0 The Hidden Hands Behind Congo's War
The Hidden Hands Behind Congo’s War

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The Hidden Hands Behind Congo’s War

The latest UN Group of Experts report accuses Uganda and Rwanda of supporting DRCongo’s M23 rebel group. But why do Uganda and Rwanda continue to get away with such activities? The reasons are both economic and geostrategic.

This latest UN Group of Experts report, not for the first time, recommends tough sanctions against Uganda and Rwanda for supporting DRCongo’s M23 rebel group. Although there are doubts that such sanctions will ever be implemented, this nevertheless represents a moral victory for the Congolese people who have long told the world that external players are partly responsible for the turmoil in Eastern Congo. In late October 2012, DRCongo’s President Joseph Kabila dispatched a special envoy to President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda to request him to authorise the closure of the Bunagana border post because Kinshasa had concerns that “M23 rebels” were taking advantage of the open border to collect revenues from cargo vehicles and other goods. Museveni acquiesced but warned that Kinshasa must “take responsibility for any negative impact on the humanitarian situation” as a result of closing the border.

Immediately the border was closed, the M23 attacked the Congolese army in Kibumba.. The United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Congo, known by its French acronym Monusco, was said to have filmed three Rwandan tanks being driven from a Rwandan military base across the Congo border to the M23 headquarters. A Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) delegation that visited Goma also confirmed that Rwanda was behind the M23 attacks.

According to a plan formulated by regional leaders (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Congo) a joint force was deployed at Goma airport. The leaders told M23 to withdraw from their current positions to not less than 20km from Goma within two days, which they did after asking for a few hours’ grace to comply.

Why Monusco offered no resistance to M23 has baffled the Congolese people, many of whom have since mounted protests against Monusco’s role. The African Union’s position also remains ambiguous. The AU commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, speaking in Washington after meeting with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said “finger-pointing” at Rwanda was not helpful”.

Washington has clearly been embarrassed by the UN Group of Experts report, which clearly states that there is significant and credible evidence that Rwanda and Uganda are arming rebels and providing troops. The US failed to block the report’s publication following its leaking on 17 October. A day after the leak, Rwanda was admitted as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Uganda, for its part, resorted to a kind of tantrum, threatening to pull its troops out of AU peacekeeping duties in Somalia. Museveni’s government was angry over the UN report which accuses Ugandan and Rwandan military officers of direct involvement with the rebels wreaking havoc in Eastern Congo.

The report insists that despite Rwanda and Uganda’s strong denials, they have continued to support the M23 in their six-month fight against Congolese government troops in North Kivu province.

“Both Rwanda and Uganda have been supporting M23,” says the 44-page report. “While Rwandan officials coordinated the creation of the rebel movement as well as its major military operations, Uganda’s more subtle support to M23 allowed the rebel group’s political branch to operate from within Kampala and boost its external relations,” the report says.

According to the report, Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese general wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes, “controls the rebellion on the ground and M23 leader Sultani Makenga is in charge of operations and coordination with allied armed groups”.

The report says both Ntaganda and Makenga “receive direct military orders from the Rwandan army’s chief of defence staff”.

Rwanda and Uganda have both denied the accusations of involvement, but the report insists that: “Rwandan officials exercise overall command and strategic planning for M23,” and that “Rwanda continues to violate the [UN] arms embargo on Congo through direct military support to M23 rebels, facilitation of recruitment, encouragement and facilitation of FARDC (Congolese army) desertions as well as the provision of arms and ammunition, intelligence, and political advice.”

Regarding Uganda, the report says: “UPDF [Ugandan army] commanders sent troops and weapons to reinforce specific M23 operations and assisted in M23’s recruitment and weapons procurement efforts in Uganda.”

In fact, Stephen Rapp, the head of the US war crimes office, has warned Rwandan leaders that they could face ICC prosecution for arming groups responsible for atrocities in Congo. But three days after Rapp’s warning, the US embassy in Kigali issued a statement, saying media reports suggesting that senior Rwandan officials faced possible ICC prosecution for alleged support to M23 were inaccurate.
“Ambassador Rapp was not calling for any specific prosecution in this case,” the public affairs officer at the US embassy in Kigali, Susan Falatko, said, insisting that Rapp had been misquoted by the media. “He sought to underscore the importance of holding to account those responsible for crimes against humanity, noting as a general principle that neighbouring countries have been held responsible in the past for cross-border support for armed groups,” Falatko explained. Strangely, as punishment for Rwanda’s alleged complicity in the rebel attacks, President Obama’s administration announced that it was suspending a paltry $200,000 worth of military funds to Rwanda.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, insisting that Rwanda be given a chance to see the report first and respond before publication. was criticised by Jason Stearns of the International Crisis Group, for delaying the publication of the UN Group of Experts’ interim report, While it is procedurally correct that UN investigators should give the accused the opportunity to respond to their reports before publication, the UN experts say they were refused a meeting by the Rwandan government, which Kigali denies. The experts finally briefed a Rwandan delegation to New York in June. The Rwandans, naturally, rejected the report as flawed, but it was nonetheless officially released.

Stearns says that Susan Rice emerged as a sceptic within a State Department that had largely accepted Rwanda’s role in backing the M23. Both Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson and Special Envoy Barry Walkley have told Kigali that it must stop supporting the M23. According to an international NGO that follows Security Council politics closely, “Rice isn’t convinced that [Rwandan] support is ongoing – maybe [there was some] in the past, but not now.” Others point to Rice’s scepticism of the UN Group of Experts reports and their methodology. Her latest controversial step was to block the explicit naming of Rwanda and Uganda in the UN Security Council’s resolution seeking to condemn the M23 occupation of Goma. As in previous statements, the Security Council demanded that “any and all outside support to the M23 cease immediately”.

Other Council members had wanted to name Rwanda explicitly, but Rice demurred, arguing that this would not be constructive in a process in which Rwanda must be part of the solution. Rice’s supporters say that this was simply the official US position, and she was only following orders from Washington. But France finally tabled a resolution condemning Rwanda and Uganda for backing the “M23 rebels”, yet only a lighter version was issued after Rice protested. Rwanda has now become the location of a “CIA listening post” in the region, from a station built on top of Mount Karisimbi. For its part, Uganda runs the Singo Training School in Kakola, 120km north of Kampala. It is a training camp operated by the Ugandan military, but the instructions are overseen by an American private military company, one of four State Department contractors training African troops.

After Obama came to power, his administration’s policy on the “Congo question” did not change from that of his predecessors. In fact, one of Obama’s advisers was embarrassingly caught red-handed while attempting to smuggle minerals from Eastern Congo and his jet was impounded.

Enter the British

For its part, Britain has been blocking EU sanctions against Rwanda, in fact it went back on its words when the former British secretary for international development, Andrew Mitchell (on his last day in that office) told MPs that he had decided to resume Britain’s $35m aid package to Rwanda after two out of three conditions set by the UK – a ceasefire in the Kivu region and an end to practical support from Rwanda to militias – were met. Feeling isolated and under pressure after all the major EU countries suspended their aid support to Rwanda, British Prime Minister David Cameron finally acknowledged that “the international community could not ignore evidence of Rwandan involvement with the M23” and called on President Kagame to “show that the government of Rwanda had no links to the M23.

Cameron then announced that his government would stop a $32m aid payment to Rwanda, even though Britain remains Rwanda’s largest bilateral aid donor, pledging $115m this year, $60m of which is budgetary support. The biggest donors to both Rwanda and Uganda are the UK and the USA, and they tend to call the tune from behind the scenes.

In fact, in 2009, when President Joseph Kabila made a deal with President Kagame to allow the Rwandan army to secretly enter the Congo to hunt for Hutu militias, he did not know that Rwanda wanted the British to be associated with “the project”. It was for this reason that the chief of general staff of the British Army travelled to Kigali specifically to be briefed by his Rwandan counterpart about the operation; and “how their two armies could work together”.

It was only later that the Congolese realised that the Rwandans were continuing to use the war against Hutu “genocidists” as a pretext for occupying mining concessions. Many Rwandan troops deployed for the operation did not really leave as such, and have since evolved into what they now call M23.

Satellite might do it

Meanwhile, China’s Great Wall Industry Corp has been contracted to launch DRCongo’s first satellite within two years. CongoSat1, a communications satellite, will be developed and manufactured by the China Academy of Space Technology. The satellite will be able to cover all the central and southern parts of the African continent. China will build ground control and training facilities, and train Congolese personnel to handle the satellite.

China Telecom, one of the country’s biggest telecom companies, will also play an active role in the project by upgrading the operations system and providing management services to the network. The deal marks the second time that China has developed a satellite for an African country, following NigComSat1, another communications satellite launched for Nigeria in May 2007. At the same time, the UN is said to have contacted Britain and France asking them to supply drones to assist in monitoring Congo’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda, although some fear that this could be a Trojan horse and not be in Congo’s interests.

As all this goes on, observers are hoping that the named and shamed whose hidden hands fuel the wars in Congo will feel ashamed enough and stop their nefarious activities. But will they?

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