DR Congo: M23 rebels lay down guns, army targets FDLR | 

M23 rebels on patrol.
M23 rebels on patrol.

The M23 rebel group that has led a twenty-month insurgency in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo waved the white flag today. An announcement Tuesday morning that the rebels gave up came in the wake of a Congolese army campaign that beat back the group over the weekend.

“The chief of staff and the commanders of all major units are requested to prepare troops for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration on terms to be agreed with the government of Congo.”

Rebels will put down arms in order to accomplish, “purely political means,” solutions to the root problems that gave rise to the rebellion said M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa in a statement. The Tutsi group opposes the existence of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a militia made up of ethnic Hutus, that group that carried out the Rwandan genocide, in eastern Congo.

The Congolese army already says it move to deal with the FDLR. The M23 was at the top of the list for the army’s concerns and it is now moving on to the next group, said government spokesman Lambert Mende. He said an attack is “imminent” against the FDLR.

“There is no more place in our country for any irregular group,” he said referring to the FDLR. “We are going to get on with disarming them.”

Only a year earlier the M23 rebels marched, without resistance, into the main eastern city of Goma before agreeing to retreat. The destabilizing group garnered greater international attention when a United Nations report said that the Rwandan military was providing support to the rebels. Continue reading

US tells Rwanda to stop backing Congo rebels … again | 

Col. Sultani Makenga of the rebel forces formerly known as M23, now the Congolese Revolutionary Army.
Col. Sultani Makenga of the rebel forces formerly known as M23, now the Congolese Revolutionary Army.
Flickr, Pan-African News Wire

Now that the world has sufficiently celebrated the fact that British royalty is still able to procreate, perhaps we can turn to more urgent matters: Like DR Congo.

Given the drumbeat of bad news and eruptions of violence out of eastern Congo, it’s easy to think whatever is happening there is just more of the same – the same, chronic fights between DR Congo’s somewhat dysfunctional military (not to mention its government) and the variously named militias operating for any number of causes (including just pure criminality) in the region.

But in fact, things may be a bit different this time.

For one thing, the United States government is publicly reprimanding the government of Rwanda for its support of the most powerful and violent rebel army in eastern Congo, the M23.

That’s not the first time this has happened, however, and the typical response from Rwandan President (and former military general) Paul Kagame is to either not respond at all or simply deny Rwandan support for the M23. Almost nobody seems to believe the denials, but the net effect is to negate the entire discussion and wait for disinterest to set in.

What’s new is that the calls for Rwanda to stop supporting the Congo militia are not going away. And there are other signs.

Paul-Kagame-300x282What has long protected Kagame is that he is much admired by many in the West (Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Jeff Sachs and physician activist Paul Farmer among the admirers). That, and the fact that the country did get screwed over by the international community during the 1994 genocide. So it’s kind of easy for Kagame to simply shrug off Western chastisements or calls for policy changes.

The Rwandan President can be quite charming, convincing. On a visit to Rwanda in 2011, I had the opportunity to interview Kagame with a number of other journalists on a trip with the International Reporting Project. Continue reading

Howard Buffett Foundation attacks UN to shift blame from Rwanda | 

UntitledHoward G. Buffett is pushing the international community to fully restore aid to Rwanda.

When a UN Group of Experts (GoE) report found that Rwanda was supporting rebels fighting a deadly conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a number of countries including the U.S. and Britain cut or suspended foreign aid in protest.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame steadfastly denied supporting the Congo militias that have been wreaking havoc along the Rwanda-Congo border, but the evidence was strong enough to convince even some of Kagame’s biggest supporters that Western powers needed to send a message of disapproval.

That didn’t include Howard Buffett, Warren Buffett’s son, and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Buffett and Blair argued against the move, contending that reducing aid to Rwanda would just cause more harm than good to the unstable Great Lakes region of central Africa.

“Cutting aid does nothing to address the underlying issues driving conflict in the region, it only ensures that the Rwandan people will suffer — and risks further destabilizing an already troubled region,” Blair and Buffett wrote in a recent Foreign Policy article.

This was followed by a report from the Howard G Buffett Foundation making the same points. The report went further by questioning the reliability of the GoE – the group that originally reported evidence the the Rwandan government was supporting rebels in the eastern DRC.

It’s worth noting that the Buffett Foundation report was written by unknown authors and using unnamed sources. Continue reading

Guest Post: The fragile promise of peace in Colombia | 

Katherine McKeon

This is a guest post by Katherine McKeon, a UW communications major who recently returned to Seattle after working this summer for Reuters in Bogota, Colombia. The promise of peace talks between the government and FARC rebels is big news but, as she reports, few Colombians are getting their hopes up.

Katherine, in addition to her studies, three jobs and other demands that exhaust me just thinking about them will be working as an intern on Facebook for Humanosphere – so say hi to her!


Walking to Work

After spending two months in Colombia, I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing for myself that this Andean nation is much more than its narco-lord past.

The two largest rebel groups have agreed to open their doors to peace talks, making stability a real possibility for a country with decades of scars from political and sectarian violence. Still, many Colombians remain  skeptical.

The scars are deep.

 ”I don’t think peace is a realistic possibility,” said Jaime Rodriguez, a twenty-two year-old Colombian who works at a restaurant.  “It’s just too complicated of a place, too many things have happened, and everyone remembers the violence.”

Continue reading