July 22, 2012 · 0 Comments
Above: M23 rebel fighters in Karambi, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in north Kivu province, near the border with Uganda, July 12, 2012. Congo’s government, whose army has retreated in disarray before the advancing M23 rebels over the last week, had accused neighbour Rwanda of fomenting and supporting the rebellion, which began as a mutiny by former rebels in the government army. REUTERS/James Akena
By Michael McGehee:
On page A8 of today’s New York edition of the New York Times is a story published under the headline “U.S. Cutting Military Aid To Rwanda.”
While it is great news to read that “The United States said Saturday that it would cut military aid to Rwanda for the year, citing evidence that the country was supporting rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo,”there are a number of serious omissions by the New York Times that give false impressions about what has happened, and the role of the United States, in central Africa. Not surprisingly, these omissions center around the U.S government’s involvement in the region, and serve as an historical sanitizer.
The omissions are glossed over with incredible understatements. For example, the article note that “reports by United Nations experts and rights groups [claim Rwanda] is backing eastern Congolese rebels, including the M23 group, which has seized parts of North Kivu Province in fighting that has displaced over 260,000 people since April.” But there is no mention about how the U.S. recently tried to suppress the reports, and that it was when Congo’s government publicly called out Washington, forcing them to back off, that the report was finally released, leaving the U.S. in a position increasingly difficult to defend, that Washington may have finally changed course.
There is also the misleading comment that “Washington has stood by Rwanda in the past despite the tiny nation’s history of involvement in wars in Congo.” Washington didn’t just “stand by,” but was very involved. Over the years the U.S. provided the vital political and military aid to Rwanda and Uganda that made their invasion and occupation of Congo possible.
As for United States involvement in the region, the U.S. has long been at work—at least as far back as the 1960s when the CIA was in Congo helping to bring down the democratic government of Patrice Lumumba, and installing President Mobutu.
In the 1980s the U.S. helped Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army topple the Ugandan government and ascend to power.
This was immediately followed by a similar program in Rwanda, where Rwandan exiles like Paul Kagame, who was then a part of Museveni’s government, created a U.S.-backed rebel army to topple the government in Rwanda. The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda from Uganda in late 1990, and conducted a campaign of terror and sabotage that reached its crescendo in the “genocide” of 1994, where the RPF overthrew the government and killed hundreds of thousands of people in 100 days.
In the aftermath of this Rwanda and Uganda then invaded Congo, backed Congolese rebels, overthrew the government, and tried establishing a puppet regime . . . at the cost of around ten million lives.
The UN released a report in 2010 on the wars in Congo, and found Rwanda and Uganda responsible for serious war crimes and crimes against humanity, and even went so far as to suggest that they were responsible for genocide. The report also took note of how the occupying armies seized important territory and exploited Congo for its natural resources. Another thing not included in the Times article, is that some of the resources found its way to Western companies and in many of the products we consume.
The Times article reports that “Rwanda sent its army into Congo, then called Zaire, in the mid 1990s, ostensibly to hunt down Hutu rebels who fled there from Rwanda after the 1994 genocide,” and that: “A decade of conflict followed, in which Rwandan forces helped Congolese rebels topple the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.” The keyword here is “ostensibly.” There is no larger context provided outside the remark that they were there to “hunt down Hutu rebels,” which considering that the previously mentioned UN report describes a scene of “systematic attacks, in particular killings and massacres perpetrated against members of the Hutu ethnic group,” it is strange the NYT didn’t offer more of a challenge to the “hunt down Hutu rebels” theory than the word “ostensibly.” Had they wanted to they could have quote the UN report at length:
These attacks resulted in a very large number of victims, probably tens of thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group, all nationalities combined. In the vast majority of cases reported, it was not a question of people killed unintentionally in the course of combat, but people targeted primarily by AFDL/APR/FAB forces and executed in their hundreds, often with edged weapons. The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who posed no threat to the attacking forces. Numerous serious attacks on the physical or pyschological integrity of members of the group were also committed, with a very high number of Hutus shot, raped, burnt or beaten. Very large numbers of victims were forced to flee and travel long distances to escape their pursuers, who were trying to kill them. The hunt lasted for months, resulting in the deaths of an unknown number of people subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading living conditions, without access to food or medication. On several occasions, the humanitarian aid intended for them was deliberately blocked …
Or they could just stick with a handful of words that puts the matter to rest: “The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who posed no threat to the attacking forces.”
And again, the U.S. didn’t just “stand by.” Washington knew what was going on all along. Even in Rwanda during the “genocide” it knew who the invading forces were, who killed President Habyarimana, who was carrying out mass-killings, and so on. Likewise, there was never any doubt what Rwanda and Uganda were doing in Congo. And as Rwanda’s influence and presence waned in Congo, and the government began asserting its own power, Rwanda again interfered to destabilize the government, which brings us back to the recent UN report that Washington now points to when when explaining suspension of military aid to Rwanda.
There is a possible explanation for the change of attitude coming from Washington, and which the New York Times doesn’t consider: other than how the government of Congo went on the offensive when Washington tried blocking the most recent UN report, another likely factor is that there is a growing campaign in the U.S. led by refugees from Congo, or by activists deeply concerned about what is going on in central Africa. And they have been petitioning and calling and writing policymakers for some time now. Groups like Friends of the Congo, and one of their spokespersons, Congolese activist Kambale Musavuli, have been pointing to the 2010 UN report and existingU.S. laws which state that “The Secretary of State is authorized to withhold assistance [...] for a foreign country if the Secretary determines that the government of the foreign country is taking actions to destabilize the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” and pleading for the U.S. government to simply enforce the law. Hopefully the recent change in Washington is a sign of their success.