We maybe in the digital era, the entire world our “global village”, but, for western journalists and commentators, with a few honourable exceptions, the depiction of Africa, as some remote “heart of darkness,” about which any claim can be made, and is taken at face value, as though it were about some alien planet, remains the norm now, as it was in the era of the steam engine. The latest article on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) published in The Times of London, may as well have been drawn from the paper’s archive, written at its founding in 1785.
Journalists do their work to inform, that at any rate, is supposed to be the entire reason for their existence, the focus of their labours. Somewhere along the way however, some journalists took a diversion, aiming to influence opinion, in accordance with some agenda or other. Once that pandora’s box was opened, twisting, bending of the odd fact here, a complete fabrication there, all to suit this or that narrative, soon followed almost inevitably.
Although not by any means alone in this, there can be little argument that the worst offenders when it comes to reporting so inaccurate, it may as well be a work of fiction, are western journalists, writing or broadcasting on Africa.
In The Times of London, it was the turn of journalist Louise Callaghan, to try her hand at this kind of creative writing, masquerading as journalism. The article was ostensibly about the DRC, but the target was Rwanda.
Callaghan is the Times correspondent for the Middle East, an experienced journalist. She could have used the column inches to inform her readers on the specifics behind the conflict in the DRC. Instead, she opted for demonising Rwanda, ticking all the boxes generally employed by western journalists, as they perpetuate hoary myths about the continent, by refreshing them for a modern setting.
We have the usual constants: a benighted continent, the helpless, suffering African victims, women usually, there are the villains, usually men, and there is the Western saviour hero or heroes.
“Kill me, but let my sisters go: desperation amid escalating conflict in Congo” the headline announces with due drama and solemnity.
The headline is presented as a quote from a young woman, sacrificing her own life, for her sister, a two year old toddler. Sometime – we are not told when – in Bulengo, somewhere in the DRC, the young women, Grace, and Zaomini, “were babysitting their sister when rebels came. When they heard the sounds of shooting and screams outside, they grabbed her [the toddler] and ran for the forest. Soon, fighters with the M23 rebel group were streaming into their home town of Kicanga, in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
“They were part of a Rwandan-backed insurgency against the Congolese government that has led to leaders on both sides weaponising the same ethnic divisions that led to the Rwanda genocide in 1994. The result is a conflict of almost unimaginable brutality is unfolding while the world looks away. Analysts fear attempts by President Macron of France today [4th March] to organise a ceasefire, the fourth attempt since September, have little chance of success.”
That there is indeed unimaginable brutality in the DRC is beyond question, but because the intention is to vilify Rwanda, and the M23 rebel group, the article fails to inform even the most interested observer, about the basis of the conflict, and the real perpetrators of this brutality.
Instead, it indulges in the now obligatory lurid claims of rape and horrific murders which verge on the prurient, whenever western journalists and commentators so much as mention the DRC.
In this story, the sisters did not escape. We are told that after being repeatedly raped, the eldest was “hacked to death with machetes” by the now “drunk” rebels.
“On one side is the Congolese army and the militia forces that fight alongside them. On the other are the M23 rebels, backed and armed by Rwanda, a close British ally that receives weapons and political support from the UK.” The implication here, is that they are all the same, irredeemably damnable.
The article explains, factually enough, that “the rebels’ offensive began in 2021 but has escalated in recent months.” We are then told, that according to “analysts” the reason for “a shift in momentum has been driven by the desire of the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, to increase his regional clout and reap the economic benefits of access to eastern Congo’s mineral wealth.”
The analysts are never named, so we are left without the slightest idea of the basis for their analysis. What we do get, are the thoughts of journalist Michela Wrong, who of late, has joined the list of self appointed experts on Rwanda. In fact, the entire article reflects her much shared views on the country, which are always presented as incontrovertible. She asserts them, so they are. She demands faith in her expertise, verifiable evidence is for lesser mortals, who naturally include those about whom she makes the allegations.
Like many other western “experts” her imagination is gripped by the wealth that lies under Congo’s soil, and driven to near distraction, by the thought that Rwanda may somehow get hold of it.
On the day Callaghan wrote her piece, as on every other day for the last few months, the intensified persecution of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese, descended into genocidal murders so gruesome, some of the victims are burned alive, before being cannibalised.
Unlike the crimes alleged in her article, these murders are easy to verify. They are instigated by politicians, who seem to proudly compete in a macabre game of whose hate speech against Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese, is the most extreme. Like the murders to which they directly lead, the hate speeches are proudly filmed, and are all over the internet.
Yet the closest we get to any hint of this in the article, is an almost dismissive, “at times” there has been discrimination and persecution of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese. And even that grudging admission, is adroitly twisted in one of the several quotes from Wrong, to somehow attach the blame on Rwanda or President Kagame.
“Congolese Tutsi have been discriminated against and at times persecuted in Congo…and Kagame is using the history of genocide…to grab more power and land, confident that the world will not stop him.”
Like her colleague, Wrong is also a hugely experienced journalist, but she has long sacrificed any journalistic ethics, at the altar of what has become a seemingly desperate obsession to demonise Rwanda, and its head of state, in particular. Her oft ardently expressed desire, is to see sanctions imposed on the country, and any aid to it halted. At times, her apparent longing for some kind of harm to be visited upon Rwanda, edges perilously close to unhinged. With extensive quotes from Wrong, Callaghan’s article, mirrors this mania, exactly.
She echoes Wrong’s fulmination about the recent Rwanda-UK migration agreement, because as Wrong claims, the agreement makes it “impossible for western aid donors to present a united front while dealing with Kagame.” Everything it seems, must come back to Rwanda, and to President Kagame. The grudging acceptance that M23 fights to protect its communities, is somehow twisted to be about the Rwanda head of state.
“Congolese Tutsi have been discriminated against and at times persecuted in Congo, and Kagame is using the history of genocide…to grab more power and land, confident that the world not stop him.”
If Kagame is confident that the “world will not stop him,” it may well be because there is nothing to stop, the basis for this the supposed land and power grab, being the so called Hima Empire fantasy, a colonial invention that still grips the imaginations of half witted Congolese, and is now being offered to readers of The Times.
All told, there are more than 130 armed groups in the DRC. Only one, M23, has clearly defined, stated grievances, and calls for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The group fights only against government forces, and no evidence is ever produced that its members are responsible for the kinds of crimes alleged in The Times article.
There is however ample evidence pointing to the contrary. In the vast swathes of the Eastern DRC, that the group now controls, including Kichanga, where the horrors Callaghan alleges are supposed to have been perpetrated, normal life returns, and the people are safe from the predatory, murderous attacks of other armed groups, that the article seems too shy to mention.
And crucially, as they withdraw from the areas they hold, in line with the regional peace initiatives, there is not even a hint of any of the alleged crimes having been committed, following the arrival of M23. On the contrary, the regional verification mechanisms keep a discreet, diplomatic silence over the people’s description of having been “liberated,” from being preyed upon by armed groups allied to the government.
Yet, we are asked to believe that the same group enters towns or villages, all guns blazing, and in a drunken frenzy, gratuitously commits the most unspeakable crimes, against the inhabitants, it says it fights to protect. Moreover, despite such depravity, no evidence of it, beyond the claims, is ever presented.
But it is perhaps a little unfair to bring up the question of evidence. Callaghan’s article simply follows what is apparently now accepted practice, when making any allegations against Rwanda. Evidence is not required. It is simply enough to make the accusation, for it to be taken as fact. And so, Callaghan is within her right to quote Wrong, authoritatively suggesting that the reason behind the conflict in the DRC, is “an excuse by Kagame to use his proxies in M23, and his own armed forces to extend control over the resource-rich east of the country.”
As frequently as we are told that Rwanda is extracting Congo’s mineral resources, there is never a mention of how this is being done. Where are the mines that M23 controls on behalf of Rwanda? Which route do these minerals take? How is this group able to operate mines, even they could be found to exist?
There are specifics to the crisis in the DRC. Whether now as M23, or their earlier incarnation as CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People), the rebels do fight for the protection, and rights of their Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese. This is a fact the west is almost desperate to wish away as they are determined to turn a blind eye from the genocidal murders being committed against this community, and a deaf ear to the pleas of the targeted communities.
Part of this studied ignorance, is because acknowledging the specifics will unravel the constructed narrative, which sits comfortably within a depiction of the Congo crisis, as some amorphous, senseless savagery, “fuelled by minerals.”
As Callaghan would have it, into this barbarity, strides France’s Emmanuel Macron, to heroically save the situation, by bringing about a ceasefire.
Except of course, that Macron did not visit the DRC to mediate, or call for a ceasefire. That role is being performed by the regional mechanisms for conflict resolution. We are never told about these. But we do learn that in Goma, where Callaghan seems to have sat and waited for tales of the crimes of M23 to come to her, there are other western heroes, come to save the Congolese.
“Each day, the killing continues. At the International Committee of the Red Cross clinic in Goma, staff have erected tents to cope with the flow of patients. With M23 almost at the gates, the staff here are planning to stay even if they take the city.” “’Someone has to look after the patients’” said Annekathrin Mueller, head of the clinic.
Of course, had M23 intended to take it, Goma would have fallen months ago. And while there is no doubting Ms Mueller’s commitment and courage, had M23 taken Goma, there is no reason to suppose that they would not have done exactly what they have done in every other town and village they have taken, and quickly returned life back to normal, including functioning clinics.
Any reader who might have hoped to be informed about the crisis in the DRC, by Callaghan’s article, will instead have been diverted to an anti Rwanda narrative, and the perpetuation of the comforting belief, in the West’s mission to bring light to the “heart of darkness.” What they will not have got, was even the slightest understanding of the DRC crisis. An extraordinary observation to make about an article in one of the world’s leading newspapers.