November 2, 2012 by soniauwimana
The Western press has by and large ignored the question of Steve Hege’s bias and how, by any reasonable assessment, it ought to have disqualified him from holding his position as coordinator of the Group of Experts on the DRC.
Hege is a textbook Congophile, a category of misty-eyed Westerner who is overwhelmed with compassionate sympathy for the plight of the always-downtrodden and perennially victimized people of the DRC. Integral to Congophilia is a deep suspicion of Rwanda and, by extension, Congolese of Rwandan descent. To their mind, Rwandans (most especially of the Tutsi variety) harbor irrepressible territorial ambitions that involve the annexation of the eastern DRC, and potentially parts of Tanzania and Uganda as well. Hege makes no attempt to conceal this viewpoint; in fact, in a 2004 article, he explicitly demands that Congolese of Rwandan descent must demonstrate fealty to Kinshasa over Kigali. He wrote:
“For their part, it is not enough that they (Banyamulenge) just say that they are Congolese. They must demonstrate that they truly are just that by prioritizing their relationships with their fellow Congolese citizens over the economic and territorial interests of Rwanda.”
JSR ‘Issue Paper’: Tumultuous return for Banyamulenge refugees” 04/10/04
This is extremist language, no two ways about it. If applied to any other minority ethnic group in any other country, it would be called what it is: outright racism.
As I said, however, Western journalists, have shown next to no interest in the possible political motives that lie behind Hege’s reports on the DRC as long as he keeps dishing up delicious newsbites in the form of scurrilous accusations against Rwanda. As a public relations calculation this has been a triumph for Hege: as long as he keeps the media riveted to the carefully choreographed performance on stage, they won’t bother checking behind the curtain. So far, so good.
However, the ease with which he has manipulated the press against Rwanda for the past six months has given rise to cockiness on Hege’s part. In two significant ways, Hege’s overconfidence has become his undoing.
The first I have discussed earlier: Hege’s refusal to accept even one element of Rwanda’s rebuttal was an easily avoidable tactical blunder. Even strident critics of Kigali acknowledge that Rwanda’s rebuttal to the interim report was robust and thorough. Therefore Hege’s arrogant dismissiveness played into Rwanda’s hands by confirming what they have said all along: the GoE are uninterested in a true reckoning with the facts in favor of a transparent political agenda.
What Hege did next was an even greater miscalculation born of overconfidence.
Perhaps assessing that the damage to Rwanda’s reputation caused by the interim report exceeded even his lofty expectations, Hege broadened his sights to take in Kampala as well. The final report, which I have not seen but was leaked by Hege in full to Reuters, includes new “evidence” that Uganda, and not just Rwanda, are actively supporting M23.
This was a dumb move by Hege for two reasons:
- The strategy behind accusing Uganda — to undermine its role as peacemakers in the regional process under the ICGLR — is so incredibly transparent that it is barely possible to maintain a straight face upon hearing it. Does Hege really think this effort to derail the ICGLR on behalf of his allies at MONUSCO is not screamingly obvious? Does he really think we’re that stupid? Put it this way: I have a five-year old nephew who saw through it.
- It has spurred the Ugandans into aggressive action, dispatching three — count them, three — delegations to counter the Group of Experts. This couldn’t come at a worse time for Hege because the Group’s credibility was already the subject of intense scrutiny in New York. This latest round of attacks from Kampala will leave an already tattered report in ashes.
Hege had a dream run while it lasted but, like good things, bad things too must come to an end.