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Posts tagged ‘Democratic Republic Congo’

Third of children in conflict-ridden Congo denied schooling: U.N.

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Nearly a third of Congolese children are missing out on schooling as conflict, poverty, and weak governance take their toll, according to a study from the United Nations.

Democratic Republic of Congo is recovering from decades of dictatorship and two wars that left millions dead and the country’s infrastructure in ruins.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in areas of ongoing rebel conflict, such as North Kivu province, and live in makeshift camps.

The study, begun in 2010 by the U.N. bodies for children and education, UNICEF and UNESCO, found that more than 7.3 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 do not go to school.

The problem is worst in North Kivu, where there are myriad armed groups and the government is struggling to control the latest in a series of uprisings; and in Katanga province, the country’s most productive mining region.

Poverty plays a major role, the study found, with half of all children in typical households that live on less than $50 a month not attending school. Among much richer families, where the income tops $500 per month, the figure falls to less than 2 percent.

The failure of the state to adequately fund the education sector means, on average, families have to spend more than a tenth of their income to send children to school, said the report which was released on Friday.

This is in a country where most people live on less than a dollar a day.

There is also persistent gender inequality, the study found, with girls’ education opportunities often reduced by marriage and pregnancy during schooling years.

The report said the problem of children missing out on education was worst in provinces of high mining activity or recurrent conflict.

It did not explain why the problem was more pronounced in mining areas, though human rights advocates have said child labor in the mining sector is widespread.

Congo, which is two-thirds the size of western Europe, is Africa‘s second-largest copper producer and exported about half a million metric tons last year.

Despite its mineral riches, including significant deposits of gold, diamonds and tin, the country has been described by the United Nations as the least developed on earth.

(Reporting by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Pravin Char)



Congo fires heavy weapons into Rwanda, source says.

GOMADemocratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Soldiers from Democratic Republic of Congo firedheavy weapons rounds into Rwandan territory on Monday, wounding three people, a source atRwanda’s presidency told Reuters.

“The FARDC (Congo national army) is bombing our territory, specifically the Gisenyi area. Three civilians have been injured so far,” the source said, asking not to be named.

A Congo government official denied the claim, saying Rwanda was firing into its own territory to justify an intervention.

(Reporting by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Janet Lawrence)



Susan Rice: Benghazi May Be Least of Her Problems.

For a president who rarely shows emotion, Barack Obama’s surprisingly personal blast at Republican critics of Susan Rice, his U.N ambassador, suggested two things. One, Obama genuinely admires Rice and thinks she’s being unfairly criticized for giving an controversial explanation of the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack that later didn’t hold up. And two, he may well intend to name her his second-term secretary of State, as some reports indicate.

Obama made a fair point when he said Rice “had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received.” All Rice did was to carefully articulate on the Sunday TV talk shows what the administration knew at the time, “based on the best information we have to date,” as she put it.

But there are other issues with Rice’s record, both as U.N. ambassador and earlier as a senior Clinton administration official, that are all but certain to come out at any confirmation hearing, many of them concerning her performance in Africa. Critics say that since her failure to advocate an intervention in the terrible genocide in Rwanda in 1994 — Bill Clinton later said his administration’s unwillingness to act was the worst mistake of his presidency — she has conducted a dubious and naïve policy of looking the other way at allies who commit atrocities, reflecting to some degree the stark and emotionless realpolitik sometimes associated with Obama, who is traveling this week to another formerly isolated dictatorship: Burma.

(TIMELINEThe Rise and Fall of David Petraeus)

Most recently, critics say, Rice held up publication of a U.N. report that concluded that the government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, with whom she has a long and close relationship, was supplying and financing a brutal Congolese rebel force known as the M23 Movement. M23’s leader, Bosco Ntaganda, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for recruiting child soldiers and is accused of committing atrocities. She has even wrangled with Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, and others in the department, who all have been more critical of the Rwandans, according to some human-rights activists who speak with State’s Africa team frequently.

Rice claimed she wanted Rwanda to get a fair hearing and examine the report first, and her spokesman, Payton Knopf, says that “it’s patently incorrect to say she slowed [it] down.” But Jason Stearns, a Yale scholar who worked for 10 years in the Congo and wrote a book called Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, says “that is not common practice with these reports. Even when Rwanda did get a hearing, all they did was to use it to smear the report and say how wrong it was.” The report has since been published.

Mark Lagon, a former assistant secretary of State under George W. Bush and a human-rights specialist at Georgetown, has generally positive things to say about Rice’s tenure as U.N. ambassador, especially her leadership in the intervention in Libya against Muammar el-Qaddafi and her revival of the administration’s failing policy on Darfur. But he too says she has fallen short on Africa. “In recent months, there is documentary evidence of atrocities in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], and their umbilical cord is back in Rwanda. These issues have not been raised in the Security Council, and Susan has fought the U.N. raising them in the Security Council,”  Lagon says.

In September, Rice also delivered a glowing eulogy for the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whom many rights activists considered to have been a repressive dictator.

Recently, during a meeting at the U.N. mission of France, after the French ambassador told Rice that the U.N. needed to do more to intervene in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rice was said to have replied: “It’s the eastern DRC. If it’s not M23, it’s going to be some other group,” according to an account given by a human-rights worker who spoke with several people in the room. (Rice’s spokesman said he was familiar with the meeting but did not know if she made the comment.)

If true, that rather jaded observation would appear to echo a Rice remark that Howard French, a long-time New York Times correspondent in Africa, related in an essay in the New York Review of Books in 2009, which was highly critical of Rice.  In the article, headlined “Kagame’s Secret War in the Congo,” in which French calls the largely ignored conflict “one of the most destructive wars in modern history,” he suggests that Rice either naïvely or callously trusted new African leaders such as Kagame and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda to stop any future genocide, saying, “They know how to deal with that. The only thing we have to do is look the other  way.” Stearns, the author, says that during Rice’s time in the Clinton administration “they were complicit to the extent that they turned a blind eye and took at face value Rwandan assurances that Rwanda was looking only after its own security interests.”

Knopf, Rice’s spokesman, says “she clearly has relationships, some of which are very close, with African leaders, and Kagame is one of them. Her view and our view is that these relationships have given her an opportunity to influence events.”

At the same time, however, Knopf says Rice has been tough and forthright in criticizing Rwandan abuses, and backed a “very strong statement out of the Security Council in August about M23.” (The statement, though, did not refer to Rwandan support directly.)

In a speech she gave at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology in November 2011, Rice took Kagame’s government to task for a political culture that “remains comparatively closed. Press restrictions persist. Civil-society activists, journalists, and political opponents of the government often fear organizing peacefully and speaking out. Some have been harassed. Some have been intimidated by late-night callers. Some have simply disappeared.”

The long conflict in Congo has sometimes been called “Africa’s World War,” because it has led to a staggering 5.4 million deaths — far more than any war anywhere since World War II. Throughout it, Kagame has appeared to play a clever game of pretending to intervene to impose peace and deliver Western-friendly policies, while in fact carving out a sphere of influence by which he can control parts of Congo’s mineral wealth.

Ironically, much of the controversy that surrounds Rice’s relationship with Kagame and other African leaders goes back to the event that Rice herself has admitted was personally wrenching for her, and influenced much of her later views: her failure to stop the Rwandan genocide.

At the time, under National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, Rice was in charge of advising Clinton’s National Security Council on peacekeeping and international organizations such as the United Nations. “Essentially, they wanted [Rwanda] to go away,” scholar Michael Barnett, who worked at the U.S. mission to the United Nations then and later wrote the book Eyewitness to Genocide, told me in an interview in 2008. “There was little interest by Rice or Lake in trying to stir up any action in Washington.”

Both Lake and Rice later said they were haunted by their inaction. In an interview in 2008, Rice told me that she was too “junior”at the time to have affected decision-making then, but that “everyone who lived through that feels profoundly remorseful and bothered by it.”

“I will never forget the horror of walking through a church and an adjacent schoolyard where one of the massacres had occurred,” Rice said in her 2011 speech in Kigali. “Six months later, the decomposing bodies of those who had been so cruelly murdered still lay strewn around what should have been a place of peace. For me, the memory of stepping around and over those corpses will remain the most searing reminder imaginable of what humans can do to one another.”

Rice’s relationship with Kagame began with her efforts to form a new African leaders group in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. Among them were Museveni and Ethiopia’s Zenawi. The Clinton administration “believed in an African renaissance,” says Stearns. “She backed this somewhat naïvely, because they were forward-looking leaders who spoke a different language. They spoke about markets.”

While Rice was serving — and despite her later denials before Congress — the Clinton administration appeared to back an invasion of the troubled Congo by Rwanda and Uganda, according to a 2002 article in the journal Current History by Columbia University scholar Peter Rosenblum. In the article, titled “Irrational Exuberance: The Clinton Administration in Africa,” Rosenblum called the invasion “a public relations disaster from which the United States has not recovered.”


By Michael Hirsh | National Journal

EU freezes aid to Rwanda over Congo rebel claims.

KINSHASA (Reuters) – The European Union has frozen further budgetary support to Rwanda over allegations that the Central African state supports anti-government rebels in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, the EU’s ambassador to Congo said on Wednesday.

The EU is the latest western partner to impose aid suspensions against Kigali over an independent United Nations report that said Rwanda was behind a six-month rebellion in Congo’s eastern hills, which has forced 470,000 people to flee their homes.

“It was agreed to freeze the program of budgetary assistance and to not agree to any supplementary budgetary credit for Rwanda without them giving signs of co-operating,” Jean-Michel Dumond, the EU’s ambassador in Kinshasa, told the U.N.-backed broadcaster Radio Okapi.

A spokesman for the EU in Brussels had said on Monday that existing projects would continue, but that a decision on additional budget support would be delayed until Rwanda’s role in the unrest is clarified.

Although the scale of cuts was not given, the EU website says that the EU agreed a six-year budget support deal with Kigali in 2009, worth up to 175 million euros ($225 million).

Rwanda has repeatedly denied any involvement with the M23 rebel group in Congo.

Rwanda’s foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo responded to news of the cuts on the social networking site Twitter. “EU suspending ‘new aid’ to Rwanda is either old news or designed to mislead. No such decision has been taken,” she wrote.

Last month President Paul Kagame hit out at donors who cut aid and he launched a so-called “dignity fund” to help to wean the country off its dependence on outside help.

Presidents Kagame and Congo’s Joseph Kabila are due to join a U.N. crisis meeting in New York on Thursday, aimed at trying to find a solution to the problem.

On Monday U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met both leaders to push for a solution, only for Kabila to make indirect reference to Rwanda’s alleged support for M23 in his speech before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.

Other countries, including the United States, Sweden and the Netherlands have all suspended aid to Rwanda, which relies on donors for about 40 percent of its budget. However, Britain unblocked part of its cash this month, praising the Rwandans for constructively engaging in the search for peace.

Aid agencies say that the situation on the ground remains serious and the U.N.’s refugee agency has called for an additional $40 million to help those displaced by fighting.

Rwanda and Congo have a long history of tensions and Kigali has repeatedly backed armed movements in its neighbor, citing the need to tackle Rwandan rebels who use Congo as a base.

Critics say that Kagame’s government has used its influence to build lucrative political and economic networks in its resource-rich neighbor, with officials and human rights groups saying that minerals continue to be smuggled out of the region through Rwanda. ($1 = 0.7788 euros)

(Additional reporting by Jenny Clover; Editing by Bate Felix and David Goodman)


By Jonny Hogg | Reuters

International Agency: No Quick Fix for Peace in DRC.

Congo fighting
World Vision is urging world leaders to help bring about peace in the volatile Democratic Republic of the Congo. (James Akena/Reuters)

International aid agency World Vision has asked leaders around the world to support peace talks in East Africa, and peace-building at the community level, to address the ongoing nightmare facing thousands of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In the wake of Friday’s 31st International Day of Peace, as it awards an annual prize for peace-building, the organization is calling for renewed efforts from all governments to find a lasting solution for eastern DRC.

“Keeping the peace is only one part of the challenge in DRC,” said Matthew Scott, director of peace building for World Vision International, in Gulu, Uganda, for peace commemorations. “We need to continue to support grass-roots peace-building efforts—it requires a team marathon effort to be effective, not a series of individual sprints.”

Scott said leaders in the region don’t have to look far for proof the approach works.

“Community leaders in Northern Uganda started working together in the 1990s to protect children, and united by a determination to reach peace, facilitated peace talks, worked to protect children from attacks, and even rehabilitated former killers,” he said.

“Peace in northern Uganda was not a result of the efforts of one person. They’ve all done their time and so all feel a sense of responsibility to ensuring peace holds.”

However, living in peace and security remains out of reach for thousands of children and families in eastern DRC.

“It is heartbreaking that as Uganda celebrates its admirable achievements in reaching and maintaining peace, across the border children continue to be terrorized by conflict,” Scott said. “More than 220,000 people have been forced to flee fighting since April. Leaders in Uganda and the region have a role to play in ensuring peace and stability for the families caught up in this.

“As we hear time and again from the people World Vision works with, the power of the word is mightier than the power of the sword. Military solutions can protect civilians from harm in the short term, but can’t build peace in the long term.”

World Vision International peace-builder James Odong, who was once caught up in the conflict in Northern Uganda, abducted and forced to face the challenges children in the region still experience, said: “Twenty years ago, we were in their position. There is hope but they must put down their guns and talk.”

Uganda’s experience shows peace is possible, and is achieved through peace talks, not more conflict, Scott said.

“Peace doesn’t happen overnight, but if it’s done right, it lasts,” he said. “We need leaders to commit to this for the long haul, and be prepared to do what it takes.”



Congo says army kills 25 mutineers in east.

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KINSHASA (Reuters) – Twenty five mutineers loyal to a renegade general have been killed in clashes with the army in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the government said on Monday.

              The east of the central African country remains unstable nearly a decade after the formal end of a vicious civil war which sucked in neighbouring countries and left millions dead.

              The region has been swept by fresh fighting in recent weeks after hundreds of troops defected from the army over issues including poor pay and living conditions and in support for Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

              Ntaganda had previously fought the government as part of the Rwandan-backed CNDP rebel movement, before signing a peace accord and integrating into the army in 2009.

              The defectors loyal to Ntaganda and another mutineer, Colonel Sultani Makenga, were killed after attempting an assault on the town of Bunagana in North Kivu province on Saturday, government spokesman Lambert Mende said.

              “They were repulsed and during the fighting they lost 25 guys … (government forces) may have had injuries, but no deaths,” Mende said by telephone.

              Mende said the failed attack had been carried out with support from fighters from the Rwandan FDLR rebel group, which has been operating in Congo for more than 15 years and is accused of carrying out widespread human rights abuses.

              “They are hand in hand (with the FDLR) … For Makenga and Ntaganda and the others who have criminal records, they must be arrested, we do not negotiate with criminals,” Mende stated, accusing the mutineers of forcibly recruiting minors.

Last week Human Rights Watch accused Ntaganda of again using child soldiers in his fight against the Congolese authorities – one of the alleged crimes for which he is sought by the ICC.

              The possibility that Ntaganda and Makenga are operating alongside the FDLR is a further twist in the complex and ever shifting web of alliances in eastern Congo.

              The pair’s CNDP rebel group received heavy backing from Rwanda in order to fight the FDLR before being integrated into the Congolese armed forces in 2009.

              Rwanda has maintained a strong influence in eastern Congo in recent years, citing the need to tackle the FDLR – which was linked to the 1994 Rwandan genocide and is bent on overthrowing Rwandan president Paul Kagame.

              Some analysts say Rwanda has overstated the FDLR threat and uses it as an excuse to maintain lucrative interests in mining in eastern Congo, a charge repeatedly denied by Kagame.

              Last week the Congolese government said that the Congolese and Rwandan governments would share information in an effort to tackle the FDLR threat, but stopped short of announcing joint military operations.

              On Monday the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR announced that one of its staff had been killed after gunmen broke into his home in the eastern city of Goma, although it remains unclear who was behind the killings.


ReutersBy Jonny Hogg | Reuters 

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