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.
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.
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.