Thursday, July 12, 2012

Who Will Defend Goma?

Holding the line north of Goma.  Of course, the
shooting hasn't actually started yet
In the middle of equatorial Africa is their own "Great Lakes" region, a lush, beautiful, bountiful place where the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda come together on Lake Kivu.  It should be an idyllic, peaceful place but ever since the Rwandan Genocide eighteen years ago, it has been in an almost constant state of war.

The latest violence has come courtesy of the supposed Congolese rebel group M23, named in reference to a treaty signed on March 23, 2009 between the Rwandan - backed CNDP and the DRC and led by General Bosco Ntaganda, known locally as "The Terminator" and under indictment at the International Criminal Court for war crimes.  It's generally accepted that M23 is just CNDP in another incarnation, still backed, funded, trained and armed by Rwanda.  M23 has been on the march south, and recently took the town of Bunagana.  So now the concern is for the provincial capital of Goma - whether M23 will attack and whether the Congolese will fight.

There was a Congolese military base outside Bunagana.  It had no running water, no electricity and no real defensive preparations.  But ultimately that didn't matter - by the time the rebels got close, there were precisely two Congolese soldiers left at the position, and there wasn't any fighting at all.  The M23 fighters walked in, and Bunagana had fallen.  The thing is, there is a United Nations peacekeeping force there, The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known in typical UN-speak as MONUSCO, and they are now committing to the defense of Goma.  They say that the Congolese Army will do the fighting, and they will provide a support role, but based on the recent performance of the Congolese troops, if the rebels attack the defense of Goma will fall to the Blue Helmeted Uruguayan peacekeepers.

I find myself pretty cynical about this.  UN forces deployed into warzones have not exactly covered themselves with glory, historically speaking.  They have tended to bluster, followed by confusion, ultimately leading to them either standing down and letting the slaughter proceed, or pulling out entirely.  The explanations run the gamut, from a lack of leadership to a lack of clarity of mission to confusion around the rules of engagement, but much of it smacks of outright cowardice and unwillingness to actually fight when necessary.  The greatest example of UN unwillingness to protect the very people they are mandated to defend came in July 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnia.  The UN announced that Srebrenica would be a "safe haven", and Bosnian Muslims who came there would be protected from Serbian brutality by UN forces. When the Serb troops arrived at Srebrenica on July 10, the Dutch UN troops fired flares from their mortars and called for air support, but never actually took the Serbian tanks and infantry under fire. In short order, they were no longer defensive forces but hostages, captured without so much as firing a shot, and Mladić forced UN air power to stand down by threatening to murder them. The mass murder of more than 8,000 men and boys commenced the next day.

Beyond its role in the Srebrenica slaughter, the UN has its own grim legacy in the Kivu region itself.  For the Rwandan Genocide did not occur in secret, nor did it happen quickly.  There was ample opportunity for the world to stand up as one and say "NO".  The UN had the resources to protect tens of thousands of lives that were lost between April and August of 1994, but, with the Security Council unable to arrive at a decision to act, ultimately did nothing as a million Rwandans died brutally in an orgy of tribal hatred that continues to rage throughout the region to this day.

So I hope the M23 rebels decide not to attack Goma.  They most likely will choose not to invest the resources in taking a capital they probably can't hold and they would actually gain very little politically by its capture.  But based on its shameful history of promising to protect, then abandoning desperate civilians all over the world, I would very much prefer not to see the people of Goma depend for their lives on the Blue Helmets and white APCs of MONUSCO.

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