Wednesday, February 29, 2012

North Kivu’s False Peace

North Kivu’s False Peace

By Michael Deibert

February 29, 2012

African Arguments

(Read the original here)

At first glance today, things in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern North Kivu province seem far calmer than in years past.

As recently as 2008, a rebel group, the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) under the command of renegade general Laurent Nkunda, controlled sizable swaths of the territory, especially around the area of Masisi in North Kivu’s south-eastern corner.

Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi from North Kivu’s Rutshuru territory and a former commander in the Rwanda-backed Goma faction of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) rebel group, seemed poised to attack the provincial capital of Goma at any time.

Travelling much beyond the town of Sake, 25 km to Goma’s northwest, was a complicated endeavour, as the CNDP had battled the forces of Congo’s president Joseph Kabila fiercely for Sake in November 2006 before withdrawing in defeat. At the time, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that some 800,000 people had been displaced by fighting in the province.

Since those dark days, much has changed in eastern North Kivu.

In January 2009, Rwanda’s government, long believed to be the CNDP’s key backer in its vying for regional advantage, announced that they had arrested Nkunda on Rwandan territory. This event took place shortly after the CNDP had begun to splinter, with one high-ranking member, Bosco Ntaganda, advocating dialogue and détente with the Kabila government.

Since then, a bitter pill scenario has seen Kabila, in power in Congo since the 2001 assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, cede influence and control of much of the eastern part of the vast, mineral-rich country to Rwanda and its proxies, with the Rwandan army now allowed to enter Congolese territory in hot pursuit of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), the main Hutu-led military opposition to Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government. The FDLR has its roots in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide when nearly 1 million Tutsis and Hutu moderates were slaughtered by extremist Hutu supremacist elements.

The CNDP, for its part, has now become a registered political party and has seen its forces integrated with the official armed forces, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), and its chieftain, Bosco Ntaganda, has become an important powerbroker in Goma.

All is not as it appears, however.

Beyond simple integration, the Congolese army in eastern Congo is now dominated by the CNDP, much to the chagrin of other armed groups such as the government’s erstwhile allies in the Patriotes Resistants Congolais (PARECO) – a loose umbrella of paramilitary organizations who also have been gradually entering the official security forces.

A significant breakaway movement, the Alliance des Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souverain (APCLS) led by ‘General’ Janvier Buingo Karairi and mostly consisting of members of the Hunde ethnic group, broke off from the larger PARECO configuration in April 2008, and has thus far refused integration.

During Congo’s deeply-flawed general elections last year, which saw Kabila returned to office ahead of his main rival, long-time opposition figure Étienne Tshisekedi, Human Rights Watch recounted how in some villages in Masisi, voters were compelled by the presence of former CNDP rebels at polling stations to vote for Kabila and CNDP candidate Bahati Ibatunganya.

In the run-up to last November’s vote, Fabrice Mumpfiritsa, a well-known Hunde singer, was kidnapped in Goma and found days later, injured but alive. Formerly a Kabila partisan, Mumpfiritsa had grown disenchanted with the president and began vocally supporting Kabila’s local opposition.

Visiting North Kivu again this month, it soon became apparent to me that, after being in office for over a decade, Kabila, though once having strong support in the east, has brought precious little development to this part of Congo.

An entrepreneur in Goma with extensive contacts within both the CNDP and the government told me that “the state has a symbolic presence in North Kivu today, nothing more.” A high-ranking official in an international organization that has long had a presence in the province referred to the system of governance that has been put into place as being “like a mafia…Whoever doesn’t side with (the CNDP), doesn’t agree or says something in opposition will be intimidated, or eventually put under house arrest or killed.”

It would have been hard for the Congolese and Rwandan governments to have found a more poisonous and tainted proxy than Bosco Ntaganda.

In January 2006, Ntaganda was indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for three counts of war crimes that allegedly occurred while he was helping to command the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC) in Congo’s Ituri region during the early part of the last decade, a time during which he earned the sobriquet “the Terminator.”

The FPLC itself grew out of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), an armed group that claimed to champion the cause of the pastoralist Hema ethnic group against that of the agriculturalist Lendu, the very kind of apocalyptic ethnic politics that Ntaganda would also engage in with the CNDP in North Kivu.

The fighting in Ituri killed an estimated 60,000 people.

In a letter from the Group of Experts on Congo to the United Nations Security Council dated 18 October 2011, the group found that since his reintegration into the Congolese army, Ntaganda has continued to collaborate “with East African regional networks of dealers selling both real and counterfeit gold to international buyers.”

Troublingly, and as if to underline its occupant’s ultimate fealty to Kigali, Ntaganda’s Goma residence is situated on a lane that crosses directly over a neutral zone to Gisenyi, Rwanda, just across the border. According to a December 2011 United Nations Security Council report, Ntaganda crossed into Rwanda at least twice, in March and September of 2011, despite an ostensible travel ban imposed on him.

As before, the region’s politics remain nothing if not maddeningly complex and unsuited to the international community’s often one-size-fits-all approach to peace-building.

Surrounding Congo, in neighbouring Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni, who in 1986 told his country that “the problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power” now enters his 27th year as the country’s president, having secured his current term through particularly controversial elections in February 2011.

Over the last year, several large scale protests against alleged political corruption and economic mismanagement have occurred in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, many aligned with the Forum for Democratic Change led by Kizza Besigye, a doctor and former soldier as well as a former Museveni ally turned critic.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame has solidified a tight-lidded dictatorship over the country based upon what the French academic Gérard Prunier has characterized as “passive acceptance of undivided Tutsi power over an obedient Hutu mass.” Government critics meet either death, (opposition politician Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, killed in Rwanda in July 2011), exile (former general Kayumba Nyamwasa, wounded in a shooting in South Africa in June 2010) or both (Inyenyeri News editor Charles Ingabire, shot dead in Kampala last December).

Throughout North Kivu itself, things remain tense, and the region’s civilian population continues to be at risk.

This month, around Masisi alone I spoke to residents of displaced person camps such as Kalinga (population 4,551), Bihito (5,742) and Bukombo (3,338), some of whom have been living in the most squalid of conditions for up to five years. Across the border in Kisoro, Uganda, I found around 2,000 refugees who had fled fighting between the FDLR and militia elements in Rutshuru camped in the shadow of Mount Muhabura. It is a situation replicated in hundreds of registered and unregistered displaced persons settlements throughout the province.

In the township of Bisie in North Kivu’s Walikale territory – which remains a stronghold of the FDLR – an illegal mine producing cassiterite, which is eventually turned into tin, has been giving up its bounty to an ever-shifting array of armed groups for a number of years. In villages and displaced persons camps such as those in Masisi, a sense of deep resentment against both the broken promises and lack of development offered by the Kabila government, and what some residents see as the growing Rwandanization of eastern Congo, continues to fester. Armed groups, particularly those flowing from former PARECO elements, continue to form, break apart and re-form in a dizzying array of alliances that the international community, patting itself on the back for its “success” in eastern Congo, seems ill placed to address should the tension once again flare into large-scale open violence.

By turning the other way as North Kivu in general and Goma in particular have become, with Kigali’s connivance, a virtual fiefdom of Bosco Ntaganda’s CNDP, the international community, including the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo (known by its acronym, MONUSCO), are not guaranteeing peace in North Kivu. They are in fact fanning the embers for the potential eruption of a new conflict in the province.

The belief that the more territory held by the Kabila government’s FARDC and CNDP allies equals more stability in the long-term may very well prove to be sadly mistaken, and MONUSCO is currently in danger of being perceived as dangerously partisan to a government and military of questionable popular legitimacy.

By ceding an axis of influence in the east to Rwanda, Kabila may have indeed rid himself of the immediate problem of the CNDP armed insurgency, but the group’s subtle takeover of the province has helped to plant the seeds for enmities and resentment that could lead to an even greater crisis in the future.

It is important that all international actors speak out against the abuses being committed with official sanction in North Kivu today, and to hold the state actors behind them, whether they be in Kinshasa or Kigali, accountable for the crimes of those who act in their name. Without such accountability, lasting peace in North Kivu would seem to remain a distant dream.

Michael Deibert is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University and the author of the forthcoming Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair (Zed Books).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

In northern Uganda, a difficult peace

26 February 2012

In northern Uganda, a difficult peace

By Michael Deibert

Le Monde diplomatique

(Read the original article here)

Gulu, Uganda — Gazing out from this bustling provincial capital in northern Uganda, a lifelong resident gestured towards the red dirt roads that lead out towards the Sudan border and talked of the changes that have come to this corner of Uganda in recent years.

“We used to not even move from town, going for two miles was a terrible challenge,” says John Lukwiya (not his real name) who works with displaced people in the region. “You thought you may or may not live. But today things are quite okay, development is going on and people are planting their crops.”

The conflict in Acholi — the ancestral homeland of the eponymous ethnic group who stretch across northern Uganda and southern Sudan — raged for the better part of 25 years. But today the region is, however tentatively, starting to get back on its feet.

The Acholi conflict has its roots in Uganda’s history of dictatorship and political turmoil. A large number of soldiers serving in the government of dictator Milton Obote (who ruled Uganda from April 1965-January 1971 and then again from December 1980-July 1985) came from across northern Uganda, with the Acholis being particularly well represented, even though Obote himself hailed from the Lango ethnic group. When Obote was overthrown by his own military commanders, an ethnic Acholi, General Tito Okello, became president for six chaotic months until Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army took over. Museveni became president, and has since remained so, via elections — some legitimate, some deeply flawed.

Upon taking power, the Museveni government launched a brutal search and destroy mission against former government soldiers throughout the north, which swept up many ordinary Acholi in its wake. Some Acholi began mobilizing to defend themselves, first under the banner of the Uganda People’s Democratic Army (largely made up of former soldiers) and then the Holy Spirit Movement.

This movement, directed by Alice Auma, an Acholi who claimed to be acting on guidance from the spirit Lakwena, brought a mystical belief in their own invincibility that the soldiers of the Kampala-based government at first found terrifying: Holy Spirit Movement devotees walked headlong into blazing gunfire singing songs and holding stones they believed would turn into grenades. The movement succeeded in reaching Jinja, just 80km from the capital Kampala, before being decimated by Museveni’s forces.

Out of this slaughter was born the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, a distant relative of Alice Auma. Kony added an additional element of targeting civilian Acholi to his schismatic blend of Christianity, frequently kidnapping children and adolescents to serve in his rebel movement. The Museveni government responded by viewing all Acholi as potential collaborators, rounding them up into camps euphemistically called “protected villages”, where they were vulnerable to disease and social ills, and had few ways to carry on their traditional farming.

“It was not about enemy confronting enemy, but about controlling civilians to cut off the source of information,” explained Francis Odongyoo, executive director of Human Rights Focus, a Gulu-based human rights organization. “The government said they were failing to defeat the LRA because the population was providing information to them; and the LRA was saying that they were failing to survive well and failing to overtake the government because the civilians were providing the information. The civilians were caught between two fires.”

Many concur that the LRA-Museveni struggle upended life in the region as no other conflict before.

“The impact of this last war was almost universal,” says Ron Atkinson, a history professor from the University of South Carolina who has studied the region for 40 years and authored several books on the Acholi. “Almost everyone was impacted very directly by overt violence, not just from the LRA or earlier rebel groups but from the Ugandan army and government, especially its policy of forced displacement.”

The LRA’s policy of targeting civilians (though not the Museveni government’s draconian measures) eventually drew international condemnation and in 2005 the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against Joseph Kony and several other seniors LRA commanders for crimes against humanity and war crimes. After peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government collapsed in 2007, the group decamped from its bases in southern Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Following the end of negotiations, the Museveni government launched its Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP), an effort to stabilize northern Uganda after years of war. Since then, according to the United Nations 98% of internally displaced persons have moved on from the camps that once sheltered hundreds of thousands of frightened people.

Despite criticisms from the Acholi that the government’s program has been insufficient, local initiatives and the work of some foreign organizations have helped restore a sense of normality and gradual progress to the region, with people returned to their homes and travel between once off-limits parts of the region now facilitated with relative ease.

Now a thousand miles from the cradle of their insurgency, the LRA would appear to have little hope of returning to Uganda, though their potential to wreak havoc on civilians remains little diminished. In Congo’s Haut-Uele province, between December 2008 and January 2009, the LRA massacred 620 civilians and abducted more than 160 children; and a year later they returned and killed 321 and abducted another 250 people in December 2009.

In October 2011, President Barack Obama announced that he was sending 100 Special Forces soldiers to help the Ugandans hunt down Kony. By the end of the year, the Ugandan army confirmed that the troops had moved along with the Ugandan army to Obo in the Central African Republic and Nzara in South Sudan,

Though life remains very difficult for the Acholi, those who have seen the crisis remain cautiously optimistic about the future here.

“Whatever else has gone on, whatever disappointments there are, however hard life is — peace is better than war," says Ron Atkinson.

(This article first appeared in Portuguese in Folha de São Paulo.)

Michael Deibert is a journalist, Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University, and the author of Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair, Zed Books, London, forthcoming.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thoughts on leaving Africa

Photo © Michael Deibert

I write now as I prepare to depart Kampala, Uganda in a few hours for my trip back to the United States. I traveled across Uganda yesterday during an 11 hour bus journey after interviewing several of the circa 2,000 refugees camped out in Kisoro, Uganda, who have fled fighting between the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and Mai Mai militias in the Rutshuru territory of Congo's North Kivu province.

While in North Kivu, I spoke to many other displaced people in the sprawling camps throughout Masisi territory such as Bihito, Kilimani and Kalinga, and discovered the worrisome false peace that has descended on the province since the 2009 détente between the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) rebel group (now led by accused war criminal Bosco Ntaganda) and the government of Congo's president, Joseph Kabila. I was also able to witness first-hand the tight-lid military dictatorship that currently rules Rwanda even as its president, who is directly responsible for helping to cause so much suffering in Congo, continues to be fêted abroad.

As during my previous visits to Congo, I found so many stories to be told there, so many people who wanted to have their fate be known, not just as a footnote to the larger geopolitical struggles of the Great Lakes Region, but as the living, breathing testimony of those swept up by forces they did not seek out and which they could not control.

It is in the measure that it gives voice to the people such as those pictured above - the residents' council of Kalinga Camp - that this work I do is worth anything. And it is in gratitude for being able to hear and record their stories that I again thank my generous Kickstarter backers and the International Peace Research Association for their support of my upcoming book, Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair (Zed Books). This research couldn't have been done without you.

Asante sana.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Note from North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo

I have had the most extraordinary trip to Africa thus far.

Conducting final research and interviews for my forthcoming book Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair, which will be published later this year by Zed Books in cooperation with the Royal African Society, the International African Institute, the Social Science Research Council and Justice Africa, I have traversed Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo over the last several weeks, and the experience reminds me how much I love about this continent.

I have been fortunate enough to examine in detail the history of the Acholi people and the genesis of the Lord's Resistance Army in Northern Uganda, explore the reality of oil and politics in Kampala, witnessed the subtle power of Mount Muhabura and Lake Bunyonyi, seen a bit of both the antique and modern faces of Rwanda in Ruhengeri and Gisenyi, and have now returned to North Kivu, the area of Congo that perhaps made the deepest impression on me when I was here before.

There is much to tell, and much to report, but for the moment I am happy just to have had the privilege of having the people of the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa tell me their stories once more. I will do my best to record them diligently and report them honestly.

As I write this, the sound of beautiful Swahili hymns from a local evangelical church is drifting out over Lake Kivu as the sun sets.

Koyémba, Africa.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Wamala Tombs

Wamala Tombs, situated in Wakiso district about 30 minutes from Kampala, is the sacred burial site of Ssekabaka II, the 29th king of Buganda. Visiting it yesterday to pay my respects, I found the location and the tomb itself to have a profoundly spiritual air, radiating a quiet power.