Panel 3 of a Triptych for Peacehawks, by Jamie Arbuckle


On 6 November, the Army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with support from UN, Tanzanian and South African forces, defeated the rebel group M23. On 5 December, Nelson Mandela died.  In one month, then, we have been confronted with the worst and the best of sub-Saharan Africa.  Which is the true picture? Which represents the future of Africa? Are conflicts to be peacefully resolved, which we might call the Nelson Mandela Future Model, or are conflicts to be endlessly and brutally protracted, which we might call the Central African Future Model?  Is there hope, or do we face merely a grim preparation for more of the same, in Africa south of the Sahara?

Is the Congo still at the heart of darkness, or is it the birthplace of the first great international human rights movement of the 20th Century?[1]

It does not simplify our understanding of the situation there that it is in fact both.

To address these questions, we need to assess several tributary influences:

  1. The colonial legacy, which was one of cruelty, disregard and dysfunction.
  2. We will review briefly the state of the game board in DRC.
  3. We will survey progress in human development in Africa as a region, with a view to gaining a better sense of what progress in DRC might mean – or might not.


The Past as Prologue

Much has been written about the foulness of Belgian colonial rule of the  Congo as a personal possession of King Leopold – the best description of this is the acclaimed book by Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost.[2] I will not here attempt to recap that history. At any rate, as we wrote in Panel 1 of this Triptych, the past is not necessarily fate, it is only prologue – we might have added that the effect of that prologue is largely in the hands of the users.  The misalignment of borders with tribal traditions, the deliberate denial of education and training of the indigenous peoples by their colonial masters, colonialists’ sabotage of the process of independence of the erstwhile colony – all these deliberate malpractices characterized Belgian rule of the Congo and the process of the birthing of the new Republic of the Congo.  These systemic failures to prepare African colonies for independence were not uniquely Belgian, although the degree of neglect of emerging and about-to-be-ex-colonies in Africa varied widely – the British did try to train and educate administrators  to assume independence.  They wouldn’t let “natives” into their clubs, but they did let them into their schools and universities, and gave them responsible positions in administrations soon to be their own.

But the past must be largely what we make of it. At some point in our lives as adults, we either do or do not separate ourselves from our childhood dependencies, from our childhood homes and childhood influences – even if these might not have been dysfunctional or even particularly unhappy.  We must take charge of our own lives, and begin to mold our own futures – or, perhaps, we do not.  As with people, so with nations – they either overcome the past, or they sink under its weight.  And over a half-century and more after independence, nations cannot endlessly blame their former masters, especially if they speak the language of their colonial masters – DRC is officially a Francophone country – model their governments on those of the former colonizers and send their children “abroad” to be educated.  If they cannot make the present their own, how can they hope to own their future?

The State of the Game in Congo

The recent defeat of M23 and their willingness to negotiate a cease-fire has again focused international attention on a most confusing conflict.

M23 were formed out of the former rebel group known as the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which ended its rebellion and signed  a peace treaty with the government of the DRC on  23 March 2009, and were subsequently integrated into the army of the DRC.  However, on  4 April 2012 about 300 former members of CNDP mutinied, citing violations of the treaty by which they had ended their previous revolt.  (They took their name from the date of the allegedly voided peace treaty of three years before.) These 300 or so mutineers were primarily Tutsis, but included in their number former Interhamwe, the Hutu youth league responsible for much of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994[3].  In November 2012, M23 captured Goma, a city of about 1 million on the eastern border of DRC with Rwanda, and scant miles from the border with Uganda. The DRC Army ran away; the UN peacekeepers stood by doing nothing.

In March 2013 the UN Security Council authorized an intervention brigade with an unusually aggressive mandate to protect civilians. This brigade, with a strength of about 3000, operating with South African and Tanzanian forces, launched an assault on November 2013 on M23, who surrendered on the next day.  Martin Kobler, the German head of the mission, is a Green Party supporter and an avowed pacifist, but he has been quoted  as saying that “it is sometimes necessary to forcibly bring about peace by military means”. Peacehawks couldn’t have put it better.

In their 18-month rampage, M23 had succeeded in driving at least 800,000 people from their homes. And even with these additional, and certainly better forces the UN and others have now been able to field, Congo remains as Dag Hammarskjoeld characterized it 50 years ago: a country five times the size of France, with fewer soldiers than there were police in Manhattan.[4]

It is not clear why the M23 collapsed so quickly, but it had been reported that the Hutus and the Tutsis of the rebel group had been quarreling among themselves. Reports of Rwandan support of M23 have been vigorously denied by Rwanda[5]; as reported by News 24 in August of this year:

Rwanda – a temporary Security Council member – has blocked a bid to impose UN sanctions on two M23 leaders as well as a Council press statement condemning the death of (a) Tanzania peacekeeper[6]

Despite their denials, the allegations did attract a distinct note of censure of Rwanda; if that support were genuine, and if it were curtailed or ended, that plus defeat in battle might have brought M23 to the table.

Peace talks between M23 and the DRC government seemed to be following the course normal to such affairs when the DRC negotiator walked out of the talks over the title of document (which had been mediated by Uganda).  The UN Special Envoy, Mr. Kobler,  was characteristically upbeat and expressed his confidence that the talks would resume.

“A new level of assertiveness by the United Nations has produced a swift and fortuitous victory over the worst of the marauding militias that have terrorized eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in recent years”, writes Howard W. French in The New York Times. He notes as well a sober and responsible attitude of the DRC government towards their victory, which observation we hope is more than wishful thinking.  Challenges remaining, he notes, include dealing with “a complex patchwork of armies that continue to hold sway over broad swaths of this vast country’s east.”  There is also “Rwanda’s nearly constant meddling on its much larger neighbour’s territory”, and, perhaps the nub of the matter, the urgent requirement to create the qualities of governance demanded of genuine sovereignty, inter alia: collection of taxes, a monopoly on the use of force, control of borders.[7]

As this was being written came news that, on 11 December, Congolese and UN forces launched another offensive against yet another rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), also Rwandan, and also linked to the 1994 genocide.[8]

Not so sanguine however is at least one journalist.  “Don’t Save Congo”, writes Andrew M. Mwenda in The New York Times.[9]  He writes:

 Although the United Nations, human rights organizations and the media have focused on M23 (perhaps because it was the strongest) there are over 40 rebel movements in Congo  … In defeating M23 and establishing a semblance of peace, the international community has achieved a short-term humanitarian objective — an end to one rebellion. But it is a partial victory at best. It won’t end the myriad other rebellions raging across the country. … Foreign intervention is helping Congolese leaders in Kinshasa look outside for a solution to a problem that can only be solved by internal political reform.

So far quite correct – Hammarskjoeld had advised the Congo government that “the international community could not be asked to ‘foot the bill for political ineptitude and irresponsibility’”[10],  but then Mr. Mwenda, who is Ugandan, descends to a brutal social Darwinism for his solution:

… the United Nations and other African countries may need to allow the belligerents to fight until one secures a decisive military victory or all sides get exhausted by war and find working together more attractive than further fighting. … Anyone with capacity to organize an army, mobilize resources and pacify the country should be given a chance to prove this on the battlefield.

But that is precisely what has been going on in Congo since the Belgians left them to their own devices more than a half-century ago, and has to date caused nearly 5 million deaths.  Now why, we ask, would an Ugandan think that such turmoil continuing on his doorstep for another half-century – and another 5 million! – would be a good thing? And why would Rwanda, by “nearly constant meddling on its much larger neighbour’s territory”, apparently seek also to cause, or enable, that conflict to continue?  Could the enormous natural resources, especially in Eastern DRC, the scene of the most serious conflict (30% of the world’s diamonds, 70% of the world’s coltran, plus copper and cobalt), be of interest to the neighbours? Cui bono? As Hammarskjoeld posed the question,  might it be “that a period of utter crisis and disintegration is one in which those who work for their personal benefit are acting against the interest of the people of their country …?”[11]

Peacehawks wouldn’t rule that out.

Progress in Africa

We need now to reconsider what we know about Congo in the wider context of Sub-Saharan Africa. To do this we will consider the following:

  • ·      The status of women;
  • ·      Human Development; and
  • ·      Information Technology – the Digital Divide.

Women. Her skirts are too short, her colours are too loud, her English is too perfect (she can’t be a true African!), she is too young, she is a woman. She is Lindiwe Mazuko, she is 33, and she is also the Leader of the Opposition in the South African government.  Her job, and her life, are never going to quite what you might expect.

There are about 1 billion people in the African Union.  Women in Sub-Saharan Africa produce 80% of all food products, yet own only 1% of the arable land. Africa’s women are said to be “on the move”, and indeed there are more women moving into positions of political power: Ms. Mazuko’s party, The Democratic Alliance, is led by three women, one of whom is a provincial governor. A South African woman heads the African Union Commission.  Liberia and Malawi have female presidents, and in Kenya the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister are women. In Rwanda, 64% of the members of the lower house of parliament are women, the highest percentage in the world.  In 2011 two African women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But generally the status of women in Africa is not encouraging. In South Africa, only about 30% are employed, and their average wage is about 1/3 that of a male in the same work.  The Prime Minister of South Africa has had 14 children by his six wives, and refers to Ms. Mazuko as a “young girl.”  Ms. Mazuko stands her ground: “Many African presidents are over 70, while the average age in Africa is 19.  These men know nothing about the realities of life for young men and women.”[12]  And this is South Africa, ranked among the highest of Sub-Saharan African nations in Human Development – but near the bottom of the Medium Development range, and only 121st of 186 nations ranked on human development by the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index for 2013.  In terms of gender equality, South Africa, again one of the top-rated African nations, ranked 90th.[13]

We need now to consider this Human Development Index in more detail in order to place what we have seen and what we know of DRC in a wider regional context, which will permit of some useful generalizations.

Human Development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Human Development Report.  UNDP has produced annual Human Development Reports (HDR) since 1990.  The Agency defines the concept of human development as “a process of enlarging people’s choices.  Enlarging people’s choices is achieved by expanding human capabilities and functions.” Three essential capabilities for human development are a long and healthy life, education and access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living.  Other concerns nearly equal in importance are sustainability, justice and human rights.  The measurement of these factors is called the Human Development Index,[14] and it is to this Index as contained in the HDR for 2013 that we will now turn.

The Human Dimension Index (HDI) Rankings.  Nations are ranked in the HDI, according to a number of factors, and these rankings are grouped under the headings of “Very High Human Development,” “High”, “Medium” and “Low Human Development.” Only six Sub-Saharan African states are ranked in the “Medium” category[15]; all the rest are ranked in the lowest category. The DRC is ranked 186, and is tied with Niger for the lowest ranking in the Index.

The Middle Class in Sub-Saharan Africa.  If we might generalize about the factors described so far, we could say that these are middle class characteristics and values, and here we encounter the first warning signs of the fragility of progress in Africa. There are about 1 billion people living in the 54 member states of the African Union; nearly 200 million of these live in North Africa and on the Horn of Africa, thus Sub-Saharan Africa with about 800 million has a population well over one-and-one-half times that of the European Union, and nearly three times that of North America.  However, the middle class in Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s smallest: 32 million in 2009, predicted to grow to 57 million by 2020, and just over 100 million by 2030. The next smallest is in North Africa and the Middle East, where the middle class (in  a population about one-fourth that of Sub-Saharan Africa) was in 2009 estimated at just over 100 million, and is expected to grow to nearly 250 million by 2030; that is, from two-and-one-half to three times that of the Sub Sahara. (In North America, the middle class in 2009 was over 300 million; in Europe it was 600 million.) The relatively small size of the middle class in Sub-Saharan Africa, and its scanty growth over a further generation, do not bode well for the spread and the sustainment of middle class values.[16]

The aggregate of these factors could easily lead to some pretty Malthusian predictions about this region. But are there some flames, however weak, which could be fanned? Are there some potentially game-changing events which, however nascent, might overwhelm the pessimistic forecasts, just as the industrial and agricultural revolutions overwhelmed Malthus’s predictions?

We went looking  for these, and we found some flickers, which might indeed be fanned into more robust life.

Information Technology and the Digital Divide. Ten years ago, the Secretary-General of the UN told a meeting of the UN Information and Communications Technology Task Force that “… bridging the digital divide, in Africa and elsewhere, is a formidable task that requires not only leadership, but also a major commitment of resources.”  He concluded his address by saying that, “Now is the time to think of partnerships and initiatives for concrete programmes that will make a difference on the ground.”[17]

Der Speigel says that “In the space of 10 years, mobile phones and the Internet have changed African nations more significantly than any development since their independence from colonial powers.”[18] Kenya, which did not score particularly well on the HDI (145), is nevertheless a hub of innovation in the field of digital information technology.

For one example, a  Nairobi-based and developed digital payment system known as M-Pesa “turns a mobile phone into a bank account, credit card and wallet all in one.” Spiegel says that one-third of Kenya’s economy uses M-Pesa, and the system is now in use in nearly all developing nations.

Another project, called Brk, is a mobile router (it takes its name from brick, which it resembles), capable of connecting up to 20 devices to the internet, even from the most remote areas, and has a battery capable of running that entire intranet for up to eight hours in case of power outages.  Thus an entire bush village could be connected to the internet, which is already in widespread use for medical, agricultural and veterinary services and advice, as well as for emergency assistance and disaster relief.  Given that over 4 billion people around the world are not on line, the prospects for this are enormous, especially throughout the developing world and indeed in any remote area – say, in many parts  of Canada.  Says the Brk developer, “What works in Africa will work anywhere.”[19]

It’s not Just the Economy…

Reports on the state, and the future, of the economy of Africa also send very mixed signals, especially those reported by Der Spiegel on 29 November.  On the one hand, there is considerable economic growth – between 5 and 10 % annually, but that is from such a low base that it belies the real state of African economy.  The continental GDP is said to be equal to that of Russia – which is a rust-bucket with few prospects and fewer allies other than those it  can bludgeon with its energy resources.  Africa has 40% of the world’s raw materials  and 60% of its uncultivated arable land – but few African nations have been able to transform natural resources into any advantages for the people.  Especially in the seemingly favoured nations such as Gabon and Angola (Angola with a “possibly record breaking” growth of over 22% per year) “many … experience those resources not as a blessing, but as a curse.”[20] As in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for another example.

A increasingly important factor in African development, for better or worse a potential game-changer, is Chinese investment.

China made its initial moves in Africa very late in the last century. According to Der Spiegel, Chinese-African trade has since grown twenty-fold, reaching U$ 200 billion in 2012.  China has “surged ahead” of France, the U.K. and the U.S. to become Africa’s most important trading partner.[21]

But the Chinese massive intervention in the economic life of the region has been far from an unmixed blessing.

There are increasingly frequent and well documented cases of shoddy Chinese merchandise flooding and then ruining local markets.  The Chinese tend not to hire or even to train locals, but import their own labourers who live in company ghettos and have little contact with the local population.  The few local workers in Chinese companies are allegedly paid very low wages and treated brutally by Chinese factory guards.

The obvious goal of the Chinese is access to natural resources, and they have scant concern for issues such as human development in Africa. The Chinese have made no political demands on the governments with which they deal – except that they shall not recognize Taiwan. Indeed, China has contributed greatly to the continuance in power of such odious regimes as Sudan and Zimbabwe. Security Council Resolutions which would have censured the Sudanese and Zimbabwean governments have been vetoed by China.  In a well publicized case in 2008, China attempted to land in South Africa a shipment of weapons and explosives addressed to the police forces of Zimbabwe, but were prevented from landing the shipment by dock workers in Durban. The Chinese ship sailed away, presumably to Maputo, Angola, from whence the cargo was delivered to the police forces of Zimbabwe: “ammunition, rockets and mortar bombs”; just what a well-equipped police force needs.  Said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman:  “China has always had a prudent and responsible attitude toward arm sales. One of the most important principles is not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.” [22]  This is certainly not the sort of friendship which will move a country up that Human Development Index.


Peacehawks is based on the principle that international peace can and must be enforced, just as are national and local laws. The international community has the firm obligation to protect the rights of peoples as defined by customary international law, taking “all necessary measures” to ensure the safety and security of nations and peoples, and “to maintain international peace and security.”

In this vein, when we discuss what might be done in Africa, or how Africa might escape a Malthusian future, we need to set aside some shibboleths which have arisen in recent times.

It has been fashionable to romanticize indigenous capacities, when in fact prolonged misadventure has made clear that such capacities are seriously chronically inadequate to the situation.  At its most extreme, external intervention is characterized as neo-colonialism; it is asked in syndicate rooms and in study groups and in lecture halls and in essays and in theses and in book clubs if we are doing things for people, or are we doing things to people.  These discussions seem always to take place at a safe distance from the “theatre” of operations.

We need to be realistic about addressing such serious dysfunction over such a long time as in the Democratic Republic of Congo: there is very little that a people so brutalized and so deprived for so long can effectively and sustainably do for themselves.  The security situation must be stabilized, the borders must be secured, foreign meddling must be stopped. Education and health care must be provided. Taxes must be collected.  The middle class needs to be assessed realistically, and its prospects and its limitations must be taken into account. Governance, in qualitative terms, needs not merely to be improved incrementally, it needs to be utterly and completely transformed. It is nearly impossible that local capacities can rise to this challenge. In whatever form an intervention on this scale may take place, it is unlikely that anything else or less than very positive measures delivered by the most effective and efficient means has the slightest chance of success.  This will probably mean some form and degree of external programming.

This will not be popular with the lords of misrule who hide behind their “domestic jurisdiction” and their equal sovereignty, but one can only imagine what it might mean to a mother that her children can grow up, can be educated, that they might have clean water, that they might not be kidnapped or murdered or both – and then we must be prepared to “take all necessary measures” to bring such a transformation to pass.  The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo would have good reason to be eternally grateful for that sort of tough love and they might, if they were asked, be prepared to relinquish some degree of that sovereignty so precious to their governments.  Especially the mothers.

Or we could always stay home,  but then shut up about it.


[1] Hochschild, Adam, King Leopold’s Ghost, Papermac,  London, 2000, p2

[2] Hochschild, op. cit.

[3] Goma is just across the international border from Gisenyi in Rwanda. By the end of 1994, nearly 1 million refugees from Rwanda were encamped in and around Goma. These were mostly Hutu, and included in their number an undetermined number of genocidaires, and these in turn included Interhamwe elements in some numbers. Since none of the genocidaires wore uniforms, and since their most common weapon was the machete, it was difficult to identify or to track them then; it is impossible today.

[4] At that time, the Security Council had just approved a peacekeeping force – ONUC – with a strength of 11,000, and that Force was in the field two weeks later.  See Lipsey, Roger, Hammarskjoeld: A Life, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2013, pp 403 and 483

[5] In one well-publicized case, the Head of Mission, Mr. Kobler, texted the Rwandan Defence Minister to arrange for his convoy to have safe access to an M23 site on the border. See , accessed 07.12.2013.

[6] See, accessed 06.12.2013.  Has NO ONE in that Organization heard of or read Article 27.3 of the Charter: “ … a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting?!” Rwanda, as a member of the Security Council in 1994, was allowed to vote against an arms embargo on Rwanda.  But then France and Britain were allowed to veto a Security Council Resolution which would have called for  a cease fire and withdrawal of foreign troops from Suez in 1956 – the foreign troops being French and British. Do we or don’t we learn from history?

[7] See, accessed 06.12.2013

[8] See, accessed 12.12.2013

[9] See, accessed 06-12.2013.  Mr, Mwenda is the founding managing editor of The Independent,  a Uganda news magazine.

[10] Lipsey, p 430

[11] Lipsey, p 417

[12] See, accessed 07.12.2013

[13] See Human Development Report 2013: The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World, United Nations Development Programme, New York,  see, accessed 07.12.2013.

[14] See “Human Development Reports”, by Stephan Klingebiel, in A Concise Encyclopedia of the United Nations, ed Helmut Volger, Kluwer Law Intenational, The Hague, 2002, pp 189-193

[15] Gabon (ranked Nr 106), Botswana (119), S Africa (121), Namibia (128), Ghana (136), Swaziland (141). HDR 2013, p 18

[16] There is a terrific variance in estimates of the size of the middle class in Sub-Saharan Africa. Generally, the broader the definition, the larger the class may be assumed to be.  This apparemtly deliberate obfuscation is of course tacit recognition of the importance of this factor, and of the need to go as far as the figures can be stretched.  The African Development Bank defines middle class as those who spend from $2-20 per day, thus their estimate of the African middle class in 2011 was nearly 350 million persons, larger than the entire population of North America, where $2 per day won’t get you very far. (See, accessed 11.12.203) George Soros has however leapt on that bandwagon, and speaks of “the world’s fastest growing middle class … one of the few bright spots on the gloomy economic horizon.” (See, accessed 11.12.2013) An economist with Standard Bank says the criterion should be spending of $15-20,  which would yield a middle class of about 120 million. Citigroup Africa essentially agrees with that, but goes further:  they “…  don’t believe there is an African middle class” which can be compared to the middle class in Europe or in Asia. (See Reuters, op.cit.) We are using  the more conservative figures from the UNDP HDR 2013 (p 3); some serious research is needed on this very serious issue.

[17] See, accessed  09/12/2013

[18] See “Silicon Savannah: Africa’s Transformative Digital Revolution,”  at, accessed 09.12.2013

[19] Spiegel, ibid

[20] See, accessed 09.12.2013

[21] See, accessed  09.12.2013

[22] See, accessed 09.12.2013

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