Democratic Republic of Congo soldier sits on an army tank outside the eastern city of Goma on November 19, 2012. The city was reportedly siezed by M23 rebels with very little resistance., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
U.S. Condemns M23 While New York Times Op-Ed Defends The Rwanda-backed Bandits
By Milton Allimadi
The New York Times published a bizarre Op-Ed piece "To Save Congo, Let It Fall Apart," that could have as well been authored by M23 -- an apologia and rationalization for the terroristic army's invasion of Congo from Rwanda, which was accompanied by massacres along the way.
M23 also occupied and pillaged the city of Goma.
Ironically, while the Op-Ed piece offers a defense for M23, in the same issue of The Times, on page A6, the newspaper's own East Africa correspondent, Jeffrey Gettleman, documents M23's litany of war crimes including: targeted killings of Congolese officials and judges and the looting of Goma's central bank. Citing human rights organizations, Gettleman found that M23 "were now going on an assassination campaign as they prepared to leave, creating a vortex of crime and confusion."
The Op-Ed, authored by J. Peter Pham, starts off in a seemingly sober way, noting that Congo is so well-endowed with mineral resources yet is still one of the world's poorest country. "Instead of prosperity, Congo’s mineral wealth has brought only an endless procession of unscrupulous rulers eager to exploit its riches, from King Leopold II of Belgium to Mobutu Sese Seko, who was allowed by the logic of the cold war to rule the same area as a private fief," Pham, correctly notes, even though Leopold's genocidal reign belongs in a league of its own.
Pham also correctly recounts Congo president Joseph Kabila's own ineptitude and the fraudulent elections that granted him another five year term last year. Yet non of this justifies the war of aggression against Congo launched by Rwanda and Uganda.
Pham's Op-Ed, to those familiar with the players in the region, reads like a smoke screen to divert focus from Rwanda's and Uganda's role, and the sanctions and criminal liability the military and political leadership in those countries may now exposed to on account of sponsoring M23. Human Rights Watch has documented "widespread war crimes" by M23, including summary executions, rapes and forced recruitments. “M23 commanders should be held accountable for these crimes, and the Rwandan officials supporting these abusive commanders could face justice for aiding and abetting the crimes,” states the report.
Pham hopes to change the narrative. It's Congo itself that's the problem, not the invaders. The country is simply "too big to succeed" Pham writes. Talk about blaming the victim. This is akin to saying Hitler wasn't at fault for invading France; the French were divided and prone to surrendering.
But let's deal with Congo today:
"It is an artificial entity whose constituent parts share the misfortune of having been seized by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley in the name of a rapacious 19th-century Belgian monarch," Pham writes. "From the moment Congo was given independence in 1960, it was being torn apart by centrifugal forces, beginning with separatism in the mineral-rich southern province of Katanga."
Omitted from this two-sentence recap of history is the Congo crisis of the 1960s. How about: the intervention of the Belgians even before the country's nominal independence, to encourage mineral rich Katanga to secede, leading to the conflict with the Central government under Patrice Lumumba? How about the Belgian's military presence in the Congo, to embolden and support Katanga separatism so that the breakaway region under Moise Tshombe could continue the colonial exploitative mining contracts with the former colonial power?
How about the instigation of Mobutu's coup d'etat by the Central Intelligence agency and the subsequent murder of Lumumba by Katangese and Belgian agents, and the dissolving of his body in acid? How about support of Mobutu for almost 40 years by Washington?
How about the fact that after Rwanda and Uganda ousted Mobutu in 1997, they have never left Congo alone to govern itself?
Congo in fact has never enjoyed independence. Yet rather than defend Congo from outside invaders and demand that its people be accorded the right to determine their destiny in peace, Pham's Op-Ed calls for dismemberment, even though the violence created by the invasion from Rwanda and Uganda since 1998 has already caused an estimated 10 million deaths.
The Op-Ed blames the victims, Congolese, for the wars against them and says the solution is to slice up the country.
"Rather than nation-building, what is needed to end Congo’s violence is the opposite: breaking up a chronically failed state into smaller organic units whose members share broad agreement or at least have common interests in personal and community security," Pham writes.
If dismembering an African country was the solution to recurrent violence surely the candidates would be exhaustive and include: Uganda; Kenya; Rwanda; Burundi; Nigeria; and Somalia, just to mention a few.
The most painful parts of Pham's New York Times Op-Ed is when he defends M23, the army trained, armed, financed and commanded by neighboring Rwanda and to a lesser extent, Uganda.
M23's recent assault on Goma bore all the marks of invasion by a conventional army and it was accompanied by artillery bombardment, exposing the lies by Rwanda's leadership that it had nothing to do with the invasion. The M23 marauders have also displaced almost 300,000 Congolese from their homes.
As The Times correspondent Gettleman wrote, a United Nations investigator found that Rwanda's regular army soldiers actually participated in the attacks with M23 and Uganda's army also provided support.
Not surprising since a United Nations report which became widely available to media a few days before Rwanda's invasion of Congo found that M23's nominal leaders, Bosco Ntaganda (who is wanted at the ICC) and Sultan Makeni (who is on a current United Nations sanctions list) both take "direct military orders from RDF Chief of Defense Staff General Charles Kayonga, who in turn acts on instructions from Minster of Defense General James Kabarebe..."
RDF is the Rwanda Defense Forces, Rwanda's national army.
The UN report further details Rwanda's involvement: Rwandan general, Emmanuel Ruvusha, manages military ground support for M23; and, Gen. Jacques Nziza, Permanent Secretary in the Defense Ministry, provides strategic advice and oversees logistical support.
The United Kingdom's Foreign Office in statement endorsed the UN report and found it "credible and compelling" as did the French government. This week the United States also took a strong position: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the ending of outside support for M23 and its withdrawal while Senator Chris Coons, who chairs the Foreign Relations sub-committee on Africa, called for the disarming and dismantling of M23 and sanctions against its sponsors.
And on Thursday, when the U.S. Senate voted on sanctions against M23's leaders and those who support the militia, Senator Coons and Senator Dick Durbin used even stronger language.
“M23 has demonstrated an unconscionable disregard for human life and Congo's territorial integrity and seems determined to sink central Africa in another deadly, devastating war that could set the region back a generation,” Senator Coons said. “The actions of M23 rebels, as well as those who aid and abet the M23, are deplorable and must be stopped immediately. These sanctions are designed to stop the illicit and dangerous support the M23 is receiving from those seeking to destabilize the region.
"The rebels, known for brutal violence and led by known war criminals, have the potential to destabilize the entire nation," Senator Durbin who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, said. "As the violence continues to escalate, it is clear that the rebels are benefitting from strategic and material support from outside forces. This amendment freezes the assets and implements a visa ban for any person providing such troubling support. Our goal is to hasten an end to the violence by starving the rebels of their key lines of support.”
Does Pham take these developments seriously?
Here's Pham's position on this matter: "A United Nations report has accused the Rwandan government of supporting M23. Although Rwanda has denied it, this may well be true, and it is perfectly understandable given that the M23 rebels are fighting former Hutu génocidaires who still dream of invading Rwanda and finishing what they started nearly two decades ago."
Most recent news accounts acknowledge that the criminal Hutu militias capabilities have been diminished and that Rwanda has often played the "Hutu card" to justify intervention in Congo mostly inspired by the desire to plunder the country's resources. It's estimated that trade from Congo flowing into Rwanda is about $100 million a year; no surprise that Rwanda, bereft of mineral resources, wants to control this lifeline.
Pham on the other hand treats M23's leaders almost like a bunch of frat boys; noting that they have been referred to as "warlords" by some critics.
"But warlords, even if they do not acquire power through democratic means, tend to provide some sort of political framework, often based on kinship ties or ethnic solidarity, that is seen as legitimate," Pham writes in the sorry apologia. "They also tend to provide some basic security — which is more than the questionably legitimate Kabila government in Kinshasa provides for most Congolese."
One wonders whether Pham would also extend this accommodating observation to a warlord such as Joseph Kony of the LRA, whose crimes surely pales in comparison to M23's. In any case, Pham's sympathetic perspective on M23 is of small comfort to the relatives of Congolese massacred or assassinated by M23; or the women, girls, and infants raped.
Moreover it's absurd for Pham to downplay the abuses in Congo attributed to the Rwanda and Uganda regimes since there are in fact several UN and Human Rights Watch reports documenting them, dating back years.
In 2010 a United Nations "mapping" report found that Rwanda's army, which had pursued Hutu militias into Congo in the 1990s, went out of its way in exacting retribution for the 1994 genocide, killing even unarmed Hutu children, women and the elderly. The accounts of the killings, referred to in the UN report as amounting to "genocide" was earlier documented in "Kagame's Hidden War In The Congo" a book by a former New York Times correspondent, Howard French.
As for Uganda, in 2005, after Congo referred alleged crimes by Uganda's military and allied militia to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the court ruled in Kinshasa's favor -- it found Uganda liable and awarded Congo $10 billion. Not a dime of which has been paid. The case was so strong that when the International Criminal Court itself launched its own investigation, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni himself contacted then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and asked him to block the case; this is according to a story in The Wall Street Journal on June 8, 2006.
Since the ICC investigation never led to an indictment -- even though the ICJ found Uganda liable -- it's possible that either the U.S. or U.K. did block that investigation. Had Western countries that support Uganda and Rwanda militarily and financially, including the United States and the U.K., sanctioned these two hostile neighbors for the earlier crimes, it's unlikely that they would again today be sponsoring atrocities in Congo so that they could continue ransacking the country.
What are Pham's own motives? He is the director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center, at The Atlantic Council and an article about his appointment in AllAfrica.com may hint at something: "Dr. Pham has served on the Senior Advisory Group of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) since its creation."
Obviously this wasn't noted when his bonafides were provided at the end of the Op-Ed.
And given the slant of Pham's column, it's not surprising that he only notes Kabila's undemocratic tendencies yet says nothing about Kagame's tyranny since 1994 and Museveni's since 1986. In Rwanda's 2010 election Kagame was awarded 90% of the vote after his principle political opponent Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza was jailed. In Uganda's 2011 election a government insider leaked the rigged results to The Black Star News even before the votes were counted.
This is what Congo needs: the ejection of outside invaders and prosecution of those who've sponsored the crimes since 1998.
Recall that Liberia's former president, Charles Taylor was convicted by a Special Tribunal for sponsoring violent insurgents in Sierra Leone and is now serving a 50 year prison term. And the evidence against Taylor was much weaker, and circumstantial, compared to what's been assembled tying Presidents Kagame and Museveni to the atrocities in the Congo.
And how to explain why The Times' Op-Ed editor, in light of all the evidence about M23's crimes, including the article on page A6 of his own newspaper, agreed to publish such a spin job? Was he not aware of the UN reports and the one by Human Rights Watch?
It's difficult to conclude that anyone would wish external-supported genocide upon Congolese women and children.
Enough is enough.