This Week in the Great Lakes: Congo and UN tango over child soldiers while US preaches engagement

A holiday season roundup of this week's news from Africa's Great Lakes region: women march in the Congo for more legal action against rapists, Rwandan journalists petition for changes to defamation laws, and Al Shabab remains a threat in Burundi.

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    Roget Kambule, 14, stands with other demobilized child soldiers in Beni, in the rebel Congolese Liberation Front (FLC) part of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001. Roget, a veteran of two Congolese wars, lives with other demobilized child soldiers in a warehouse while waiting for international aid workers to arrive to begin his reintegration into civilian life.
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Since Kenya has declared the Monday after Christmas a normal work day, I thought I'd pitch in and give a roundup colossal enough to take you straight through the New Year.

Congo

Two thousand women from Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Sierra Leone and DRC marched in Rutshuru to demand better legal action against rape perpetrators. The UN's plan to protect villagers who survived mass rapes earlier this year by giving them communications equipment is foiled by the high cost of the equipment, which may make the villagers targets for further violence.

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The UN Security Council sanctions a Congolese commander for recruiting child soldiers. Congo retains American military aid after the Obama Administration exempts (pdf) DRC from sanctions for child soldier recruitment, citing a belief that working with "troubled militaries is the best way to reform them." Rights groups say recruiting child soldiers continues.

Congo protests the loss of trading privileges with the US after the Obama Administration accuses its army of complicity in crimes against civilians. A French emissary calls human rights in the country a "shipwreck." The US and Congo sign a nuclear non-proliferation agreement. The US accuses a Congolese company rumored to be linked to Kabila of funding Hezbollah. Congo could be getting a new political party.

Congo prepares to become chair of the Kimberly Process, intended to ensure diamonds are conflict-free. Advocates accuse major tech companies of failing to keep "conflict minerals" out of their products. France considers claiming a stake, from the eastern Congo, in the race for oil in Lake Albert.

The UN sends 900 peacekeepers north to protect against attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army. Thirty-four local groups in four countries appeal to President Obama for military aid and other help to defeat the LRA.

A three-man Oregon kayaking crew loses its leader to a crocodile attack on the Lukuga river. Hollywood star turned activist-for-Congo Ben Affleck wants to make a movie about Congo but can't find a buyer.

Rwanda

A top leader in the FDLR, the Rwandan Hutu rebel group with foot soldiers in eastern Congo and leadership in Europe, is charged with crimes against humanity in France, following last month's ICC indictment for his alleged crimes in the DRC. Two others are charged in Germany. Canada is set to extradite an accused genocidaire to Kigali.

The music scene in the Rwandan diaspora is jumping. A conference of the diaspora concluded last week in Kigali.

American-led support for political party capacity-building expands to Butare. A public debate on political space gets testy, and a local journalist is accused of "aiding the enemy." Rwandan journalists petition the senate to change the country's defamation laws.

A would-be opposition politician jailed on terrorism charges was denied bail. Rwandan military officers in exile form a new political party. Rwandan military leadership holds a retreat.

The Rwandan government will collect less than 40 percent of expected taxes this year, forcing budget cuts of about $15 million next year. India promises $250 million to develop... pretty much everything. Rwanda anticipates greater investment in its mining sector, thanks to the mining ban in neighboring Congo. Coffee experts in Kigali hope that naming Rwandan coffees will increase their market value.

Wind energy may take off in some districts. Solar energy gets new outside investment. A $900 million geothermal energy project starts next year. Kigali City is hiring a director to oversee progress on the city’s master plan.

A genocide archive opens in Kigali. Rwanda offers five Haitians college scholarships.

Burundi

The UN scales down its Burundi operations and changes its in-country leadership. Burundi questions the UN Group of Experts findings that an ex-rebel group is resuming trainings in neighboring DRC. Mysterious murders continue. The UN Secretary General worries about Burundi’s “signs of a returning climate” of oppression.

Several attempted attacks by Al Shabab have been disrupted, the government says. Four out of five Burundians want a truth and reconciliation commission. The government rejects a local anti-corruption watchdog’s report. President Pierre Nkurunziza newly chairs the top body of the East African Community.

Inflation rises nearly 1 percent this year. Egypt courts Burundi’s cooperation on Nile water management with investment and aid. A UK non-governmental organization brings youth from post-conflict countries to teach conflict resolution techniques inner-city London.

Around the region

A Ugandan military official says the country’s troops will remain in the DRC and South Sudan until Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group, is captured. Climate change reroutes the river between Uganda and Congo, wreaking havoc on farms.

Kenya says it has foiled planned attacks by Al Shabab, including on the US Embassy and AU headquarters in Nairobi. A Kenyan writer argues that stolen elections are good for Africa.

China's first white paper on its economic engagement with the continent declares, "China shows great concern for the livelihood of African people." Two Chinese mine managers face trial on charges of shooting 12 Zambian miners in October.

An exotic animal smuggling ring, moving everything from leopard skins to live animals across four central African countries, is broken. The mountain gorilla population has grown 25 percent since 2003.

Leaked American diplomatic cables allege attempted uranium sales in the region. The Republic of Congo’s polio outbreak hits 200 fatalities.

Jina Moore is a freelance reporter based in Kigali, Rwanda who blogs here.

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