Article Co-written with Mac McKinney
Nkunda's Pilgrimage of Reconciliation
The YouTube video is amateurish and grainy, but the images are irrefutable testimony. The date is August 6, 2006 in the tiny village of Nyamitabo in eastern Congo--a region where warfare between various players including militias funded by multi-national interests, invading armies, rebel armies and Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Forces Armées de la République démocratique du Congo, or FARDC) has been ongoing for years at the cost of 6 million lives. Up to 1.1 million people are displaced here and aid agencies put the continuing death toll at 1,200 people per day. The numbers are truly Biblical in proportion.
The flickering images reveal a tall, lean-muscled man with wire-frame sunglasses and erect posture, dressed in crisp, green-camouflage army fatigues, field jacket and a dark green beret. He is holding a microphone in his left hand and addressing a large crowd in their dialect. The crowd of several thousand includes villagers, a contingent of soldiers loyal to this man, and other visitors.
Many are seated, and others are standing on a grassy hill and in a meadow. Various structures and canopy shelters ring the perimeter and high ground. Under the dignitaries' canopy atop the hill, the man has just received a ceremonial longbow, shield and spear from one of the village elders and is now addressing the crowds assembled around and below him. They treat the man with the respect due a tribal chief, which he is.
First of all I thank all the wise men behind me, and everybody. This day, we want to tell you, our parents, who spend nights without sleeping but thinking about us, that even if we know that many among us have lost their lives on military front; you have to be happy because we, the survivors, can come again and still do something for you. I like what our soldiers have sung: "No more people in exile" and that's true I repeat: "No more people will go into exile".
Secondly, why Nyamitabo? In 1964, the North-Kivu authorities took the decision to exterminate the Kinyarwanda (Rwanda-Bantu language) speaking community. The meeting that saved us from this killing took place here at Nyamitabo; therefore forgetting this place is a curse. That meeting convinced the Kinyarwanda speaking community that they had a right to live even if other communities were planning their massacres. Those who participated in that important meeting deserve my respect. The participants at that meeting decided to help each other in order to survive these planned killings.
Let me once again honor them because without their courage, we wouldn't be born and alive today.
The man is relating a regional history that the crowd knows well. It is a history of genocide and exploitation that began in the late 1800's, when baskets of severed hands tallied the price of disloyalty to the armies of Belgium's King Leopold. By 1959 ethnic animosities fanned by the Catholic Church and multinational interests unleashed the "wind of destruction" against the people of this region. The historical presentation of this conflict as Hutu retribution against Tutsi is simplistic, and the Kinyarwanda know this.
As he speaks, this imposing figure moves about casually, continually and forcefully gesturing with his right hand to emphasize points, like a teacher lecturing his class for the afternoon. He has an air of confidence and charisma about him as he looks out on the crowds just below him, even a hint of evangelical fervor, which is not surprising for he happens to be an ordained Christian minister, as well as a rebel commander. Who is this man? Major General Laurent Nkunda, chairman of the CNDP -- Le Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple. He continues:
This time we are not only protecting the Kinyarwanda speaking community but also all tribes of the Eastern-DRC in duress, and those who are still in exile who have to come back to their homeland -- Bahunde, Banyanga, Barega, Bashi, Bahema, Lendu, and people from Equateur are all here to support this common struggle. Therefore this is a struggle for the whole Congolese nation. Don't be afraid, nothing will stop you from achieving this noble objective.
The mention of "Equateur" is critical and is the word that gives Nkunda his legitimacy as a leader of this popular movement. In Equateur Province, the opposition candidate to current Congolese president Joseph Kabila, Jean-Pierre Bemba, won almost 100 percent of the vote at some polling stations. Bemba vowed to stand up to foreign interests that he said wanted to control Congo "like a puppet."
On May 24, 2008, authorities in Belgium arrested Bemba on the basis of a warrant charging him with war crimes and crimes against humanity for the rapes, torture, and looting allegedly carried out by his forces during the 2002-2003 conflict in the Central African Republic.
But before his arrest, Bemba was a serious threat to the political aspirations of Joseph Kabila. Kabila was, and is, willing to silence opposition at all costs. With Bemba silenced by The Hague, Nkunda rose to prominence as a defender of the rights of the Congolese people to their resources and destiny.
In a 96 page document, "We Will Crush You," prepared by Human Rights Watch, a document which has barely seen the light of day, Congolese President Joseph Kabila is accused of crimes against humanity which, intriguingly, pale when compared to those luridly leveled against Bemba and Nkunda in the international corporate media controlled by resource-hungry Western interests. Is a double standard at work here?
Regarding the persecution of law-abiding Congolese villagers who supported Bemba during the 2006 election process, HRW writes:
The government's lack of popularity in western Congo, and the fear of losing power through a military overthrow, have dominated policy discussions amongst Kabila and his advisors in their first two years of administration. According to many military and intelligence officials and others close to Kabila who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Kabila set the tone and direction of the repression. In giving orders, he spoke of "crushing" or "neutralizing" the "enemies of democracy," "terrorists," and "savages," implying it was acceptable to use unlawful force against them.
According to testimony obtained by HRW from within and without the inner circle of Joseph Kabila, including that of foreign diplomats, Kabila pursued an approach of "winner take all," leaving no room for other strong political opponents.
State security forces deliberately killed or summarily executed more than 500 persons in Kinshasa and Bas Congo and arbitrarily arrested and detained about a thousand more, many of whom were tortured or ill-treated. Many of the detainees were from Equateur (the home province of Bemba) and were insulted about their origins, questioned about their alleged support for Bemba, accused of being disloyal to President Kabila, and threatened with death...including the use of electric batons on their genitals and other parts of their bodies, beatings, whippings, and mock executions.
Another man from Equateur arrested during a separate incident described what happened to him. HRW reports:
"When I arrived they put me on the ground and beat me with a plank. They told me not to scream but it hurt so badly that I did scream. They questioned me about Bemba and my brother who they said was a Bemba [supporter]. A soldier started to sharpen his machete and said he would kill me and then he beat me on my back with the flat side of the machete." The same detainee was sexually assaulted by a Republican Guard who forced his penis into his mouth.
In stark contrast to the blood-curdling speeches we often hear from the Kabila camp, or even in response to atrocities that cry out for retribution, Laurent Nkunda ends his speech on his "Pilgrimage of Reconciliation" with the following admonition:
Thirdly, we have to cleanse the malediction that came from killings of our brothers and sisters. The Bible story tells us that Cain was cursed because of his brother's blood. Today, any one of us must look behind and decide not to kill his brother, so that he may not be cursed. Go and cohabitate, share all you have, as this was our culture a long time ago.
For this speech see:
Who Is Laurent Nkunda?
The speech in this village was just one of many that Nkunda gave as his contingent moved from village to village in the eastern Congo in the fall of 2006 promoting unity among the Congolese people.
The speech was filled with curious words from a man often accused by the West, not to mention the Congolese government of President Joseph Kabila, of being both a selfish, brutal warlord and war criminal, words not curious at all, however, if he is actually neither, but rather a militant revolutionary in the tradition of, say, a Simon Bolivar, George Washington, or Fidel Castro, all men with visions of unity and independence for their countries and peoples, men whose methods were indeed martial.
Who is Laurent Nkunda? What motivates him, and why are his followers in Rwanda and Congo unwavering?
Laurent Nkunda Batware was born in Rutshuru, North Kivu, the then Republic of Congo on February 2, 1967 and studied psychology at Kisangani University before becoming a schoolteacher in Kichanga. He was also quite religious, becoming an ordained Christian minister of the Seventh Day Adventist persuasion at some point.
When the assassination of the Hutu President of Rwanda, Juvénal Habyarimana, in April 1994 ignited the Hutu Rwandan Genocide against the minority Tutsis, led primarily by the extremist Hutu Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi, Laurent Nkunda, incensed by their mass murders of Tutsis, traveled to Rwanda to join the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) battling against the Hutu controlled Rwandan Armed Forces. Nkunda quickly became an officer in the RFP ranks.
The RPF, spectacularly victorious by July of this same year, consolidated their hold on the Rwandan government, precipitating a mass exodus of Hutus, many of them genocide perpetrators, into Zaire, the latest name for the Congo at that time.
Nkunda quickly returned to his home territory in Zaire. By 1998 he had became a senior officer in the Rally for Congolese Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma), backed by Rwanda, as what is now known as the Second Congo War began, a horrific regional struggle that at one point involved eight countries and some 25 militias, lasting until 2003. By then, over five million people had died of violence, starvation or disease, with millions more displaced. The country had also adopted, in 1998, the name still used today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Nkunda was a prominent figure throughout this catastrophic war, continuing to prove himself an able defender of Congolese ethnic Tutsis against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the FDLR, the latest incarnation of the original Hutu Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi movements out of Rwanda, movements which together had murdered hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus within Rwanda. Ironically, Nkunda began to see war crime charges surface against himself during this war.
Selective Condemnation of War Crimes by Media
In 2006, the respected and revered Alison Des Forges, senior advisor to the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, who tragically died in the recent crash of Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo on February 12, 2009, had this to say about Nkunda.
In May 2002 Nkunda, together with General Amisi, is alleged to have been among the RCD-Goma officers responsible for the brutal repression of an attempted mutiny in Kisangani, where more than 160 persons were summarily executed. In one incident, forces under Nkunda's command are alleged to have bound, gagged, and executed twenty-eight persons and then put their bodies in bags weighed with stones to throw them off a Kisangani bridge. After the U.N. began investigating these crimes, Nkunda and several armed guards are alleged to have entered the U.N. premises where they abducted and beat two guards.
In 2003, when the war was meant to be over, the RCD joined the national army of the transitional government. In 2004 Nkunda was named general. Nkunda refused, however, to report to Kinshasa under the new integrated army and withdrew with hundreds of his former troops to the forests of Masisi in North Kivu. Nkunda and troops loyal to him took control of the South Kivu town of Bukavu on 2 June, claiming this action was necessary to stop genocide of Congolese Tutsi, known locally as Banyamulenge. Some accused Nkunda of still following orders from Kigali; he however said that, although he considered Rwandans his allies, they had not told him to capture Bukavu. During the fighting, Nkunda's troops are alleged of carrying out war crimes, killing and raping civilians and looting their property
In August 2005, Nkunda declared the current Congolese government corrupt and incompetent and called for its overthrow.
It was in December of 2006 that Nkunda and others formed the National Congress for the Defense of the People, a military/political movement with the large ambition of uniting and rebuilding the Congo, which describes itself on its website as " a a socio-political organization founded on a socio-democratic vision."
Why is the world media so selective of who it accuses of war crimes? Is it precisely because Nkunda speaks of standing up for a truly independent Congo, free from the hidden hands of selfish world powers? Where is the condemnation today of the deaths of 1 million innocents in Iraq at the hands of the United States?
Nkunda vigorously denies charges of war crimes made against him by Human Rights Watch, arguing that they did not really know the facts on the ground, and points to the large numbers of civilians and refugees, including women, who flock to areas under his control for protection. It must be said that the only body that has actually indicted Nkunda is the Congolese government of Joseph Kabila, sworn enemy of Nkunda, whose impartiality must naturally be questioned. The indictment fails the test of an "international" arrest warrant, is not registered with INTERPOL, and according to Congolese law, has not been renewed by a judge. It no longer exists.
Alison Des Forges, before her death, was summarily banned from Rwanda by the regime of President Paul Kagame, who was indicted himself in 2006 by French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere on terrorism charges. Why have these charges against Kagame been largely ignored?
Is it possible that, despite denials, Nkunda has indeed committed any war crimes? Certainly, especially given the horrendous nature of the ongoing Congolese wars, the third of which is underway now.
But, there are also documents that have been given to Western media and to Human Rights Watch by Hutu leaders in Congo that exonerate Nkunda from recent charges of brutality and murder in the Kiwanja area. Independent journalists have presented these documents directly to Western media interests. Regional Hutu officials maintain it was the FDLR and FARDC who are the agents of violence and murder against civilians.
As of this writing, Nkunda has vanished into the hands of the secret police in Rwanda in an act of betrayal designed to satisfy Western criticism of Rwanda's covert support of his movement, and Bemba is under arrest in Belgium. Meanwhile, Congolese President Joseph Kabila is writing contracts with the Chinese, lining his pockets in an imitation of Mobutu, and sources report he has a 40 million dollar mansion in Malibu for one of his mistresses.
Furthermore, in a deal made with the tacit approval of the United States, an accused war criminal with a rap sheet that rivals Bemba's alleged atrocities has now been installed as a military leader in eastern Congo by an alliance forged between arch-enemies Kabila and Rwanda's Kagame. We are referring to Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by The Hague for murder and torture. In May 2008 The International Criminal Court unsealed a warrant for arrest against Ntaganda, also known as the "Terminator. This 35 year Congolese is also accused of enlisting children as young as 15 between July 2002 and December 2003.
Ironically, quoting from The Washington Post:
The Congolese government had pledged to disarm the FDLR and enable the return of its members to Rwanda, where many would probably be prosecuted for their role in the genocide. But the U.N. panel said it had obtained "strong evidence" showing that the Congolese army has "collaborated extensively" with the FDLR since 2007.
Congo stands accused of supplying the Rwandan militia with large shipments of ammunition in exchange for participating in joint military operations against Nkunda's forces, according to the panel. The panel said that it has documented more than 98 satellite and cellphone calls between Congolese and FDLR commanders over the past year, and that Congolese troops routinely sold military supplies to the Rwandan exiles, including bullets for a dime apiece and uniforms for as much as $3 dollars each.
Eyewitness Account of Nkunda's Arrest by Rwanda
Sources close to General Nkunda and his family report that Nkunda remained consistent in his admonition to "turn the other cheek" towards enemies in the face of his betrayal by Rwandan authorities. Nkunda was not "hunted down" as celebrity-with-access to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Ben Affleck, reports in Time Magazine. This story was apparently cooked up to mask the Rwandan government's treachery while smearing Nkunda's integrity and respectability. This eyewitness, who must remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from Rwandan intelligence, tells the true story that has been emerging from various sources:
The Night when General Nkunda wanted to go to Rwanda he knew they (would) kill him or arrest him, all the commanders refused he can go they said. "We will fight till the last to protect you." But he said: "We did not go in the bush to protect me but to protect our people. So if they have to fight us, they will kill our soldiers and we will kill our cousins from Rwanda, what will be the price of the bloodshed? So let me go for Peace to come."
One of Nkunda's loyal soldiers and aids reported Nkunda's last public words as he was about to be arrested:
He said: "When David wanted to go to fight Goliath he was afraid but when he hear that Goliath abused the name of God he said, let me fight him because he don't know God. The last words General Nkunda he said was: "Let me go to them because they don't know GOD." We cried all of us even the commanders. M.... and the deputy Chief of Staff accompanied him. They released them after.
Furthermore, we have the spectacle of the Congolese government in Kinshasa condemning General Nkunda and seeking to extradite him while Kabila himself is accused of collaborating with the worst perpetrator of atrocities of all against Congolese citizens of his own country, the FDLR. Who is free of sin in the Congo? More importantly, less journalists be put in the position of judge and jury, what do the Congolese people want, and why have the voices of local Hutu officials in Kiwanja been silenced?
Perhaps Human Rights Watch has an answer. However, it must be noted that HRW was also given a copy of the declaration from Hutu Officials, which they have neglected to publish. Why?
Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch told us today that the original document explaining events at Kiwanja was riddled with inconsistencies. She had not seen the latest document and was going to review it at this writing. What she was able to say is that Bosco Ntaganda was in charge of the CNDP troops on that day, further calling into question why Nkunda would be betrayed in favor of Ntaganda. Van Woudenberg referred us to the HRW report on Kiwanja.
The Geopolitical Whys: HRW on the Responsibility of Donor Nations
In the press, in order to establish good relations with the newly elected president, donor nations and other international actors have given little attention to the grave human rights violations of the first two years of the Kabila government and the failure to hold accountable the perpetrators of these abuses. The rare UN reports detailing abuses were buried and others published too late to have a significant impact on policy decisions by diplomats in the immediate aftermath of the events. In September 2008, after the completion of this report, Congolese Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga resigned, and the following month a new government with Adolphe Muzito as prime minister was appointed by President Kabila. In October 2008, security services in Kinshasa conducted another round of arrests and arbitrarily detained dozens of civilians and military personnel from Equateur province, many of them Bemba supporters.
Foreign governments prefer to stay on good terms with Kabila, ensuring access to Congo's vast riches that in two hundred years have not reached the people. The Internet would not exist were it not for the coltan from eastern Congo that runs electronic devices that provide access.
Preferring the silence of anonymity, diplomats report to HRW from the shadows.
"We let Kabila get away with it [persecution of Bemba supporters] and we did not reprimand him. It was a mistake." Another said, "In hindsight, this was the moment when we started to see President Kabila's true colors."
Journalists have also been targeted, one of whom is an author of this article and was detained by the DCM intelligence in 2007.
HRW says more than a dozen journalists who worked at media outlets owned by Bemba, including CCTV, RALIK, and Canal Kin Television (CKTV), received threatening phone calls, text messages, and visits by Republican Guards or other state agents in March and April 2007, causing many of them to go into hiding and at least three to flee the country.
There were numerous reports of cover-ups of mass graves and bodies caught between the rocks in the Congo River, downstream of Kinshasa--the calling card of Kabila's republican Guard.
Government authorities ordered hospitals to provide no information on the numbers of persons killed or injured.
The government developed elaborate documents and PowerPoint presentations to try to convince diplomats, foreign journalists, and others that Bemba was a "terrorist" and his supporters "savages," according to HRW documents.
Journalists concerned with access through Rwanda either went silent or paid for information supplied by the New Times, mouthpiece of the Kagame regime.
For donor governments, concern about winning a favored position with the new Congolese government took priority over halting abuses and assuring accountability, HRW says.
Obama on His Knees to China as China Loots Congo
In another stunning report that gives little hope for the state of human rights in DR Congo, Kabila, backed by Western interests, made an unholy alliance with China, one of the worst human rights abusers on the face of the earth, in a deal to trade resources for infrastructure. U.S. Secretary of State Clinton broached the issue of global human rights with Chinese leaders, but "emphasized that the global financial slump and other international crises were more pressing and immediate priorities."
The Obama Administration, despite African citizens' widespread hopes that Obama, with direct roots in this vast continent, will become a savior figure, seems to be following suite and is already on its knees to China.
On her first foray as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton pleaded with China to buy US Treasuries. The U.K. Telegraph reports, "US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pleaded with China to continue buying US Treasury bonds amid mounting fears that Washington may struggle to finance bank bail-outs and ballooning deficits over the next two years."
The United States has just completed the construction of an $80 million embassy on a hill overlooking Kigali in Rwanda, a country smaller that the state of Maryland. It is the most imposing structure in the city and compliments $7 million for ACOTA, a military co-operation program within which the US trains African military personnel in "various fields." Is this yet another backdoor attempt to embed AFRICOM on African soil in close proximity to vast resources?
Refugees Call Out for Their "Leader"
So while the iron fist of Rwanda has silenced all reports about the whereabouts of Nkunda, Bemba is ensconced in The Hague and Kabila lives in luxury, the AFP (Agence France-Presse ) says this week that the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported "many attacks" on Nord-Kivu villages by the Rwandan rebels, "sparking a new wave of displacement."
UNCHR spokesman Ron Redmond reported about 3,000 newly displaced villagers in the Masisi region, when he said civilians were killed and women raped by FDLR fighters with firearms and knives.
In effect, the Third Congo War continues to devour the living in eastern Congo while the one man most able to protect its population, General Laurent Nkunda, not wanted by any international crimes tribunal yet a gadfly to cynical governments, languishes under house arrest in Rwanda while hundreds of thousands of Congolese clamor desperately for his release.
Indeed, demonstrations for Nkunda's release by Congolese refugees in Rwanda have been hushed up, but photos survive, courtesy of an enterprising and brave Norwegian photographer by the name of Ilona Jablonski. These refugees from Kivu consider Nkunda their leader and "father."
The signs read, "We want you to release our Laurent, release him, release him."
Meanwhile, most of the members of DR Congo's top parliamentary committee have quit in a deepening dispute over the presence of Rwandan forces in the violent east. National Assembly President Vital Kamerhe has publicly criticized the decision by his former ally President Joseph Kabila to allow thousands of Rwandan troops to enter Congo last month to attempt to stamp out Rwandan Hutu rebel groups.
Human Rights Advocates and journalists both seek the truth. Anneke Van Woudenberg is one of the truth-seekers. She is brave and she is dedicated. When asked if there was any person who offered hope for eastern Congo, Van Woudenberg said, "The problem with eastern Congo is that there are no good guys." The thousands of demonstrators in Rwandan IDP camps might want to have a conversation with her about that.