"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

6.26.2012

elsewhere

I have a couple of newish pieces up elsewhere:

6.25.2012

the GoE report

The UN Group of Experts on DRC interim report for 2012 was released on Friday evening. It's available here. I don't have time to comment now, but will do a post later this week on the report's significant findings.

The report was published without the controversial annex on Rwanda's alleged involvement in backing the M23 rebellion in North Kivu. My understanding is that this addendum is to be published within the next two weeks.

6.21.2012

still more on the GoE report

Colum Lynch has the most in-depth coverage of the Group of Experts interim report annex fiasco to date at Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog. From it, we learn that:
  • The US mission to the UN (USUN) denies that it is blocking the report, but rather is "carefully studying" its findings "in anticipation of council discussions on June 26."
  • On June 13, the Group of Experts told the Security Council they would only publish the annex if its results were made public out of concern for protecting informants because publicity would make it more difficult for the government of Rwanda to retaliate against suspected informants.
  • Anneke von Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch told Lynch, "I haven't seen the annex but I'm told that it names top officials in Rwanda who are allegedly involved in the effort to back the mutineers, and it goes to extremely senior levels."
  • Last week, USUN signaled that it wanted to block the report, apparently in the face of objections from some at the State Department. However, since that time, the mission appears to agree that the annex should be released, but that it should be delayed to give Rwanda time for right of reply to the annex's allegations. 
  • "U.S. officials deny there was a division between the U.S. mission in New York and the State Department."
  • Per the compromise on the annex reached in a meeting between the Sanctions Committee and the Group on Tuesday, the interim report will be released next week. The annex should be released in a couple of weeks. 
  • A spokesperson at USUN denied the claims about Rice's preference to not release the annex being contra to the desires of State officials in tweets by HRW head Ken Roth, which I mentioned in yesterday's post
For what it's worth, based on information from multiple reliable sources, I believe there really was a dispute between Rice and some at State's Africa bureau. What's important, however, is that the annex will apparently be released in full. While, as Lynch notes, it is highly unusual to allow countries accused of violating sanctions to have right of reply on a report, I don't think it's that big of a deal. The Rwandan government is going to have an hysterical fit over the annex one way or the other. If USUN wants to let them do so in a United Nations forum, so be it.

6.20.2012

More on the Group of Experts interim report

The UN Group of Experts on DRC formally submitted the interim report to the Security Council on Tuesday, but without the controversial annex on Rwanda's alleged involvement in supporting the M23 rebel movement. Here's the latest from the few sources that are covering this strange story:
  • Jason Stearns discusses the reasons the annex is being blocked, noting that it might be submitted at a later date. He also makes the important point that we don't know what is in the annex.
  • The Guardian's Pete Jones and David Smith have a detailed article on the alleged blocking of the report by the U.S., with extensive quotes from Congolese officials who believe the annex accurately reports Rwandan involvement in the crisis. 
  • Human Rights Watch released a quote on the situation (sent to me by email, also quoted in the Guardian story):  "The US government's reluctance to allow the publication of the UN Group of Experts' findings of Rwandan military support for Bosco Ntaganda's rebels is counterproductive. Stifling information will only hinder attempts to put an end to the atrocities committed by ICC war crimes suspect Ntaganda and other abusive commanders who have joined his mutiny. The US and other Security Council members should be doing everything they can to expose violations of UN sanctions and the arms embargo, including by Rwanda, and not attempt to cover them up."
  • Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth on Wednesday tweeted a link to the Guardian story, along with the comment, "US Amb Rice, over opposition of State Dept colleagues, seems to put loyalty to Kagame over concern for #Congo victims."
Roth's comment aligns with the story most reporters and observers are putting together. It suggests that the Africa Bureau at the State Department favors allowing the publication of the annex while US UN Ambassador Susan Rice wants to block it. The reasons for this are unclear. Rice served in the Clinton administration in several capacities; at the time of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, she was a member of the National Security Council staff. Rice has expressed deep regret over her and other Clinton administration officials' failure to effectively respond to the genocide.  

I am not among those who believe that Rice's guilt over Rwanda has blinded her to the realities of the RPF' regime's authoritarianism or that she is allowing personal feelings to override best practices in diplomacy, though this idea is circulating among some knowledgeable observers. She visited Rwanda in 2011 and there made pointed public comments about the country's lack of political freedom. So I am not really sure what is going on, if indeed it is Rice herself who wants to keep the GoE annex from being published at this time. Stearns - who does not mention the US, but refers to Security Council members in general terms - suggests that "UN member states are worried that these allegations could further sour relations between Congo and Rwanda, and that they are best dealt with behind closed doors."

That makes more sense to me as a viable explanation for what is motivating Rice or whoever is trying to block the annex's inclusion in the report.  However, I don't think it will work as a means of maintaining regional peace. The fundamental issues underlying the M23 conflict - the citizenship status of Congolese Rwandaphones and their land rights vis-a-vis other Congolese - have never been resolved and this and similar fights will not end until they are. Moreover, we know that the effects of the UN withholding or delaying factual evidence on Great Lakes conflicts has always backfired; the Gersony Report being but one example. That we did not get detailed documentation of atrocities committed by the RPF in Zaire in 1997 until the release of the 2010 UN Mapping Report certainly denied Congolese who died in the interim the chance to have any kind of justice, and made it easier for Rwanda's leaders to escape international sanction for their crimes.

Suppressing information did not help to bring peace to the Congo then, and it won't help now.  That whether there should be free and open exchange of data collected by experts that could help us to understand the causes and consequences of conflict is actually being debated - as though not sharing facts will keep people from behaving as though things they know to be true are not true - depresses me to no end. If the Obama Administration is serious about its new Africa strategy's third pillar - to advance peace and security - officials at the highest levels should intervene to ensure that full, correct information about the M23 crisis is freely available to all.

6.19.2012

takeoff from goma

My favorite part of this series is that in several of the photographs, you can see exactly where DRC ends and Rwanda begins.












(All photos copyright Laura Seay, 2012. Not for use without permission.)

6.16.2012

the mysterious case of the misisng GoE report

Normally at this time of year, we have a plethora of new-to-us data about what's happened in the Congo over the last few months. That's because typically, in late May or early June, the United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC releases its interim report.  This has been the pattern of the last few years, though certainly there are always variations in when the report is released, and, of course, what it contains.

The Group of Experts (GoE) reports are well-known as among the best sources of information about conflict in the DRC. It is fastidiously researched and documented, usually having annexes containing incredibly valuable (and damning) data (eg, receipts for illicit mineral transactions, photos of destroyed villages, load lists for cargo planes carrying weapons).  The  members of the GoE really know their stuff, most live in the region while conducting research, and they have connections and usually manage to talk to members of most of the armed groups operating in the Kivus and beyond. The reports are not perfect, but they are generally about as good as data gets when it comes to the DRC.

This year, however, the GoE interim report has yet to be released. It's not because it isn't ready.   I've been trying to piece together why for the last couple of weeks. What follows seems not to be published anywhere, but is based on information from multiple reliable sources who are well positioned to know what's going on.  Take it as you will, and if you have better information, feel free to comment or to email me.

This year, the M23 rebellion broke out shortly before the usual deadline for publication of the GoE interim report. As is their charge, the GoE researched and traced the dynamics of the mutiny as they do every other conflict. As part of these efforts, the GoE prepared an annex detailing Rwandan involvement in the crisis. (Remember, Rwanda's alleged involvement in supporting M23 has been reported by a BBC journalist who claimed to have seen a leaked UN report (ahem) and by Human Rights Watch in recent weeks. The UN later denied that it has evidence for these claims.)  Rwanda reacted furiously to both reports and denies its involvement in the crisis.

And therein seems to lie the holdup on the GoE report's release. The Group wants the annex detailing Rwanda's alleged involvement to be published along with the rest of the report (which I am assured will be published one way or the other). Someone (or multiple someones) at the United Nations does not want the annex on Rwanda's involvement included.  I have no idea whether the leaked report that provoked so much controversy a couple of weeks ago is the annex or is about the annex, but by all reliable accounts, this is the key issue holding everything up.

It would be easy to speculate on the reasons that the publication of factual information about the M23 mutiny is somehow controversial; it would strain the relationship with Rwanda (which the UN needs to cooperate with on everything from housing Congolese refugees to running country-based programs to allowing MONUSCO staff to pass to Kigali airport without being harrassed), the powers that be might want more solid sourcing of information, it could be a number of issues.

Making things even more bizarre, the Security Council on Friday released a statement condemning the mutiny and calling for investigation into "credible reports" of outside groups funding the crisis.  As analyst Jason Stearns noted in a tweet on Saturday, why is the Security Council asking for an investigation while blocking the one the GoE already prepared for them?

If the motivation for withholding the annex is political, then it's easy to see why the GoE is fighting behind the scenes to include it; the GoE's mission has never been to bow to the political whims of anyone. Their purpose is to collect and analyze facts. If we've reached a day where facts are problematic for the United Nations, then we are in real trouble indeed.

6.15.2012

MONUSCO in decline

There's been a flurry of coverage on the crisis in DRC this week (see especially Melanie Gouby's excellent Le Figaro piece on M23's motives. Lots of people are writing about M23, but Gouby actually went to Kavumu to talk to them.). One analysis that seems to have escaped much media attention was the Monday release of an open letter to the UN Security Council from International Crisis Group President and CEO Louise Arbour on the status of Congo's UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO. The mission is up for renewal, and Arbour raises several serious concerns about the mission's status, its ability to protect civilians, and its neutrality:
MONUSCO has lost credibility on several fronts and urgently needs to reorient its efforts. 
First, the mission has had strikingly little success at fulfilling its primary objective to protect civilians, though some of its innovative operational improvements should be acknowledged and encouraged. The population remains profoundly vulnerable to violence and frustrated by the lack of protection as illustrated by the recent attack on UN peacekeepers in Bunyiakiri, South Kivu. Despite progress against the FDLR, the threat of armed groups remains pervasive and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) cites an additional 218,000 internally displaced persons in North Kivu between 1 April and 31 May 2012. Durable protection of civilians will only come through an enhanced political process and the establishment of accountable state institutions. 
Secondly, MONUSCO technical and logistical support to deeply flawed elections in 2011 and the inability to successfully promote dialogue between the parties has altered perceptions about the mission's impartiality. Neither the Security Council nor MONUSCO articulated clear red lines for the credibility of the process, and the good offices role of the mission appeared underutilised. With the failed decentralisation agenda, constitutional reforms that further expanded the power of the presidency and little accountability for violence and massive fraud associated with the elections, the evidence continues to mount in support of the concerns Crisis Group expressed to the Security Council last year about the potential for authoritarian drift and consequences of the failure to resolve grievances through elections. If not corrected, international involvement in the DRC, including through MONUSCO, risks entrenching an unaccountable government and undermining its own eventual rule of law and peacebuilding efforts.
Arbour goes on to recommend that the Security Council should undertake a full review of MONUSCO's strategy rather than simply adhering to its

I could not agree more. In the seven years that I've been conducting research in eastern Congo, I have never seen the UN mission in such terrible shape. The 2010 shift to being a "stabilization" mission under the MONUSCO  name (rather than its former moniker, MONUC) was a response to Congolese President Joseph Kabila's desire to see the mission downsize and leave the DRC. While Kabila at the time preferred that this happened before the 2011 presidential elections, it was obvious to most Congolese that the east would be in even worse shape without the presence of the overstretched peacekeepers, who at least manage to protect some of the . Hence, the mission became a stabilization mission, with the idea that MONUSCO would move into more of a "support" function to assist the Congolese government and national army in protecting civilians and responding to outbreaks of violence.  Never mind that the FARDC and government's capacity are still weak, or that the national army was at the time responsible for more human rights abuses than were other armed groups combined.

Shifting to a stabilization function, coupled with the "Congo fatigue" phenomenon, whereby donors are ostensibly getting tired of funding an expensive mission while the situation in DRC does not improve, has also meant budget cutbacks.  Nowhere was this more evident to me than while traveling to and from Goma on a MONUSCO flight earlier this month.

(Warning: Tom Friedmanesque generalizations based on my personal travel experiences ahead.)

Flying with MONUSCO is a privilege, and one for which I am very grateful. Commercial air travel in DRC is incredibly dangerous; flying with the UN generally guarantees that one will at least be on an air-worthy craft and that the pilots will be sober.  It is difficult to get on these flights as non-UN personnel, and I always have last priority for a seat. I am used to having bad experiences on MONUSCO flights, getting bumped at the last second and taking hours and hours to get somewhere.  It's part of the DRC travel experience.

What I'm not used to is seeing members of the mission treated the same way. In the past, MONUSCO flights have not involved the massive incompetence, lack of aircraft, and other failures of chains of command and communications.  It was really unbelievable. In taking what should have been two, one-hour flights, I ended up waiting at MONUSCO air bases for a total of 24 hours over the course of four days. As did 30 of my new, closest peacekeeper friends.  We experienced everything from sitting for 8 hours at Entebbe only to be told that a plane (rumor on the street is that it was full of weapons for the FARDC) was stuck on the tarmac at Goma International, thus preventing any planes from landing at all. The next day, we were loaded on a flight "to Goma," only to be told when on board that it was a flight to Bukavu, where we spent the night despite promises of helicopters to get us to Goma that evening.

When you sit around on uncomfortable chairs in UN air bases for days on end with the same 30 people, you have two options. One is to stage an impromptu production of  "No Exit," the other is to talk. And talk the peacekeepers did. Both civilian and military members of the mission are furious with the way they were being treated. Most had served in other missions and consider MONUSCO by far the worst administered and least effective mission in the world. Nothing works as it is supposed to, and there are no contingency plans when things go wrong. Like, say, a tow for a cargo plane full of light artillery.

One peacekeeper, whom I'll call the Angry Bosnian, not only taught me to curse in Serbo-Croat, but also yelled a lot at local staff in each place, finally lost it on day 2 in Bukavu and started yelling, "This is why you can't protect civilians! You can't even procure a helicopter!"

He's right. The basic problem of MONUSCO is that it is operating on a tight budget, with very little creativity in its response to crises and very few contingency options when things go wrong. While it was a minor inconvenience for me and my peacekeeper buddies to take days on end to travel to Goma, imagine what happens when violence breaks out and the same problems occur.

I have not been one to bash MONUC/MONUSCO over the years. The mission has never been adequately staffed, funded, or authorized to do what is actually necessary to maintain peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is absurd to think that the maximum authorization of 21,000 troops (or the current strength of about 17,000) could protect civilians in such a large, inaccessible country when it took 50,000 NATO troops to stabilize tiny Kosovo. Add to this the lack of adequate resources, from cars to jet fuel, and  the language barriers (at one point last week, I was translating French-to-English for a Nepalese, as well as Spanish-to-English for a contingent of Guatemalans) and lack of translators and it's a wonder that MONUSCO manages to protect anyone. The Security Council and UN member states have never adequately supported MONUSCO; it is unfair to judge the mission's outcomes as though they had done so.

Yet they do protect civilians. Despite all the obstacles, there is no question that the DRC is better off with MONUSCO than without it.  The situation is far from perfect, but MONUSCO is absolutely necessary for the foreseeable future. As Arbour and ICG have aptly noted, however, the mission is in desperate need of rethinking and retooling. A realistic, pragmatic strategic reassessment of the mission's role and future is absolutely necessary and should be undertaken without delay.  As Arbour notes, "Without a new approach and re-engagement by the Security Council, MONUSCO risks becoming a $1.5 billion empty shell." It is already well on the way.

6.13.2012

On North Kivu

I have a new piece on the M23 rebellion up at Warscapes this week. Click on over to read about what precipitated the mutiny, the DRC government's stronger-than-usual response to the crisis, and what is at stake for DRC's Rwandaphone communities.

One particular goal I had for the piece was to clarify the fact that there is no such thing as a unified "Tutsi position" on M23, Bosco Ntaganda's leadership, or the RPF government in Kigali. This is a common misconception that is sometimes glossed over in media reports from the region, but it's an important one. While many non-Rwandaphone Congolese are convinced that there is a "Tutsi project" - that is, a conspiracy  to take control of the Kivu provinces under Kigali's rule - there is actually wide variation of opinion in the Rwandan and Congolese Tutsi communities, as well as among Congolese Rwandaphone Hutus.

This is not an accurate reflection of current reality. While we know that during the war some Tutsis apparently had the idea of expanding into a "greater Rwanda" (most famously expressed through the publication of a map of said territory in the Rwandair Express inflight magazine during the war), today, there is a high degree of tension in relationships between and among the Anglophone Tutsi leadership in Kigali, other Tutsis in and exiled from Rwanda, and Congolese Tutsis and Hutus. This variety of viewpoint extends through civilian and military life and is present within the ranks of the ex-/CNDP's military and political leaderships.  For example, some ex-CNDP soldiers remained loyal to Nkunda over the course of the last three years, while others have more confidence in Ntaganda's leadership.

Now that the mutiny is in full swing, opinions vary even more widely. Rumors are flying that Nkunda is directing M23's movements by telephone. Some Tutsi civilians in Goma are enthusiastically supporting M23. Others are less excited, but see it as a necessarily evil means of protecting their interests in the region. Some are afraid that if they don't support M23, they will not have anywhere to live anymore; this logic suggests that fighting is the only way to ensure that Rwandaphone Congolese aren't driven away from the land for good. Other Tutsis are furious; they view the M23 as having upset the delicate balance of peace that enabled Goma to prosper and themselves to live in relative peace in recent years. As Stearns notes, there are meetings happening within the Tutsi and Hutu communities in eastern DRC in an attempt to rally more members of the communities behind the M23 cause. But as of now, their views are hardly unanimous.

Then there is Kigali, whose role in this situation is very unclear. In the past, it would have been unthinkable that if a Rwandaphone-dominated movement like M23 were pushed back against the Rwandan border that it would not be receiving direct support from Kigali. Human Rights Watch believes the Rwandan government is in fact aiding M23 by providing troops, weapons, and ammunition, as well as allowing Ntaganda to move freely between Rwanda and DRC. Rwanda's government denies these claims. What's the reality? I have no idea.

Regardless of what is going on in Kigali, it is a very dangerous time to be a Kinyarwanda-speaker in North Kivu. Since the FARDC's attention is on defeating M23, who are holed up in a corner of the province's eastern border with Rwanda, they have fewer troops in Walikale and Masisi. Not surprisingly, as soon as the FARDC presence scaled back in Walikale, the FDLR moved in to take control of several towns.  In Masisi, two Mai Mai militias have been engaged in the wholesale slaughter of Rwandaphones. IRIN notes that one local leader has tallied 120 deaths since mid-May.

Another misperception about the crisis is the idea that it was caused by the perception that Kabila's government had decided to arrest Ntanganda, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. This line of thinking reasons that the international community's pressure on Kabila to arrest Ntaganda in exchange for not making more of a fuss about the contested 2011 presidential elections caused Kabila to take the arrest more seriously.

Don't give the international community too much credit. This was probably the immediate precipitating cause as to why the mutiny happened when it did, but the actual reason for the rebellion was much deeper and is based in longstanding resentment within the FARDC ranks and the view of ex-CNDP officers that the status quo was unsustainable. As Stearns notes, there were apparently already plans underway within the ex-CNDP ranks that were sped up without warning when the rebellion broke out.

What's next in the Kivus? Who knows? It's very clear that M23 is weak, and they will not be able to hold out for long under heavy shelling without reinforcements, which at this point can only come from Rwanda.  I sincerely doubt that Kigali believes a full-scale backing of the movement is in its interest; both countries have benefited and prospered under the 2009 rapprochement. Kinshasa also has a strong interest in maintaining the peace, which likely explains the Kabila administration's high level of engagement in attempting to resolve the crisis.  As always, though, if the status of Rwandaphone Congolese and the question of land rights isn't resolved at the grassroots level, we're not going to see a lasting peace in the region. It's only a matter of time before the next M23 arises.