The statement on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) crisis, by the head of United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Samantha Power, was clearly intended to achieve a specific objective. But could that objective really be what it seems, to derail the peace efforts currently being pursued by the leaders of the Great Lakes region?
Perhaps we should first make one or two excuses for Ambassador Power. She is a high ranking official of the United States Department of State, and as such must toe the department’s line, even when as in this case, that line is perverting the truth.
The Secretary of State, under whom she serves, Antony Blinken, set the policy to be followed, which is to appease the Congolese President, Felix Tshisekedi, irrespective of what the facts on the ground may be.
And in the interest of being even handed, we must also make some excuses for Secretary Blinken. His priority is what is in the interest of the United States of America, which has need or at any rate, desires a foothold in the DRC. No doubt part of American reasoning, is that they cannot afford to cede control over that vast country, and its immeasurable mineral resources, especially to China.
The challenge for the Americans, is that appeasing the Congolese, is akin to indulging a sociopathic teenage delinquent. It is impossible for the Americans to placate the Congolese, without committing the most egregious absurdities.
Ambassador Power’s sanctimonious statement, was in response to a press release from Medicin San Frontiere (MSF) which, to use Power’s words, was appalled at the extent of the sexual abuse being committed against displaced people, in the area around Goma.
This kind of abuse has been the rule rather than the exception in the DRC, so, it should especially concern us when it has increased to such a degree that MSF was moved to issue a statement about it.
Power’s response seems to have been a carefully crafted diversion of the MSF message, which, rather than toe the line of blaming Rwanda, or even the M23 rebel group, at least pointed to the truth, if without stating it outright.
Consider the timing of Power’s statement. For months now, we have been witnesses to almost daily genocidal murders in the DRC. We are given little choice, the perpetrators are so proud of their grisly “work”, which they carry out with such impunity, they insist on filming themselves as they do it, and putting the evidence online. Some of these murders are so horrifying they defy the most depraved imagination.
These crimes are perpetrated by among others, governing party youths, responding to hate speech from their leaders in Kinshasa. The target of this unfathomable hate, are Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese. When they are lucky, they escape with their lives, and their properties are looted or destroyed, their livestock shot en mass, or hacked at with machetes, by the new “patriots,” about whom more in a moment.
Earlier this year, we had over 130 armed groups and counting, in the DRC, including the so called Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). These groups have terrorised the people of the DRC, for the best part of twenty-years. Then a couple of months or so ago, the government in Kinshasa had a brainwave that solved the problem with a change of appellation. The armed groups were no longer “negative forces”, from henceforth, they were “patriots.”
It may be more than a little warped, but there is a logic to the Congolese move. The national army, FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo), had been working informally, with these armed groups anyway. In fact, the FDLR did much of FARDC’s fighting against the M23 rebel group. Why not recognise them officially, and solve the problem of armed groups. Take “negative forces”, put them in FARDC uniforms, no more negative forces, just “patriots.”
The fact that all that has changed is the name, that they continue to murder, rape and pillage, the very crimes that now, belatedly, appal Ambassador Power, is apparently, not an impediment to their “patriotism.” But there is method to that madness too. After all, although whispered ever so quietly, so as not to upset anyone in state house, in Kinshasa, FARDC preys on the local people, as much as or more than any of the new “patriots,” the new policy is simply mixing like with like.
All this and more, were known to both Secretary Blinken, Ambassador Power, and others in the state department. None of it appalled her, at least not enough to issue a statement about it. Although it did not say so directly, the MSF press release, threatened to remind any discerning observer, that these crimes were being committed in areas under the control of government forces. The same crimes were conspicuous by their absence, in areas controlled by M23.
Ambassador Power’s statement seems to have been protective flak, to draw any fire away from FARDC and Tshisekedi’s government. She did that in a way that would most please Tshisekedi, by tenuously dragging Rwanda into the equation.
“It is imperative that the Government of Rwanda cease its support to M23 and withdraw its troops from the DRC…” Power says in the statement. It should be noted that Rwanda repeatedly makes it clear to anyone who wishes to hear, that it has no troops in the DRC, that the conflict there is an internal one, and the solutions to it must be found internally.
But neither Power nor Blinken dare acknowledge that simple fact. If they do Tshisekedi will throw a tantrum, and insist that the UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO leave the country. That would leave America, without its main presence in the country, which for them is unthinkable, and so, Rwanda must be blamed, as Tshisekedi wishes, and the cause of the conflict in the DRC must be camouflaged with loud condemnations of M23.
This now puts the Americans at odds with the regional organisations, not to say the African Union (AU) itself, as they try to find a negotiated end to the conflict in the DRC. With the exception of predictable accusations from the Congolese, who blame Rwanda for the failure of the Congolese state, no country in the region, accuses Rwanda.
Moreover, the AU tacitly acknowledges the grievances of the M23 rebel group, and is satisfied that the group has observed all the conditions for negotiations, as stipulated by all the regional processes, from Nairobi, Luanda to Bujumbura. For America, in particular, and the West in general, Tshisekedi remains their trump card, against a peacefully negotiated end to the conflict.
Sooner or later, regional leaders will have to acknowledge that as far as the Americans are concerned, all that matters is their interests in the DRC. The country can burn, and it matters not a jot, as long as America gets what it wants. The region, the AU, may genuinely seek peace, but for the most powerful nation on earth, if that peace means losing its hold on the DRC, it is not worth the having.
As they inch towards restoring some peace to the DRC, the AU will have to confront the fact that the closer they get to their objective, the farther away they move from West’s wishes in general, and American wishes in particular. Something will have to give, what will it be?