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2000-01-21

Albright to Chair Congo Peace Talks at United Nations

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Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will chair a U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday that will be attended by African leaders to discuss peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [includes rush transcript]

The U.S., which is pushing initiatives on Africa during its presidency of the Security Council this month, has invited the six presidents who signed the Lusaka accords on peace in the Congo last summer to attend the New York meeting.

Guests:

  • Lubangi Muniania, Former director of education at the Museum of African Art in New York.
  • * Mulegwa Zihindula*, graduate student of conflict resolution in eastern Mennonite University in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and consultant with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of people have been killed, and more than 150,000 people have fled from fighting in Northeastern Congo. This according to Medecins Sans Frontieres, the aid agency, Doctors Without Borders, which won the Nobel Peace Prize this year.

At the same time, it looks like Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State, will be chairing a UN Security Council meeting on Monday, attended by African leaders to discuss peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The US is pushing initiatives on African problems during its presidency of the Security Council and has invited the six presidents who signed the Lusaka accords on peace in the Congo last summer to attend the New York meeting. Among those who will be there is Congolese President Laurent Kabila.

We’re joined right now by two people who are from the Congo, concerned about the situation there. Our guest on the telephone is Mulegwa Zihindula. He is a graduate student in conflict resolution at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisburg, Virginia, and a consultant for the General Board of Global Ministries, the United Methodist Church. We’re also joined in studio by Lubangi Muniania, who is a representative of the Congolese community here in New York and is the former Director of Education at the Museum for African Art in New York. Welcome both to Democracy Now!

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Thank you.

MULEGWA ZIHINDULA: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Lubangi Muniania, could you lay out what you think the issue is? What is the Security Council going to be dealing with on Monday?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Well, I think what the Security Council will be dealing with on Monday is try to actually start a ceasefire in the Congo. But the concern that the Congolese people have is that we — before we talk about the ceasefire, really, we want to identify the aggressors, so they can leave the Congo, and then we can talk about the ceasefire.

AMY GOODMAN: Mulegwa, you have recently been in the Congo, have gone back and forth. You write reports for the United Methodist Church. What’s your assessment on the ground there? And would you agree with what Lubangi is saying?

MULEGWA ZIHINDULA: I mean, I know what the Security Council is going to be doing, which is pretty much to try to enforce the ceasefire that is supposed to be in place. As you know, there was a peace accord signed on July 10th between the belligerents, but the ceasefire has —

AMY GOODMAN: The belligerents are who?

MULEGWA ZIHINDULA: The belligerents, that means the Rwandan, Ugandan governments, and the so-called Congolese rebels against the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo. And so, there’s supposed to be a ceasefire between them since July 10th, but, you know, really there’s evidence that the ceasefire has not been respected very much.

And so, I think what the Security Council wants to do is to try to see how this ceasefire can be enforced. But I believe that there is no way this ceasefire can be enforced, unless — the United States should really take a big role, because, you know, the United States, we know that it has a very good relationship with both Rwanda and Uganda, and they need to pretty much tell them to remove their troops from Congo, and I think this is the best solution.

As to my assessment of the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the situation is pretty critical. I visited some displaced peoples’ camps, and so on and so forth, and the situation is very critical. The economic situation has gone really bad. The country has been partitioned. Food that used to come from the eastern part of the country does not come to the rest of the country anymore, because Rwanda and Uganda hold the eastern part of Congo.

AMY GOODMAN: Give us some context, for listeners around this country, the United States. We hear very little about Africa, in general, let alone the Congo. How big is the Congo? And in terms of the resources in the Congo, what is at issue here, Lubangi?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Just to give you an idea, the Congo is the third largest country in Africa — I mean, six times, if not eight, the size of France, and eighty times the size of Belgium. It is — geographically, Congo is situated right in the heart of Africa. And strategically, we’re talking about a country that is able to reach out to all the surrounding countries in Central Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: It borders on how many countries? Something like eight?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Nine. Nine countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Nine countries.

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Like?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Nine countries. Angola, Central Africa Republic, Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Sudan, Congo — the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville.

AMY GOODMAN: And in terms of who’s supporting who, you’ve got Laurent Kabila, the president of the Congo, backed by Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola.

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you’ve got Rwanda and Uganda. I was speaking to Professor Horace Campbell from Syracuse University.

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: And when I used the term Rwanda and Uganda "invaded" Congo —

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — he objected.

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Hmm. Well, see, what Congolese people do not understand is that’s exactly what — that type of attitude. Because we all know that — I mean, Congo is a country that, obviously, everybody knows that it’s been invaded by Rwanda and Uganda. As we are talking right now, you can actually see the presence, the physical presence of the Rwandan army in the Congo, Ugandan army in the Congo. They are fighting using their own countries’ flags.

AMY GOODMAN: He didn’t disagree that they’re in there. I think he disagreed about using the term "invaded," because he felt that they were somehow rescuing.

MULEGWA ZIHINDULA: Well, you know, I don’t know what he meant by "rescuing," because, you know, I’m from Eastern Congo, and I know what happened on August 2, 1998. I don’t know what he means by "rescuing."

What actually happened, if I can give you a brief situation about what happened on August 2nd, is that, first of all, the whole situation began on July 29th. Rwanda and Uganda had been involved in the war in 1996, which was to help to overthrow the government of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. But having helped us to overthrow Mobutu Sese Seko, they felt that they had certain rights in the country. But on July 29th, when Laurent Kabila, the president of Congo, asked them to go back to their respective country, Rwanda and Uganda both invaded Eastern Congo, including my hometown of Bukavu. So I don’t know exactly what they were coming to rescue in Congo. You know, that’s something that I don’t really understand, what they were coming to rescue.

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Nobody understands that.

MULEGWA ZIHINDULA: And since then, as you know, I mean, there are reports. I have reports from Mizna, the Catholic News Agency based in Rome, about some of the massacres, some of the atrocities that they are committing in Congo, so I don’t know who they are coming to rescue in Congo.

AMY GOODMAN: Why does Uganda and Rwanda say they invaded?

MULEGWA ZIHINDULA: Well, you know, presumably for security reasons. They say it’s for security reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: And why? What do you mean, security reasons?

MULEGWA ZIHINDULA: Well, they say that, you know, rebels from their own countries have been using bases inside Congo to destabilize the country, to destabilize their own countries. You know, but this is not true, because most of the rebellions, like the rebellion in Rwanda, is based in a town called Ruhengeri. Now, Ruhengeri does not have a border with Congo. Ruhengeri has a border with Uganda. So, if the rebels are coming from somewhere, it would be from Uganda, and even though they occupy now Eastern Congo, you know, and a large part of our country, they still have these rebellions inside their country. So having come and invaded Congo has not stabilized their own situation.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Mulegwa Zihindula, who is a graduate student at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisburg, Virginia, and he also works for the United Methodist Church, going back and forth to the Congo. He is Congolese himself. Also joining us in the studio is Lubangi Muniania, and he will be outside the United Nations on Monday. There’s going to be a large Congolese protest with people coming from around the country, although it is not clear whether President Laurent Kabila will be there, is it?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Yes, we were told that President Kabila indeed received an invitation from the United Nations, and the word was that he will be there. I was told that yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you are both talking about the importance of US involvement here —

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — to mediate a solution because of the US’s close relationship with Rwanda and Uganda.

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: But what gives you any faith, considering that it was the United States that supported Mobutu Sese Seko for so long, —

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — the dictator that pillaged the country to the tune of what? Four billion dollars — I mean, maybe it was a lot more than that, and that’s just the corruption. Then you’ve got the level of brutality against the people for decades.

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Well, I mean, if I may go first, I will say that, first of all, Mobutu is gone, and Kabila came under the — he came in and we all believed that he came in to help liberate the country from this mad dictator that we all call Mobutu.

But, unfortunately, the country is in a situation that we are having difficulty to rebuild it. We all know that Rwanda, Uganda, they’ve been backed by the United States. That’s a fact. Why? Because there have been instance where, you know, people, actually soldiers who were in the field that I’ve spoken to will say — even my brother was one of the soldiers.

AMY GOODMAN: He was?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: He was. My brother was, and he still is a soldier now. He was one of the first soldiers who were fighting in Bunia.

AMY GOODMAN: Congolese soldiers supported by —

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: No, no. Congolese soldier who was fighting for the country. But they were so surprised to see the type of physical presence that the Ugandan and Rwandan army had. In their knowledge, they had to be something more than just those countries.

AMY GOODMAN: In terms of how they were armed?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: How they were armed and how well organized they were, because they just came out of a terrible, terrible situation, as you know, the genocide and the war. And how much time do you have to rebuild the army and to reorganize an army to go invade another country and actually progress until a few kilometers from, I mean, Kinshasa. They were really literally almost in Kinshasa to overthrow the government of Kabila. So this really blew everybody’s mind away. And actually, witnesses did say, did tell us, that there were some higher power involvement in this progression of Rwandan and Ugandan army.

AMY GOODMAN: Mulegwa Zihindula, what do you say about those that talk about the atrocities of Laurent Kabila in terms of massacres?

MULEGWA ZIHINDULA: Well, you know, if people are talking about Kabila committing massacres, people still need to prove to me or to anybody from the Congolese civil society, which I am also a member of, that Kabila has committed any massacres. The people who are committing massacres, and they have been proven by everybody in the field, the massacres being committed are being committed in the eastern part of Congo.

Kabila does not hold the eastern part of Congo. The eastern part of The Democratic Republic of Congo is being held by Rwanda and Uganda, you know. And, you know, we have witnesses. We have the Catholic Church that has documented many of these massacres. For instance, one massacre happened on August 24, 1998. Rwandan soldiers killed 1,099 people in one village because these people refused to pledge allegiance to them. On New Year’s Eve 1999, they massacred 500 people in another village, in a fishing village in South Kivu. You know, so we have these documented massacres.

You know, I think for people to say that Kabila is committing massacres in Congo, there is no proof whatsoever, you know. And I’m not here to support Kabila. I don’t work for Kabila, as you know. I work for the United Methodist Church. But the fact is a fact, and so, these are untrue stories about Kabila committing massacres.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what then do you think can happen? Again, this point of the US having been on the side of Rwanda and Uganda, having been on the side Mobutu Sese Seko, why do you think they can play a positive role now?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Well, I think the United States really has a moral obligation to do what is right in the Democratic Republic of Congo. You know, it’s against international law for one country to invade another country, and the United States is aware that Rwanda and Uganda had invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I think the United States has a moral obligation after having supported a dictator like Mobutu for many years. They owe it to the Congolese people. I mean, Congolese people have had a short end of the stick since 1885, when we were colonized by Belgium, and then we had Mobutu’s rule for thirty-two years. You know, and I think it’s an obligation of the United States, as the leader of the free world, to allow us to live, to allow our people to live. All the Americans have to do is go to Congo and see how much Congolese people are suffering as a result of this.

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Yeah, I mean, everybody’s affected. I mean, we who live here in America are very affected, because we have to actually be on the phone all the time with the families and then try to help our families from here. It’s affecting our lives, affecting our morals, and this is really just wrong. And —

AMY GOODMAN: How many Congolese live here in the United States?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: I don’t have the exact numbers, but there is a growing number of Congolese community, who are actually coming for this Monday, January 24th. They’re coming from North Carolina. They’re coming from the West Coast. They’re coming from Canada. We also have a delegation of people that are coming from Japan. You have to understand that Congolese are very mad, and they feel like the United States has, like my compatriot said, has a moral obligation to try to end this massacre.

AMY GOODMAN: What do diamonds have to do with this? Or do they?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Diamonds have a lot do with this.

[break in audio]

AMY GOODMAN: — want to get in touch with either of you around the protests on Monday outside of the UN Security Council in New York City, where Madeleine Albright will be presiding over the meeting, attended by African leaders, to discuss the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where can they call? Lubangi Muniania?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Yes, right now there is one number, and then that number can tell you exactly where you can go. It’s (201) 963-6610.

AMY GOODMAN: One more time?

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: (201) —

AMY GOODMAN: (201).

LUBANGI MUNIANIA: Right. 963-6610.

MULEGWA ZIHINDULA: If anybody wants to email me, they can email me at chahi(at)aol.com..

AMY GOODMAN: That’s chahi(at)aol.com. I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Mulegwa Zihindula is a graduate student in conflict studies at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisburg, Virginia, also a consultant with the United Methodist Church, the General Board of Global Ministry. He’s going back and forth to the Congo, where he was born. And in the studio here in New York, we’ve been joined by Lubangi Muniania, former Director of Education at the Museum of African Art. He, too, will be outside the United Nations on Monday.

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