As War Bleeds Central Africa, Obama Denounces Rape But Washington Has Yet to Do Much About It

Scene on the Ground: Some Hopeful Signs Amidst Pain and Misery

After a week in Kinshasa talking about war in Congo, it was time to
see it, or at least visit its epicenter in the East. This is where rape
is used as a weapon of war, where rebel groups challenge government
forces militarily and occupy territory. 1.8 million people have been
displaced causing a major humanitarian crisis; territory seems to change
hands regularly and, as they say, tension is high.

Will peace break out or should
we expect a country in pieces?

It wasn't surprising that
President Obama cited rape in the Congo as part of his Nobel rationalization
for just wars. But the US is not planning a humanitarian intervention
here anytime soon, nor did the President elaborate on the causes of
a war that's been underway for at least 15 years. Many argue that
US policy contributed to the problem, while its aid program here is

Hillary Clinton announced a
gift of $17 million for a new hospital for rape victims -- that is the
cost of 17 US soldiers in Afghanistan -- but local bloggers noted that
the US is not supporting HEAL AFRICA, a respected hospital that has
provided services to victims for years, but is instead giving the money
to a US NGO, the neo-con International Rescue Committee, which does
not specialize in medical services.

The South African based Pamazuka
news service reports Washington is expanding
its military presence in Africa with aid to African countries including

"... all
the available evidence demonstrates that he is determined to continue
the expansion of US military activity on the continent initiated by
President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s and dramatically escalated
by President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. While many expected the
Obama administration to adopt a security policy toward Africa that would
be far less militaristic and unilateral than that pursued by his predecessor,
the facts show that he is in fact essentially following the same policy
that has guided US military involvement in Africa for more than a decade.

The State Department budget
request -- which includes funding for all US arms sales, military training,
and other security assistance programs -- proposes major increases in
funding for US arms sales to a number of African countries through the
Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program....

The same trend is evident in
the Obama administration's request for funding for the International
Military Education and Training (IMET) program. With 350,000 committed.
There is also $21 million to continue operations in the Democratic Republic
of Congo to reform the military (including the creation of rapid reaction
force for the eastern Congo and the rehabilitation of the military base
at Kisangani)."

The efforts here for peace, and
even for the alleviation of the massive rape crisis, has not been a
major US priority. While the US helps fund the UN peacekeeping mission
MANUC -- which has just been renewed for six months -- Americans are not
part of it and Washington does not use its influence to insure its
effectiveness. A UN expert's report recently found that the UN itself
has helped support some of the very armed groups accused of human rights
abuses. The Washington Post reported during the summer that the US-supported
military operations also perpetuated the problem; MANUC spends $4 billion
a year trying to ease the situation and protect the people.

Last year, the Congo initiated
a joint military operation called UMOJA WETU to neutralize a particularly
murderous "rebel" force organized by the folks that brought us the
Rwandan genocide and who later fled across the border into Congo. It
is thought they are being funded by those who profit from the country's
instability and chaos.

The FDLR also seemed to benefit
Rwanda's strategy vis-a-vis Congo. The Rwandans denied it and
finally sent troops to battle against it alongside the Congolese government.
There were initial successes in the one-month campaign in which Congo's
President Joseph Kabila reached out to his counterpart in Rwanda, President
Paul Kagame, in the belief that both sides had an investment in making
peace. (Kagame's Rwanda gets more US help than its much larger neighbor,
perhaps because of Bill Clinton's guilt about not stopping the genocide.)

Kabila took a risk, a big political
risk, because if it failed, he would be accused of collaborating with
an enemy.

Many Congolese blame the Rwandans
for starting this chaos in the aftermath of the Genocide where a largely
Hutu army took refuge in Congo. In those days the war seemed straightforward
-- Rwanda's surviving Tutsis pursuing the Hutu that murdered them
en masse, but the battles were taking place not in Rwanda, but across
the border where Congolese civilians were caught in the crossfire and
all sides began plundering Congo's wealthy resources. Slowly this
was not just an ethnic conflict, but an economic war fought by militias
and armies funded by outside, or with funds stolen from the Congolese.

The Congo had been weakened
by the overthrow of the Mobutu regime, the death of President Laurent
Kabila and a difficult process of preparing elections, which Kabila's
son Joseph won, although the results were challenged by opposition forces
who were given positions but later withdrew.

Allies of the Congo, armies
from Namibia, Zimbabwe and Uganda went to help Congo while helping themselves
to the resources they could grab. Congo was under attack by its friends
and enemies while trying to reassert control in the Kivu region at a
great cost in lives and instability. On top of everything else, back
in 2002 a volcano erupted sending its scalding lava to devastate the
city of Goma.

The issue that has put this
war on the front burner for many is rape -- and it goes on and on with
impunity with human rights groups denouncing the government and the
government saying their statistics are distorted. There have been an
estimated 500,000 cases.

Kinshasa says there have been
prosecutions and they have a "zero tolerance" policy, but when you
speak to woman in camps for internal refugees as I did, they are not
convinced and live in fear.

The terrorism of grinding poverty
is not as big priority for Washington, although I was told by one official
here that the US became a superpower because it was Congo's Katanga
province that provided the uranium used in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki

It's hard for a first time
outsider to understand all the dynamics in what is an incredibly complex
mosaic of ethnic groups, ancient hatreds, and the avaricious but covert
role of foreign countries and companies.

One UN official told me the
Congo is emblematic of a "resource curse" -- lots of wealth the
world covets and schemes to get, no matter the cost in lives. Clearly
someone is benefiting from all the instability. There are forces, both
inside Congo and abroad, that want this country to remain destabilized.

It is easy to latch on to a
conspiracy theory or many. Many Congolese blame the Rwandans for perpetuating
the conflict for the interests of their leaders. Suspicion is rife;
rumors are pervasive. People who have spent a lifetime studying the
conflict admit to their own confusions about what is going on.

Keith Harmon Snow writes on
Dissident Voice that we are all being snookered, although a lot of his
argument is very detailed but based on unnamed "intelligence sources."
He reports on a new uprising against Kabila in Equateur Province and
says the government has asked that Belgian paratroopers be sent in.

I tried to check this out with
my own "sources" in Kinshasa. The response: little evidence. A Parliamentary
source wrote me:

is absolutely nothing about this in the Belgian media (Dutch nor French
language). I passed your question on to a reliable journalist on the
national flemish radio and to a member of parliament... But your information
confirms rumors here in KIN about dead bodies in the streets of villages
in the Equateur Province.

And then there are the rumors about a new invasion of Goma by rebels

Snow also writes, "The western
media broadcasts the suffering in Congo, but the propaganda is simplistic
disinformation, and the western news [sic] consuming public eats it
up and dismisses the Congo, abandoning the people whose lives are determined
in part by the raw materials stolen from them in a state of war and
organized crime."

Alas, most of the so-called
"consuming public" overseas is not informed and what's worse, largely
indifferent. (Why wouldn't they be, given the lack of ongoing media
coverage?) As for crime, that is likely. The Observer in London reports,
"an estimated $352bn of drug and mafia money
was laundered by the major banks at the peak of the credit crunch, while
regulators turned a blind eye, since the highly liquid criminal underworld
was the only source of the cash necessary to keep the banks' doors open."

American politicians have yet
to cite a report by Global Witness that showed foreign mining and trading
companies that are buying minerals from suppliers linked to the various
armies plundering the Central African treasure house.

"The mineral wealth in eastern
Congo is vital to running the modern technological and military machinery
of today's world," a friend steeped in African issues writes. "An
American University professor named Kenneth Anderson says that the West
is attempting to sever Sino-Congolese ties, which means the north to
south highway that China is building to give Congo its own lifeline..."

So here we are in the final
days of 2009 with a story that goes back to colonialism. If any country
needs a "Surge," this is it, but, like in Afghanistan, more soldiers
alone will not necessarily help the people because the crisis is not
just a military one. It is as much about aggression as ethnic antagonism.

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