Silhouette of labyrinthine rancor (Hutu and Tutsi) : DR Congo, Ntaganda, Kabila and the road ahead (PART 3 of 5)

‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’, Rwanda has been of particular interest to western countries as it lay along the border line between Francophone and Anglophone Africa.

Rwandan kingdom was inhabited by a Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. The Hutus were predominantly agriculturist whereas the Tutsis were chiefs and aristocrats. Though they spoke the same language (Bantu) and shared the same customs, in physical appearance, Tutsis were taller than Hutus. Ethnic divisions were well entrenched. Subsequent German and Belgian rules exacerbated ethnic tensions. Colonial masters favouring Tutsis during their rule extended the Tutsi hegemony over Hutus. Introduction of identity cards by the Belgians in the 1920s formed a deep chasm between the two tribes. Belgians established a Tutsi bureaucracy completely trampling Hutu aspirations. Even education was made a Tutsi monopoly. Hutus were relegated as labourers.

In such an unequal society, came independence in 1962. The new state was led by Kayibanda, a politician completely devoted to the cause of Hutu hegemony. Fearing decimation by Hutu extremists, Tutsis started a never ending exodus to neighbouring countries including Congo and Uganda. The new government’s economic policies were initially in the right direction. Inflation was kept low and GDP increased. But Hutu Tutsi rivalry started showing signs of its revival. Kayibanda’s hate campaign against Tutsis couldnot save his own government and he was ousted in 1973 by the Army Commander, Habyarimana. Kayibanda’s preference to southern Hutus over northern Hutus led to his downfall. Habyarimana installed a one party dictatorship. His party (Mouvement Républicain National pour la Démocratie et le Développement, MRND) was also anti-Tutsi. In the beginning, the fledgling country had relative prosperity. But suddenly a sharp drop in world coffee prices posed grave challenges to its economy. Allegations of corruption also rocked Habyarimana’s regime.

Hundreds of thousands of Tutsi exiles living in Uganda had nurtured their ambitions of returning to their nation. The new ruler of Uganda, Museveni, having taken help form the Tutsi refugees in the overthrow of Obote government, was more than willing to help the Tutsi reclaim their country. These circumstances led to the launch of Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1987. RPF’s first attempt turned out to be a misadventure but it provided the French Government an opportunity to increase its influence on the country as Habyarimana had requested for assistance.

Along with the 90s came the democratization wave in Africa. Arusha Accords, signed in 1992, established a transitional government ending the one party system whereby RPF was formally inducted into the Government. But again the peace was shortlived. UN’s role in maintaining peace was strangely limited. On 6th April 1994, Habyarimana’s aircraft was shot down as it flew towards the Kigali airport. His assassination could have been the handiwork of either Hutu extremists or the RPF. But the Hutu extremists pounced on this opportunity to start a chilling extermination of Tutsis, the Rwandan genocide. This barbaric pogrom which lasted for around 100 days, killing around 800,000 to 1 million Tutsis, forced RPF leader Kagame to return to war and he finally took over the capital. Reluctance  of the US and western powers during this genocide was baffling. Soon after Kagame captured the capital, Hutus started fleeing to Congo. This exodus of hundreds of thousands of Hutus included even those who had actively participated in the insane butchering of Tutsis. These Hutus, now refugees in Eastern Congo, started fomenting trouble for the local Tutsis as well as the Rwandan government. Mobutu’s role in the Hutu power zealots increasing disturbing tendencies was viewed with great abhorrence in Kigali. The only alternative before Kagame was the overthrow of Mobutu. With active assistance of Uganda, Rwanda waged the First Congo War. Mobutu was replaced by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, a small time guerilla leader. In May 1997, Kabila after being sworn in as the President, changed the name of the country from Zaire to ‘the Democratic Republic of Congo’. Soon thereafter exiled dictator Mobutu died in Morocco.

But more tribulations were in store for the Congolese as Kabila changed his allegiance, finally culminating in recrudescence of hostilities.

From Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” to Kleptocracy : DR Congo, Ntaganda, Kabila and the road ahead (PART 2 of 5)

Reading Joseph Conrad’s exalted novella “Heart of Darkness”, one can cogitate about the abysmal plight of Congolese people. The antagonist Kurtz’s barbarity showed the devilish behaviour of Belgian ivory traders.

The once personal property of Spanish Monarch had been plundered mercilessly. Its extraction of precious metals added to the misfortune of battered Congolese. The egregiously brutal Belgian colonial rule in Congo has been considered by many historians as the worst example of imperialism. The Belgian ruled the colony without any consultation with the local populace. There were virtually no rights to the Congolese people. The natives loathed the Belgians. Higher education was not available to the Congolese except in Catholic seminaries (and that too for a handful). There was not a single Congolese doctor, engineer, architect or lawyer. There was no representation of the Congolese in government administration too. The counties vast natural resources were continuously being exploited by the Belgians. Post the World War II, as neighbouring French colonies started gaining independence, political activities in Congo could no longer be halted. A group of young educated Congolese launched Mouvement National Congolais (MNC). Then in 1959 a sudden spurt in rioting in the Capital forced Belgian Government to take steps towards political reforms. But the tide of nationalism increased and Belgium understood that it would no more be possible to rule Congo. Violence spread to other parts of Congo too. Finally Belgium agreed to the independence of Congo and fixed the date as 30th June, 1960. In the elections in May 1960, MNC won the largest number of seats but was far from majority. Inspite of Belgium’s efforts to keep MNC out of power and put a moderate government, MNC succeeded in getting majority support through a coalition of twelve different parties. With not even a week remaining for the transfer of power Lumumba had a tough task ahead. The transfer of power, though bought an end to the colonial rule, could not bring peace or prosperity to the unfortunate Congolese. There was a mutiny in the Army, which Lumumba accused Belgian officers of fomenting. Within days of independence the mineral rich State of Katanga showed signs of secession with active connivance of Belgian troops. Country had descended into chaos as soon as it was independent.

After not getting sufficient help from the UN, Lumumba asked Soviet Union for military help. Such an action immediately raised cold war tension resulting in United States planning to eliminate Lumumba. The United States finally staged a coup through Colonel Joseph Mobutu, the Army Chief of staff, in September 1960. The struggling Congolese independence leader, Lumumba, was finally beaten and executed by Belgium backed rebels. The murder of Lumumba sent shock waves throughout the world. Belgium was condemned internationally for its involvement in the leader’s murder. Lumumba, who challenged Western hegemony, had become a famous political martyr (It was only in the year 2002 that Belgium formally admitted to its involvement in the affair). Even the UN Secretary General, Hammarskjöld, was killed in an air crash in Tanzania in September 1961. He was en route to negotiate a cease-fire between Katanga (mineral rich province of Congo) secessionists and UN troops. Till today there is a strong doubt regarding the reason of the crash and many believe that the carrier was shot down. Mobutu took over the reins of the chaotic country.

Mobutu’s long regime had some initial successes. Inflation was brought under control and output substantially increased. The Copper mining industry was nationalized. A large number of development projects were declared. Law and order improved dramatically. He changed the name of the country to Zaire. All towns with European names were given local names like capital Léopoldville to Kinshasa etc. But Mobutu’s self aggrandizement started taking its toll. He created a single national political party Popular Movement of the Revolution (Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution or MPR). He positioned himself at the top of the party and started assuming complete political power. Not content with political power alone, he stated amassing vast personal wealth. He started assuming grand titles, a personality cult surrounding Mobutu became the norm of the day. He himself took the name Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (meaning “The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake”!) His ever increasing lust for wealth finally turned towards the foreign enterprises. He seized thousands of foreign owned companies which included plantations, farms and factories, without compensation. But these companies were handed out to his cronies. Mobutu and his family members were the main beneficiaries. Mobutu’s misrule has no parallel in modern history. But curiously USA and western powers continued their patronage. Eventually the inevitable happened – a complete financial doom. Mobutu’s ignominious regime ended in 1997, but cataclysm was forthcoming.

DR Congo, Ntaganda, Kabila and the road ahead (Part 1 of 5)

DRC’s pillage continues unabated. DRC (second largest country of Africa by area and as large as Western Europe) abounds in reserves of diamond, gold, copper, coltan (important ingredient in manufacture of mobile phone), cobalt and other precious minerals. Yet its abject poverty raises arduous questions. Human Development Index Report 2014 ranks DRC 186 out of 187 countries! Its social indicators are appalling. The ICC trial which commenced this month against Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda (Terminator), puts back the focus of international community on the perturbing circumstances in DRC and neighbouring Rwanda.

After eluding ICC for nine long years, Ntaganda startlingly surrendered before the US Embassy in Kigali (capital of Rwanda) in 2013 and requested transfer to ICC. This keenly watched trial, having a record number of 2149 participating victims, will be a watershed in International Criminal Law as multiple charges consisting of 13 counts of war crimes including murder and attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery of civilians, pillaging, enlistment and conscription of child soldiers under the age of fifteen years and 5 counts of crimes against humanity: murder and attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery, persecution, forcible transfer of population allegedly committed in 2002-2003 in the Ituri Province have been framed.

Ntaganda’s case reminds us of the serious issues concerning not only DRC but the whole of central Africa. Bitter conflict between Hutus and Tutsis have further aggravated the dispute. It brings back the whole dark history of DRC (and Rwanda) back to limelight. The fleecing by the Portugese and the later colossal misrule of Belgium  (DRC began its life not as a colony but only as a personal property of Spanish Monarch Leopold II who named it the ‘Congo Free State’!). Congo’s ‘Rubber Terror’ led to the Belgian Government’s control over the state but the plight of the Congolese remained unchanged. Post WW II, with rise of nationalist sentiments, dynamic leader Lumumba came to power in the first democratic elections in 1960. Congo’s independence in 1960, escalating violence, murder of Lumumba, coup by Mobutu and his subsequent dictatorship lead his country to wretched poverty. By institutionalizing corruption, Mobutu amassed humungous wealth. But the acrid differences between Hutus and Tutsis, particularly in Rwanda leading to the despicable Rwandan genocide in 1994, and Mobutu’s subsequent complicity with siding anti Tutsi militia led to his overthrow. President Joseph Kabila’s desperate attempts to cling to power even after the constitutional mandate of maximum two terms threatens Congo’s political future.

Ntaganda (Rwandan born Tutsi who fled Rwanda to neighbouring Uganda to escape from the Hutu militia) fought with the Rwandan Patriotic Army and participated in the overthrow of the Hutu-led Rwandan government which was responsible for the Rwandan genocide. Though the change of regime led to immediate discontinuance of the pogrom, future machinations led to the Congolese Wars (deadliest war in modern African history, also known as African World War). Peace agreement in 2002 (Sun City Agreement) reduced the hostilities.

But in the volatile Eastern Congo region of Ituri, bloodshed between Hema and Lendu communities continued. Ntaganda served as the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (Forces Patriotiques pour la libération du Congo, FPLC), the armed wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots (Union des Patriotes Congolais, UPC) headed by Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. UPC with active assistance from the Ugandan army, launched an attack against the Lendu community in Ituri province whereas  Nationalist and Integrationist Front (Front des Nationalistes et Intégrationnistes, FNI) fought on behalf of Lendu and against Hema community. EU’s ‘Operation Artemis’ (UN sanctioned) finally subdued the violence. Lubanga has already been found guilty in 2012 of the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting of children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities. He has been sentenced to a total of 14 years of imprisonment and his appeal has been dismissed in 2014(first person transferred to the International Criminal Court, also the first war criminal to serve a final sentence given by the ICC). Presently ICC is deliberating on his application for early release.

Now it is Ntaganda’s rendezvous with the ICC!

Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis since WW II.

The recent deluge of refugees in Europe has posed serious questions on the political stability of the European Union. Effects of an ongoing bloody conflict in Syria on peaceful Europe is not surprising. Widespread protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government started in 2011 (remember Arab Spring) but later it turned into an armed conflict. Many belligerents like Islamic Front, Free Syrian Army got involved in the conflict. But gradually ISIL captured a vast portion of Syrian territory. ISIL’s rapid military gains exacerbated the already volatile situation. Now Syrians, in hundreds of thousands, have desperately started taking refuge in other countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The crisis began in 2011 with the Syrians crossing the borders to Lebanon and Turkey. The pace of migration has been increasing but in the last few months, an unprecedented number of Syrians are trying to go to Germany and other Western European countries. Desperate Syrians are crossing into European Union through South East Europe. Capsizing of ships carrying illegal migrants from Libya is very common. In fact Italian government continued Operation “Mare Nostrum” till November 2014 to tackle such accidents but it had to be discontinued for lack of funds. Now Operation “Triton” conducted by the Border Security Agency is the successor of Operation “Mare Nostrum”.

Under the Schengen agreement, the European countries have abolished border checks on international borders, though the countries with external borders are obligated to enforce border control regulations. This Schengen agreement has made Europe a unified place but in the recent times it has led to strained relations between the member states as the number of migrants entering Europe has reached colossal levels.

A large number of asylum seekers have entered EU through Hungary (by crossing Serbia Hungary border). To stop the influx, Hungary has been recently constructing a fence along its border with Serbia (a non EU state). But the influx continues in Hungary. Most asylum seekers want to use Hungary as an entry point to finally reach Germany and Scandinavia. Under the Dublin Regulations, if a person who has filed for asylum in one country, illegally crosses border to another country, he shall be returned to the former. But, in the last few months, enforcement has become increasingly difficult, as more and more asylum seekers headed for Germany. At one point of time, Germany suspended the regulations for ease of the asylum seekers. But such benevolent measure only increased the number of desperate asylum seekers to go to Germany. During the last fortnight, countries have started cracking down on asylum seekers. Austria which was providing passage from Hungary to Germany, is now reluctant to continue. Also Hungary has taken steps to control the movement of migrants towards Germany resulting in chaotic situations seen in Budapest railway station. Even Germany has established temporary border controls to limit the incoming surge. Austria too has established border controls alongside border with Hungary. Even Hungary has now criminalised unauthorised entry. But refugees have started taking a new route via Croatia to enter Hungary after Hungary decided to shut the EU’s external border with Serbia. As more member states introduce border control, though described as temporary measures, it seriously undermines the free Schengen movement.

Germany’s stand on this refugee crisis has also led to a serious political debate. An anti-immigration wave, which was dormant for a long time, has made a comeback. Christian Social Union has openly resisted the uncontrolled entry of asylum seekers in Germany. Blame game is also going on. Right wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has blamed Germany for the present crisis.

European Commission President JeanClaude Juncker, backed by Germany, France and few western states, tried but failed to implement a migration quota system which would have forced individual countries to take on a share of some of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers. Instead the members only agreed to share the asylum seekers on a voluntary basis. The move for quota system was opposed by East European countries like Hungary, Czech Republic and Baltic States. They argued that their economy cannot sustain the influx of asylum seekers. Also the asylum seekers want to go to Germany and Scandinavian countries where there are better social welfare measures.

The most affected countries by this influx are Italy, Hungary and Greece. Turkey shelters home to more than two million refugees but it also feels a lack of support from Europe in tackling the crisis. UNHCR should have done more to tackle this humanitarian crisis effectively. Even United Kingdom has been facing severe criticism for doing too little, probably prompting David Cameron to visit refugee camps in Lebanon.

Questions are also being raised regarding the composition of asylum seekers. What to do with those merely seeking a better life and not fleeing from war and persecution? Can economic migrants be allowed uninterrupted entry in Europe? Questions on asylum shopping are also being raised.

The European Commission in the extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council has significantly increased the financial support to Syria and its neighbouring countries. It also stressed on stronger joint effort to secure the external borders of the European Union. But in the ongoing crisis, as Governments are trying to take positions best suited to their countries, rights of refugees seem to be ignored. European Commission President JeanClaude Juncker has rightly remarked that giving refuge and complying with the fundamental right to asylum is very important.

World Politics, Economy and Law through my eyes …