Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Pursuit of Democracy Continues

On February 16, 1992, Congolese Christians responded to a call by the Catholic Church to protest peacefully and demand the reopening of the Sovereign National Conference (Conference National Souveraine - CNS in French). The conference was a democratic forum composed of delegates who represented all layers of the society in the Congo (Zaire at the time) from members of civil society, political parties, the military, the diaspora, as well as the president himself (Mobutu Se Seko). This conference was tasked with interrogating the country’s history and finding a way to deal with the multidimensional national crisis (political, economic, social, cultural, and moral) that the country was facing in 1990.

On January 19, 1992, then-Mobutu-appointed prime minister Nguza Karl-I-Bond announced the suspension of the Sovereign National Conference on radio and television. This decision to suspend the CNS angered many Congolese who had high hopes that this democratic process would help the country extricate itself from dictatorial rule. The Catholic Church, which at the time distanced itself from Mobutu's regime and became more vocal about Mobutu's human rights abuse, made a call to all Christians and civil society groups for a massive demonstration to reopen the Sovereign National Conference. Thousands of marchers from all backgrounds converged on the Tata Raphaël stadium. Police and soldiers opened fire on the marchers before they could reach their destination, killing more than forty people. This incident, which caused international outcry as news began to enter the western world, forced the government to reinstate the CNS in April 1991 and served as a pivotal point in Congo's struggle toward democratization.

In his book "The History of the Congo," Dr Didier Gondola revisits this important date and give us the reason why Christians in the Congo took to the streets. He says: "In early 1992, Mobutu decided to disband the Sovereign National Conference (Conference Nationale Souveraine - CNS), an assembly whose main task was to create a new constitution and organize democratic elections. In response to this decision, strong opposition mounted among Kinshasa's independent churches. On February 16, 1992, thousands of church members took their grievances to the streets of the capital in what was dubbed by its organizers as the "March of Hope" (Marche de l'Espoir). Marchers held banners demanding the reopening of the CNS, and they chanted songs against violence and dictatorship. The peaceful march ended in a bloodbath when the army intervened and gunned down dozens of demonstrators. The March of Hope has since been held up as a major turning point in the relations between the church and state. It was also an event that precipitated the end of Mobutu's regime."

In 2014, the pursuit of genuine democracy continues as young Congolese demand that the current government respect the constitution by holding free and fair elections in 2016, when President Joseph Kabila's second term will come to an end. Per its constitution, on December 19, 2016 Congo must be endowed with a new president and hopefully one that benefits from the popular will of the people unlike the current regime which lacks legitimacy due to its appropriation of the 2011 elections.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Commemorating Independence Martyrs Day

January 4th is a historic day in Congo’s history, which serves as a national holiday. On January 4, 1959, ordinary Congolese stood in defiance of Belgian colonialism demanding independence. Congolese in Kinshasa unleashed a spontaneous uprising out of frustration with the repressive Belgian colonial regime. In his seminal work "Congo: From Leopold to Kabila," Dr Georges Nzongola Ntalaja said the march on January 4, 1959 "sounded the death knell of Belgian Colonialism in the Congo." The unifying chant of the marchers was "Indépendance Immediate" or "Independence Now" in English. The uprising represented the radicalization of the struggle for independence. It frightened not only the Belgian authorities but also the Congolese elites know as évolués.

Nine days later on January 13, 1959 both the King of Belgium and the Belgium government announced that in due time Belgium would grant Congo full independence. In the conscience of the nation, the day represents the historic point of departure for the independence of the Congo from Belgian colonialism.

The courageous stance by that generation of Congolese served as a key catalyst for Congo’s independence in 1960. Since the 1960s Congolese have celebrated and commemorated that generation’s actions and named the day “la journée des martyrs de l’indépendance,” or in English, independence Martyrs Day. Without a doubt, Congolese of that era made enormous sacrifices for freedom and independence.

This year's Martyrs Day is without a doubt dedicated to the recently passed Congolese hero Colonel Mamadou Ndala who was assassinated on January 2nd due to a mortar attack near Beni in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Colonel Mamadou was a solider of the people and loved by the people due to his bravery, patriotism and willingness to sacrifice his own life to protect a beleaguered people. Colonel Mamadou is the latest in a long line of martyrs who have fought for peace, justice and human dignity in the heart of Africa.

Congolese youth of today continue to make sacrifice for a better future for the sons and daughters of the Congo?

Join the global movement in support of a peaceful and just Congo!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Prescription for Lasting Peace and Stability


DR Congo: Prescription for Lasting Peace and Stability
by
Kambale Musavuli

The 17-year quest for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken a significant step in the right direction after the national military routed the Rwanda and Uganda-backed M23 militia and declared an end to its reign of terror against the Congolese people; however, many concerns remain.

In order to support this victory and make lasting improvements in stability and security in the region, it is critical to understand why, after such a long time, these efforts to defeat a Rwanda-backed  militia group have finally met with success. The following factors have played a decisive role:

1. The group was weakened earlier this year after an internal split that drove an estimated 600 of its members to seek refuge in Rwanda. The leader of one wing of the group, Bosco Ntaganda, was delivered to the International Criminal Court to stand trial.

2. Through demonstrations and rallies the Congolese people have been increasingly pressuring their government to defend the nation and provide its soldiers the necessary tools to protect the people.

3. The Congolese military in the North Kivu province was restructured and reorganized to better orchestrate offensive operations.

4. The United Nations implemented resolution 2098 issued in March 2013 and fielded a new 3,000 strong Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) made up of South African, Tanzanian and Malawian soldiers. The FIB provided back-up and support for the newly retooled Congolese forces.

5. After 17 years of providing virtual carte-blanche to the Rwandan regime and its repeated interventions in the DRC, both the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom and the Secretary of State of the United States called President Paul Kagame and impressed upon him the importance of his noninvolvement; President Kagame was instructed to refrain from sending back-up and reinforcement to the M23 while they were being confronted by the Congolese military and the UN's Force Intervention Brigade.

The international political pressure brought to bear on President Paul Kagame and the Rwandan regime is probably the most critical element resulting in the defeat of the M23 militia.

After 17 years marked by impunity and lack of accountability, the last two years of instability in eastern Congo (supported mainly by Rwanda and to a lesser extent Uganda in their backing of the M23 militia) has driven Washington to act. A series of factors contributed to the U.S. taking a reluctant stance against its key ally in the Great Lakes region of Africa. UN reports documenting Rwanda's support for the M23 led the U.S. to withdraw military aid from its staunch ally in the summer of 2012.

A number of European nations followed suit in withholding aid from Rwanda on the basis of the UN findings. A game-changer came only a few months after. In November 2012 the Rwanda backed-M23 captured the city of Goma (a city with an estimated 1 million inhabitants) and humiliated the nearly 20,000 strong UN troops who are in the Congo ostensibly to protect Congolese civilians. UN reports subsequently documented the role of Rwandan soldiers in the capturing of the city by the M23. The U.S. sanctioned Rwanda in the fall of 2013 for its support of M23 who continued to recruit and abduct children and again withheld military aid to Paul Kagame’s regime.

Until recently the U.S. has been largely silent on its allies’ destabilization of Congo despite a law on the books since 2006 that unequivocally calls for holding them accountable (Section 105 of U.S. Public Law 109-456, authorizes the Secretary of State to withhold aid from neighboring countries that destabilize the Congo).  Damning evidence of the destabilizing role that Rwanda and Uganda have played is well documented and some international actors have sought to hold them accountable.

In 2005 the International Court of Justice ruled against Uganda in a case involving war crimes, crimes against humanity and the pilfering of Congo’s riches. The court ruled that Congo was entitled to $10 billion in reparations as a result of Uganda's crimes in the Congo. (The Wall Street Journal also reports that fearing possible action by the ICC, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni asked Kofi Annan to block an investigation).

In 2008, the Spanish Courts under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction issued an international arrest warrant for 40 of Rwanda's top officials for crimes they committed both in Rwanda and the Congo. The documents show that President Paul Kagame would have been indicted, himself, if heads of states were not immune from such an indictment. That same year, both the Netherlands and Sweden withheld aid from Rwanda for its support of militia (Congress for the National Defense of the People – CNDP, the precursor and parent of M23) in the DRC.

Although many other militia groups remain active in the DRC and must be dealt with in order to stabilize eastern Congo, responsible reportage must acknowledge that M23 is unique and more symptomatic of a regional and international problem than a merely national one. M23 is not simply “a militia;” it is a proxy military force that has been repeatedly reinforced and backed by neighboring states. Enabled by their status as U.S. allies, Rwanda and Uganda have been free to act with impunity in the region and at the same time shielded from the institutions of justice put in place to ensure accountability. Despite the mounds of evidence, neither the U.S. nor the UN has placed any of the top level Rwandan leaders recommended by the UN Group of Experts on its sanctions list – a sure sign of the continued favor and protection that has been feeding the cycle of military aggression and instability in eastern Congo.

Unless stronger political action is taken and these violent actors face justice, history indicates that this cycle is likely to repeat.  The M23 constitutes the latest iteration of so-called rebellions that have, in fact, been a series of militia groups backed by both Rwanda and Uganda since 1996. The militia backed by Rwanda include: Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, 1996 - 1997; Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) 1998 - 2003; National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), 2004 - 2009; and M23, 2012 - Present.  Rwanda is still holding militia leaders who are either on the UN and US sanctions list or wanted by the Congolese government for their war crimes in the Congo – most notably Jules Mutebusi, Laurent Nkunda and Jean-Marie Runiga and Uganda is in possession of Sultani Makenga. These individuals and other top-level officials in the Rwandan regime must face justice.

Though there’s much current celebration around the “defeat of M23,” it is important to understand that peace will ultimately take root in the DRC only when at least three conditions are met:

1. Rwanda and Uganda must definitively cease its 17 years of intervention and military aggression in the DRC. Although the U.S. and UK have put pressure on Rwanda to abandon its support of the M23, pressure must be placed on both Rwanda and Uganda to permanently abandon their interventions in the DRC.

2. The Congolese people must have a legitimate government that has the support and popular will of the population at large. The current government, which lacks legitimacy, has mainly served to exacerbate the conflict and has contributed to serious diplomatic blunders at the regional, continental, and international levels.

3. Finally, and most importantly, it is only once the Congolese people control and determine their own affairs that lasting peace, stability and human dignity can be restored in the heart of Africa.

Kambale Musavuli is based in New York City, and serves as the spokesman for the Friends of the Congo, a group that raises global consciousness about the situation in the Congo and provides support to local institutions. He is featured in the short film "Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth," an abbreviated version of the upcoming feature length documentary that explores the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century.




Thursday, October 31, 2013

M23 on the Brink of Defeat: Rwanda on the Sidelines

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Congo Week VI Message

As we embark upon the sixth anniversary of Breaking The Silence Congo Week, we greet you in a period of opportunity and possibilities. Due to your engagement, an increasing number of people throughout the globe is becoming aware of the situation in the Congo and demanding of their leaders that they do all in their power to bring an end to the deadliest conflict in the world since World War Two.

The United Nations, African Union, the United States and other countries are getting more involved, however, greater engagement is not a prescription in and of itself. The application of policies grounded in justice for the Congolese people is paramount to bringing about peace and lasting stability in the Congo and the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

Young Congolese both inside and outside of the Congo along with their allies in the global community are mobilizing to assure that policies are implemented to benefit the Congolese people as a whole. Each year, Breaking the Silence Congo Week provides a platform to commemorate the millions of lives lost, elevate the profile of the Congo and engage an increasing number of supporters in the global Congo movement.

We encourage you this year to join us from October 20 - 26, 2013 as we build a global consensus for peace and justice in the Congo.

This year, we are prioritizing three concrete actions:

1. Participate in the Dear John Campaign (A campaign to send a letter/postcard to Secretary of State John Kerry demanding that the US hold its allies in the region accountable for their destabilizing of the DRC)

2.  Organize a fundraiser or benefit event to raise at least $500 to support Congolese youth both inside and outside of the DRC who are organizing for peace and justice. Find out more here: http://congoconnect.org

3. Recruit individuals and organizations (student, women, peace, labor, faith-based, human rights, environmental, etc) to participate in Congo Week and join the Congo Week organizing committee by emailing us at support@congoweek.org.

We encourage you to seize this moment and become a part of a noble pursuit for peace, justice and human dignity in the heart of Africa, our home, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Samya Lugoma
Youth Coordinator

Kambale Musavuli
Spokesperson

Sign-up for Congo Week!
http://congoweek.org/participation-form.html

Remember to post your event on the events calendar:
http://congoweek.org/component/events/

Share the Congo Week promotional video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiDxvt3pveA&feature=player_embedded

Download Congo Week Organizers Tool Kit and Materials:
http://congoweek.org/downloads.html

Screen our film Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth
http://congojustice.org

Participate in the CELL-OUT, on October 23, 2013. The CELL-OUT is a one-hour digital moment of silence in support of the Congolese people.
http://congoweek.org/the-cell-out.html

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Hard Truths We Must Swallow: The Rwandan Government Wreaking Havoc in Congo

The Hard Truths We Must Swallow: The Rwandan Government Wreaking Havoc in Congo
By
Alice Gatebuke
Rwandan genocide survivor

The Rwandan Genocide was 19 years ago. Though the genocide ended in 1994, its consequences are still deeply felt today. For myself and other survivors, those memories are ever-present. We have never forgotten the horrors we lived through, as unimaginable violence overtook our country. We grapple with mixed emotions, trying to process, and come to terms with today's reality. Our struggle has evolved from physical survival, to that of emotional turmoil caused by our trauma. Some days, we are grateful to be alive, to breathe, and to feel. Other days are fraught with anger, guilt, and sadness. We wrestle with endless, unanswerable questions. Many days we feel unworthy to be alive. We cannot comprehend why we are still alive and why many others perished. Why me, we wonder? Why not my family or friends? We wonder why we had to witness their demise and are angry because we felt so helpless. Try as we might, we can never reverse the darkest moments of our lives. We cannot undo the damage, no matter how hard we wish we could. The genocide was real, it happened, and we live with its consequences to this very day. I was a powerless child, but still, what if there was something I could have done? And what if it happened again?

It is precisely this fear of another genocide carried out by the same perpetrators that carried out the genocide of 1994 that motivated the current Rwandan government's first invasion of Congo in 1996. It is this fear that has sustained the Rwandan government's justification for repeated intervention in the Congo over the last 16 years. And it is precisely why the world continues to live with the consequences of the Rwandan Genocide. Even though as survivors of the Rwandan Genocide we understood the security the Rwandan government sought when they first invaded Congo, we did not sanction the human catastrophe they triggered. We did not sanction the torture, rape, and possible genocide of women, children, and the elderly that were targeted in Congo when the Rwandan Government sent troops inside of Congo for "our protection." And we certainly did not sanction the government of Rwanda's "Six-Day War" against Uganda over a diamond mine inside Congo, leaving significant numbers of Congolese people dead, injured, and displaced. And even now, we do not sanction the violation of the United Nations arms embargo, undermining of peace deals and processes, and commanding proxy rebel groups who kill, torture, rape, and displace people, while illegally capturing cities in Congo. And most of all, we do not sanction any attempt to annex any part of Congo in our name.

Since the first invasion, more than 5 million people have died in Congo, making it the deadliest conflict since the Second World War. And many of those deaths lie at the hands of the Rwandan government. These are hard truths we must swallow. Not only must we come to terms with crimes that were committed against us, we must now deal with crimes committed in our names. These crimes are not simply committed in our names, survivors of the Rwandan Genocide, but in the name of the entire global community that stands still, providing tacit approval. They are also committed for the same international community that justifies, excuses, and protects, the Rwandan government, as it continues to wreak havoc in the Congo. Though we could not stop or stand up against the violent acts that were committed against us during the Rwandan genocide, we can and we must stop and stand up against crimes committed against others, crimes committed in our name in Congo.

After 16 years of invasion and intervention through proxy groups, it is still difficult for people in the international community to accept that the Rwandan government is guilty of anything but justified intervention in Congo. But members of the international community must look past the glowing economic reviews, look past the constant denials, and well-oiled public relations machine, and deal with the hard truths. The Rwandan government is committing unspeakable crimes against humanity in the Congo under false pretenses, and we must stop it. U.S. President Barack Obama understood this when as Senator, he authored and passed into law the Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion Act, PL 109-456 in 2006 that called for accountability for Congo's neighbors who destabilize the country. And he understood it last summer when he cut $200,000 in military aid to Rwanda. And he understood it last December when he personally made a call to Rwandan President Paul Kagame and asked him to cease support of the M23 rebel group, currently wreaking havoc in Congo.

Despite all these steps from the Obama administration to address the conflict, the Rwandan government continues to relentlessly support, arm, and command rebel groups such as the M23, while these groups continues to commit war crimes and human rights violations in Congo. It is precisely because we refuse to swallow these hard truths that the Rwandan government continues to commit such atrocities unchallenged and with impunity. If we can muster the courage to face these truths, we can impose accountability measures consistent with the degree of suffering and instability wrought by the Rwandan government against the Congolese people. We can and we should sanction and impose travel bans and freeze assets of identified Rwandan military personnel responsible for committing atrocities in Congo. And we should cut or withhold military aid to a dangerous regime that wages and sponsors war and conflict in the territory of another nation.

Survivors of the Rwandan Genocide mourned and commemorate the 19th anniversary of the genocide this past spring. As we commemorate our loved ones, we continue to grapple with traumas of our past, and issues of our present. Our responsibility lies in what we do with our future, and how we stand up to evil perpetrated against our neighbors. We, along with the rest of the world, must no longer refuse to swallow difficult and painful truths, and dedicate consistent focus and action towards resolving the deadliest conflict since the Second World War in Congo.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Letter to President Kikwete on Dialogue and Peace in Great Lakes

President Jakaya Kikwete
Magogoni Road
P.O. Box 9120,
Dar es Salaam,

Re: President Obama’s Visit to Tanzania and Sustainable Solutions to Regional Conflicts

We, the African Great Lakes Coalition (AGLC), a USA diverse and broad-based coalition of Advocacy and human rights activists and organizations, were encouraged by your recent remarks at a special meeting of Heads of State from the Great Lakes Region in Addis Ababa. For nearly two decades, Congolese groups across the board have been calling for an inter-Rwandese dialogue as a means to advance peace and stability in the region.

We write to you to encourage your nation to continue to serve in its legacy of peaceful mediation, as it once did, in pre-genocide Rwanda through the negotiations of the Arusha Peace Accords. We also urge you to raise your proposed approach to regional stability to President Obama on his upcoming visit with Tanzania.

We thank you for your engagement, and encourage you to continue to pursue sound and sustainable measures of peace and security in the African Great Lakes Region. We strongly believe in holding all parties involved in the conflict, including the current Rwandan government accountable, and believe any peaceful and sustainable solutions will require engaging all parties.

Our stories are those of tragedy. We lived through pre-genocide Rwanda, where a raging war between the former Rwandan military, and the former Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels created conditions that easily facilitated one of Rwanda’s darkest and saddest moments, the Rwandan Genocide. We subsequently lived through the Rwandan Genocide, and miraculously survived. In both pre, and genocidal Rwanda, we lost friends, and relatives.

We also lived through and witnessed the eventual escalation of the carnage in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where six million people have lost their lives, with the conflict still in motion as the M23 and other militias supported by outside powers, continue to wreak havoc on Congolese societies. In both countries, the conflicts were devastating for us personally, and for our communities.

We can no more accept what happened in Rwanda, both with the genocide, and the preceding war, than we can accept the continuation of the deadliest conflict since the Second World War.

Please raise your proposed approach to lasting solutions for regional peace during President Obama’s impending visit to Tanzania! It is in line with a law he passed as a Senator in 2006, PL 109-456 popularly known as the Obama law.

Sincerely,

African Great Lakes Coation: African Great Lakes Action Network, Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, Friends of the Congo, Foreign Policy in Focus, Mobilization for Peace and Justice in Congo

Cc:
Barack Obama, United States President
John Kerry, United States Secretary of States
David Cameron, United Kingdom of Great Britain Prime Minister
Justine Greening, United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, African Union Secretary General
Uwe Corsepius, European Union Secretary General
Ban Ki Moon, United Nations General Secretary