Twenty years ago, in 1996, Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo, which was then known as Zaire. The invasion toppled longtime CIA agent and dictator Mobutu who ran Congo into the ground after he seized power in 1960 from independence hero Patrice Lumumba, who was murdered.
The 20th anniversary of the invasion of Congo by Rwanda and Uganda and the apocalyptic killings unleashed thereafter will be commemorated with an all-day conference, “Breaking the Silence,” in New York City Oct. 15 at ThoughtWorks, located in Manhattan at 99 Madison Ave.
Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, and Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, installed Laurent Kabila as president. When he tried to exert his independence from his two benefactors, Rwanda and Uganda invaded again, this time seeking to topple Kabila and install a pliant puppet.
Angola and Zimbabwe intervened and repulsed the invaders, who were about to seize Kinshasa, the capital. Rwanda and Uganda ended up occupying mineral rich eastern Congo. That part of the country became the epicenter of resource plunder, massacres, ethnic displacement and mass sexual assaults against women and men so pervasive that Congo became known as the “rape capital of the world.”
Kabila was assassinated Jan. 16, 2001, under mysterious circumstances, and his son, Joseph Kabila, became president.
How horrific were the atrocities committed after Rwanda’s and Uganda’s second invasion?
The United Nations conducted a survey of the sites where the alleged retribution killings occurred and issued what is known as the “Mapping Report.” The U.N. concluded that the killings in eastern Congo, primarily by Rwanda’s army, if confirmed by a judicial process, may “constitute crimes of genocide.”
Rwanda’s and Uganda’s support for various warring militias, including M23—both countries use the manufactured chaos as cover to steal Congo’s resources—have led to apocalyptic suffering. No one really knows how many Congolese have died; some estimates place the toll at 6 million.
Congo filed a complaint against Uganda at the International Court of Justice. The court in 2005 ruled in Congo’s favor and ordered $10 billion in reparations, which Uganda has never paid, and Kabila has not attempted to enforce the judgment.
The ICC also opened a criminal investigation into alleged crimes by Uganda’s army. On June 8, 2006, The Wall Street Journal reported that Museveni himself urged then U.N. Secretary-General Koffi Anan to block the probe. Museveni evidently feared that he too could be indicted, like Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony or the Sudan’s Omar Hasan al-Bashir.
Meanwhile, Kabila, who was supposed to step down at the end of this year after completing a second presidential term of office, has made it clear he’s not leaving. Recently as many as 50 civilians were reported killed by Kabila’s security forces after they demonstrated against his bid to derail the fragile democratic process by extending his regime.
Kabila is following the examples of other regional dictators, such as Uganda’s Museveni (in power since 1986) and Rwanda’s Kagame (ruler since 1994).
Yet the Congolese, led by the youth, have remained defiant, and protests against Kabila’s plan to prolong his regime continued even after the bloody suppression.
Can the Congolese people eventually free themselves from the shackles of dictatorship and the suffering caused by multiple invasions and by Kabila? What about people in the other East and Central African countries? What can be done about destructive U.S. roles, such as its financial and military support for Kagame and Museveni?
These questions are some of the questions that human rights activists, scholars, journalists and survivors of the atrocities will address during panel discussions and documentary film screenings at this coming Saturday’s all-day conference. The conference is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required at www.Congoevents.org.
Food will be served.