The Defeat of the Rwandan-backed M23 Rebels is a First Step To Peace in the DRC

Maurice Carney: Activists and independent media played a key role in pushing the US to demand Rwanda stop supporting the M23 rebels

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

The M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo has declared an end to its two-year revolt against the DRC government. The UN has called this the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II. It’s left more than 5 million Congolese dead due to war-related violence since 1998. The M23 has been condemned by human rights groups in the UN alike. It receives major backing from Rwanda, a long-time U.S. ally and a major recipient of U.S. military aid.

Now joining us to discuss this is Maurice Carney. Maurice is the executive director and cofounder of Friends of the Congo, an advocacy organization established in 2004 to work in partnership with Congolese to bring about peaceful and longlasting change in the DRC.

Thank you so much for joining us.

MAURICE CARNEY, EXEC. DIR. AND COFOUNDER, FRIENDS OF THE CONGO: It’s a pleasure to be with you.

NOOR: So can we start off by getting your reaction to this announcement? And if you can, compare your reaction to how this is being portrayed in the international and mainstream media.

CARNEY: Sure. Reaction is positive, particularly from our partners on the ground. They are elated, especially in those territories of, those areas of the North Kivu province in the Congo that have been under occupation by this Rwandan-backed militia group. We’re definitely cautious, because we know that this is one part in the puzzle in terms of bringing about a longlasting peace and stability. And it’s certainly not a panacea, but a step in the right direction.

NOOR: And can you talk about the scale of this conflict? The UN calls it the deadliest conflict since World War II. Over 5 million people have been killed, and that’s a conservative estimate. Yet it hasn’t received as much attention as many other conflicts around the world.

CARNEY: No, no. As you rightly stated, it’s the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II. And when the Congo, then Zaire, was first invaded by Rwanda and Uganda in 1996, and then again in 1998, and their continued–both countries continued sponsorship of militia groups inside of the Congo to this day. And we’ve had an estimated 6 million people dead since 1996. So it’s, as you rightly stated, the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II. You take Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia, put them all together, and they don’t match what has happened in the Congo.

And there are several reasons for that. You know. One, the perpetrators, the aggressors, those who are primarily responsible for the conflict, are U.S. allies and they get protection from the United States. Two, we’re talking about Africa, and people are not as concerned about Africa, and they believe African lives are not as valuable as other lives, so they’re less inclined to pay attention to what’s transpiring, especially in the heart of Africa. And there are a lot of corporate interests at stake as well. You have many companies from around the world benefiting from the instability. So there are a host of reasons why there hasn’t been the kind of attention focused on the Congo that there should be, considering the scale and the scope of the tragedy that has transpired there since 1996.

NOOR: Rwanda’s been accused by the UN and other groups of supporting the M23, and the U.S. has cut back aid to Rwanda this year based somewhat on those accusations. Can you talk specifically about Rwanda’s role as a close U.S. ally, a longtime recipient of U.S. military hardware and military aid?

CARNEY: Yeah. Rwanda’s role is paramount in the instability in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As I shared with you, both Rwanda and Uganda have invaded the Congo twice–1996 and 1998. They fought each other on Congolese soil, that is, Rwandan military fighting Ugandan military on Congolese soil over mineral concessions. They’ve sponsored proxy militia groups inside of the Congo, even after they had officially removed their troops from the Congo from their sponsored groups from 2004 to the present. And the M23 that we’re talking about is the latest in a series of militia groups that have been sponsored and backed by Rwanda since 2004.

So the fact that for the first time the United States has put this kind of pressure on the Rwandan regime is certainly a benchmark in the path or the drive to bring about peace in the region. The Telegraph of London reported that this time when the Congolese military is fighting the M23, both the secretary of state of the United States, John Kerry, and the foreign secretray of the United Kingdom, William Hague, called Paul Kagame and impressed upon him that he needed to back off and not support the M23. And that was a critical factor in bringing about the ouster [incompr.] M23, the fact that Rwanda had held off and not supported them when they were under attack by the Congolese military.

NOOR: Now, Paul Kagame, the leader of Rwanda, has denied this support. What evidence exists that this is happening [incompr.]

CARNEY: There’s an abundance of evidence. I mean, even the United States, its own ally, both the United States and United Kingdom said there’s credible evidence that Paul Kagame in Rwanda has been–high-level officials in Rwandan government has been backing the M23. The UN published a series of reports, a number of reports in 2012 which really just added to the reports that had been published in previous years. I mean, going back to 1997, from the Garreton report in 1997 that documented Rwanda’s involvement in the Congo to the UN Mapping Exercise Report of 2010, a huge report that said if tried in front of a competent court, it maybe prove that Rwandan military even committed genocide in the Congo. So there’s an abundance of evidence.

The reason why Rwanda’s been able to get away with what it’s gotten away with in the Congo is because it’s an ally of the United States. And when reports are published at the level of the UN, for example, the U.S. runs diplomatic and political interference for all–in essence, basically cleansing Rwanda’s local crimes at the international level. So–however, due to pressure on the United States and increasing awareness of the coverage of what’s going on there by Real News Network, Al Jazeera, and other outlets, we’ve seen that the United States has had to act. It could no longer give its ally, Rwanda, carte blanche in the region.

NOOR: And finally, if this peace holds, the Democratic Republic of Congo will emerge as a devastated country, devastated by this long-running conflict. What steps need to be taken to ensure long-lasting stability and the economy recovering and improved living conditions for its residents?

CARNEY: Right. Several things. First, it’s important to understand that this is just a first–really, a first step. It’s a critical piece in terms of cutting the ties between Rwanda and the militia inside of the Congo. So we must maintain pressure on the U.S. government for it to keep up its pressure on the Rwandan regime. That’s critical. After 17 years, we must ensure that Rwanda no longer sets up or sponsors or directs any militia group inside of the Congo. That’s vital for lasting peace.

Second, there are a number of other militia groups in the area. We’re not suggesting that the same methods be utilized. Some of the media are reporting, okay, now we’ve gotten one; we need to go after the rest. All the militia groups inside of the Congo are not the same. The M23 distinguished itself by being sponsored and backed by a neighboring country, and not just any neighboring country, but a neighboring country that’s an ally of the United States. So it was able to–helped in perpetuating the conflict. So the other militia groups need to be dealt with. And there are a number of suggestions as to how that can happen. Tanzanian President Kikwete has put some proposals on the table around that.

Third, the Congolese state, led by Joseph Kabila, the government lacks legitimacy after it stole elections in 2011, lost its legitimacy of its population, and that exacerbated the conflict. So legitimacy has to be returned to the Congolese state. And the way that happens is for the Congolese people to have a say in the decision-making process of the nation. Joseph Kabila himself, when it’s time for him to leave the political scene, which, according to the Constitution, is–2016 he needs to leave, and the democratic process needs to continue, as it has been since 2006.

So these factors combined will help to put the Congo on a path to stability. And central to all of this is justice. Those who committed crimes that are still in the Congo, that are–many of them are in Rwanda–they need to face justice. And if that is does not happen, then whatever we build going forward we’ll be building on shaky ground.

NOOR: Maurice Carney, thank you so much for joining us.

CARNEY: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

NOOR: You can follow us at The Real News on Twitter. You can tweet me at Jaisal Noor to send me story ideas, suggestions, or comments. Thank you so much for joining us.

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