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KuangSi2Earlier this week, a rebel militia [M23] captured Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. The streets are calm (for now), but there are more than 1 million people without power or potable water. The water is either contaminated by heavy metals or at high risk for carrying diseases such as cholera.

The rebel group was formerly a part of the Congolese army, but broke ranks with them, largely over working conditions and security issues. Disfunctional peace talks are escalating into plans for more war.

Nearly 100,000 have been displaced this week.

This post calls for two kinds of action:
  • Call or write to your congresspeople, and tell them to press for a negotiated solution to this conflict. The international community is watching. Your calls will have an impact, and they could mean life or death.
  • If you have the means, make donations to medical groups able to treat wounded and fight inevitable outbreaks. (Links at the end.)
In 1994, Senator Paul Simon of Illinois said that if only 100 people from each congressional district had written their representatives and demanded an end to the Rwandan genocide, the US would have taken action to stop it.

Your emails, letters, and phone calls will make a difference in this conflict.
 

Ben Affleck and Adam Smith this morning on "This week":

The M23 militia was named after March 23rd, 2009 -- the day they signed a peace treaty with the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than a militia, they are also a political party called the National Congress for the Defence of the People [CNDP]. When the treaty was signed, the M23 joined forces with the Congolese army [FARDC].

M23 recently broke ranks with the DRC government and the FARDC. The issue: security reform.

The DRC irresponsibly does not pay, train, or supply its military regularly. The conditions are horrible, and they do not have food or gear. This endangers people of Congo. It isn't such a stretch to characterize this conflict as a labor dispute.

The M23 rebels originally said that they were seeking talks with DRC President Joseph Kabila about the his failure to implement a peace agreement between them. The UN, and the heads of state of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region are calling for M23 to pull back unequivocally.

A first meeting took place, calling for M23 to withdraw. M23 has since rejected the accord. A composite force is being assembled at Goma airport, and will deploy within 48 hours.

As of Saturday, Goma remains calm under occupation. Breath is baited, though, as fighting could break out at any time. The UN is expected to assist FARDC in pushing the M23 out of Goma shortly.

In the recent past, the M23 has been more disciplined than FARDC, which is why they were able to defeat FARDC and occupy Goma. FARDC soldiers are known to forcibly loot villages for supplies, because they do not get regular pay or food from the Congolese government. Looting is one way that they obtain consumer goods. At higher levels, corruption is the rule. For one, Congo just suspended its head of Army forces for trafficking ammunition. There isn't a lot of reason to believe that propping up FARDC will solve the problem. They've already failed miserably.

Some people in Goma will settle for the group most likely to keep the brutality at a minimum.
From a doctor in Goma:

We were in the house, near the airport of Goma, that’s where the war was happening.  Really, it was gunfire we’d never heard like that before.  My little daughter couldn’t stop crying at the top of her lungs.  She cried, she didn’t know what was going on, all Monday night and Tuesday, she didn’t sleep.  It’s only Wednesday that she spent the day sleeping.  I wasn’t calm, I just prayed that God would save my daughter because she knew nothing of this war.

I think that if it is really peace that they are bringing to us, they are welcome.  But if it is not peace, I think that our God is there for justice and peace, and He will give it to us if they don’t want to give it to us.

From a citizen on the ground in Goma:

We were at the house when we heard the gunshots.  We stayed in the house, traumatised, wondering if we would survive.  

And now, we think that if it’s true that M23 has a good plan for the country, let them finish it once and for all, instead of continuing to stress us all the time…If their goal is to bring us peace, we are fine with living with them on a daily basis.  We have already suffered a lot, and we only need peace.

Read more citizen interviews here.
This is not a call to throw support behind M23. It is a call for the international community to stop and question the assumptions they are making -- about actions that might throw fuel on the fire and get more people killed. Let's take care to make decisions that are likely to produce an improved outcome -- or less likely to produce a verified bad outcome.

It is difficult to assess what is really happening on the ground. Must the opinions of a few people represent the entire population? No. Could they indicate that the international community needs to stop and listen before taking action that could create more dead and wounded? Yes.

Let me suggest:

  • The United States really does have the influence, might, and interest to force a negotiated peace. An agreement is possible, and it will save so many lives.
  • Kigali, Rwanda's capital city, is a busy economic center for the entire region. Punishing Rwanda with sanctions will affect the economy in surrounding countries and limit relief in the DRC. While sanctions may turn out to be warranted, they should be considered after the opportunity to negotiate a solution takes place. The potential for harming the wrong people is great.
  • The FARDC is not a functional military -- and the M23 has already defeated them in the region. If the international community supports FARDC to push the M23 back, the civilians will be the ones who suffer. FARDC has already failed to stand up to M23.
Call your congresspeople and ask them to urge the UN to not knee-jerk this attempt at resolution. A negotiated peace might be possible. If an agreement can be met, it will save civilians having to live through a full scale war in their cities.

If you can, donate:

HEAL Africa has a hospital in Goma, and is treating people wounded and sickened by the conflict. If you donate to the General Fund and include "emergency fund" in the memo line, your dollars will go directly to buy supplies to help people suffering from the recent fighting.

Doctors Without Borders have mobile crisis units to treat the sick and wounded.

World Food Progamme is distributing food to displaced people.

You phone calls and emails are the most important thing.

The US can take action to persuade the international community to stop "solving" conflicts on the backs of innocent civilians. We can step back and consider which is the path of least bloodshed. Propping up FARDC to push back M23 via military means will likely harm a lot of civilians in the DRC and result in increased instability. The DRC needs a negotiated peace.

Originally posted to rb137 on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 11:21 AM PST.

Also republished by Invisible People, Inherent Human Rights, DK Poli, Foreign Relations, and J Town.

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