Those of us with emotional and friendship ties to the Congo have been waiting. We have been waiting for the outrage, or at least some western media coverage after reports of massacres in the Beni area of North Kivu began to trickle out in October. Finally, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a press release about the atrocities on December 16. Internet searches for "massacres in Congo" lit up for about seventeen hours and now have gone silent. Yahoo News, the Voice of America, Bloomberg, and dozens of other media outlets dutifully quoted the grizzly HRW report, which includes accounts of crucifixions, shootings, machete attacks, rape and other forms of torture of innocent civilians in and around Beni.
This is the stock phrase. Innocent civilians. The word "innocent" grabs our attention for a nano-second and then fades into the 24-hour news cycle, which in the case of Congo seems to last only 17 hours. They may be innocent, but are they worth our attention?
Is Congo worth more analysis than the reams that were published in 2013 when the international community, with the urging of the United Nations, organized a 3,000 strong force Intervention Brigade to carry out military operations against armed groups? The brigade was credited with the defeat of the M23 rebellion. Why is there no analysis of the seeming failure of the Intervention Brigade and the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) to protect the innocent in the Beni area?
The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan led rebel group, has been operational in eastern Congo since at least 1996. HRW Senior Researcher Ida Sawyer was quoted in the report, saying the violence appeared aimed primarily at "spreading terror."
The "terror" angle gained attention in the short-lived news cycle.
The bigger question is why have MONUSCO, the Congolese army, and the International Intervention Brigade been impotent in neutralizing the ADF? This is a small rebel group compared to the massive armed forces of the M23, which surrendered in late 2013.
Voice of America offered cover to MONUSCO's seeming lack of response in its account of the massacres.
(Source: MONUSCO media file) Beni, Nord Kivu, Congo, December 3, 2014
The head of MONUSCO, Martin Kobler, told VOA that about 1,200 UN peacekeepers, including Tanzanian soldiers were working alongside 8,000 Congolese (FARDC) troops. Kobler said, "there were many challenges opposing a group using guerilla tactics in difficult terrain," according to VOA.
"It is a huge area with jungles and even if the enemy is seven kilometers away, if you have to walk seven kilometers this takes one-and-a-half to two hours to reach the place. And neither the FARDC, the Congolese army, nor MONUSCO can really be everywhere," Kobler said.
This is more than a puzzling response, since MONUSCO maps of the area show clearly that UN bases are very near the conflict areas.
(Source: MONUSCO) Locate Beni on the Rwanda/Uganda border
In fact, MONUSCO, FARDC and the Intervention Brigade are indeed "everywhere" and seemed perfectly capable of quelling other conflicts.
In the case of Congo, this story amounts to more and more woolgathering.
Radio Okapi reported that MONUSCO's Kobler gave a radio address promising a UN response to the attacks on civilians after residents blamed MONUSCO for not protecting civilians.
There is more to understand. Field reports from MONUSCO and personal emails suggest that the Congolese Army (FARDC) is also involved in extortion.
On December 9, three civilians were reportedly arrested by the FARDC Commander at Kingi. The victims were allegedly forced to pay a fine (money and a goat) prior to their release. Information indicates that civilians are regularly harassed by the FARDC Commander. Local authorities and the village chief tried unsuccessfully to meet with the Commander in order to resolve the issue.
On December 9, investigators met with the Murara chiefs and their staff to discuss the situation in their respective villages. Information received indicates that civilians are reportedly extorted by the Military Police, especially at night in Kasavubu and Lowa.
FARDC elements deployed in the Walowa -Yangu areas reportedly looted civilians' belongings in Buhimba village. On December 5 investigators received information that FARDC reportedly looted cattle and valuable items from civilians in the village.
There are dozens of other reports of abuses by the Congolese Army.
Something must be done to protect the people of Beni. Over 230 are now dead, and those are the numbers that have been reported.
The Congolese Army should do its job, stop its extortion and abuse of Congolese citizens, and focus on the ADF.
MONUSCO should leave its protected compounds and fulfill its simple but profound mission statement of "Protecting civilians and consolidating peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo."
The current mission strength in Congo consists of 21,033 total personnel. Broken down, this includes 19,461 military personnel, 481 military observers, 1,091 military police, 937 international civilian personnel, and 472 United Nations Volunteers.
The cost? $1,398,475,300. Yes, over one billion dollars.
One would imagine that one billion dollars, which includes the supply of unarmed drones, could go a long way towards navigating difficult terrain and protecting the citizens of North Kivu Province in Beni.
But perhaps I am still woolgathering.
For those friends in Congo who circulate this in the Beni area, there is a MONUSCO hotline. For now, it is all you have. That, and prayers.
If you are in the Beni area, you can reach the MONUSCO hotline through the number +243 997 06 82 73