Fears of a new wave of violence in the restive east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are growing after weeks of deadly protests against UN peacekeepers and rising regional tensions.
Thirty-six people, including four UN peacekeepers, have died in the past two weeks as hundreds of protesters vandalised and set fire to UN buildings in several cities in eastern frontier provinces.
Though there have been similar waves of protests before, few have caused so many casualties. With elections due next year, analysts say political actors are fuelling unrest.
Last week, the DRC effectively expelled a spokesperson for Monusco, the UN’s peacekeeping force in the country, after allegedly making “indelicate and inappropriate” statements that authorities said contributed to the tensions with the local population. Authorities said this week they wanted to reassess the peacekeeping mission’s withdrawal plan.
Civilians in eastern DRC have accused Monusco, which has been active for more than a decade, of failing to protect them from the militia violence that has long plagued the region but which has intensified in recent months. The protesters called for the immediate withdrawal of the force.
Nelleke van de Walle, project director for the Great Lakes region at the International Crisis Group, said Monusco was easy to blame.
“People are actually angry at a failed state, a failed government, an incapable army, but Monusco has a very visible presence with its patrols and bases and so becomes a focus of popular frustrations,” she told the Guardian.
In a poll published on Thursday by the Congo Research Group at New York University and the Kinshasa-based institute Ebuteli, 44% of those asked said Monusco should leave DRC immediately – about the same number as those who wanted the mission to stay in 2016.
Monusco is due to hand most of its duties over to local forces by 2024, according to a timetable drawn up last year, but the government now aims to speed up its departure, said the foreign affairs minister, Christophe Lutundula.
The force, which took over from an earlier UN operation in 2010, has been scaling down for years, and its current mandate ends in December. A renewal for a further year by the UN security council was expected to be a formality and is still seen as very likely by analysts.
The peacekeepers have been accused of retaliating with force and, in some cases, live ammunition, as hundreds of protesters threw rocks and petrol bombs, vandalising and setting fire to UN buildings.
A government commission sent to assess the aftermath found that 13 people died in clashes in the city of Goma; another 13, including four peacekeepers, in Butembo; and three in Kanyabayonga, the DRC’s presidency said.
Four protesters were killed in the city of Uvira when they were hit by an electric cable that had been damaged as troops fired shots at it.
Three civilians died in a separate incident, reported on Sunday, during which soldiers returning from leave to a UN intervention brigade opened fire at a border post.
About 170 people were wounded, the commission added, noting strong anti-UN sentiment among civil society representatives.
At least some of the protests were organised and encouraged by political actors seeking to mobilise popular opinion against the peacekeepers.
“We are basically in a pre-election period now with polls scheduled for next year. So politicians are using and feeding grievances for their own benefit,” Van de Walle said.
Before some of the protests, the Goma youth branch of the ruling UDPS party released a statement demanding Monusco “withdraw from Congolese soil without conditions because it has already proved its incapacity to provide us with protection”.
The president of the DRC senate, Modeste Bahati, told supporters in Goma on 15 July that Monusco should “pack its bags”.
Delphin Rukumbuzi Ntanyoma, an analyst at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, said that in the context, such remarks could be dangerous.
“The UN mission … has long been blamed for what should be the DRC government’s responsibility: de-escalating violence in the country’s eastern region and finding long-term solutions to peace,” he wrote on the Conversation website last week.
The violence in eastern DRC is driven by competition for rich mineral and other resources. Rival regional powers Rwanda and Uganda have long sought to extend their influence in the region, sometimes through armed proxies. Instability has been aggravated by an offensive launched by an Islamist extremist group, the ADF, and the new campaign by a resurgent faction known as M23, which many Congolese believe is supported by Rwanda.
After lying mostly dormant for years, the group resumed fighting in November and made significant advances, capturing the North Kivu town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border.
On Thursday, a UN group of experts said it had “solid evidence” that Rwandan troops had conducted military operations in eastern DRC since late last year and that Kigali has supported the M23 rebel group’s advance there.
The faction’s re-emergence is a significant factor in the anger directed at UN peacekeepers, whose commanders have admitted they lack the resources to take on the rebels.
“They said they don’t have the strength to fight the M23. Now what are they still doing here?” said Shadrac Kambale, a motorbike-taxi driver in Goma.
Sankara Bin, another protester, said: “We don’t want to see Monusco walking in the streets of Goma, we don’t even want to see their planes flying over.”
The UN first deployed an observer mission to eastern Congo in 1999. It became the peacekeeping mission Monusco – the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – in 2010, with a mandate to conduct offensive operations.
It has a current strength of about 16,300 uniformed personnel, the world’s largest UN mission, and has sustained 230 fatalities.
A spokesperson for the peacekeeping force said last week the mission would redouble its efforts to work alongside the people and authorities of DRC to fulfil its mandate from the UN security council.
Analysts say it is unlikely that the peacekeepers will be forced into a sudden departure. They will be needed to provide logistical support for elections in 2023, while many politicians recognise their contribution to stability.
“It would not be in the interests of [President Felix] Tshisekedi and many others to see Monusco leave,” said Van de Walle.
The new poll found that security was the biggest concern in DRC, with 26% of respondents putting it first, ahead of infrastructure and jobs.
International powers are now paying more attention to the country. In an effort to counter the efforts of strategic competitors on the continent, such as Russia and China, the US secretary of state will travel next month to South Africa, DRC and Rwanda, the state department announced last week.
Party discipline is very elastic in the United States, as President Joe Biden well knows. Leading Democrats, almost always the usual suspects (Joe Manchin, Kirsten Sinema), behave like loose cannons, tripping up White House-sponsored bills and sometimes derailing them, but none had gone so far as to push the world to the brink of an incendiary conflict. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives and third authority in the country, was awarded that dubious honor thanks to her controversial visit to Taiwan last week, in which she confirmed her commitment to the free world. “America’s determination to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains ironclad,” she said last Wednesday in Taipei. Pelosi added the US “will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan and we are proud of our enduring friendship.” But there is concern in Washington about how China will respond to these statements.
Pelosi is one of the heavyweights of the Democratic establishment. She has been a member of Congress for California since 1987, and has served twice as House Minority Leader, between 2007 and 2011, as part of Barack Obama’s term, and in 2019, she became the first woman to be the speaker of the House. Therefore, despite Biden’s warnings about the inconvenience of visiting the island, her initiative does not seem like the decision of a novice, but rather one that responds to her own agenda, and probably also to that of Congress, including many Democrats, in favor of a more determined support for Taiwan than that offered by, in her opinion, timid Washington diplomacy. Hawks from both parties are pushing Biden to toughen his policy on China and the Senate had planned to send $4.5 billion in military aid to Taiwan last week, as well as declaring the island the “main non-member NATO ally,” but the commander in chief has asked for containment so as not to further fuel the fire around a self-governed island that Beijing considers its own.
Politics runs in the family of Nancy Pelosi. Her father, Thomas D’Alessandro, was a prominent Democrat at the time of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Pelosi is her married surname, also of Italian-American origin and she is faithful to certain cultural traditions such as a large family (five children) and a cultural Catholicism, though not exempt from friction with the curia, such as her defense of the right of women to abort. Like Biden, he too, a Catholic, that position has caused him more than one headache. The first, being denied communion by the archbishop of his diocese. In late June, on a visit to the Vatican, Pelosi, dressed in stark black, took communion at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. There are no images of the communion, which was confirmed by two witnesses next to her, but Pelosi and her husband were photographed with the pontiff before the Eucharist.
After graduating in Political Science in Washington in 1962, Pelosi spent six years raising her children in New York. The Pelosi family moved to San Francisco in 1968, where she began her career as a Democratic volunteer. She was soon recognized for her talent in fundraising campaigns, a key factor in the success or failure of a politician in the US. From there she made the leap to the Democratic National Committee, the party’s bridge of command, and, shortly after, to State Congress. Leader of the party in Congress since 2003 – another breakthrough of the glass ceiling – Pelosi uses her personal experience to arbitrate between opposing factions of the formation. She calls it the “mother of five children” strategy.
Despite the balance that she advocates in favor of party unity, she has given numerous signs of aligning herself with the most open or liberal faction – although the affiliations are sui generis in the US, without allegiance to the precise definition of the concept –, voting in favor of arms control measures and the right to abortion, or against the war in Iraq. Her critics accuse her of “west coast leftism.” The political microclimate of San Francisco, like that of Washington, was one of the targets chosen by Donald Trump to successfully attack the Democratic elites alienated from ordinary Americans.
Pelosi is a wealthy member of the elite. Her husband, businessman Paul Pelosi, owner of the Sacramento Mountain Lions football team, has been involved in several financial operations that sometimes border on insider trading. At the end of July, Paul Pelosi sold nearly 5,000 shares of chipmaker Nvidia for $4 million, just days before the House approved a major legislative package that provided subsidies and tax credits to boost the US semiconductor industry. This is not the only dubious example, but the Speaker of the House has always closed ranks with the father of her children, even after he was arrested in May in California for being drunk while driving a Porsche that was involved in an accident. The leader’s husband pleaded not guilty last week in court.
After the arrival of Obama to the presidency, and during the financial crisis, Pelosi helped the president carry out his stimulus program, worth $787 billion, in February 2019 in Congress; and a year later, the health reform known as Obamacare. Pelosi has never spared support for social measures such as those that Biden encourages today. Her role was also decisive in preventing the closure of the Administration during the last stretch of Trump’s mandate, when she managed to twist his arm. In January 2020, she opened the proceedings of the first impeachment against the Republican, of which he was acquitted, and a year later, she championed the creation of a commission to investigate the assault on the Capitol by insurgent Trumpists.
In the US, representatives are responsible to their constituencies and voters, rather than to the party and, of course, to any other earthly or heavenly authority. Faced with the dilemma posed by the conservative Archbishop of San Francisco, also Italian-American Salvatore Cordileone, retracting from defending the right to abortion or taking communion, Pelosi has responded by qualifying the repeal of the Roe v. Wade ruling by the Supreme Court as “outrageous and heartbreaking” a decision. The fact that Pelosi doesn’t shrink even before a world power is evidenced by her decision to visit Taiwan.
The British government presented a vehemently anti-abortion former US envoy with an award for his services to freedom of religion just days before watering down a statement on gender equality to remove commitments to reproductive rights.
Sam Brownback, a former governor of Kansas who targeted abortion rights while in office and then became Donald Trump’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, was given the award during the international ministerial conference for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) held in London last month.
Organised by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and opened by the Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss, the gathering has since become engulfed in controversy after a statement signed by more than 20 countries was quietly removed from the FCDO website and significantly edited.
It has now emerged that a number of participants to the conference, which Fiona Bruce, the prime minister’s special envoy for religious freedom or belief, was involved in organising, are known for their strong anti-abortion views.
Three, including one speaker, were from ADF International, the global wing of a US legal advocacy organisation considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), which monitors extremist groups in the US.
Founded by leaders of the Christian right, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has long opposed abortion. It writes on its website: “In 2022, the pro-life movement achieved what was thought impossible by many: the overturning of Roe v Wade. But there’s more work to be done.”
Other participants were from the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), a rightwing thinktank based in Washington DC, which, alongside the ADF, is pushing for more laws protecting anti-choice medics from performing “procedures in violation of their conscience”, from abortion to gender transition surgery.
Ján Figel, a former EU special envoy for FoRB, was among the speakers. Figel’s mandate was not renewed in 2020 after a group of pro-choice MEPs complained he had “undermined [the mandate’s] credibility … by showing highly problematic acquaintances with organisations opposing women’s sexual rights and LGBTI people’s rights.”
Figel said the MEPs’ criticism had been rooted in “false arguments … based on lies”, and added that he had nothing to do with the statement.
It is understood that Brownback, who received warm applause at the London conference, was given the award by the UK government in conjunction with the Dutch special envoy for FoRB, Jos Douma, in recognition of their work on FoRB around the world.
While in office, Brownback signed a number of pieces of anti-choice legislation. Last week, he bemoaned the decisive victory of pro-choice campaigners in a Kansas referendum on abortion, adding: “We fight on defending all life, mother and child, from beginning to end.”
According to one participant at the London conference, who requested anonymity: “The UK government says it advocates ‘freedom of religion or belief for all’. But some of those featured and celebrated at the ministerial don’t support this. What they do instead is use their ‘religious freedom’ as an excuse to trample the rights and freedoms of others. People like Sam Brownback and the ADF, who seek to take away others’ freedom of choice in this way, should be challenged, not celebrated.”
The conference is an annual gathering that began in the US during Trump’s presidency. This year it was held on 5-6 July.
Its agenda was centred on how to “protect and promote freedom of religion or belief internationally”, with topics ranging from the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China to the terrorist attacks of Boko Haram in Nigeria discussed by academics, analysts, politicians and faith leaders, including the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
But its aftermath has been controversial, since it emerged that its statement on FoRB and gender equality had been edited to remove commitments to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” and “bodily autonomy”. The FCDO initially said it had made the changes to focus on key FoRB issues and to achieve a broader consensus of signatories.
Tariq Ahmad, a Foreign Office minister and former FoRB special envoy, said last week the statement had been edited to become “more inclusive of all perspectives and views” and “to allow for a constructive exchange of views on all issues”.
However, the watering-down of the statement, which had been painstakingly worked on and signed by more than 20 countries, provoked anger in a number of governments, many of which are refusing to sign the modified version. It currently has eight signatories, including Malta, where abortion is illegal, and the UK.
It is understood that the pushback on the gender equality statement began the day after the conference, at a “next steps” meeting at Lancaster House, convened by Bruce. Among those present were Jim Shannon, of the Democratic Unionist party, and David Alton, a crossbench peer, who were also conference speakers.
Rachael Clarke, chief of staff at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said the vast majority of British people saw through the “fiction” that there was significant opposition in the UK to abortion rights. But words mattered, she added, which was why there was concern over the conference statement.
“I think what we’ve really seen when it comes to abortion rights is the power of words and the power of the direction that governments are moving [in] … I think what we really are concerned about seeing is any indication from this government or the next government that they are valuing women’s reproductive rights as less than where they are currently,” she said.
Clarke added that, with Bruce as special envoy, it would have been hard for the government to put out a statement on freedom of belief that was not inclusive of “incredibly anti-abortion views”. “[Bruce] is the most anti-abortion MP in the House of Commons.”
A spokesperson for Brownback said he had no involvement in drafting the conference statement or in organising the event. Brownback was “proud to be pro-life”, a stance that is “immaterial to his support for freedom of religion or belief”, he added.
“Ambassador Brownback has not tried to connect his support of unborn human life to the issue of religious freedom … Ambassador Brownback believes that anyone can support FoRB regardless of their position on abortion. At a time when people are being killed and persecuted for what they choose to believe, Ambassador Brownback believes that the FoRB movement best moves forward by focusing on FoRB and not diverging into non-FoRB issues.”
The ADF denies the accusation it espouses hate, accusing the SPLC of besmirching “huge swaths of well-respected, mainstream, conservative America” in that categorisation of its beliefs.
A spokesperson said: “As the world’s largest organisation committed to protecting religious freedom, ADF International were proud to take part in the ministerial. Our current projects include defending girls in south-east Asia who have been abducted, forcibly married, and ‘converted’ from their faith; challenging the Russian authorities for prohibiting church communities from gathering to worship; and supporting those on death row for ‘blasphemy’ in Pakistan to escape to safety in Europe. We believe in the equality and dignity of all people.”
Nathan Berkeley, communications director of the RFI, said the thinktank worked to advance religious freedom throughout the globe and to defend those of all faiths who were persecuted.
An FCDO spokesperson said: “We invited experts and representatives from a wide range of different fields and beliefs to the conference in the spirit of fostering positive discussion and collaboration on issues of freedom of religion or belief.”
Bruce, Alton and Shannon did not respond to requests for comment.
Following the highly controversial FBI raid on the property of Donald Trump, many US conservatives and members of the Republican Party expressed their indignation on social media, reiterating claims that the former president had been unfairly targeted by the agency for political purposes.And while the White House said it had no idea about the raid, and President Joe Biden refused to comment on what happened at all, many noted law enforcement officers have never visited either Biden’s son Hunter or his partners regarding his purportedly rather dubious international business dealings.But here’s the mystery, why did the FBI need to take the unprecedented step of invading the home of the former president? Reports say the agency took documents and boxes in the raid, likely the same ones the National Archives were looking for that Trump’s team allegedly took from Washington last year. Conservatives, on the other hand, recalled another scandal involving the misuse of confidential data and recklessness by a high-ranking official – Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state – and her infamous lost and leaked emails. Back then, Clinton set up her own email server instead of using the government-issued one because it allegedly offered her complete control over her correspondence. And, not surprisingly, her staffers purportedly deleted some emails that, by law, were supposed to go to the archives.A 2016 FBI inquiry found that while Clinton and her staffers handled sensitive information with “extreme carelessness,” no “reasonable prosecutor” would pursue a criminal case against her.Well, while they’re looking into the former president’s boxes at Mar-a-Lago, we can all hope that maybe the FBI will soon be able to find the time to not only recover Hillary’s lost emails, but also determine the coordinates of Jimmy Hoffa’s burial site – that is if they’re not too busy, of course.
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On Monday, the FBI, for the first time in history, conducted a search of the home of a former president, which took place at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. After the raid, Trump issued a statement denouncing the incident and accusing the US court system of using it as a weapon against him.
Following the highly controversial FBI raid on the property of Donald Trump, many US conservatives and members of the Republican Party expressed their indignation on social media, reiterating claims that the former president had been unfairly targeted by the agency for political purposes.
And while the White House said it had no idea about the raid, and President Joe Biden refused to comment on what happened at all, many noted law enforcement officers have never visited either Biden’s son Hunter or his partners regarding his purportedly rather dubious international business dealings.
But here’s the mystery, why did the FBI need to take the unprecedented step of invading the home of the former president? Reports say the agency took documents and boxes in the raid, likely the same ones the National Archives were looking for that Trump’s team allegedly took from Washington last year.
Conservatives, on the other hand, recalled another scandal involving the misuse of confidential data and recklessness by a high-ranking official – Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state – and her infamous lost and leaked emails. Back then, Clinton set up her own email server instead of using the government-issued one because it allegedly offered her complete control over her correspondence. And, not surprisingly, her staffers purportedly deleted some emails that, by law, were supposed to go to the archives.
A 2016 FBI inquiry found that while Clinton and her staffers handled sensitive information with “extreme carelessness,” no “reasonable prosecutor” would pursue a criminal case against her.
Well, while they’re looking into the former president’s boxes at Mar-a-Lago, we can all hope that maybe the FBI will soon be able to find the time to not only recover Hillary’s lost emails, but also determine the coordinates of Jimmy Hoffa’s burial site – that is if they’re not too busy, of course.