Wednesday, August 02, 2006

DRC: The Wolf Cries 'Wolf'

If Congo's tenuous order does unravel into widespread violence in the wake of national elections last Sunday, the resulting strife will no doubt be due to the uncivil rumblings of presidential candidates incapable of accepting 'the voice of the people'.

Azarias Ruberwa, leader of RCD-Goma and one of four vice-presidents within Congo's transitional government, was the first to cry foul after voting booths closed on Monday. A lawyer and evangelical preacher with significant financial support from southern US churches, Ruberwa has never impressed me as a man of political vision or moral clarity.

So for a wolf such as Ruberwa to cry 'wolf' is an obvious attempt to re-assert his political relevance at the moment when history may sweep him off the stage. Normally the irresponsibility of such accusations without evidence would implicate no one but himself, but with Congolese voters being as frustrated as they are, it could set off waves of post-election violence. Meanwhile, Kabila and Bemba are each declaring victory while voters themselves wait impatiently for official results to be made public.

Indeed, Ruberwa's accusations are the last gasp of a politician facing his imminent obsolescence. Representing a complicated political agenda given RCD-G's connections to Rwanda, Congo's most recent armed invader, Ruberwa belongs to an unloved and targeted ethnic minority in the eastern provinces, the Congolese Tutsis. And victim though he may be, Ruberwa failed to bring peace and security to the East during his tenure as vice president in transitional government. This failure has been a thorn in his side, and a source of continued frustration for his supporters, His party is extremely unpopular throughout the country as a result of its alliance with Rwanda during the war.

RCD-G led a brutal regime throughout the war (1998-2003) in which civilians were regularly targeted as suspected collaborators with 'the enemy'. War crimes in the form of civilian massacres directed by its core military leaders have been documented by Human Rights Watch, yet these men walk free. Their reign of terror and fear crippled the local economy by paralyzing movement within their territory, which constituted more than a third of the country at the time. I spent hours, sometimes days, in front of RCD officials and soldiers at borders, airports and road checkpoints, waiting out their demands for bribes and accusations of espionage. I never landed in jail, but always came away from RCD encounters a few pounds lighter, once they'd 'relieved' me of any bags, documents or communications equipment I was traveling with. Ruberwa and his gang of knuckle-dragging thugs hold a special place in my heart.

Congo also happens to be the country with one of the highest numbers of child soldiers in the recent history of global armed conflict, with estimates exceeding 30,000 (Myanmar and Sudan are higher). And although all three primary contenders for the presidency (Kabila, Ruberwa and Bemba) once led armies whose core combatants were children, RCD-G under Ruberwa were perhaps the most insidious in their practice of abducting and forcing children to the frontlines as cannon-fodder. On two separate occasions (2001 and 2003), formal agreements were signed with UNICEF and other child protection actors stipulating that up to 6000 child soldiers would be immediately released. In neither instance were these engagements respected.

In the end, how the candidates react to the election results is more important than the results themselves. What matters most, of course, is what changes it brings for the average citizen. As one analyst notes, 'The election will be a success if it gives a woman farmer the strength to refuse to give half her daily produce to a man with a gun,' (The Guardian, "Warlords in the Wings.")

Crying wolf now, when Congo needs a show of national unity and fortitude, is just another manifestation of the divisive cowardice of the country's political class.


TheMalau said...

Amen to that!!!
That said, I must also say that just because one is a criminal, doesn't mean one is systematically a liar. Ruberwa IS grasping at the last bits of his relevance... but let's make sure he is actually wrong, and there is actually NO vote-rigging. Just because one is paranoid, doesn't mean one is not being watched, right?

Nice blog you have here. If you work with UNICEF, you probably know my uncle, who works for UNICEF-DRC (name upon request). Please visit The Salon sometime.

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