture, government and society, he says, adding “The new report has pretty much been ignored by the Security Council.” Indeed, past UN Panel of Experts’ reports on the eastern Congo, published in 2001 and 2003, were also mostly ignored by members of the Security Council. Even though the UN Panel of Experts had evidence piled high implicating scores of Western-based mining companies and metal brokers of buying looted minerals from conflict mines of the eastern Congo.

Take, for example, the story of Robert Raun, a former metal broker who worked just across the eastern Congolese border in Rwanda. He was the beneficiary of a strange response on the part of the UN in 2004, a response that sends mixed messages about the West and their intentions for the eastern Congo resource war. Raun and his mining company, Trinitech of Cleveland, Ohio, which processed and traded coltan, had been implicated in the UN’s 2001 report, The Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This report essentially accused Trinitech and over 100 other Western-based mining companies of looting minerals from the eastern Congo. The minerals included coltan, a black metal ore that is needed to meet the West’s insatiable thirst for personal technology. It is a key ingredient in the manufacture of cell phones, lap tops and video-game consoles. (Also see Inside Africa’s PlayStation War in Toward Freedom.) When Raun stepped onto the 20th floor of the Secretariat Tower of the United Nations in 2004 to respond to their charges, the “power of accusation” from the UN, he says, had already ruined Trinitech. The UN also accused Raun of aligning with “elite networks” of Rwandan government officials and high-ranking military officers. The elite networks were apparently forcing Congolese children and captives to mine for coltan. “The allegations we were using child labor was a fabrication,” insists Raun, a devout Christian. “[But] accusation is a powerful thing. It ruined us. Nobody wants to buy from the company that’s wearing the Scarlet Letter. We’re just a shell of what we used to be. But we’re standing, by the power of God, we’re standing.”

Nevertheless, on that day in New York City in 2004, the UN would surprisingly drop its charges against Trinitech. Indeed, at that time, the UN was giving a lot of Western-based mining companies and metal brokers working in eastern Congo a pass. Out of the 100 or so mining companies accused of looting minerals, the UN dropped the charges against each one, infuriating mining watchdog efforts such as MiningWatch Canada. Raun only answers to the child labor charges, however. When asked who Trinitech was buying its coltan from, and whether it came from conflict-ridden mines in the eastern Congo, he responds, “No comment”.

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