Section of a PDF map of the Great Lakes region, one of many maps available at ecoi.net, click on map to enlarge.

The Washington Post recently featured an article on how women are becoming successful entrepreneurs in Rwanda.

“We have overwhelming evidence from almost all the developing regions of the world that [investment in] women make better economics,” said Winnie Byanyima, director of the United Nations Development Program’s gender team.


For the worst of reasons, Rwanda became a testing ground for such theories after the 1994 genocide.

As both female and male survivors sought to rebuild coffee plantations with financial and technical assistance from international organizations, Maraba’s women, most trying their hands at the business of farming for the first time, were by far the faster students. They showed more willingness than men, officials here said, to embrace new techniques aimed at improving quality and profit. Now, Maraba’s female farmers are outdoing their male counterparts in both, numbering about half of all farmers in the village’s coffee cooperative but producing 90 percent of its finest quality beans for export.

The march of female entrepreneurialism, playing out here and across Rwanda in industries from agribusiness to tourism, has proved to be a windfall for efforts to rebuild the nation and fight poverty. Women more than men invest profits in the family, renovate homes, improve nutrition, increase savings rates and spend on children’s education, officials here said.

It speaks to a seismic shift in gender economics in Rwanda’s post-genocide society, one that is altering the way younger generations of males view their mothers and sisters while offering a powerful lesson for other developing nations struggling to rebuild from the ashes of conflict.

“Rwanda’s economy has risen up from the genocide and prospered greatly on the backs of our women,” said Agnes Matilda Kalibata, minister of state in charge of agriculture. “Bringing women out of the home and fields has been essential to our rebuilding. In that process, Rwanda has changed forever. . . . We are becoming a nation that understands that there are huge financial benefits to equality.”

“I think that now, boys and girls are different than they were,” said Eric Muhire, a junior in high school. “Today, woman are in business; before, if a woman had some money, she would have to give it to the man. They could not compete against a man. But now, they are competing and doing better.”

This is a very positive and encouraging article. A lot of this was done by the use of micro loans. I hope that this trend continues in Rwanda, moving toward full participation by all citizens in the economy of the nation.

Right across the border, in North Kivu in the DRC, things are a lot uglier. Sexual violence continues on a scale that is unimaginable. Some have called it femicide, it is not just a matter of rape, in the Congo there is a medical term for it – vaginal destruction.

Dr Mukwege and others have said time and time again that the current saga of the Congo has been going on for more than a decade.

The sordid saga ebbs and flows. But it was brought back into sudden, vivid public notoriety by Eve Ensler’s trip to the Congo in July/August 2007, her visit to the Panzi hospital, her interviews with the women survivors of rape, and her visceral piece of writing in Glamour magazine which began with the words ‘I have just returned from Hell’

From Women left for dead – and the man who’s saving them by Eve Ensler:

Before I went to the Congo, I’d spent the past 10 years working on V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls. I’d traveled to the rape mines of the world, places like Bosnia, Afghanistan and Haiti, where rape has been used as a tool of war. But nothing I ever experienced felt as ghastly, terrifying and complete as the sexual torture and attempted destruction of the female species here. It is not too strong to call this a femicide, to say that the future of the Congo’s women is in serious jeopardy.

Dr. Mukwege has been fighting an heroic battle to save bodies and lives. But the odds are impossible, and not improving.

Stephen Lewis argues that the level of rape and sexual violence in the Congo is an act of criminal international misogyny, sustained by the indifference of nation states and the delinquency of the United Nations.

… suffice to say that in the vast historical panorama of violence against women there is a level of demonic dementia plumbed in the Congo that has seldom, if ever, been reached before.That’s the peg on which I want to hang these remarks. I want to set out an argument that essentially says that what’s happening in the Congo is an act of criminal international misogyny, sustained by the indifference of nation states and the delinquency of the United Nations.

Stephen Lewis goes on to say that even with the attention the violence in the Eastern Congo is beginning to receive, the recent peace commitment drafted by the UN hardly mentioned rape and sexual violence, and the amnesty provisions are a license to continue this violence without fear of accountability.

The same positive techniques that are rebuilding the economy in Rwanda can work in the Congo. In fact, they are already at work. But in places like North Kivu there isn’t a chance until the violence stops. Nevertheless, there are small efforts all around:

Chingwell Mutombu has created First Step Initiative (FSI), a microfinance organization setup for women in Democratic Republic of Congo. And she is just one of many working to improve conditions at home. She says:

My inspiration comes from the women I saw growing up. The concept of microfinancing is not new to African countries. They have been doing it for centuries. It is similar to when the community gathers money and gives it to one person to do business, and when the person is done with the money they give it to the next person. FSI was started to continue in that type of practice but through microfinancing which is more formal.

She gets a repayment rate of 95-98%, but there is far more need than resources. Most all microfinancing efforts in the DRC are headquartered in or near Kinshasha, although much of the need is out in the provinces among the villages.

But the violence and displacement in the Eastern Congo makes development of any kind next to impossible. To US and international business, the place is made of money:


The DRC holds 80% of the world’s coltan reserves, more than 60% of the world’s cobalt, and the world’s largest supply of high-grade copper.

These minerals are vital to maintaining U.S. military dominance, economic prosperity, and consumer satisfaction. Because the United States does not have a domestic supply of many essential minerals, the U.S. government identifies sources of strategic minerals, particularly in Third World countries, then encourages U.S. corporations to invest in and facilitate production of the needed materials. Historically, the DRC (formerly Zaire) has been an important source of strategic minerals for the United States. In the mid-1960s, the U.S. government installed the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, which ensured U.S. access to those minerals for more than 30 years.

U.S. military aid has contributed significantly to the crisis. During the Cold War, the U.S. government shipped $400 million in arms and training to Mobutu. After Mobutu was overthrown, the Clinton administration transferred its military allegiance to Rwanda and Uganda, although even the U.S. State Department has accused both countries of widespread corruption and human rights abuses. During his historic visit to Africa in 1998, President Clinton praised Presidents Kagame and Musevini as leaders of the “African Renaissance,” just a few months before they launched their deadly invasion of the DRC with U.S. weapons and training. The United States is not the only culprit; many other countries, including France, Serbia, North Korea, China, and Belgium, share responsibility. But the U.S. presence has helped to open networks and supply lines, providing an increased number of arms to the region.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have knowingly contributed to the war effort. The international lending institutions praised both Rwanda and Uganda for increasing their gross domestic product (GDP), which resulted from the illegal mining of DRC resources. Although the IMF and World Bank were aware that the rise in GDP coincided with the DRC war, and that it was derived from exports of natural resources that neither country normally produced, they nonetheless touted both nations as economic success stories.

As noted above, the United States bears a fair amount of responsibility for the ongoing violence in the DRC. In Central Africa’s Great Lakes Region:

Today, President George W. Bush supports corrupt, illegitimate regimes that will either cooperate in the Global War on Terror, provide U.S. companies access to vital natural resources, or both. If history is any indication, this infusion of wealth and military training is likely to be disastrous for the people of Africa.

As Kagame hosts President Bush this week, (February 21, 2008) Rwanda continues incursions across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with support from the U.S. government.

From 1996-2003, the Congolese people suffered a great deal from two wars that pitted Rwanda and its allies against the DRC. A recent report from the International Rescue Committee estimates that 5.5 million Congolese have died as a result of this conflict. According to Inter Press Service journalist Tito Dragon, “to control coltan mines that was the principal, if not the only, motivation behind the U.S.-backed 1998 occupation of part of DRC territory by Rwanda and Uganda.” In fact, in 2004, after a three-year investigation, a UN Panel of Experts implicated three major U.S. companies (Cabot Corporation, Eagle Wings Resources International, and OM Group) for fueling war in DRC by collaborating with rebel groups trafficking coltan. In spite of major human rights violations, Bush administration assistance to Rwanda continues today largely due to Kagame’s willingness to be engaged in the so called War on Terror.

So who and what is the War on Terror fighting? The following, which has been repeated many thousands of times in the eastern Congo, certainly meets the definition of terrorism. From the conversations with Dr. Mukwege as reported by Eve Ensler:

Most doctors, teachers and lawyers fled the Congo after the wars started. It never occurred to Dr. Mukwege to leave his people at their most desperate hour.

He first became aware of the epidemic of rape in 1996. “I saw women who had been raped in an extremely barbaric way,” he recalls. “First, the women were raped in front of their children, their husbands and neighbors. Second, the rapes were done by many men at the same time. Third, not only were the women raped, but their vaginas were mutilated with guns and sticks. These situations show that sex was being used as a weapon that is cheap.

“When rape is done in front of your family,” he continues, “it destroys everyone. I have seen men suffer who watched their wives raped; they are not mentally stable anymore. The children are in even worse condition. Most of the time, when a woman suffers this much violence, she is not able to bear children afterward. Clearly these rapes are not done to satisfy any sexual desire but to destroy the soul. The whole family and community are broken.”

The US is funding this terrorism, rather than fighting it.

Although Kagame publicly denies any direct involvement, Rwandans acknowledge that their president funds renegade General Laurent Nkunda’s militia in the DRC – a militia whose primary purpose appears to be to keep Hutu rebels away from the Rwandan border. UN peacekeepers accuse Nkunda’s Tutsi faction of some of the worst human rights abuses of any rebel group currently operating in the eastern region.

Bush knows that Rwanda’s involvement in the armed conflict in the DRC delays peace in eastern Congo, but he continues to authorize military aid to Rwanda. In 2007, the United States armed and trained Rwandan soldiers with $7.2 million from the U.S. defense program Africa Contingent Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA) and $260,000 from the International Military and Education (IMET) program. At the same time, the United States is involved in facilitating peace talks between Rwanda and the DRC and the various rebel groups operating in eastern Congo. Not only does arming Rwanda contradict the peace process, but it also delays the recovery of Rwanda from its 1994 genocide.

During the Cold War, the United States provided military aid to African countries to counter communism. Many of those countries – Somalia, Sudan, and the DRC – have now become hotspots of violence and economic chaos. It is no surprise that lending arms and financial support to corrupt dictators and human rights abusers contributes to destabilization, but still the U.S. government has yet to learn its lesson. Today, the rationale for providing military aid to countries like Rwanda is to counter terrorism; the methods and outcomes will likely be the same as they were in the Cold War era.

The Department of Defense argues that training and equipping African military forces will bring greater stability and legitimacy to African governments. This argument for professionalizing militaries was also made during the Cold War to support a policy that ultimately failed. Yet the same justification is being used to mask U.S. corporate interests in Africa’s vast resources.

For “anti-terrorism” read corporate welfare, at the expense of the citizens of Africa’s Great Lakes region, and ultimately, the citizens of the United States. Note in the Rwanda story at the beginning of this post, the military is conspicuously absent from the stories of development success. As long as the US leads its engagement with its military, the women, and all the citizens of the DRC will continue to suffer brutal terrorism. Only by leading with diplomacy and seeking political solutions will the US actually help rather than cause more harm. As Bahati Ntama Jacques points out:

Most countries have vehemently rejected the creation and implementation of a new U.S. military command for Africa (AFRICOM) and expanding the U.S. military footprint in Africa. Shifting U.S. policy away from defense toward human security, development, and diplomacy is the best path to long-term peace in the Great Lakes region and throughout Africa.