South Sudan: What happened to hope?

On 9 July 2011, three years ago last week, the world joined hands to welcome a new state. A combination of high-level negotiations, persistent lobbying and, sometimes, puffed advocacy, had helped create a new country, aptly named South Sudan.

It seemed like a new dawn. Women, men and children – faces painted in the colours of the new national flag – braced the scorching sun to be part of their country’s history. You could feel the excitement. Even Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, hitherto an adversary, was present.
Good will messages came in from all corners. David Cameron, who was represented by William Hague, said it was “an historic day, for South Sudan and the whole of Africa”. Barack Obama said it was “a reminder that, after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible”. Women ululated, men jumped up and down in joy, as young boys and girls waved paper flags – all full of hope. It was big news and the story of a new country was on the front page of most newspapers in the world.
How things change. There are many people in the world, including some South Sudanese, who did not even notice that July 9, 2014 marked the country’s third impendence anniversary. I still remember where I was on Friday 9 July 2011. I was up north in beautiful York trying to finish my dissertation. I remember receiving a Facebook poke, followed by a message from one of my fellow students (Sudanese) who was overjoyed at the prospect of an independent South Sudan. He joked that he was thinking about petitioning to change the name to something without the word Sudan in it.
So much can be said about the tragedy that has become South Sudan. It is hard to even believe that since fighting broke out in December last year between loyalists of President Salva Kiir and his rival, former Vice-President Riek Machar, an estimated ten thousand South Sudanese have been killed and over 1.3 million forced to flee their homes. While there remains a multitude of opportunities for the warring parties to get back together and for South Sudan to steady itself, I still believe that the country’s undoing was the general assumption that secession/independence would be the magic wand.
Attaining peace, as we all know, is a complicated process which involves many variables, and players. It might seem surprising to many how a country could suddenly go from the joyful scenes witnessed on that sunny Friday in July 2011 to the disastrous ethnic killings of the last few months.
The South Sudan experience has cast doubt on the argument for independence-driven self-determination. It begs the question: is secession the answer to solving protracted conflicts? Is there anything flawed with self-determination as we know it? Last year, I was at a talk about the situation in eastern DRC, organised by the Royal African Society, at the time when the UN group of experts had released a report accusing Rwanda of arming and supporting the M23. One of the speakers (a Rwandan) infamously suggested that eastern DRC should be annexed to Rwanda. Her comments irked the many Congolese present, so much so that the event had to be cancelled for hers and everyone’s safety. It seems to me that while the right to self-determination is a core principle of international law and enshrined in a number of international treaties, its application vis-à-vis the process of building peace (not peacebuilding) remains contentious. And this is not least because the likes of South Sudan have created drastic precedents, but also because it negates the fact that there are many variables in the peace maze and separation will not always necessarily translate into peaceful co-existence.
I’m not an expert, but I clearly believe that while it might be understandable for the sake of peace and nation-building to ignore and incorporate adversaries (including spoilers), for peace to work, and particularly so in young states, there has to be a way of ensuring that impunity is not condoned, and that wrongdoers – however powerful or well-connected – are held to account for their actions.
There are of course so many factors that could help explain South Sudan’s current mess, including for example, as my colleague Jo Robinson said to me, the lack of a collective, national identity, or the fact that the international community, which the new state relied so much upon financially in the lead up to independence, has since gotten tired of providing endless financial support. But it also cannot be denied that one difficult truth could be the fact that the major players in the country are corrupt monomaniacs putting self-interest ahead of state unity. I’m pretty sure that President Bashir does occasionally look south and giggle.
Long live South Sudan – if only!

The dark, hellish hand of other actors

FYI – This is my take on Pan Butamire’s opinion piece in todays New Times. You may want to read that before or after reading this post. Otherwise enjoy…

Why does it feel as if M23 was formed long before its precursor, CNDP? It’s hard to believe that it came into existence only last April.  And it’s even harder to believe that it managed to grab the attention of the world so forcefully. In D.R. Congo that’s filled to its brim with decades-old rebel groups, its few hundreds of mutineers so easily rocked the world. What is it that stamped it on our conscience with such poignancy and permanence?

Against all expectations, it has aroused such strong ire in the UN and super powers around the world are denouncing it with unprecedented rapidity. These shakers and shapers of the world who for 8 months appeared oblivious of foreign support to M23 have woken up only to realise, they ought to have done better earlier.

Look at how the UN quickly churned out a succession of reports on Rwanda that put her on the cross as the villain that mothered this howling monster. Donors shouting cut aid! And western media belting out messages of the real power behind M23 with bravado! Uganda, for its ‘milder’ support, was spared the cuts but given the lip. To Western countries and to the UN, the leading role the countries have played in searching for a solution counted for nil – because you can’t have your cake and eat it.

Then M23 captured Goma. We waited for the looting, child recruitment, raping, arbitrary killings and all the other atrocities that defined the howling monster as we had been made to believe. But, gladly, we were spared the anguish of a confirmation. When it became clear they would have to withdrawal from Goma, like FARDC, M23, who had hitherto been masquerading as a good lot, started looting at will. Their target – Goma’s central bank.

Perhaps before we begin questioning the reason behind this cacophony of aid-cut threats by these powers that we claim have ganged up together in a way never seen before, we should prompt ourselves with such questions as why the hell did we end up in this mess? We can’t say there was no warning. In today’s world, it is impossible to hide anything leave alone claim ignorance of such things as what one is doing in their neighbour’s backyard. If not Congolese themselves, members of the mainstream media, whose byword is unwavering objectivity, were bound to wake up to these things.

World powers may be admitting that the roadmap presented by regional leaders through the ICGLR represents by far the closest workable solution to the mess we find ourselves in. But while MONUSCO and DRC embark on doing their bit, the big question should be did it have to come this far? How is it possible that we did not see this coming? Besides, if we have got nothing to do with M23, why should we feel the need to defend its actions or even care what attention its troop movements is attracting in mainstream media and in capitals around the world? A toad does not flop in broad day light for nothing. Discussions on the ills which have dogged the DRC for a long time must not shirk the role of foreign actors in Congo – or we will be losing the point. Congo has been labelled “the rape capital of the world” not just because the government is weak and incapable of protecting its people but because other actors internal and external stand to gain from its instability.

Are rebels part of the powers at play in this region? Of course. Are foreign powers part of the powers at play in this region? Certainly. I think that over the past months, there has been enough evidence not to doubt this.

What of the recent rumour that the recently suspended DRC army chief, Gabriel Amisi, has actually been in a gunrunning racket to arm all the rebels in the country, except M23? What of the evidence or rumour that Rwanda’s defence minister, James Kabarebe has actually been commandeering M23?

Clearly, the judging by the force and bravado with which M23 made a march on Goma, the truth is that someone well capable was in command. It could be the accused or it could be that in Bishop Runiga and the wanted criminal Ntaganda, the rebels have some capable commanders. M23’s propensity to kick beyond reach is in fact beyond their own prowess! Surely there is a god-father or some godfathers. This, in some warped logic, would explain why Vianney Kazarama found it fitting to go on the rooftops of Goma and shout out that M23 were not going to withdraw from Goma until their demands were granted – even as the ICGLR summit and UNSCR 2076 called demanded immediate withdrawal. It may also explain why Kabila’s government, weak as it is, refuses to listen to and have a dialogue with M23. In such situations, it is always wise to play spectator – especially if you are as hopeless and hapless as Joseph Kabila.

Politicking aside, there is another element. How could MONUSCO allow M23 to cruise into Goma so easily? Given what happened, surely talk now in UN circles should be that of revising MONUSCO’s mandate to ensure that it has the capacity to not only pretend to be protecting civilians but also the power to engage should civilians and their property be at risk. The same media frenzy which has followed M23 and its backers could do much for the advancement of a call to revise MONUSCO’s mandate.

And you thought peacekeeping did not mean standing between belligerents? Wish these world shakers and movers would remain on the Congolese people’s side.

Looting for the sake of it: The trouble with FARDC

It is sad when a government in power cannot exercise control over its territory. Sad still when that same government has little or no control over its national army.

That the DRC is a country in crisis is no secret. A cursory google search will give you so much info as to the mess this country finds itself in than you probably can get inside Congo. This is a country, whose people, having lived through years and years of successive incompetent governments, are not sure what to expect anymore.

Last year, the Congolese tried changing the state of affairs by turning up in huge numbers to end their long suffering. Their attempts proved futile when the country’s electoral commission announced – to the surprise of many – that President Joseph Kabila had been re-elected. I have never met President Kabila but while some of his countrymen portray him as an out of ideas head of state, somehow, he has hang onto the DRC presidency for a good number of years. And that says much. Either, the Congolese voices are not being heard or democracy as we know is dead.

But this is not about Kabila. This post is much about the army he presides over – FARDC – than his failings as the man on top. When reports came through that the M23 were advancing towards Goma, the news was that rather than defend their positions, FARDC ran off. While this was expected perhaps given the superiority in artillery of M23 rebels over FARDC, reports that the Congolese army was pillaging and looting from the very civilian population it was meant to protect shocked the world.

Some have said FARDCs behaviour was expected given that these are soldiers who so often go for months without pay. No matter the difficulties, a national army, particularly in a country where private armies and rebels continue to roam with so much ease, should have the discipline and morality to know that unlike rebel armies, national armies do not steal from citizens.

No wonder M23 was able to get so much support after they took over Goma. Which national army behaves in the way FARDC have and expects citizens to have any faith in it? M23 may be a bunch of ragtag mutineers intent on destabilising eastern DRC but as long as an FARDC is stealing, harassing and mistreating those it is meant to protect, they (M23) shall continue to get the leverage and sometimes quite rightly, reasons for intervention.

A South African journalist filming in DRC today reported having his Kenyan cameraman almost lynched by a group of FARDC soldiers for apparently looking Tutsi. It may have been an isolated case of bigotry. It is possible too that this could be related to reports that M23 is supported, armed and commanded by Rwandan and Ugandan generals. Whatever the case, it will play well into the argument that DRC’s issues are deeper than just M23. President Kabila as head of state working with his government ministers must ensure that his government takes a grip – a grip not only around Kinshasha but the whole of DRC lest as one twitterer joked today, the end of M23 might be the beginning of N24.

Why M23 wont be leaving Goma soon

The UN has demanded they withdraw from Goma. A summit of four African heads of state sitting in the Ugandan capital Kampala yesterday (Saturday) called on M23 to “stop expanding the war forthwith and stop talk of overthrowing an elected government.”

There is also, it would appear, at least seemingly, some agreement within the international community that for any talk meaningful peace efforts to be undertaken in DRC, M23 must first stop their advance – or better, give up the fighting altogether.

But none of these appear to be about to happen. Despite the numerous calls for their withdrawal, M23 have made it clear they are not about to leave Goma. Not yet. Bishop Jean-Marie Runiga, M23’s political chief, told Reuters news agency that Rwanda and Uganda had no authority to order them to give up the city.

“We’ll stay in Goma waiting for negotiations. They [government forces] are going to attack us and we’re going to defend ourselves and keep on advancing,” he was quoted.

It would appear from Runiga’s statement that M23 are expecting an attack from government forces to which they will then respond by capturing more ground. The rebel outfit has proved to be more powerful than perhaps many thought. Just before the summit, M23, perhaps buoyed by the ease with which they took Goma, were already talking of going as far as Kinshasha. As a Congolese friend said to me yesterday, “with the international community and the world media focused on events in Gaza and Syria, we thought they might go for it.”

They didn’t. Instead they have zeroed on Goma where they appear very relaxed. I spoke to a Congolese diplomat in London earlier today who is convinced that even without the summit, it is unlikely that M23 would have gone as far as Kinshasha. “To do what? Their case has nothing to do with Kinshasha. They are confortable where they are and that is all they ever wanted. Nothing else,” he said.

If the Congolese government are aware of what M23 are looking for, why have they not managed to solve the grievance – after all, what becameM23 was once part of the Congolese army?

Why Goma?

Goma remains by far the biggest and agreeably most strategic city in eastern DRC. If one is to go by the assertions in a UN report released this week, it is nearer to Rwanda and Uganda – the two countries said to be providing support to M23. It has an airport and judging by the ease with which they captured it, and the way they were received, one might as well say M23 forces feel at home in Goma than anywhere else in the country.

Some people have also suggested that with M23 feel Goma is the bargaining chip they needed against President Joseph Kabila. Despite initially stating his unwillingness to talk to the rebels, President Kabila has since changed his mind – it would appear. On Wednesday this week, Kabila said he would study the rebels’ demands and consider negotiating with them. Such statements will galvanise M23 whose main aim some have insisted is gaining more leverage against the government in Kinshasha.

Withdraw or Advance?

The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse in Goma says it is unclear whether the rebels’ capacity matches their ambitions. In Col. Vianney Kazarama, M23 have a very committed spokesperson. So committed that his statements have sometimes appeared so detached from recent events but he seems to be relishing his role. Kazarama is convinced the rebels have got the momentum and that only serious negotiations with Kabila can prevent an advance on Kinshasha. This, despite calls from the summit organised by his purported backers, that his fellow fighters withdrawal from Goma.

May be he has a point. Following the Kampala summit today, M23 will feel their recent antics have paid off. By agreeing to speak to them, the DRC government have elevated them beyond marauding mutineers – a tag they previously were associated with – to a rebel outfit with concerns that need addressing. Question remains, will they actually leave Goma?

Over to you…

London Despatch

Little known but committed Victoire Ingabire is a woman of all seasons. She has since her arrival back in Rwanda been trying to familiarise herself with the developments so far in a country she left 16 years ago. A career accountant-turned politician, she hopes, subject to the registration of her political party, to contest the forthcoming presidential election this August. Many agree she stands no chance but her introduction into the Rwandan political fold has already created a few surprises. Government propagandists under different pseudo names are already engaged in a tarnishing campaign to ensure all she says is never believed. Already, her political aide has been arrested and jailed over a Gacaca court conviction that Ingabire’s supporters and sympathisers believe is faked.

But as Kagame prepares to assume yet another seven year term, the world has been introduced to a politically charged mercenary type of society where opposition politics…

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Why Does Everyone Want A Piece of Rwanda?

There is perhaps nothing intrinsically inherent in Rwandese like the love for their country. Ask anyone inside or outside Rwanda (no matter their differences in say political ideology) and the answer will most likely be the same – I love my country.

The need to love our country or “gukunda igihugu” as it is known, is something we have mastered and come to cherish. Since the days of our fore-fathers, the mantra has been that we won’t be there as Rwandese without Rwanda. Rwanda gave birth to the Rwandese and so as a matter of fact Rwandese are obliged to respect the motherland – “urwatubyaye”.

This alone does not even explain the unending love Rwandese exhibit for their mother land. Having been at the receiving end of some over the top divisive politics, hate speech and near deliberate misses from the international community – a combination of which helped fuel the worst genocide in modern day history – Rwandans have learned to love and respect themselves. They have for instance learned to say “Never Again”. They love the country with a thousand hills, they love the country in which beautiful smiling children wake up every morning ready to go to school despite some of them coming from families where unlike in most western capitals, the idea of 3 meals a day is prospective rather than assured. They love it here because this is their country and they continue to hope that  things will only get better.

There is no doubt that Rwanda is a fascinating country. The progress this country has made since the genocide is remarkable. This, partly to some good and guided leadership provided by President Paul Kagame, his team of ministers, the Rwandese people and of course the donors. Or should I say Rwanda’s development partners (I know the government and third world countries these days prefer this other second phrase when talking about those who donate money or lend to them).

With success comes fortune, visitors, and a host of associates. Today, Rwanda receives more foreign visitors each week than it received every month before and immediately after the genocide. It may seem like an exaggeration but it is indeed true. Make no mistake some of these are people Rwanda needs. I am talking about committed do-gooders. The wonderful folks from all over the world, who come ready to unleash their philanthropic love on the people of “Rwagasabo”.

But they are not alone. Alongside theese do-gooders the Rwandese have been subjected to a host of other moody clients. The sort, who see Rwanda and Rwandese as a means to an end. A way to be in the black. Some form of making a mark, a buck or very often a name. They sit and read. They try to imitate and pretend. They are here to be with us. They try to gain our trust, pretend to dislike the things we don’t like even when they have no reason for such but simply to create rapport and be part of the great force that is “Les Rwandese”. They write, comments, stories, publish blogs and get involved in discussions about Rwanda. They conduct research and dedicate most of their time to the country. They are our “friends” but only just.

Make no mistake, we love them. Oh yes we do. Rwanda has come from so far and has surprised many. It is not surprising therefore when people come from all over wanting to have a piece of it. However, being us (Rwandese) we also demand that whoever wants to involve themselves with Rwanda first  get their facts right. Secondly, we demand too that they make their arguments sensible. And thirdly that they keep their pieces strictly within reason. This is the gist. It is not how much you are willing to sympathise with us (Rwandese) but also – and quite sensibly – how much you are willing to help make the situation better.

A friend of mine at The Hague came across one blog today morning and so passed it over to me to “have a read”. Its title: Fighting the “White Saviour” Mentality. The blog entry was by a one Rena Deann Ali (An American) and a Facebook friend of mine. Interesting.

As her intro Rena wrote: “I came across this status update on Facebook earlier today. This is from a woman that many Americans think is doing a great work in Rwanda. In the interest of privacy, I’ve hidden the names of both her and the people she was discussing.  My intention is not to demonize this woman in particular, but to point out the wrong attitudes and behaviors that are often displayed by Americans and other Westerners wanting to “do good” in Africa.” Never mind that Rena is also American she appears to be somehow wary that she might be about to demonise someone hence the disclaimer right in her very first paragraph.

So What Is This About?

It turns out Rena was referring to Suzette Munson. Suzette is an American lady (I have never met her neither have I Rena) who like some Americans travelled to Rwanda and having witnessed the dire needs of this beautiful country’s people, decided to do something about the situation rather than sit and write about what she had seen (she could have easily opted for the latter and many before or even after  her have).  No. Suzette instead set up Love 41 as an online retail business with a mission to give 100% of profits to orphans, widows, and street kids in Africa.

According to an interview she gave to Ryan Eggenberger Love41is an online store with the end goal of helping the poor in Africa. “We sell leather products that I’ve designed: bags, bracelets, earrings, t-shirts, scarves, belts, etc. And this is just opening the door. We will soon expand into mens and kids.  All the profits from Love41 go back to helping orphans, widows and street kids through education, job creation, and love. We’re getting them out of poverty. The website itself elaborates on this.”

There is actually a record of her work inside Rwanda. I spoke to three government officials who told me they were aware of Suzette’s wonderful work in the country. So besides being “part of a fairly wealthy American family” like Rena says, she definitely is or has so far made a difference to the lives of some Rwandese people. Already Suzette has adopted two boys in the country and is helping them grow including visiting them regularly as she can’t move them over to the US.

One look at this and you will think, well what then is the fuss here? Well, at about 12:48pm in Kigali yesterday, Suzette updated her Facebook account with the following status:

She was out visiting someone’s home (probably a friend or something I don’t know) when she came across an ailing man. Concerned as any sensible person would, Suzette arranged to have this person (an old man who according to her looked like he was dieing and must have weighed like 70lbs) to hospital. At the hospital,  the doctor there apparently tried at first to play ping pong with her and her patient claiming they had run out of space and had no more beds left to admit the ailing man (it is not common practice in Rwanda to get doctors behaving like this but you do occasionally get rogue ones especially deep in the countryside who act like part time thinkers)

The lady even spent her whole day there waiting and pleading with the head doctor to provide some service (seeing that this was the best hospital around that area). Just imagine how many people in this world would spend their entire day attending to and advocating for the admission into hospital of an old dieing Rwandan man they have never met or seen? Incredible devotion if you ask me.

Not so according to Rena. “Not so fast…while this man’s life may be saved, the dignity of many others has likely been shattered,” she wrote.

To illustrate her point, she continued: “Consider the scenario: A white family from the United States is coming to bring gifts to the sponsored children of a poor Rwandan family.  The parents of these children are likely feeling some measure of shame because they are unable to afford to give their children the types of gifts these Americans have brought.  Who do you think the child will respect and admire more – his parents, or the gift givers?”

“Next, they come into the home and find a gravely ill man.  Their immediate reaction is to insist that he be taken to a hospital. This is belittling to the family who has been caring for this man until this time. Suddenly their care and judgement are being questioned as people who just stepped into the situation are determining what is best for him.  Finally, even the staff at the hospital is marginalized in the attempt to help this man.  When told that the hospital does not have the capability to take on another patient, they continued to insist that the man be cared for at that facility, and refused to let up until they got what they wanted. But at what cost?”

“It’s true, an extra bed was found for the man.  But it is unlikely that he was initially turned away because of fear of nonpayment — after all, he arrived in the company of a well to do white family. Likely the hospitals resources were already stretched thin, and they knew the best care for him could be found somewhere else.  But their knowledge and experience were ignored in the quest to do something good for this man.”

“This is the fallacy of trying to “do good” in Rwanda, or elsewhere in Africa without proper knowledge or understanding. When the experiences, knowledge, and competencies of a people are ignored, you diminish their worth in your eyes, in the eyes of others, and sadly sometimes in their own eyes as well.  Rwandans do not need to be saved by Americans, or any other Westerners.  They should be treated with respect they deserve as human beings and children of God.”

Rena, are you completely out of your mind? How gullible can one be? So in your sane mind, this poor dieing man should have been left on his death bed to probably perish in the next few days all in the name of preserving the dignity of his family (who quite clearly did not have the money or facilities to care for him (for otherwise why was he at home and not in hospital given how ill he was?) or the hospital staff (who despite first claiming they had run out of beds finally managed to find that extra one for the ill man)?

I wonder why you chose to conclude that there is a worry that the young children receiving gifts from the Americans will respect them more than their family. I have received gifts from so many people (outside my family) since I was born but it has never occured to me that I should disrespect my guardian or relatives.  You don’t get it. In Rwanda we love family. Poor or rich, your parents will always be your parents. This is the mantra that children are brought up with. You accuse the gift givers and Suzette of taking away the dignity and reputations of so many but in stating why, you too conclude by assumption and quite wrongly that, such actions are likely to harm the family dynamics in terms of respect. I suggest you do some research before coming up with some shocking and presumptuous blog entry about someone who as a Rwandan I find very helpful. Leave alone myself, I am sure many more Rwandans, and indeed level headed people out there, agree that life is worth more than dignity. What is dignity without a life?

I see you have been following this lady for some time which is good. Good to have an American following up another American for the Rwandese. Yes you did highlight her mistake when she wrongly claimed and published on her website that 70 percent of Rwandans were alcoholics. This was wrong. And once it was made clear to her that this was not the case, she apologised. But to still use that bit of comment (a comment she has since changed by the way) against her and in an incident where her deed was this time around in the best interest of a Rwandan family, and particularly an old man in dire need of medical attention, spells vendetta.

Rena, you are free to try and seek homage from the regime’s self appointed online critics – the sort you wheedle and get in cahoots with so as not to be subjected to their harsh and constant slanderous attacks. You are free too to try and paint yourself as being pro-Rwandese which is a very good thing. You are free to express your solidarity with the Rwandese in the promotion of their  dignity – Agaciro – like president Kagame called it. But this, dear friend, must be gone about in a sane and sensible way. Every attack against whoever ought and must remain within reason.

Do not be like those biblical Pharisees who being so gullible, thought Sabath was more important than Man.

…over to you people.