Home » DR Congo Conflict: Mismanaged, politicised, distorted and underreported

DR Congo Conflict: Mismanaged, politicised, distorted and underreported

by Gibendi Ramenya
The war in DR Congo has being going on for a long time now.

The war that the DR Congo army (FARDC) and its local and foreign armed allies are waging against the M23 rebels in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been going on for more than two years. Longer if you take into account earlier phases of the conflict.

When the story of the war is told, when or if it ends, and how, or whether it goes on intermittently as it has for decades, certain elements will stand out.

It will be said that it was the most underreported and misreported conflict.

Hundreds of thousands of Congolese civilians have been killed, displaced, or sought refuge in neighboring countries.

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Yet all this has not been sufficiently reported or when it has, in a skewed manner.

The result is that the magnitude of the atrocities and the root causes of the war remain little understood outside the region. We never get to see or learn of such horrors as the lynching of Congolese Tutsi and the eating of their flesh, or the ethnic cleansing (in reality genocide) the government is committing.

Strangely, journalists, who normally smell such conflicts from thousands of miles away and rush to cover them, have stayed away. No major regional or international media organization has reporters on the ground.

They are content to stay in their bureau offices in the respective capitals of Nairobi and Johannesburg and file news stories from there.

Most of the reporting comes from AFP and even that depends heavily on sources in local civil society, international organizations and NGOs, churches, and MONUSCO in the area. All of which are not impartial.

Online TV, bloggers, and social media have come in to fill the news gap. Their credibility, however, cannot be taken for granted.

You have to cut through a mass of partisan stories, exaggerated claims and other forms of wishful reporting, and outright lies and misrepresentations to get a glimpse of the true picture.

Part of this is to be expected, especially from Western media. This is an African conflict. It is Africans being killed, not Europeans, their kind.

The scenes of gruesome death do not cause similar physical or moral revulsion and so cannot touch their conscience.

It can therefore be safely ignored or reported in whatever way without regard to truth or accuracy.

Also, every war has its publicists, its Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany and Patrick Muyaya in today’s DR Congo, whose job is to raise the morale of their side and lower or destroy that of the other side, claim victory even when there is none and diminish the success of their adversary even when they are all too visible.

Occasionally they provide entertainment, a sort of comic relief from the horrific scenes of death and destruction. Most of us remember “Comical” Ali (real name Muhammad Saeed Al-Sahhaf) in the Second Iraq War.

In the end, though, even the comic acts emphasize the barbarity of the DR Congo war.

For some reason, the M23’s spokespersons, Willy Ngoma and Lawrence Kanyuka are different. They seem not to have learned the fine arts of classical propaganda.

They do not offer hype or fabrication but give factual accounts of the war, which read like situation reports to the high command.

However, even in this scarcity of reliable news, you notice a pattern in the reporting that indicates the state of the war.

When the FARDC and its coalition of local and foreign armed militia are in the ascendancy doing all the killing, and M23 is being hammered, all is quiet. No word about the magnitude of the death and destruction, and massive displacement of citizens and the government’s role in it.

But when the M23 has the upper hand, the reporting reaches screaming levels. The storyline is predictable: M23 is committing untold atrocities, killing and displacing thousands of civilians and triggering an unimaginable humanitarian crisis. Rwanda is behind it all.

A flurry of diplomatic acts usually by Western diplomats or instigated by them, then follows, most asking Rwanda to stop its alleged support and rein in their supposed charges.

Hardly a word asking the DR Congo government to take responsibility and resolve its internal political and governance problems.

In this sense, the media and foreign governments are complicit in distracting attention from the real issue and therefore contributing to its non-resolution.

The second element that will stand out is the absence of African leaders’ commitment to resolve the conflict and end the war. In Eastern DR Congo, they are silent.

Not even a whisper about attempts to persuade or put pressure on President Tshisekedi to seek a political solution, stop shifting responsibility elsewhere, and end the suffering of local communities.

This seems strange considering that some were quick to offer their good offices to mediate in the war in Ukraine and even made a trip there when the war had just broken out.

Some, like South Africa, have condemned Israel for its conduct in the war against Hamas in Gaza and dragged it before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing it of committing genocide.

Yet the same South Africa is doing the same in DRC, fighting alongside genocidaires to commit another genocide in the east of the country. Surely a case of acting saint and devil at the same time. They should decide which part they want to play.

To be fair, there are some like Angola’s President Joao Lourenco and East African Community leaders who have been trying to mediate. Their efforts, however, have been frustrated by the intransigence of Tshisekedi.

This is a not-too-altering reflection on the statesmanship of some of Africa’s current leaders.

There was, however, a time when we had different kinds of leaders, men of a higher intellectual and moral caliber.

Rare perhaps, but they existed. They took time to understand the nature and causes of conflicts. They were driven by public interest and the desire to resolve matters, not by personal, commercial, or other selfish interests.

In conflict situations, their first option was to de-escalate, mediate, and seek a political solution.

For instance, in the civil war in Burundi in the 1990s and early 2000s, the highly respected Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela, and later Benjamin Mkapa led the mediation efforts. Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo played a similar role in several conflict areas.

Not so some of today’s leaders. Now, their first instinct is to send in troops to fight on one side of the war. Instead of putting out the fire, they pour more fuel on it.

Another element that will command attention is the role of the UN and the international community generally. The UN has been in DR Congo at different times since the country’s independence in 1960, but with little to show for it.

In its most recent role, it deployed a force of nearly 20,000 troops in a peacekeeping and stabilization mission there in 1999, first as MONUC and later as MONUSCO following wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In 2012, a new unit, the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) was added to MONUSCO with the specific mandate to neutralize and disarm armed groups operating in eastern DRC.

In the event, FIB seems to have interpreted that to mean M23. They did not touch any of the other armed groups numbering over 200, including the genocidal FDLR.

More than two decades and billions of dollars later, the security situation they were supposed to stabilize has got worse. Local armed groups have grown in number and violence. Foreign ones, such as the FDLR and ADF have continued to operate with impunity.

In the case of the FDLR, successive Congolese governments armed and even integrated them into the government army, and used them to destabilize Rwanda.

Hate speech, incited by high government officials has increased and led to ethnic cleansing of Congolese Tutsi. The conflict has increased and now has flared up into open war.

Some might attribute this to traditional UN caution in conflict situations. But it gets worse. The UN has become partisan, shed off whatever sense of neutrality it had, and taken sides in the conflict.

It now aids the government-led coalition of fighters, among them the FDLR which it has sanctioned as a terrorist organization, by supplying them with intelligence, equipment, and other logistics.

The UN and the international community have ignored reports of its own Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Ms Wairimu Nderitu, warning that genocide was being committed in eastern DRC.

That sounds eerily familiar. In 1994, the UN disregarded a similar warning from General Romeo Dallaire, commander of its peacekeeping mission in Rwanda. The result was the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.

Finally, when the story is told, it will show the disaster that inevitably follows when people with a lumpen mindset are permitted to lead nations. Such people are impervious to reason, have a one-track mind, and turn their emotions and other personal inclinations into state policy.

That sadly is the story of the DR Congo that will be told. A story of how ineptitude, greed vested interests, and an uncaring world combined to create a preventable conflict and work hard to ensure it is never resolved.

The views expressed in this opinion article do not necessarily represent the position of Kivumbi.co.ke. The writer is Joseph Rwagatare, a Great Lakes Political Analyst.

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