This January, 20 genocide scholars from different continents decided to write an attention-grabbing open letter to the UN boss on the Situation in Eastern Congo. I’m sure Ki moon read it nodding earnestly.
Open letter to Mr. Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations,
January 14, 2013
Your Excellency, the Secretary General of the United Nations,
We, writers, artists, researchers and university professors, who are following the developments of the situation in Eastern Congo, have hereby decided to directly address you regarding an issue on which depend the security and well-being of millions of men and women, as well as the stability of the entire Great Lakes region and, on a larger scale, the entire African continent.
Above all, we wish to draw your attention to what we consider to be a partial and simplistic interpretation of the current situation in this part of the African continent. Such an interpretation is reflected in some reports by international experts based on a “single-issue” approach, which sacrifices the complexity of a phenomenon in order to provide a superficial explanation. For reasons that worry us and that have pushed us into action, the principal investigator Steve Hege and his team, all of whom you have appointed, have chosen to focus their criticisms on the M23, while dangerously forgetting or remaining silent on other extremely harmful rebel movements in operation since 1994. This single-minded interpretation is destined to be counterproductive in the absence of a holistic vision of the Congolese situation in all its complexity and with all its political, economic and socio-cultural ramifications. We do not understand why these investigators have chosen to ignore the existence of the armed groups––in particular, and significantly, the FDLR –– that are responsible for the bloody chaos unfolding in Eastern Congo. We also urge you to seriously consider, in contrast to your predecessors up until 1994, the disturbing signs of possible extension of violence in the region and, equally disturbing, the public incitement to hatred and the massacre of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese.
We do appreciate the United Nations’ commitment to stability of the Congo expressed through its several missions. There is no doubt that the operations of the United Nations are a great help to the defenseless Congolese people. Nevertheless, we think that treating the effects of political events, instead of addressing their real causes, will remain ineffective. It is time that these people—victims of ruthless colonial exploitation, of Western, Chinese and South African companies, as well as of disastrous and dictatorial regimes from the independence of the Congo until today—are able to benefit from the rights of citizens that can only be guaranteed by a state worthy of its name.
Indeed, if the Congo––a country as vast as Western Europe and with seemingly endless natural resources –– is today with neither an army nor a functional government, that is not the fault of Rwanda, a nation still deeply traumatized by one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century, and still facing the major threat posed by genocidaires determined to “finish the work” they began in April 1994. It is our conviction that if the Congo, which should have been a heavyweight in Africa, is instead the continent’s weak point, it is because the country never took stock of its distinctly devastating colonial and neocolonial experience. It is imperative for this great people to contemplate a key moment of their history, the murder of Patrice Lumumba, for which they never cease to atone because it paved the way to power for Mobutu Sese Seko. And everyone knows the greed with which Mobutu brought his country to its knees for 32 long years, and this with the complicity of foreign powers that then abandoned the battered country to its collapse.
We recognize the importance of a firm position on the M23 and a responsible warning to all countries bordering the Congo, including Rwanda, to abstain from assisting this new rebellion that risks inciting the region once again and plunging the population into horrific suffering.
This notwithstanding, we have difficulty accepting the selective reasoning of those who deflect attention away from the much larger problem caused by several older and more active criminal groups in the conflict––groups which have repeatedly resorted to open mass violence. In our opinion, this silence is testimony of a deliberate choice to mislead international opinion. This is why we find it important to recall the several rebel groups operating in South Kivu, North Kivu, and Maniema. In their recent report, Oxfam and 41 local non-governmental organizations have drawn up an exhaustive list of these groups, which include
ADF: Alliance des Forces Démocratiques;
APCLS: Alliance des Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souverain;
FRPI: Force des Résistances Patriotiques en Ituri;
FDLR: Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda;
LRA: Lord’s Resistance Army;
M23: March 23 Movement;
Nyatura: a Hutu rebellion;
Sheka: a Nyange rebellion;
Mayi-Mayi Yakutumba: a Bembe rebellion against Banyamulenge Community;
Raïa Mutomboki: a Rega and Tembo rebellion against FDLR;
UPCP: Union des Patriotes Congolais pour la Paix;
(Source: Oxfam International. “Commodities of war: Communities speak out on the true cost of conflict in Eastern DRC.” OXFAM briefing paper, November 2012. p. 22)
A summary of the report states that in addition to the warring violence committed by governmental soldiers and the aforementioned armed groups against the Congolese population, “evidence gathered recently by Oxfam in a survey of more than 1,300 people in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Province Orientale shows that government soldiers and civilian authorities, including the local police, and armed rebel groups are vying for control over local communities to extort money and goods from them.” It is important to emphasize that, perhaps besides the M23, all of the armed groups operating in the three Kivu regions are hostile to Rwanda and to Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese. They also constitute a threat to the stability of the Congo. Furthermore, some of these rebellions are threatening other countries in the region. This is notably the case with the FNL (Front National de Libération), a Burundian rebellion active in the Rusizi plain and with other two Ugandan groups, the LRA and the ADF, who target in particular the Kampala regime.
None of these significant facts are mentioned in these highly disputed reports that have added fuel to the fire. In so doing, the reports have distanced themselves from any concerted efforts at finding a solution. They have discouraged the dialogue initiated by African countries of the Great Lakes region and fed the mistrust between Eastern Congolese communities and between the Congo and Rwanda. This shallow interpretation, relayed by the international and local Congolese press as well as by human rights organizations, could itself generate fresh violence.
It is difficult for a rational mind to wrap itself around the idea that the destiny of millions of human beings can at this point be dependent on an expert who, as talented as he may be, is not free from the influence of his own interests, and even from his ideological preconceptions. It is very clear that in this particular case, the UN apparatus has been used to settle scores with the Rwandan government. It is surprising and unacceptable that the UN has entrusted an investigative mission to someone who, at the end of the day, has always shown himself to be very “understanding” of the Forces démocratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR). This rebel movement, comprised of remnants of the army and Interahamwe militia who committed the genocide against the Tutsi of Rwanda in 1994, was boosted by new recruits in the Congolese regions that it has occupied for several years. That movement continues to commit well-documented atrocities in the region with impunity, and to finance its military operations it illegally exploits the area’s minerals. It then resells them on the international market and it would be interesting to know who its clients are.
Did the UN know at the time of Steve Hege’s appointment that he was the author of “Understanding the FDLR in DR Congo”, a text in which he sets out to give respectability to this genocidal organization that he presents as a group of refugees with legitimate claims? Disturbed and saddened by several attempts at cooperation between the governments of both Congo and of Rwanda, he admits fearing that this process would marginalize the FDLR whom, he writes, “feels greatly betrayed by the Congolese.”
He expressed these sentiments when President Obama, still a senator, was writing a letter of protest to the then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on the sexual violence perpetrated against Congolese women. Allow us to cite the following passage from the letter: “The perpetrators — including disgruntled government soldiers, homegrown militia groups, and former Hutu militiamen who fled into Congo’s forests after participating in the 1994 Rwandan genocide — have sustained their armed conflicts by exploiting the country’s natural resources, raiding villages and committing violent atrocities.”
This is how President Obama expressed his indignation against the genocidaires who had escaped into the Congo.
But that is not all.
In 2010, in a document entitled “Independent Oversight for Mining in the Eastern Congo? A proposal for a third party Monitoring and Enforcement Mechanism,” Steve Hege, together with his associate Jason Stearns, who by an interesting coincidence is also a former United Nations investigator on the violence in the Congo, claim an exclusive right to oversee the sale of the minerals of the Eastern Congo on behalf of their non-governmental organization, the Center on International Cooperation (CIC), that would operate with an annual budget of between three million and five million dollars.
Through the aforementioned project, these two men have indicated publicly and in writing their desire to commercialize the minerals of Eastern Congo. It is thus shocking that the UN appointed one of them as the referee in a crisis that is strongly intertwined with mining in the same region. Worst of all, we no longer know whether to be shocked by such obvious and scandalous conflicts of interest, or whether to judge those interests as perfectly coherent within a political system based on plundering the Congo that, unfortunately, dates way back in time. To gain a hold of the market, Hege and Stearns state with condescension that “[local Congolese institutions] remain significantly weak and easily susceptible to political manipulation, conflict of interests, corruption, and most importantly intimidation from armed actors and military units themselves.” The contempt for the Congolese people whom these two men claim to defend is as evident as their desire to substitute themselves as the authority in the Congolese nation. The least that we can say is that the conditions were not ideal for the creation of an objective report. It is thus absolutely impossible for us to understand the decision of the Security Council to endorse the conclusions of the Group of Experts without debate or prior verification.
As researchers, we question the impartiality and rigor of an approach that focuses broadly and vaguely on only some of the parties in the conflict, namely the Congolese government and on the dissidents of the Rwandan Government.
We are not surprised to note that this report, like previous ones, has been the subject of a very convenient “leak” designed to spread in the media and in the international opinion the following message: “the monstrous M23 is a creation of Rwanda.” With all due respect, we do not see what support, real or imagined, Rwanda can offer to such a movement to treat the root causes of the current state of affairs. M23 emerged in Congo after MONUSCO and armed groups were already there. This means that M23 is less the cause and more simply a consequence of a multifaceted regional crisis. Some choose to ignore this reality because they find it more convenient to judge these mutineers than to discuss the problems known to everyone, problems which are poisoning Congolese society and which include widespread corruption. Hege’s reports, as well as the media coverage they have enjoyed, encourage us to forget the foreign mining companies that have literally helped themselves to the Congo. We dare to recommend that you expeditiously initiate an investigation of this pillage. This is what the world, Africa, and the Congolese people in particular, expect from you.
In our opinion, the United Nations was wrong to think that removing M23 and that suspending developmental aid to Rwanda––a country praised for the rigorous, healthy and transparent management of its national budget––will suffice in bringing about peace in Eastern Congo. Similarly, experience has shown the limits of the military solution embodied in MONUSCO’s support of Congolese governmental forces. On the ground, such an option results primarily in sustaining the war that it is pretending to end. It was in this way that over the course of the capture of Goma, M23 came in possession of four tons of weapons that at any time thereafter could be found in the hands of different rebel groups.
We believe that the best way to contribute to peace and security in the Great Lakes region will consist of, among other factors
-Discouraging all Rwandan aid to the M23, with the intention of allowing Congolese communities to enter into a dialogue about the problems facing their nation;
-Discouraging all association of the Congo with the FDLR and all support of the Congolese government to armed groups that currently operate on its territory;
-Tackling all groups and ideologies that breed a destructive environment;
-Considering the security claims of Rwanda as legitimate;
-Ceaselessly promoting any dialogue between the governments of the Congo and of Rwanda;
-Promoting a frank and respectful exchange between the Rwandan and Congolese intellectual, moral, and spiritual leaders, so that they initiate and encourage fruitful ways in which the communities can “live together”;
-Initiating solutions that integrate the different aspects of the crisis in Eastern Congo;
-Revisiting the obscure accords between the Congolese government and mining companies operating in its territory;
-Demanding healthy management of resources by the Congolese state;
– Investigating the clientelism and criminal self-enrichment by the current Congolese elite, in order to jump start healthy governance in the DRC today;
-Privileging the voice of the dialogue initiated by the Great Lakes conference over the voice of warmongers who threaten to plunge the Great Lakes region into a great African war with incalculable consequences;
-Protecting marginalized communities whose desperation makes them ready to enlist in endless rebellions;
-Defending the integrity of the Congolese borders, to conform to the current wishes of the Congolese people who care for their nation’s unity and the destiny of the community in its ethnic composition;
-Tying the notion of the integrity of the borders to the rights of communities owning land to live peacefully and in full security as Congolese citizens with full rights;
-Improving the recruitment methods of UN investigators whose reports have such a great influence on the course of events. It is highly desirable to ensure that they are committed to following transparent procedures in order to lessen the risk or suspicion of bias on their part.
Your Excellency the Secretary General,
What is immediately needed is an unwavering defense by the United Nations of the principle of the integrity of Congo’s borders. However, such a defense is destined to fail if it overlooks the discrimination towards Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese citizens, landowners with the inalienable right to live in Congolese territory where they have been for generations over centuries. In order to fully understand the vulnerability of a community that has been marginalized and defined in the current Congolese imagination as the source of all the country’s problems, one must go back to the origins of the problem when at the Berlin Conference Rwandan territories became Congolese, or later in the 1930s when Kinyarwanda-speaking populations were moved to the Congo from Rwanda. Not long ago, more precisely during the 80s, these second-class citizens, deprived of their civil rights, were voters but were not eligible for office. Over the course of the same period, during “Operation Grass,” Tutsi students were beaten and expelled from universities in Zaire. To ensure that the rest of the people aware of what was happening, a document was circulated during this time that bore the revealing title: “Long live the Zairian nation and death to the usurpers of our nationhood.” This text called for “wiping out everywhere and in their entirety these snakes (Tutsi students) who want to bite us.” One decade later, at the beginning of the 1990s, the Congolese Tutsi were all banned from participating in the “National Sovereign Conference” still under the pretext that they were not “Zairian.” The fall of Mobutu gave way to a hope for better tomorrows, thanks to the united struggle against the dictator, only to later heighten hostility towards Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese. From one crime to another, we have now arrived at what we must see as a fervent and relatively widespread desire to finish once and for all what some call “the Tutsi question.” In some circles, people ignoring the lessons of history imagine that to improve the living conditions of the rest of the population, all that is required is to wipe out the Kinyarwanda-speaking population in the Congo.
We believe that a less biased and less superficial analysis of the situation in Kivu is urgent and necessary for any sustainable solution. We cannot emphasize enough the fact that the exclusive focus on the M23 and Rwanda is suspect and encourages the deadly discourse of the increasingly bold extremists who no longer hesitate to call for the extermination of the Tutsi in social media. The governor of North Kivu, Julien Paluku, several members of the Congolese government, a certain local Congolese press, several clergymen like Bishop Elisée and some musicians such as Boketsu 1er explicitly or insidiously incite hatred against the Tutsi populations of the Congo. It is time that you, in contrast to your predecessor in 1994, take stock of the dangers facing defenseless civil populations whose only wrongdoing is being who they are. A large part of the population, incited by Hege’s accusations and by a section of the press, is today ready to launch into murderous action. Military alliances between the Congolese army and genocidal militia are another sign that should not fool anyone, above all you whose particular responsibility is the preservation of world peace.
Your Excellency the Secretary General,
We ask the United Nations to do all in its power so that the absurd war of Eastern Congo may be at last replaced by sustainable peace. Right now, this peace is a pipe dream, and through this letter we have sought to express to you in what conditions this dream can, in our opinion, become a reality.
To preserve the chances of this peace in the near future, we, writers, artists, university professors, and researchers from diverse backgrounds, denounce the mutiny of the M23. We equally denounce all aid, no matter where it comes from, to this armed movement. But we also feel that it is our duty to call for the international community to treat more seriously and rigorously the question of the presence of heavily armed genocidaires on Congolese soil, a grave source of worry for Rwanda. We equally and firmly condemn the attempt by the Congolese government to heavily militarize the Kivu region.
Your Excellency the Secretary General,
We urge you to fulfill your responsibility in light of the threats to which we have sought to draw your attention. This is a concern not only for the destiny of the populations and their need for security in the countries of the Great Lakes; it is a concern for the credibility of the United Nations and for the honor of humanity.
In the hope that 2013 will be the year of dialogue and peace for all people on earth, we humbly request your Excellency to accept our sincerest regards.
Boubacar Boris Diop, Senegal, Novelist, political essayist and teacher, Université Gaston Berger, Saint-Louis- Senegal
Godefroid Kä Mana, RDCongo, Philosopher, Political Analyst and Theologian, Professor, Université évangélique du Cameroun, Institut catholique de Goma-RDCongo
Jean-Pierre Karegeye, Rwanda, Director, Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Center, Assistant Professor, Macalester College, Minnesota-USA
Margee Ensign, USA, President, American University of Nigeria
Koulsy Lamko, Chad, Novelist and playwright, Director of la Casa Hankili Africa, Centro Historico in Mexico
Wandia Njoya, Kenya, Assistant Professor, Daystar University, Nairobi-Kenya
Aminata Dramane Traoré, Mali, Writer, Sociologist, former minister of Culture
Susan Allen, USA, Professor, Emory University, Atlanta
Jean-Claude Djereke, Côte d’Ivoire, Centre de Recherches Pluridisciplinaires sur les Communautés d’Afrique Noire et des Diasporas, Ottawa, Canada
Jean-François Dupaquier, France, Writer, Journalist
Erik Ehn, USA, Director, Writing for Performance, Brown University
Mireille Fanon Mendes-France, France, Chairperson, Frantz Fanon Foundation
Gerise Herndon, USA, Professor, Director of Gender Studies, Nebraska Wesleyan University
Timothy Horner, USA, Associate Professor, Center for Peace and Justice Education, Villanova University
Jean-Baptiste Kakoma, RDCongo, Physician, Professor, Former Dean of the Faculty of Medecine, Former Rector of the University of Lubumbashi in RDCongo, Director of the School of Public Health, National University of Rwanda
Aloys Mahwa, Rwanda, Researcher, Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Center, Kigali-Rwanda
Yolande Mukagasana, Rwanda, Writer, Genocide survivor, 2002 Peace Golden Dove Award, 2003 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education.
Timothée Ngakoutou, Chad-France, Professor, former Rector of the University of Chad, former Head of the Regional Office of Unesco in Africa, in Dakar, Former Head of the Democracy and Governance section at UNESCO in Paris.
Moukoko Priso, Cameroon, Professor, Université évangélique du Cameroon
François Wokouache, Cameroon, Filmmaker, Director of KEMIT