Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rwanda-Congo's false talks and the normality of war

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Backing a winless cause is frustrating. Motivated by the immense injustices going on in my part of the world, I've been blogging for about four years with the view that "you don't need many resources to make your voice heard when you are defending a case you believe to be just." However, it would be disingenuous if I claimed that I haven't felt like I was hitting a dead-end.

My readers will effortlessly reckon that I haven't posted anything within the past six months. It is difficult to explain why. I still believe in the virtue of the cause: that the gross injustices going on in both Rwanda and the Congo are related but both unnecessary and avoidable. That said, dictatorship aim to break one's spirit and to destabilize the mental sanity of their opponents. This is their highly coveted weapon especially to be used against those living in exile and therefore far away from their physical reach. In some ways, I have been a victim of this.

However, I will beg to stir away from my personal predicaments and to focus on the "real" issues.

A new report by Human Rights Watch confirms what we already know. That the government of Rwanda has continued to lend military support to the murderous M23 rebels. Within the last two months, this infamous rebel group has committed one atrocity after another. The immodest catalogue of crimes includes the execution of 44 Hutu Congolese as "punishment" for their alleged collaboration with the Congolese army and the Hutu militias. In the same region, the M23 has raped at least 61 women.

The descriptions in the testimonies of the witnesses are much more horrid. It is this kind of stuff that is bound to break anyone's spirit no matter how strong. A 12 year-old girl was gang-raped on her way to fetch water; a 62 year old was shot after refusing to hand his son over to the M23. Another 18 year old was shot in the leg as she attempted to run away from an M23 fighter desperate to rape her.

The crimes have become the norm. Its become what Hannah Arendt described as the "banality of evil." Only, unlike the Nazi evil killing machine, this one does not seem to have any near end. Presented with the latest forms of evidence, the Rwandan UN ambassador mocked it. "Its the same old stuff, " he said. While he is certainly responsible for this violence, his statement has some truth in it. That, in my view, is the most harrowing part of it: that violence continues to occur while the rest of the world looks on passively.

Not long ago, I went to visit the Holocaust museum. I left completely petrified by the role of "bystanders". It seemed implausible that people's "ordinary" lives barred them from seeing and relating to the suffering that Jewish people were going through. Yet, we know that a similar criminal reaction clouded over the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. Yet, can we live with the guilt of overlooking another highly sophisticated killing machine?

To be fair, the world has done a little bit to assuage the carnage in the Congo. I believe that the intense media scrutiny as well as the international pressure saved the city of Goma from further destruction last November. Moreover, cutting budgetary support to Rwanda was the right thing to do--it reminded the dictatorship that the world is watching.

However, all the above proposals lack permanence. The international community continued to believe (rightly) that talks would offer the political solution that is necessary. The problems is that the talks have been reduced to a continuation of the war by other means. Both M23 and the government of the Congo are unwilling to compromise. Furthermore, the talks have sidelined other important players of the conflict: the Ugandan ADF and the Rwandan FDLR. As the Tanzanian president has courageously pointed out, including the two groups on the negotiating table would get us closer to the most comprehensive and sustainable truce.

Rwanda continues to insist that it will never negotiate with a force whose troops have been implicated in the 1994 genocide. This is a position that would have been reasonable 15 years ago. It is much less so nowadays considering the history of Kagame's dictatorship. We now know for a fact that the Rwandan crisis is hardly a story of good and evil. Kagame's own army has been implicated of serious crimes against humanity, which certainly include large-scale massacres and may include genocide. We know for a fact that Kagame has funded proxies that have caused serious havoc in the Congo--almost five million people have died due, in part, to this involvement.

In other words, if Kagame is to convince the world that talks with the opposition are untenable, it must be because of other reasons--other than his presumed virtue. Otherwise, the rest of the world should continue to force him to widen democratic space and to talk to the opposition. However, this will be like breaking a rock. Currently, according to the Economist, Rwanda allows less political space than Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

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