Monthly Archives: March 2010

Sending observers on election days to undemocratic regimes: an absolute irrelevance and waste of taxpayers’ money

On March 15th I attended a conference where Ana Gomez, Member of the European Parliament explained to the audience her experience of leading a delegation of 200 international observers to the 2005 general elections in Ethiopia. She described how her team witnessed wide fraud of ballots, experienced harassment from officials of the TPLF regime, manipulation of results from counting bureaus.

The audience which was mainly composed of Ethiopians who want change of Meles Zenawi regime, strongly pleaded with the MEP to get another big European team of observers for the upcoming Ethiopian elections, scheduled for May 2010.

WorldPublicOpinion.org conducted a poll of 16,863 respondents in 17 nations to find out what people thought about elections observers. The majority of people would like to see international monitors covering their national elections. The most enthusiastic are Kenyans (85%) and Nigerians (74%).

As Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org explains, “… people around the world are looking to international observers to help resolve ambiguities in elections. Their numbers suggest that international observers could add considerably to the perceived legitimacy of election outcomes.”

However, I personally see a certain irrelevance to sending monitors of elections in places where any prior democratic credentials in the country didn’t exist. I consider an observer in the concept of prevailing comprehension, as an evaluator of a momentous situation which occurs on election days. This is where I have a problem with the whole exercise of elections’ observers.

It’s not on Election Day that a democratic process should only be measured. It’s even a financial mistake and misjudgment of thinking that the presence of observers is doing some good for the concerned political regime. For an undemocratic regime, calling in independent elections’ observers could even be dangerous as it cannot handle them or harass them as effectively as it does with its own citizens.

Democratization must be tested and evaluated in steps. How can someone administer a test without having taught the lesson on which they want to set an exam and appreciate how the student is doing? That’s the question, particularly when there hasn’t been any homework to test if the student is at least committed to learning the democratic lesson?

I think those countries and organizations sending observers to general elections in undemocratic regimes are wasting taxpayers’ money as long as no democratic credentials can be tested from the outset. Sometimes dictators want to seek observers because it could cleanse them from the negative opinions which categorize them in the eyes of many.

Generally, EU observers and others come for example to such undemocratic African countries to validate. The exercise doesn’t have to be about validation, but assessing a continuously tested process, where elections day has to be the last day of exams. Otherwise, the West and other institutions sending elections’ observers to undemocratic regimes are throwing away taxpayers’ money at a time many governments and organizations are experiencing huge deficits in their strategic budgets.

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Taking the ball to African dictators’ hunting territory

When your oppressor takes away your memories, attacks your reason for living and destroys your hopes, nothing remains for you to live for.

Before it becomes too late for any possible reaction, you need to gather your remaining abilities to overcome ultimate death.

You then become the solution to your problems to survive.

The experience that Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, the presidential candidate of the yet to be registered Rwandan political party, United Democratic Forces UDF-Inkingi, is living in Rwanda at the mercy of Paul Kagame regime is the translation of above statement for millions of Rwandans of all ethnic groups. Her example is not unique across the African continent. There are other politicians, journalists, activists, campaigners struggling to change oppressive structures developed by dictatorships, backed by the West.

As these courageous men and women of mother Africa are facing dictators on the ground, Africans of the diaspora, whose regimes back home are no different from dictatorships, primarily Rwandans (because of the cynical way their dictator is using their suffering to oppress them,  are invited  to stand up for the basic and civic rights of their compatriots in Africa. Those living in relatively democratic Western societies have space and capabilities to actively support democratic changes on the continent. But they need to be consistent in their endeavors to make it happen.

In Belgium, Joseph Matata of CLIIR (Centre de Lutte contre l’Injustice and l’Impunite au Rwanda) is staging public protests targeting American and British embassies, every two weeks since January 2010. In recent months, there have been a few other public protests in France, Luxembourg, Germany and UK.

Next month, at BBC World Service in London, there is another public protest themed Break the Silence addressing the millions of citizens from the Great Lakes Region of Africa who have been dying since the 90s but nearly unnoticed. Monthly public demonstrations around the world, in places where there are significant communities of Africans, are planned to  claim and lobby for democratic change in countries where African dictators are oppressing their citizens.

Break the silence CAMPAIGN – 7th April 2010 at BBC World Service – Strand – London WC2B 4PH

Millions of people have been dying in the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLRA) since the early 90s.

The world has today shifted its focus elsewhere but the suffering is ongoing in the region. Root causes are still there: leaders of rebel movements (Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame and Joseph Kabila) presently turned into presidents of sovereign countries (Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo), thanks to the US and UK backing, are using the same inhuman methods from their time in the bush to rule over their citizens.

They are not allowing real and effective democracy in their national political space. They are harassing, imprisoning political opponents who try to emerge and address issues faced by their compatriots: human rights, famine, epidemic rape of thousands of women, lack of health systems, education infrastructures, and others. The objective of the demonstration is to bring back to the attention of the international community the plight of millions of Africans in DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda.

All the ongoing situation would normally be more than enough to become recurrent news material as underlying issues are still present: protected criminals and pursuit of DRC wealth, to get an ongoing media attention the world over, especially if it were to threaten influential nations in some way. Yet, perhaps as a cruel irony, influential nations in the world benefit from the vast resources coming from the DRC for which people are dying over and oppressed in the region.

We demand to BBC World Service and other global media to point to the real culprits of the tragedy of the Great Lakes Region and not cover them up because they serve interests of the West at the expense of millions of African lives. Without underestimating the insecurity that current rebel movements are causing, particularly in Eastern and North Eastern Congo, the latter shouldn’t be seen as scapegoats. They didn’t wake up one day and decided to become rebels without a reason. Dictators of the region are fuelling their existence and using them to justify their oppressive structures to stay in power for ever.

We want global media to see and highlight to the attention of governments and UN and the general public the relation between

  • financing massively Rwandan and Ugandan dictatorships through bilateral and multilateral channels and the suffering of millions of citizens in the Great Lakes region
  • arming and supporting militarily these regimes and the lack of political space for democracy, particularly during these electoral years when populations expected to express freely who they want to lead them
  • plundering DRC mineral resources through embezzled structures with bases in Rwanda, Uganda and connections with companies in UK, Germany, Belgium, US, Canada, China, and the ongoing tragedy of rape, torture, imprisonment, displacement of populations

We demand to global media to objectively inform decision makers in influential nations and international institutions such as UN, Security Council, EU, particularly US and UK governments, because of their unconditional support to the dictators of the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

We request from global media such as BBC World Service to highlight the plight of millions of Rwandans and Ugandans who are suffering at the hands of their  dictators, and put pressure on their sponsors, among other measures,

  • to end in Rwanda an apartheid like system camouflaged under a wall of laws and daily practices  which only fool foreigners but not Rwandans, and which oppresses the majority of the population
  • to suspend temporarily bilateral and multilateral aid and put a military embargo to Rwanda and Uganda until they stop opposing fully inclusive inter-citizens dialogue involving pro and against their respective regimes and open up their political space for democracy and change; inter-citizens dialogues have been applied in South Africa, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo successively; there is no reason they shouldn’t apply in Rwanda and Uganda.

Dictatorships are the real problem. Not rebel movements.

Soon the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLRA) will be the focus of the international media as it enters the election period. This will take place with a backdrop of the continuous tragedy which has taken lives of millions of people since the 80s. Unfortunately, there is no ending in sight. It has been a recurring problem with short lived moments of peace.

Crimes which have been committed are widely documented.  Perpetrators and instigators are mainly the current leaders of the countries in this region: Paul Kagame of  Rwanda, Joweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda and Joseph Kabila of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They are all ex-rebel leaders.  It’s worth pointing out that in Kabila’s case,  his father was mainly responsible. Kabila Jr. didn’t directly lead a rebel movement but was part of the military hierarchy of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) while it was progressing towards the removal of Mobutu Sese Seko, the then President of  Zaire.

Despite these leaders bearing most of the responsibilities of populations’ suffering during all these years, they have been using extensively their public relations nationally and internationally so effectively that they have managed to shift most if not all the blame on rebel movements they nearly feed reasons to exist. The situation is extremely complex and those who suggest and support simple solutions for example using military force to root out rebel movements are playing the game of the dictators of the region.

It has been described widely in the Western media that populations from the region that are victims of infighting are helpless and hopeless. Although there may be and for sure there are reasons to present the situation as such for justifying the intervention of their humanitarian agencies, on the one hand, there is not a hundred per cent evidence that people cannot do much by themselves, particularly when the region recover some sort of peace. In addition, the diaspora living in the West does not seem to do much to contribute and help find sustainable solutions for the ongoing and horrible suffering of millions of people, especially women and children.

Upcoming elections

In 2010 and 2011 the four GLRA countries: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, are having general elections. All these countries are led by ex-rebels. They have serious difficulties becoming democratic because of their backgrounds. They are doing everything they can, using rebel movement tactics to keep their grip on power. They are oppressing populations, intimidating and harassing real and imaginary opponents, by means of terror as at the time of their fighting for political leadership while in the bush. They don’t give room to freedom of speech. They imprison, kill or make journalists disappear.

About Uganda, Senator Russ Feingold, Chairman of The Senate Subcommittee on African affairs has requested that his government ensure critical electoral reforms are enacted. He also reminded that the Congress had directed the Secretary of State “to closely monitor preparations for the 2011 elections in Uganda and to actively promote…the independence of the election commission; the need for an accurate and verifiable voter registry; the announcement and posting of results at the polling stations; the freedom of movement and assembly and a process free of intimidation; freedom of the media; and the security and protection of candidates.”

In the case of Rwanda, President Paul Kagame, is doing everything to sabotage the emergence of a real opposition by refusing interested parties to register and convene meetings. The Democratic Green Party, Social Party-Imberakuri and United Democratic Forces UDF-Inkingi, though they constitute the only opposition to the RPF regime, they have a long way to go to reach out to the population and explain them their programmes. This is not about them being unable to perform as it should be to perform a well orchestrated campaign, but they are continuously victims of the government instruments including despotic laws voted for by the RPF affiliated parliament in order to retain power the longest it could.

PR machines to discredit real and imaginary opponents

The GLRA dictators know they keep the grip on power illegally. Since all major elections are marred by massive rigging and frauds, political leaders who emerge from such elections have robbed the power from the populations they are meant to work for. It doesn’t therefore surprise that they act as mercenaries. In order to cover up their machinations and personal business like handling of public affairs, they use PR machines to portray a positive image on their endeavors.

The New York Times with journalists like Gourevitch Philip who has been a fervent advocate of RPF since the very beginning is one of such channels which image launders the country leadership wrong doing against populations of the region. The way they do it is by pointing responsibilities for their crimes to their real and imaginary political opponents. By calling genocidaire, revisionist, or genocide denier every person who fall out with the regime or think differently they feel and think to have found a weapon of mass disturbance for their subjects in Rwanda and or living in exile.

NGOs such as Africa Watch of Rakiya Omaar, and other like Enough Project and Invisible Children with activities covering what is happening in the GLRA are playing PR for the dictators of the region. When these NGOs and other similar deliberately omit to mention the significant responsibilities of these leaders in the ongoing suffering of millions of people, it’s not because they don’t see them, but only because they are paid to cover up their crimes. Legally they are as criminals as their partners in those criminal activities – assassinations, imprisonment, killing, raping women, etc these dictators are involved in to achieve their political aims.

Masses’ roles

When a humanitarian crisis looms in the GLRA or is ongoing with interesting news related patterns, the Western media describes in horrible pictures the events because they conform to the usual narrative of helplessness and hopelessness the African continent is generally portrayed with for centuries. Even when the situation improves the picture evolves but doesn’t change fundamentally. Africans have and will always be seen as humans who cannot think and achieve by themselves.

How can they, from victim hood, become problem solvers for their situations? There is an interesting quote I read a few weeks ago saying this: ‘To think you need to be free.’ In other terms, one needs to be free in order to think properly to what is happening to them. The dictators of the GLRA do whatever it takes to diminish the necessary freedom which would let their populations think effectively to the solutions of the problems they face. In current situations, people in the region are mentally restricted by the repressive structures such genocide ideology laws, prohibition of referring to ethnicity publicly, appalling discriminatory practices, to become effective in their different initiatives. Without an initial mental liberation to make them free, there isn’t much they can undertake to change what is going on in their societies. The few risk takers who incidentally emerge from time to time can hardly transform much.

Diaspora necessary undertaking

Further to mentioned and continuous humanitarian crisis the GLRA has been experienced along many decades, these have created flows of highly educated exiled Africans from that region who live in Western countries in thousand hundreds if not millions. The fact that they live in democratic societies, there are many actions they can initiate and develop to help effectively their fellow compatriots in their respective countries back home. In the diaspora, there is equally the younger generations from GLRA and other African countries, which must be mobilized to take more responsibilities towards solving African problems, instead of repeating the tune of those in the West interested in seeing the continent as it shouldn’t normally be, considered its untapped wealth and potentialities.

Not giving up should be the motto of every son and sister of Africa who are interested in getting the continent moving forward positively and speedily. There is a lot to be done, to overturn the negative image and strategies of forces using local war lords as leaders who are like mercenaries serving the West interests more than they work for their people.

At the eve of these upcoming general elections, the time is right for people from the GLRA and other parts of the continent to unite their forces and energies to overcome dictatorships which have been hindering their freedom and become a serious problem for their real development as people and nations.

Child Soldiers in the Great Lakes Region

Background

Fig 1. The victims and perpetrators of war. The walking paradox.

The phenomenon of child soldiers in the Great Lakes region of Africa emerged in the mid 1980s when the National Resistance Army (NRA), a rebel movement led by the current president of Uganda, Joweri Kaguta Museveni (Fig 2.), used children to spy and report on enemy’s military positions. They were also used as maids and carriers for combatant rebels.

Fig 2. Joweri Kaguta Museveni

Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by the current President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame (Fig 3.), is notorious for its use of Kadogo (small in Swahili) soldiers who were brainwashed to the point humanity was an alien concept  to them. Kagame has used child soldiers with total and undeniable efficiency at the expense of millions of Rwandans and Congolese people from 1990 onwards.

Fig 3. Paul Kagame

It is worth mentioning that RPF trained with and contributed to the rebellion war of the NRA. Consequently, their military tactics are quite similar. The Lord Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony (Fig 4.), who militarily opposes the NRA government since its inception at the end of the 80s, has also abducted children and used them as soldiers. He is currently labeled as a war criminal and requested by the ICC to face justice. Many rebel movements and militias in DRC have been using child soldiers for the legitimate and illegitimate aims of their struggle.

Fig 4. Joseph Kony

The problem

Warlords of rebellion wars abduct or kidnap children, use and abuse them for their own selfish interests, without any care of the fact that such children shouldn’t be forced into military environments. Despite the sad circumstances that child soldiers have to endure, the root causes of these rebellions in the first place are sometimes overlooked.

Without approving these prevalent phenomena in the Great Lakes Region, it is important and rational to understand the reasons behind any rebel movement.

Inflexibility at the extreme ends of the political spectrum of these countries is generally the origin of these African conflicts. The international community through its diverse interventions in the affairs of the said countries should play an important but neutral part in bringing together opposing sides or allowing a peaceful change of the political scene. This is where democratic and transparent elections are a key factor. Additionally, other pressures have to be employed to reduce social tensions for the benefit of the general population.

Solutions

There are a significant number of actions that could change durably the phenomenon of child soldiers:

  • Stopping impunity by pursuing in justice current political leaders in the region who have used children soldiers among many other means to get where they stand today politically; otherwise they are looked at as role models
  • Put pressure on these leaders to open up the political arena so that dissent voices don’t resort to taking up arms and subsequently using children soldiers to get into power
  • Lobby and campaign for dialogue between these leaders and political opponents and civil society which are not involved in the use of children soldiers to change their respective societies
  • Condemning and pursuing through an effective justice system current rebel leaders in the region who are using children soldiers in their fight
  • Helping children soldiers who get demobilized to recover emotionally from their robbed childhood

Overall, the problem of children soldiers is very deplorable and condemnable for those who use them to achieve their political objectives. However, it would be irrational to address it by only looking at the humanity of these young souls. Most importantly, the inhumanity caused by the initial users of such practice who are today ruling in the Great Lakes Region of Africa should be redressed. They shouldn’t be seen to be above the law and looked upon by the West (mainly Britain and USA) as stabilizing factors in the Great Lakes region, this only because they protect their economic, financial, military and cultural interests.