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Pt2. Obama makes no significant change in U.S. foreign policy towards Congo

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. This is part two of our series of interviews on the Congo. In part one, we talked about how Rwanda and Uganda had acted as allies, and to some extent agents, to defend U.S. interests in the Congo. Knowing this, in 2006, then-senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sponsored a piece of legislation that was supposed to hold Rwanda and Uganda accountable for their role in the Congo. Here again is a section from that piece of legislation: “To engage with governments working to promote peace and security throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo and hold accountable individuals, entities, and countries working to destabilize the country”–and everyone understood that to mean Rwanda and Uganda. Well, now Senator Obama is President Obama. The legislation has been passed. So just what is he doing about it? Now joining us again to discuss U.S. foreign policy in the Congo is Kambale Musavuli is the student coordinator and national spokesman for the Friends of the Congo, and he’s written for The Washington Post and a lot of other publications. Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: So pick up the narrative more into the contemporary time. So in 2006 we’ve been dealing with almost a decade of war in the Congo. There’s–somewhere between five and six million people have been killed. We get this piece of legislation which says hold Uganda and Rwanda responsible. So, first of all, has President Obama actually directed the State Department to do anything like that? And also let’s add to that picture, ’cause it seems like rather than hold Uganda accountable, President Obama just sent 100 troops to support the Ugandan government. So–.

MUSAVULI: Yes. President Obama has not supported the Congo according to the law that he wrote himself and got cosponsorship from his colleagues in the Senate. One can only assume or guess why he’s not doing so. But I do believe that he is not willing to change U.S. foreign policy toward Africa. And U.S. foreign policy toward Africa has been where the United States supports strongmen, rather than supporting what the people are doing on the ground.

JAY: Which is something he said himself in a speech. I think it was in Gambia where he said, we need to support strong institutions, not strongmen.

MUSAVULI: Exactly.

JAY: But sending 100 troops to support the Ugandan army is not–I’m not sure that’s the institution people thought he meant when he said “support strong institutions”.

MUSAVULI: And that’s something also that we’ve struggled with–you know, to push the American people to know that the solutions of African problems will come from the inside. Outside interference make it very hard for the locals to be able to deal with these issues. So sending the troops in Uganda while the Ugandans themself are organizing in the Walk to Work protest, which is a democratic action from the people to change the government, that will stop the movement on the ground, because we are legitimizing a dictatorship that’s been in power since 1986–that’s how long Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, has been in power with support. And that’s what we’re trying to break. Obama understood that when he was a senator. Today he’s doing the same exact thing that the previous administration have done. So far he has not enforced the law, he has not held accountable Rwanda and Uganda for the destabilizing efforts in Congo. We are training Congolese military, which is not the solution. A strong military does not make a strong country, make–especially with the issues that we have. We’re seeing now the military attacking the civilians. So all we are asking for is if he could do that one piece, hold Rwanda and Uganda accountable, stop military funding to these countries, that will bring about change. We’ll know much easier where the weapons are coming from. We’ll know who’s influencing the rebels in the region. And Sweden and Netherlands have done so.

JAY: Well, in fact, if anything, the opposite’s been done, because by sending these hundred special-op troops to Uganda–they say to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army–that this is actually going to wind up further supporting the Ugandan military and not defunding it. So talk about the proxy armies, though, because there really is a problem with these proxy armies and the way they pray on the people, both in Uganda and the Congo.

MUSAVULI: Yes. And it’s been also interesting how the Lord Resistance Army is now a Congolese problem–something as the FDLR, the Rwandan rebels, is now also a Congolese problem. When you look at the Congo, you notice that Congo has never invaded any other countries, but everyone’s problem becomes the Congolese. So these rebel forces, you know, specifically the one that’s connected to Rwanda, it’s been documented by UN Group of Experts of Rwanda’s influence to these forces, directly funding them, arming them.

JAY: You’re talking about the LRA?

MUSAVULI: I’m talking right now about the CNDP. It’s one of the rebel forces. So when we look at the CNDP for example, in 2008, the United Nations published a report documenting the military support directed for the Rwandan military to them. So we know how they are funded. We know–we’re [incompr.] discussing the small arms proliferation. Where do the weapons come from? Viktor Bout is being tried right now in New York, you know, the so-called Lord of War who was selling weapons to African leaders. He was shipping weapons from the Pentagon. And in the shipment, we lost 110,000 AK-47. And the UN Group of Experts says to us that Viktor Bout was selling weapons to rebels in the Congo.

JAY: So talk a bit about–Rwanda has a proxy army in the Congo. Uganda has, still, their proxy army in the Congo?

MUSAVULI: Uganda withdrew from the Congo. Rwanda and Uganda officially withdrew from the Congo in 2002 after the peace accords. What took place in the east, Rwanda has more influence there. And for the NRA problem, the Lord Resistance Army, is that they have been joint military operations with U.S. military advisers and Ugandan military to go after the LRA. And the way they want to solve the problem is to push them inside of the Congo. So they imported–exported an internal problem in Uganda and pushed these rebels inside of the Congo. And they continue to use a militaristic solution to the problem. There is no military solution to the problem in the Congo. And Obama understood that. That’s why he had a political law where he says that if you are not doing such and such, we are not going to fund you.

JAY: So let’s talk a little bit about what’s at stake here. In terms of the mining companies, both Western and Chinese and Russian, I mean, they’re all involved, although I guess Americans and then the Chinese are the biggest players. How do they relate to, number one, Rwanda and Rwanda’s proxy army? And what’s in it for Rwanda? What’s in it for the mining companies? And what about the current Congolese government? What’s their game here?

MUSAVULI: So the players are numerous, as you mentioned. And then you have two dynamics. You have rebel militias who make few millions of dollars from illegal trade. Then you have multinationals–in the same area where we have the conflict, we also have multinationals. So when we’re talking about the killing and the raping, people assume there are not mining companies run by multinationals in those same areas. And they have private military security for the mines at the same time. And because of the chaos, they have been able to negotiate odious contract, according to the Carter Center, who documented the mining contracts that were signed during the conflict. Then, also, Rwanda and Uganda serves as a conduit for Congo’s minerals. So the illegal exploitation of the resources goes into Kampala, Uganda, and Kigali, Rwanda, and finds its way into [incompr.] through China, through Belgium, and other places. So–but what is very important to know is: in the trades, illegal trade and the pilfering of Congo’s resources, it’s been well documented. The United Nations published more than six reports, not only naming the companies, and also naming the individuals. Neither the companies or individuals have been held to account. Even actually much better, this–in October, the third week of October, Obama just continued an executive order that George Bush put in place in 2006. There was an executive order out on seven individuals. One of them is Viktor Bout, who is now in jail. The other one was Laurent Nkunda, who is rebel in the Congo. He still is in house arrest in Rwanda. And other different people. So they do know the individuals who allow small arms proliferation. They also know the companies. But no one is holding them accountable.

JAY: So what’s the overall strategic objective here? Because some people have argued that this kind of chaos, a very weak central government, and roving armed bands around the countryside is pretty good for mining companies, but it’s not so good if you want to sell consumer products or you want to see a development of an economy that becomes a new market for Western or Chinese products. So what’s the interest here?

MUSAVULI: And also it breeds other conflict that we don’t even think about. You know, did you know that uranium is being smuggled out of the Congo? That’s a problem, because we don’t know who’s buying those–the uranium that’s coming out of the Congo. So it’s not good for all of us, not just for American interests or Chinese interests. Congo’s chaos is detrimental to the whole entire world. Now, the chaos is by design. It’s not a civil war, and I always correct anyone who say that Congo is a civil war. Congolese are not fighting to change the government.

JAY: Okay, but explain this Congo is chaos by design. Explain that.

MUSAVULI: The forces–you know, the war in the Congo started in 1996, with two invasion military-supported by the United States. So that created the conflict. So we know the perpetrators of these crimes. So it’s not as Africans wantonly killing each other–that I can point out to who created that. Secondly, the people who are in power are the rebels of yesterday. So when one ask, what is the Congolese government doing about the situation in the Congo, I say it’s not in their political DNA to deal with the problems. They are the rebels of yesterday. Today they are wearing suits to deal with a country the size of Europe. Now, are they capable, Congolese, to rule the country? Yes. But they don’t have guns. So that’s why they’re not in power. So the law of the land is you kill more, you have more weapons, you have control of the states. That’s why it’s very important to support the movement of the people rather than thinking about what will the government do to deal with the situation.

JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about what Congolese people would like to see in terms of Western foreign policy on all of this. Please join us for the next segment of our interview on our series on the Congo on The Real News Network.

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A native of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is a leading political and cultural Congolese voice. Based in Accra, Ghana, he is a policy analyst with the Center for Research on the Congo-Kinshasa.