Give Kagame a break!

I admire Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society. That said, I disagree with the concluding paragraph in his latest post on the Rwandese military’s involvement in eastern Congo over at African Arguments:

“When a similar situation occurred in Sierra Leone, the Special Court for Sierra Leone went after the main supporters and funders of the rebel movement, in particular the President of Liberia, Charles Taylor. He was recently sentenced to 50 years in jail for his part in funding the murder and destruction of Sierra Leone. Yet the evidence of Rwanda’s support for warring groups in Congo is as strong – if not stronger – than the evidence that convicted Taylor. But because of the genocide in Rwanda and because both Uganda and Rwanda have good development programmes that western donors love to fund, they will not be criticised. Eastern Congo will continue to suffer.”

Following the damning UN report on Kigali’s adventures in the Congo and concerted campaigns by human rights activists, a number of donor countries, including the US, UK, Germany and the Netherlands, have (unwisely) stopped sending aid money to Kigali.

I am inclined to believe that there is truth to the claim that Rwanda supports the M23. But that does not necessary lead me to conclude that Rwanda should therefore be ostracized by the international community, for the following reasons:

  • Rwanda faces a real security threat from rebels in eastern Congo. Kagame is a dictator, no doubt about that (He is not your average tin pot dictator, but that’s beside the point for now). But he is also a purveyor of order in this rather volatile region of central Africa. The last thing eastern and central Africa needs is a slow motion civil war as is currently underway in Burundi. As long as Kinshasa’s incompetence continues to provide a safe launching base for rebels aiming to depose Kagame, Kigali will have no option but to (rightly so) intervene in eastern Congo. Let us not pretend otherwise.
  • The insurgencies in eastern Congo are a direct result of Kinshasa’s calculated inability to project power and control. In this instance, I think the Huntongian view that degree of government matters trumps concerns over the type of government. Eastern Congo needs order, period. Attempts at political negotiations with the numerous rebel factions must also be accompanied with strong military action to defeat all the rebel movements that refuse to come to the table. Kinshasa’s continued failure at either attempt leaves Rwanda no option but to step in in light of the observation above.

In a way the campaign to have Rwanda punished for its adventures in the DRC is emblematic of the problems associated with “mono issue activism” (Remember the danger of a single story?)

This is not a defense of Kagame’s human rights record. Everyone knows it is in the toilet. It is also not a blanket endorsement of foreign interventionism. What it is is an acknowledgement of the very complex context in which Kagame acted, and a consideration of the unintended consequences of cutting aid to Rwanda.

Rwanda’s involvement is a symptom of, and not the cause of the mess that is eastern DRC.

To those that want Kigali punished, I ask: What would it mean for Rwanda’s and the wider region’s security? What would it mean for economic growth and development for the 12 million Rwandese? What would it mean for infant and maternal mortality that have been on the decline (more rapidly than in most of the developing world) over the last decade?

Punishing Kagame (and the people of Rwanda) for Kinshasa’s ineptitude will not solve the problems in eastern Congo. That is just a fact.

UPDATE:

Please check out the comments section below for some insightful discussion on this subject. Despite the combativeness of some of the comments, they all raise some important points that I could not have incorporated in a short blog post.

The Consequences of Dodd-Frank in the Kivus

The dusty streets of Goma, North Kivu’s capital and a mining hub, illustrate Congo’s ills. Metals dealerships dominated the city’s economy until last year but are mostly padlocked now. Repair shops and bars that relied on mining business are empty. So are most public offices. Local government, financed by mining taxes, is insolvent; salaries have not been paid in full for months.

In the past year Goma has suffered a miserable decline. Hundreds of mines in the surrounding countryside have cut output by as much as 95%. At the Humule coltan mine a few gumbooted miners scramble up a red-earth ravine where last year there were thousands. Most stopped coming because they could no longer find buyers for their nuggets of coltan, a metal used in electronic gadgets. They blame what they call “the American law”.

That is the Economist reporting on the mining sector in the DRC.

Dodd-Frank (found here) is a lesson in the failure of solutions imposed from 30,000 feet. As has been stressed by many DRC experts (see Mvemba, Aronson and Seay, for instance), the problem with eastern DRC is not a law enforcement problem but a weak state problem.

With that in mind, it is sad that Joseph Kabila, the man who has failed to pacify the country, is poised for reelection this November. Good governance, even in relatively peaceful and cohesive states, take a long time to evolve. Once can only imagine how much longer Congolese will have to wait before they can get an effective and accountable state.

For  a slightly different opinion check out AFJN.

conflict minerals in the congo

As is now common knowledge, the mineral glut in the DRC has been more a source of pain rather than gain. Minerals have financed both corrupt governments and their cronies in Kinshasa and marauding rebel groups in the ungoverned corners of the vast country.

To over-simply the issue, reforms will have to tackle both angles of the problem, i.e. both Kinshasa and the plethora of armed groups will have to come clean with regard to the extraction and sale of mineral resources. Kinshasa’s hoarding of all the benefits from the trade provides a perverse legitimacy for armed groups to continue their illicit activities.

Jason Stearns, the author of Dancing In the Glory of Monsters [I highly recommend the book], has a post on the complexities surrounding conflict minerals in the DRC.

First, “cautious” is the operative word. The Congolese export ban (September 2010 – March 2011) and the US electronic industry’s embargo of untraced minerals (April 2011 – present) have caused major job losses in the Kivus, as well as played into the hands of a select elite of military commanders, including ICC-indictee Bosco Ntaganda. It is, however, important to point out that neither initiative was caused directly by the Dodd-Frank legislation in the US. Rather, the export ban was decreed by the Congolese presidency, while the industry embargo was an aggressive interpretation of the US legislation. Dodd-Frank call for companies to carry out due diligence and to report their findings; the OECD guidelines call on companies to minimize the risk of financing armed groups.

Secondly, the Malaysia Smelting Corporation (MSC), which I had reported as having signed a deal for the largest tin mines in the Kivus, has not yet officially concluded a deal. A large Congolese delegation visited Malaysia earlier this year, and MSC and their Belgian partners Traxys then came to meet with President Kabila. A “confidentiality agreement” was signed with MSC regarding the Sakima concessions in Maniema, a good place to start as most of the mines there are removed from the main areas of conflict. In addition, MSC has not yet given $10 million for certification an tracing schemes, although the mining minister says they have agreed to fund these initiatives.

More on this on Jason’s blog here.

the icc and the congo

IRIN news reports that arrests in Europe of political leaders of rebel movements in the Congo may not have much impact on the goings on on the ground. Even the FDLR is not immune to the commonplace principal-agent problems we are all aware of. The disconnect between the political leaders in Europe and generals on the ground is limiting the deterrence effects of the arrests.

I am not a huge fan of the ICC. But I am not one to throw out the baby with the bath water. The institution has potential to be a voice for the voiceless. Because of the ICC Kenyan politicians in the future will think twice before ordering jobless youth to murder innocent civilians. Because of the ICC rebel leaders cannot fly in and out of Brussels to raise money with abandon. These are not trivial achievements.

Accusations against the court’s Africa-bias may have some merit. Even more important are charges that the court does not appreciate the political consequences of justice or that the very idea of justice is political (see the Bashir case in Sudan). Others even point out the fact that going after the big fish ignores local offenses that also require redress. These are serious concerns that the ICC should address. But that said, overall I think that the ICC does more good than harm.

kagame on the ropes

I respect all that Paul Kagame has done for Rwanda. Under his leadership the country appears to have survived the 1994 catastrophe, emerging as the least corrupt and one of the fastest growing economies in the region. But like most autocrats, Mr. Kagame has had his dark side. A damning UN report apparently documents atrocities committed by Rwandan troops in eastern Congo. The just concluded general election in the mountainous central African nation has also exposed the former rebel’s anti-democratic tendencies and intolerance of any form of opposition. It is slowly emerging that not even the much praised and disciplined Mr. Kagame is immune to the most common disease afflicting most autocrats: believing that they are God’s gift to their people and therefore have the right to do whatever they want with their power.

I have not read the entire UN report but for more on it check out Texas in Africa.

do not miss out on this…

Happening on Blattman’s Blog. In addition to the many foreign experts who are being asked to please stand up, I add, would the real eastern Congolese also please stand up and weigh in on this debate?

Also, Texas in Africa has a number of posts on minerals and conflict in the eastern DRC to mark minerals week.

three cheers to gettleman and his ilk

I am on record as being very critical of Jeffrey Gettleman, the New York Times bureau chief for eastern Africa. His sensational reporting from the region has oftentimes painted a one dimensional picture of events and portrayed east Africans as irrational and passive beings at the mercy of fate, and their sadistic rulers. That said, Mr. Gettleman and others who share in his bravery remain the only sources of somewhat credible news reports from  crazy places such as Somalia and eastern DR Congo. Listening to him on Fresh Air today reminded me that even though I may not agree with his presentation style, Mr. Gettleman is doing a brave job of reminding the world of the many evils that still define some people’s lived reality.

The DRC is 50 today

The Democratic Republic of Congo is 50 years old. The last 50 years (after they killed Lumumba) have been absolutely disastrous for this vast country in the middle of the Continent; Independence merely replaced the brutality, cruelty and pillage of King Leopold’s men (King Albert II attended the independence day “festivities”) with the brutality and kleptocracy of Mobutu. All I can say is that I hope the future holds a less punishing existence for the country’s 63 million plus.

Congratulations to Congolese people the world over for their enduring spirit. Kofi Olomide, the prolific Congolese soukous musician, sums it up in a quote from Samba: “This is hell’s system. The fire is raging but we don’t get burned.”

The other Continental disaster, Somalia, also turned 50 on Wednesday. No cause for celebration there either.

the drc: the fire continues to consume lives unabated

In the recent past the Niger coup, the return of the ailing Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua from a hospital in Saudi Arabia and the supposed peace deal between Khartoum and the Darfuris have stolen most headlines on the Continent.

But let us not forget that the eastern reaches of the DRC still approximate a war zone, to put it mildly. The ineffectual government in the opposite side of the country in Kinshasa still lacks the capacity to provide any amount of security to its citizens in the east. Makes you wonder why the DRC still survives as a single sovereign state.

The number of actual dead in the bloody civil conflict that begun with Kabila’s match towards Kinshasa in 1998 is sort of debatable – ranging from a low of just over 2 million to a high of 5.4 million, pick your number. Really, does it matter that only 2 million human beings instead of 5 million have so far died in the conflict? At this point should the numbers even matter?.

So let us not lose perspective here. Even by conservative estimates more than 2 million lives have been lost. Millions of children continue to stay out of school (with grave long-term consequences for the security and economy of the region). And those that benefit from the conflict – the generals and arms and mineral smugglers – continue to do so with impunity. There is also no question that international big business is either directly or indirectly bankrolling the conflict (check out the more detailed report from Global Witness here). Hillary Clinton’s visit last year to Goma highlighted the unbearably gruesome existence of those (especially women and children) who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a war zone. Everyone who matters in the country and region know these facts. So the big question is: What will it take to change people’s approach to this conflict? Why isn’t more being done?