On the occasion of the first International Day against Hate Speech marked on Saturday, June 18, Bintou Keita, Head of the United Nations Mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO), condemned the proliferation of hate speech and violence in eastern DR Congo.
Her statement comes more than a month after authorities in Kinshasa alleged that Rwanda is involved in the eastern DR Congo crisis following the resurgence of the M23 rebellion. Kinshasa labeled Kigali as an enemy and, among other related actions, incited the population to arm themselves with machetes and hunt the supposed enemy, leading to shocking persecution of Rwandans and Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese especially in North and South Kivu Provinces.
While Rwanda has appealed to the DR Congo to observe good neighborliness, own up to her problems, and avoid apportioning blame where none exists, mainstream media as well as social media has since last month continued to publish disturbing trends of public incitement and calls to Genocide. These include proliferation of hate speech spreading double genocide theory and the stigmatization and torture of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese calling on them to return to Rwanda.
Keita said: "Hate speech leads to violence and divides us, where on the contrary, we must strengthen cohesion and live together. This is what Congolese men and women need. This is what all people in the Great Lakes region need."
"I call on everyone to turn our backs on racism and xenophobia. Let's not give place to hateful speeches that have only too much fueled the violence in the DRC and among its neighbours. Let's work together for peace."
Tensions escalated between the two neighbouring countries following the resurgence of the M23 rebellion in the DR Congo's restive east, with fighting between the Congolese army (FARDC) and the M23 rebels near the common border threatening to drag Rwanda into the conflict.
On June 17, an armed Congolese soldier crossed into Rwanda and indiscriminately fired shots, leaving two Rwandan police officers injured before he was shot dead. In at least three recent occasions, including on May 23 and June 10, rockets fired from the Congolese side of the border, injured several people in Rwanda.
Not expected to operate independently
Reacting to Keita's statement, Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, an independent researcher and political analyst, told The New Times that the United Nations diplomat "cannot, really, be expected to operate independently" regardless of what she might think.
"I think that when she says things or when she makes statements and what she says, is very much function of what is acceptable to MONUSCO and whoever is in control of MONUSCO," he said.
Like many other analysts, the political analyst is baffled by the fact that for nearly three decades the UN Mission in DR Congo "has, clearly, been unwilling to tackle FDLR."
Though not given enough attention by the UN force, the FDLR comprises remnants of the perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. After killing more than one million people 28 years ago, they fled into eastern DR Congo where they continue to spread genocide ideology and hate speech.
Amb MP Fatuma Ndangiza, Chairperson of the East African Assembly's Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution, welcomed Keita's statement condemning hate speech but is surprised she took so long to speak out.
Amb Ndangiza said: "Aware of the recurring spread of hate speech and anti-Rwanda and anti-Tutsi hate propaganda sowing the seeds of racism and genocide ideology among the people of DRC, it is surprising to note that the United Nations wait for the 18th June International Day Against Hate Speech to condemn racism, intolerance and hate speech. The experience of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi should be a fresh reminder of the failure of the international community to prevent or avert genocide despite the alarming reports from UNAMIR about the impending genocide."
Disappointed by Keita's statement, Eric Ndushabandi, professor of political science at the University of Rwanda, said he would have loved "to hear what kind of actions they [MONUSCO] could take" to stop the ongoing proliferation of hate speech by Congolese individuals and government officials.
The problem, he said, is the same UN system which takes long to act or never acts where necessary.
Ndushabandi said: "The bureaucracy of the UN system is still the same, which is making this system to fail in Congo. They are totally absent. We could have seen more than one statement denouncing every single incident we see on social media. I hope they [UN] are following."
Every single act and speech on social media of proliferation of hate speech spreading genocide ideology and xenophobia should have been picked up by an early warning system but this, Ndushabandi said, has not happened despite several calls being made for it to be in place.
Hold DR Congo accountable
Amb Ndangiza said the early warning signal of what is unfolding especially in eastern DR Congo, with politicians and elites propagating hatred and intolerance against Rwandans in public discourse, social media and threats of persecution "calls for immediate action by the international community to hold the leadership of the country accountable."
She said: "What is happening is unacceptable. It's high time that Congolese government addresses its internal challenges rather than looking of scapegoats of linking the issue of M23 with Rwanda yet it is purely a Congolese problem."
Amb Ndangiza also wonders why the UN peacekeeping mission, for over two decades, has failed to address the issue of FDLR who are bent on perpetuating genocide, which is not only a threat to the stability of Rwanda but the entire Great Lakes region.
MP Fred Mukasa Mbidde, another regional lawmaker, noted that when it comes to matters related to genocide, MONUSCO "and the UN per say, has always adopted a slumber land approach."
"We are talking about the death of a whole race of a people and leaders, instead, are spasmodically, just seldom, coming out merely to give rhetoric," Mbidde said.
"It is extremely mindboggling how a whole race of people is being exterminated by machete happy individuals. It cannot be explained that in this century, acts of that nature continue to exist."
Mbidde who refers to the M23 as freedom fighters, not terrorists as suggested by Kinshasa, told The New Times that he joins "those who think that the fighting forces [M23]" should not agree and accede to cessation of hostilities until proper protection of their people has been guaranteed. What is happening right now in DR Congo, Mbidde said, is "indicative of government failure to protect the lives of the people."
He added: "And if people as are facing death by machete and all weapon wielding individuals, some even donning military attire, that means that fighting groups including the M23 should now be the military wing for the protection of the people. This therefore implies that any actors now intending to solve the problems that are happening, first of all, should guarantee the immediate security of the lives of the people."
Golooba-Mutebi noted that it is clear, and on record, that UN peacekeepers have always claimed that they can't fight FDLR because these insurgents live with women and children and the peacekeepers will endanger the lives of women and children, if they attack.
Interestingly, he noted, they never hesitate to make threatening statements against M23 or even to try and combat it militarily.
Golooba-Mutebi said: "It is pretty much safe to conclude, I think, that there is some kind of prejudice in this because if there are more than 120 rebel groups in Congo, how many other groups has MONUSCO been targeting? The ADF has been there for ages and MONUSCO never moved a finger to deal with them. The FDLR has been there for ages, and all these other groups.
Their keenness to use military force against M23 has always puzzled me. I think it is probably the product of the claims that people make, quite easily, that M23 is Rwanda's proxy. But again, one could also ask; what about ADF? But maybe because it is allegedly not government supported that's why they go slowly on it.
There are real concerns of communities from which the large number of actors from these groups comes from but until those are addressed by MONUSCO and the DRC government, and other members of the international community, it is going to be very difficult to resolve this whole Congo security issue.