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Archive for August 30th, 2013

M23 fighting the DRC is one of the 30 armed groups in the country’s east.

Posted by African Press International on August 30, 2013

M23, currently fighting the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army and UN forces near the North Kivu cap ital of Goma, is just one of more than 30 armed groups in the country’s east, all of which – through casualties or desertions – need to constantly replenish their ranks. Any previous affiliations to militias is not a barrier for recruitment.

After a year spent serving in the DRC-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Céléstin Kabeya*, a 19-year-old former combatant, fears returning home. He says he will only be forcibly recruited – again – into one of the three militias at large in the area.

Kabeya told IRIN that he had been forced to join the FDLR in 2012 after a patrol passed through his family farm in the North Kivu territory of Rutshuru.

“They first asked me to help them carry water, and then asked for directions. I showed them the way, and then they told me not to go back. They did not give me any military training. They just gave me a sub-machine gun,” he explained.

He said he was one of seven Congolese in the FDLR unit of about 50 combatants – the majority exiled Rwandans – four of whom were child soldiers. Without a salary, they survived by “looting only.”

“I worry about going home. I am afraid to go back, as there are three [armed] groups there. I will just be recruited by force again. I am thinking about maybe trying to find a relative in Goma to live with,” Kabeya said. The groups operating in his home area are the FDLR, Forces de Défense Congolaise (FDC) and Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS).

Caught in a cycle

Joining a succession of different militias, or being “recycled” into other armed groups, is not uncommon in North and South Kivu provinces.

Rufin Kapiamba*, a 21-year-old former combatant, said he voluntarily joined the Nduma Defence of Congo (NDC/Sheka) to seek revenge against the FDLR, after witnessing its members decapitate his uncle near the North Kivu town of Pinga. He became part of a 52-strong detachment, of which a third were children.

He said Sheka Ntaberi, the group’s leader, first enlisted in the FDLR and then created his own militia. At first the two armed groups co-existed in an area replete with mineral wealth, but the alliance broke down over control of the natural resources.

“When we captured FDLR [combatants], we would kill them by cutting their heads off. I was afraid to do that. The kids shot them with a gun”

“When we captured FDLR [combatants], we would kill them by cutting their heads off. I was afraid to do that. The kids shot them with a gun. They were not ready to cut their heads off,” Kapiamba said.

He tried and failed to desert four times. “My two friends were killed [in an escape attempt],” he said, tugging open his loose-fitting shirt to reveal the scar from a bullet wound just below his collarbone.

Kapiamba ended up being captured by the APCLS during skirmishes over the control of a gold mine. Because of his first-hand knowledge of NDC/Sheka, he was absorbed into the militia as an intelligence officer – probably saving his life. After a month, he escaped, fleeing more than 30km to Kitchanga, where he handed himself over to the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO).

He is now being demobilized at MONUSCO’s Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, Repatriation and Resettlement (DDRRR) transit centre in Goma.

Yet Kapiamba’s options for civilian life are limited. He wants to complete the last two years of secondary school and says he will live with his sister in Goma, yet all he possesses are the civilian clothes he is wearing.

During his time with the armed groups, Kapiamba was paid US$15 to $20 every few months. His duties included manning checkpoints, imposing “taxes” on people travelling to markets – demanding either 200 Congolese francs ($0.21) or foodstuffs – which was funnelled to the armed groups’ leadership. He will be fortunate to have any income as a civilian.

Demobilization and integration

For nearly a decade, large-scale disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes were operated in DRC, starting in 2002 with the UN Community Disarmament and Resettlement (CDR) programme in the Ituri region. Such programmes assisted former combatants in their transition to civilian life by providing cash or in-kind payments, such as bicycles or skills training. Tens of thousands or more passed through the national DDR programme.

Another strategy involved integrating former rebels into the security services. The National Commission for DDR was established in 2003, and the following year, after 10 armed groups signed a peace agreement, “it was estimated 330,000 combatants were eligible,” for the transition programme to civilian livelihoods according to an April report by the Small Arms Survey (SAS).

The programme was expanded to 22 more armed groups after the signing of another round of peace agreements in 2008. But “despite the increased number of armed groups eligible for DDR, fewer combatants participated in the government-led DDR programmes than anticipated,” said the SAS report. “This is because the DRC government opted to directly integrate these 22 armed groups (or roughly 20,000 combatants) into the national army and police.”

The national DDR programme ended in September 2011.

“Imperative that a new DDR programme is conceived and implemented… and offer alternative opportunities to rejoin civilian life”

Both processes, DDR and integration into FARDC, have had mixed results, according to analysts. But with the recent implementation of an aggressive UN mandate to “neutralize” all armed groups in the Kivus, there could soon be thousands of combatants exiting rebel ranks – either through defeat or defection – without any real alternatives for livelihoods.

Federico Borello, of the US Senate subcommittee on African Relations, said at a briefing in April that it was “imperative that a new DDR programme is conceived and implemented… and offer alternative opportunities to rejoin civilian life, such as road construction projects or other work opportunities.”

Those opting for integration into the FARDC “should be trained and then deployed into army units throughout the country; they should not remain in units operating in their former area of operation as an armed group,” he said.

In the past such proposals to remove armed group’s from their areas of operation had met fierce resistance, as they deprived former militias from continuing their rent seeking operations, even if they are formally members of the FARDC.

Such an integration initiative, Borello said, should also ensure “those responsible for serious [human rights] abuses are not integrated into the army but instead arrested and brought to justice.”

Integration losing lustre

The integration strategy has been viewed as far from favourable, but even so, the Mai-Mai group Yakutumba is on the cusp of being integrated into the FARDC, according a recent report by the Rift Valley Institute (RVI).

“The one-sided focus on the military integration of rebel groups has failed,” the report said, and it does not address “the issue of impunity for rebel leaders suspected of having committed serious crimes.” 

A Goma-based analyst, who declined to be named, said the experience of integrating the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP), an allegedly Rwandan-back armed group, had tainted the government’s view of integration.

A 23 March 2009 peace accord signed with CNDP resulted in the group’s integration into the FARDC, but in 2012, former CNDP members said the government had reneged on the deal by failing to provide them agreed-upon military ranks and not paying salaries. The dispute paved the way for the emergence of the M23 militia, named for the 2009 peace deal.

“The DRC [government] does not want integration of armed groups into the army. The international community is pushing for it, but the Congolese don’t want it,” the analyst told IRIN.

The Goma analyst said the aim of integration was to dismantle an armed group’s command structure, but Kinshasa’s haste was greeted with suspicion by the former CNDP military hierarchy. “It would have been best to be gradual. Do it subtly. Send a few [CNDP officers] abroad for training, redeploy some to [the capital] Kinshasa. Do something like that.”

In fact, integration in DRC has seen entire armed groups housed within a single FARDC unit. In such cases, the issuing of FARDC uniforms to former rebels becomes, essentially, camouflage for the lack of government authority.

Instability for security

For Rwanda, the alleged sponsors of M23, having a proxy force a “phone call away” allows them to destabilize the region, the Goma analyst said, which it does “every time the situation improves [in the Kivus].”

Stability in the Kivus was seen as a greater threat to Rwanda’s security than instability, as the latter allowed Rwanda to exert influence in the region, the analyst said.

“The FARDC control the area, but if they [armed groups] come again, I will run as a civilian”

The Kivus’ cycle of violence has left countless young people vulnerable to militia recruitment – both voluntary and involuntary – and to subsequent revolving-door membership in a series of other armed groups.

One 22-year-old former combatant, who declined to be identified, said he joined an armed group voluntarily after witnessing the rape of his sister and mother by CNDP-aligned Mai-Mai combatants. He went on to spend four years serving in armed groups ¬- first the FDLR and then Nyatura, an ethnic Hutu militia. He now has a plan to escape being “recycled” into yet another armed group.

“I am going back to Nyamilima [in North Kivu] to help my mother on the farm,” he told IRIN. “The FARDC control the area, but if they [armed groups] come again, I will run as a civilian.”





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My journey in back home to Somalia after almost two decades in Kenya

Posted by African Press International on August 30, 2013

MOGADISHU,  – My journey back to Somalia, my home country, was a dream and a choice I always wanted to achieve. I wanted to live on the soil of my ancestors away from the congested refugee ca mps of Dadaab and far from the tall buildings of Nairobi that hosted me temporarily and offered me an opportunity to be a citizen in a second home where I grew up and studied peacefully. 
After almost two decades in Kenya, I finally decided to return to the country of my origin after getting an exciting opportunity to work with the Ministry of Education in order to bring hope to the next generation and give back my skills and knowledge to my community.

I arrived at Aden Ade International Airport in Mogadishu on 26 July, a Friday morning. Almost all the passengers in the plane I was travelling in were Somalis, mostly returning from abroad. The small airport and its facilities were very busy and chaotic. It was far from international standards – with all the signs of the wreckage of war and unfinished reconstruction under way.

I was driven by a colleague in a taxi through many checkpoints with heavily armed guards comprised of AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] and Somali troops. We drove along the airport road, one of the city’s most dangerous, with heavily armed security personnel at frequent road blocks.

There was a high security alert. I was extremely scared and could not believe my eyes. I thought they were clearing up the aftermath of a fight in the city, but little did I know that this was the order of the day in Mogadishu.

That day was unique in particular because it was the 17th day of Ramadan, a day on which every year [militants] are known to carry out deadly attacks to commemorate one of the Islamic holy wars that took place on this day in history.

We turned onto another highway that was also very scary for newcomers like me, but normal for local residents. It is Maka Al-Mukarama road, known for nearly non-stop hooting vehicles – mainly small shuttle buses with overloaded passengers, some hanging onto the doors and windows while the conductor clings to the rear side as he shouts for more passengers.

“Stay calm, this is normal”

This road is also one of the busiest roads in Mogadishu; it directly connects State House and the airport. The traffic is hectic and it is controlled by traffic police, military and administration police. Gunshots, I was told, are used as “traffic lights” to disperse jams and as warning shots.

Surprised at my anxiety and restlessness, the driver said: “My friend, stay calm, this is normal.” I smiled to respond positively but did not say a word. I was speechless until we reached Taleh residential area.

This area was relatively calm. Residents were busy with their daily activities during the Ramadan fast.

I stayed indoors on advice from family and friends in Kenya. I was told to minimize my movement in the city and avoid crowded areas. However, I felt very insecure even inside my room because I was traumatized by the deafening sound of gunshots outside. I hear gunshots all day, like I hear the call to prayer, and it makes me sick.

I could not understand why there are all these gunshots in the streets. Then I recall the guys I saw along the airport road and the other young men in government uniforms hanging onto the sides of vehicles speeding up Maka Al Mukarama road all with firearms pointing at the pedestrians and other passing vehicles, their fingers on the trigger.

The following day was another unpleasant experience. The Turkish embassy was attacked. I could hear the blast not far from where I was staying. The thought of going back to Kenya came to my mind but it eventually faded away later that night when the commotion ended and I saw the story on TV.

Meanwhile, the locals are fully engaged in their day-to-day activities, indifferent to what is happening around them. Besides the gunshots, explosions and chaos, there are parallel constructions, business transactions and celebrations on the eve of the Eid festival after Ramadan.

Toy guns

One of the most striking things I saw at this time were all types of big toy guns displayed in the shops for children to play with during the Eid celebrations [marking the end of Ramadan]. On the actual Eid day, I saw children smartly dressed happily enjoying the day but with huge toy guns hanging on their shoulders, shooting one another typically as though they were on a battlefield. When you see the toy guns you will never understand… I was really disappointed how these innocent children are being brought up with such destructive weapons.

Is it because their parents are ignorant? What message does it portray? How will the fresh minds of these children be affected? What does it symbolize? I think we lost two generations already and the third one is growing in a world of lawlessness and ignorance. We have to do something about this and educate today’s parents and youth to save Somalia’s next generations.

Reporting for work

I reported to work the following week. I met new friends. The environment, the people and the job were all fresh and awesome. I felt very fortunate when I sat at a desk where the flag of Somalia flies right beside the computer, a reminder of my identity.

I was motivated to be part of a young, passionate team mostly from the diaspora who came to work with the Ministry of Education. We are specifically designated to work on a unique programme that was independently run by the Ministry, unlike other partner-led projects.

This was a project dubbed “Aada Dugsiyada” (Go to School Initiative) aimed at getting one million children into free and quality public schools by 2016. All the schools in the country are privately run so the challenge of starting the first free public schools after more than two decades of war lay ahead of us.

However, the feedback from all the people – including stakeholders, donors, local media and authorities – is overwhelmingly positive.

Running a whole government ministry that has not been functioning for over 20 years is a nightmare, and requires huge support both financially and in terms of dedicated professional human resources.

Standing firm

I did not understand what “failed state” really meant until I reached Mogadishu. To be honest, I only thought the term was used just to describe how much our country was damaged, but the true picture dawned on me when I explored the capital, where all government institutions are managed.

All the concerted efforts that were made to rebuild this country were focused on primarily handling the security, which still remains a stumbling block, thus leaving the gap for all other vital areas that a fully functioning nation with its dynamic society needs.

But, interestingly, how do you describe those people who have been courageously living in the midst of all these clashes, the devastation, droughts, famine and atrocious terror situations for decades and counting – yet have been standing firm to keep going with privately run business institutions, booming markets, private schools, social and economic development, while those in diaspora have been supporting them financially doing odd jobs in odd hours and facing the challenge of detention, discrimination and death for the same course.

I was really moved when I saw how the old Somali currency is being utilized in Mogadishu. In any business transaction, no one rejects the torn, ragged and spoilt ones because they fully know that there is no replacement or functioning central bank that regulates the money, so they are happy to keep going with what they have and make their lives easy.

I am, therefore, pleased to say that the Somali community to which I belong is exceptionally resilient, productive, hardworking, courageous, intelligent and determined. These are people who can reach beyond measurable heights in the 21st century if only our own political leaders and their foreign stakeholders act honestly in all their endeavours to stabilize Somalia for a better tomorrow.

mh/cb source



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