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Kambale Musavuli: Obama ignores legislation he sponsored in US Senate calling for sanctions against countries interfering in the Congo

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

In the Congo, the M23 Movement, most people say backed by Rwanda, is waging armed warfare against the Congolese government, army, and, many say, the Congolese people. Now joining us to unpack this issue for us is Kambale Musavuli. He’s a human rights activist originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He’s a student coordinator and national spokesman for the Friends of the Congo. And Kambale’s written for numerous international news publications. Thanks for joining us, Kambale.

So first of all give us a bit of the background. Where did M23 come from?

KAMBALE MUSAVULI, SPOKESPERSON, FRIENDS OF THE CONGO: So the M23 is a group of mutineers from the Congolese army. Formerly, before the Congolese army, there were rebels who were integrated into the Congolese army, and they used to be called CNDP. It’s really a branch of a proxy militia supported by Rwanda. So they’re integrated into the Congolese military. Today, they have left the Congolese army, and they are now attacking the Congolese government—of course, also the Congolese people at the moment.

JAY: Now, if I understand it correctly, there was an agreement which brought them into the Congolese army in—was it 2009? And the claim of M23, at least, is that there’s provisions of this agreement that haven’t been implemented, so that’s why they’ve started fighting again. I mean, what are their demands, and what’s the merit of them?

MUSAVULI: Well, the demand—the statement the M23 is making is really unfounded. The demands were to be integrated into the Congolese army, to have positions within the government, have better pay, and so on. I mean, we have to keep in mind we have integrated armed militia into the Congolese army, and their demands were met. Today they’re saying that those demands are not met.

Many numerous reports for the past two years have shown how they’ve created a parallel structure of government. They’ve continued to appeal for Congo’s resources while wearing the Congolese army uniform. And during many of the military operations, there were reports of the rapes they were committing on the women of the Congo in the region without impunity, because there were now Congolese generals and colonels within the Congolese military and no one could hold them accountable. We even had instances of one of the commanders, Bosco Ntaganda, who was wanted at the International Criminal Court, playing tennis in Goma while he has committed so many crimes there. So their claims [incompr.] still want to know what hasn’t been met.

Now, the challenge is that this is not the first time this is happening. So, mostly it’s a cycle where militiamen are integrating into the Congolese military, then they leave. There are more negotiation. At the end, the Congolese people continue to suffer because of this [incompr.]

JAY: So what size is the M23? How are they able to have enough force to actually take cities? In fact, they took Goma, which is a pretty big city. How do they get to that scale? Do they have any support amongst the people?

MUSAVULI: Well, they do not have the support amongst the people. You know, it was a couple of hundred of them who committed mutiny. And the context of the mutiny is because Bosco Ntaganda, one of the commanders, there was an order to actually get him arrested and send him to the Hague. So that’s how this whole rebellion started.

But now a couple of hundred—so now we’re talking about over 1,000 of them. We have UN reports clearly describing how the Congolese army is not fighting the M23, it’s in fact fighting the Rwandan military. So the UN Group of Experts, they have documented how Rwandan forces have crossed the border to join into the battle helping the M23. Not only that, the Rwandan government have recruited children in Rwanda to enlist them into fighting for the M23 inside of the Congo. So we don’t see any outrage in Rwanda.

JAY: So what is Rwanda’s agenda here? What do they gain from this?

MUSAVULI: When the order came to get Bosco Ntaganda arrested, it was really to dismantle the mafia network that exists in the east. It was to get Bosco out of the picture and remove the parallel chain of command that exist of this rebel militia. That’s what these rebels are actually fighting for. They’re fighting to maintain the illicit network that exists in the east whereby Rwanda and Uganda will continue to pay for the resources.

So Rwanda is now showing us that we are not willing to destroy this illicit network, and we are going to use our resources, our military, to show Congo that we will control the eastern part of Congo. That’s really where the battle is. To maintain the parallel chain of command in the east, they allow militia groups to continue to loot Congo’s resources at the benefit of Rwanda and Uganda.

JAY: So what’s an example of what you’re calling looting the resources? What does that mean?

MUSAVULI: So we have now these militias who control different mines in the region. They are extracting these minerals, such as gold, tungsten, tin, through Kigali and Rwanda. They are taxing population. So they have created different border control, where they are actually the one collecting the funds. I remember in 2011 the UN reports showed how in October 2011 the CNDP, which was already integrated into the Congolese army—and they’re calling themselves today M23—they collected $700,000 in one month for illegal taxation of the people at the border. So they have created that mafia network. And where this money go? Right in Kigali.

So with this battle that we’re seeing right now, it’s really Rwanda saying that we are now going to stop it. But the challenge is Rwanda is a very tiny country and it cannot do it by itself. So which country supports Rwanda? The United States government has funded, trained, equipped the Rwandan military.

The United Nation Group of Experts tells us that the person who is commanding the M23 rebels is named James Kabarebe. James Kabarebe is the Rwandan defense minister. So the Rwandan defense minister in Kigali is commanding a rebel militia within the Congo with total impunity.

So the question should be asked to Carter Ham, the head of AFRICOM, is the U.S. training with AFRICOM to Rwanda aiding and abetting training rebels in the Congo?

JAY: What’s the African Union doing about all this?

MUSAVULI: Unfortunately, the African Union has been really weak. You know, Zuma, the current African Union chair, she’s in Washington right now, and she had a meeting yesterday with Secretary of State Clinton, and she was asking about the Congo, say, are we going to hold Rwanda accountable for what is happening? And Hillary Clinton defer the question to her. And Zuma’s response was that we need to stop finger-pointing Rwanda at the moment, we are working for negotiation, and so on.

I think that we are past the point where people have to produce evidence for what Rwanda is doing in the Congo. For the past 16 years it’s been the same story. It’s time for action.

Now, the African Union is not acting on the behalf of the Congolese people to bring about peaceful solution to this issue, and the United States is actually silent on the issue. We have even report that at the United Nation, Susan Rice was—literally blocked the release of the report, the interim UN report documenting Rwanda’s support of rebels in the spring. And now, lately, during the resolution to condemn Rwanda, Susan Rice actually made sure that Rwanda’s name was off the resolution. They are speaking about external support. So when you read a resolution condemning the human rights violation of the M23 rebellion, then they say that we are calling for any external support to stop. And you ask yourself, is the external support aliens? We know who are supporting these rebels. Rwanda and Uganda are U.S. allies.

JAY: Well, President Obama knows very well who the external support is, ’cause didn’t, as senator, he actually coauthor or cosponsor a bill that actually called for sanctions against Rwanda if it continued to meddle in Congolese internal affairs?

MUSAVULI: Exactly. Exactly. And that’s the sad thing that’s happening. You know, earlier this week we saw in the news during the press conference at the White House that he’s actually aware what’s happening. He said—the statement from the White House is that President Obama is daily briefed around the situation in the Congo. This is why he sent assistant secretary of state Johnnie Carson to go to the Congo around this issue—to the region, actually. He has met with Kabila and Musaveni, but Kagame was not available for whatever reason that was. So he’s aware of the situation.

He has written a law on the Congo, and the law is very specific on the sanctions. It says that the secretary of state has the power to withhold aid to any nation destabilizing the Congo. Do you know how much the United States has frozen after the evidence came out? They froze only $200,000, when we provide Rwanda with $200 million. Not only that, we provide them with military training. The UN is telling us that the militia groups are using night vision goggle, 120 mm mortars, which Congolese Army does not have. So we know they are getting it from Congo’s neighbors. And yet we continue to provide support. So the complicity is—.

JAY: Now, didn’t AFRICOM, the American military control command center, didn’t they send 100 or more American troops to Rwanda recently to train the Rwandan army?

MUSAVULI: AFRICOM has been training the Rwandan army forever, for now quite a while. The—I think you were referring to the 100 special forces who were sent in Uganda to train the Ugandan soldiers to go after Joseph Kony. Remember, the last segment I was in with you, I did share clearly that this campaign against Kony is really a scam. You cannot train the Ugandan military when they are committing human rights abuse in the country and the region.

While I speak about Rwanda, I need also mention Uganda. Rwanda and Uganda are supporting the M23. So we’re sending 100 special forces to go after Joseph Kony, who is somewhere in Central Africa. And, of course, I’ll always maintain he’s someone that needs to be brought to justice. But we have reports showing the Rwandan military kidnapping Rwandan kids to actually abduct them and put them in the rebel force, and we have yet seen a stop-Rwanda campaign. That’s actually [crosstalk]

JAY: So what would you like to see?

MUSAVULI: A few things. One, the United States needs to be strong in this diplomacy. They need to sanction Rwanda at the Security Council. That’s a call to Susan Rice. She’s been a detriment to peace. The American people need to pressure Susan Rice to sanction Rwanda at the Security Council.

The second one is the enforcement of the Obama law, Public Law 109-456. Section 105 says that we are not going to give them our tax money if they are implicated in the Congo. We need to enforce that. Third, there needs to be pressure on the Congolese government, because they are not dealing with the issues in the Congo, of course, because in some way they are—the government in the Congo is an illegitimate government, because of the fact that the U.S. recognized an election in the Congo making Joseph Kabila the president while that wasn’t the will of the people. And they did that because they wanted stability over democracy. Today, because of that, we have neither stability nor democracy.

So, one, sanction Rwanda at the Security Council; two, for Obama to enforce his own law, Public Law 109-456, by freezing aid—military aid, specifically—to Rwanda; and three, to deal with the issue of the elections in the Congo and create a platform where the will of the people will be recognized. And the U.S. can do that with its aggressive diplomacy.

JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Kambale.

MUSAVULI: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. Don’t forget we’re in our year-end fundraising campaign. Every $1 you donate gets matched, up to $100,000. So please click the Donate button. Thanks for joining us 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.