"Fiction is a bridge to the truth that journalism can't reach." ~~ Hunter Thompson
Recent confusing, obfuscating, and biased reporting coming out of Central Africa in the past month is worthy of Gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson's cynicism.
Leaked documents are quoted by the BBC but not revealed to readers, interest in a new rebel movement in eastern Congo is high, and facts seem hard to find if one believes reports coming from mainstream international media. Speculation about the motives and sources of funding and arms for the M23 rebels has led to increased tensions between Kinshasa and Kigali, especially since the US-based Human Rights Watch issued a report on June 4 suggesting that the government of Rwanda was arming the rebels.
HRW mistakenly tied the M23 to wanted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda. Despite vehement denials by M23 in an open letter to HRW, this letter has not been reported by the international press. Finally, a confidential dossier compiled by a joint verification team casts serious doubt on the HRW report.
The political fallout has been intense. In a surprisingly cautious move, the US Department of State issued a presser that condemns "outside support" for M23, but does not name Rwanda directly. Suggesting that the UN and the Kabila government are actually protecting the millions of displaced and dead Congolese, DOS said, "The United States also strongly supports the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, in particular its active efforts to assist the Congolese government in protecting civilians displaced or threatened by clashes between government forces and armed groups."
The United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) has denied that it has hard evidence that Rwanda is aiding M23, but mainstream media is reporting the opposite.
The big question is why has the United Stated seemingly turned a cold shoulder to its main ally in the region? Have genocide deniers finally made a dent in US public policy? In October 2004, the US signed what is known as the "tripartite agreement" between the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda to address security issues. Until now, this has been the glue that cements diplomacy.
The US also supported the UN Joint Verification Mechanism to monitor border disputes. The recent accusations against Rwanda by Human Rights Watch and the "leaked" memo by the BBC predicated a joint verification team (JVT) investigation into the allegations and rumors. The teams interviewed 11 alleged defectors referenced in the "leaked" memo. The interview was also videotaped, and a source close to the Rwandan government and the JVT provided an analysis of a portion of the interviews. This report is also in the hands of the Congolese government, but recent press reports have cherry picked the findings.
The DRC and HRW versions say all recruits are Rwandan citizens, one of the recruits is underage (15), recruitment was conducted in western Rwanda, and there are unrestricted flows of ammo and other military equipment from Rwanda to DRC to arm M23. Reuters is reporting the DRC claims as seen "on television," but there is no report of the JVT dossier which contradicts the DRC side of the story.
The verification team interview supports Rwanda's side of the story. Readers can review a summary here , and ponder the findings. What follows are some of the highlights and conclusions.
When the eleven subjects described as deserters from M23 gave themselves up to MONUSCO, no fact-finding mission was deployed to investigate the accuracy of their testimonies. No Rwandan official was contacted to assist in the verifications, and their alleged recruitment in was not verified in their alleged communities of origin.
Because of these oversights, it was impossible to determine whether the "defectors" alleged itinerary from the M23-controlled area to the MONUSCO position in Rugari in the time frame involved was technically conceivable.
Another revelation is almost laughable, if the consequences of fiction were not so dire.
Several elements in the subjects' testimonies would not survive script continuity in a very bad movie.
(the claim) That they were conscripted between February and April 2012. It is a fact that M23 did not have any presence in the Runyoni area until second week of May 2012. Runyoni was still under full control of FARDC.
That all subjects, despite having been recruited on different dates and by different individuals claim to have used the exact same route, namely Mudende - Bigogwe Market - Ruhengeri - Hotel Bishokoro- Virunga National Park - Runyoni.
That they were conscripted by two unarmed civilians who somehow managed to shepherd and control 23 recruits from their home area all the way to Virunga National Park without any means of coercion.
Finally, among other bizarre claims by the "deserters," despite supposedly having recently gone through military training and serving as M23 combatants, the subjects were unable to provide elementary details on their training, including weapon details, identity of instructors, or identity of M23 junior or senior commanders under whom they served.
Contrast the joint verification team report with the Reuters' report gleaned from Congolese television, and by any stretch of the imagination or critical thinking, the story presented by the "M23 defectors" is riddled with holes.
Fiction is a bridge that collapses under the weight of truth and critical analyses. Journalists owe us the truth and not a report generated from a televised news program.
In a sad sidebar to this story, AFP reports Congolese (FARDC) General Didier Etumba told a group of Congolese ministers that the Congolese army killed 200, wounded 250 and caused 374 M23 to surrender.M23 vehemently attacked Etumba in a press release, charging that he claimed FARDC deaths as M23 casualties, thereby "refusing to honor the deaths" of "fallen brothers in arms" who are Congolese citizens who died "defending the Republic." Which side they fought on did not matter in this breach of the military honor code.
In an email an M23 spokesman said that it was obvious the number of M23 deaths was exaggerated since "(death and casualty) figures given are from FARDC army not ours because in case we loose such numbers we should no longer exist at this time."
Rwanda also has a story to tell, and it is puzzling why no one is listening. There have been too many deaths, too much war and too much suffering on both sides.
Judging by my mail, the genocide deniers are having their way with Rwanda. Personally, I cannot deny the suffering I have seen on both sides of that arbitrary border in the Virungas.
Posted: Sunday, 10 June 2012