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Two weeks ago, the largest group of insurgents in the Democratic Republic of Congo laid down their arms. Though peace negotiations have since hit a snag, the victory by the Congolese army offers an unexpected ray of hope in a region torn by conflict. Many credit a stronger U.N. peacekeeping mandate, renewed pressure from the international community, and new leadership in the Congolese army. We explore the issues and the likely path forward.
- Mvemba Phezo Dizolele Lecturer, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; Visiting Fellow, Hoover Institution
- Cameron Hudson Director of Policy, US Holocaust Museum; Director for African Affairs, National Security Council(2005-2009); Chief of Staff to U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan (2009-2011)
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Christina Bellantoni of the PBS News Hour sitting in for Kojo. Later in the broadcast, television critic Hank Stuever joins us to help sort through this week's wall to wall coverage of the 50 year anniversary of JFK's assassination, and explain why our obsession isn't likely to end any time soon.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIBut first, we haven't had a lot of good news out of the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent years. Just a year ago, rebels there took the major eastern city of Goma, a humiliating defeat for the Congolese Army, as well as UN Peacekeepers, who could do little more than stand by and watch. So, when M23, the rebel group behind a brutal two year insurgency laid down their arms earlier this month, it was hailed as a victory all around.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIBut celebrations might be premature as talks for a peace deal have since stalled. So, joining us to discuss, we have two experts I'm really happy to be joined by. Cameron Hudson, Director of Policy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Before doing that position, he was Chief of Staff to the President's Special Envoy for Sudan. And from 2005-2009, he was Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council, developing policy responses to issues in eastern Congo and other regional conflicts. Thanks for being here, Cameron.
MR. CAMERON HUDSONThanks, Christina.
BELLANTONIAlso here in studio is Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, who's a lecturer at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, currently a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Thanks so much for being here.
MR. MVEMBA PHEZO DIZOLELEThank you, Christina.
BELLANTONISo, can you both -- we'll start with Mvemba, I believe here. Give us a little background. Who are the M23 rebels, what's the nature of this conflict in this region?
DIZOLELESo, the M23 rebels are former soldiers of the Congolese Army, who had been former rebels under a militia called CNDP. This is the militia that Bosco Ntaganda, who's now at The Hague, used to be the leader of. And before him, another rebel man, Laurent Nkunda. In the spring of last year, they mutinied against the government for a set of reasons. I think they didn't want to be relocated in other parts of the country, which would have meant a real integration into the Congolese military.
DIZOLELEBut they also -- a peculiar dimension of the M23 is that its militias are mostly Tootsie, ethnically, which also sets them apart from the rest of the country, kind of bringing the specter of many of the tensions that exist between Hutu and Tootsies in Rwanda. Which is different from what exists in Congo, which is a country of over 250 ethnic groups.
BELLANTONICameron, would you like to weigh in on what you're seeing here?
HUDSONWell, I mean, I think that with respect to the last year, you've seen really a sea change on the ground. I mean, I was just reflecting that it's almost a year to the day that the M23 marched on Goma and took it over. And at the time, when the UN was deploying its new special representative, the Secretary General, to Congo, when he landed in Goma, it was under M23 control. And so, today, to have that town liberated and for the UN and for the Congolese forces to be enjoying this victory, I think is an important milestone.
HUDSONAnd I think it's worth of reflection, just how quickly things have changed in the course of one year. I don't think that it's, you know, I don't know who durable it is, or how sustainable it's going to be, and so while I think it is a very hopeful moment and a lot of diplomatic work went in to making this happen. I think that, unfortunately, there's a very long road ahead of us.
BELLANTONIWell, we're definitely going to be talking quite a bit about that. So, turning the tide in favor of the Congolese government and international peacekeepers, you know, what is the feeling on the ground there, Mvemba?
DIZOLELEI think from what I hear it's cause for tempered celebration. And what Cameron just said, it's not quite the time to be dancing yet. For the populations who lived in the territories that were occupied, it's a good moment to return home and have hope. But when you look at the larger scheme of things, the questions remain. I mean, what's going to happen to the opening of the political space? What's gonna happen with the security sector reform? What's going to happen with relationship between Rwanda and Congo? Between Uganda and Congo?
DIZOLELEBecause in all this, the pregnant silence of Rwanda and Uganda, who are not support militias in the region, is very key. It tells us more than actually what's happening. But I also want to point that the fall of Goma itself is very significant. The fall of Goma last year, I believe, was the Stalingrad of the M23. While they divested Goma, it was really the beginning of their end. I don't think they expected that. They overextended themselves as a militia. They misread the mood of the international community. But they also exposed themselves as a government that was mono-ethnic, didn't have the populace's support to back up the threat they were making.
BELLANTONIAnd tell us a little bit. What does M23 stand for? Just...
DIZOLELEM23 stands for March 23, which is the date in 2009 when they signed an agreement the other predecessor of the M23, the militia known as CNDP and the Congolese government. And the rebels today claim that some of the clauses of that agreement were not respected. That's why they mutinied.
BELLANTONICameron, do you have something to add?
HUDSONWell, I would just say that, just agreeing with Mvemba that the seizure of Goma on November 20th of last year, it also sparked, I think, a lot of introspection within the international community, to have blue helmeted peacekeepers. You know, we spend a billion and a half dollars maintaining a UN Peacekeeping mission every year in eastern Congo. And to see this sort of rag tag militia group walk in and really flout the international community like that. You know, it was cause for the regional governments to look at the situation, and for the UN.
HUDSONAnd so that has sparked, I think, some new thinking and some new regional dialogue, which we're seeing, you know, we're beginning to see bear some fruit right now. The intervention brigade, which was initially called for the AU, and by groups in the region, was acted upon by the UN. And it was authorized in a March, 2013 Security Council Resolution. And we've seen, since that time, the deployment of this brigade, or actually three brigades, that have allowed for some measure of stability to return to this part of the country.
DIZOLELEAnd I think this is very important, because we talk about the UN. We talk about the Congolese, but I think there was a shift of alliance within regional organizations, you know? From last time when the mutiny arose, when M23 was born, all the talk about M23 in Congo went through the international conference on the Great Lakes region, which is pretty much controlled by Uganda and Rwanda. After the fall of Goma, SADC, which is the Southern African Development Community, got involved, and sides with the DRC.
DIZOLELEIn fact, the brigade is staffed by troops from Southern African Development Countries. Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania. And that has changed everything on the ground.
BELLANTONISo, what is the United States' national interest here, a question for both of you? We'll start with Cameron.
HUDSONWell, I mean, I think for a very long time, it's been humanitarian, because the remnants of the Rwandan genocide are still very much reverberating across eastern Congo, while I think that what we've seen in Rwanda since then has been very much of a success story, from a developmental and a reconstruction standpoint. You haven't seen that same kind of leadership in Congo, and therefore, you haven't seen the same kind of results. In fact, you've seen this battle for among various rebel groups backed by various states, over resources and territory, really accelerate since the Rwandan genocide.
HUDSONAnd so, for the United States, there has been, over the course of the past 20 years, a deep humanitarian involvement. I think more recently, primarily driven by a large advocacy community here in the United States and overseas, you've seen a greater interest in trying to address the underlying political problems that have allowed this problem to fester. There is, and has been, a real concern that you could see another sort of world war in Congo, where you could have the Ugandans and the Rwandans drawn back in.
HUDSONAnd that it wasn't a sufficient policy for the U.S. to just try to contain the problems of eastern Congo, and to keep them in eastern Congo. That wasn't a long term policy that we could continue -- that we could afford to continue to pursue.
BELLANTONIAnd the United States appointed former Senator Russ Feingold, who is a Wisconsin Democrat who lost his seat in 2010, to be the, what's called the Great Lakes Region here, and he had previously been very involved in Darfur in the Sudan.
HUDSONAbsolutely, and I think that that's one step in the right direction. I don't like to overstate the impact that any one person, or even any one country, can have. I think that when we look at what's gone on in the last several months, I would put a lot of the credit on the regional actors themselves before. But I do think that through concerted international involvement, not just from the U.S. and from Russ Feingold, but from AU Special Envoys, SADC Envoys, EU, UN Envoys, all of whom have been appointed recently, and are really empowered by their leadership to engage very aggressively on this.
HUDSONWhat it's done is it's given the regional actors the political space and support to really make the tough decisions that they need to make, and it's said to them, we're not gonna let you escape from making these tough choices. We're gonna be here, we're gonna be in the room, we're gonna be watching, we're gonna be supporting and we're gonna be pushing this. So, while it was maybe not sufficient, it was absolutely necessary, I think.
BELLANTONIMvemba, you've said that the UN needs a clear strategy so the Congolese government can step up, so talk a little bit more about that and where you see...
DIZOLELEWell, I think the UN has played a role that has been positive in many ways. But it's also a role of an enabler. You know, the UN has been there for almost 15 years now with clear mandate to stop -- to protect civilians. And at any given time when it was really crucial, they failed. They had to bring in outside force. This happened in 2003 in Itori. They had to bring in the French mission (word?). In 2004, when Bukavu fell, the UN evacuated. In 2006, for the election, they had to bring in EU troops.
DIZOLELESo, they always kind of just perform rights at the limit. And what that does, it allows the Congolese not to step up to the plate. So, I'll give you an example. You know, a couple years ago, about 100 or 300 women, the number is not clear, were raped in a place called (word?). And that was only about a few miles from the UN camp. So when that came to light, everybody was so upset with the UN. How come the UN did not protect these people?
DIZOLELEBut nobody ever mentioned or questioned where the Congolese was, where the Congolese Army was because the protection of the Congolese is the primary mission of the Congolese state. By the UN babysitting them for this long, we are becoming part of the problem. So, the UN is squarely in the side of the problem, not in the part of the solution. The international brigade, I think, is one case where, you know, this could have been done if just if there was a will.
DIZOLELEThe UN is too big, too political for a situation like this. And this is a crisis of catastrophic proportions. You have over six million who have died indirectly, but you have thousands and thousands of women who are being raped every day. So, it is also a U.S. interest in the sense that U.S. values mean that we don't stand for crimes like this. War crimes, crimes against humanity, and we cannot just continue indefinitely. There's a law in this country called The Democratic Republic of Congo Relief Security and Democracy Promotion Act, which was sponsored by one Senator Barack Obama.
DIZOLELEIt is the law of the country. But since he's become President, he's distanced himself from that law, which is kind of puzzling, because that law is the one law in the U.S. that is direct of Congo, dealing with all the aspects of the conflict that we're discussing today. So listening to the President speak about Congo in Africa was kind of a bizarre experience because he was thinking of Congo in a very distant way, like he was discovering the crisis, hearing it for the first time from President Zuma or President Kikwete in the (word?) , which I think it's also pathetic on our part.
BELLANTONIWell, and, you know, this is, I guess, again to the question of the United States strategic interests. And you're talking about countries that are allies to the United States, in fact, close allies. You've gone to Rwanda. What is the sort of consequences for all of this?
HUDSONWell, I think that with respect to Rwanda, you know, they have legitimate security threats. They perceive legitimate security threats in eastern Congo. The remnants of the Interahamwe militia, two militias that carried out the genocide, fled into Congo and have regrouped there in a loose militia known as the FDLR, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, if I got the translation right.
HUDSONAnd so they still perceive a security threat. These are Hutu extremists that are fomenting anti-Tutsi sort of hatred throughout the region. And so with respect to Rwanda, I don't think that their security concerns have been addressed or alleviated in the long term. And so the UN has said that the FDLR is likely sort of the next militia group that it hopes to go after.
HUDSONI mean, I think that one of the acknowledgements that happened with the UN resolution back in March was that it wasn't enough to have a mandate simply to protect civilians. That wasn't enough. The UN wasn't empowered logistically to really carry that out. We're talking about a massive territory. And even with 20,000 troops you're talking about a territory, I don't know, the size of Texas or something. So, I mean, it's -- you have to know where to be at the right time to be able to protect civilians.
HUDSONAnd so this intervention brigade was specifically given the mandate to neutralize these armed groups. So it's really, I think, one step beyond a kind of passive protection of civilians' mandate. It really is telling the UN that it needs to be much more aggressive in how it protects civilians. And so there's some, you know, cause for hope there because if the UN can do what it did with M23 by going after the FDLR, then I think it will do much to address and alleviate the Rwanda security concerns.
HUDSONI think it's going to be a harder row to hoe. I think the FDLR is much more dug in. It's much more spread out. The intelligence on the FDLR is less well known and so I think it's a harder mission set for the UN. But I think that void from this recent victory on the M23, I think that they've made very clear that that's their next target. And I think that will do a lot in promoting some regional stability.
DIZOLELEYeah, I think that's right but also I think it to be much more complex in the way that the FDLR Rwandans. So dealing with them they have to go back to Rwanda. And at this point their grievances or the ideology, depending how you define it, is totally in collusion against the -- in clash with the government in Kigali, which does not accept what they believe in. And so the question is now, when the UN or if the Congolese army went after the FDLR, it will be important for Rwanda to be open to a certain type of dialogue.
DIZOLELEI don't know what form, what shape because this is a very sensitive issue. People have been killed. There was a genocide. But at the end this is an inter Rwandan problem and nobody else can solve it. And they cannot continue being in Congo indefinitely, or even be relocated in Congo. But to your -- the first part of your question also, our allies, U.S. allies in the region, Rwanda, Uganda.
DIZOLELESo I think it's time for -- and it's been happening now on the U.S. side. I think we've -- Secretary of State Kerry with former Senator Russ Feingold, it's time that we start wearing on our allies. Because in the same way the UN has been an enabler to the problem, the U.S. is an enabler to the problem. So we cannot kind of just sit in the middle and hope that it will go away. We need U.S. leadership. And slowly it seems like it's emerging. And we hope it stays.
BELLANTONISo the Democratic Republic of Congo is a country with a lot of mineral wealth. So what does Congo have and what role has it played in the conflict?
DIZOLELEWell, Congo is -- you know, they call it the geological scandal. If you name it it's most likely in Congo. So you have Coltan, you have diamond, you have timber, you have gold. It's played a tremendous role in making militias one -- in making militias self sufficient. Because whatever region they control probably has something they can sell.
BELLANTONIAnd these are minerals that are used to make cell phones in a lot of cases.
DIZOLELEYeah, some of them are very important, very critical to the tech industry and also aviation, like Coltan for instance is very important. Tin is very important now in various industries in this country and in the world. But also conflict, if created parallel economies in neighboring countries. So Rwanda, for instance, which has very little, if nothing about these minerals has become a great exporter of Coltan for instance, one of the largest in the world. It's because they're looting the resources in Congo to their proxies. Uganda is similar.
DIZOLELESo it becomes a problem in the sense that it's self generating in terms of income. And until we stop it, this also is going to be a problem. Because it's one -- it's not the source of the conflict but there's definitely one driver.
HUDSONI was going to make that exact same point because I think that in the U.S. we have a tendency to conflate, you know, what's correlated and what's causing these conflicts. And I think that there is a general sense that if we could somehow bring the traded minerals into a more formalized sector with a tracing mechanism, that we would essentially dry up the funds that cause this because people are fighting over these resources.
HUDSONWhen they're not fighting over these resources, I mean, I think they're using these resources and these resources are enabling them to continue their fight. But they have political grievances that are really the drivers for the conflict. And so I think it would give people false hope to think that, you know, because you don't buy a certain cell phone or because you sign some kind of pledge that would allow this money to dry up.
HUDSONWe have to remember that there are a lot of people that make their living in artisanal mining in eastern Congo, people that -- whose livelihoods depend on this kind of mining. And that do it in very legitimate ways. And so I think we have to be very careful about overpromising what a more formalized mining sector can accomplish.
BELLANTONII'd like to thank you both very much for updating our listeners on this conflict. Cameron Hudson of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, director of policy there. And Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, thank you so much for being here with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.. Thank you.
BELLANTONIWe'll be back after a short break.
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