Africa

Escalating violence in Burundi

Even when there are constitutionally mandated term limits, many leaders try to hold on to power. In Central Africa (where the small country of Burundi, with its population of 10 million, is located) there are several leaders that have tried, or are trying, to bend the rules to stay in office. The DR Congo, Burundi's giant neighbour, is currently the site of a democratic movement to try to uphold the Constitution and stop President Joseph Kabila from changing the rules to stay in office. Rwanda is sometimes called Burundi's 'twin': it has about the same land area. It has about the same population (slightly higher), which has the came ethnicities in the same proportions (Tutsi minority, Hutu majority, and Twa). It was once jointly ruled with Burundi by the colonial powers. In Rwanda, too, the president, Paul Kagame, has recently made all the necessary moves to stay in power beyond his term limits – a special exception to the Constitution, just for him.

The current round of political violence in Burundi began in April when its president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he intended to seek a third term in office. In May, a military coup was attempted against him, and failed. In July, Nkurinziza was re-elected with 69% of the vote, after months of heavy-handed tactics. The opposition did not recognize the legitimacy of the result. A major crackdown on the opposition by the government began in November – hundreds killed, hundreds of thousands displaced to neighbouring countries. Now, after the failed coup and the disputed election, Nkurunziza's government is facing an armed rebellion.

Rebels attacked military bases on December 11th with 87 deaths before the attacks were repulsed. The next morning the capital city, Bujumbura, woke up to find 34 murdered bodies in the streets, probably extrajudicial executions. The UN special advisor on the prevention of genocide, quoted in the journal Foreign Policy, raised a dire warning: “I am not saying that tomorrow there will be a genocide in Burundi, but there is a serious risk that if we do not stop the violence, this may end with a civil war, and following such a civil war, anything is possible”.

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The end of universal jurisdiction

At the beginning of October, Spain's supreme court dismissed the case known to Rwanda watchers as the Merelles (2008) indictments. Judge Andreu Merelles had charged forty Rwandan military officials of crimes against humanity, war crimes, terrorism, and genocide, and issued warrants for their arrest. The indictment was launched because some Spanish citizens had been killed in the Rwandan civil war. But it expanded to include Rwandan and Congolese victims of the armed forces of Paul Kagame, the winner of the 1990 civil war and the man who may have just become Rwanda's President-for-life (more on that below).

The indictments had always excluded Kagame because of Kagame's presidential immunity. Kagame went about protecting himself in two ways, both of which eventually succeeded. First, Kagame may have reasoned, if the president is immune to prosecution, why not stay president forever, making whatever constitutional changes necessary to do so? Second, the indictments themselves were challenged and the doctrine underlying them, ultimately defeated.

The doctrine in question was called 'universal jurisdiction'. The idea was that a crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity were not crimes that stopped at national borders. As a result, any country could charge and try those accused of such crimes, even if they were from another country. Universal jurisdiction is a liberal doctrine, analogous to the selectively applied Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Universal jursidiction is not as prone to abuse as R2P mainly because it is not as asymmetric as R2P: any country with a judiciary can hold a trial and issue arrest warrants, but only two or three countries in the world have the military might to send military forces to other countries, whether on the pretense of protecting people or some other. For non-superpowers, for smaller countries, there was only the threat of the law.

Spain was just such a small country whose judges took up the law against human rights abusers in other countries. Under the universal jurisdiction doctrine it attempted to try Chile's dictator Augusto Pinochet, Guatemalan military officers, and Argentinian military officers. But the Spanish judges didn't just chase fallen dictators from smaller countries. They also pursued former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, US soldiers for crimes in Iraq, Chinese politicians for crimes in Tibet, and Israeli generals for massacres of Palestinians.

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The Beginning of the End for Kagame?

On June 22, 2015 it was reported that the director-general of Rwanda's National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), Emmanuel Karenzi Karake, was arrested in London. One report, by Judi Rever in the Digital Journal, refers to Karenzi Karake accurately as "Kagame's spy chief". Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, rose to power as an intelligence chief himself - working for Yoweri Museveni, the ruler of Uganda, during the 1980s Bush War in that country. Kagame would not choose a spy chief lightly, and Karenzi Karake is absolutely in Kagame's inner circle.

Interpol is responsible for the arrest, and was acting on indictments issued by a Spanish Judge, Fernando Andreu Merelles, in 2008. Merelles issued indictments for forty of Kagame's men, all of whom were in command positions of Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) at the end of the Rwandan Civil War and genocide of 1994. Having defeated and replaced the Rwandan government that committed the genocide, Kagame's RPF hunted and massacred Rwandan refugees during and after the Rwandan civil war, in the areas they controlled (and in the DR Congo).

The evidence of these massacres is irrefutable. In standard accounts of the genocide, including the basic Human Rights Watch book Leave No One to Tell the Story by Alison Des Forges, massacres by the RPF are presented, though no estimates are given on their scale. A famously buried report by UN investigator Robert Gersony, which has since surfaced, estimated the scale to be in the tens of thousands - during the civil war. Some of the largest, and best documented massacres by the RPF occurred after they had already won the war - the worst and most infamous being the Kibeho massacre of April 1995.

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The Filimbi Affair and #Telema

In January of this year, protests erupted in Kinshasa, the capital of the DR Congo, against President Joseph Kabila. He came to power in 2001 as acting president when his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated. He was affirmed as president by a 2002 peace accord, and he was elected in what was probably a fair election in 2006. He was re-elected in what was probably a stolen election in 2011. His second, and final, term is up in 2016. The protests, called the #Telema (the word means "rise up" in Lingala - the language spoken in the capital and elsewhere in the DR Congo) movement, followed the announcement by Kabila's government of a proposed law that would delay the 2016 election until a census could be completed. In the DRC, a census could take years, a fact that Kabila was no doubt aware of when the law was proposed.

The protests were started at the University of Kinshasa and the initial demand was for the removal of the offending article of the law that required the census before the election. But over the next few days in January, the demands started to escalate to the removal of Kabila. The armed forces attacked the protesters, with tear gas and live fire (1). An African human rights group gave figures of 14 people killed on the 19th and 28 on the 20th, all by security forces, while the government claimed a lower death toll of 15 people, supposedly looters killed by private security forces (2). Human Rights Watch gave an estimate of at least 21 people killed by security forces (3).

With 42 student protesters killed, ongoing arrests, and a mass grave found in Kinshasa just days ago, the DRC has its own Ayotzinapa.

In the years leading up to these protests, Kinshasa has been the site of a police campaign of social cleansing that left 51 people dead, murdered by masked police on suspicion of being "gang members" in what was called "Operation Likofi" (4). According to HRW's summary of the operation, "uniformed police, often wearing masks, dragged kuluna, or suspected gang members, from their homes at night and executed them. The police shot and killed the unarmed young men and boys outside their homes, in the open markets where they slept or worked, and in nearby fields or empty lots. Many others were taken without warrants to unknown locations and forcibly disappeared."

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#IStandWithPanzi

In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in the city of Bukavu, in South Kivu, on the Rwandan border, Panzi Hospital has been a refuge for survivors of sexual violence. So why is the Congolese government using the tax system to try to shut it down?

The director of the hospital, Denis Mukwege (1), has argued that the pattern of violence that he and his medical staff have encountered there constitutes a new pathology, a kind of weapon of mass destruction (2), deployed by armed actors to destroy the social fabric of the eastern DRC and control the region and its resources. Dr. Mukwege has won numerous humanitarian awards for his work. As a regional hub for survivors of sexual violence, Panzi has attracted international attention and support. Beyond his medical work, Dr. Mukwege has been a strong voice in international forums reminding the world that, as long as weaponized sexual violence continues, the Congo cannot be said to be in a "post-conflict" situation.

The Kivus are still overrun with armed actors. The Congolese Army is a major human rights violator. Militias sponsored by the DRC's neighbours, Uganda and Rwanda, as well as armed groups of exiles from these countries, operate in the countryside and victimize the civilian population. The Ugandan and Rwandan armies periodically enter Congolese territory to conduct operations of their own. And a multinational United Nations force, one of the UN's largest missions, has been in the east for about 15 years. Against this backdrop, Panzi has been a haven for civilians, a place where women could heal, and a place from where a lot of the energy and organization to help the region recover has come.

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The BBC Documentary doesn't deny the genocide

The BBC Documentary, Rwanda: The Untold Story, does not deny the Rwandan genocide against Tutsis. It is a documentary primarily about Paul Kagame, Rwanda's current ruler, who came out of the Rwandan civil war and genocide of 1994 into a position of absolute power in Rwanda, from which he launched multiple invasions into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, invasions which resulted in well-documented mass atrocities. I wrote about the documentary after I watched it (“The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide”: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-BBC-and-the-Rwandan-Genocide-20141011-0029.html), saying that I hoped that it would create an opening to talk about the current government in Rwanda and about Western support for Kagame. So did many others, including Jonathan Cook, who has done excellent work on Israel-Palestine and has a sharp critique of propaganda in that conflict (See his Oct 4 blog, “Why is the truth about Rwanda so elusive?”: http://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2014-10-04/why-is-the-truth-about-rwanda-so-elusive/).

On October 12, a group of academics and writers wrote to the BBC to express their "grave concern" about the documentary. Their letter, which has been posted on media lens (http://members5.boardhost.com/medialens/msg/1413251703.html) is supposedly about 'genocide denial', but since no one involved in the BBC documentary denied the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis, the letter is really about Kagame, and continuing to protect him from criticism using the slur of genocide denial. The letter seems designed to ensure that no discussion about Kagame or Western support for his regime occurs. It repeats the term "genocide denial" 10 times, but it centers on a number of factual claims which can be evaluated. In the spirit of the "utmost intellectual honesty and rigor" that they claim to seek in their letter, let us evaluate these claims.

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The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide

First published on TeleSUR English:

At the beginning of October 2014, the BBC aired a documentary called Rwanda: The Untold Story. The outlet, the BBC, and the producer and presenter, Jane Corbin, don't just possess impeccable mainstream credentials - they define the mainstream in the West. The one hour documentary is intended for a British audience, and Britain is a bigger supporter of Rwanda and its ruler, Paul Kagame, than even the US. Up until now, in Western media, scholarship, and commentary, the Hutus as a community have been held solely responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and Kagame held up as Rwanda's savior. The titular untold story is that of the crimes committed by the winners in the Rwandan civil war, and especially the crimes committed by the biggest winner who took all, Kagame, Rwanda's president for the past 20 years.

In the documentary, Corbin talks to Rwandan dissidents who were once close to Kagame, but are now exiled and hunted - Kagame's former army chief of staff, Kayumba Nyamwasa, has survived four assassination attempts so far. Kagame's former intelligence chief, Patrick Karageya, was not so lucky, and was strangled in a hotel room in South Africa in January of this year. The documentary shows Kagame at a prayer meeting after Karageya's assassination telling the crowd that anyone who crosses Rwanda will pay the price, and that "it's a matter of time." Details of assassination plots are provided by another exile, who fled the country rather than carry out a killing of these dissidents for Kagame.

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The invisible assumptions of charity driven development: reading Bill and Melinda Gates's 2014 letter

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released their annual letter for 2014 a few months ago. It was devoted to dispelling three common myths, which they argue, block progress for the poor.

1. Poor countries are doomed to stay poor.
2. Foreign aid is a waste.
3. Saving lives leads to overpopulation.

These myths are indeed myths, and the Gateses are right to try to dispel them. It is also nice to see the Gateses sharing to their audience some important facts that they would have otherwise had to turn to some more radical scholars, to find. Myths #1 and #2, for example, was nicely addressed in 2002 by economist Ha-Joon Chang in Kicking Away the Ladder (although reading any number of the Asian, African, and Latin American nationalists from the 1940s to the 1960s or so might also have done the trick). For Myth #3, we could go back to Betsy Hartmann's 1987 book, Reproductive Rights and Wrongs (I picked it up after reading an article by Hartmann in 2000 called Cross-Dressing Malthus).

But the main point I wanted to make in this blog is one I made a few years ago here about philanthrocapitalism. That is, that the solutions for the world's problems aren't going to come from billionaires, and the billionaires know it. Bill and Melinda admit it, in a low-key way, in their letter, with an extended discussion of government aid:

"When pollsters ask Americans what share of the budget goes to aid, the average response is “25 percent.” When asked how much the government should spend, people tend to say “10 percent.” I suspect you would get similar results in the United Kingdom, Germany, and elsewhere...Here are the actual numbers. For Norway, the most generous nation in the world, it’s less than 3 percent. For the United States, it’s less than 1 percent."

What billionaires can do is tiny compared to what governments can do. In their letter, Bill and Melinda are trying to do what anyone can: try to convince others of their arguments in favour of policies they think would help. That is clear from the content of their letter and the nature of their arguments. Why would they do that, if governments didn't matter?

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A short course on development in "Post-conflict" Congo. A Radical Teacher article.

Podur, J. (2014). A Short Course on Development in “Post-conflict” Congo. Radical Teacher, 98, 52-57. doi:10.5195/rt.2014.70

This article, published in the journal Radical Teacher, is about higher education in the eastern DR Congo, based on my experience teaching a course at the Universite Evangelique en Afrique (UEA) in Bukavu in 2011.

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