Wednesday, November 21, 2012

DR Congo: The new Goma reality

Congo: Goma's new overlords promise a peaceful future

On his first full day as a master of the city of Goma and its 800,000 fearful inhabitants, Colonel Vianey Kazarama of the "M23" insurgents did his best to sound reassuring.

                        Colonel Vianey Kazarama is surrounded by intrigued civilians Photo: Heathcliff O'Malley for the Telegraph

"We Congolese have begun our liberation," he told a gathering of policemen, the morning after his rebels had defied the world's biggest United Nations peacekeeping force and the Security Council to capture the main city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
After telling the police to go back to work - but not saying who would pay their wages - Col Kazarama, wearing spotless camouflage that seemed unblemished by months of fighting, promised a peaceful future.
"Our plan is to secure the people and their property," he told The Daily Telegraph, flanked by youthful insurgents carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles.
"Today the population can sleep well: last night, we had a quiet night. We ask the people to come back to their homes because now it is peaceful." Any rebel guilty of theft, murder or rape would be punished, he promised.
I guess it is a case of wait and see.
As for the UN Security Council, which passed a unanimous statement on Wednesday demanding M23's withdrawal from Goma, Col Kazarama said: "Goma is my home: I am Congolese. I am not a foreigner. I cannot go anywhere else. Where do they want me to go? Here, I have my brother, I have my friends. This is my land."
The UN Security Council are really to blame for this situation it is a bit rich for them to issue proclamations that they have no ability to enforce despite having the largest standing army in the Congo. 
On Wednesday however, a final report by UN experts charged with investigating the rebels made clear that neighbouring Rwanda was primarily responsible for commanding and supporting the M23 movement.
The country was breaking an arms embargo "by providing direct military support" to M23 in the form of "arms, ammunition, intelligence and political advice", the report said. General James Kabarebe, the Rwandan defence minister, controls the rebellion and sits at the apex of M23's command structure, it added.
Roger Meece, the UN's envoy to Congo, told the Security Council yesterday that the rebels had been carrying out "targeted summary executions" of their opponents during their advance.
The M23 revolt began as a mutiny by soldiers against low pay - and Rwanda and Uganda are alleged to be controlling the rebels in their own interests.
Really ? News to me about the mutiny bit.

On Col Kazarama's telling, however, the insurgents are actually fighting for democracy, human rights and clean government. "Our economy has fallen low and all the money is taken by politicians," he said indignantly.

M23 would behave differently, he promised, although he was vague about how the movement proposed to develop Goma, a city ruined by war and corruption where most people live in shacks. "I am a soldier. The people in the political branch are in charge of that," he said.
That will be of great comfort to the residents of Goma.
But M23 promises to take its campaign to the rest of Congo. On Wednesday, its fighters occupied the town of Sake, west of Goma. Earlier, Col Seraphin Mirindi, another rebel commander, said the next big target would be Bukavu, the capital of neighbouring South Kivu province, and then Kisangani, the main city in central Congo.
"We need to go to Bukavu to free it - and we need to go to Kisangani to free it," he said.

Like Goma Bukavu borders Rwanda so M23 are not moving far from their perceived supply lines. I think Kisangani would be problematic.

M23 seem to be under the impression they will be welcomed by the local populations if reaction to the Goma takeover is anything to go by that will not be the case. Kisangani is probably a step to far.

But M23's outside supporters and the international community, not to mention Congo's government, have other ideas. Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda - both thought to be the masterminds behind M23 - issued a joint statement with Joseph Kabila, the Congolese president, demanding that the rebels halt their offensive and leave Goma immediately.
Whether that demand can be enforced is another matter. Congo's woeful army lacks the ability to resist the insurgents, while 17,000 UN peacekeeping troops, who supposedly underwrite the country's security, lack the will for the task.
The local contingent of about 1,500 blue helmets simply retreated to their bases beside Lake Kivu when M23's assault on Goma began, calmly allowing the city to fall.
Remember this mission is costing $5 million a day. It would be nice to not have to pretend we are getting value for money.
In the aftermath, Goma is torn by the combination of hope and foreboding experienced by so many cities in the hands of invaders who promise a new beginning. Three times before, the city has fallen to rebels who turned out to be just as brutal and predatory as those they replaced.
The streets were full of people yesterday and no fighting took place, but most shops stayed closed. Thierry Girens, 25, made clear how little ordinary Congolese expect of their new masters. "We thank them because they don't kill us," he said simply.
That is not popular support.
Asked why he could be trusted when so many promises had been broken, Col Kazarama replied: "I ask the people to judge us by our deeds."
Then he boarded a landcruiser and swept away with his escorts. It was only his first day as a master of an African city - and already he rode in a motorcade.

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