Just over two weeks ago, the Congolese Army lost soldiers who had illegally crossed into Rwanda and clashed with Rwanda Defence Forces. An investigation was launched and a report has suspiciously been leaked to the media.
Leaking of documents is of course not so much of the issue as this happens all over the world. Politicians, especially those in bed with journalists, will leak documents to suit their agenda or to influence the “truth’ according to how they want their audiences to see it.
But what is appalling is how the investigation was carried out.
The Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) which was commissioned to carry out the investigations apparently used Google maps to pin point the boundaries separating the DRC and Rwanda, in an effort to determine who crossed over the other’s border.
The leaked report wrongly indicated that the battle ground - Kanyesheja II - a hill located in Rwandan territory is in the DRC. This has added unnecessary controversy to a situation that is already fragile.
First of all, there is no known border dispute between Rwanda and DRC and by simply using topographical maps or even talking to people in the area, the location of this hill could have been verified. For such glaring inaccuracies to get into an EJVM report is unprofessional and totally unacceptable.
When the EJVM was created two years ago, it comprised a team of 24 senior military officers drawn from the 11 member states members of the ICGLR.
Their responsibility leaves little or no room for error. What is expected of them is nothing short of professional military standards.
It beats logic that trained military officers would use Google maps as an official reference for such a highly contested issue. For the officers involved in the investigations, I personally think this is simply gross demonstration of incompetence.
And for it to get ‘leaked’ further casts doubt on the independence of EJVM.
Google Maps has mislaid other borders before. The Google maps are excellent resources; however, they should never be used as an official source for matters of great importance such as national borders.
There is no doubt their satellite imagery is among the best the world has seen and are definitely a great resource for directions, anyone would use their maps, however, not a team investigating border clashes.
About four years ago, the accuracy of Google Maps was questioned when a Nicaraguan General cited Google’s version of the border map to justify a raid on a disputed area that it borders with Costa Rica.
Speaking to CNN, a Google spokeswoman, Kate Hurowitz, said that it was inevitable that there will be occasional errors in data but whenever these errors are discovered, they are updated. Google is not to blame for this.
The Rwanda Defense Forces denounced the report based on its methodology; all ICGLR members are required to sign EJVM reports prior to their validation. And, since this document is yet to be signed by all members - not to mention circumstances surrounding its leak - it should be taken with a pinch of salt.
But all is not lost. There is still room for the EJVM to redeem its self starting by releasing their report that comes out of a thorough investigation.
For now, Rwandans living in Busesamana, who have had to deal with raids from DRC soldiers will want to hear more assurances of security and that their cattle will not be rustled – they don’t seem to be getting that from the leaked reports.
As the RDF verifies that no other borders have been wrongly posted by Google Maps, other institutions should learn to check their presence online making sure that websites such as Wikipedia or even their own websites have accurate or up-to-date data. And if not, post the accurate info.