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…


Of Joseph Bideri and the game with few winners

He had his moments. This we have to agree. A one time government spokesman, Monsieur Joseph Bideri, became famous as the erstwhile chief propagandist capable of bringing down anyone inside or outside the country as long as his bosses demanded as such. A high flying bureaucrat, Mr. Bideri in yesteryear Rwanda was the cowboy with powers to succeed the laws of the land. In two words: Very Powerful.

Those who worked with him during his days as the government’s chief propagandist, remember him ever so well. Their memories fresh with the aura of authority that seemed to go with the incredible Joseph, some are surprised he has ended up fleeing the country back to where he —well—came from.

At the pinnacle of his limelight, Mr. Bideri is famously remembered for telling the world that “Rwanda was not an obstacle to peace”. He was of course referring to Rwanda’s decision not to withdraw troops from Congo following the Lusaka Peace Accord. How ironical that when his country is back in the news, perhaps not over the same issue but something related to the Congo, the man who nine years ago said his paymasters were not obstacles to peace, is running for dear life.

When news broke that Bideri had fled the country to Canada, I was among those who received it with scepticism. Surely? Bideri running for dear life? How?

If there is anyone who has so passionately defended the establishment in Kigali, it is Joseph Bideri. His defence of the ideals of the regime was so entrenched in his psyche that at one point, as head of Orinfor, he still felt he was so powerful to determine and decide what went on in all publications related to the government. I remember him mingling so easily and effortlessly in the affairs of The New Times, even when the latter had a functional and able bodied Editor in Chief at the time.

Dedication, some will say. It seemed to me that behind the hard working persona of the man or stooge that was Bideri, there was always a pushing desire to please. A desire which to some appeared pushed by the need to please and perhaps hide something or make up for something sinister. Otherwise, how would you explain Bideri’s insistence to poke his nose in whichever public institution with connection to the government, his continued desire to dislodge Editor in Chiefs at the pro-government daily, or his untiring efforts to speak ill of anyone falling out with the regime in Kigali?

Bideri will have now realised that serving the regime in Kigali with whatever amount of zeal does not make one indispensable. Question now is, has he learned any lessons? The notion that all men are born equal is one that Bideri to me never understood or if he did, always chose to ignore. I am yet to know why he was sent on leave just days before he fled. But if the story that he engineered the sacking of the whole New Times marketing team on grounds that they were Ugandans is true, then it makes me wonder what it is that he has against Ugandans.

In 2006, the same man, while at Orinfor and board member of The New Times, ordered the immediate sacking of all foreigners at The New Times. The paper as a result lost a host of talented editors, reporters, marketers and designers as Kenyans and Ugandans packed up. He replaced them with locals and due to the imbalance in expertise and quality what had started becoming a better newspaper went back to a hopeless tabloid, specialising in dog eat man stories.

And because he (Bideri) was indispensable, no one even queried his decision. Not even the Board chairman. The move besides being xenophobic, proved completely counter productive. If you want to develop and promote home grown talent, you do so from within, recruit locals, give them time to learn on the job from their superiors and then phase out, if you want, the old stock.

But the man sailed on. In 2008 Joseph Bideri was again in the news, this time accused of messing up the finances of Orinfor, involvement in an infighting battle for power and influence with one Kije Mugisha and failing to process the acquisition of a new and modern printing press. Given the dealings in present day Rwanda, any other person would have been sent to prison for this mess. Bideri survived and was instead shipped to Kacyiru to take over from another sad comrade Ignatius Kabagambe, as the Editor in Chief of the government mouthpiece.

At New Times, Bideri has overseen the transformation of an English daily that his predecessors created from a slightly readable tabloid to some sort of gutter thing where officials and men of little conscience trade accusations and settle scores with those they hate. The handling of the election period, the Kayumba saga, and lately the UN Mapping Report has not helped matters. TNT is still the same old boring TNT if not worse.

It is worthy to note that this is the same man who as boss engineered the sacking of the most successful Editor in Chief of the New Times in its 13 year history. It was Bideri who sacked Sanyu John Bosco, the Editor under whose tenure TNT saw a surge in both sales and readership. With Sanyu gone, the same Bideri orchestrated the installation of Eddie Rwema, the flamboyant young journalist whose days were cut shot by yet another of Bideri and State House import, Ignatius Kabagambe. The latter though keen on becoming the top dog at TNT had his tenure cut short when he was replaced by Bideri after working so hard to frustrate another arguably competent Editor in Chief, David Kabuye.

Inside sources at the New Times have said that Bideri would still be in charge had he not messed up the marketing system through his ill-advised interference and decision to tax evade. With staff going unpaid for three months and the company going as far as near bankruptcy, this was bound to backfire. And backfire it did.

With Rwanda Revenue Moving in to demand the payment of tax arrears and staff beginning to worry about their wages and reporters choosing instead to stay in the newsroom or at home due to the lack of vehicles to take them to the field, “the possibility of TNT falling flat on its belly” was imminent. And because TNT is ruled by someone even more powerful, he demanded answers and Bideri had none. His forced leave was a stern reminder that his time had come, being someone who has previously sent predecessors in forced leaves before moving up on them, he quit the country.

But as he tries to settle in Canada, I wonder if Joseph Bideri has any idea what being a puppet or being used to such extents that you lose your common sense means. What we can deduce is that no one is indispensable in Rwanda or anywhere in this world, if there is, then it is because their time has not come yet. So my friend, Prof Nshuti, when you let yourself be used to write stuff that would make Lucifer cringe, remember that there is going to be time, when you might want to use the same words to defend yourself. Do not say there were never any precedents!

Over you my little monsters…

The UN Mapping Report, What Next?

With details having been leaked to members of the press and the public, it was clear that no amount of sabotage, pressure or blackmail from anyone would hold back the publication of what has turned out to be the most incriminating report ever, about the activities inside DR Congo, of the many foreign forces who occupied that country from 1997-2003.

But as innocent Congolese tried to come to terms with revelations on the international scene, of what they had previously known for so many years and tried to explain albeit with no success, politicians and state propagandists set out to find ways of toning down the words used. It should be noted that while there has been talk of efforts by the leading suspects in the crimes mentioned in the report, this was never about proving genocide. The UN, following years of suffering meted on Congolese people by marauding foreign armies and local militias thought it important to investigate what many had reported as deteriorating human rights abuses in that part of Congo, a spell dating back to the days when foreign armies entered the country.

So I will not go into arguments of whether the report has been successful in exposing the fact that there was genocide in Congo, who committed it, who the victims were or whether those responsible should be brought to book. The report is clear on these four aspects. For purposes of continuity and justice to those who lost lives or loved ones in the said atrocities (or war if you may) it is important that we dwell on what next, after this.

That the report was leaked to the press and later to members of the public before its publication has its own interesting bits. Speaking to a high profile source in the Rwandan government last week, he told me and I quote “I must say that to us, it is even better the report was leaked. I am not sure if any government whose forces are mentioned in this report, would have felt comfortable finding answers to the press the morning after the report’s publication. It would have been a nightmare”.

To this official the leaking of the report gave the accused governments enough time to plan a rebuttal. The scare mongering and professed threats that we saw from countries like Rwanda and Uganda for instance (threatening to withdraw forces from UN peace keeping missions) was devised as a means of giving the “offenders” room to think about what to say “and if possible to try and through friends in the UN, reach a compromising decision on how to phrase some of the contentious phrases in the report”.

At the end of the day, when the report finally got published on October 1, the damning accusation of a possible genocide committed against Hutus by the Rwandan forces as highly linked to in the draft report, was rather given a very soft dimension and the Rwandan army was not singled out but instead the report chose to use the word “foreign forces”.

Accordingly, it is now up to the DRC to try and seek prosecutions for those implicated if it feels and wants to. And this is where I take issue with international justice. Here, you have innocent civilians (including the young, sickly and elderly) being systematically murdered by the so called “foreign forces” in what can be argued as a deliberate attempt to finish them off, and all you get is a “you can go ahead and press charges if you want” sort of thing.

It gets irritating when you consider that the DRC is led by a gentleman who many know has no underlying intention to upset those who have helped him become who he is, by accusing their armies of the most heinous crime known to mankind. And the other option? Reparations, yes you read that right, reparations?

Did these foreign forces not go into Congo partly to carry out their mission (which is a subject of this report) and to loot? Reparations would be alright if they were what the innocent Congolese who lost their family members and loved ones needed. These people need no reparations; they are more interested in justice, an end to the savagery and the unending many wars that have ravaged their livelihoods. They want to be able to return to their homes, live in peace and be able to go about their daily lives without worrying about unexplained deaths of their sons and daughters or the rape of their wives and children.

The idea of reparations would be not very bad if it did not spell more misery for the Congolese. A country like Rwanda for example whose budget is part sponsored through foreign aid can not, in anyway, get the amount DRC will need to settle the atrocities committed by its (Rwanda’s) army in Eastern Congo. So what would that mean? It means if DRC insisted on reparations, Rwanda would instead find some other reason to go back into Congo, take control of the mineral rich parts of Katanga region, loot as much, sell that (assuming the US and Europe buys it without asking where it came from) to be able to raise enough to settle the reparations bill. We are talking of a good 5 more years of more misery. And who wants this? Certainly not the Congolese people, they have had enough.

There is a clear line between illegal and legal. It is clear that whatever the motive (intent) foreign forces (or Ugandan and Rwandan forces) committed crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes which ought to be punished for. The culprits are well known, these forces were not commanded by some supernatural object, but officers and men who may or may not still be serving in the said armies. For the sake of lasting peace, the world ought besides calling on the DRC to prosecute, insist that if President Joseph Kabila’s government keeps dithering about justice, the international community through and internationally recognised court, should take over the case.

The people of Congo and the innocent Rwandan who had sought refuge in that country deserve to be treated humanely and accorded all the rights that we humans have come to enjoy as per the universal declaration of human rights. Impunity bleeds conflict and a sense of betrayal; it should and must be fought.

…now over to you my little monsters

Uganda forcibly returns 1,700 Rwandan asylum-seekers

(16 July 2010) Amnesty International has condemned the forced return of around 1,700 Rwandan asylum-seekers from two refugee settlements in Uganda in a joint operation between the governments of Uganda and Rwanda this week.

On Wednesday, armed police officers rounded up the asylum-seekers and forced them on to waiting trucks during two major operations at the Nakivale and Kyaka II refugee settlements in southwestern Uganda.

When some asylum-seekers tried to escape, police officers fired shots into the air. In the ensuing panic and stampede people were reportedly injured and children were separated from their parents.

The asylum-seekers were then driven into Rwanda and taken to Rukomo transit center in Byumba province.

“Any forced removal of rejected asylum-seekers must be carried out in accordance with Uganda’s obligations under international refugee and human rights law, including access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure,” said Erwin van der Borght, Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme.

“The conduct of the authorities and the disturbing manner in which these individuals were rounded up raises serious concern that people with genuine protection claims were returned.”

Reports indicate that a number of recognized refugees may have been placed on the trucks and returned to Rwanda. The Office of the Prime Minister, however, has stated that the forced returns targeted rejected asylum-seekers who had exhausted the asylum procedure.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 25 people who were not among the deported were injured, some from police beatings. Among the injured were six pregnant women who were treated at a local hospital and then released. UNHCR also stated that the operations resulted in the deaths of two men who jumped off trucks en route to Rwanda.

Amnesty International questions whether the correct refugee status determination (RSD) procedure was applied in these cases by the Ugandan authorities.  The two groups of Rwandans – both recent arrivals to Uganda – were subjected to an ad hoc procedure whereby authorities sent mobile RSD units to conduct decisions in the camps, without appropriate procedural safeguards.

Despite provisions under national legislation, the UNHCR was not provided with access to the refugee status determination procedures of these two groups.

“The flawed decision making process for these cases raises concerns that those returned have not been granted effective access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure,” said Erwin van der Borght.

According to the UNHCR, since the beginning of 2010, 3,320 Rwandans have filed for asylum in Uganda. Ninety-eight per cent were rejected in the past six months.

UNHCR’s Executive Committee (ExCom), a body of 79 member states who advise on international protection issues and which includes Uganda, has stated clearly that the “return of persons found not to be in need of international protection should be undertaken in a humane manner, in full respect for human rights and dignity and, that force, should it be necessary, be proportional and undertaken in a manner consistent with human rights law…”

50 dead and counting as explosions rock Uganda’s capital

More than 50 people have been killed in three separate bomb blasts in the Ugandan capital – Kampala as the residents watched the 2010 World Cup final on giant screens.

Police confirmed that 13 people, more than half of them foreigners were killed at Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Kabalagala, a Kampala suburb, while Daily Monitor reporters counted about 40 bodies at Kyaddondo rugby grounds where a huge crowd was watching the Spain Vs Netherlands Word Cup final.

Another blast was reported to have gone off in Ntinda, another Kampala surburb, as more than 100 were reported admitted in hospitals and clinics in the capital including the national referral hospital – Mulago.

Reports are still coming in and it might not be until later today that the exact death toll will be known. No one has yet claimed responsibility but witnesses say the bombs may have been “a planned job”.

Updating….more to follow.

Kutesa says General Nyamwasa fled through Kenya

Daily Monitor

Reports emerging from Uganda claim the Rwandan government has thrown the net to catch Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa wider after a reliable source said the renegade former military chief, initially reported to be hiding in Kampala, had escaped to South Africa.

Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa was however noncommital about the whereabouts of the general.

“He left through Malaba (Uganda’s eastern border post with Kenya) at 14:00 hours (2p.m.) on February 27 [Saturday]. That is what I know,” Mr Kutesa told Daily Monitor on Monday, without stating the general’s destination.

He, however, did not divulge the source of his information nor did he provide details on whereabouts of the wanted general during the hours since he fled Kigali on Friday and his reported exit through Malaba, nearly a day later.

No official of the South African High Commission in Kampala was available to comment on reports that the general might have fled to that country
Ms Louise Mushikiwabo, the Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister, in a reply to our e-mail enquiries, indicated that Uganda had kept them in the dark about the latest development regarding the runaway officer.

“The government of Uganda has not yet given us a feedback, but we’re in touch,” she wrote, “We are seeking extradition, whatever country he is in.”

Gen. Nyamwasa is one of the highest ranked Rwandan military officers and a key player in the Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front guerilla movement that brought President Paul Kagame to power in 1994, although it is reported that he has since fallen out with Gen. Kagame over varying political ambitions.

Before his escape, authorities in Kigali had been investigating the general on a range of suspected misdeeds that officials there are reluctant to disclose.

“Prior to his defection, Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa was questioned by Rwandan investigative authorities on serious criminal charges,” Kigali said in a statement on Friday.

The statement issued by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, a copy of which Daily Monitor has obtained, confirmed the fugitive officer was being sheltered in Kampala, something Ugandan officials denied.

Unconfirmed media reports linked the wanted military chief to the opposition Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, launched on August 14, 2009 to try to wrest power from President Kagame in elections due in August.

It emerged yesterday that Gen. Nyamwasa, who up until Friday was the country’s High Commissioner to India, would be prosecuted if efforts to have him extradited to Kigali succeed.

“Charges would depend on the outcome of the prosecutorial process,” Minister Mushikiwabo, also Rwanda government’s spokesperson, said in yesterday’s email.

She also said the general had already been stripped of his diplomatic status, which would otherwise have offered him cover of immunity from prosecution, following his defection four days ago.

In Kampala, a press conference called by the government to calm the gathering diplomatic storm over Gen. Nyamwasa was yesterday abruptly cancelled and Minister Kutesa said he will now hold one today.

Mr Richard Kabonero, Uganda’s Ambassador to Kigali, and his Rwandan counterpart, Mr Frank Mugambye, were due to give a briefing on tomorrow’s meeting in Kampala to members of the Joint Permanent Commission, a security clearing house for the two countries to resolve thorny issues.

When is it acceptable to beat up a criminal

Growing up in Africa, i was made to believe that criminals were a savage lot whose place in society – if they were ever caught or if the imprisoning officers were trustworthy enough not to accept bribes – was behind cells.

But behind this atypical belief was a very sad story that not all suspected thugs turned out to be real criminals. Some, especially in Uganda’s capital Kampala, turned out to be innocent civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And there were those, who despite numerous warnings from authorities, made a habit of making away with what didn’t belong to them thereby endangering the lives of the innocents as well as their (criminals) victims.

Years on and in Europe, i have to put up with a similar case, this time though, from the other end of the story where a victim of the robbery ends up in prison with the criminal – walking free.

Just yesterday, a UK millionaire businessman who fought off knife-wielding thugs who threatened to kill his family was jailed for 30 months – while his attackers continue to walk free.

Call it strange yes, but it is actually very true. Munir Hussain, his wife and their three children returning from a mosque during Ramadan, stumbled on three intruders, wearing balaclavas, in their home in High Wycombe.

The family were ordered to lie on the floor of the living room with their hands behind their backs. But as the thugs tied up four of them, Mr Hussain’s teenage son escaped through a window and managed to shout for help.

Realising the heist was about to go all wrong, the thugs made a splint. Mr Hussain then threw a coffee table at the third man, 56-year-old Walid Salem, hitting him in the face.

Meanwhile his brother Tokeer was chasing the other offenders down, and he did manage to bring one of them to the ground in a nearby garden.

What followed was described in Reading Crown Court as self-defence that went too far, leaving intruder Salem with a permanent brain injury after he was struck with a cricket bat so hard that it broke into three pieces.

Judge Reddihough noted Mr Hussain’s ‘courage’ but said he had carried out a ‘dreadful, violent attack’ on the intruder as he lay defenceless.
Salem was the only intruder caught after the incident on September 3, 2008, but his injuries meant he was not fit to plead after being charged with false imprisonment.

Salem, who has a string of 50 past convictions, was given a two-year supervision order at a court hearing in September this year.

But how careful should one be when stealing or when handling those he suspects to have or were in the process of stealing from him?

Munir Hussain was given a 30-month sentence, because Judge John Reddihough decided he had been subjected to more provocation than his brother, Tokeer, who was jailed for 39 months.

Judge Reddihough said Munir Hussain’s family had been subject to a ‘serious and wicked offence’ and praised the bravery of his teenage son who escaped to raise the alarm.

The judge told them: ‘It may be that some members of the public, or media commentators, will assert that the man Salem deserved what happened to him at the hands of you and the two others involved, and that you should not have been prosecuted and need not be punished.

‘However, if persons were permitted to take the law into their own hands and inflict their own instant and violent punishment on an apprehended offender rather than letting justice take its course, then the rule of law and our system of criminal justice, which are the hallmarks of a civilised society, would collapse.’

Sentencing the brothers, whose mother had died just before the incident, the judge added: ‘This case is a tragedy for you and your families.

And i say it is a tragedy to everyone of us – including criminals.

For as the judge continued, “Sadly, I have no doubt that my public duty requires me to impose immediate prison sentences of some length upon you.
This is in order to reflect the serious consequences of your violent acts and intent and to make it absolutely clear that, whatever the circumstances, persons cannot take the law into their own hands, or carry out revenge attacks upon a person who has offended them.”

Sadly, this appalling and at the same time interesting story didn’t make Thursday 14, December 2009 10:00 BBC News!

Like my friend Scott said, “Anyone breaking into my home won’t just be ‘offending’ me – they’ll be risking their life.”