6 November 2013
Congo: A Good Start
By Gwynne Dyer
Can it really be as easy as that? Get Rwanda to stop supporting the rebels in eastern Congo, pay the soldiers of the Congolese army on time, send in a United Nations force that actually has orders to shoot, and presto! The bad guys surrender or flee, and a war that has lasted almost twenty years and killed up to five million Congolese is suddenly over.
At least that’s the way it is playing in the media (to the extent that news about the Congo plays in the media at all), and there certainly has been a sudden change for the better.
Less than a year ago the latest and one of the nastiest rebel militias, M23, actually occupied Goma, a city of one million people that is effectively the capital of eastern Congo. UN troops watched helplessly from the sidelines and the Congolese government’s army got drunk and took revenge on civilians for its defeat, while M23 officers swaggered through the city taking whatever they wanted.
It was so humiliating, so stupid and wrong, that Joseph Kabila, the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to give it its proper name, stripped dozens of officers in eastern Congo of their commands and called them back to Kinshasa. Their replacements had at least a rudimentary grasp of their trade – and they have not yet been in the east long enough to develop lucrative deals with the local mining interests and the militias that feed on them.
The Congolese army’s soldiers in the east got some much-needed training in small-unit combat drills. They also started to get paid regularly (in contrast to the more usual pattern where the officers steal their pay and the troops compensate themselves by looting civilians). It’s actually not that hard to turn a rabble into a disciplined army if you have a bit of time and money, and the job was done within a year.
Meanwhile the “international community” (aka the United States and its friends) put heavy pressure on Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame to stop supporting M23. Recently the US even blocked military aid to the small but heavily armed republic, just across Lake Kivu from Goma, that has been meddling in the DRC’s affairs, sometimes even invading the east, for the past two decades. It worked: Kagame stopped answering the phone when M23 called.
And the United Nations, whose 13,000 peace-keeping troops in the eastern Congo had been of no use against M23 because they had no mandate to fight, was so embarrassed that it changed the rules. A new “intervention brigade” made up of 3,000 South African, Tanzanian and Malawian troops was sent, with tanks, helicopters, drones, and full permission to use its weapons against the rebels.
Finally, M23 helped by breaking up into rival factions that fought one another. The former commander, Bosco Ntaganda, known as “the Terminator”, lost the struggle, and to save his life he fled to the US embassy in Rwanda and asked to be turned over to the International Criminal Court to face trial in The Hague on war crimes charges. His successors were just as cruel and corrupt, but less competent.
The offensive against M23 started two weeks ago, with the DRC troops doing the fighting and the UN “intervention brigade” in support. Apart from firing a few mortar rounds on the last day, the UN troops were not even committed to combat. On 5 November the M23 forces lost their last hilltops and surrendered or fled across the border into Uganda or Rwanda, and the war was over. Maybe.
It is a huge step forward, but the peace will only last if two things happen. One is that the DRC now turns its attention to the biggest remaining militia in the east, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.
The FDLR is a Hutu militia, run by the remnants of the Hutu regime that carried out the genocide against Tutsis and Hutu moderates in Rwanda in 1994. Like most of the eastern Congolese militias, the FDLR makes its living by looting the local population and running protection rackets against the rich mining operations in the area, but its ultimate aim is to regain power in Rwanda.
It was the presence of this force just across the border in eastern Congo that caused Rwanda to intervene in its giant neighbour in the first place. M23 was just the last of a series of Tutsi militias that Rwanda created to contain the FDLR, and if it is not destroyed the Rwandan meddling (and the war) will resume.
The other condition for a lasting peace is that the DRC’s own troops in the east of the country do not fall back into their bad old ways. There is big money to be made if they collaborate with the various militias in shaking down the mining operations, and it remains to be seen if the soldiers (and members of Kabila’s own government) can resist the temptation to profit from deals of this sort.
So it isn’t really over yet, but it’s a good start. After a generation of carnage, the people of the eastern Congo deserve a better future.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 8. (“The Congolese…year”; and “Finally…competent”)
8 August 2012
The Fate of Africa
By Gwynne Dyer
Good news from Africa: after two decades of bloody anarchy, Somalia is finally on the mend. There is something resembling a government coming into being in Mogadishu, with much help from African Union troops – although the country’s most popular comedian, Abdi Jeylani Marshale, famous for his parodies of Islamic militants, was assassinated in broad daylight a week ago
Bad news from Africa: the situation in Mali is awful. The military coup in March that opened the way for Tuareg tribalists and Islamist extremists to seize the northern half of the country isn’t really over. The ignorant and brutal young officers who made the coup are blocking the arrival of 3,000 African Union troops, Mali’s only hope of ever regaining control in the north, because it would undermine their own power.
News about Africa that you don’t know whether to cheer or deplore: the major foreign aid donors have finally got fed up with Rwanda’s endless military meddling in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The United States has announced a cut in military aid, and Britain, Germany and the Netherlands are delaying payment of civilian aid, until Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, stops backing a rebel Tutsi militia in his country’s Congolese neighbour.
Everybody sympathises with Kagame’s attempt to rebuild peace and prosperity in Rwanda after the genocide that killed about half of the country’s Tutsi citizens. Everybody understands why he worries about Hutu militias in the eastern Congo. But he has to stop backing murderous Tutsi militias there, and using them to loot Congo’s mineral wealth. (On the other hand, don’t destabilise Kagame’s rule too much or the genocide might resume.)
Too many names, too many places, too much news. Even Africans cannot keep up with the news about their own continent. Is Africa going forwards, sideways, or nowhere at all? Indeed, is Africa any more than a geographical term?
The surfeit of news is inevitable in a continent that contains half a hundred countries. The sense of chronic crisis and chaos is due to the fact that in such a news-rich environment, the bad news will always jostle the good news aside. And yes, there really is an Africa about which you can usefully make large generalisations.
First, the entire continent is finally growing economically. Many African economies stagnated or even went backwards in the first three or four decades after decolonisation, but now there is real growth. Local disaster areas remain, of course, but over the past decade the gross domestic product of those fifty countries has grown at an average rate of 5 percent.
Manufacturing production in Africa has doubled in the past ten years. Seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies are in Africa. The growth is starting from a desperately low base, in many cases, but the magic of compound interest means that a 5 percent growth rate will double the size of the economy every fourteen years.
So there really is hope that most Africans can escape from poverty in the next generation – but on one condition. The birth rate is declining in most countries, but it must fall faster. The 2008 UN projections saw Africa doubling its population to two billion by mid-century, even assuming that the current gradual decline in African birth rates continues. That means an average population growth over this entire period of almost 2 percent a year.
If the economy is growing at 5 percent and the population is growing at 2 percent annually, that only leaves room for a 3 percent growth in average income. That means a doubling time of about 23 years for African average incomes, so let’s assume that they triple by 2050. That’s not enough.
African average incomes now are so low that tripling them would still not create the degree of prosperity and security that people in other continents are coming to expect. Worse, it would not give African governments the resources to cope with the huge damage that climate change will do to the continent.
The impact of global warming is worst in the tropics and subtropics: huge floods and semi-permanent droughts will become almost routine in these areas. Africa will suffer more than anywhere else, because it is the only continent that is almost entirely in the tropics and subtropics. Feeding the population will become a major problem.
There is enough potential cropland in Africa to feed twice the current population in the present climate, but it’s far from clear that this will remain true in a two-degree-warmer world. If African governments invest enough in agriculture now, they can probably keep everybody fed; if not, the long-term future of the continent is probably widespread political violence and gradual economic collapse.
It’s a race. Grow average incomes fast enough and you probably survive the coming storm. Otherwise, you lose all you have gained, and more besides. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 12. (“Everybody…resume”; and “The impact…problem”)
26 April 2012
Sudan Is Not The Norm
By Gwynne Dyer
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has been having some fun with language recently. He has come up with a new name for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the party that has formed the government of South Sudan since it finally got its independence from Sudan last July.
“Movement”, in Arabic, is “haraka”, but Bashir has started using the word “hashara” instead. “Hashara” means “insect”, and Sudan’s official media have obediently taken up the abusive term. Everybody remembers that the Hutu regime in Rwanda described the Tutsi minority as “cockroaches” when it launched the terrible ethnic genocide in 1994, and it’s particularly troubling because Sudan and South Sudan are on the brink of war.
The oil town of Heglig, on the new and disputed border between the two countries, has changed hands twice this month: first South Sudan drove Sudanese troops out, then the Sudanese took it back. South Sudan’s government insists that it withdrew voluntarily, but the facilities that supplied half of Sudan’s oil have been comprehensively wrecked.
The war, if it comes, would be over the control of the oil reserves along the undefined border, but it would also be an ethnic conflict. The majority in Sudan thinks of itself as Arab, and looks down on the “African” ethnic groups of South Sudan. Members of the Sudanese elite, conditioned by centuries of Arab slave-trading in Africa, sometimes even use the word “abd” (slave) in private when referring to southerners.
The rhetoric is getting very ugly. Bashir recently told a rally in Khartoum: “We say that (the SPLM) has turned into a disease, a disease for us and for the South Sudanese citizens. The main goal should be liberation from these insects and to get rid of them once and for all, God willing.” It will, he implied, be a total war: “Either we end up in Juba (South Sudan’s capital) and take everything, or (they) end up in Khartoum and take everything.”
This is nonsense: neither side’s army has the logistical support to advance as far as the other side’s capital. But they could certainly kill a lot of people – about two million died in the 22-year war that ended in South Sudan’s independence – and they seem determined to do it all over again.
So what are we to make of this folly? Many people will simply say “It’s Africa. What did you expect?” Others, more sophisticated, will lament that mankind is still trapped in an endless cycle of wars. Almost nobody will say to themselves: “Pity about the two Sudans, but they are just one of the inevitable exceptions to the rule that war is in steep and probably irreversible decline everywhere.” Yet that is what they should say.
War between countries is not the norm in Africa: there are 52 African countries, and only two pairs have gone to war with each other in the past twenty years.
Internal wars are much more common, and some, like those in Rwanda, Somalia, Congo and Sudan, have taken a huge number of lives. But those wars were killing on average more than half million people a year in the 1980s; now the annual death toll from internal conflicts in Africa is around 100,000. It’s not as bad as people think it is, and it’s getting better.
There has been a profound change in attitudes to war not just in Africa, but all over the world. Most people no longer see war as glorious, or even useful. They don’t see it as inevitable, either, and their governments have put a lot of effort into building international institutions that make it less likely.
No great power has gone to war with any other great power in the past 67 years. That is a huge change for the better, for the great powers are the only countries with the resources to kill on a truly large scale: it would take a century’s worth of Africa’s wars at their worst to match the death toll in six years of the Second World War.
This change of attitude has not reached the Sudans, where several generations have lived in a permanent state of war. It is hard to imagine anything more stupid and truculent than the decision of Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan, to halt all oil production (although it provided 98 percent of his government’s budget) because Sudan was siphoning off some of the oil.
No, wait. That was no more foolish and aggressive than Omar al-Bashir’s unilateral seizure of much of South Sudan’s oil (which crossed Sudan in pipelines to the sea), just because the two sides had not reached an agreement on transit fees. Now both countries are short of oil, strapped for cash – and about to waste their remaining resources on another stupid war.
But at least the rest of world is trying hard to stop them. Even South Sudan’s closest friends condemned it for seizing the town of Heglig, and forced it to withdraw. The African Union has sent former South African president Thabo Mbeki and special envoy Haile Menkarios to mediate between the two sides. China, which took most of the oil exports from both countries, has sent its envoy to Africa, Zhong Jianhua, on a similar mission.
Who knows? They might even succeed. Miracles happen all the time these days.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4, 6 and 11. (“The war…southerners”; “This is…again”, and “No great…war”)
31 May 2011
Ratko Mladic and the End of Impunity
by Gwynne Dyer
Last week’s arrest of the former Bosnian Serb military commander, Ratko Mladic, for the murder of 7,500 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995, helped Serbia’s campaign for membership in the European Union. But more importantly, it is a big step in the international effort to enforce the law against those who used to be free to murder and torture with impunity.
They were free to do so because the old rule was: kill your wife or your neighbour, and you will be punished for murder. Kill thousands of innocent people while in the service of the state, and you will get a medal. The state was above the law, and so were its servants.
That ancient tradition was first challenged after the Second World War, when political and military leaders of the defeated Axis powers were tried for war crimes and for the newly defined crimes of aggression and genocide. But it was an innovation with no follow-up – until the genocides in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the early 1990s forced the international community to act again.
In 1993 the United Nations Security Council set up the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia. The following year a similar tribunal was created to investigate the genocide in Rwanda. But these were ad hoc courts to address specific crimes.
What was really needed was a permanent international court to enforce the law against politicians and officials in countries where the government could not or would not bring them to justice in the local courts. The Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court (ICC) was signed by over 150 countries in 1998, and the treaty came into effect in 2002.
Since its creation, the ICC has opened three investigations at the request of the local government (Uganda, the Central African Republic, and Congo-Kinshasa), two at the request of the UN Security Council (Libya and Sudan), and one at the initiative of chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (Kenya). Most of the killers will escape its net, of course, but two dozen people have already gone to trial.
The ICC has no jurisdiction over crimes committed before it created, so Ratko Mladic will go before the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, but it’s really all part of the same institution. The major complaint against this new international legal system is that it moves too slowly – but that could even be an advantage.
It took sixteen years to track down and arrest Mladic, and his trial will probably take several more. That is a long time, but it also suggests a certain inexorability: they will never stop looking for you, and eventually they will probably get you. That has a powerful deterrent effect.
It is almost universally assumed by ordinary Kenyans, for example, that the inter-tribal carnage in Kenya in 2008 after the ruling party stole the last election was launched and orchestrated by senior political and military figures. Supporters of the leading opposition party, which was cheated of its electoral victory, began killing people of the Kikuyu tribe (most of whom backed the government), as soon as the results were announced.
The ruling party responded by using not only its own tribal supporters but also the army and police to kill opposition supporters, especially Luos and Kalenjins. Over a thousand people were killed and more than half a million became “Internally Displaced Persons.”
Another national election is due next year, and Kenyans fear that it might happen again. However, three powerful men from each side, including the deputy prime minister, the secretary to the cabinet, and the former commissioner of police, have been summoned before the ICC to answer charges of “crimes against humanity.”
There will inevitably be a long delay before these men are tried, but that is actually a good thing, said Ken Wafula, a human rights campaigner in Eldoret, the city in the Rift Valley that was the epicentre of the slaughter. “Those who are supposed to incite will see what ICC has done, and they will not be ready to (stir up violence) for fear of maybe a warrant coming out.”
Many suspect that the Sudanese regime’s acceptance of the overwhelming “yes” vote in the recent independence referendum in southern Sudan was similarly driven by fear among top officials in Khartoum that using force would expose them to the same kind of ICC arrest warrant that has already been issued for President Omar al-Bashir over the Darfur genocide.
So long as they stayed in power, of course, they would be safe. But what if the wave of democratic revolutions sweeping the Arab world comes south to Sudan? They would become hunted men, and probably be handed over to the ICC for trial. So they seem to have opted for the peaceful path instead.
Even after sixteen years, the ICC got Ratko Mladic. It got most of the surviving organisers of the genocide in Rwanda. The likelihood of being pursued by the ICC represents a real risk for senior political and military leaders who contemplate using force against their own people. They may do it anyway – consider Libya, Syria and Yemen at the moment – but it is nevertheless a genuine deterrent, and sometimes it saves lives.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 14. (“Since…trial”; and “So…instead”)
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.