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By EMMANUEL RUTAYISIRE Special Correspondent
President Paul Kagame has launched a process that could finally end the debate on a third term for him, by tasking three senior members of his Rwandan Patriotic Front to come up with a “transition formula.”
The president used the platform of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) on February 8 to task Tito Rutaremara, Joseph Karemera and Antoine Mugesera to come up with a formula that would deliver “change, continuity and stability” after 2017, when his constitutional term as president expires.
A senior RPF member, who spoke on condition of anonymity said President Kagame informed them that he was in a “dilemma” over the third term question.
Mr Rutaremara would not discuss if the options included proposing a third term for President Kagame, simply stating: “Those saying Kagame should go just because his term is finished are being lazy. We are responsible people we have to study everything. We must get a formula that shall give us maximum of change, continuity and stability.”
At the meeting, the source said, Kagame briefly talked about the Congo issue, which has damaged relations between his government and development partners, and dedicated the better part of the discussion to the third term question.
Mr Rutaremara said, “The president has said he is not interested in the third term… but he also does not want to look like he is running away from responsibility — and by the way, he is not the one to decide.”
Traditionally, RPF’s NEC meetings are held very much in secret, and observers say the fact that selected journalists were invited along with party members who are now willing to share what transpired, means something bigger.
Opinion is divided among political commentators and observers in Kigali.
Some say if these discussions were primarily meant to trigger an internal search for Kagame’s successor, they depict a party that has matured politically.
Some observers say that by opening up the debate, President Kagame may be testing the waters to ascertain the feasibility of his presidential ambitions beyond 2017, if indeed he harbours any.
“If he has thrown open the debate so his departure is discussed well in time and a search instituted for a suitable candidate to lead the change, it will be good for him and for internal democracy of the party,” said Dr Christopher Kayumba, a lecturer at the National University of Rwanda’s School of Journalism.
However, Mr Rutaremara said that looking at removal of term limits was insufficient because the “formula” may lie in having internal changes within RPF.
Although he did not divulge the likely changes, observers point to some scenarios:
The party could change the way its leaders are selected, retaining Kagame as its chairman and thus ensuring he remains powerful and influential even when he is not president.
President Kagame is deeply conflicted about the possibility of serving another term beyond 2017, even after a cross section of Rwandese Patriotic Front leaders and ordinary party members, one after another, called upon
him to consider it.
It was inevitable that this debate would hit a big stage at some point, and that occasion presented itself at the RPF’s extended National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting at the Amahoro “Petit Stade”, a meeting that began late Friday afternoon last week and went on almost into the wee hours of Saturday morning.
Kagame, addressing the auditorium containing a multitude estimated at 2000 strong, began his speech with a subject that exasperates him like few others can – the DR Congo and its proneness to dragging Rwanda into its problems. It was when the President introduced the next item in his speech that everyone began cocking heads into several stances of the highly attentive. He brought up the term limit issue.
Kagame said, “Now this is the most sensitive topic of the evening and I want to give you some serious homework”, but did not immediately delve into what that homework would entail. He instead introduced a topic within the topic – “change and continuity”, and what Rwandans are going to do about it come 2017.
“I have noticed that people, whether in the villages, whether in the media, are very exercised about what I will do come 2017,” Kagame said. “Foreigners have been asking, ‘will you step down?’ When I said ‘yes’, they did not seem satisfied. “When they kept insisting, I realized whatever I said would never satisfy them, so when recently (CNN’s Christiane) Amanpour asked me whether come 2017 I would step down, I said ‘come that time, what will happen will happen!’”
Now Kagame was throwing the question out to the gathered Rwandans – big RPF party honchos, members of the cabinet, members of parliament, senior civil servants, members of the business community, young professionals, university student leaders and others.”What is the best course of action for our country come that time?”
Now at this point the skeptical would be going, aha! See what we told you? Kagame has become another typical African leader; he will stay on! And in fact that impression would be strengthened by what several people would proceed to say the moment the floor was ceded to them to give their views on this question and its serious implications for the future of the country.
The first man (not someone in any leadership position) immediately called for a scrapping of the articles limiting the head of state to two terms. These articles cannot serve Rwandans very well if they limit our ability to decide who leads us, and President Kagame has done the best job anyone could have done in steering this country to progress, said the man who appeared to be a lawyer and who was speaking in Kinyarwanda. “We want you Mr. Chairman of the RPF and President of the Republic to carry on even after 2017!” Kagame listed intently, neither smiling, nor offering him any form of encouragement in his line of thought.
The second speaker, a woman, said it is people who make laws, and that laws are not written in stone. “If the articles limiting presidential term limits impede us in choosing the best leader we have, then these laws can be re-written and changed!
“Mr. President and Chairman of the RPF, we beseech you, you have been such a good leader, we ask it of you with utmost sincerity, when the time comes please present your candidature and we will give you another mandate!”
But the skeptical would be wrong in immediately assuming that with this kind of discussion a presidential term extension is a done deal. Kagame said a number of things that illustrate, at best, the level of ambiguity with which he confronts the issue.
“To me, the usual arguments by some leaders that no one is capable of taking over after them, that would be enough in itself to make me leave! If all that time you have led a system incapable of identifying or grooming another leader, then you have failed and can leave.”
But on the other hand, “We can’t let the values of foreigners be imposed upon us, and how we conduct our affairs,” said Kagame who was speaking alternately in Kinyarwanda and English.
He offered examples of African countries that followed the dictates of Western nations and followed their models of “democratic” government and asked, “Where are they now? Where is Mali now? It is said they democratically elected a new government, but now what is happening to the country? What is happening to the Central African Republic?”
The compelling argument for the president to even be listening to proponents of a term extension is crystallized in a letter an ordinary resident of Rusizi District wrote the President a few lines of which were quoted. “Nyakubawha Perezida (Honorable President”), the letter said, “Before you took over leadership, we were nothing. We had nothing. Now thanks to you we have built good lives. We have property. If you were to leave we don’t know where we would go, now even Bukavu is not an alternative!”
These are the ordinary villagers, the multitudes of people interested only in the stability and certainty they have ever known only under the RPF administration. The audience applauded long and loud upon hearing the contents of the letter. Many of them shared the sentiments of the Rusizi man.
The debate wasn’t entirely about people urging the President to stand for another term however. Someone stood up and said Rwanda could copy from the Chinese model, and have leaders in waiting whom everyone knew. Another person said the RPF as a party was strong and indeed among its ranks were individuals who could make good replacements for the President.
A woman who was among the last speakers however articulated some views that everyone seemed to nod in agreement to.
The RPF as an institution is very good, she said, but it has not yet gained the same level of confidence in the population as that which the baturage have in President Kagame.
She concluded, “In the future if the RPF gains the same levels of confidence the baturage have for the President, then we will be confident in any alternative candidate it presents.”
As the speeches wound down, the President finally said the homework was obvious to everyone present: find the answers – what is the formula we should use, going forward, as we determine the future of our country?
Amiel Nkuliza, Sweden
The Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt has exposed a detailed report which shows how the Rwandan government, Military Senior Officers in collaboration with its Embassy in Sweden planned to assassinate Rwandan refugees living in Sweden.
For all along the Swedish intelligence services have been very closely monitoring the activities of some Rwandans who claim to be refugees when in fact are used by the Kagame regime as spy agents to track genuine refugees in Sweden. It was in this regard that the Swedish government apprehended one of the Kagame spies and brought him to justice as a precautionary measure of eradicating the culture of impunity which would have resulted in loss of life by the genuine refugees living in Sweden and beyond had it not been checked.
Apart from factual and overwhelming evidence that was revealed by the Swedish intelligence services against Rubagenga who has been repeatedly used by the Kagame’s intelligence against Rwandan refugees , the Swedish Foreign affairs Ministry also revealed how the Kagame spy network and his own military Generals have been for long clandestinely spying on the Rwandan refugees living in Sweden since 2010. This report has also exposed how the Rwandan Embassy in Stockholm had an upper hand in all these murderous plots against Rwandan Refugees living in Sweden.
Why the celebrated Rwandan president really deserves an indictment.
by Howard W. French Jan 14, 2013 12:00 AM EST
When Rwandan-backed rebels recently took Goma, the biggest city in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Paul Kagame had every reason to think the world would give him a pass. That, after all, has been the pattern for years.
Frequently lauded by people such as Bono, Tony Blair, and Pastor Rick, the Rwandan president enjoys some extraordinary backing in the West—support that is particularly remarkable given his alleged hand in ongoing regional conflicts believed to have killed more than 5 million people since the mid-’90s.
On the aid and awards circuit, Kagame is known as the man who led Rwanda from the ashes of the 1994 genocide—one of the late 20th century’s greatest atrocities—to hope and prosperity: a land of fast growth and rare good economic governance with enviable advances in health care, education, and women’s rights. Bestowing his foundation’s Global Citizen Award on Kagame three years ago, Bill Clinton said: “From crisis, President Kagame has forged a strong, unified, and growing nation with the potential to become a model for the rest of Africa and the world.”
But that model narrative seems to be shifting in the aftermath of the Goma takeover. After a United Nations report found that Rwanda created and commands the rebel group known as M23, important European friends such as Britain and Belgium partially suspended aid donations to Rwanda, and President Obama called Kagame to warn him against any continued military adventurism.
Leading observers say the reevaluation of Kagame and his legacy is long overdue. Filip Reyntjens, a Belgian scholar whom many consider the world’s foremost expert on Rwanda, describes Kagame as “probably the worst war criminal in office today.” In an interview, Reyntjens told me that Kagame’s crimes rank with those perpetrated by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein or Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Washington and London have long supported Kagame as a bulwark of stability in a volatile region. But a recent U.N. report accused his government of instigating trouble across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Meanwhile, specialists in African affairs say a regime like Kagame’s, an ethnic dictatorship built along unusually narrow lines, represents a political dead end. And international human-rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have raised serious questions about violence committed against journalists and opposition figures. Kagame has generally been dismissive of such accusations of abuse.
Tall, gaunt, and almost professorial in manner, Kagame cuts an unusual figure for a former African guerrilla leader. His rise to power began in 1990, when as head of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, an exiled movement made up primarily of Tutsis, he launched a war to take over his native country from bases in neighboring Uganda.
Four years later, the course of history took a dramatic turn: on April 6, 1994, an airplane carrying Rwanda’s president, Juvénal Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu, was mysteriously shot down on its approach to the capital, Kigali, unleashing the murder spree that became known as the Rwandan genocide. In the space of 100 days, about 800,000 people—most of them members of the Tutsi minority—were killed at the instigation of Hutu extremists. As Kagame and his army gained control of the country, ending the genocide, the Hutu extremists, along with hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, fled to neighboring states, in particular Zaire, as it was then known.
Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, was named president in what seemed an effort at providing representation for the roughly 84 percent Hutu majority in Rwanda’s new national unity government. However, Kagame, a Tutsi and the nominal vice president, kept control of the Rwandan Army, becoming the country’s de facto leader. And by 2000, after numerous cases of forced exiles, disappearances, and assassinations of politicians, Bizimungu resigned the presidency, bringing a definitive end to the illusion of ethnic balance in high office. (The government now prohibits the use of ethnic labels.)
Since then, former Rwandan officials say, almost every position of meaningful power in the country has been held by a Tutsi. In 2001, when Bizimungu began organizing a political party in order to run for president, it was outlawed on charges of being a radical Hutu organization. The following year, Bizimungu was arrested on charges of endangering the state, and later he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
(Bizimungu, whom Amnesty International called a prisoner of conscience, was pardoned by Kagame in 2007, but the methods used to sideline him have been applied broadly ever since, with critics of the regime of all stripes being prosecuted for promoting “genocide ideology,” which has become an all-purpose charge.)
Theogene Rudasingwa, a Tutsi who was appointed Rwanda’s ambassador to Washington after serving as an officer in Kagame’s army, puts it bluntly: “If you differ strongly with Kagame and make your views known from the inside, you will be made to pay the price, and very often that price is your life.”
Rudasingwa, who now lives in exile in the United States, describes Kagame as an extreme control freak who has concentrated power in the hands of a select group of Tutsis who, like Kagame himself, returned to Rwanda from years of exile in Uganda after the genocide.
“When you look at the structure of key parts of government, leadership is occupied almost entirely by Tutsis from the outside, and this is especially true in the military,” Rudasingwa says. “As for the Hutus, they are completely marginalized, and things [for them] have never been as bad as they are today. Almost the entire Hutu elite that was built up since 1959 is either outside the country or dead. They are marginalized and banished, forced into exile when they haven’t simply been killed.”
Kagame tightly controls the country and its citizens through the Tutsi- dominated Army and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the country’s dominant political party. Throughout Rwanda—in every town and tiny village—the RPF is present, not unlike the Stasi in East Germany during the Cold War. While a town may have a Hutu mayor, under Kagame’s system government officeholders have little authority compared with the RPF representatives who work in parallel to them and often pull rank.
RPF regulations—enforced by local commissars with vigor and steep fines—govern almost every aspect of daily life. There are laws requiring peasants to wear shoes and good clothes when not working their fields and prohibition of drinking banana wine from shared straws—a traditional gesture of reconciliation—and myriad other rules, generally resented as gratuitous and insulting.
“The RPF saturates every aspect of life in Rwanda,” said Susan Thomson, a longtime Rwanda expert at Colgate University. “They know everything: if you’ve been drinking, if you’ve had an affair, if you’ve paid your taxes.” Everything is reported on, Thomson says, and there is no appeal.
From the beginning, Kagame’s legitimacy was founded on his image as the man who had halted the genocide committed by the Hutu-led government and extremist militias. While the vast majority of the 800,000 people killed in the frenzy were Tutsis and moderate Hutus, there are profound flaws in what is usually a rather simplistic telling of the country’s history.
Pointing to the origins of the war and its bloody aftermath, Scott Straus, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, said: “An honest analysis … would show that the reasons for what happened were much more complicated than the idea that the Hutus hate the Tutsis and want to wipe them out.”
For one thing, there is abundant evidence that Kagame’s forces in the early days carried out targeted executions of the Hutu elite, followed later by much larger extermination campaigns that killed tens of thousands of people.
A year after the genocide had ended, blood was still being spilled, recalls Timothy Longman, then the country director for Human Rights Watch. “People would take me around and say, ‘There’s mass grave right over here,’ and you would ask, ‘From when?’ And they would say, ‘Just from a few weeks ago—not from the genocide,’” says Longman, who now directs the African Studies Center at Boston University.
One of the earliest investigations was undertaken by a U.N. team led by the American Robert Gersony in the fall of 1994. The team conducted research by interviewing people in refugee camps and the countryside. In a report later suppressed by the U.N., partly as a result of American political pressure aimed at supporting the new RPF government, Gersony’s team concluded that four provinces had seen “systematic and sustained killing and persecution of their civilian Hutu populations by the RPA,” the armed wing of the RPF.
Furthermore, the report estimated that the RPA killed between 15,000 and 30,000 people in just four of its survey areas in the summer of 1994. Years later a key member of Gersony’s team told me that the real number of Hutus killed during this period was likely much higher, but that a low estimate had been published because of fears of a political backlash within the U.N. so soon after its failure to stop the larger-scale killing of Tutsis. “What we found was a well-organized military-style operation, with military command and control, and these were military-campaign-style mass murders,” the team member told me.
(In one notorious incident in April 1995, the RPA attacked an internally displaced people’s camp in Kibeho using automatic weapons, grenades, and mortars. A team of Australian medics listed more than 4,000 dead when the RPA forced them to stop counting. France’s leading researcher on the region, Gérard Prunier, estimates that at least 20,000 more people from the camp “disappeared” after the massacre.)
Many people inside the country know this history well but have been prevented from talking about it as the political space has narrowed.
In the run-up to the 2010 election in which Kagame was declared the winner, there was widespread violence, with several journalists and figures from the opposition attacked or killed, including a politician who was beheaded. Amnesty International condemned the violence and the “killings, arrests, and the closure of newspapers and broadcasters [which] reinforced a climate of fear.”
The case of Victoire Ingabire, a politician from the opposition, was instructive. When she returned to Rwanda that year, having lived 16 years in exile, to prepare a run for president, her first stop was at the official genocide memorial. “We are here honoring at this memorial the Tutsi victims of the genocide. There are also Hutu who were victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes, not remembered or honored here,” she said in a prepared statement. “Hutu are also suffering. They are wondering when their time will come to remember their people. In order for us to get to that desirable reconciliation, we must be fair and compassionate towards every Rwandan’s suffering.”
Ingabire was promptly arrested and accused of “genocide ideology.” During her trial, President Kagame publicly declared that she was guilty.
Tiny Rwanda is called the land of a thousand hills because of its verdant, rolling countryside of strikingly fertile farmland. It is a land of beauty and unrelenting order. But unlike its much larger neighbor Congo, it is not endowed with any mineral wealth to speak of. Yet Rwanda’s economy depends on the exploitation of Congolese resources.
Through mafialike networks reportedly run by the Rwandan Army and the RPF, huge quantities of Congo’s minerals are siphoned out of the country, experts say.
As early as 2000, Rwanda was believed to be making $80 million to $100 million annually from Congolese coltan alone, roughly the equivalent of the entire defense budget, according to Reyntjens, the Belgian expert.
Pillaging the Congo obscures Rwanda’s giant military budget from foreign donors who provide as much as 50 percent of the country’s budget every year. It also provides a rich source of income to the urban elites, especially returnees from Uganda, who form the regime’s core.
“After the first Congo war, money began coming in through military channels and never entered the coffers of the Rwandan state,” says Rudasingwa, Kagame’s former lieutenant. “It is RPF money, and Kagame is the only one who knows how much money it is—or how it is spent. In meetings it was often said, ‘For Rwanda to be strong, Congo must be weak, and the Congolese must be divided.’”
Congo looms large in the story of Kagame in other ways as well. For years Rwandan government forces and their proxies have operated in Congo. Twice Rwanda has invaded the country outright, in September 1996, when with U.S. acquiescence it successfully waged war to overthrow Mobutu Sese Seko, and again beginning in August 1998, when it mounted a repeat operation to depose Laurent-Désiré Kabila. This second operation, to replace the very man Kagame installed to replace Mobutu, ended in failure but established a pattern of intervention and meddling aimed at undermining its much larger neighbor. The ensuing war, involving several African nations, is believed to have cost the lives of 5 million people.
As early as 1997, the U.N. estimated that Rwandan forces had caused the deaths of 200,000 Hutus in Congo; Prunier, the French expert, has since estimated that the toll is closer to 300,000. According to the U.N. report, these deaths could not be attributed to the hazards of war or to collateral damage. “The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.” The report concluded that the systematic and widespread attacks, “if proven before a competent court, could be characterized as crimes of genocide.”
Two years ago, Kagame delivered a lecture in London on “The Challenges of Nation-Building in Africa: The Case of Rwanda.” When confronted with a U.N. report that was then making headlines with the suggestion that his forces had committed genocide in Congo, he dismissed such allegations as “baseless” and “absurd.” Clearly he was keener to talk about economic indicators and repeat the oft-told success story of his country.
But even that is a truth with modification. Social inequality in Rwanda is high and rising, experts say. Despite an average annual growth rate of about 5 percent since 2005, poverty is soaring in the countryside, where few Western journalists report without official escort.
“The rural sector has suffered enormous extraction under the post-genocide government, far more than what had happened before,” said one longtime researcher who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There is a real increase in misery. When you speak of Rwanda as a volcano, that’s what’s involved.”
Will Rwanda explode again? The big, looming issue is whether Kagame will leave office in 2017, as the Constitution calls for. With so much to answer for, few expect a straightforward exit.
Human and Labor Rights Lawyer
With the takeover of the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (“Congo”) last year by M23 rebels, and with Rwanda receiving a seat on the UN Security Council last year as well, I wanted to talk to Rwanda’s most famous son, Paul Rusesabagina, about Rwanda’s role in supporting the M23 militia. Paul Rusesabagina was famously portrayed in the movie Hotel Rwanda by Don Cheadle. My first question to Paul was about the criminal charges brought against him in 2010 by the Rwandan government for his questioning the role of Paul Kagame (now Rwandan president) and his RPF forces in the Rwandan civil war and in the Congo. The government accused him of allegedly advocating a “double genocide” theory.
PR: This is what happens to any person who has really been advocating about the genocide that happened in 1994. I was on the inside, and I sensitized the whole world. I called for help. I tried to help people during that period of time. And afterward, I still fought for the truth to come out until I noticed that that was not what the Rwandan government wanted to do. They wanted power — not shared — and they wanted to demonize the rest of the population so that the army appeared to be the only nice people. For that I was not considered a nice guy. I had no choice but to go into exile. In exile, I was the one who spoke real loudly about the Rwanda genocide — the Rwandan genocide; not two genocides … If we Rwandans don’t reconcile, and sit down honestly and talk, then we might see history repeating itself because the Rwandan government as of now also has been involved in many massacres. This is what I talk about. The Tutsi government has been involved in many massacres. And they are still doing it. So that’s what they have been doing in the Congo. If you look at the situation as it has been analyzed, for example, in the Mapping Report which you may be aware of. People analyzing that are recording a genocide.
DK: I think that is right. You are referring to the United Nations Mapping Reportwhich shows that in fact huge amounts of fatalities in terms of where Rwanda had invaded and also where they are supporting the M23 rebels if I’m not mistaken. And I see numbers of close to 6 million dead as a result of that activity.
PR: Actually M23 is not the first militia proxy army to be helped and funded by the Rwandan government; it is one among many others. Since 1996 when the Rwandan army invaded the Congo, they have killed more than 300,000 refugees — Hutu refugees. And they killed them because they were Hutu refugees. And also, they have killed millions of Congolese … Rwanda has provided these proxy armies, including now the M23, with munitions, arms and uniforms. And the result of this is that more than 6 or 7 million people have been killed. Hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. Babies have been butchered. This has been done by [Rwandan President Paul] Kagame in the fields by proxy militas.
DK: And what is the U.S. role in all of this?
PR: Well, all I can say is that Paul Kagame was, how do I say it, “our guy” if you can say it that way. He was trained in intelligence here in the United States in Fort Levenworth [in 1990 before the genocide], and he became an ally to the United States.
[Editor's Note: To read more about how Paul Kagame is "our guy," Read here].
DK: Did the U.S. approve of his invasion into the Congo in 1996?
PR: I can’t say they approved, but still no one disapproved.
DK: And, they knew he was going to do it, because he told the world he was going to invade.
PR: Yes, since 1996 through 2012, for more than 15 years, no one has disapproved, so they have approved.
DK: Was placing Rwanda on the Security Council (“SC”) last year ratification of their conduct?
PR: Let’s say that this is upsetting. This is upsetting for the cause of human rights. I can’t say what all human rights organizations would say, but I can tell you, someone who has been invading neighbors as Rwanda has, and who has been raping the women of their neighbors, I don’t see Rwanda as teaching any lessons of conflict resolution. If you go online and see how many babies are being butchered, if you see how women are being raped, if you see how many young boys are being killed, this [placing Rwanda on the SC] is like a lion guarding the cattle.
[Paul talks at length about his work on fighting inequality in Rwanda, and then stuns me with the following statement]:
PR: And, the governing elite has a special program of sterilizing men so that they don’t produce.
DK: Excuse me, did you say sterilizing men?
PR: Yes, sterilizing Hutu men. Yes, and what did you call this? Is this not a genocide? This is not the people’s choice; it is the government’s choice.
DK: I read somewhere that you think there needs to be a new truth tribunal in Rwanda. And, why is this, what was wrong with the first international criminal tribunal on Rwanda? What were the shortcomings there?
PR: This is the problem. In 1990, the RPF rebels, composed almost entirely of of Tutsis living in exile, invaded Rwanda from Uganda. So, when they invaded Rwanda, there was a civil war for four years. In that civil war, that army, those rebels, we called them rebels at that time, were killing each and every person, every Hutu on their way. People fled their homes. They were occupying slowly. And, by 1993, early 1994, before the genocide, we had about 1.2 million displaced people who were surrounding Kigali the capital city, having to bathe in town, going to sleep in the open air in camps, dying every day, hungry. So, in 1994, these rebels, who had already signed a peace accord with the government, killed the president. That is a fact which almost everyone knows. So, when they killed him, the genocide broke out. Now, we were in a civil war where civilians were being killed by both sides. The civil war never stopped. The genocide happened within a civil war. Both sides killed, and now, afterwards, in July 1994, when the period of the genocide ended, after three months, 90 days, the Tutsi rebels took power. They took power in blood from both sides. And, the international community gathered the United Nations, and they decided to put up a tribunal for Rwanda. That tribunal was supposed to try and convict Rwandans who killed Rwandans for a period of time from January 1 through December 31 of that year . From January 1 through December 31 of that year, I saw myself with my own eyes, this [RPF] army tying people with their hands behind their backs and beating their chests, breaking it, throwing them into containers, burning their bodies, and spraying their ashes into the national game preserve. I am a witness to this. But, because the Hutus lost the war, they are the only ones being tried and convicted. So, the international tribunal, the international criminal court for Rwanda, is a court for the losers. But, both have been killing civilians. They say that the Hutus committed the genocide, but the Tutsis also committed war crimes, crimes against humanity.
DK: I’ve seen a couple of reports saying that more Hutus were killed during that period than Tutsis; is that possible?
PR: Yes. That is correct. Because Hutus killed Hutus, and Hutus killed Tutsis, and Tutsis killed Hutus exclusively. But the killing of Hutus never ended. I’ll give you an example. On April 17, 18, 19 and 20, 1995, the new army, the Tutsi army that took power in 1994, killed, destroyed actually, a displaced camp within the country by bombardment, helicopter bombardment, and, machine guns on the ground. At that time, in that camp, we had 8,500 people, Hutus only. So, of those people, how many were killed, how many escaped? That is the problem. So, the killing never stopped. And, what took place in the Congo was something else.
DK: What you’re saying, Paul, jives with things that I’ve read as well. So, it is interesting that at the end of the movie, Hotel Rwanda, it really leaves the impression, and really more than that, it really says that once the Tutsis took power, everything was fine, the genocide ends. I would think you would have some disagreement with the end of that movie.
PR: Well, the movie is something different. And, I would tell you that I did not want to portray the genocide as such, but I wanted to teach a lesson. And, this lesson was to young people on how to make a difference. That was my mission. Many companies like HBO wanted to portray my story, but we could not agree on how to make it. So, the movie had to have, had to show, a kind of small island of peace in a kind of sea of fire, so that people can see something that was supposed to be better, nicer. This is why you see it that way. The ending was supposed to be a happy ending. And, I did not leave Rwanda, as you see in the movie, with the Canadian general telling me to go to Tanzania. I did not leave the country, but the movie had to end somewhere anyway. I did not leave the country until September 6, 1996 when I was almost assassinated myself. When I was almost assassinated myself, I said that is enough, I’ve had enough, and I decided to leave the country in exile.
DK: So, it’s a Hollywood movie, so it needed a Hollywood ending.
PR: Well, I think that the Hollywood ending is a better message to the world than that the massacres went on and on and on.
DK: But that is your perception — that they did go on and on and on, really?
PR: If we see what is going on in the Congo, what do we think they are doing within their own country? Their main objective has always been to take the international community’s attention from the real target which is Rwanda to a different place. That does not mean that Rwanda is safe; that does not mean that the killings have ended in the country.
DK: I will say, Paul, that from a quick Google search, it appears that your willingness to say these things has drawn a lot of fire for you. I mean you could have retired with that Academy Award nomination for Don Cheadle and been a happy guy but you’ve, you know, the things you are saying are good, you speak the truth, but it’s very controversial, and I’m sure it has not been easy for you.
PR: I know when I started talking out it was around 2004, the Rwandan Patriotic propaganda campaign was so powerful that they have convinced each and everyone, listen guys, we are the good guys, and everyone else are the bad guys. They have travelled all over the world to convince the world of that. So to get people from the international community on my side took a while and a lot of energy you can imagine.
During the genocide, there were 10,000 people being killed every day. You can imagine what happens after three months, almost 15 percent of the population were already dead. No one can understand that.
DK: You really could have rested on your laurels. You could have gone around high-fiving everyone, but instead you’ve continued the work, really treading some controversial waters, and I really applaud you for doing that.
PR: If I had been willing to sit down and shut up, yes, I would maybe be a better-off man. But, I would still have my conscience which would tell me otherwise. My conscience would not agree.
By Ian Birrell
PUBLISHED: 18:49 EST, 11 January 2013 | UPDATED: 04:07 EST, 12 January 2013
When Tony Blair visited Beijing a few weeks ago to open a prestigious conference on philanthropy, he showed he had lost none of the evangelical fervour that once dazzled British voters.
Giving an impassioned sermon to an A-list audience on the crucial role of compassion, the former Prime Minister spoke of how societies should be measured not just by what people do for themselves, but by what they do for others.
‘The best philanthropy is about changing the world,’ he proclaimed. ‘Flourishing philanthropy is an essential part of a flourishing society.’
Blair told well-heeled listeners paying nearly £1,500 a head how he found a new role after politics doing good deeds around the globe. He had seen how people’s lives had been improved through his efforts, he said.
It was the perfect start for China’s first major forum on philanthropy, where guests included Bill Gates, the multi-billionaire Microsoft founder who is giving away much of his fortune, and Andrew Forrest, Australia’s richest man and another generous charity donor.
‘We need philanthropy to lessen hostility towards the rich,’ Blair warned them.
Heartfelt words for a man said to have raked in nearly £20 million last year, big chunks of it by delivering platitudes dressed up as profundities to gullible global paymasters.
It was the sort of event the former Labour leader seems to love: a private jet to take him there, a £3,000-a-night hotel suite, and networking with the super-rich.
Yet his sanctimonious speech was little more than hypocritical hogwash coming from a man who, to my mind, has turned amorality into an art form.
For all his honeyed words about serving humanity, this is a man who used his contacts book from Downing Street to launch a lucrative career advising absolute monarchs, wealthy bankers and despots.
Yesterday, it emerged that his money-making operation may be about to expand even further after talks over a commercial alliance with one of the most highly-paid bankers in the world.
Michael Klein, 48, an American who was once the leading investment banker in London for the huge firm Citigroup, is now an international deal-broker who once earned $10 million for two weeks’ work. He is described as ‘very clever and a very canny operator’, and it is thought that he and Blair have worked on a number of deals together in the past.
The combination of their two enterprises would create an extremely powerful and lucrative platform for Blair to ply his trade around the world: the Prime Minister who promulgated an ethical foreign policy already spends much of his time serving the sleazy interests of repressive autocrats from Africa to central Asia. His moral blindness has no borders.
Take the mystery of his fee for that Beijing speech. Sources in China said he was handed about $200,000 (around £125,000) to deliver the lecture on philanthropy.
But when I asked his office if he was paid — which might seem at odds with the spirit of both the conference and his speech — they flatly denied it. His spokeswoman gave me an unambiguous, one-word answer: ‘No.’
Yet when I queried this, saying that it conflicted with what I had heard from Beijing, her reply changed. He was not personally paid, she said, but a payment went to one of his charities.
Such smokescreens are all too familiar from this politician with such a tenuous relationship to the truth. Most shamefully, this was shown with the distortion of intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq, which backfired so badly with disastrous consequences for millions of people.
Not that Blair, 59, shows any signs of guilt, or of retreating to a quieter life. Indeed, he seems obsessed with trying to recreate the whirlwind world he once inhabited as Prime Minister.
Recently he has been to a dizzying list of countries including Germany, Guinea, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Liberia, Nigeria and the U.S., as well as China, nurturing his byzantine web of businesses, charities, consultancies, speechmaking and diplomacy.
Friends and admirers say he is making pragmatic efforts to improve governance around the world. ‘I don’t think he is this money-grabbing, morally compromised individual he is made out to be,’ said one. ‘On the whole, I still give him the benefit of the doubt.’
But critics fear that divisions between his many operations are blurred. Anti-corruption campaigners have raised concerns that some of his business links conflict with his diplomatic role as a peace envoy in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, young executives from J.P. Morgan, the bailed-out U.S. bank paying him a reported £2.5 million a year, are put to work at the heart of African governments advised by one of his charities.
But criticism seems to have no effect on Teflon Tony. Recently he was back in Britain, joking with journalists in Westminster at a Lobby lunch. He sidestepped a question about his earnings while undermining the policies of current Labour leader Ed Miliband, an ally of his detested successor Gordon Brown.
The appearance was a reminder that he still holds ambitions for a leading role on the world stage, perhaps as President of Europe. Unfortunately, it coincided with a key Palestinian official giving a damning verdict on his peacemaking role as ‘useless, useless, useless’.
The lunch also came days after another sharp reminder of one of the most sordid episodes in Blair’s decade in power — his disgraceful ‘deal in the desert’ nine years ago with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which brought the despot in from the cold in return for him renouncing his weapons of mass destruction programme.
Less publicised was the apparent agreement for our intelligence services to act as outriders for a regime infamous for its barbarity.
Now, the British Government has given £2.23 million to a Libyan dissident and his family to stop a court case threatening to reveal embarrassing details of how British officials helped to round up Gaddafi’s enemies across the world.
Now, I understand from lawyers that a second case, involving Gaddafi’s most prominent opponent, is likely to go ahead.
Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who led the attack on Gaddafi’s Tripoli fortress in 2011, wants his story heard in open court unless there is an official apology.
He says that MI6 was involved with his detention in Malaysia in 2004, from where he and his pregnant wife were flown in hoods and shackles to Libya. Once there, he claims he was tortured and isolated for four years by Gaddafi’s goons.
Blair, who held private meetings with Gaddafi after leaving office, dodged questions on these cases last month on the grounds that legal action was being pursued.
Perhaps he should offer to recompense taxpayers for the multi-million-pound payout, given how his government prostituted British interests to appease a bloody dictator.
Days after Gaddafi’s fall, I stood in the wrecked home of the British high commissioner to Libya and found piles of secret documents revealing the disturbingly close links between Blair and the oil-rich tyrant in Tripoli.
There were obsequious letters from Downing Street to Gaddafi, suggested questions from our security services to put to detained dissidents, and even offers to use British special forces to train the regime’s most feared troops.
Little wonder that Saif Gaddafi — whom Blair infamously helped with his dodgy PhD thesis at the London School of Economics — called him ‘a personal family friend’.
Another friend of the former British PM was ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, who used to lend Blair a luxury villa on the Red Sea for holidays. When the Arab Spring erupted and protesters poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Blair hailed his corrupt pal — who embezzled billions — as ‘a force for good’.
These days he ignores such uncomfortable facts as he jets around the world discussing good governance and declaiming support for democracy movements in the Middle East.
But then this is the man who earned a seven-figure sum advising the Kuwaiti royal family, now facing growing protests from a generation frustrated by the lack of real democracy in that country.
Or take his dubious activities in central Asia. Three years ago, Blair was thought to have been paid £90,000 by an obscure oligarch to officially open a methanol plant in Baku. ‘I’ve
always wanted to visit Azerbaijan,’ he gushed.
Despite immense wealth from natural resources, one in five of this troubled nation’s citizens has fled in search of a better life elsewhere. Human rights activists have recounted savage beatings by security forces, while the website Wikileaks revealed that U.S. diplomats had compared the president, Ilham Aliyev, to mafia dons in the Godfather film trilogy.
Mr Blair, however, met Aliyev and praised a leader with ‘a very positive and exciting vision for the future’.
Even more disheartening are Blair’s dealings in Kazakhstan, where President Nursultan Nazarbayev is reported to have paid an astonishing $13 million to hire him in 2011.
The Kazakh government was delighted by the coup: ‘We could not have a better adviser,’ said one official. No wonder — a nasty regime had bought itself a fig-leaf of respectability, albeit for a small fortune.
It seems they did not just get Blair but his acolytes: former spin doctor Alastair Campbell was spotted at the airport in the capital Astana, and Lord Mandelson has reportedly been paid to speak by the state’s sovereign wealth fund. Business leaders close to New Labour are also active there.
Blair insists that the money he was paid by the Kazakhs is being spent on supporting political, economic and social reform there, and praises the country’s progress. He does, however, seem to have a soft spot for oil-rich nations run by repressive rulers.
Nazarbayev is a former Soviet leader who wins elections with unbelievable levels of support, jails human rights activists, tortures prisoners, shoots striking workers and intimidates independent journalists. His family is said to have salted away more than $1 billion.
One leading rival was found shot dead three weeks before an election. The official verdict was that he shot himself twice in the chest before shooting himself in the head.
On YouTube there is a long and tedious Soviet-style video exalting this supposed visionary. Prominent among those giving praise is Blair, who says that Nazarbayev is putting his country on the right path, even comparing it to thriving Singapore.
It is hard to equate this toe-curling tribute to a tyrant with the pious politician who claims to be driven by the desire to shape a better world.
One New Labour insider told me that Blair was transfixed by money and power. ‘His view of the world is totally realist,’ the source said. ‘So there is nothing to inhibit him from doing business with some of the world’s most awful people.’
‘My appeal to Mr Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it,’ he said.
Now, another African human rights hero is calling on Blair to stop propping up the regime in Rwanda, which is accused of atrocities and war crimes.
Paul Rusesabagina is the hotel manager who became a Hollywood icon thanks to the film Hotel Rwanda. It told how this gentle man defied savagery when genocide engulfed his nation, saving the lives of 1,268 people who sought sanctuary behind his gates.
Since then, he has displayed similar courage standing up to the murderous regime of President Paul Kagame. It has clamped down on internal dissent, sent hit squads to kill dissidents overseas and provoked chaos in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, inflaming the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.
Kagame has been helped by huge sums in foreign aid, but in recent months even his biggest backers in Britain and America suspended funding after the United Nations showed that he was fomenting unrest again in the Congo.
Blair, however, still supports this monstrous man through his personal charity, the African Governance Initiative, which is advising governments in five countries in Africa. Indeed, their relationship is so close that Kagame even put a £30 million private jet at his disposal.
Paul Rusesabagina sent Blair a letter recently begging him to use his influence to stop the bloodshed in the Congo.
‘Please do not let your personal friendship with President Kagame stand in the way of your conscience,’ he implored. ‘Show the moral leadership that I know you are capable of and denounce President Kagame.
‘The price that has been paid to carry you and President Kagame around on these planes is too high.’
Will Blair listen to this admirable man, who pledged to fight for human rights amid the carnage of genocide? Don’t hold your breath.
For all that fine talk about philanthropy and serving others, it is hard not to wonder these days if any price is too high for Mr Blair.
Very insightful New York Times story about Susan Rice and Rwanda.
WASHINGTON — Almost two decades after the Clinton administration failed to intervene in the genocide in Rwanda, the United States is coming under harsh criticism for not moving forcefully in another African crisis marked by atrocities and brutal killings, this time in Rwanda’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations and a leading contender to succeed Mrs. Clinton, in the administration’s failure to take action against the country they see as a major cause of the Congolese crisis, Rwanda.
Specifically, these critics — who include officials of human rights organizations and United Nations diplomats — say the administration has not put enough pressure on Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, to end his support for the rebel movement whose recent capture of the strategic city of Goma in Congo set off a national crisis in a country that has already lost more than three million people in more than a decade of fighting. Rwanda’s support is seen as vital to the rebel group, known as M23.
Support for Mr. Kagame and the Rwandan government has been a matter of American foreign policy since he led the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front to victory over the incumbent government in July 1994, effectively ending the Rwandan genocide. But according to rights organizations and diplomats at the United Nations, Ms. Rice has been at the forefront of trying to shield the Rwandan government, and Mr. Kagame in particular, from international censure, even as several United Nations reports have laid the blame for the violence in Congo at Mr. Kagame’s door.
A senior administration official said Saturday that Ms. Rice was not freelancing, and that the American policy toward Rwanda and Congo was to work with all the countries in the area for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.
Aides to Ms. Rice acknowledge that she is close to Mr. Kagame and that Mr. Kagame’s government was her client when she worked at Intellibridge, a strategic analysis firm in Washington. Ms. Rice, who served as the State Department’s top African affairs expert in the Clinton administration, worked at the firm with several other former Clinton administration officials, including David J. Rothkopf, who was an acting under secretary in the Commerce Department; Anthony Lake, Mr. Clinton’s national security adviser; and John M. Deutch, who was director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Payton Knopf, a spokesman for Ms. Rice, initially declined to comment on whether her work with Rwanda at Intellibridge affected her dealings with the country in her present job as an ambassador. But on Monday, Mr. Knopf said: “Ambassador Rice’s brief consultancy at Intellibridge has had no impact on her work at the United Nations. She implements the agreed policy of the United States at the U.N.”
Two months ago, at a meeting with her French and British counterparts at the French Mission to the United Nations, according to a Western diplomat with knowledge of the meeting, Ms. Rice objected strongly to a call by the French envoy, Gerard Araud, for explicitly “naming and shaming” Mr. Kagame and the Rwandan government for its support of M23, and to his proposal to consider sanctions to pressure Rwanda to abandon the rebel group.
“Listen Gerard,” she said, according to the diplomat. “This is the D.R.C. If it weren’t the M23 doing this, it would be some other group.” The exchange was reported in Foreign Policy magazine last week.
A few weeks later, Ms. Rice again stepped in to protect Mr. Kagame. After delaying for weeks the publication of a United Nations report denouncing Rwanda’s support for the M23 and opposing any direct references to Rwanda in United Nations statements and resolutions on the crisis, Ms. Rice intervened to water down a Security Council resolution that strongly condemned the M23 for widespread rape, summary executions and recruitment of child soldiers. The resolution expressed “deep concern” about external actors supporting the M23. But Ms. Rice prevailed in preventing the resolution from explicitly naming Rwanda when it was passed on Nov. 20.
Mr. Knopf, the spokesman for Ms. Rice, said the view of the United States was that delicate diplomatic negotiations under way among Rwanda, Congo and Uganda could have been adversely affected if the Security Council resolution explicitly named Rwanda. “Working with our colleagues in the Security Council, the United States helped craft a strong resolution to reinforce the delicate diplomatic effort then getting under way in Kampala,” Mr. Knopf said.
The negotiations subsequently fell apart, and the M23 continued to make gains in eastern Congo. Last week, the M23 withdrew from Goma but left behind agents and remain in range of the city.
Mr. Knopf declined to confirm or deny the account offered by the United Nations diplomat about the conversation between Ms. Rice and the French ambassador. But he said that “Ambassador Rice has frequently and publicly condemned the heinous abuses perpetrated by the M23 in eastern Congo,” adding that the United States was “leading efforts to end the rebellion, including by leveling U.S. and U.N. sanctions against M23 leaders and commanders.”
Ms. Rice’s critics say that is the crux of the problem with the American response to the crisis in Congo: it ignores, for the most part, the role played by Mr. Kagame in backing the M23, and, as it happens, risks repeating the mistakes of the genocide by not erring on the side of aggressive action. “I fear that our collective regret about not stopping the Rwandan genocide, felt by all of us who worked for the Clinton administration, led to policies that overlooked more waves of atrocities in the Congo, which we should equally regret,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who has worked closely with Ms. Rice both in the Clinton administration and after.
“For almost 20 years now, the premise of U.S. policy has been that quiet persuasion is the best way to restrain Rwanda from supporting war criminals in the Congo,” Mr. Malinowski said. “It might have made sense once, but after years of Rwanda doing what the U.S. has urged it not to do, contributing to massive civilian deaths, and ripping up U.N. resolutions that the U.S. sponsored, the time to speak plainly and impose penalties has come.”
When Mrs. Clinton appeared before reporters on Nov. 28 to talk about the M23’s seizure of Goma, she sprinkled her talking points with a demand that the rebel group withdraw, calling the humanitarian impact “devastating,” with 285,000 people forced to flee their homes, health workers abducted and killed, and civil workers under threat of death. But she made no mention of Rwanda’s role backing the rebel group, limiting her inclusion of Rwanda to a mention of negotiations with Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo to try to get a cease-fire.
“The M23 would probably no longer exist today without Rwandan support,” said Jason K. Stearns, author of “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of Congo and the Great War of Africa.” “It stepped in to prevent the movement from collapsing and has been providing critical military support for every major offensive.”
Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, noted that the United States cut a portion of its military financing for Rwanda — around $250,000. But the Rwandan military continues to receive substantial American training, equipment and financial help. In an interview, he said, “There is not an ounce of difference between myself and Ambassador Rice on this issue,” adding that quiet diplomacy was better than publicly calling out Mr. Kagame.
Ms. Rice, who has been at the eye of a political storm over her portrayal of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya, declined to be interviewed for this article. But in recent days, she seems to have tried to publicly distance herself from the M23 — although still not from Mr. Kagame. On Dec. 3, she posted on her Facebook page: “The U.S. condemns in the strongest terms horrific M23 violence. Any and all external support has to stop,” in a reference to action in the Senate.
Her posting drew immediate responses. “Condemn the rape but don’t name the rapist?” one of them said. “What kind of Justice is that?
Rwandan support for rebels in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo may be more widespread than previously believed, the BBC has found.
Kigali has already rejected UN accusations that it is backing the M23 rebel group which recently captured the strategic eastern city of Goma.
More than 500,000 people have fled seven months of fighting in the east.
Rwanda has previously backed armed groups in eastern DR Congo as a way of fighting Hutu militias who fled there after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, in which some 800,000 people died.
The M23, who like Rwanda’s leaders are mostly ethnic Tutsis, has also denied it is funded by Rwanda.
BBC East Africa correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse spoke to two former rebel fighters in Bukavu, which lies on the southern tip of Lake Kivu, some 200km (125 miles) from Goma.
They were from DR Congo’s minority Tutsi ethnic group and said they had joined the rebel Congolese Movement for Change in July to fight for a better life for the people of the east.
They had spent several months in the bush fighting the army, thinking they were part of a home-grown movement.
“Then our chairman of this movement came with a delegation of the government of Rwanda, saying that the movement has been changed, we have to follow the instructions of the Rwanda government,” Capt Okra Rudahirwa told the BBC.
He said he and his men were given monthly supplies of cash – sometimes as much as $20,000 (£12,500) dollars, with which they bought food, uniforms and medicines.
His commander, Col Besftriend Ndozi, told the BBC they were also put in contact with a senior M23 commander, a Col Manzi, who urged them to co-ordinate their efforts.
The men said they decided to abandon the fight once they realised the scale of Rwandan involvement.
The Rwandan government has declined to comment on the allegations.
But many of the details of this account, including dates and names of intermediaries, tally with separate research carried out by the UN, our correspondent says.
A recent report by UN experts said the M23′s de facto chain of command culminated with Rwanda’s defence minister.
M23 rebels are due to withdraw from recently captured towns
It also accused neighbouring Uganda of aiding the rebels.
Kampala has denied the allegations and has been mediating over the last week following the M23′s capture of Goma.
Its military commander, Sultani Makenga, has said he will withdraw his forces to a 20km buffer zone around Goma in the coming days.
The group mutinied from the army in April, saying it was because a 2009 deal to end a previous uprising by a Tutsi militia had not been fulfilled.
By Editorial Board, Friday, November 23, 5:43 PM
ONE OF THE globe’s worst killing fields is once again aflame. The eastern region of Congo was the epicenter of two wars in the past 15 years that laid waste to an estimated 5 million lives — many lost to hunger and disease that followed in the footsteps of armed conflict.
On Tuesday, a rebel group, M23, seized the provincial capital of Goma as Congolese army forces and U.N. peacekeepers fell back. The fighting has intensified an already dire humanitarian crisis. Since the beginning of this year, more than 650,000 people have been uprootedin the regions of North and South Kivu. A series of fragile peace agreements reached in recent years are in tatters.
The M23 was formed out of a mutiny from the Congolese army in April by several hundred soldiers from a former rebel army that had signed a peace deal with the government on March 23, 2009. They are led by Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, a former high-ranking army officer who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on seven counts of crimes against humanity. The rebels have used and recruited child soldiers by the hundreds, according to theUnited Nations. By taking Goma, the rebels have raised the prospect of a destabilizing return to a regional war.
In the broadest sense, what’s unfolding is a result of the vacuum created by Congo’s weakness as a state. As the author and Congo analyst Jason Stearns has pointed out, the government in Kinshasa under President Joseph Kabila can’t impose rule of law or its military writ in the region, leading armed groups to fill the space. The International Crisis Group described the latest rebellion as, in part, the result of failure to implement earlier accords, failure to reform the army and failure to start a serious political dialogue. The presence of a 19,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force has done little to halt the conflict.
Rwanda, which borders Congo to the east, sees this mineral-rich swath of Congo as a sphere of influence. Rwanda’s role in supplying arms and support to the M23 rebels cannot be underestimated, despite denials. A U.N. report just published concludes that Rwanda has provided “direct military support” to the rebels, including “arms, ammunition, intelligence and political advice.” Uganda is also believed to be aiding the rebels.
Rwanda and Uganda should stop their meddling, and the United States and Britain must turn up the pressure on Rwanda to halt support for the rebels. That will take more than quiet diplomacy. A U.N. Security Council resolution approved Tuesday called for sanctions against the rebel leaders but stopped short of naming Rwanda. All sides need to recognize they are sliding once again toward the killing fields and to come to their senses before the bloody wars of the past are repeated.
Sat, Nov 24, 2012
Rebels in eastern Congo pushed south along Lake Kivu yesterday after repelling a counterattack by government forces near the new rebel stronghold in the city of Goma on the Rwandan border.
Others moved north from the strategic road junction at Sake.
The rebels were in control of Sake after a battle on Thursday that was the first sign of a government fightback. The army had abandoned Goma on Tuesday to the M23 movement, widely thought to be backed by Rwanda.
Local people and fighters said Congolese troops and allied militia had pulled back from Sake – which lies 20km west from Goma along the lake – to Minova, 15km farther south along the main highway in the direction of M23’s stated next objective, the city of Bukavu at the southern tip of the lake.
The rebel group said after taking Goma it would march on the capital, Kinshasa, 1,600km away, to defeat President Joseph Kabila. The fighters met no resistance as they probed several miles south from Sake yesterday.
Thousands of refugees fled the fighting, heading for Goma, where aid agencies have a significant presence. United Nations peacekeepers stood back when the rebels moved in. Another town, Mushaki, in the hills 20km to the northwest of Sake, also fell to the rebels after overnight fighting, according to officials in Goma who were in touch with people in the area.
Previous uprisings in Democratic Republic of Congo, among them one led by Mr Kabila’s father, have been launched from the area, where a mix of colonial-era borders, rich mineral deposits and ethnic rivalries has caused two decades of turmoil, dating from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, that have cost millions of deaths.
On the outskirts of Sake, taken by the rebels on Wednesday, three bodies in the uniform of Mr Kabila’s national army lay by the roadside. Cartridges cases littered the area.
“There was heavy fighting,” said pastor Jean Kambale, who dismissed a government claim that it had retaken Sake on Thursday. “It’s M23 who control the town,” he said. “They never lost it.”
The rebels received a mixed welcome in areas taken this week. Fearing more fighting, thousands of people clutching children and belongings were on the move around the lake yesterday, trudging along the road towards Goma from Sake.
M23 was formed in April by army mutineers who accused Mr Kabila of reneging on a peace deal from an earlier conflict. It says it plans to “liberate” the country and has rejected a call from regional states to withdraw from Goma.
The conflict has raised tensions between Congo and its tiny but militarily powerful neighbour Rwanda, which Kinshasa, backed by UN experts, accuses of secretly backing rebels.
Rwanda’s history of meddling
Rwanda has a history of meddling in Congo’s conflicts, which have resulted in the death of some five million people since 1998. Rwandan president Paul Kagame has denied the charge repeatedly and blames Congo and world powers of seeking a scapegoat for their failure.
Minova was the Congolese army’s rallying point after its retreat from Goma, according to the rebels. Having fended off the counterattack on Sake, they would take a step towards fulfilling their stated ambition of taking Bukavu by seizing Minova.
The capital of South Kivu province, Minova lies at the opposite end of Lake Kivu, 100km from Goma, the capital of North Kivu. Mr Kabila’s forces are on the back foot as the M23 fighters press south. Analysts remain sceptical, however, that the rebels can make good on their threat to march on Kinshasa in the west without significant and overt support from foreign backers. In pushing north from Sake, the insurgents moved closer to Kichanga, home of Bosco Ntaganda, a Rwandan-born warlord wanted for war crimes by the international court at The Hague. According to many observers, Ntaganda is controlling the insurgency.
Competition for resources
Regional and international leaders are scrambling to halt the latest bout of violence in a Great Lakes region long been plagued by ethnic and political conflict fuelled by competition for reserves of gold, tin and coltan, an ore of rare metals used in electronics and other high-value products. The rebels have so far ignored international calls to withdraw from occupied areas. They doubt Mr Kabila’s stated readiness to look into their complaints, saying they have already waited months for talks.
Regional leaders are due to hold crisis talks today in Kampala, capital of neighbouring Uganda.
A Congolese government spokesman confirmed Mr Kabila was back in Kinshasa following inconclusive talks with Mr Kagame this week. The spokesman said Mr Kabila would return to Uganda today. – (Reuters)