Rwanda and Uganda are again plundering the Congo. As always they do so with the backing of the U.S. Ann Garrison interviews Maurice Carney, Executive Director of Friends of the Congo.
Rwanda and Uganda’s M23 militia have returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), once again slaughtering Congolese people to plunder their resources. To understand this, we have to return to March 2013, after M23 had been terrorizing DRC’s North Kivu Province for a year. The UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported that Rwanda and Uganda, but most of all Rwanda, were commanding and supplying M23.
The UN Security Council then created a Combat Force Intervention Brigade within the UN peacekeeping operation to drive them out. Usually, the UN Peacekeepers’ task is simply to protect civilians, but the Combat Intervention Brigade had an unprecedented combat mandate—to work with the Congolese army to root out M23. They succeeded, under the heroic leadership of Congolese Colonel Mamadou N'Dala Moustapha, but the “international community” then engineered a “negotiated peace” that handed the victory to Rwanda, Uganda, and their M23, and Colonel Mamadou was tragically assassinated. I asked Maurice Carney, Executive Director of Friends of the Congo about how that happened.
Ann Garrison: The triumph of the Combat Intervention Brigade in driving M23 out of DRC, followed by the “negotiated” victory of M23, was among the most cynical operations I’ve ever seen. Congolese, South African, and Tanzanian troops died fighting for the Congolese people, only to have their victory snatched away by the so-called “international community,” but the media moved on, excepting myself frankly. They believed what they’d been told—that M23 had been defeated and dispensed with. What does that tell you about the international press covering DRC?
Maurice Carney: Well, international press covering DRC has been fleeting, and deficient to say the least. And not just in DRC, not just the Congo, but Africa in general. And especially when covering conflicts where Africans, presented as savages who've always fought each other and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. That's the framework in which the coverage is usually presented.
And attention is given to these issues when they become public, when a public official in the US gets engaged, even though the US military and the US intelligence apparatus remains engaged at all times. The press turn their attention to DRC when there’s involvement by the President or Secretary of State—John Kerry in the case of M23 back in 2013—or with the call President Obama finally made to Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the time. Then the press gets interested.
However, there are structural issues that remain in place. When it comes to why we see this perpetual war of aggression on the part of Rwanda, most structural issues include three items really. One is impunity. The second is lack of accountability. And the third is lack of justice. And the United States government and its foreign policy plays a clear determinative role in maintaining these three obstacles, which contribute to perpetuating a conflict in the region. The reason why M23 could “disband,” as they reportedly did in 2013, but none of the major culprits or those who have backed them were brought to book, is because the United States wants it that way. There's no holding back, for example, when the US wants the government of Gambia, or any other government it doesn’t like, held accountable.
The US, since the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, has prevented any kind of evidence or accountability being brought against Kagame in any kind of trial. So that's a major part of the reason why we see not only Kagame skirting justice, but also the entities that he backs such as the M23 or, before that, the CNDP, the same group of Rwandans and Ugandans but with a different name. Before that there was the Alliance for AFDL. It's been a rinse and repeat since 1996.
But the core issues are those two agents of US Empire, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. They have been able to pretty much have their way in the Congo, the Great Lakes Region of Africa and East Africa, and the Horn of Africa for that matter, for the past quarter century. And the United States blocks any attempt to hold them to account or to bring them to justice.
AG: This time the UN Group of Experts came to the same conclusion they came to in 2013 and 2014, in a report released on August 4th—and the international press reported that story pretty accurately for a few days. Since then they’ve been a bit more to the point than usual, generating headlines like, “Rwanda Wants the World to Look Away from Ties to M23,” but that report goes on to repeat a lot of lies about both DRC and Rwanda, and too many reports still say that Rwanda and Uganda are “alleged” or “believed to be” behind M23.
The UN investigators’ conclusions never seem to make any difference. M23 returns, and the slaughter and plunder go on and on. Why are the UN investigators’ very precise conclusions ignored as well?
MC: That's been the case for over two decades. The UN, since the 2010 DRC: Mapping Report on Human Rights Abuse, 1993-2003, has had a database of the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity and war crimes. And that report says that if these crimes were brought in front of a competent court, they might constitute crimes of genocide. So the UN has all of that. That hasn't changed in terms of the veracity. There is an abundance of evidence.
But when you have an empire that's behind you, that can run interference, it doesn't matter how much evidence there is; it doesn't matter if that evidence accumulates over decades. If the US does not want Paul Kagame brought to account, he won’t be.
I remember the publication of the UN Mapping Report in 2010. Even the French were complaining that then US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice was blocking any action on that report and basically covering for Paul Kagame. So when you’re on the side of the empire, and this is a thing that folks really need to understand, you get covered, you get political cover, you get diplomatic cover, and you get a free hand to commit mass international crimes with impunity. And that's the benefit that Kagame and Museveni have as agents of the empire.
AG: And where is Congolese President Tshisekedi in this picture now? He claims to be accusing Rwanda and trying to fight Rwanda and demanding that the rest of the world condemn Rwanda.
MC: Yes, he does, and that's his pedigree coming out of the opposition. He had been saying that before he got into the presidency. But when he first got in, he was lovey-dovey with the Rwandan government, going to Kigali to visit the genocide memorial, holding hands with Kagame and smiling. But, you know, he has to also respond to domestic pressure. And when your own population is making it clear that they're victims of an aggressor nation, you have to respond to that.
So I see his statements now as responding to that domestic pressure. But even in the policies that he’s trying to present to the Congolese people—that being a part of the East African Community is somehow a path to bring about peace and stability in the Congo—it’s so preposterous; anyone could have told him that that's not going to deliver whatever it is that he thought he was looking for.
That East African Community Plan is pretty much in alignment with the plan of Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French leader, and Herman Cohen, the former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who are now lobbyists. Their proposal is that Congo be part of the East African Community, economically integrated with Rwanda, Uganda and others in the East.
But when you have the East African Community that's made up of two of the aggressive nations against the Congolese people, how can you expect some kind of solution to come from that direction? It's not plausible at all. It's not viable. So that’s just a head scratcher for me.
But in any case, I see him responding to domestic pressure, of course, from the Congolese people. And in particular to Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who has been very vocal, very clear about the Mapping Report and how its prescriptions need to be implemented. And the prescriptions call for holding Rwanda and Uganda, but Rwanda in particular, accountable for the crimes that they've committed in the Congo.
AG: Is there a solution? I know it would be a long process to get from the miserable condition DRC is in now to a solution, but what direction do you think the Congolese people need to go in?
MC: The Congolese people need to organize themselves in a way that they control and determine their own affairs, where they are able to choose their own leaders, where the United States and other Western powers are not the difference makers. What we've seen throughout the “independence” of the Congo, from 1960 to the present, is that, ultimately, it's the so-called great powers, the former colonial powers, that ultimately determine who leads the Congo.
So Congolese people have to organize themselves to the point where they alone determine the fate of the Congo. They did that successfully in 1960. It didn't last long, the months when the Congolese national movement elected Patrice Lumumba and he served as Prime Minister. He was quickly dispensed with, and so was the apparatus that put him in place. Since that time, the Congolese really haven't regained any kind of control over their electoral affairs or over the country, the affairs of the country itself.
So that's really the big challenge, to organize themselves in a way where they can control and determine their own affairs and where they can put in place leaders who truly represent their interests.
AG: The solution is of course in the hands of the Congolese people, but is there anything we in the West can do to help?
MC: Absolutely, like what you're doing, and telling the truth, shining light on what underlies the instability, the conflict, the plunder that we see in the Congo. That's vital for we who are in the empire and have access to resources to put the truth out there. Not just put the truth out there so it’s in the air, but so that we can organize, educate and mobilize US citizens to put pressure on the US government for its foreign policy, not only around the Congo, in the Great Lakes Region and in Africa, but its foreign policy overall. This is a policy that seeks full spectrum dominance, a war-first policy, where it sponsors and supports the most despicable leaders that you can find on the planet, Museveni and Kagame among them.
So this is a part of the weaving of a cloth where United States foreign policy is anti-democratic in support of authoritarian figures militarized in support of the plunder of natural resources of other nations. This story of the Congo fits into that narrative. US citizens need to know that US foreign policy is not only destructive in Latin America, Europe and Asia, but also in the heart of the African continent.
Maurice Carney is the Executive Director of Friends of the Congo.
Ann Garrison is a Black Agenda Report Contributing Editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann(at)anngarrison.com.