Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

The Invisible War

Posted in women's rights by allisonkilkenny on February 21, 2009

Note from Allison: Unfortunately, Herbert didn’t include a call to action in his otherwise wonderful column. I feel like people will be profoundly moved after reading his words, and they’ll want to help, or post links to where others can donate money to help Congolese women. Here are some charities that take donations for the Congolese victims:

Women for Women International

International Rescue Committee



Bob Herbert

Perhaps we’ve heard so little about them because the crimes are so unspeakable, the evil so profound.

drc_civil_war_congoFor years now, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, marauding bands of soldiers and militias have been waging a war of rape and destruction against women. This sustained campaign of mind-bending atrocities, mostly in the eastern part of the country, has been one of the strategic tools in a wider war that has continued, with varying degrees of intensity, since the 1990s. Millions have been killed.

Women and girls of all ages, from old women to very young children, have been gang-raped, and in many cases their sexual organs have been mutilated. The victims number in the hundreds of thousands. But the world, for the most part, has remained indifferent to their suffering.

“These women are raped in front of their husbands, in front of their children, in front of their parents, in front of their neighbors,” said Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist who runs a hospital in Bukavu that treats only the women who have sustained the most severe injuries.

In some cases, the rapists have violated their victims with loaded guns and pulled the triggers. Other women have had their organs deliberately destroyed by knives or other weapons. Sons have been forced at gunpoint to rape their mothers. Many women and girls have been abducted and sexually enslaved.

It is as if, in these particular instances, some window to what we think of as our common humanity had been closed. As The Times’s Jeffrey Gettleman, on assignment in Congo, wrote last fall:

“Many of these rapes have been marked by a level of brutality that is shocking even by the twisted standards of a place riven by civil war and haunted by warlords and drug-crazed child soldiers.”

Dr. Mukwege visited me at The Times last week. He was accompanied by the playwright, Eve Ensler, who has been passionate in her efforts to bring attention and assistance to the women of Congo.

I asked Dr. Mukwege to explain how it was in the strategic interest of the various armed groups to rape and otherwise brutalize women. He described some of the ramifications of such atrocities and the ways in which they undermine the entire society in which the women live.

“Once they have raped these women in such a public way,” he said, “sometimes maiming them, destroying their sexual organs — and with everybody watching — the women themselves are destroyed, or virtually destroyed. They are traumatized and humiliated on every level, physical and psychological. That’s the first consequence.

“The second consequence is that the whole family and the entire neighborhood is traumatized by what they have seen. The ordinary sense of family and community is lost after a man has been forced to watch his wife being raped, or parents are forced to watch the rape of their daughters, or children see their mothers raped.

“Neighbors are witnesses to this. Many flee. Families are dislocated. Social relationships are lost. There is no more social network, village network. Not only the victims have been destroyed; the whole village is destroyed.”

The devastating injuries treated by Dr. Mukwege at his hospital can all but stun the imagination. There is no need to detail them further here. AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are commonplace. Often the ability to bear children is destroyed. In many other cases, women end up giving birth to the children of their rapists.

“The hospital can take care of 3,600 women every year,” said Dr. Mukwege. “That is our maximum capacity. We can’t take any more.”

He spoke of ambulance teams that would drive into villages and be besieged by rape victims desperately seeking treatment. “It is awful to see 300 women in need of help,” he said, “and you have to take 10 because the ambulance can only take 10.”

Ms. Ensler spoke of her encounter with an 8-year-old girl during one of her trips to Congo. The girl’s father had been killed in an attack, her mother was raped, and the girl herself was abducted. The child was raped by groups of soldiers over a two-week period and then abandoned.

The girl felt too ashamed to allow herself to be held, Ms. Ensler said, because her injuries had left her incontinent. After explaining how she persuaded the child to accept an embrace, to be hugged, Ms. Ensler said, “If we’re living in a century when an 8-year-old girl is incontinent because that many soldiers have raped her, then something has gone terribly wrong.”

Despite the presence in the region of the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world, no one has been able to stop the systematic rape of the Congolese women.

If these are not war crimes, crimes against humanity, then nothing is.

Desperate Children Flee Zimbabwe, for Lives Just as Bleak

Posted in human rights, poverty, women's rights by allisonkilkenny on January 24, 2009

New York Times

Williad Fire, 16, crossed illegally into South Africa from Zimbabwe with eight friends after the deaths of his parents and an uncle. (Joao Silva for The New York Times)

Williad Fire, 16, crossed illegally into South Africa from Zimbabwe with eight friends after the deaths of his parents and an uncle. (Joao Silva for The New York Times)

They bear the look of street urchins, their eyes on the prowl for useful scraps of garbage and their bodies covered in clothes no cleaner than a mechanic’s rags.

Near midnight, these Zimbabwean children can be found sleeping outside almost anywhere in this border city. A 12-year-old girl named No Matter Hungwe, hunched beneath the reassuring exterior light of the post office, said it was hunger that had pushed her across the border alone.

Her father is dead, and she wanted to help her mother and younger brothers by earning what she could here in South Africa — within certain limits, anyway. “Some men — men with cars — want to sleep with me,” she said, considering the upside against the down. “They have offered me 100 rand,” about $10.

With their nation in a prolonged sequence of crises, more unaccompanied children and women than ever are joining the rush of desperate Zimbabweans illegally crossing the frontier at the Limpopo River, according to the police, local officials and aid workers.

What they are escaping is a broken country where half the people are going hungry, most schools and hospitals are closed or dysfunctional and a cholera epidemic has taken a toll in the thousands. Yet they are arriving in a place where they are unwelcome and are resented as rivals for jobs. Last year, Zimbabweans were part of the quarry in a spate of mob attacks against foreigners.

For those in the know, crossing the border can be a simple chore, a bribe paid on one side and a second bribe on the other. But for the uninitiated and the destitute, the journey is as uncertain as the undercurrents of the Limpopo and the appetites of the crocodiles.

Where is it best to enter the river? Where are the holes in the barbed fences beyond? Where do the soldiers patrol? Perhaps the greatest risk is the gumagumas — the swindlers, thieves and rapists who stalk the vulnerable as they wander in the bush.

Williad Fire, 16, who arrived here on Jan. 4, is one of nine boys who came from Murimuka, a town in a mining region of central Zimbabwe. His story is a fairly typical one of serial catastrophe. He was living with an uncle after his parents died, but then the uncle died, too, stricken in November with an illness that Williad described with a mystified shrug: “He was vomiting blood.”

The boy was hungry, and scrounging in South Africa seemed to hold more promise than scrounging at home. To get train fare south, he sold his most valuable possession, a secondhand pair of Puma sneakers two sizes too big. He and eight friends then did odd jobs in Beitbridge, on the Zimbabwean side of the border, until they had saved about $35.

From there, Williad’s story takes another dismal turn. When the boys neared the river, they were confronted by the gumagumas, who pretended to be helpful, then pounced. “They hit me in the forehead with a rock,” Williad said. “I was carrying everyone’s money, so I was the one to beat.”

But they continued across the river, and here in Musina, the boys from Murimuka slept in the streets for a while, as many other youngsters do. Then they staked claim to a patch of sandy soil under the punishing sun at the Showgrounds, an open athletic field that is the designated repository for refugees. The population hovers around 2,000. Each day new people arrive, and each day familiar faces depart.

The South African government issues temporary asylum papers to about 250 of these refugees a day, entitling them to six months without worry of deportation. Unaccompanied minors are ineligible for this status, though, leaving them in an odd limbo, with no specified place in the bureaucratic shuffle.

Williad and his friends share a single blanket. They cook spaghetti over a fire fed with twigs and cardboard. Cans and buckets fetched from the trash are used as pots. Plastic bottles sliced open along one side serve as bowls.

Honest Mapiriyawo, a 13-year-old orphan, is the boys’ best beggar. Children compete at the supermarkets to carry groceries for shoppers in exchange for tips. Honest is tiny and winsome. People are drawn to his proper diction. “May I assist you?” is the phrasing he prefers.

Another of the Murimuka boys is Diallo Butau, 15. He said his father is dead and his mother had tuberculosis. He bears the guilt of abandoning her. “If I could get some medicine, some pills, I would go back and cure her,” he said.

Georgina Matsaung runs a shelter for children at the Uniting Reformed Church. “You’ll sometimes find boys sleeping in ditches and under bridges, but you won’t find the girls,” she said with a regretful shake of her head. “The girls get quickly taken by men who turn them into women.”

The Musina area has a population of about 57,000, with an additional 15,000 foreigners, overwhelmingly Zimbabweans, at any given time, according to Abram Luruli, the municipal manager. “Many children are scattered in the street,” he admitted, though it is plain enough for anyone to see. At night, they can be found sleeping beneath sheets of plastic along the roadside, a few of them with their minds meandering from ethers inhaled from a bottle of glue.

While the stories of the refugee children are troubling — with penury in Zimbabwe being exchanged for penury here — many of the more horrifying stories in the city involve the rapes of helpless women.

Leticia Shindi, a 39-year-old widow from the village of Madamombe, said she left Zimbabwe on Jan. 4, hoping to get piecework so she could send money back to her two daughters. She had never waded across a river before, and as she eyed the muddy flow, she seized up with fear.

Two young men were preparing to lead others across, and she gratefully joined them. The guides used poles to judge the hidden depths while the rest cautiously held hands as they moved through the shoulder-deep water.

Once across, the two men robbed them all. Because Ms. Shindi had insufficient money, payment was exacted otherwise. “Take off your underpants,” she recalled one gumaguma saying. “Today I am going to be your husband.”

Chengetai Mapfuri, 29, left the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, just after Christmas, carrying her 20-month-old son, Willington. Two knife-wielding gumagumas who raped her took turns, she said, one holding the toddler while the other held her.

Aldah Mawuka, 17, is also from the Harare suburbs. She said the first gumagumas she encountered on Jan. 7 only robbed her; it was the second ones who demanded she pull down her jeans. The rapist was very direct and impatient, she recalled: “If you don’t do it, I’ll kill you.”

South Africa’s national police force is exasperated by the crimes. Capt. Sydney Ringane, seated in his office in Musina, said the surrounding wooded terrain made it too hard to catch the gumagumas. Anyway, most victims do not file complaints. After all, they are here illegally, unless remaining in the Showgrounds. “Last week, I had 1,500 ready for deportation,” he said.

The captain stood up, walking over to a computer screen. “We keep photos of the refugees killed near the border.”

He punched the keyboard and clicked with the mouse. “This woman was raped before she was killed,” he said. “She wasn’t wearing underpants. She was identified for us by some street kids.”

Mention of the children seemed to feed his exasperation. “Street kids, more all the time,” he said. “They come in as if they are playing in a game.”

He asked, “What do we do about these kids?”

Zimbabwe Is Dying

Posted in human rights, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 17, 2009

Bob Herbert

A woman suffering from the symptoms of cholera is taken in a wheelbarrow to a clinic in Harare December 12, 2008. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

A woman suffering from the symptoms of cholera is taken in a wheelbarrow to a clinic in Harare December 12, 2008. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

If you want to see hell on earth, go to Zimbabwe where the madman Robert Mugabe has brought the country to such a state of ruin that medical care for most of the inhabitants has all but ceased to exist.

Life expectancy in Zimbabwe is now the lowest in the world: 37 years for men and 34 for women. A cholera epidemic is raging. People have become ill with anthrax after eating the decaying flesh of animals that had died from the disease. Power was lost to the morgue in the capital city of Harare, leaving the corpses to rot.

Most of the world is ignoring the agony of Zimbabwe, a once prosperous and medically advanced nation in southern Africa that is suffering from political and economic turmoil — and the brutality of Mugabe’s long and tyrannical reign.

The decline in health services over the past year has been staggering. An international team of doctors that conducted an “emergency assessment” of the state of medical care last month seemed stunned by the catastrophe they witnessed. The team was sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights. In their report, released this week, the doctors said:

“The collapse of Zimbabwe’s health system in 2008 is unprecedented in scale and scope. Public-sector hospitals have been shuttered since November 2008. The basic infrastructure for the maintenance of public health, particularly water and sanitation services, have abruptly deteriorated in the worsening political and economic climate.”

Doctors and nurses are trying to do what they can under the most harrowing of circumstances: facilities with no water, no functioning toilets and barely any medicine or supplies. The report quoted the director of a mission hospital:

“A major problem is the loss of life and fetal wastage we are seeing with obstetric patients. They come so late, the fetuses are already dead. We see women with eclampsia who have been seizing for 12 hours. There is no intensive care unit here, and now there is no intensive care in Harare.

“If we had intensive care, we know it would be immediately full of critically ill patients. As it is, they just die.”

Mugabe’s corrupt, violent and profoundly destructive reign has left Zim-babwe in shambles. It’s a nation overwhelmed by poverty, the H.I.V./AIDS pandemic and hyperinflation. Once considered the “breadbasket” of Africa, Zimbabwe is now a country that cannot feed its own people. The unemployment rate is higher than 80 percent. Malnutrition is widespread, as is fear.

A nurse told the Physicians for Human Rights team: “We are not supposed to have hunger in Zimbabwe. So even though we do see it, we cannot report it.”

Mugabe signed a power-sharing agreement a few months ago with a political opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, who out-polled Mugabe in an election last March but did not win a majority of the votes. But continuing turmoil, including violent attacks by Mugabe’s supporters and allegations that Mugabe forces have engaged in torture, have prevented the agreement from taking effect.

The widespread skepticism that greeted Mugabe’s alleged willingness to share power only increased when he ranted, just last month: “I will never, never, never surrender … Zimbabwe is mine.”

Meanwhile, health care in Zimbabwe has fallen into the abyss. “This emergency is so grave that some entity needs to step in there and take over the health delivery system,” said Susannah Sirkin, the deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.

In November, the primary public referral hospital in Harare, Parirenyatwa Hospital, shut down. Its medical school closed with it. The nightmare that forced the closings was spelled out in the report:

“The hospital had no running water since August of 2008. Toilets were overflowing, and patients and staff had nowhere to void — soon making the hospital uninhabitable. Parirenyatwa Hospital was closed four months into the cholera epidemic, arguably the worst of all possible times to have shut down public hospital access. Successful cholera care, treatment and control are impossible, however, in a facility without clean water and functioning toilets.”

The hospital’s surgical wards were closed in September. A doctor described the heartbreaking dilemma of having children in his care who he knew would die without surgery. “I have no pain medication,” he said, “some antibiotics, but no nurses … If I don’t operate, the patient will die. But if I do the surgery, the child will die also.”

What’s documented in the Physicians for Human Rights report is evidence of a shocking medical and human rights disaster that warrants a much wider public spotlight, and an intensified effort to mount an international humanitarian intervention.

Some organizations are already on the case, including Doctors Without Borders and Unicef. But Zimbabwe is dying, and much more is needed.

Where Sweatshops Are a Dream

Posted in Economy, labor, politics, poverty, worker rights by allisonkilkenny on January 15, 2009

Nicholas Kristof


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

Before Barack Obama and his team act on their talk about “labor standards,” I’d like to offer them a tour of the vast garbage dump here in Phnom Penh.

This is a Dante-like vision of hell. It’s a mountain of festering refuse, a half-hour hike across, emitting clouds of smoke from subterranean fires.

The miasma of toxic stink leaves you gasping, breezes batter you with filth, and even the rats look forlorn. Then the smoke parts and you come across a child ambling barefoot, searching for old plastic cups that recyclers will buy for five cents a pound. Many families actually live in shacks on this smoking garbage.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats who favor labor standards in trade agreements mean well, for they intend to fight back at oppressive sweatshops abroad. But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.

Talk to these families in the dump, and a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty, the kind of gauzy if probably unrealistic ambition that parents everywhere often have for their children.

“I’d love to get a job in a factory,” said Pim Srey Rath, a 19-year-old woman scavenging for plastic. “At least that work is in the shade. Here is where it’s hot.”

Another woman, Vath Sam Oeun, hopes her 10-year-old boy, scavenging beside her, grows up to get a factory job, partly because she has seen other children run over by garbage trucks. Her boy has never been to a doctor or a dentist, and last bathed when he was 2, so a sweatshop job by comparison would be far more pleasant and less dangerous.

I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories. Yet sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty. At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade.

When I defend sweatshops, people always ask me: But would you want to work in a sweatshop? No, of course not. But I would want even less to pull a rickshaw. In the hierarchy of jobs in poor countries, sweltering at a sewing machine isn’t the bottom.

My views on sweatshops are shaped by years living in East Asia, watching as living standards soared — including those in my wife’s ancestral village in southern China — because of sweatshop jobs.

Manufacturing is one sector that can provide millions of jobs. Yet sweatshops usually go not to the poorest nations but to better-off countries with more reliable electricity and ports.

I often hear the argument: Labor standards can improve wages and working conditions, without greatly affecting the eventual retail cost of goods. That’s true. But labor standards and “living wages” have a larger impact on production costs that companies are always trying to pare. The result is to push companies to operate more capital-intensive factories in better-off nations like Malaysia, rather than labor-intensive factories in poorer countries like Ghana or Cambodia.

Cambodia has, in fact, pursued an interesting experiment by working with factories to establish decent labor standards and wages. It’s a worthwhile idea, but one result of paying above-market wages is that those in charge of hiring often demand bribes — sometimes a month’s salary — in exchange for a job. In addition, these standards add to production costs, so some factories have closed because of the global economic crisis and the difficulty of competing internationally.

The best way to help people in the poorest countries isn’t to campaign against sweatshops but to promote manufacturing there. One of the best things America could do for Africa would be to strengthen our program to encourage African imports, called AGOA, and nudge Europe to match it.

Among people who work in development, many strongly believe (but few dare say very loudly) that one of the best hopes for the poorest countries would be to build their manufacturing industries. But global campaigns against sweatshops make that less likely.

Look, I know that Americans have a hard time accepting that sweatshops can help people. But take it from 13-year-old Neuo Chanthou, who earns a bit less than $1 a day scavenging in the dump. She’s wearing a “Playboy” shirt and hat that she found amid the filth, and she worries about her sister, who lost part of her hand when a garbage truck ran over her.

“It’s dirty, hot and smelly here,” she said wistfully. “A factory is better.”

Condom Burnings and Anti-Gay Witch Hunts: How Rick Warren Is Undermining AIDs Prevention in Africa

Posted in Barack Obama, civil rights, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 8, 2009

Max Blumenthal

ribs-warren-rickOnce hailed by Time magazine as “America’s Pastor,” California megachurch leader and best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren now finds himself on the defensive. President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of Warren to deliver the inaugural prayer has generated intense scrutiny of the pastor’s beliefs on social issues, from his vocal support for Proposition 8, a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage in California, to his comparison of homosexuality to pedophilia, incest and bestiality. Many of Obama’s supporters have demanded that he withdraw the invitation.

Warren’s defense against charges of intolerance ultimately depends upon his ace card: his heavily publicized crusade against AIDS in Africa. Obama senior adviser David Axelrod cited Warren’s work in Africa as one of “the things on which [Obama and Warren] agree” on the Dec. 28 episode of Meet the Press. Warren may be opposed to gay rights and abortion, the thinking goes, but he tells evangelicals it is their God-given duty to battle one of the greatest pandemics in history. What could be wrong with that?

But since the Warren inauguration controversy erupted, the nature of his work against AIDS in Africa has gone unexamined. Warren has not been particularly forthcoming to those who have attempted to look into it. His Web site contains scant information about the results of his program. However, an investigation into Warren’s involvement in Africa reveals a web of alliances with right-wing clergymen who have sidelined science-based approaches to combating AIDS in favor of abstinence-only education. More disturbingly, Warren’s allies have rolled back key elements of one of the continent’s most successful initiative, the so-called ABC program in Uganda. Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told the New York Times their activism is “resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred.”

Warren’s man in Uganda is a charismatic pastor named Martin Ssempa. The head of the Makerere Community Church, a rapidly growing congregation, Ssempa enjoys close ties to his country’s first lady, Janet Museveni, and is a favorite of the Bush White House. In the capitol of Kampala, Ssempa is known for his boisterous crusading. Ssempa’s stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them.

Dr. Helen Epstein, a public health consultant who wrote the book, The Invisible Cure: Why We’re Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa, met Ssempa in 2005. Epstein told me the preacher seemed gripped by paranoia, warning her of a secret witches coven that met under Lake Victoria.

“Ssempa also spoke to me for a very long time about his fear of homosexual men and women,” Epstein said. “He seemed very personally terrified by their presence.”

When Warren unveiled his global AIDS initiative at a 2005 conference at his Saddleback Church, he cast Ssempa as his indispensable sidekick, assigning him to lead a breakout session on abstinence-only education as well as a seminar on AIDS prevention. Later, Ssempa delivered a keynote address, a speech so stirring it “had the audience on the edge of its seats,” according to Warren’s public relations agency. A year later, Ssempa returned to Saddleback Church to lead another seminar on AIDS. By this time, his bond with the Warrens had grown almost familial. “You are my brother, Martin, and I love you,” Rick Warren’s wife, Kay, said to Ssempa from the stage. Her voice trembled with emotion as she spoke, and tears ran down her cheeks.

Joining Ssempa at Warren’s church were two key Bush administration officials who controlled the purse strings of the president’s newly minted $15 billion anti-AIDS initiative in Africa, PEPFAR. Museveni also appeared through a videotaped address to tout the success of her country’s numerous church-based abstinence programs.

These Bush officials — Randall Tobias, the Department of State’s Global AIDS coordinator, and Claude Allen, the White House’s chief domestic policy adviser — are closely linked to the Christian Right. Tobias, the so-called global AIDS czar, declared in 2004 that condoms “really have not been very effective,” and crusaded against prostitution, until he resigned in 2007 when he was exposed as a regular client of the D.C. Madam’s escort service. Allen, once an aide to the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., resigned in 2006 after he was arrested for felony thefts from retail stores.

During the early 1990s, when many African leaders denied the AIDS epidemic’s existence, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni spoke openly about the importance of safe sex. With the help of local and international nongovernmental organizations, he implemented an ambitious program emphasizing abstinence, monogamous relationships and using condoms as the best ways to prevent the spread of AIDS. He called the program “ABC.” By 2003, Uganda’s AIDS rate plummeted 10 percent. The government’s free distribution of the “C” in ABC — condoms — proved central to the program’s success, according to Avert, an international AIDS charity.

On New Year’s Eve 1999, Janet Museveni, who had become born-again, convened a massive stadium revival in Kampala to dedicate her country to the “lordship” of Jesus Christ. As midnight approached, the first lady summoned a local pastor to the stage to anoint the nation. “We renounce idolatry, witchcraft and Satanism in our land!” he proclaimed.

Two years later, Janet Museveni flew to Washington at the height of a heated congressional debate over PEPFAR. She carried in her hand a prepared message to distribute to Republicans. Abstinence was the golden bullet in her country’s fight against AIDS, she assured conservative lawmakers, denying the empirically proven success of her husband’s condom-distribution program. Like magic, the Republican-dominated Congress authorized over $200 million for Uganda, but only for the exclusive promotion of abstinence education. Ssempa soon became the “special representative of the first lady’s Task Force on AIDS in Uganda,” receiving $40,000 from the PEPFAR pot.

Emboldened by U.S. support, Ssempa took his anti-condom crusade to Makerere University in Kampala, where senior residents of a men’s dormitory promoted safe sex by greeting incoming freshmen with a giant effigy wearing a condom. According to Epstein, one day after she visited the school, Ssempa stormed onto campus, tore the condom from the effigy, grabbed a box of free condoms and set them ablaze. “I burn these condoms in the name of Jesus!” Ssempa shouted as he prayed over the burning box.

“It was a very controversial time,” Epstein told me. “After the Bush administration authorized PEPFAR, a number of the local evangelical preachers began to get excited about this and get involved in AIDS very rapidly. To try to prove his credentials, Ssempa became increasingly active and vociferous in his antipathy towards condoms.”

By 2005, billboards promoting condom use disappeared from the streets of Kampala, replaced by billboards promoting virginity. “Until recently, all HIV-related billboards were about condoms. Those of us calling for abstinence and faithfulness need billboards, too,” Ssempa told the BBC at the time. A 2005 report by Human Rights Watchdocumented educational material in Uganda’s secondary schools falsely claiming condoms had microscopic pores that could be penetrated by the AIDS virus and noted the sudden nationwide shortage of condoms due to new restrictions imposed on condom imports.

AIDS activists arrived at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto in 2006 with disturbing news from Uganda. Due, at least in part, to the chronic condom shortage, HIV infections were on the rise again. The disease rate had spiked to 6.5 percent among rural men and 8.8 percent among women — a rise of nearly two points in the case of women. “The ‘C’ part [of ABC] is now mainly silent,” said Ugandan AIDS activist Beatrice Ware. As a result, she said, “the success story is unraveling.”

Troubled by what he was witnessing in Africa, the late Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., led the new Democratic-controlled Congress to reform PEPFAR during a reauthorization process in February 2008. Lantos insisted that Congress lift the abstinence-only earmark imposed by Republicans in 2002 and begin to fund family-planning elements like free condom distribution. His maneuver infuriated Warren, who immediately boarded a plane for Washington to join Christian Right leaders, including born-again former Watergate felon Chuck Colson, for an emergency press conference on the Capitol lawn. In his speech, Warren claimed that Lantos’ bill would spawn an increase in the sex trafficking of young women. The bill died and PEPFAR was reauthorized in its flawed form. (Days later, Lantos died of cancer after serving for 27 years in Congress.)

With safe sex advocates on the run, Warren and Ssempa trained their sights on another social evil. In August 2007, Ssempa led hundreds of his followers through the streets of Kampala to demand that the government mete out harsh punishments against gays. “Arrest all homos,” read placards. And: “A man cannot marry a man.” Ssempa continued his crusade online, publishing the names of Ugandan gay rights activists on a Web site he created, along with photos and home addresses. “Homosexual promoters,” he called them, suggesting they intended to seduce Uganda’s children into their lifestyle. Soon afterward, two of President Museveni’s top officials demanded the arrest of the gay activists named by Ssempa. Terrified, the activists immediately into hiding.

Warren, in his effort to dispel criticism, has denied harboring homophobic sentiments. “I could give you a hundred gay friends,” hetold MSNBC’s Ann Curry on Dec. 18. “I have always treated them with respect. When they come and want to talk to me, I talk to them.”

But when Uganda’s Anglican bishops threatened to bolt from the Church of England because of its tolerant stance towards homosexuals, Warren parachuted into Kampala to confer international legitimacy on their protest.

“The Church of England is wrong, and I support the Church of Uganda on the boycott,” Warren proclaimed in March 2008. Declaring homosexuality an unnatural way of life, Warren flatly stated, “We shall not tolerate this aspect [homosexuality in the church] at all.”

Days later, Warren emerged so enthusiastic after a meeting with first lady Museveni, he announced a plan to make Uganda a “Purpose Driven Nation.”

“The future of Christianity is not Europe or North America, but Africa, Asia and Latin America,” he told a cheering throng at Makerere University. Then, Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi rose and predicted, “Someday, we will have a purpose-driven continent!”

Max Blumenthal is a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at The Nation Institute in Washington.

Imperial Clash on the Congo Resource Front

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 17, 2008

The Public Record

The recently intensified conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a proxy war intended to stifle Sino-Congolese economic cooperation and promised “mining reform.” Western media remain complicit in the operation by perpetuating the narrative charade of “ethnic tension.”

“For there is, in our own time, an absolute taboo among the corporate news media and the political class against mentioning anything to do with the strategic and economic reasons for war.”

— Robert Newman
On its face, the recent New York Times story, Congo’s Riches, Looted by Renegade Troops, is an excellent journalist endeavour.  Richly detailed and well drawn, the story drills down into the strife and hardship of life surrounding the operations of a single, “illegal” mining operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, run by the enigmatic commander of a “renegade brigade of army troops.”  Readers are informed that the renegade commander, Colonel Matumo, runs his operation “like a mafia,” where the rightful owners of the mining concessions, “British and South African investors,” fear to tread.  There is truth in this story, which is exactly why it serves so well as a tool of disinformation.  But it a very small truth.  Though the story attempts to pass itself off as a definitive study of illegal Congo mining, as implied by the overwrought headline, it is anything but that.  Indeed, as an explanation of Congolese conflict, the story of Colonel Matumo is equivalent in kind to studying the life of a family facing home foreclosure and presenting it as an understanding of the financial collapse on Wall Street.  The two are related, but in no way does the smaller story impart any understanding of the far larger, devastating morass.

Without reference at all to any larger context, readers are left with the impression that Congo’s terrible strife, especially the recent escalation of hostilities, are a chaotic jumble of localized squabbles over eastern Congo’s rich mineral wealth, while ethnic tension and enmity between Hutu and Tutsi fuel the fighting on an orthogonal trajectory of years-long tribal conflict.  Much of what consumers of western media see regarding the fighting in Congo follows these narratives, while occasionally offering to say that “Congo’s riches fuel its war.”   Beyond the immediate militias that are using mineral extraction to fund their operations, what is never said is just who else, exactly, are those enjoying the vast riches beyond the borders of Congo.  Knowing that those vital industrial minerals coming out of Congo don’t just magically appear in cell phones, computers, turbine jet engines, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and the diamond cartels of Antwerp, it is self-evident that something more, much more, is going on in the dark heart of Africa.

Congo has experienced a long arc of exploitation and abuse and the hands of western colonial power precisely because the subsoil of the eastern provinces is one of the riches repositories of minerals on the planet.  Though stories of abuse by King Leopold II and his various agents are legion, Congo’s more recent history has seen the country as a central front between western interests and oppositional forces, all seeking to exploit the contents of Congolese soil.  And so it was when Congo won its independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960.  Within six months, Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was dead and in the trunk of a CIA agent’s car.  Lumumba had been making the usual and always disturbing noises about social programs and land reform, two phrases that immediately strike fear of “communism” into the hearts of western powers, who only hear that their decades-long ways of doing business might come to a shuddering halt under the yoke of popular, democratic reform.  But as history informs us, it remains usually the case that the those attempting to alter the entrenched status quo are the ones likely to be brought to a shuddering halt.
The eventual installation of a deferential and appropriately militaristic General Joseph Mobutu, (ne: Mobutu Sese Seko), ensured that Congo’s brief flirtation with democracy and its associated dangers would not soon be revived.  With US and European backing, the notoriously kleptocratic Mobutu held the reigns for more than thirty years, while western business had nearly free and entirely unregulated access to Congolese resources.  Finally, his embarrassing existence outweighed his strategic importance in a post-Soviet era, and Mobutu was dispatched in a Rwanda-Uganda backed coup in 1997.  The deep reason for this is a vision of balkanization of Congo territory, as expressed in 1996 by Walter Kansteiner, a man who would go on to become Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs in the Bush administration and who now sits on the board of Sierra Rutile Limited, a titanium mining company with a storied history of “corporate exploitation” in Africa. Setting a model for post-colonial corporate exploitation of African resources, Sierra Rulite “maintains its own private armed reaction force.”
At this point, it is important to understand that Congo became, and remains to this day, an intersection of three competing resource extraction networks that were instantiated and entrenched during the years of conflict in the post-Mobutu era.  Described in stunning detail by several reports from the UN Security Council Panel of Experts who studied the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, these three networks are controlled by three proximate powers in frictional conjunction in the mining zones of eastern Congo: Uganda, Rwanda and the Congolese government.  Each governing entity provides armed forces — often supplemented with and trained by private western military contractors — which have installed themselves in various regions adjacent to their own countries, and have maintained a baseline equilibrium since the end of the Second Congo War.  As is well known, these various armies, militias and other militant factions are almost all backed by the United States and various European governments.  Rwanda and Uganda are both ardently supported by US interests.  Indeed, Rwandan president Paul Kagame is essentially a US military asset planted in central Africa, having been trained at US military command school in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas up until the Uganda-backed invasion of Rwanda by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1990.  The invasion led to the installation of Kagame as president.  He remains firmly entrenched in Kigali, with enthusiastic US support.
What is essential in these Congo resource operations, indeed, it is the sine qua non of the operations themselves, is the intimate participation by a vast array of western business interests, all forming alliances with the various governments.  The alliances and affiliations form intricate webs within the three resource extraction networks, company affiliations dictated by resource interests.  The UN Expert Panel reported an array of 119 different companies involved in mining operations and transportation of minerals, including 12 companies based in the United Kingdom, 9 United States firms, 21 companies based in Belgium, 12 in South Africa, 4 in Germany, 5 in Canada and 2 in Switzerland.  Many of the 29 companies that were found in violation of law, though registered in Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, were really just front operations for western firms operating in conjunction with local Ugandan, Rwandan and Congolese government officials.  Israeli firms operating in the Congo mining theatre had close ties to the government in Kinshasa, as well as to luminaries of the Democratic Party in the United States.
But how do these networks operate so as to illegally extract minerals from Congo?  The UN Expert Panel offers a case study in how coltan (columbite-tantalite) makes its way from eastern Congo into the larger world through the Rwandan “elite network.”  It is worth quoting at length.

Eagle Wings Resources International, a coltan comptoir in Bukavu, is a subsidiary of Trinitech International Inc., based in Ohio, United States. Eagle Wings has offices in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The manager of Eagle Wings in Kigali has close ties to the Rwandan regime. Consequently, Eagle Wings operates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a Rwanda-controlled comptoir with all the privileges derived from this connection. Eagle Wings is not obliged to fulfil its full responsibilities to the public treasury managed by the RCD-Goma administration. Like other Rwanda-controlled coltan comptoirs, Eagle Wings collaborates with RPA to receive privileged access to coltan sites and captive labour.

Approximately 25 per cent of Eagle Wings coltan is shipped from Kigali to the Ulba Metallurgical Plant of NAC Kazatomprom, in Kazakhstan. Another 25 per cent is sold to the parent company of Eagle Wings, Trinitech International Inc. in the United States, which arranges for sales to both Ulba and to the Chinese processing facility at Ningxia Non-Ferrous Metals Smeltery (NNMS). H. C. Starck, based in Germany and a subsidiary of the transnational corporation Bayer AG, purchases about 15 per cent of Eagle Wings coltan. H. C. Starck has denied on numerous occasions obtaining coltan originating from Central Africa. In a press statement issued on 24 May 2002, H. C. Starck reiterated that the company had purchased no material originating in Central Africa since August 2001. The Panel possesses documents showing the contrary. In the same press release, H. C. Starck claimed that its coltan originates from peasant suppliers and not from rebel groups. In fact, no coltan exits from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo without benefiting either the rebel group or foreign armies.

In one instance on which the Panel has documentation, Mozambique Gemstone Company provided false documents establishing Mozambique as the origin of a shipment of coltan originating in Rwanda and transiting through South Africa. Mozambique Gemstone Company then sold the consignment to AMC African Trading and Consulting Company Ltd., based in South Africa, which subsequently sold the consignment to H. C. Starck Ltd. in Rayong, Thailand, on 21 September 2001. H. C. Starck sent a letter of credit for this consignment on 9 May 2002 to Chemie Pharmacie Holland, which oversaw the transaction, and which is a commercial partner of Eagle Wings providing logistical and financial services. Eagle Wings is the only coltan source for Chemie Pharmacie. Eagle Wings has no operations in Mozambique.

Neither, it must be noted, does Rwanda have coltan.
Some of these operating companies have changed ownership in the years since the cited UN report.  For example, the mention of H.C. Starck is of particular interest in the current context because former owner Bayer AG sold H.C. Starck in 2007 to the private equity houses of Advent International and The Carlyle Group.
The purpose of simmering conflict becomes apparent at this point; conflict provides cover.  In order that such networks could possibly operate surreptitiously and on such a scale, conflict ensures that observation and investigation become extremely difficult, if not outright fatal.  Unlike nominal business environments, wherein stability and transparency are deemed a requirement, illegal operations demand chaos and false front narratives to explain it away from the underlying profit-taking performance.  Scale is important: the bigger the corrupt operations, the bigger the conflict needed to cover the footprints.
Returning the case of Colonel Matumo, the question begged but not answered by the New York Times story is, why has any brigade of the Congolese army gone renegade?  Again, the UN Security Council Expert Panel report provides a basis of understanding.  Within the organized asset stripping programs in the Congolese government network, officials of parastatals, in concert with western companies such as US-based OM Group, conspire to siphon off enormous revenue from mining operations, depleting the public treasury.  All public spending has seen serious decline, including payrolls for soldiers.  Unpaid and armed, these Congolese army soldiers became predators, preying on the very population they are supposedly meant to protect.  Armed soldiers formed independent profiteering militias, often organizing their own illegal mining operations in order to pay and supply themselves.  One such operation is that of Colonel Matumo and his is but one of many such small scale operations.  Once entrenched in the operation, the “soldiers” have essentially decided to remain in business, knowing full well that no trust can be placed in the government in Kinshasa.
But the scale of these operations can hardly be said to represent the bulk, or even a large fraction, of the minerals extracted from Congo.  Indeed, as Christopher Asselineau of Simmons & Simmons Global Mining Group informs us, “any functioning industrial mining venture has a production capacity that far exceeds that of thousands of individual, illegal mines.”  But the New York Times headline carries the histrionic implication that most if not all of “Congo’s riches” are being looted by dastardly “renegade troops.”  Asselineau calls this a “popular theme among uninspired politicians and NGOs.”  And, apparently, a western media that is either too lazy or complicit in the game to examine the true nature of Congolese resource extraction and the wars that surround it. The New York Timesstory, and indeed most if not all western media sources, provide one narrative described above: cover for western corporate involvement in the virulent, deadly corruption that sits at the heart of the Congolese wars.
Kabila, China, and “Contract Reform”
After Joseph Kabila was installed as president subsequent to the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, in 2001, the Democratic Republic of the Congo held general elections in July, 2006.  It would be the country’s first election since 1960, the one that led to the almost immediate US-backed assassination of prime minister Patrice Lumumba.  The 2006 election delivered a mandate to Joseph Kabila, a man who appears to be considerably more charitably inclined toward his country’s population than his father.  Also, and as with any democratically elected leader, there was an obvious recognition by Kabila that he would need to pay some tribute to the long-suffering population of his war ravaged country.
Indeed, within months of his confirmation, Kabila set about on path of reform, specifically focusing on the many mining contracts that father Laurent had signed with various western companies during the First Congo War.  Those contracts were seen as terribly lopsided in favor of western interests, which received the brunt of mining revenue at the expense of the government treasury, itself being looted by the various corrupt schemes describe by the UN Expert Panel reports.  The rhetoric of reform, so hated by any entrenched establishment that is profiting wildly from the status quo, was making a comeback on the political stage of Congo.
And so it began in the spring of 2007.  Mere months after Kabila’s confirmation, news was circulating that the major mining contracts held by a vast array of western companies would come under review by a Congolese government panel.  This panel would review the contracts and make recommendations to Kabila’s government on how to proceed.  While the promise of the review caused little concern at the time, that would change considerably upon release of the panel’s report later that year.
Promise of reform kept coming.  Subsequent to the announcement of the mining contract review, Kabila’s government announced that it would sign a multi-billion dollar agreement with the Chinese government (now standing at $9 billion) that would give the Chinese direct access to mineral resources in exchange for a host of infrastructure projects, including roads, hospitals and health care centers, schools, railroads, housing, and two hydroelectric projects.  This is not altruistic, obviously. The Sino-Congolese agreement consigns the Chinese a 68% share in the joint venture and the rights to two large cobalt and copper concessions, while the proposed road and rail systems will obviously be used for mineral transport.  Opposition parties criticized the deal, claiming that Kabila intended to “sell off our natural heritage to the detriment of several generations,” words that ring hollow in light of the organized plunder of recent years. In fact, considering how little Congo has received from western interests in the region, China’s planned expenditures would be a veritable boon to the country.  True to China’s diplomatic and business form in Africa and elsewhere, the deal came with no imposition of the kind of “political reform” that usually accompanies financial investment from western institutions such as the IMF.
In November, 2007, with the backdrop of the Chinese agreement and skyrocketing world commodity prices, Kabila’s government-appointed panel leaked the contract review recommending that all extant mining contracts be renegotiated or cancelled due to “irregularities” in license origination and negotiation, or, in a marvel of understatement, “disrespect of the Congo’s mining code.”  At the time, Resource Investor termed the report a “contract shake-up” that was rocking the mining sector.  Shares of major mining companies plunged.  Freeport-McMoRan, BHP Billiton, AngloGold Ashanti, Nikanor and Katanga Mining (the two companies merged two days later in a $3.3 billion deal that created “one of the world’s largest independent copper and cobalt producers.”), all had some 37 contracts with the Congolese government that were classified for renegotiation.  For Anvil Mining, its claim to the Dikulushi copper-silver mine was recommended for termination; its stock price collapsed 19% in one day.
It was within this and the context of China’s larger push into Africa that the Bush administration announced the formation of AFRICOM, devoted, as we were told by commander of AFRICOM General William Ward, to “work with the nations of Africa and their organizations to assist them in increasing their capacity to provide for their own security.”  Furthermore, AFRICOM’s mission statement claims that

U.S. Africa Command intends to work with African nations and African organizations to build regional security and crisis-response capacity in support of U.S. government efforts in Africa.

It is left unsaid just what those “U.S. government efforts” would be, but the propaganda that US military efforts in Africa will be one big humanitarian operation is being applied in thick coats.
However little White House and US military rhetoric tells us regarding AFRICOM’s intent, US State and Defense Department advisor, Dr. J. Peter Pham, informed Congress that AFRICOM necessarily would be focused on China’s movements in Africa and that China was the only “near-peer competitor” to the United States.

China is currently importing approximately 2.6 million barrels of crude per day, about half of its consumption; more than 765,000 of those barrels—roughly a third of its imports—come from African sources, especially Sudan, Angola, and Congo (Brazzaville). … Chinese President Hu Jintao announced a three-year, $3 billion program in preferential loans and expanded aid for Africa. These funds come on top of the $3 billion in loans and $2 billion in export credits that Hu announced in October 2006 at the opening of the historic Beijing summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) which brought nearly fifty African heads of state and ministers to the Chinese capital. Intentionally or not, many analysts expect that Africa—especially the states along its oil-rich western coastline—will increasingly becoming a theatre for strategic competition between the United States and its only real near-peer competitor on the global stage, China, as both countries seek to expand their influence and secure access to resources.

This testimony was given in August, 2007, mere weeks after the China-Congo agreement was announced.  AFRICOM was then established October 1, 2007 and it didn’t take long before George Bush made his one and only trip to Africa in February, 2008, a whirlwind, five country tour that naturally made a stop in Rwanda.  There, Bush heaped praise, and millions of dollars of new military aid, on the US military asset in Kigali, a man known in more polite circles as President Paul Kagame.
Coltan and the U.S. Military
Apart from the realization that China’s efforts generally threaten the well-connected, entrenched, and highly profitable presence of western corporate interests in Congo, there is one curious detail that pertains to the relationship of the US military and vital coltan ore, from which both niobium and the highly conductive transition metal, tantalum, are derived.  Tantalum is used in the manufacture of electronic capacitors that find their way into almost every electronic device currently made.
In a 2008 report by Talison Minerals on the state of the Tantalum Industry, marketing manager Paul Wallwork indicated that in early 2007, the US Defense Logistics Agency exhausted its stockpile of tantalum, placing the US Defense Department into a precarious, if brief, period of supply uncertainty.  The DLA is responsible for “logistics support for the missions of the Military Departments and the Unified Combatant Commands under conditions of peace and war” and “supplies the Nation’s military services and several civilian agencies with the critical resources they need to accomplish their worldwide missions.” Tantalum stocks have been rebuilt only to about two thirds of their 2006 level.  What the tantalum stockpile exhaustion event indicated was that the US Defense Department had a direct stake in securing Congolese resources, which is now thought to possess 80% of the world’s coltan.
The Near Term Arc of Conflict
The narrative arc is well described.  Conflict stasis was established; an equilibrium of simmering population abuse and organized, unfettered resource plunder by the instantiated resource extraction networks.  Of the three networks, the two most significant ones were the Rwandan and Congolese operations.
In the first two years if this decade, a recession hit the United States in the wake of the “dot-com” crash and commodity prices tumbled. Mineral demand plunged, and the simmering Congolese conflict eased.  Then, as the housing market in the United States overheated American consumption, and the Chinese economy went into overdrive, resource demand escalated sharply and conflict in the Congo once again was on the boil.  Resources grew scarce in the high demand environment.  When the housing market and financial industry collapsed in the United States, investors moved money from those markets into commodities, further driving prices.  Oil, gold, silver, copper, tin, cobalt, coltan, all saw record price increases subsequent to initial news of the uncertain state of Bear Stearns in mid-2007, just as the US Defense Department had exhausted its own stockpile of critical coltan.  Recovery of the stockpile further drove demand.
At the same time Wall Street started on its own destabilizing wobble, China approached the government in Kinshasa and signed a $9 billion agreement for direct access to that country’s mining operations, while the Kabila government signaled its intention to renegotiate contracts with western mining companies and, in some cases, threatened to kill long-standing contracts with major western mining and resource interests.  In testimony before Congress, a State and Defense Department advisor warned that Africa was “increasingly becoming a theatre for strategic competition between the United States and … China, as both countries seek to expand their influence and secure assess to resources.”  In the fall of 2007, the Bush administration announced the formation of a new Unified Combatant Command, AFRICOM.  On a five country tour of Africa in February of 2008, George Bush visited Rwanda and promised even more military aid to the Kagame regime.  Sino-Congolese contracts proceeded in face of opposition complaint.  And then, in August of 2008, seemingly unprovoked rumblings in the eastern, mineral rich Congo stirred anew, led by the indefatigable General Laurent Nkunda, a former officer in the Rwandan military.
A Sudden New Rise of Laurent Nkunda
When Congo and China signed three specific contracts in July of 2008, one for a Kinshasa hospital and two for roads in Kinshasa and the mining province of Katanga, the “rebel” General Laurent Nkunda and his Congres National pour la Defense du Peuple (CNDP) militia began engagement of a “serious escalation of fighting” in August, 2008, in North Kivu province, which shattered the conflict stasis in Congo.  Complaining, once again, about Hutu “genocidaires” who had escaped to Congo in 1994 after the now infamous Rwandan massacre, Nkunda was adamant that his mission was purely humanitarian in nature.  The former Rwandan army officer claimed that Congolese soldiers and Hutu militia were a threat to his Tutsi brothers and sisters, and was only rising up in resistance against a newly imagined threat of more violence against the Tutsi population in eastern Congo.  Western media reports carry this theme of “ethnic tension” hither and yon, without mention of Nkunda’s previous employment as an officer in US-funded military machine of Paul Kagame, nor the well-known support Kagame has provided Nkunda’s CNDP “rebel” militia.
But Nkunda himself has given lie to the facade of ethnic tension and fears of “genocide.”  In fact, in a call for negotiation during a ceasefire, Nkunda expressed a rather odd concern for someone claiming to be worried only about the massacre of Tutsis.  During one interview, the rebel general 

voiced his opposition to a $9 billion US deal that allows China access to Congo’s vast mineral reserves in exchange for infrastructure improvements.

Undoubtedly, this is a rather orthogonal concern for someone who only wants to “fight for our freedom.”
Nkunda and the Rwanda regime have repeatedly denied that Rwanda is supporting the rebel Tutsi general.  But a newly released UN Security Council Expert Panel report  (12 December, 2008found evidence that 

Rwandan authorities have been complicit in recruiting soldiers, including children, facilitated the supply of military equipment, and sent their own officers and units to the DRC to support the CNDP.

During and prior to the escalation, Nkunda forces captured several “large weapons stocks” and looted the Katsiro weapon depot in September, 2008.  The panel has evidence that Nkunda forces have received “several shipments” of Rwanda military uniforms, which are then “cleansed” of Rwanda flags.  Interestingly, the uniform shipments originated in Boston, Massachusetts.  Allegations mount that Nkunda’s militia receives shipments of ammunition from both Rwanda and Uganda.
Contract Reform Threatened
The Rwanda-backed conflict escalation appears to be having its intended effect upon the Kabila government’s reform effort.  Indeed, the new contracts, with better terms for Congo, and the $9 billion China-Congo agreement may unravel completely.
After weeks of fighting between the CNDP, the Congolese army and its various militias, The Wall Street Journalreported that the “unrest” was disrupting the mining contract reforms  as recommended earlier in the year by a Kabila government panel.

As rebel fighting in eastern Congo threatens to escalate into a regional conflict, government officials in Kinshasa have put on hold important decisions affecting the mining industry, a delay that likely pushes back international investment plans and undercuts the country’s efforts to rebuild its shattered economy. …

Recently, Congo’s mining ministry completed a review of the state’s contracts with international companies. It was one of a series of moves by African countries to seek better terms amid booming commodity prices. The ministry renegotiated some 60 concession agreements.

But Congo’s lawmakers have failed to sign off on the new deals. They have been preoccupied by the recent fighting and humanitarian crisis in North Kivu province, near Congo’s eastern border with Rwanda. Renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda has surrounded the provincial capital of Goma and has threatened United Nations peacekeepers and government troops. This week, Angola said it will send troops to the country, raising fears the fighting could draw in other countries.

“This war in the east is taking all of the government’s attention,” said Deputy Minister of Mines Victor Kasango in a telephone interview. “We are waiting for things to calm down.”

As indicated earlier, Kabila intended to use better contract terms to “replenish drained state coffers and to repair infrastructure,” but now those new contracts languish unattended as Nkunda continues the threats, fighting, and calls for negotiation.  Analysts are now indicating that the mining companies could leverage the conflict, delay, and recent steep decline in commodity prices to “force fresh contract talks.”
Worldwide Commodity Demand Collapse
As it has in many an economic arena, the Wall Street generated financial crisis has had severe, deleterious effects upon Chinese manufacturing and, hence, China’s demand for a wide variety of resources.  Collapsing world demand for goods led to China’s largest manufacturing contraction on record in November.  Demand and prices for copper, cobalt, tin, zinc and coltan have seen steep declines in recent weeks and an end to poor economic news appears nowhere in sight.  But the economic malaise striking far and wide may actually provide some relief for the Democratic Republic of Congo, however temporary it may be.
As is true for coltan, Congo is the world’s largest source of the crucial industrial metal, cobalt.  In recent weeks, collapsing markets has slowed industrial activity in China so rapidly, world demand for cobalt has effectively “ground to halt.”  In fact, the situation is so bleak, London-listed Camec “mothballed” its Mukondo mine in Congo, considered to be one of the world’s richest sources of cobalt.  Six months ago, China was “buying record quantities of the metal,” but that activity has all but evaporated.
This is exactly the leverage mining companies hoped for in the face of Kabila’s contract mining reform efforts.  But mine operators and Kabila surely know that depressed demand will not last forever.  Depressed demand may last for a considerable period, but eventually, demand will resume its inevitable climb.  Nonetheless, Congo might be hopeful that Rwanda-generated conflict pressure in the eastern provinces may relax, as mining interests hit upon world demand collapse as leverage against the Kabila government.  This maybe one reason why all parties currently seem so amenable to negotiation right now.  Kabila may have no alternative but to renegotiate the new contracts, as he watches his own treasury shrivel as mines trim operations or shut down altogether.
Should this occur, it seems reasonable to imagine a status quo ante proposition, that this current episode of heightened US/Rwanda backed violence will eventually equilibrate to the earlier stasis of resource plunder, which will ultimately prevent the imposition of China onto the Congolese resource stage.
Conflict Resolution Scenarios
At present, there are two possible outcomes to the current Rwanda-backed conflict escalation, both of which will see the Sino-Congolese agreement, in its current form, scrapped.  One, either China reneges on the $9 billion agreement or, through its negotiation with the Kagame regime, the Kabila government withdraws from or significantly curtails terms of the agreement.  In this case, Nkunda’s forces will suddenly find themselves appeased by some other specious aspect of a Congo-Rwanda accord.  The status quo returns.
Two, the Kabila government and China remain committed to their agreement, in which case Nkunda forces advance on Kinshasa and take out Kabila.  An interim government takes the reins until new elections.  They or a newly elected regime then scuttle the China agreement.
Of those two, curtailment presents the best diplomatic solution and can be presented in a specious manner under the pretext of collapsing resource demand and China’s own manufacturing downturn.  This has the salutary feature of actually being something to which the Chinese could agree and, for reasons already stated, China may be amenable to such a resolution.  Not that they have much of choice.
F. William Engdahl has called the present situation in the Congo a US-backed “resources grab.” But he states this incorrectly.  Congolese resources were already grabbed — have been grabbed for quite sometime — by the United States and its allies.  What is going on now is not a new grab, per se, but the prevention of an above-the-board grab by China, which was seeking to cut out all those western corporate middle men who have been profiting handsomely for so long.
Realist Foreign Policy Returns with a Vengeance
The ongoing, currently escalated strife in Congo represents the return of US foreign policy to that of past decades, prior to the dominance of neoconservatives in the White House administration.  In no way is this meant to imply that this is good for the Congolese people or anyone else caught the crosshairs of global resource competition.  Clearly, it is not.  But covert proxy actions have been the standard operating procedure of “US interests” for a very long time, something well established and quite effective in that regard.
Besides, the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan have clearly demonstrated that that route was impossible; there is simply no US military capacity to carry out similar direct operations like Bush’s wars.  Furthermore, the US had reliable and fully compliant client already installed to to the heavy lifting already.  There was little need and certainly no patience in the American population for Bush to start publicly sending troops into Congo.  Funding for “military aid and training” was all that was required to get the ball rolling over any Congolese desire for autonomy, independence, and to reap the rewards of their own rich soil.  In Africa, US foreign policy can still get away with murderous proxy wars, especially when so many allies are also involved in making fortunes on the backs of dark and destitute people, people who likely have little understanding of what on their own earth is going on.
Current conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo are only the latest in a long and shameful legacy of western misemployment and exploitation.  Millions suffer, millions die, and our political class and complicit media organs shout and cry about all the ethnic tension they claim leads to this suffering.  Never are the operations and fortunes of western corporate interests mentioned, nor too the presence of US and European military troops who are there, aiding and abetting the slaughter.
Will this change?  Will the west somehow find a way to bring itself to see and admit what it has wrought in Africa?  Will we recognize the utter futility of seeing the world as a set piece for what Pepe Escobar has called “liquid war,” the condition of continuous strife and war for the world’s dwindling resources?  It seems so, because western society remains willfully blinded by a corporate media that spends far more energy cover up imperial crimes than exposing them.  More often than not, and even in face of evidence to the contrary, western fingers insist on pointing at and blaming everyone and everything else.  In a recent round of historical revisionism, Condoleezza Rice had the temerity to say that the United States was “dragged” into Iraq.
Western society is willing to do admit its hand in atrocity when the historical distance is appropriate — oh yes, those nineteenth century European colonial powers were horrible, horrible! — but will pretend as though they have nothing to do with the killing now, even as we enjoy the enormous menu of material riches that Africa has to plunder.  Western corporation interests are there, we are told, just trying to do the right thing amidst a land filled with hordes of squabbling dark people who just don’t know how to live peaceably.  So, we tell ourselves that we must send them “military advisors,” and guns, and mortars, and rocket propelled grenade launchers.  And lots of them.
It’s funny, though, how peaceably well those people seem to live wherever they aren’t sitting atop a wealth of mineral resources the industrial world needs to fuel its insatiable consumption.
An astronomer who has worked on a number of NASA projects, Ken lives in Baltimore, where he devotes his scientific training to observations and inferences about current affairs, politics and the media. He authorsShockfront and The Bonehead Compendium.  

A Massacre in Congo, Despite Nearby Support

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 11, 2008

New York Times

The son of Ludia Kavira Nzuva, 67, was among at least 150 people killed in little more than 24 hours by rebels in Kiwanja, Congo. (Michael Kamber for The New York Times)

The son of Ludia Kavira Nzuva, 67, was among at least 150 people killed in little more than 24 hours by rebels in Kiwanja, Congo. (Michael Kamber for The New York Times)

KIWANJA, Congo — At last the bullets had stopped, and François Kambere Siviri made a dash for the door. After hiding all night from firefights between rebels and a government-allied militia over this small but strategic town, he was desperate to get to the latrine a few feet away.

“Pow, pow, pow,” said his widowed mother, Ludia Kavira Nzuva, recounting how the rebels killed her 25-year-old son just outside her front door. As they abandoned his bloodied corpse, she said, one turned to her and declared, “Voilà, here is your gift.”

In little more than 24 hours, at least 150 people would be dead, most of them young men, summarily executed by the rebels last month as they tightened their grip over parts of eastern Congo, according to witnesses and human-rights investigators.

And yet, as the killings took place, a contingent of about 100 United Nations peacekeepers was less than a mile away, struggling to understand what was happening outside the gates of its base. The peacekeepers were short of equipment and men, United Nations officials said, and they were focusing on evacuating frightened aid workers and searching for a foreign journalist who had been kidnapped. Already overwhelmed, officials said, they had no intelligence capabilities or even an interpreter who could speak the necessary languages.

The peacekeepers said they had no idea that the killings were taking place until it was all over.

The executions in Kiwanja are a study in the unfettered cruelty meted out by the armed groups fighting for power and resources in eastern Congo. But the events are also a textbook example of the continuing failure of the world’s largest international peacekeeping force, which has a mandate to protect the Congolese people from brutality.

In this instance, the failure came from a mix of poor communication and staffing, inadequate equipment, intelligence breakdowns and spectacularly bad luck, said Lt. Col. H. S. Brar, the commander of the Indian peacekeepers based in Kiwanja.

But the killings and the stumbling response to the rebel advance were symptomatic of problems that have plagued the United Nations peacekeeping force in Congo for years, said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, who investigated the slayings this month. The rebel onslaught was even led by a commander who is wanted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court.

“Kiwanja was a disaster for everyone,” Ms. Van Woudenberg said. “The people were betrayed not just by rebels who committed terrible war crimes against them but by the international community that failed to protect them.”

In the past year alone, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes as the rebels, led by a renegade army general, have waged a fierce insurgency against the government and its allied militias.

In an interview, the rebel general, Laurent Nkunda, denied that his troops had executed civilians here, accusing militias allied with the government of trying to make his rebel movement look bad.

“We cannot kill the population,” he said. “It is not in our behavior to kill and to rape.”

But extensive interviews with victims, aid workers and human-rights investigators showed that Mr. Nkunda’s men carried out a door-to-door military operation over two days in which young men and others were executed.

The trouble began on Oct. 28, when Congolese Army troops fled the town, fearful of the advance of Mr. Nkunda’s troops.

The soldiers, who had already been routed by Mr. Nkunda’s men farther south, looted and raped as they ran, taking everything of value and even forcing some residents to help them carry the spoils, according to witnesses and investigators. Fearful residents had to choose between two bad options: follow the rampaging army or wait to see what the rebels might bring.

With the soldiers long gone, Mr. Nkunda’s troops took the towns of Kiwanja and Rutshuru without firing a shot. Immediately, they ordered the residents who remained to torch sprawling camps that held about 30,000 people displaced by earlier fighting, proclaiming that it was now safe for the camp dwellers to return to their villages, witnesses said.

“They said there was security, so everyone should go home,” said François Hazumutima, a retired teacher who had been living in a nearby camp. “But none of us felt safe.”

A week later, on Nov. 4, a group of militia fighters known as the Mai Mai carried out a surprise attack on Kiwanja. But the rebels soon routed the Mai Mai — and ordered all residents to leave.

The soldiers then went house to house, saying they were searching for militia fighters who stayed behind to fight. But many residents who stayed were scared their houses would be looted or were too old or infirm to flee, according to witnesses. Others had simply not gotten the message to leave.

The rebels came to the door of a 25-year-old trader, banging and threatening to shoot their way in.

“There were gunshots everywhere,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “They asked for money. I gave them $200.”

He then watched in impotent horror as the rebels went to his 22-year-old brother’s house next door. The man, a student, had no money to offer them. The soldiers ordered him to lie on the ground. They stabbed him in the neck with their bayonets and shot him in the head, he said.

“They said, ‘If you don’t have money, you are Mai Mai,’ ” he said. “Everyone who was young was destined to die.”

Muwavita Mukangusi said she was out in the fields farming with her husband when the shooting started. Their three young daughters were at home, so Ms. Mukangusi ran back. Her husband hid in the fields, returning only at nightfall. The next morning the rebels came.

“They took my husband,” she said, her eyes rimmed in red. “Because I had $50 in the house, I took $25 to them. But it was not enough. I added $25. It was still not enough. They accused him of being Mai Mai.”

The rebels beat him, she said, then forced him to the ground and shot him in the back of the head.

According to witnesses and clips of video shot at the time, Jean Bosco Ntaganda, Mr. Nkunda’s chief of staff, commanded the troops that carried out the killings. Mr. Ntaganda, whose nom de guerre is the Terminator, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed while he was commanding a different armed group earlier in the war.

Meanwhile, confusion reigned at the nearby peacekeepers’ base. The company of soldiers sits in a spot that is decidedly not strategic, nestled in a valley that is highly vulnerable to incoming fire and has a poor vantage point from which to keep tabs on the surrounding area.

The company’s only translator left the base on Oct. 26 and was not replaced until more than two weeks later. But even in normal times, communications are limited. To make logistical arrangements, the peacekeepers depend largely on civilian staff members who work normal business hours and have weekends off. Unable to speak to most of the population and with almost no intelligence capabilities, Colonel Brar groped his way through a fog of rumor, speculation and misinformation.

“During this whole time, there was an informational vacuum,” Colonel Brar said.

With just one company of soldiers and three armored vehicles, the colonel’s peacekeepers were overmatched, he said. Patrols had to be aborted because rebels and militia fighters opened fire with heavy weapons that could pierce the vehicles’ cladding. The peacekeepers said they could not tell the difference between the different armed groups and were fearful of firing on civilians.

The colonel said he was juggling orders from headquarters in Goma to rescue stranded aid workers and search for a kidnapped foreign journalist. Sending out too many patrols would leave no one to protect the thousands of civilians gathered around the base, trapped in the vulnerable valley.

Making matters worse, the peacekeepers’ armored vehicles are largely unable to handle the muddy terrain of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the violence. It was not until the fighting was over that the full horror of the killings was discovered in houses stuffed with dead bodies.

“We launched patrols in areas we thought there would be clashes,” he explained. “But we could not be everywhere at once.”

As the shooting died down, residents said they found streets littered with bodies. Most, but not all, were young men and boys. One health care worker, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals, helped the Red Cross recover the bodies.

“Some were killed with bullets, others bayoneted,” the worker said. Among the injured sent to the regional hospital, the worker said, were “two women, one small girl of 9 years and one boy of 11 years.”

Witnesses said the rebels ordered that the bodies be buried quickly and far from the cemetery, to avoid leaving evidence for war crimes investigators.

“They did not want any mass graves,” said another man, who participated in the burials.

The worker said that by the end of Nov. 6, they had collected 150 bodies, the same toll reached by Human Rights Watch. The count could be higher still, he said, since the rebels have hampered efforts at a fuller accounting of the dead and missing.

Mr. Nkunda’s men continue to hold the town, as well as neighboring Rutshuru. Outwardly, calm has returned to the streets. But mothers have sent their sons packing because the rebels have been forcing men and boys to join them.

Mujawimana Nyiragasigwa said her 15-year-old son Jimia was snatched by soldiers in broad daylight last month. He had been out looking for work when the soldiers rounded him up, she said, and he has been missing for two and a half weeks.

“If I ever see him again, it will be by the grace of God,” she said.

Colonel Brar was clearly troubled by what happened here but said he and his troops did their best in an awful situation.

“We did what we could,” he said. “Imagine if we had not been here. Many more could have died.”

Ms. Kavira Nzuva, whose son François was killed, said his death had hollowed out her life. Gaunt and hobbled at 67, she was forced to return to the fields to farm.

François had supported her with his photography business. He had wired her mud-walled house for electricity and paid the monthly bill. He had built her a new kitchen. She kept a thick album of pictures of him, a tall man always eager to strike a pose for the camera.

“He was my youngest child,” she said. “I don’t know how I will live without him.”