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D. R. of Congo: Trouble in the Kivus

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, D.R. of Congo, Breaking News, Ethnicity & Race, Human Rights, Humanitarian Response, International Relations, Media & Journalism, Politics, Protest, War & Conflict

This month's round-up from the Democratic Republic of Congo will focus on bloggers in North and South Kivu. Bordering Rwanda and Burundi, these two provinces represent the troubled epicenter of Central Africa’s picturesque Great Lakes [1] region.

For many months now, tension has been inexorably rising, as a dissident general named Laurent Nkunda [2] has refused to integrate his forces into the national army and prepared for war instead. He has positioned himself as the protector of a Tutsi minority threatened by the continued presence of a large group of Rwandan Hutu rebels (the FDLR [3]/Interahamwe [4], many of whom were implicated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda [5]). Until now, the Congolese army has lacked the resolve and the capacity to take on either group militarily. But clashes have begun [6], leading to emergency talks [7] between Rwanda and the D R Congo.

On 3 September, Stood in the Congo [8] reported that Nkunda was destroying local power and communication facilities [9] (possibly his people have an independent radio network):

Last night General Nkunda's men destroyed all communication antennas for radios and mobile phones in the Rutshuru and Bunagana area. They also destroyed the hydro-electric station at Rutshuru, taking out the electricity. The towns of Kiwanja and Rutshuru are now cut off from the outside world.

Unfortunately, the rebels have also attacked a rangers’ patrol post [10] in Virunga National Park, taking control of the area, which straddles the border with Rwanda and Uganda.

All three armed groups have long indulged in a variety of criminal pursuits at the expense of the local population, ranging from rape and pillage to trafficking minerals and contraband, including cannabis: (Debout Congolais [11] [Fr] reveals how the FDLR encourages cannabis cultivation by pillaging all the other crops [12], and both rebels and national army soldiers are involved in trading cannabis for cash or livestock.)

As Cedric Kalonji [13] [Fr]asks [14] :

Plus de dix ans depuis que le Congo a plongé dans une sanglante guerre. Les innocentes victimes se comptent par millions. La plupart de ceux qui ont fait cette guerre jouissent aujourd’hui d’une totale impunité et ont même été récompensés… Où va le Congo mon pays ? Toutes ces tueries s’arrêteront-elles un jour ?

It's than ten years since the Congo was plunged into a bloody war. The innocent victims numbered in the millions. Most of those who fought enjoy today a total impunity and have even been rewarded… Where is the Congo, my country, going? Will all these killings stop one day?

In July, South Kivu mourned the assassination of Serge Maheshe, a reporter for UN-backed Radio Okapi [15]. Now, to make matters worse, a military court in Bukavu has convicted two of his friends of the murder [16]. The author of Kivu Express [17] [Fr] worked with one of them and is plainly convinced of his innocence [18]:

Je ne pourrai jamais croire à sa culpabilité dans cette affaire… La version des faits présentée en cour semble tellement improbable et sans preuves réelles que tout le procès apparaît comme une véritable mascarade. Il semble qu’on veuille trouver rapidement des coupables pour ne pas pointer du doigt les vrais responsables de ce drame.

I could never believe he is guilty… The version of the facts presented in court appeared so unlikely and unsubstantiated that the whole process seemed to be a masquerade. It looks as though they wanted a guilty verdict as quickly as possible so as to avoid pointing the finger at those really responsible.

The troubles of the Kivus seem not to be over for the time being. After a slow build-up, events could unfold rapidly now, with an immediate and long-term impact on politics and livelihoods across the Great Lakes region.