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Africa’s Endless War

Rebels on the move in Congo.  We’ll go there with NPR’s John Burnett.  To Africa’s endless war.

Congolese government soldiers (FARDC) patrol the streets of Minova under their control Sunday Nov. 25, 2012. Government troops remain in Minova, 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of Sake, following a failed attack on M23 last Thursday.Regional leaders meeting in Uganda called for an end to the advance by M23 rebels toward Congo's capital, and also urged the Congolese government to sit down with rebel leaders as residents fled some towns for fear of more fighting between the rebels and army. (AP)

Congolese government soldiers (FARDC) patrol the streets of Minova under their control Sunday Nov. 25, 2012. (AP)

In the heart of Africa, vast Congo has everything the world is going to need in this century.  A huge rainforest.  Enormous stretches of fertile land.  The world’s biggest reserves of mineral ore.  The hydro-power potential to light up a continent.  And Congo has everything the world -and the Congolese- do not need.  War.  Mass rape.  Chaos.

In the last week, rebel soldiers have been on the move again.  It can all seem murky and far away.  But little neighboring Rwanda – a darling of many Americans – is playing a big, controversial role.

This hour, On Point:  Africa’s unending war, in Congo.

-Tom Ashbrook


John Burnett, National Public Radio correspondent who has been reporting from Africa.

Jason Stearns, a journalist who worked for ten years in the Congo. He writes the blog Congo Siasa. He’s the author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa.

Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Rep. Adam Smith, represents Washington’s 9th district.

From Tom’s Reading List

Foreign Policy “One of Congo’s biggest eastern cities fell to a powerful rebel force on Tuesday, Nov. 20, in a war that may redefine the region but has produced little political action by the United Nations, the United States, and international powers that heavily support neighboring governments — notably Rwanda, a Western darling and aid recipient — that are backing the violence, according to U.N. experts. The fighting has displaced nearly 1 million people since the summer, and the battle for the city of Goma marks the latest episode of a long struggle by Rwandan-backed rebels to take control of a piece of the Democratic Republic of the Congo — a struggle the rebels are now decisively winning. The fighting has also highlighted the ineptitude of the United Nations mission, one of the world’s largest and most expensive, charged with keeping Congo’s peace.”

New York Times “Regional leaders meeting in Uganda on Saturday called on Congolese rebels to “stop all war activities and withdraw from Goma,” but the rebels did not seem interested in that.”

The Monkey Cage “What is striking and surprising here is just how easy it can be to take over some African states, or large parts of them.  The post-independence historical record provides numerous examples where dozens or a few hundred armed men have done it.  This is generally just assumed to be the way things are in Africa, but when you think about it it is actually really puzzling.  Being the president in African countries (and many others besides) can be an incredibly lucrative deal.  Why don’t these rulers, in their own self-interest, take some of that money and use it to build crack units, presidential guards, or strong and loyal army divisions that would protect their hold on power against two dozen putchists, or a hundred or a couple thousand rebels armed with rifles and maybe some mortars?”

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  • Mike_Card

    Sounds like a great place for secessionists; no obtrusive gummint takin’ away all your guns and liberties there!

  • ttajtt

    poor place with good weapon$, money feeds this war, their life cost.  see what happens with no video games.

  • ttajtt

    they could be the ultimate walk in the wild zoo.  so much to seee, like south america has in its own sights.   some of the last UNTOUCHED subdude WORKED OVER LAND, but fun for average people do this? in peace? or no collage spring break,  NO trophies just pictures for to table talk over proud fire place mantle like food too.   maybe they can sell plastic sized like heads of lions, tigers, elephants, monkeys, snakes… mountings and no so many bullets… 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5RV6ZGOUTCRUG3LOVKRECJI5RM Nanette

    I cannot wait to listen to this program today! Thank you for taking on this subject and country that is forgotten in the uninted states

    • Gary Trees

      I cannot wait to listen to this program today! Thank you for taking on this subject and continent that is forgotten in the united states.


  • http://www.facebook.com/our.lady.valley O.l. Valley

    Prior to 9/11 Ted Koppel planed to devote Nighline to covering Africa’s Wars.

    • brettearle

      When the Powers That Be, at ABC, removed Ted Koppel, they removed a major quality cornerstone of broadcast journalism.

      And even if you currently watch PBS and/or BBC, broadcast journalism will never be the same.

  • AC

    coltan, tin, then gold…..serious corporate misbehavior combined with ‘innocent’ neighboring countries denying the illegal trading occurring….

    the faster we start mining meteorites, the more peaceful the world will be…

  • brettearle

    How Should The United States Act, If At All?

    –The Libertarians among us would cry, “we are not the world’s

    –The Pragmatists among us would say,

       Do we give financial aid, logistical support, or direct military
       intervention–if our own national interests are being

       National interests might include political or militant threats to
       our allies as well as to our strategic partners; and,
       additionally, such interests might include supply cut-offs of
       resources to the US and to its allies.

    –The Humanitarians among us would proclaim that what is going
       on is a Crime Against Humanity and that the US, or a coalition
       led, perhaps, by the US, needs to intervene, directly.

    Did we make a glaring mistake in Dafur?

    Are we going to be making the same mistake, here, or No?

    I’m not sure I have the answer. But it seems to me that those are some of the salient questions to ask.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      “Did we make a glaring mistake in Dafur?”

      You know we did, in fact we made many. We’ve been so busy waging a War on Terror that we have ignored a War on Humanity.

      • brettearle

        Before the war on terror, there were many crimes, against humanity, that we ignored.

        I am sure that we were derelict in some of them–and, perhaps, in others, our intervention either might have made things worse or else might never have made the kind of impact necessary to squelch the brutality….winding up, maybe, in a great loss of our own treasure.

  • Ellen Dibble

    This from the BBC:  “Rwanda has sought to justify its backing for previous rebel groups in eastern DR Congo by saying they are the only way of preventing Hutu militias from launching attacks.”
       And, “Rwandan army spokesman Joseph Nzabamwita told AFP news agency that about 100 Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) fighters had attacked the villages of Cyanzarwe and Bugesh in Rwanda.”
       And “There are reports of heavy shelling and gunfire from Kibumba about 30km (19 miles) north of Goma – the former frontline where the rebels have reportedly agreed to withdraw to, she says.The Rwandans and M23 have told her that the FDLR have recently infiltrated the area around Kibumba before launching the attack on Rwandan territory on Monday night.”    That is from a report on November 27th at 5:24 ET.  Both the M23 and Rwanda/Uganda deny there is support from those countries for M23.  The bottom line seems to be M23 will withdraw when its terms are met.  Yet Saturday, in Kampala, other plans were made, apparently confounding an already complex situation.  
        My question, how long have the Hutus been organizing in the eastern DR Congo, and what is their intent vis-a-vis Rwanda?  I’ll put a link to the BBC report.

  • Ellen Dibble
  • MarkVII88

    The trick here is getting the “average” American to give a hoot about the fighting in DPRC.  This has and is proving difficult despite the loss of life and length of this conflict especially when you consider the media frenzy and daily/hourly coverage of the fighting in places like Syria which has sprouted up relatively recently by comparison to DPRC.  Unfortunately, I think the conflict in Congo has done more to foster an image of Africa in the developed world (fair or not) as a corrupt quagmire to be avoided where warlords kill at will and there’s nothing but famine, refugees, and child soldiers. 

    • AC

      we love our electronics we get from china that needs those ores!!!

      • MarkVII88

        That too is true.  China’s business practices appear to work well in various African countries.  Though I’m not sure that this does much to promote an image of Africa as a great place for  new honest business opportunities.  Africa will continue to be exploited by China especially if the rest of the world demands cheap goods.

  • Shag_Wevera

    Africa has an extremely bright future.  Once labor in India and China start to get the idea that they want more money for their work, capital will move to Africa to exploit them until they wise up.  Hang on Congolese, the widget factory is on the way!

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m thinking if none of these armies knows about landmines, good.  Very good.  Oh, pray it be so.

  • Ellen Dibble

    If there is “not even a highway” linking Kinshasa to eastern Congo, what about internet and cell phones?  Are the people connected in a meaningful way?  At all?  If not, maybe the DRC should split into governable segments, I’m thinking.  Or build them a road.

    • Flytrap

       Who should build the road?

      • Ellen Dibble

        The army?

        • Flytrap

          Ours or theirs?

  • http://wh.gov/IVp4 Yar

    It is really partly our fault, we tend to nip democracy in the bud. 
    It is the resource curse. When Patrice Lumumba was killed a series of events were initiated that continue to this day.  What is our role?  Look back to 1961 to find out.

  • AC

    this war is about who gets to control the mining profits.
    no one is innocent here.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QMDZ3LH5U2B4GAT7J2HS4TCP6E Jim

    I follow this Congo problem since it was Zaire. I strongly believe there will be more ethnic genocide between Hutu and Tutsi, unless international troops intervene. but i do not think any country wants to intervene because it will be bloody. 

    Joseph Kabila should NOT be the person controlling Congo after Zaire fell. basically, that country replaced one corrupted dictator with another one. 

    Mobutu Sese Seko must be smiling right now on Kabila.

    • Flytrap

       What African country isn’t run by a corrupt dictator?

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/QMDZ3LH5U2B4GAT7J2HS4TCP6E Jim

        correct. but there is a difference between corrupt dictator with an intent to improve everyone’s life and dictator who wants nothing from his people but to suck the country’s resource dry.

        Let’s compare Angola with Congo… do you see the difference? Angola’s dictator at least gave stability and spread wealth to everyone else.

        • Flytrap

           I understand your point, but all it does is highlight what a basket case African countries are.

  • Ellen Dibble

    My take-home factoid from this is that the Congolese army is not paid, and that the Congolese teachers are not paid.
        Square one, figure out something other than begging and stealing for your basic civil servants.  If Rwanda is opposed to that, ignore them.
    It is very interesting to hear that Susan Rice chooses constructive engagement over criticism — as to Rwanda. I noticed she didn’t go in for the kill after the Benghazi attack. Surely this did not tip anybody’s hand to the terrorists, nor did it put the new government of Libya on the hot seat if they didn’t belong there. She gave ALLLLL the possible space for things to sort themselves out and reveal themselves, and more or less crowded public attention to the side. It was very interesting, to be sure, to watch her on four different shows say something to me clearly not worth saying. We knew otherwise, not in detail, but in general.

  • http://twitter.com/mofycbsj Brian

    Several times more people have died in the chaos of the
    eastern DRC since the mid-90s than died during the genocide. So if Susan Rice
    was so deeply affected by the carnage of the genocide, can the guest explain why
    is she looking the other way as the Rwandan regime is complicit in such deadly

    • John_in_Amherst

       There is a distinction, in that the dead in Rwanda died primarily as a direct result of violent acts.  The Congolese dead have resulted largely from displacements.  Still, Rice’s approach is puzzling.

  • Flytrap

    Africa is tribalistic, not nationalistic.  They have a different culture than we do and to assume they are going to act in accordance with our expectations is ridiculous.  No highways, no industry, intermittent power and water, corruption and corruption and we think we are going to implement American institutions there.  The Peace Corps has been in Africa for 50 years and still is desperately needed.  Doesn’t sound like a success to me.

  • AC

    i’m sticking with my original solution; hurry up private space industry!! we need to get to those meteorites!!!

    • Wm_James_from_Missouri

      Over 100 billion dollars for every person on earth! That is just for starters.
      Hey, did you catch Ray K. on the Diane Rehm show on Nov. 27, 2012 ?

  • Coastghost

    Perfectly amazing that the name “Barack Obama” has not appeared thus far in the Comments. Our first US President partly of direct African descent certainly seems not to be exercising any leadership here (either). Of course, he’s never been taken to task for his role in fomenting civil unrest in his ancestral Kenya when he helped pit Luo against Kikuyu on his visit as Senator a few years back, so a record already exists of not taking his contributions to African polity too seriously.

    • John_in_Amherst

       Humankind originated in Africa.  We ALL owe some attention to this.  Any suggestions?  Or are you content to snipe?

      • Coastghost

        Look: if the first US President partly of direct African descent fails to address the subject substantively, why would anyone listen to me? My folks came more or less directly from Wales and Scotland. Fact is, the anecdote I cited above about Sen. Obama’s visit to Kenya sadly illustrates the very problem: Obama is of Luo ancestry on his father’s side and he consciously took sides in the Luo-Kikuyu dispute, lambasting the government and helping to spawn civil unrest that led to the deaths of almost 1000 people, Luo and Kikuyu both. (I’ve never learned that the Nobel Committee took this episode into consideration before awarding Obama the Peace Prize, his style of peacemaking diplomacy in this instance leaves much to be desired, if you ask me.)

  • Kwan Kew Lai

    The leaders and rebels only have their own interest in mind as they create a huge humanitarian crisis that has lasted over two decades, the plight of the refugees and IDPs is largely ignored as they pursue power and control of resources out of greed and self-interest.  Many of the refugees have never enjoyed a day of peace which should be the right of every human being.

  • JesseT_inMA

    The minerals tin, tungsten,
    tantalum and gold that are used in our consumer electronics products, like cell
    phones, tablets, and laptop computers, are fueling conflict in eastern DRC, and legislative
    action is one way to effectively address this horrific situation. California and Maryland
    have passed legislation, and Representative Marty Walsh
    in last year’s legislative session filed “An Act Relative to Congo Conflict Minerals (formerly H3982)” and will refile this bill in the upcoming legislative session. “An Act Relative to Congo Conflict Minerals” will prohibit the
    Commonwealth from contracting with companies that do not comply with
    federal regulations as outlined in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform act for
    the responsible procurement of minerals originating in the DRC. Please support this bill
    that will make a real difference in the lives of the Congolese people. Without question, more needs to be done, but this is a small step.

  • Kwan Kew Lai

    The leaders and rebels only have their own interest in mind as they create a huge humanitarian crisis that has lasted over two decades, the plight of the refugees and IDPs is largely ignored as they pursue power and control of resources out of greed and self-interest.  Many of the refugees have never enjoyed a day of peace which should be the right of every human being.

  • Flytrap

    I am surprised at the lack of interest amongst NPR listeners concerning this issue.  Maybe if someone had said the TEA party was against helping Africans then we would see the board light up.

    • Shag_Wevera

      This is America.  Half of us don’t like old age insurance or universal healthcare.  Lots of us are against funding education and hot lunch for poor kids.  Do you really expect ANY of these people to care at all about Congo, Darfur, or Somalia?!   Dude, we don’t even care about each other!

      • Flytrap

         Looking at the number of comments from other shows, I expected more engagement.

        • AC

          i think because there’s too many parties involved. picking the component w/the least amount of evil is really hard for this one, everyone’s culpable to some degree…including us

          • Flytrap

            It isn’t hard, it’s uncomfortable.

      • Coastghost

        But what explains the apparent indifference of progressives to these issues, where is On Point’s Progressive Caucus today? Still hyperventilating over the prospects of Texas secession? As I asked earlier: where is Obama’s leadership on display? Why is no one poking him in the ribs publicly and vociferously? I missed hearing most of the show, but in the Comments I detect ZERO mention of where the Congressional Black Caucus stands on these issues, either. Apart from not leading the debate, neither Obama nor the CBC nor progressives generally seem to be contributing substantively to this discussion: the silence positively deafens.

        • Ray in VT

          Why should we expect the current administration to do much of anything on the subject, as we’ve pretty much been ignoring the ongoing conflicts in much of sub-Saharan Africa for years.

          • Coastghost

            1. Barack Obama, unlike most Americans of African descent, had a parent born and raised in Africa. If Obama were substantively addressing the Rwanda-Congo problem owing to his close ties to the continent, no one at all would be surprised. The fact that he seems not to be addressing the problem is all the more curious and telling. (Which is to say: how many African American Presidents does anyone think we’ll have this century? “Oh, just leave Africa to the next African American President”?)
            2. Barack Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. No one would be surprised if Obama were possessed of some ambition to tackle the immense problems faced in sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda-Congo among them; but Obama’s pacific or diplomatic resolve is not here on display. Is political realism at work here instead? (Surely, Obama doesn’t want to propose ill-conceived or unworkable “solutions”.)
            3. Obama is barely half as old as Nelson Mandela, arguably the only African on the planet better known or better regarded than Barack Obama. What would Mandela be doing if he had Obama’s relative youth and vigor? I don’t know: but I assume he’d be exercising more initiative than Obama seems to be exercising.
            4. Obama spent his entire first term disowning his and his Administration’s responsibility for US economic performance because of the odious GWBush legacy. But GWBush by the end of his second term had dispatched untold millions in pharmaceutical and medical assistance to southern Africa, more than all previous US Presidents. If Obama’s second term ends without some substantive contribution to ending or alleviating African suffering, he’ll have a distinctly different legacy to contend with.

          • Ray in VT

            I think that there are some decent points that you make in there, although I don’t particularly think that the President should be paying extra special attention to Africa just because that is where his father was born.  I think that there are other good reasons to work through available channels to attempt to help alleviate some of the suffering that occurs there.  Quite frankly, I think that he would get plenty of flak from some circles if he was seen to be paying too much attention there.  Remember when we sent advisors there to assist some nations in combatting the LRA, and one voice in the conservative media entertainment complex said that we were sending troops to Africa to kill Christians?

            Ultimately, I think that we should deal with the region as we would any other region in unrest, and aren’t we not supposed to be the world’s policeman and all of that?  We could probably do more, but in recent years we have had plenty of our own domestic problems to deal with, and that has kept the administration’s plate pretty full.  Mandela has done many great things, and perhaps only if he was younger then he could play some very useful role there in his own backyard, but I would like the president to take care of our domestic issues first, and a lot of the current diplomatic efforts seem to be focusing on East Asia, which is much more strategically important to us.  That may be a cold view, but I think that it accurately reflects our interests, and, ultimately, nations act in their interests, even when they conflict with their values.

            I do think that former President Bush did some very good things in terms of AIDS in Africa, although we may have been better served if we hadn’t sent abistinence only believers to international family planning conferences.  Still, he did some very nice work there, despite the fact that we, and the rest of the world, could have done more in Darfur, and Clinton and the rest of the world could have done more regarding the Rwandan Genocide.

  • ttajtt

    goes back to the right of  the doughmine, they can’t even grow crops wild animals just live medical or decent homes.  got water too.

    sorry would we not fight in space too? or robots.

  • ttajtt

    with Chad and the other earlier, do you think its ezie because they live in the wild, wear animal skin and eat locus and wild honey still.  other then then kill-n-ship off animals.  they don’t get to keep african gold, diamond, oil, ivory,

  • MarkVII88

    Take a look at the number of comments to today’s show.  As I write this comment just before 1pm, there are fewer than 50 total submissions on the “On Point” website.  Yesterday’s show about the subject of Texas seceding from the U.S. received well over 300 comments by this time of the day and since it’s 10am air time yesterday has received nearly 1500 website comments.  If that isn’t indicative of how much people know or care about Congo and Africa in general, I don’t know what is.

    • Coastghost

      Oh probably nothing more than conflicts with MWF class schedules explains today’s scarcity. Once the podcast is available, I’m sure the comments will just flood in. Let’s check back in four hours.

      • jimino

        So do either of you, or any of the others complaining about the low comment numbers, actually have anything of substance to say about the topic itself?   Please enlighten us NPR listeners with your insight, other than your ability to count.

        • MarkVII88

           I wasn’t complaining at all when I commented on the low number of comments.  I was merely saying it’s indicative of how much people seem to know or care about the conflict in DPRC, at least people who listen to On Point anyway.  I was attempting to post something with a reasonable premise given that I don’t particularly care about the conflict in DPRC either.  I don’t see any other posts of yours on this thread so what have you contributed? 

    • Coastghost

      At 5:48 pm ET: this post makes number 54 . . . . okay, maybe another four hours, I’m sure traffic will pick up by 10:00 pm.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EAO74LEDJGQHSABXZ67SODNRSQ Justin

    This is the most deadly conflict since the two World Wars or even more than that. This conflict has taken away an estimate of over 8 million lives. Yet, no one in the international community seems to care. Instead, the US and other World powers continue to support Paul Kagame of Rwanda who is the main aggressor, through funding his coffer, training his army and providing him with cutting-edge military equipment, all this in the name of helping Rwanda. Beside that, America contributes a lot on the ill- equipped so-called peace keeping mission in the region? Even if we don’t care about those Africans, isn’t time to ask why our taxes are spent on those shameful actions and hold our government accountable?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500172558 Timothy Gakuo

    . Africa has to start solving problems internally.

    • ttajtt

      it has internal cancer now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/naeta.rohr Naeta Rohr

    You should be interviewing UC Davis anthropologist James H. Smith about this. His extensive research on coltan and article on  coltan must be part of this discussion!

  • Gelbajunub


  • Matt Hoostal

    How many millions of dollars did the U.S. military-industrial complex make from this coflict, going back to Clinton?

  • Congofan

    Is there a transcript available of this program? 

  • Congofan

    Is there a transcript available of this program?

  • Pingback: Africana Connections » Conflict in Congo – M23 and the siege of Goma

  • Paula Davis-Olwell

    Thanks Tom for a show on such an important topic.  I wonder why if the media has recently earned billions in presidential election revenue they can’t be better informed about conflicts in Africa, such as the DRC.  We know every time a car bomb goes off in 4 different countries in the Middle East, but are ignorant about millions being killed in Africa.  I thought it was telling that it wasn’t until 42 minutes into the show that an African caller pointed out the name of  the commander of the M23 rebel group-who happens to be Minister of Defense in Rwanda.
        always enjoy the show,  Dr. Paula Davis-Olwell

  • Pingback: The ongoing conflict in the DRC « Hands Wide Open

  • Pingback: Escalating war in Congo - Posted on December 11th, 2012 by Anna Versluis

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