the congo, palestine, and colonialisms

about a month ago i learned about a new blog called stealth conflicts. on it a blogger named virgil hawkins covers the uncoverable–the news stories about conflicts that the media only rarely produce stories about. what first caught my eye was a note someone posted in facebook with the following entry from this blog:

Forget the series of Christmas massacres by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in eastern DRC that left more than 400 dead (including more than 45 killed in a church) and the coalition of countries in the region trying to hunt them down. Forget the deadly clashes with Congolese rebels poised to take over the city of Goma. Forget Somalia, where the Ethiopian forces that invaded (with US assistance) two years ago are being forced by local resistance forces to pack and leave. Forget all of these conflicts, because violence has broken out again in Israel-Palestine.

The latest conflagration of violence in Israel-Palestine continues to dominate international news around the world. The details of who is attacking who with what, how many people have died (down to single digit figures), and how many of them were women and children, together with in-depth political analysis and a touch of humanitarian concern are all fed through the newspapers, television, radio and internet news outlets on a daily basis. And all with the utmost care to avoid displeasing lobby groups that will rain down thousands of e-mails, telephone calls and letters (flak) upon the unfortunate media corporation suspected of even the slightest bias (and possibly revoke their advertising contracts).

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a ‘chosen’ conflict. It always is. It has the rare privilege of being the focus of saturated attention every time there is a conflagration (despite the fact that the conflict is not occurring in a ‘white’ Western country, and despite the fact that the USA is not a direct belligerent in the conflict – always sure factors for a conflict to attract soaring levels of attention). Explaining why this is so would take a book or two, but let’s just scratch the surface here. Politicians in much of the Western world obsess about the issue, largely because a significant amount of their election campaign contributions seem to depend on their favourable attention in many cases. Politicians in much of the Muslim world do likewise, because standing up against the oppression of Muslims at the hands of Israel is much more popular than standing up against the oppression of Muslims at the hands of anyone else. The fact that the conflict region is considered the ‘Holy Land’ by Muslims, Jews and Christians helps cement this process.

For media corporations, providing saturation coverage of the conflict is nothing short of automatic. What is considered important by media corporations is based largely on what the policymakers at home consider to be important, almost by default. Keeping reporters close to those making foreign policy at home is much cheaper than sending them all over the world to independently gather news. In the competitive media business, budgets are better spent on packaging and presenting news than actually gathering it. Furthermore, for media corporations that have little newsgathering capacity (and oddly, even for those that do), the news value of a story is often determined by what leading media corporations (like the New York Times) think it should be. In this environment of follow-the-leader (policymakers and leading media corporations) and pack journalism, having a reporter in Africa is optional, having one in Israel-Palestine is not. Once the reporter is stationed there, ‘fresh’ coverage of the issue on demand is cheap and easy (far more so than actually sending someone to far-away and logistically challenging Africa to cover something after it happens).

Because of the combination of follow-the-leader, pack journalism, and lack of newsgathering capacity, this state of affairs can be seen spreading to the rest of the world as well. Japan has no cultural or religious affinity with Israel-Palestine, and its politicians are not reliant on campaign contributions from pro-Israeli lobby groups, yet its media corporations follow the Western leaders in devoting heavy coverage to the issue. Even locally-focused news programs that rarely have any time for foreign affairs issues make sure to include news of the latest conflagration in their bulletins. With little budget for foreign newsgathering, Zambia’s leading newspaper (the Post) buys its world news from foreign news agencies. The result is that it gives more coverage to the situation in Israel-Palestine than it does to the eight countries on Zambia’s border combined. In the year 2004, for example, it devoted 9 percent of its foreign coverage to Israel-Palestine, but only 4 percent to all of Zambia’s eight neighbours.

On top of this, things have always been this way, so they tend to stay that way. Israel-Palestine has always been considered important, and ‘important’ people think it is, so it must be important. Groups (interest/lobby) and individuals with a special interest in the conflict in Israel-Palestine are also well-positioned to continue the process of drawing copious amounts of attention to the conflict, in political spheres and in the ownership of prominent media corporations. Africa, on the other hand, has not been considered important (for a variety of separate reasons that will be dealt with in another post), and therefore no one knows about it, and therefore it is not important. It becomes a vicious cycle.

The public, who remain largely at the mercy of the media corporations in obtaining morsels of information about the outside world, seem to end up with the same distorted view of the world. In a simple classroom survey conducted of 37 Australian university students (studying in a course on war and peace no less) in 2003, the conflict in Israel-Palestine was the most common answer (9 respondents) to the question of which conflict in the world they thought had been the deadliest since the end of the Cold War. Only one of the 37 could even name the conflict in the DRC as one of the world’s deadliest conflicts, and that was at third place behind Israel-Palestine and Afghanistan. In a similar survey conducted of 151 university students in Japan in 2008, not a single one could name the DRC as the world’s deadliest conflict. Fourteen students, on the other hand, thought that the conflict in Israel-Palestine was world’s deadliest, coming in at third place behind Iraq and Kosovo.

This is despite the fact that the virtually unknown conflict in the DRC is 1,000 times deadlier than that in Israel-Palestine. And I don’t mean that figuratively, it is literally 1,000 times deadlier – the death toll from conflict in the DRC since 1998 is roughly 6 million, while the death toll from conflict in Israel-Palestine since 2000 is roughly 6 thousand. At least 38 conflicts since the end of the Cold War have been deadlier than that in Israel-Palestine. Put simply, while these surveys are limited in their scope, they suggest that collectively, the general public has no idea about the state of conflict in the world. Their perspective on which conflicts are the largest and deadliest is so skewed that the reality is unrecognizable. But who can blame them, considering the horribly unbalanced diet of media they feed on. I invite you to try out simple surveys like this (“Which conflict in the world do you think has been the deadliest since the end of the Cold War?”) with those around you.

In some ways, I almost regret writing this post, because I am becoming part of the very bandwagon that I am discussing – by writing about why the issue is important, I am inadvertently boosting the attention it receives… But some discussion of the issue of ‘chosen’ conflicts is also necessary in order for the discussion of ‘stealth’ conflicts to make sense.

i quote his blog entry in full, which i think i have quoted from before, because it raises some really important points that bear repeating. i do not write about the conflict in the drc as often as i would like to, though i do follow the news from the congo as best i can. it is not that i think the conflict doesn’t need more people writing about it, it is just that living in palestine means that you are constantly confronted with israeli terrorism every day and this affects, if not me, certainly my students, friends, people i care about. it is hard sometimes to think of the way hawkins talks about the coverage of palestine in the world media because most of it is a distorted, warped view of reality. but i also think it should not be about covering one story and not the other; i think both should be covered vigorously. and there are many parallels to both, particularly western interests in maintaining colonial or neocolonial powers over these two countries. here is a video that hawkins made raising some of these same questions about why we know so little about the conflict in the drc.

kambale musavuli of friends of the congo wrote an article in the san francisco bay view news this week about the neocolonial interests in the congo in ways that should wake up americans and europeans alike in ways akin to palestine. with both conflicts we are fueling the bloodshed through state and corporate neocolonial policies, though as hawkins shows in his film and article this is way off the radar screen. too, a friend of mine who is a photojournalist and who goes to the congo regularly, and who has also covered palestine, once told me a story about congolese people asking about palestine. after he told them about it they all thought that it sounded like their situation; the people told him that this is just like what rwanda is doing to the congo. here is musavuli’s assessment:

Since Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo in 1996, they have pursued a plan to appropriate the wealth of Eastern Congo either directly or through proxy forces. The December 2008 United Nations report is the latest in a series of U.N. reports dating from 2001 that clearly documents the systematic looting and appropriation of Congolese resources by Rwanda and Uganda, two of Washington and London’s staunchest allies in Africa.

However, in the wake of the December 2008 report, which clearly documents Rwanda’s support of destabilizing proxy forces inside the Congo, a series of stunning proposals and actions have been presented which all appear to be an attempt to cover up or bury the damning U.N. report on the latest expression of Rwanda’s aggression against the Congolese people.

The earliest proposal came from Herman Cohen, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs under George Herbert Walker Bush. He proposed that Rwanda be rewarded for its well documented looting of Congo’s wealth by being a part of a Central and/or East African free trade zone whereby Rwanda would keep its ill-gotten gains.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy would not be outdone; he also brought his proposal off the shelf, which argues for essentially the same scheme of rewarding Rwanda for its 12-year war booty from the Congo. Two elements are at the core of both proposals.

One is the legitimization of the economic annexation of the Congo by Rwanda, which for all intents and purposes represents the status quo. And two is basically the laying of the foundation for the balkanization of the Congo or the outright political annexation of Eastern Congo by Rwanda. Both Sarkozy and Cohen have moved with lightning speed past the Dec. 12, 2008, United Nations report to make proposals that avoid the core issues revealed in the report.

The U.N. report reaffirms what Congolese intellectuals, scholars and victims have been saying for over a decade in regard to Rwanda’s role as the main catalyst for the biblical scale death and misery in the Congo. The Ugandan and Rwandan invasions of 1996 and 1998 have triggered the deaths of nearly 6 million Congolese. The United Nations says it is the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II.

The report “found evidence that the Rwandan authorities have been complicit in the recruitment of soldiers, including children, have facilitated the supply of military equipment, and have sent officers and units from the Rwandan Defense Forces” to the DRC. The support is for the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP, formerly led by self-proclaimed Gen. Laurent Nkunda.

The report also shows that the CNDP is sheltering a war criminal wanted by the International Criminal Court, Gen. Jean Bosco Ntaganda. The CNDP has used Rwanda as a rear base for fundraising meetings and bank accounts, and Uganda is once more implicated as Nkunda has met regularly with embassies in both Kigali and Kampala.

Also, Uganda is accepting illegal CNDP immigration papers. Earlier U.N. reports said that Kagame and Museveni are the mafia dons of Congo’s exploitation. This has not changed in any substantive way.

The report implicates Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa, a close advisor to Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda. Rujugiro is the founder of the Rwandan Investment Group. This is not the first time he has been named by the United Nations as one of the individuals contributing to the conflict in the Congo.

In April 2001, he was identified as Tibere Rujigiro in the U.N. Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as one of the figures illegally exploiting Congo’s wealth. His implication this time comes in financial contributions to CNDP and appropriation of land.

This brings to light the organizations he is a part of, which include but are not limited to the Rwanda Development Board, the Rwandan Investment Group, of which he is the founder, and Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council. They have members as notable as Rev. Rick Warren, business tycoon Joe Ritchie, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Scott Ford of Alltell, Dr. Clet Niyikiza of GlaxoSmithKline, former U.S. president Bill Clinton and many more.

These connections provide some insight into why Rwanda has been able to commit and support remarkable atrocities in the Congo without receiving even a reprimand in spite of the fact that two European courts have charged their top leadership with war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is only recently that two European nations, Sweden and the Netherlands, have decided to withhold aid from Rwanda as a result of their aggression against the Congolese people.

The report shows that the Congolese soldiers have also given support to the FDLR and other armed groups to fight against the aggression of Rwanda’s CNDP proxy. One important distinction must be made in this regard. It appears that the FDLR support comes more from individual Congolese soldiers as opposed to overall government support.

The Congolese government is not supporting the FDLR in incursions into Rwanda; however, the Rwandan government is in fact supporting rebel groups inside Congo. The Congolese population is the victim of the CNDP, FDLR and the Congolese military.

The United Nations report is a predictable outgrowth of previous reports produced by the U.N. since 2001. It reflects the continued appropriation of the land, theft of Congo’s resources, and continuous human rights abuses caused by Rwanda and Uganda. An apparent aim of these spasms is to create facts on the ground – land appropriation, theft of cattle and other assets – to consolidate CNDP/Rwandan economic integration into Rwanda.

Herman Cohen’s “Can Africa Trade Its Way to Peace?” in the New York Times reflects the disastrous policies that favor profits over people. In his article, the former lobbyist for Mobutu and Kabila’s government in the United States and former assistant secretary of state for Africa from 1989 to 1993 argues, “Having controlled the Kivu provinces for 12 years, Rwanda will not relinquish access to resources that constitute a significant percentage of its gross national product.”

He adds, “The normal flow of trade from eastern Congo is to Indian Ocean ports rather than the Atlantic Ocean, which is more than a thousand miles away.” Continuing his argument, he believes that “the free movement of people would empty the refugee camps and would allow the densely populated countries of Rwanda and Burundi to supply needed labor to Congo and Tanzania.”

Cohen’s first mistake in providing solutions to the conflict is to look at the conflict as a humanitarian crisis that can be solved by economic means. Uganda and Rwanda are the aggressors. Aggressors should not define for the Congo what is best, but rather it is for the Congo to define what it has to offer its neighbor.

A lasting solution is to stop the silent annexation of Eastern Congo. The International Court of Justice has already weighed in on this matter when it ruled in 2005 that Congo is entitled to $10 billion in reparations due to Uganda’s looting of Congo’s natural resources and the commission of human rights abuses in the Congo. It would have in all likelihood ruled in the same fashion against Rwanda; however, Rwanda claimed to be outside the jurisdiction of the court.

The United States and Great Britain’s implication is becoming very clear. These two great powers consider Rwanda and Uganda their staunch allies and, some would argue, client states. These two countries have received millions of dollars of military aid, which in turn they use in Congo to cause destruction and death.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is a former student at the U.S. military training base Fort Leavenworth and Yoweri Museveni’s son, Lt. Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, graduated from the same U.S. military college in the summer of 2008. Both the United States and Great Britain should follow the lead of the Dutch and Swedish governments, who have suspended their financial support to Rwanda.

With U.S. and British taxpayers’ support, we now see an estimated 6 million people dead in Congo, hundreds of thousands of women systematically raped as an instrument of war and millions displaced.

A political solution will resolve the crisis, and part of that requires pressure on Rwanda in spite of Rwanda’s recent so-called “house arrest” of Laurent Nkunda. African institutions such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union are primed to be more engaged in the Congo issue. Considering Congo’s importance to Africa, it is remarkable that they have been so anemic in regard to the Congo crisis for so long.

Rwanda’s leader, Paul Kagame, cannot feel as secure or be as arrogant as he has been in the past. One of his top aides was arrested in Germany as a result of warrants issued by a French court and there is almost global consensus that pressure must be put on him to cease his support of the destabilization of the Congo and its resultant humanitarian catastrophe.

In addition to pressure on Kagame, the global community should support the following policies:

1. Initiate an international tribunal on the Congo.

2. Work with the Congolese to implement a national reconciliation process; this could be a part of the international tribunal.

3. Work with the Congolese to assure that those who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity are brought to justice.

4. Hold accountable corporations that are benefiting from the suffering and deaths in the Congo.

5. Make the resolution of the Congo crisis a top international priority.

Living is a right, not a privilege, and Congolese deaths must be honored by due process of the law. As the implication of the many parties in this conflict becomes clear, we should start firmly acknowledging that the conflict is a resource war waged by U.S. and British allies.

We call upon people of good will once again to advocate for the Congolese by following the prescriptions we have been outlining to end the conflict and start the new path to peace, harmony and an end to the exploitation of Congo’s wealth and devastation of its peoples.

i have been thinking about the congo this week quite a bit, partially because i am teaching joseph conrad’s the heart of darkness in my postcolonial literature class. of course, i am teaching it in historical context of colonialism in the congo, but also in relation to current events there. and we will return to the congo when i end the semester with raoul peck’s biopic film lumumba. it is striking to reread this novel after decades–i think i first read this in junior high school and i don’t recall having read it since. the character kurtz is described by marlowe in a way that i think is especially significant given the tight focus of the story on two men. he is described by marlowe as:

The original Kurtz had been educated partly in England, and–as he was good enough to say himself–his sympathies were in the right place. His mother was half-English, his father was half-French. All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz; and by-and-by I learned that, most appropriately, the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had intrusted him with the making of a report, for its future guidance. (124)

the point here that i think is interesting is that he was made by all of europe. this is not because his parents came from different countries. this is because the savagery with which he loots and rapes the land and the people of the congo came from his upbringing in europe. his sense of his superiority. his racism. his capitalist drive. these are the forces that feed colonialism and imperialism and they come from europe. the quest for power, fed by greed and racism is what fuels every colonial project whether in the congo or in palestine. and these colonial ideologies about conquering the americas, australia, africa, asia also fed into zionist ideology. abayomi azikiwe wrote an essay recently entitled “pan-africanism and palestine solidarity – a history of anti-imperialist struggle” in which he lays out some of these parallels:

Throughout the negotiations involving the Zionist proposals for white penetration into Africa and Asia, Theodore Herzl, in the manner of 19th century imperialist thinkers, spoke of imperialism and colonialisation as a ‘noble activity destined to bring civilization to the “backward races”.’ Viewing the Jewish state with occidental white binoculars, he asserted that this state is designed to ‘form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.’

African territories were strongly considered as a ‘homeland’ for the Zionist state. This contradicts the proclaimed scriptural basis for the colonisation of Palestine. Zayid states that ‘in their search for a location for the Zionist enclave, to be created, a variety of options were explored including Uganda (east Africa), Tripolitania in Libya (north Africa), Cyprus (Mediterranean), Madagascar (off the southeast African coast), Congo (in central Africa) and Palestine.’

Joseph Chamberlain, the British racist theoretician told Herzl that ‘I have seen a land for you on my recent travels, and that is Uganda. It is not on the coast but the climate of the interior is excellent for Europeans. Though Herzl strongly favored Uganda as the location for the Jewish state, the committee, appointed by the World Zionist Congress to explore the area, found it unsuitable.’

the quote taken above is from a much longer article, which i highly recommend. it shows how various anti-colonial liberation movements came to support palestinian liberation not only because they were fighting the same struggle, but also because the zionist colonists in palestine helped to fund colonialism in countries like south africa. it also details a similar trajectory for african americans coming to support palestinian liberation. while, of course, i welcome this, and want to see more of this, i also think that it cannot and should not be unidirectional.

look at these two stories from relief web yesterday, for instance, that reported on new refugees from the congo and from gaza:

The number of Congolese refugees who have sought safety in South Sudan since attacks by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) last year has now surpassed the 15,000 mark.

UNHCR staff late last week accompanied local South Sudanese authorities to Lasu, a sparsely populated village in Central Equatoria State where they found the population of Congolese refugees had swelled from 2,000 to approximately 6,000. Most of them fled from the DRC town of Aba, which has been attacked several times since January, the latest last week. Lasu is 45 km from the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

At least 100,000 people, including up to 56,000 children, remain displaced with many continuing to take shelter in tents or crowding into remaining homes with other families, one month since the Gaza ceasefire was declared.

and, of course, there are conflicts that are in the news daily, but perhaps because of compassion fatigue they seem not to matter to people any more. obama says that he’s sending 17,000 new troops to afghanistan. he says this on the same day that new casualty figures for afghans is released:

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan’s escalating conflict have increased by 39 per cent over the last year, hitting their worst-ever level, according to a United Nations report.

A total of 2,118 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2008, the deadliest year since US-ousted the Taliban in 2001, the world body said in a report released on Tuesday.

meanwhile, israeli terrorists continue to bomb and shoot at palestinians in gaza:

A woman is dead and another person injured after Israeli warplanes launched several strikes on the border area between Egypt and Gaza Wednesday morning.

Warplanes launched missiles at underground smuggling tunnels, in addition to a security compound of the de facto government in Khan Younis, a city in the south of Gaza. A mosque was also destroyed in Khan Younis

The woman, 70-year-old Huda Abu Tahla, suffered a heart attack when missiles struck near her home, according to the executive director of the Abu Yousif An-Najjar Hospital in Rafah, Muhammad Subih.

Missile strikes destroyed seven smuggling tunnels along the Philadelphi Route, the zone along the Egypt-Gaza border. Israeli sources said the strikes were a response to recent projectile attacks launched by into southern Israel from Gaza.

Separately, Palestinian medical sources said a Palestinian farmer was moderately injured by Israeli fire in Al-Farahin area, east of Khan Younis near the border with Israel.

and here in the west bank palestinians continue to be kidnapped every day, in increasingly high numbers while israeli terrorists keep teasing us with talk of prisoner release (clearly they want to boost the numbers inside before any such release might happen):

In a third consecutive day of mass arrests Israeli forces stormed the northern West Bank town of Jayyus near Qalqiliya early morning Wednesday and seized 65 Palestinian youth in an ongoing military operation.

Israeli soldiers declared the town a “Closed Military Area” and barred journalists from entering. A curfew has been imposed, trapping residents in their homes.

Soldiers told the families of those detained that they were “wanted” by Israeli intelligence….

According to Israeli sources the village was raided in a sweep for illegal weapons. An army spokesperson told the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, that forces were operating in the town following a rise in the number of incidents involving the throwing of stones at Israeli vehicles.

Eight of those taken were identified as:

Sakhr Shamasnah,
Jabir Shamasnah,
Kamal Shamasnah,
Adli Shamasnah,
Anwar Aarif,
Mahir Aarif,
Muhammad Bilal and
Hamadah Nimir

The residents of Jayyus organize a weekly demonstration against the construction of the separation wall on village land. Foreign activists frequently attend the events and Israeli soldiers regularly invade the town and harass its residents following the departure of the activists.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces on Wednesday morning apprehended two Palestinian university students from the northern West Bank town of Far’un, south of Tulkarem.

Soldiers stormed the town at dawn, ransacking a residential building and seizing two students at the Palestine Technical University.

Two of the students detained were identified as 22-year-old Sami Al-Jaroushi, affiliated with Fatah, and 20-year-old Fawzi Qarqur, apparently a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

and because israeli terrorists didn’t have enough blood on their hands for today, they decided to invade lebanon, too:

Witnesses heard the sound of four consecutive explosions accompanied by gunfire and overflights by helicopter gunships over the Arqoub region in the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms.

The state-run National News Agency said an Israeli force had earlier in the day crossed the barbed wire at the southwestern edge of the border town of Ghajar.

The 19-member Israeli force conducted a two-hour search of the area, NNA said.

ah, yes, colonialism is alive and well here in palestine. in the congo. in afghanistan. in iraq. and so many other places around the world. but what i want to know is when can we connect these liberation struggles and fight for the as one? the corporations and states fueling these colonial projects overlap. so should our political solidarity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s