Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Can Joint Military Operations Between Congo and Rwanda Stave Off Imperialist Intervention?

Can Joint Military Operations Between Congo and Rwanda Stave Off Imperialist Intervention?

A monitoring agreement between the African states is aimed at ending conflict and lessening tension in the region

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
News Analysis

An accord between the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring Rwanda has laid the basis for the curbing of internal strife and the longterm lessening of tensions between these two central African states. The two countries headed by Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, have been trading accusations of military and political intervention in their respective territories for over a decade.

In recent developments since August of 2008, the rebel group called National Committee For the Defense of the People (CNDP) headed by Laurent Nkunda, has attacked Congolese military bases in the North Kivu area in the eastern region of the vast central African country of some 57 million people. As a result of these military actions by the CNDP, thousands of civilians have been re-located inside the DRC and in western Uganda.

Nkunda, an ethnic Tutsi, had close ties with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which took power after the genocide of 1994. The RPF is supported by the United States government and has reportedly provided arms, training and supplemental troops to the CNDP in its efforts in North Kivu.

During the latter months of 2008, intense discussions took place in Kenya between the governments of Rwanda and the DRC. These talks were mediated by the African Union, the continental organization of independent states. As a result of these consultations, the leadership in Rwanda and the DRC agreed to end support for rebel groups opposed to their respective states. In this case, the CNDP, which was supported by Rwanda as well as the Demoratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which is based in the eastern DRC and consists of former Hutu fighters who have been credited with involvement in the mass killings in Rwanda in 1994, will not longer be allowed to maintain military bases.

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, who heads the CNDP, rejected the accord between Rwanda and the DRC, which caused a split inside his organization. A significant faction of former CNDP members joined the DRC government's Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). The Rwandan army, as a result of the new accord with the DRC, has sent several hundred of its own troops to assist in efforts aimed at rooting out the FDLR in the northeastern region of the country.

Nkunda, in response to political and military developments on the ground, traveled to Rwanda to hold consultations with the Kagame government. However, he was reportedly arrested by the Rwandan authorities in Gisenyi, located near the border with the eastern DRC. The DRC government of Joseph Kabila is demanding that Nkunda be extradited to Kinshasha, the capital, to stand trial for war crimes against the Congolese people.

Military Developments in Eastern DRC

Reports from the field indicate that FDLR rebels have been surrending to the joint military forces of the DRC and Rwanda, who are being bolstered by the CNDP rebels that are now in opposition to their former leader Laurent Nkunda. "We officially invited the Rwandan army to take part in the operation to disarm the Interhamwe, which is about to begin," said Lambert Mende in an interview with the United Nations Inter-regional Information Network (IRIN) on January 20.

The armies of the DRC and Rwanda also announced on January 24 that nine rebels from the FDLR were killed in clashes. This claim was refuted by a representative of the FDLR in an interview with the French Press Agency (AFP). "This is a lie. They killed none of our men for the simple reason that there has not been any fighting between our troops and this coalition," said FDLR chairman Ignace Murwanashyaka in a telephone interview from Germany.

FDLR rebels, who are based in the Sud-Kivu province of the DRC, were reported to be leaving the area for Nord-Kivu. These movements of FDLR forces were reported by the United Nations Mission to Congo (MONUC) peacekeeping forces, who claim that they have not been involved in the recent military operations.

Multi-national mineral exploitation fuels conflict

Despite the shifting political and military alliances in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, the impact of the exploitation of mineral resources by the multi-national corporations is continuing to worsen the economic conditions and overall living standards of the majority of Congolese workers and farmers.

Even the United Nations Mission to Congo (MONUC) issued a statement on January 21 saying that: "The humanitarian community is deeply worried by the new deployment of troops in the areas of Gomo and Rutshuru. This heightened military presence gives rise to fears of a new humanitarian crisis that just as the ceasefire was allowing people to gradually return home and giving humanitarians easier access to several areas." (IRIN, January 21)

The nearly $900 million annual diamond industry in the DRC provides employment for approximately one million workers. Yet many of the miners earn less than $1 per day while they toil under very dangerous conditions. During the regional war between the DRC, Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia on one side and the Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian militaries on the other, the mining companies in the eastern DRC were reaping tremendous profits.

According to the BBC: "Between 1999-2001, DRC enjoyed a brief coltan boom, becoming the second largest producer of tantalum, which is used in mobile phones." (DRC Key facts) At the same time, the ongoing conflicts have disrupted the agricultural industry as well as local trade. The fighting over the last decade has also hampered the ability of the country to rebuild its infrastructure in order to provide quality food, clean water, adequate healthcare services and education for children.

Anthony Carlson of the Harvard International Review, wrote in a 2006 article that: "The DRC is home to 80 percent of the world's coltan, an illegal sales of this important mineral is funding the continuing conflict in the country. The United Nations estimates that before 2002, rebels and the armies of Rwanda and Uganda occupying the eastern DRC, were making over US$150 million per year from coltan sales. These groups laundered coltan through other Great Lakes countries, including Burundi, which have small reserves of their own. The current warring groups still have raised millions of dollars, more than enough money to finance the ongoing violence."

According to Carlson, "The war over diamonds has caused even greater problems than the one over coltan. In the midst of the war the value of the diamonds smuggled out of the DRC exceeded the government's total budget.... An effective international transfer protocol for these materials would stifle the flow of money to rebel groups, but current controls on the exchange of these goods are mediocre at best.

"There is little in the way of international transfer control mechanism for coltan. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, intended to keep 'conflict' diamonds off the world market, has yet to prove effective. It created a chain of countries that promised to sell diamonds with a certificate that ensured the profits would not fund insurgent groups. But diamonds are still used in lieu of cash for arms and equipment."

Other writers have also pointed to the large reservoirs of minerals in the DRC as a significant contributing factor to the ongoing conflicts in the region. Michael Klare wrote in "Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet", that "What makes Africa so enticing today is precisely what made it so attractive to foreign predators in previous centuries: a vast abundance of vital raw materials contained in a deeply divided, politically weakened continent, remarkably open to international exploitation." (Klare, cited in "Crossed Crocodiles," 2008)

The mineral wealth and increasing dependence of the United States on African oil created the conditions for the formation of the Africa Command (AFRICOM). The former U.S. administration of George Bush said that African oil is of strategic interest to us, however, long before the initiation of AFRICOM, the U.S. has backed client-regimes and armed rouge rebel groups in order to loot the Congo. This is the reason behind the U.S. support for the Mobutu regime in Congo for over 35 years.

Klare states in the same above-mentioned work that: "Today, the United States claims that it has no interest in the DRC other than a peaceful resolution to the current war. Yet U.S. businessmen and politicians are still going to extreme lengths to gain and preserve sole access to the DRC's mineral resources. And to protect these economic interests, the U.S. government continues to provide millions to undemocratic regimes. Thus, the DRC's mineral wealth is both an impetus for war and an impediment to stopping it."

The Role of the International Criminal Court

Two former rebel leaders have been brought up on war crimes charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague over the last two weeks. Most recently Thomas Lubanga has pleaded not guilty to charges that he utilized child soldiers in his military campaign against the government of President Joseph Kabila during 2002-2003.

Lubanga, who headed the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a Hema ethnically-based armed group, is accused of recruiting and training children to carry out acts of violence and murder against the Lendu people in the Ituri province in eastern DRC. The ICC chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said that Mr. Lubanga sent children to "kill, pillage and rape." The prosecution of Lubanga is the first case to go to trail before the ICC.

Thomas Lubanga was detained in 2005 in the aftermath of clashes between his UPC rebel group and United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in the DRC. Nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers were slain in the clashes in the Ituri area in northeastern DRC.

However, Lubanga insists that he was attempting to bring peace and stability to the Ituri province where rival groups have sought control over the spoils from the exploitation of mineral resources. In a BBC article on January 26, it claims that "The ICC trial sends a clear signal to rebel leaders and army commanders around the world who have frequently been able to commit atrocities on the battlefield with inpunity, says the BBC's Africa analyst Martin Plaut.

Yet there is no mention of the role of the United States government and western-based multi-national corporations in financing and consequently encouraging the violent seizure of mineral resources in eastern DRC. The ICC has sought to prosecute several African rebel leaders and former heads-of-state. Critics have accused the ICC of ignoring the root causes of the conflict in Africa.

In a separate case, Jean Pierre Bemba, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, (MLC) "was arrested on an ICC warrant in Brussels last May 2008. He faces five charges of war crimes against humanity for rape, torture, looting and murder committed by his MLC movement.

Bemba claims that after his split with the Congolese government in 2006, when he lost a run-off election and was forced to leave the capital of Kinshasha, that he signed a contract with the neighboring state of the Central African Republic (CAR) to provide security to the government based in Bangui.

The so-called International Criminal Court (ICC), located in The Hague, Netherlands, is a controversial institution in the global justice system. Although the court has been ratified in over 100 nations throughout the world, the United States has refused to recognize its right to try its citizens and military personnel.

Despite the failure of the U.S. to ratify the ICC, the former administration of George W. Bush championed the court's threat to indict Sudanese President Omar Hassan El-Bashir and other governmental officials. Judges involved with the ICC will make a decision very shortly on whether to issue an arrest warrant calling for the capture of the Sudanese leader, who they have charged with acts of genocide in the Darfur region of the country. The Sudnanese government has denied the charges and accused the U.S. of efforts aimed at regime-change in a bid to retake control of the burgeoning oil industry inside the country.

Can the accord prevent imperialist military intervention?

It remains to be seen if the military alliance between Rwanda and the DRC, aimed eliminating rebel bases in eastern DRC, will be effective in stabilizing the region and lessening the threat of European Union and possibly U.S. troop deployments. The EU had discussed sending military forces to the eastern DRC when the fighting between the CNDP and the FARDC erupted during the latter months of 2008.

On the surface, if these two governments can create the conditions for the demise of rebel activity in the eastern DRC, it may improve the humanitarian situation among the people in the cities and villages. Hundreds have been killed and several thousand have been displaced since August of 2008 when Nkunda overran several FARDC military bases in the eastern region.

Nonetheless, the underlying exploitation and theft of mineral resources at the aegis of the multi-national corporations must be addressed as the root cause of the violence and dislocations. Most objective reports have placed greater blame on the governments in Rwanda and Uganda as it relates to support for rebel and militia forces who drive out population groups and provide security for the mining corporations that exploit the resources and labor of the people in this country.

Uganda, in recent weeks, has also engaged in military operations in eastern DRC ostensibly to remove bases of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) who have establised camps inside the country. In a IRIN report on January 20 it states that "About half of the 100,000 people displaced amid a wave of atrocities in northeastern DRC, where the Ugandan army is leading an operation against Lord's Resistance Army rebels, have no access to humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations.

"In mid-December, with the explicit backing of the Security Council, the Ugandan army with the DRC and Southern Sudan, launched 'Operation Lighting Thunder' against LRA bases in the Orientale province. The military action followed the renewed failure of LRA leader Joseph Kony to sign an agreement to end his 20-year rebellion against the Ugandan government."

Nevertheless, there has to be a comprehensive program of taking control of the mineral resources of this region where the vast wealth of the country can benefit the workers and farmers as opposed to the multi-national corporations, client states and rebel leaders. The incoming Obama administration has not specifically addressed the situation in the DRC and the Great Lakes region as a whole.

Susan Rice, who was the Clinton administration's Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, is taking up the post of United Nations Ambassador for the United States. Her actions during the Clinton administration only served U.S. imperialist aims on the continent.

Rice's statement related to U.S.-Zimbabwe relations indicate that sanctions will be maintained against the ZANU-PF government headed by President Robert Mugabe. If Obama maintains the same foriegn policy orientation towards Congo, he will inevitably fail in creating a new face for U.S. foreign policy on the African continent.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-Africa News Wire and has been following recent developments inside the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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