The War Nerd: United Drones of Congo
Last week the United Nations announced that it would deploy drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in Eastern Congo. It doesn’t sound like much of a story, unless you’re Alex Jones, with his anti-UN paranoia, but this time there really is something nasty going on.
Of course, Jones would be the last man on earth to understand what’s really going on in Eastern Congo; for him, it’s just another sign that the evil Blue Helmeted shock troops will soon force heartland Americans to melt down their guns to be turned into social-realist statues of Ban Ki-Moon. And sure enough, Jones’ InfoWar page was one of the first to pick up on the UN Drone story.
But the trouble is that Jones is usually way off base, so if he thinks there’s a threat, most people just laugh. Which is why, when the news that the UN had finally deployed the new drones came out, it was accompanied by joke Alex Jones allusions like this one from Slate: “No Black Helicopters, But the UN Does Have White Drones.”
InfoWars’ notion that the UN is a sinister world government is ridiculous, of course. Most of the time, the UN is bluster and big expense accounts. But the UN has been acting uncharacteristically serious in Eastern Congo, creating an “Intervention Brigade,” with a mandate to take the offensive against the local militias. This Brigade is made up of 3,000 troops from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi, three of the more efficient armies in the continent. The Brigade showed its combat power in October 2013 by attacking and routing the Tutsi militia M23.
This kind of military aggression is very unusual for any UN force, and the decision to deploy drones is further proof that for reasons that are actually pretty grim, the UN has decided to act like a real military power in Eastern Congo.
After the UN destroyed M23, I wrote about the pattern of UN behavior in the region. Basically, it comes down to bias in favor of the Hutu militias in the region, especially the FDLR, the most feared armed group of all, and against the Tutsi government of Rwanda and their local proxies, M23.
The Hutu genocidaires who still control FDLR fled Rwanda after the 1994 genocide took as many civilians as they could along with them. Armed and unscrupulous gangs like FDLR love to have a “humanitarian tragedy” on hand when the NGOs arrive. The FDLR are a nasty gang, but they’re far from stupid. Their best move was allying with the weak, corrupt government of the DRC. The basis of the alliance was simple: A shared enemy.
The tribalist intellectual clique that runs the FDLR (yes, you can be a tribalist and an intellectual at the same time; in fact it’s pretty common) hate the Tutsi for driving them out of Rwanda, and beyond that simply for existing, for being “cockroaches,” being Tutsi. The Congolese government hates Rwanda and the Banyamulengi (Congolese Tutsi) who are Rwanda’s allies because the Tutsi are the strongest ethnic group in Central Africa—strong enough that in 1996-97 their little army, made up of survivors of the Rwandan genocide and recruits from the Banyamulengi, started marching westward out of Rwanda, only hoping to push back the FDLR squads that were massacring Tutsi villages in Eastern Congo—and ended up marching all the way to the DRC capital, Kinshasa, and installing Laurent-Desire Kabila, a sleazy professional revolutionary from Congo, as president.
It was a truly heroic story, weirdly like Xenophon’s Anabasis (or The Warriors if you like gang flicks better than the old Greek stuff). But the heroism of the Tutsi just annoyed everyone, despite the fact that they were fighting the same genocidaires who’d come very close to wiping out the Rwandan Tutsi. The Congolese, a mash of hundreds of small tribes, resented the Tutsi for walking in and taking over; the NGO’s resented the Tutsi for taking action instead of being helpless victims; and the real powers, the Congolese kleptocracy and the European companies that had invested decades of bribery and schmoozing to get sweetheart contracts with them, resented these Tutsi interlopers most of all.
There’s big money under the ground in Eastern Congo, in the form of rare minerals, especially Tantalum, a rare metal made from an ore known as Coltan. Without Tantalum, your cellphone would have to use ceramic insulation and would be a lot bigger, clunkier and heavier. Eastern Congo holds 64 percent of the world’s Coltan, and everyone who matters in Africa, from the UN to the FDLR to the Congolese Army, FADRC (French-language acronym for “Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo) wants the Tutsi out of the region so they can make their cut of the huge profits in Coltan extraction.
All these players have been trying to deny anti-Tutsi collusion, but someone leaked an internal memo in January 2013 by Monusco, the UN’s “stabilization” mission in Eastern Congo.
According to the memo, which was written by UN intel specialist Rajeev Charma, the "FDLR battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Ezra Kalebu is reported to be operating in [eight different areas around Lake Kivu]. In all these places, the FDLR has full FARDC backing." In other words, the Hutu genocidaires of the FDLR have the “full… backing” of the Congolese army.
The collusion between FDLR and governments actually extends beyond the DRC. Some of the places named in this leaked memo, like Kibirizi, are actually inside Tanzania on the eastern shore of the lake, meaning that Tanzania, one of the three contributors to the UN’s intervention brigade, has openly sided with the FDLR against Rwanda and the Tutsi.
It’s a tangled, bloody, intricate mess, but the short version is that the UN, in cooperation with Congo and Tanzania, has put all its power into destroying M23, the militia that protected the Congolese Tutsi, while colluding with the much nastier Hutu militia, FDLR. The reason is simple: The Tutsi are too strong, and everyone in the area likes things the way they are—chaotic, violent, disorganized. There’s a lot of money in keeping areas with rich mineral resources under a kleptocracy like the one that runs the DRC.
So how do these shiny new drones fit into this murky picture? It helps to know a little about the demographics of Kivu, the region where they’ve been deployed. If you look at the excellent map put together by the BBC showing the various militias operating in the region, and put it together with the news that the UN’s drones will be flying exclusively out of Goma, right on the Rwanda/DRC border at the northern tip of Lake Kivu, you realize that these drones, with a maximum range of 250 km, are going to devote most of their attention to the border zone—which just happens to be the former stronghold of the only Tutsi militia in the region, M23. You’ll notice that Goma has no connection to the areas controlled by the FDLR, to the south and west.
The UN’s own press releases have all but admitted that M23, the Tutsi, and the border zone will be the real focus of drone surveillance:
"The drones ... will allow us to have reliable information about the movement of populations in the areas where there are armed groups," U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said at the launch of the drones in Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo.
"We will survey the areas where there are armed groups, and we can control the frontier," he added.
You’ll notice the difference in attitude toward Tutsi and FDLR areas: the drones will “survey” FDLR zones but “control” the border, the one area where the Tutsi are strongly represented. That’s the key here, controlling the border with Uganda and Rwanda, both of which have supported Tutsi militias in the past. The goal is to make sure no Tutsi militia ever threatens the sweetheart contracts between the Congolese generals, their civilian masters far to the west in Kinshasa, and the European companies that are making a bundle on Coltan.
Of course, the UN has been making noises about using its new Intervention Brigade to crack down on the FDLR, now that M23 has been dispersed and largely destroyed. One thing the UN does well is portray itself as the good guys—inept, but good—and it wouldn’t look good if they didn’t even make a show of suppressing the FDLR after smashing M23. So you’ll see headlines like “Congo’s FDLR Rebels Now in Peacekeepers’ Sights.”
But I’ll bet the rent the crackdown on FDLR never happens. They’re too deeply snuggled into bed with the UN, the NGOs, and the Kinshasa mafia. Maybe a few low-ranking murderers will be sacrificed by the big bosses for publicity purposes, but nothing that really threatens the Hutu militia.
The men who run the FDLR are monsters, but they’re very smart monsters, who understand world politics and propaganda much better than do the stiff, old-fashioned warriors of the Tutsi. The Hutu leaders have an old, strong alliance with European leftists, who love them as “victims” of the militarist Tutsi—and at the same time, they have excellent relations with the sleazy mining companies extracting cut-price Coltan from Kivu.
This is the key to doing politics effectively in the new millennium: Be tight with the do-gooders, but even tighter with the raw-material extraction companies that rule most of the tropics. It’s not always an easy double act to pull off, but the Hutu figured out how to do this long ago, playing the victim card even while they were committing genocide—and actually getting European progressives to cheer for their crimes. I’ve written about one of the most bizarre examples of the breed, Georges Ruggiu, a Belgian “progressive” and do-gooder who morphed into a genocide-preaching DJ for Radio des Mille Collines, “Thousand Hills Radio,” the station that had a simple format: Genocide rhetoric and Afro-pop, 24/7/365.
This type of creepy genocide-enabler is still going strong, particularly in Belgium, which has always sided with the Hutu, even while they were massacring their neighbors. Peter Verlinden, a Belgian journalist who’s particularly remarkable for his lack of interest in slaughtered Tutsi and eager for any report of massacres of, rather than by, Hutu, even managed to make a story out of an alleged massacre by the Tutsi RPF as it fought to save the few surviving Rwandan Tutsi from the guys who now run the FDLR.
The men who run the FDLR are very sophisticated, and they have some of the best lawyers in Europe working fulltime to make sure none of them ever see the inside of a cell. Two of the top men in the FDLR live in Germany and transmit their order to the thugs on the ground in Kivu by cellphone. Germany did, at least, attempt to bring them to justice, but what followed was a bitter comedy. The leader of the FDLR, regarded as “God” by the troops, is a nerd with a nice smile and steel-rimmed glasses named Ignace Murwanashyaka. He married a German, lives in Karlsruhe, and played the system so well that Germany didn’t get around to arresting him and his right-hand man Straton Musona until 2009
According to a reader from Germany:
“Murwanashyaka was granted asylum in Feb. 2000, and only in 2006 his asylum-status was withdrawn after the agency received some information on what kind of organization the FDLR actually is. I know somebody who works for the asylum/immigration-agency, and who often is responsible for making these type of decisions. If I remember correctly they are routinely provided with information about criminal/dangerous political organizations, so they know how to judge connections with these groups - and apparently the FDLR didn't make it on that list. And then in 2006 the Bavarian court decided that the involvement of the FDLR in criminal activity cannot be sufficiently established, and anyways it is not strictly organized enough that the leader could be made responsible for the crimes committed by the ground troops. And all this did get little to no reaction as far as I can tell until over two years later (when also some politicians called for his prosecution: http://www.dw.de/african-rebel-leaders-life-in-germany-angers-politicians/a-3765199).”
It seems to be chugging along steadily, with no sign of a verdict, as Murwanashyaka and Musona continue to do their real job—managing massacres in Kivu—via telecommute.
The UN’s drones will do their part in this whole nightmare alliance between mining companies, NGOs, and death squads. They’ll make very sure no troops or arms get to the Banyamulenge, the Congolese Tutsi, in their villages near the Rwanda/DRC border. They may even make the occasional overfly of FDLR-controlled areas—with plenty of warning time to clean up the corpses, thanks to FADRC collaborators. But the real effort will all be aimed eastward, at Rwanda and those pesky, insufficiently exterminated Tutsi.
These drones are not armed, so they won’t be doing the killing directly. These are surveillance-only drones, a product called Falco (“Hawk”) by an Italian company called Selex ES. Selex is an “umbrella” company uniting several small tech firms with the financial backing of a huge, partially state-owned company called Finmeccania. It was Finmeccania that pushed the deal with the UN, with the US going along. The US position is simple: We’re not going to give any drones to a nightmare state like the DRC, or the UN’s Intervention Brigade, but we don’t want to open up another market for Chinese drones… so by all means, let the Italians have the market.
It’s a big coup for Selex, which has had a lot of problems when bribes to Indian officials over a helicopter deal went public in 2010.
That’s the kind of thing you have to worry about in the very sleazy world of defense contracting. It’s not that you can’t bribe—of course you bribe, it’s the basis of the industry—but you have to do it with finesse. Defense contracting is like race-walking or playing offensive line in the NFL: Cheating is the whole idea, but you have to be very good at it to get away with it.
Most of Selex’s other deals have been selling drones to Muslim countries that either don’t want or simply can’t get US/Israeli drones like the Predator—first Pakistan, and then, in September 2013 another batch to “an unnamed Middle Eastern country” which is almost certainly Saudi Arabia.
By selling to the UN, Selex burnishes the ol’ corporate image and makes a nice bundle at the same time. These unarmed drones will look good—remember, Slate called them “white drones,” the drones in the white hats, the ones that won’t zap anyone on the ground with Hellfire missiles. But they’ll do a great deal of harm, in a well-meaning way. The sensors they carry will enable the UN’s new attack unit to destroy any attempt to bring the arms or fighters the Tutsi villages in the trans-border zone could use to protect themselves from the FDLR. Which means good news for mining companies, aviation companies, Congolese army generals, Hutu genocidaires, and Belgian propagandists. Everybody, in fact, but the Tutsi villagers on the ground.