Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dave Zarembka's Goma Emails, Re-Post #3

Update on Goma, Friday
Reposting of Dave Zarembka's Emails #3
Report from Kenya #196 – November 23, 2012
My contacts in Goma and Gisenyi and international news reports indicate that the situation in Goma has calmed down and life is returning to normal. This means that people are out of their houses, walking through the town in their normal activities. There is no electricity and as a result also no water since the electricity pumps the water. Food is scarce because mountainous Masisi is the breadbasket for Goma and travel from Masisi to Goma has been cut. I will return to this at the end of this report.
          The M23 rebels who now control the city have asked policemen and any soldiers remaining in the town to turn in their weapons and it seems that they are turning them in. M23 has recruited thousands of new soldiers, many of them deserters from the Congolese army. As I learned when I was in Masisi in 2008 during the previous Tutsi-led rebel movement, young men of all ethnicities are enrolled into the rebel fighting force as the foot soldiers. The command, of course, remains in the hands of Tutsi.
          On Thursday, M23 soldier moved 17 miles west along Lake Kivu and took, without resistance, the small town of Sake. This is significant for much more than the few miles separating Goma from Sake. Most of the land between these two cities is volcanic rock. Hardly any trees grow and even the grass is sparse in this lush part of the world. This inhospitable area is where the million Hutu refugees from the Rwandan genocide were placed and later the internally displaced camps for those fleeing the violence in North Kivu. This also is the traditional boundary between the Kiyarwanda-speaking people of Goma and the local Congolese tribes in Sake. So M23 has move outside the traditional Kinyarwandan-speaking areas where they have succeeded in the past. The second signficant reason is that the road to Masisi branches off at Sake, climbing the mountains to an area that has been controlled by the Tutsi since the previous rebellion in 2004 led by Laurent Nkunda. The Congolese army counter-attacked Sake, but was repulsed. M23 claims that they are now moving south on the shores of Lake Kivu towards Bukavu which they are planning on taking. Bukavu is about 60 miles south of Goma on the southern shore of Lake Kivu and is the capital of South Kivu.
          We cannot sit around idly while the humanitarian situation in Goma escalates. David Bucura, Central African coordinator for the African Great Lakes Initiative, has gone to Gisenyi, and hopefully, Goma, to develop plans on what we might do. The outline is as follows: Since Goma is lacking food, AGLI will buy food in Rwanda and take it to the Gisenyi Peace Center which is only two blocks from the Congolese border. Since our resources are very limited and can’t possibility serve the one million people in Goma, we are going to concentrate on destitute members of the Friends Church and those rape survivors that Zawadi Nikuze has been working with. They will come across the border – there seems to be no problem with people crossing the border – and receive a ration commensurate with the number of people in the family. Families with children will be targeted. The ration will consist of basic foods like beans, rice, corn flour, and so on. Bucura will meet with the AGLI people in Goma and Gisenyi and work out all the details. I have authorized Bucura to use the AGLI funds that are in the bank in Gisenyi for this immediate relief and we will reimburse the funds used with the hope that we can raise sufficient funds.
What we found when we did humanitarian relief during the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya is that our limited resources could reach only a few people, but it was important to do what we could. But later we did listening sessions, AVP and HROC workshops, which ended up being more important because nobody else was doing anything equivalent to this. I’ll be letting you know when we have more fully developed the project.
Please donate to AGLI's programs by sending a check to the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams made out to Friends Peace Teams/AGLI  to 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 or go to our webpage at to donate by debit/credit card.
Since 1998, David Zarembka has been the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region (available at

Links ~ M23 invasion of Goma, as of Sat 11/24, 2012

This is my page of links to reports on the M23 invasion of Goma, as of Sat 11/24, 2012.  I post my three favorite sources below.

Best Source: Dave Zarembka's Summaries:
      Dave Zarembka is one of the main organizers of the Quaker organization, "African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams."  This is the org under whose care I traveled in Spring 2011.  Dave Zarembka has emailed out summaries of his "take" on these events as they unfold.  He presents eyewitness reports related to him over the phone, gives insightful recaps of regional history, and gives his own personal analysis and best-guess as to future developments.
      I re-post two of his latest emails on my blog, as he has a particularly strong connection to Goma/Gisenyi through his correspondence with AGLI's peace workers there.  The links to these two emails are below:
Favorite Online news links:
     My favorite heavy-duty source for info on the region, Jason Stearns writes the "Congo Siasa" blog. He is a pre-eminent author and student of the politics of the DRC, and recently wrote a readable and well-recieved book detailing the recent history of the region.
       Al-Jazeera has been doing some great reporting on these events. Although the BBC/NYTimes etc do well too, the articles I have read on this from western media tend to spin things a little favorably towards the USA's allies in the region, namely Rwanda and Uganda.

Dave Zarembka's Goma Emails, Re-Post #2

Understanding the Conflict in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Re-posting of Dave Zarembka's emails #2
Report from Kenya #195 – November 21, 2012

          People like to have simple explanations for foreign policy issues – anti-communism, war on terror, axis of evil, bad guys versus the good guys, them and us. While I doubt that these simplistic terms of reference are very useful, they are impossible in describing the conflict in North Kivu because the situation is complex and ever changing. I will attempt to outline the conflict so that anyone can understand it. I am leaving out many of the names and details that can confuse the situation. The conflict is also polarized with various sides having their “true” explanation of the events. I will try to be as even-handed as I can, but I am sure I will not satisfy partisans to the conflict.
          The first issue to realize is geography. Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, is roughly 100 miles from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, but 1000 miles from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Moreover there are no roads, rivers, or railroads that can take people or goods from Goma to Kinshasa – the only option is to fly. Therefore all goods, all imports to and exports from North Kivu travel through Rwanda and Uganda. Swahili, like in most of East Africa, is the common language of North Kivu. North Kivu is much more closely tied to the east than to the west.
          Moreover North Kivu is 2 ¼ times the size of Rwanda, while it has only half the population (5,767,945 in 2010). Therefore it is much less densely populated. This has been true for a long time so Rwanda’s surplus population – encouraged during Belgian rule which ended in 1961 – migrated to North Kivu.
          Historically there are a number of issues of interest. When Rwanda was part of German East Africa before World War I, northwestern Rwanda was not part of the kingdom of Rwanda but two independence Hutu kingdoms. The people in this area were called Bakiga. With the help of the German led soldiers, the Mwami (king) of Rwanda was able to conquer these two kingdoms. These had no Tutsi among the population so the Mwami imposed Tutsi chiefs loyal to him. Since the Bakiga live in a mountainous area not conducive to cattle-keeping, but small scale farming, over time these Bakiga became labeled as “Hutu” as in the rest of Rwanda. Most of the main leaders of the Rwandan genocide came from this region of present day Rwanda and had an intense hatred of the Tutsi overlords that were imposed upon them by the Mwami and Germans and then the Belgians.
          The second historical issue is that the Europeans did not set the boundaries according to language or ethnicity. Consequently, there were many Kiyarwandan (the language of Rwanda) speaking people who live in the area close to the Rwandan border including Goma and Rutshuru. Their dialect is slightly different from that spoken in Rwanda, so these Kiyarwandan-speaking Congolese are obvious to other Rwandans. Some of these fled to Rwanda during the conflicts of the mid-1990’s and they are still held in refugee camps where they are not allowed out without official permission. These Kiyarwandan-speakers are not considered Rwandan nationals and are usually referred to as “Congolese.” When the situation was still tense in Rwanda in the early 2000’s, there was a proposal -- that was never implemented -- to expel all these “Congolese” from Rwanda.
          During the colonial period seven Italian families obtained large estates (over 10,000 acres each) in the hills of Masisi, high above Goma and Lake Kivu. When I visited there in 2008, these estates reminded me of Switzerland with European grade cows contently grazing on the mountain slopes. The Italians hired Tutsi cattle-keepers from Rwanda to take care of these herds. Then during the chaos after Congolese independence, these Italian families sold their estates to elite Tutsi. Laurent Nkunda and Bosco Ntaganda, two of the leaders of the Tutsi rebel forces in North Kivu, are the owners of two of these formerly Italian estates.
          During the colonial period, since North Kivu was relatively under-populated, the Belgians encouraged Hutu farmers to move to the very fertile, well-watered hills of Masisi. Usually these Hutu farmers lived in separate villages from the local Congolese tribes. After the Rwanda genocide in 1994, many of the Hutu genocidaries fled to North Kivu and are still one of the many armed groups in North Kivu.
          There are numerous small local tribes in North Kivu. One of the larger ones, the Hunde, who live also in Masisi, is perhaps half a million people. The local non-Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese tribes do not distinguish between the various Kiyarwanda-speaking groups listed above, but consider them all “Rwandan” and “foreigners” in North Kivu. To counteract the Tutsi and Hutu rebel groups in North Kivu, the local Congolese have formed their own militias, known as Mai-Mai. But the Mai-Mai are not one group, but a number of ethnic warlords, each with their own agenda, frequently combining with other groups including at times with the Rwandan rebel groups. Nonetheless, the Kiyarwandan-speakers are by far the largest single group in North Kivu, but as indicated above, far from united.
          Another side of the conflict is the Congolese army, which is supposed to bring order and security to the province. Alas, they do not do this. It is unclear exactly how large the Congolese army is because there are many “ghost” soldiers on the payroll whose salaries the generals embezzle. They are not from eastern Congo and therefore do not speak Swahili and cannot communicate with the inhabitants of North Kivu. They bring their wives and children with them. Their pay is low and frequently they do not receive it. Consequently, they too have to live off the land by attacking local people and looting the countryside. A number of Congolese army generals have captured a mine or two like the other rebel groups, exploit the local people, and keep the proceeds for themselves. The Congolese army is also known for human rights abuses including rape, looting, and destruction.
          Lastly, there is the United Nation’s Peacekeeping force, MONUSCO, which has 19,000 soldiers in the Congo, 6700 which are in North Kivu province, and 1500 again in the city of Goma. Their hands are tied, not only with the usual constrains that UN Peacekeepers are not supposed to be engaged in fighting, but rather in protecting civilians, keeping order, and being a neutral force between combating forces. In addition, though, in order for them to get approval from the Congolese government, the United Nations had to agree to support the Congolese army. Therefore, it is also a partisan force. Now if one wants to determine who the “good guys” are from the “bad guys,” the UN forces are also suspect. One contingent was sent home after it was alleged to have been running a prostitution ring. Others have been accused of selling guns, ammunition, and other equipment to the various rebel groups. More to the point, they have been ineffective in protecting the civilian population even when the fighting was only a few miles from one of their bases.
          In the latter half of the 1990s, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo twice. The first time they deposed the long-time dictator, Mobutu, and the second time they almost deposed their hand-picked puppet, Laurent Kabila, who had turned against them. At the end of Africa’s World War in 2003, Rwanda and Uganda agreed to withdraw their troops from the Congo, but it was clear that they left proxy forces behind. In one illogical moment, two rebels forces, both supported by Uganda, fought against each other. Another time when the Rwandan and Ugandan armies were in the Congo, they found each other, leading to a souring of relations between the two countries. This has since been patched up and Rwanda and Uganda are cooperating in their approach to the issues on North Kivu.
          Throughout all of this, the United States and Britain have been strong supporters of Uganda and Rwanda. This is particularly true of the US and British military. Uganda has supplied the largest contingent of troops for the African Union in the fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia and Rwanda for the United Nations forces in Darfur, Sudan. Recently when Rwanda and Uganda were accused by the UN of supporting the M23 rebels in North Kivu, both threatened to remove their peacekeeping forces from Somalia and Darfur. Recently a number of countries have withheld aid to Rwanda because of their support of the M23 rebels and Uganda for extensive theft of aid funds.
          Behind all this conflict is the fact that North Kivu has hundreds of tin, coltan, gold, and other mines. These are small, pick and shovel type of operations. Laborers are poorly paid or even forced to work. Child labor is common. There are no health or environmental protections. Consequently, the rewards, the profits from these mining operations are substantial. Moreover there is a large group of middlemen who get the minerals from the mine to the international market. A rebel group does not even need to secure a mine to profit as it can tax any minerals passing through the area it controls.
          By this point in this report, you have the lay of the land in North Kivu. You can see how complex it is and how so many different actors, each looking out for its own best interests, make innumerable possibilities.
          To explain the current conflict with M23 taking control of the major, capital city of Goma, M23, for the benefit of Rwanda and Uganda, now has secured a strong hold on the whole illegal trade in minerals for North Kivu. I would anticipate that they will slowly but surely take over not only the mines in North Kivu but all roads leading to their export. On the other hand, the international community is going to condemn, in fact, already has condemned, this fragrant violation of international borders. I expect Rwanda and Uganda to continue to hold tight, deny any involvement, and wait out the international condemnation until it becomes the “new normal.” The Congolese government in far away Kinshasa will vent and fume, but will be unable to do anything significant about the new reality.


Please donate to AGLI's programs by sending a check to the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams made out to Friends Peace Teams/AGLI  to 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 or go to our webpage at to donate by debit/credit card.

Since 1998, David Zarembka has been the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region (available at

Dave Zarembka's Goma Emails, Re-Post #1

Update on Goma, Tuesday

Re-posting of Dave Zarembka's emails #1
Report from Kenya #194 – November 20, 2012

              This morning, after a day’s truce and the Congolese government’s refusal to negotiate with the M23 rebels, the M23 soldier entered and took the town of Goma. Here is one report I received: “Now Goma is in the hands of M23; they are controlling Goma. The battle now is in Mugunga [the former internally displaced persons’ camp were many of AGLI’s rape survivors live]. All Gisenyi borders are also controlled by the rebels.”

Clearly the Congolese army did not put up any resistance and fled. But this is the way “wars” are fought in this region. One side acquires a fearsome reputation and the opposing side retreats and flees. I do not remember one case since 1996 where the Rwandan army or Tutsi-led rebel groups, which have the reputation as the fiercest fighters in the region, have “lost” to the Congolese army, which has always fled. It also seems that the UN peace keeping force decided not to oppose the entrance into the city. I think that this is proper because the UN peace keepers are not authorized to become a fighting army against the rebel forces.

          This morning I received this message from David Bucura:

“Yesterday [Monday], Theoneste, Baptiste, and Therese were doing a [children’s] peer mediation workshop in the Gisenyi Peace Center [which is only two blocks from the Congolese border]. Around 10 am, bullets were falling in Gisenyi and they had to lie down on the floor with the children. There was no way to send the children back because their parents were not home because they had run away. It was a bad day, says Baptiste and Therese. Therese fell down and her leg is not moving now.

“One person [the news reports say two people] died in Gisenyi and others are in the hospital. Many people have left Gisenyi, coming here in Kigali. The problem was to find vehicles because no buses are running, Zawadi was evacuated yesterday from the hospital and she is now at Mahuko [her home fifteen minutes from Gisenyi], but she is thinking to come in Kigali today for medical treatment. In our house now we have two families from Gisenyi. We are expecting more. Zawadi told me that the main help is to have a little funds for evacuation. Theoneste is going this morning to Gisenyi to see what is happening. Our church members in the Gisenyi area hosted many people and they do not know how long it will take. The situation is so confused. I was told that people in Goma do not want to move from their houses because they do not know where to go? The problem for our people in Goma is that, because they can't leave their houses, they have no water and no food. If the borders will be opened, they will need our help.”

          M23 talk as if they plan now to move on to Bukavu in South Kivu at the southern end of Lake Kivu. I anticipate that there is going to be a very negative reaction from the international community regarding M23 conquest of Goma.
Please donate to AGLI's programs by sending a check to the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams made out to Friends Peace Teams/AGLI  to 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 or go to our webpage at to donate by debit/credit card.

Since 1998, David Zarembka has been the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region (available at