8 January 2013

Congo-Kinshasa: In DRC Nothing Really Changes

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
Displaced families find shelter at an orphanage in Goma,two days after M23 rebels claimed control of the city (file photo).


It's just over one week since the New Year began. The euphoria is slowly dying down and we are gradually getting back to normal - which means going about our lives in an unexciting way. We are still getting used to the fact that this is 2013 - still saying next year when we are already there.

Come to think of it, this is not a mistake or a question of not being used to something. It seems it is an unconscious way of expressing dissatisfaction with the present which has not met expectations and wishing and hoping for a better time still to come. It is like: what hasn't arrived is probably better than what is.

Which is also to say that this year is not different from the last. Everything about it is already familiar.

The bullies - whether they be states, media, NGOs, think tanks or individuals - still rule the world. They ordain what must be, decide who and what is good or bad, and demand that the rest of us accept their definition and classification without question. These tyrants enjoy playing God and want to remake the world in their image.

What does the real God think about these pretenders? Does he fold his arms and look on in bewilderment at the usurpation of his creative prerogative? In the days when gods were made in man's image and combined human passions with supernatural powers, they would have struck the usurpers dumb and crippled them. But that doesn't happen any more. Even God's powers seem to have been emasculated.

And so, in this era of rebellions and terrorist organisations (depending on where you stand) - some of them genuine and others manufactured - the oppressors of the international community decide which of them are good and worth all the support, and which are bad and must be condemned and destroyed at all costs. They also determine which can be ignored and left to run their course.

Take our own neighbourhood, for instance. There are numerous rebel groups in the D R Congo, many of them guilty of the most horrific crimes against humanity. But to the bullies most of these are invisible - except the M23. And, if you are to believe the new gods, this is the very incarnation of evil, rolling into one the brutality and savagery of King Leopold, Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot, and the vicious decimation of native Indian populations in the Americas.

But the demonization of M23 is not enough. There must be an evil genius behind its creation. That can only be Rwanda - the real object of the hatred of the bullies.

The oldest of the armed groups in D R Congo, and the real terrorists - the misnamed Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) has been conveniently forgotten - until recently. It was only towards the end of last year, when talks between M23 and D R Congo government became imminent that the FDLR reappeared in reports on the conflict in DRC.

The re-emergence of FDLR is not a result of recovered memory or realisation that a mistake had been made in sweeping it under the carpet. Nor is it a coincidence. It is a calculated move to raise FDLR to the same level as M23 and demand that it be treated the same way. So, if M23 must negotiate with the Congolese government, so should FDLR with the government of Rwanda.

The ploy is familiar. It has been tried with the genocide to deny it ever occurred. The so-called double genocide is a non-too subtle way of negation of genocide. Equating M23 which has genuine political demands with the genocidal FDLR is a distraction meant to scuttle the ongoing talks. It is also another tactic in the bullies' attacks on Rwanda.

Other things remain familiar. In recent times, African countries have shown a strong desire to resolve conflicts through regional approaches, with satisfactory results. In the DRC the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) took the lead in trying to deescalate the conflict and find a lasting solution. These efforts, however, have been consistently undermined.

Without waiting to see whether ICGLR mediation efforts succeed or not, the bullies have gone ahead to make negotiations difficult by slapping travel bans and assets freeze on M23 leaders - effectively trying to remove them from negotiations.

Similarly, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has shown unusual eagerness to get involved in the conflict without waiting to see the effects of ICGLR mediation. SADC's impatience leads to the suspicion that the motives for itching to get into Congo have nothing to do with peaceful resolution of the conflict, but more with political and economic interests of some of the member states.

The international community and some regional players continue to pay lip service to the gospel of peaceful resolution of conflict that they preach. Instead, they prefer the military option which can only escalate the conflict and cause untold humanitarian suffering. They continue to undermine regional efforts to end conflicts.

So, has anything really changed? No. But, of course, we remain optimistic that it will. That's why a new year excites us - at least for a while, until we settle into the routine of everything being the same.

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