Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Friday, February 26, 2010

The US Supreme Court and the Congo

The US Supreme Court will soon rule on a case of great importance to the Congo. Well, not really, but it does reveal an interesting loop hole in international diplomacy and law.

In Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the court is currently hearing a case about a retired United States administrative law judge who wanted to provide training in peaceful dispute resolution to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a separatist guerrilla campaign against the Turkish government, and to advise the group on how to petition the United Nations and other international organizations for relief. (See the New York Times Op-Ed here.)

It is illegal for people in the US to provide "material support" to groups listed as terrorist organizations by the US government. Support can be financial, but also advice and "service." The issue at stake in the Supreme Court case is what exactly this vague definition of material support means.

The reason that I raise this issue is because the US, as well as governments in Europe, has consistently had a hard time prosecuting leaders and supporters of rebel groups abroad, no matter how violent and abusive those groups are. In Germany, for example, the prosecutors flailed around for a long time before finally prosecuting the FDLR leaders living there based on the International Criminal Court's Rome Statute definition of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The US, of course, has not signed onto the Rome Statute. It can, however, prosecute people who provide material support to terrorist groups, which are defined as organizations that threaten the security of US nationals or US national interests. Most of the organizations on the current list are linked to extremist Islamist networks. But there are some notable exceptions of groups that do not target US interests per se, but who may target governments allied to the US: the PKK in Turkey, LTTE in Sri Lanka, ETA in Spain. Just to prove that it is more about political will than abiding by legal definitions. (In fact, many have criticized the naming of these groups as cynical realpolitik).

All of this is just to say that the FDLR, CNDP and LRA can be as massively abusive as they want to be and still travel to the United States. In fact, the two leaders of an FDLR splinter faction, RUD-URUNANA, live in New Jersey and Massachusetts. When the CNDP was still officially a rebel group, its leaders regularly traveled throughout Africa and Europe.

We may need to think about some more creative legislating - in the US, you can get people under
  • the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows for the filing of civil suits in the United States against individuals who, acting in an official capacity for any foreign nation, committed torture and/or extrajudicial killing.
  • the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows United States courts to hear human rights cases brought by foreign citizens for conduct committed outside the United States, including by corporations.
Unfortunately, you have to prove the "purposeful complicity in human rights violations," which is often difficult. (See here for more detail.)

Vulture funds, censorship and debt relief

A few miscellaneous tidbits:

  • The Paris Club of Creditors agreed Thursday to cancel $1.3 billion of the Democratic Republic of Congo's external public debt and to reschedule around $1.6 billion of the debt it owes. This is eliminate around 97% of debt services the Congo has to do, a substantial subsidy to its budget.
  • The Congolese government has upheld the suspension of Radio France International throughout the country. It initially cut RFI, which broadcast on FM in various Congolese cities, in July 2009, claiming that its broadcasts "undermined army morale." It also maintains the persona non grata status of RFI's main correspondent to the Congo, Ghislaine du Pont.
  • The Comite national de suivi (CNS), the peace process committee, is meeting in Goma with the various signatory armed groups. The CNDP refused to meet with them because they didn't get positions in the new cabinet. The government is now saying that this was because "they didn't agree on CNDP candidates and send us their CVs on time." Sure.
  • The Financial Times reported that the Congolese government is now being sued in a Hing Kong court by a "vulture fund" that bought part of Congolese public debt and is now trying to get the Chinese government to pay them what the Congolese owe from the $350 million signing bonus. The total they want: $100 million. (Article here, might need to subscribe).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chinque Chantiers: Hiccups in the China-Congo deal

There was a good article in the Africa-Asia Confidential newsletter last week on the Congo-China deal. (You can read it for free here). According to a parliamentary commission, some $23 million of the $350 million in signing bonuses have gone missing.

Commission President and ruling party member Modeste Bahati Lukwebo criticised the collusion of some senior officials in Gécamines with 'local justice officials in Lubumbashi '. This complicity 'facilitated the loss of $23,722,036 of the $50 mn. intended for Gécamines,' claimed the report, signed by five deputies of the Assembly.

The $50 mn. is just a part of the $350 mn. entry fee that the Chinese consortium agreed to pay for signing the $6 bn. ore-for-infrastructure joint venture deal which was concluded on 22 April 2008 by Minister of State for Infrastructure Pierre Lumbi Okongo, China Railway's Li Changjin and Sinohydro's Fan Jixiang.

The deal gave the Chinese companies access to mining concessions which hold 10.6 mn. tonnes of copper and 626,000 tonnes of cobalt, which are currently estimated to be worth $100 billion, in exchange for the construction of railways, roads, schools and hospitals. The Chinese consortium added a new partner in July 2008, giving China Metallurgical Group a 20% stake."

The report also talks about other hiccups in the deal:

  • "The biofuels project involving the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE has stalled. In 2007, when the Memorandum of Understanding between ZTE and Congo 's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock farming was signed, it was estimated that the biofuels project, worth $1 bn., would require 3 mn. hectares of oil palm plantations in Equateur, Bandundu, Orientale and Kasai-Occidental provinces. In 2008, 250 hectares of fertile land were offered to ZTE. The Agriculture Minister has twice received delegations from ZTE to discuss this. The last time was in March 2009, but three years after the MOU nothing has been done and according to the Ministry of Agriculture 'nobody talks about it anymore'."
  • "...talks were underway in 2009 with the China Development Bank and Sinosure to finance four universities and the renovation of N'Djili airport, as well as the road leading there, in Kinshasa . The contractor was supposed to be Changda Highway Engineering Corporation. None of these projects had materialised because the CDB did not accept the concessions offered to them in Potopoto in Katanga and had pulled out of talks in late 2009. The CDB was the financier behind Sinosure, so the deal involving the latter also fell through.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The price of peace

As expected, the CNDP is not happy about not getting any cabinet positions in PM Muzito's new government line-up. " A violation of the peace deal," they called it in their press statement. Kabila's coalition reacted, saying they had to respect the constitution, implying that they couldn't name anyone to the cabinet from a party which hadn't been elected to parliament.

So will this deeply damage the peace process in the Kivus?

According to a source close to both parties, probably not. Apparently, a fund that officials close to President Kabila set might be used to keep CNDP officers flush with cash, perhaps to compensate for the lack of ministerial finery. PAREC, a registered NGO run by Pasteur Mulunda Ngoy, is currently handing out $50 per weapon collected in their campaign to disarm the civilian population in Masisi and Rutshuru. Mulunda Ngoy is very close to the president (he was a key go between with the FDLR at the beginning of the 1998 war) and has already carried out a controversial disarmament campaign in Katanga province, giving people bicycles for cash. (It caused some militia to fight each other for the bicycles, and one civilian was blown up by a landmine he was bringing in for collection.)

Anyway, apparently there was a meeting in a private house in Goma yesterday, where CNDP officials met with Mulunda and he promised money for General Bosco Taganda and several of his officers. It looks like the CNDP won't go back to war any time soon: they are doing too well with their parallel administration in Masisi and these kinds of deals.

Plus, the tin prices have gone back up again since the commodity crash in 2009. As you can see here, they bubbled towards the end of 2008, only to crawl back slowly. They are now around the level they were in early 2008.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

CNDP tighten control over Masisi

As mentioned in the last post, the CNDP will probably not be very happy that they didn't get a ministerial position during the cabinet re-shuffle on Saturday. Up until the last minute, they had been hoping to get one of their men into the government. What will the consequences be?

Well, just last week the CNDP leadership told MONUC that they would not dismantle their parallel taxation system in Masisi unless they "obtained administrative positions for their cadres." I guess that was what they were talking about, not just the 6 territorial administrators they have been promised. They are thus going back on their promise to dismantle the roadblocks and taxes in Masisi once the government pays for health care for their war wounded. (I think the government has disbursed some/much of the money for their health care).

Then, later in the week, we found out that the CNDP had tightened its control over a large part of highland Masisi. The CNDP administrator, Jerome Mashagiro, who is based in Mushaki, has demanded that all house owners in Kitchanga pay $25 within a week, warning that if they didn't they would be evicted from their houses. Then, the ex-CNDP and ex-PARECO police forces in Mushaki, Matanda and Kadirisha stopped taking orders from the Goma police command and have rallied behind the CNDP administration. The former PARECO commander Colonel Zabuloni (a Hutu from Masisi) is apparently their leader, an interesting development given the former enmity between PARECO and the CNDP, but such is the see-saw dynamics between Hutu and Tutsi in Masisi.

Lastly, a CNDP Hutu stalwart called Erasto (he claims to be a traditional chief) has told the population in Masisi not to heed calls for civilians disarmament. A group called PAREC has offered cash in return for weapons in the area. Erasto allegedly told people not to hand over weapons, "You will still need them."

According to MONUC, during the past few weeks, a wave of killings of civilians has hit the CNDP-controlled area; these killings were reportedly all committed by non-integrated CNDP soldiers or deserters.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kabila shuffles his cabinet: analysis

After months of waiting and rumor-mongering, President finally shuffled his cabinet today. (A full list of the new cabinet can be found here.) He trimmed it down from 54 to 43 members, mostly by cutting down on vice-ministers (many weren't sure what they did anyway), but otherwise the most important aspect of this shuffle is what did not happen.

The embattled Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito was not fired, as many had suspected, for charges of corruption and ineffectiveness. The important ministries of defense, mining, foreign affairs, information and planning were not changed. And, above all, the Kabila alliance between his AMP coalition, Antoine Gizenga's PALU and Nzanga Mobutu's UDEMO has not been affected. I can understand keeping Muzito around and maintaining the alliance with PALU, as they do have a decent electoral machine in Kinshasa and Bandundu, but UDEMO? Nzanga Mobutu was barely able to bring any MPs with him into alliance, and only a few per cent of Equateur voted for him.

The other thing that did not happen was that the CNDP did not get any ministerial positions. Not even a vice-minister, apparently. The one Tutsi minister who had been in the cabinet, the former CNDP sympathizer Safi Adili, was fired after only 14 months from the Ministry of Rural Development and replaced by a Katangan who as recently as 2003 was an mid-level assistant in the ministry. The CNDP has been banking on getting at least one ministry as part of their deal with Kabila to dismantle the parallel administration - this may affect the peace process in the East.

The new nominations are a bit lackluster, I must say. The government used to have three vice prime ministers, one for security, another for reconstruction and the last for social needs. They got rid of the reconstruction one and replaced him with one for post and telecommunications. That's right - the Congo now has a vice PM for the post office. Has anyone ever been to a post office in the Congo recently? Not exactly functional. But mobile phones are one of the biggest industries, so maybe that's why. The guy that Kabila nominated, Simon BULUPIY GALATI, is a relative unknown former MP from Haut Uele.

The other big changes are: MATATA PONYO MAPON replaces Athanasa Matenda at the ministry of finance - not a huge change there, as he used to be the head of BCECO, the procurement office that attributes most contracts for foreign assistance managed by the Congolese. He has the trust of the World Bank and IMF.

Kabila took advantage of the shuffle to reconfigure his own personal cabinet. Perhaps the most interesting thing is the new-found importance of oil. Since his chief of staff Adolphe Lumanu is now the powerful vice PM for security, he named a new one, another Kasaian: Gustave Beya, who had been at the oil ministry before. Just goes to show how important oil is becoming in the Congo's future (see other blog postings about oil here - and that's just offshore oil, not to mention the reserves in Lake Albert). Along the same lines, the former Minister of Interior, Celestin Mbuyu, a close Kabila ally, has been named as the new minister of oil.

Also newly named was Kabila's national security adviser, a position that has in the past wielded huge control over the intelligence services in the country. That position has now been filled by a Kivutian, Pierre Lumbi, (it used to be headed by a Katangan) who used to be the minister of reconstruction and is credited for having negotiated the $9 billion Chinese reconstruction deal. Lumbi, now 60 years old, is the godfather of the civil society movement in South Kivu; let's see if he remembers his roots.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The killings and kidnappings continue: South Kivu

Here's an example of what kinds of killings are going on in South Kivu at the moment. From an internal UN report of a few days ago:

"Military observers reported the killing of 7 women by FDLR at Kisembe village in the Mulombozi groupment of Mwenga territory. According to the report, 15 women were initially seized and taken to the forest after the assailants stormed and cordoned a market area on 12 February. Eight of the fifteen later managed to either escape or get released while the remaining seven were cold bloodedly killed by the criminals. The names of the victims have been given as Nyabulambo, Nyamunyatwa, Esperance, Mrs Muganza, Mere ‘Sadam’, Mrs Mbulu and Wabiwa. The Chef de Poste in Kamituga has revealed that the FDLR atrocity was apparently in reprisal against a recent Amani Leo Operations during which FDLR dependents were captured and handed to UNHCR for repatriation.

"On 12 February, UNMOs interacted with the Bunyakiri Intelligence Officer who informed that 2 weeks ago, FDLR also kidnapped 13 women from Mashere (27 NW of Bunyakiri) and took them into the forests. On 6 February, the miscreants kidnapped 4 more people at Kaumi (4 KM SE of Bunyakiri) but soon after released them with a message that FDLR should be given access to market produce in the area failing which the villages of Bulambika and Kambali nearby will be attacked.

"In another incident, armed men in Kamanyola village killed a Palm Oil dealer who was shot at close range in her house on the night of 13 and 14 February. According to Lt Col Salumu, 411 Bde Cdr, the victim, a 56 year old mother of 6 children named Monique Fatima, was killed a kilometer and a half away from the Team Site. Lt. Col Salumu narrating the incident said three men, one of whom was armed got Monique to open her door through a neighbour forced at gun point to knock on the victim’s door that night. The assailants demanded money from Mrs Fatima insisting they knew she had money as she was a cross border Palm Oil trader. She admitted that she had only 3000FC and asked to be allowed to contact her son for more money. Once inside her house, she began screaming for help and this angered the bandits one of whom shot her dead. The bandits fled the scene."

Baloji - Kinshasa Hip Hop

Now for something a bit different, for a change. This is a hotly awaited release by Kinshasa-Brussels Hip Hop artist Baloji. He features some "catcheurs" from the Kinshasa slums. It's a kind of mixture of Mexican Dia de los muertos, modern wrestling and traditional Congolese secret societies.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Ex Nord Kivu Nunquam Aliquid Novi

There is not much news from North Kivu these days, which is why the press has apparently tired of issuing the same reports on displacement, obscure rebel politics and rape. Which is why I have this blog.

Governor Paluku (who is also trying to weather an impeachment battle) visited Kitchanga, the capital of the ex-CNDP territory, last week with a delegation of UN officials and humanitarian organizations. They saw the many Tutsi returnees from Rwanda, none of whom were able to show any proof that they had been refugees in Rwanda, which only fueled suspicions that they might not be Congolese. The delegation also witnessed the control the CNDP still has over this area when a Hutu Chef de Poste was arrested by his superior for having spoken with the UN.

Meanwhile, in Goma, the new CNDP president Philippe Gafishi has begun hinting that he will not dismantle the parallel administration the CNDP runs in much of Masisi territory until the CNDP cadres are given official appointments in the Congolese administration. This came as a shock to diplomats, who had been promised by the CNDP that once money had been disbursed for the CNDP war wounded - which is happening now - they would take down the roadblocks, taxes and other administrative facilities in the highlands of Masisi.

Nonetheless, the double taxation did come to an end in Kanyabayonga, a large city on the edge of CNDP territory where a CNDP-appointed administrator had set up a parallel administration in December 2009.

Finally, 475 Mai-Mai KifuaFua soldiers are beginning to be registered for demobilization in Walikale town. Apparently their commanders are pressuring them not to opt for demobilization, so they can be integrated into the national army - that will help the officers bargain for higher ranks. It is a bit of an open question how many of them are really soldiers, though. Only one of them turned in a weapon...

Rabble-rousing MPs and the Congolese Wild West

A few tidbits:

1. In my series on provincial politics (see here for past rabble-rousing incidents in provincial assemblies) there is much to be talked about. Last Wednesday, 60 out of 100 provincial MPs from Equateur signed an impeachment notice for the entire office of the provincial assembly - including the president and the vice-president. What was remarkable was that MPs from across the political divide signed on, from the PPRD (Kabiliste) to the MLC (Bembiste) to the RCD (?-iste). The five leaders who were asked to leave were mostly from Jean-Pierre Bemba's MLC party, although one was from the PPRD. The reason: Embezzlement of $600,000 of severance payments. It isn't clear, but the severance may have been intended for the recently fired governor and his cabinet. It is even less clear why they would receive any severance at all. But this is far from extraordinary: When the Governor of South Kivu, Celestin Chibalonza, was impeached, he was also alleged to have embezzled a similar amount of cash.

Why do we care? It's great and terrible at the same time. Yet another sign of one Congolese institution that is both deeply corrupt but also able, at least, to promote some sort of accountability. But even if they impeached, I doubt they will stand trial (the president said he will go to court now).

In other news, in a press conference by Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito last week, he said that the portion of the national budget that was being retroceded to the provinces had grown from 3% in 2006 to 23% in 2009. That's still short of the 40% required by the constitution, but quite a leap (if it is true.)

2. Information leaked out this past week about the situation in the High Plateau of South Kivu. According to several insiders, the Banyamulenge rebels have been seriously weakened in recent months. They say that the Force republicaines federalistes (FRF), a small group of Tutsi who launched a rebellion in 2005, is now only composed of around 150 soldiers. Several weeks ago, the Congolese army launched a sizeable operation against the FRF, chasing them out of Kamombo, where they had been based, into the Bijabo forest. For some reason, the Congolese army has deployed a battalion led by Banyamulenge officers to lead to offensive against the FRF, which has led to some nasty internecine assassinations, but also to treason within each group. According to these insiders, the FRF was able to launch a successful raid on the Congolese army on December 9th last year thanks to intelligence provided from relatives within 422nd brigade in Minembwe.

I know this may be confusing to some - Banyamulenge politics are complex, centered around clan politics, feuds between rival protestant churches, and political battles. It's the Wild West up there, cattle herders with long sticks and 10 gallon hats, walking across craggy and windswept hills at 1,800 meters.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Renaming the Congo (or at least its streets)

What's in a name? Congo Ba Leki reported a few days ago that Mayor Guy Shilton Baendo of Kisangani , once the country's third largest city (famously depicted in VS Naipaul's "Bend in the River"), had decided to rename the city's streets. Not a bad idea, some would say, as many names had not changed since Mobutu, who had a tendency to name streets after himself or his deeds. "Avenue of 24 November" - the day he took power in 1965; "Avenue de Kamanyola" - the village where he allegedly defeated Mai-Mai rebels in the 1960s; and son on.

Of course, the mayor didn't want so much to change the naming policy, but just to update it. He announced that there were would be streets named after the current governor of the province, Medard Autsai, the president of the provincial assembly and, most humbly, after the mayor himself.

There is a long tradition in Congolese music for shout-outs, or mabanga (stones), that musicians give to politicians and businessmen in return for cash. Contemporary songs are chock full of them, and it's one of the best ways for the cash-strapped musicians to make some cash. (For Werrason's new clip and the mabanga in it, see Solo Kinshasa's blog.) So I have no doubt that this initiative was similarly motivated. How much did it cost Governor Autsai to get his name on one of the main streets in Kisangani?

Fortunately, there was such an outcry that the mayor had to retract. Gangs of youths took to the streets to spray paint the new streets names in protest. So what did the mayor do? He appointed a commission of elders to evaluate the renaming process. Of course, the commission will get per diems and a modest travel budget....

Don't forget about the LRA

The UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has just released a documentary to highlight the plight of the population at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Apparently, in 2009 alone, the LRA killed 849 people, kidnapped 1486 (including 185 children) and displaced 365,000. According to OCHA, that is four times as many killed by the FDLR over the past four years in the Kivus. I don't know how they did their math (FDLR killings reported? Estimated? Are the estimates as exact in LRA areas as in FDLR areas?), but suffice it to say that the situation in the Haut Uele and Bas Uele districts is very bad. Even if there are now reports that Joseph Kony has fled to the Central African Republic, his troops still operate in the Congo.

The US government had backed a Ugandan offensive against the LRA in the last days of the Bush administration. The support, which included intelligence sharing (mostly satellite imagery and tracking of sat phone and cell phone calls) and training/advising of Ugandan troops in the Congo, then was briefly put on hold under Obama as they re-evaluated the operations. I hear that, as of several months now, they have begun supporting the operations again, although there is only one Ugandan battalion left in the Congo, I believe. Operation "Lightning Thunder," as it had been called, came under harsh criticism for having provoked LRA violence against civilians (as described by OCHA report) without taking steps to prevent such retaliation. A bunch of LRA top commanders deserted, but there was no sign of Kony, and enough new kids were recruited to make up for their losses.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sexual violence: Addendum

According to the UN Population Fund, there were more than 8,000 cases of sexual violence in North and South Kivu last year. Their press statement is here, and Radio Okapi reported that there were 11,000 in all of the eastern Congo (N & S Kivu + Katanga, Maniema, Province Orientale). But it isn't clear if this is an estimate of total cases of sexual violence or actually recorded cases. I would imagine the total number to be much higher.

As a comparison, for the Kivus that would be a prevalence of around 0.9 cases/1000, lower than the rape rate in South Africa, which is around 1,2/1,000, and three times the rate in the United States. (See here for UN statistics.) Of course, any statistics with regards to sexual violence have to be taken with a bag of salt, for obvious reasons.

Sexual violence: painting with a finer tip

It's astounding what a polarizing figure Nick Kristof is - as far as I can tell, many working on advocacy in the US, especially those trying to mobilize grassroots support, are very enthusiastic about Kristof. I remember meeting with people in Senator Feingold's office several years ago and they were trying to lobby him to change his line on Darfur "as it was damaging our work in Congress." (Unfortunately, I can't remember the precise context, but just to show that he he's got a big megaphone.) On the other hand, most of my colleagues and friends in the field can't seem to stand his simplistic approach towards the issues. (See here and here for criticism of Kristof's naming of rape victims in a recent blog.)

Maybe he has begun to listen a bit to his critics. Let's take his most recent Op-Ed, "The Grotesque Vocabulary in Congo." He starts with a typical tactic: shocking the reader. He says that some militiamen in the Congo force their victims to eat their own flesh, and that many women are raped again and again and again. This is true - these phenomena unfortunately do exist, although I find the constant resorting to barbarism to get attention pretty tawdry. Does he ask why? Does he try to bring a finer point rather than his usual oven mitt finger-painting?

Kind of. Perhaps because of the many complaints he has received, he continues:

"It’s not just mindless savagery. Rather, after talking to survivors and perpetrators alike over the years, I’ve come to believe that the atrocities are calculated and strategic, serving two main purposes.

First, they terrorize populations and shatter traditional structures of authority.

Second, they create cohesiveness among the misfit, often youthful soldiers typically employed by warlords. If commanders can get their troops to commit unspeakable atrocities, those soldiers are less likely ever to return to society."

Yes, absolutely. And we should give Kristof some credit for being a bit more nuanced than usual.

But rape is actually much more complex than even this. Some rape is indeed "calculated," intended to socialize soldiers from diverse backgrounds into cohesive units; diplomats have suggested that in order to fuse ex-CNDP, ex-Mai-Mai and Congolese army soldiers together, commanders use trauma and profound transgression to create unit cohesion. Not radically different in quality from US drill sergeant's yelling: chants—“This is my rifle; this is my gun [hand on crotch]/This is for fighting; this is for fun.” It is also true that some commanders use rape to terrorize populations so they don't provide information to their enemies and so that they pay their taxes without resistance.

But rape is not always such an obvious instrument. Studies of sexual violence elsewhere have shown that rape can develop out of a deeply chauvinistic culture bred amongst soldiers - just thinks of US soldiers' rape of women in Okinawa, or even sexual abuse of minors by UN peacekeepers in the Congo. Rape in these cases is more opportunistic, a side-effect of military culture. It is a policy insofar as the commanders know about it and don't punish it, but then again, commanders of some armed groups in the Kivus have a hard time maintaining discipline and command over their troops, so what appears to be policy is really institutional weakness. I have often heard stories of this kind of rape in the Kivus from ex-combatants and civilians alike. "We are deployed far away from our families," one soldier told me. "When we need a woman, we take one, it's what we have to do because we are men."

Rape can also be fostered out of a culture of violence bred by bad relations with the local population. "Raia," or civilian in Swahili, has become a derogatory slur for many soldiers. In insurgencies, soldiers are often deeply distrustful of the civilian population, as they are deeply paranoid of information being passed to the enemy by "traitors." Mistrust is only deepened by the fact that few of these militias have independent sources of financing - they live on the backs of the locals, taxing them and stealing. This fosters small acts of disobedience and criticism by the civilians, which in turn further aggravates the soldiers. Much like the Nazis who were able to blame the Jews for their own obliteration, I have heard Mai-Mai say that the civilians got what they had coming.

The truth is that we don't really know exactly which one of these many reasons is the main reason for rape - it is a likely a mixture of all of the above. "Sexual violence," I heard recently, "is overdetermined. " For sure.

Those who want to know more, Elisabeth Wood has done some interesting work on sexual violence, in particular asking why some armed groups rape and others don't (Sri Lanka and Columbia being two countries where some groups do and other don't). See here.

A few words to contextualize sexual violence in the Congo.

  • When the Soviet Army occupied Berlin between April and May, 1945, according to hospital records they raped between 95,000 and 130,000 women, 6 per cent of the women in the city.
  • During the Rape of Nanjing by Japanese troops, 20,000 to 80,000 Chinese women and girls were raped and then executed over a period of 8 weeks in 1937, that is 8 to 32 percent of the approximately 250,000 female civilians present in the city at the time of the takeover.
  • More than 200,000 "comfort women," most Koreans, were recruited by force and deception by the Japanese army to work in brothels for their troops during World War II.
  • According to a European Union investigation, approximately 20,000 girls and women
    suffered rape in 1992 in Bosnia-Herzegovina alone, many of them while held in detention facilities of various types.

Whistle Boy Update

A little update on the Whistle Boys story from a few blogs ago:

According to a friend who was in Goma at the time, the managers of the organization earned the wrath of journalists when they got arrested in Goma in 2009 by the security services (ANR). Apparently, they were trying to visiting mining sites and demobilization centers without the right papers. They did have press accreditation, however, even though they aren't journalists, and the Congolese official who had issued them accreditation was arrested, as well. Things got complicated (they often do in the Congo) when that official's wife held the accreditation stamp hostage in her house, demanding for her husband to be released. For some reason, the "stamp-hostage" drama continued for over a week, during which foreign journalists couldn't get press accreditation in Goma. A US TV crew reportedly got stuck across the border in Gisenyi because of this.

In the end, the US embassy had to intervene to bail them out of jail.

This was not the only instance of Whistle Boy infamy. During the peace talks in Goma in 2008, one of their leaders tried to rush President Kabila with a camera and almost got beaten down by a presidential guard. Note to journalists: rushing the president in the Congo with anything is rarely a good idea.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interview with Kris Berwouts

Below is an interview I conducted with Kris Berwouts, the director of the Belgium-based European Network for Central Africa (EurAc), a network of 46 non-governmental organizations that work on Central Africa. Kris has been working on the region since the 1980s and just came back from a research and advocacy trip to Kinshasa and the Kivus.

1. Kris, you just came back from a long trip to Kinshasa and the Kivus. What was your impression of the preparations for the 2011 elections? Who are the main potential candidates and what are their chances?

In a way, Kabila feels comfortable about the elections. Not because he is popular (he knows he isn’t) but because there is no real challenger. The MLC has never been able to get over the departure from the scene of Jean-Pierre Bemba in March 2007. Tshisekedi’s UDPS has indicated that it wants to take part in the local elections but did not give much evidence of unity, clear leadership or the ability to mobilise support now that its chairman is absent due to his age and poor health. PALU, a member of the ruling coalition, has also lost its unity after the sidelining of former Prime Minister Gizenga and the fact that his successor Muzito never could make any difference. N’Zanga Mobutu has a long-term political capital but his political movement does not seem to have much potential for mobilisation outside Equateur Province.

Within the presidential alliance people seem happy in Kabila’s shadow. Olivier Kamitatu is respected by many and he is considered one of the most effective ministers but he is not a electoral heavyweight. Today he does not show great ambitions to offer the electorate any independent political option. By introducing the debate on changing the constitution (including a longer mandate and unlimited re-election for the president), he confirms that he has set his sights on being Prime Minister by remaining in the presidential camp. Pierre Lumbi’s Movement for Social Reform (MSR) does not seem very keen to act as an autonomous party either, and is happy to share power in the margin of the PPRD. The party, from the time of its inception, was intended to consolidate loyalty to Kabila in civil society.

Vital Kamerhe seems to have good cards in his hands, although he was forced to resign as the president of the Parliament in March 2008. On the one hand the government is aware that there is no credible opposition and that the regime has no other opponent of his stature, should he wish to stand. On the other hand, the government is conscious of its own unpopularity, even in the east where it was elected. It may hope for an easy re-election, but it will need Kamerhe. Many observers expect that he will have to choose between setting up his own political party or rejoining the President’s entourage on terms very favourable to himself but unpopular with at least one section of the entourage. In either scenario Kamerhe will play a leading role.

Kabila of course wants to be re-elected and counts on his propaganda machinery supported by the media. His main hope seems to be the acceleration of the implementation of the Chinese contracts that have to materialise at least a part of the “cinq chantiers” which were the core of his campaign promises in 2006.

2. It now seems inevitable that the local elections will be held in 2011. Is this so? Why are these elections important?

EurAc has always stressed the importance of citizen participation in the process of national reconstruction. Local elections should have an essential role in the rehabilitation of governance in the DRC. They are not only essential to rebuild legitimacy in a state which was dismembered less than a week after its independence; they are also an essential element in the development from an embryonic democracy to an operational one. We consider that the procedure of elections is a kind of apprenticeship for democracy and will contribute to the renewal of the political landscape and the emergence of new leadership from the grass roots.

However, the local elections are not giving rise to tremendous enthusiasm, either among the Congolese political elite, or in the international community, or in the general population. The government reproaches the international community of being slow to pledge financial support; the international community reproaches the Congo government of lacking the political will to organise elections; and the general population is frustrated because it still is confronted with the guilty absence of the state. When visiting the embassies, it becomes obvious that there are countries and international institutions that do not accord any kind of priority to local elections. But others are genuinely involved and have already allocated $139 million of the $163 million that the elections will cost. The countries supporting the local elections in the Congo expect a clear indication from the Congo government that it is also committed, including in financial terms.

Everybody is wondering whether it is still possible to organise local elections in a reasonably short time. But the key question is: is there, behind all the discussion of practicalities and logistics, enough political will to organise the elections? In the absence of a strong opposition the current regime feels that its victory in the 2011 presidential and legislative elections will be easily won. They see the local elections as one of the rare factors that may disrupt that outcome. They could provide the space for new or existing political groups to find a new spring in their step, a new discourse, a new electorate.

3. You also visited the Kivus - what was your impression of the state of the FDLR after the Kimia II operations?

The military operations have solved nothing. The FDLR has avoided confrontation, retreating from its positions and then regaining most of them, taking revenge on the local Congolese civilians even more violently than we have seen in recent years. I was shown a letter of the FDLR command to the different brigades ordering violent action to be carried out against the Congolese civilian population in order to create chaos and bring about negotiations with the FDLR. The Commander in Chief of Kimia II’s euphoric communiqué at the closing ceremony listed figures of neutralised FDLR fighters but did not mention in the same detail the price paid by the Congolese population. It also forgets to say that the FDLR is like a vase that is emptied and refilled at the same time: some people leave and others join. FARDC deserters coming from former Mai Mai and Pareco, demobilised FNL fighters, and new recruits from within Rwanda. The final assessment of Kimia II, given by its Commander, is that it has reduced the nuisance value of the FDLR but we strongly doubt that. Their operational capacity is not weakened and their chain of command remained intact. The military operations contributed to their radicalisation, as did the arrest of their leaders in Germany.

We consider the FDLR problem as political, so the solution needs to be political as well. We have no taboos about a military dimension, but only when it’s focused, and when it’s part of a broader political approach. A military solution does not exist. But the chances for a diplomatic approach to succeed will also depend on Rwanda: today, the outlook is gloomy as far as democratic participation, guaranteed human rights and socio-economic opportunities are concerned. Yet if the FDLR combatants are to return home, they need to be sure that they can live in future in peace and dignity. A huge stumbling block comes from the fact that an entire community is blamed for the genocide. The génocidaire label is applied to a whole group and not to individuals. The only way to make progress on this question is to be more explicit as to which persons are to blame and of what they are accused.

4. Do you feel that any serious steps are being made, by donors or the Congolese government, to reform the security services? What are the main obstacles to such reform?

The Congolese army remains one of the main actors of human rights violations and still is much more part of the problem then part of the solution. The reasons are many: there are no caserns to barrack soldiers and the lack of confidence between the previous rebellions and the “regular” army still is insurmountable,. The involvement of armed groups, including the FARDC, in the illegal exploitation of the natural resources is one of the main obstacles in the security sector reform, and the army in its present forms gives a lot of opportunities for corruption and theft. Too much people earn too much money in the grey zones that exist in the army today.

A lot of efforts have been done and a lot of money spent, but without results. The creation of a truly unified, effective and disciplined army is the backbone of lasting security in the eastern Congo. But it is important that the different international partners involved in the army reforms manage to work out a better coordinated and complementary approach, and that a screening mechanism is introduced as a means of excluding from the army and the police any individuals guilty of human rights violations, including sexual abuse. Another priority is a working military tribunal with the courage to judge officers who have committed abuses, including sexual violence.

5. Is the integration of the CNDP into the Congolese army sustainable? Has the peace deal between Kigali and Kinshasa brought a lasting truce, if not necessarily peace, to North Kivu?

A year after the launch of the military operations, it is clear that they have not attained their objectives. The CNDP was decapitated by the arrest of Laurent Nkunda but proper integration into the Congolese state has not happened. Part of the CNDP never got integrated into the army and for the part that did the question was: “Who finally integrated whom?” The result of the integration of the CNDP is that it is larger than before and that it controls more troops and a greater geographical area. CNDP’s chain of command still exists. In many parts of Kivu CNDP’s parallel administration, including road blocks, remains in place, and its units have gained access to economically interesting places. Previously, CNDP financially depended on what it was given from various Rwandan sources, from the business community in Goma and by controlling imports and exports at the Bunagana frontier post, but the military operations has given it a grip on one of the most lucrative mineral areas in the DRC. Still, the movement has been undermining itself through its disunity. It split into factions which were on several occasions about to fight each other. Similarly in its civil structure new men have come and gone.

The Congo and Rwanda began 2009 with a surprise - their rapprochement and the joint operation. For Kabila as for Kagame, this rapprochement was a marriage of reason rather than of love: neither of them had other options. Twelve months later the Congo is weaker: neither the political institutions of the Third Republic nor the administration function any better than they did a year ago. Insecurity continues to reign in the east of the country. Even if the relationship of the forces on the ground has changed, impunity and the militarisation of the economy remain as they were. Rwanda, for its part, has quickly recovered from its moment of weakness and relative isolation. Its participation in a joint military operation with the Congolese army and its withdrawal within the due time was seen as a serious indication of good intentions. Rwanda’s access to minerals and grazing land in Kivu is greater than a year ago and its ally in the Congo’s politico-military context, the CNDP, is today in a position it could only dream of a year ago. Rwanda is once again considered to be a stabilising factor in the region and this has been confirmed by its acceptance into the Commonwealth (in spite of a very critical independent report) and by the visit of the French President to Kigali.

6. What is the mood amongst the important international actors in Kinshasa? Is there a feeling of coordination and a vision for how to engage with the Congo?

At present there is hardly any dialogue between the international community and the Congo government. Diplomats have difficulty in gaining access to those who hold real power and take decisions. We continue to lobby for an explicitly political dialogue between the international community and the government, based on a genuine will to contribute loyally to the country’s development (with funding and expertise), as well as serious pressure in priority areas (human rights, good governance, democratic participation etc). What is needed is a road map with bench marks reached by common agreement. Such criteria will allow progress in different sectors to be monitored. Of course this dialogue must be one of mutual respect and partnership, recognising the legitimacy and sovereignty of the Third Republic. But to be effective, it is vital to advocate a greater degree of multilateralism and coordination of the international community’s actions. If the international community wants to make a difference, it must show that its members are working together in coherence. Yet it is divided at the present time by strong bilateral interests. There is no unity and no single voice. To succeed, China will have to be included in the search for such a unified position.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Best of the Best: Congo News

Some of the zaniest stories that have come out of the Congo in the past years. Thanks to Michael for some of these recommendations; please write in if you have your own favorite Congo story.

1. The Congo space program: A must see. I'm so glad the Congolese government is investing money in sending rats into outer space. It makes the war in the East tolerable to know that Congolese rodents are in orbit.

2. The Great Congo Penis Theft - Former Reuters correspondent Joe Bavier wrote this gem up. I think it was one of his most widely seen stories (this in the middle of a war in the eastern Congo),

3. The Zidane interview - I don't know where this guy came from, but he manages to steal the show from Zinedine Zidane.

4. Row over rat claims two lives

Apr 04 2008 04:05:58:497PM

A violent row over a giant rat has led to the killing of two militiamen in the DRC's Nord-Kivu province, a radio station has reported.

Kinshasa - A violent row over a giant rat led to the killing of two Mai Mai militia members in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Nord-Kivu province, Radio Okapi reported on Friday.

One of the militiamen caught the huge rat, valued for its tender flesh, in a field when a fellow patrolman shot and killed him to get the animal, the UN-sponsored radio station reported.

The head of the group of Resistant Congolese Patriots (Pareco) then "gave orders that the murderer be tortured" and the man "died as a result of his injuries", according to the news report.

The radio identified the disputed beast as a giant Gambia rat, an African animal that measures up to 75 centimetres long and is bred for food in some countries.

The Gambia rat also has such a fine sense of smell that it has proved a useful ally in detecting anti-personnel mines.

Initial work in using rodents for mine clearance was backed by the Belgian Directorate for International Co-operation and a non-commercial agency, APOPO, works jointly with Tanzania's Sokoine University of Agriculture on the project.

5. Finally, the rumors are making the rounds in Kinshasa that Kabila's chief of staff Adolphe Lumanu tried to lay the moves on the Canadian ambassador outside the president's office and that the Canadian government is demanding an apology. Lumanu allegedly accused the ambassador of making the first move. If this is true, it might make the top ten list.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The art of Mai-Mai negotiating

If you can't beat 'em...give em a ton of cash and see what happens. That seems to be the status of the negotiations with the various armed groups who have not joined the Congolese army. We always talk about the CNDP and forget that there were some twenty other groups who participated in the peace process - some have integrated most of their troops, such as the PARECO-Mugabo wing, while others are still holding out.

Some examples:
  • 400 Mai-Mai Kifuafua made their way this past week to assembly sites in Walikale territory (mostly south of Walikale town), from where they are supposed to integrate the national army. This is not the first time we've seen this kind of movement by the Kifuafua ("those who go into battle chest first) boys. The population is happy they are leaving, but worried that the FDLR will take their place.
  • General Kakule Lafontaine, former PARECO commander based in Lubero territory, has once again said this week that he is ready to talk with MONUC. He usually follows Mao's dictum of "talk/fight, talk/fight" as the best strategy.
  • Another PARECO commander has written to protest the non-integration of 2051 PARECO policemen - why have the CNDP and other group integrated their police, but not PARECO, he asked. I must say, I've been to PARECO territory numerous times and have never seen many "policemen." 2051? Hmmm....
  • General James Matabishi, the leader of the Mai-Mai Ruwenzori, also protested this past week that his police force had not been integrated. I remember once seeing a census of Ruwenzori soldiers that barely reached 50 - he has apparently recruited a bunch of new soldiers on the promise that they would benefit from the demobilization program.
  • Finally, a Hutu militia that did not take part in the peace process, PANADEF, has also written to the Congolese army to say they want to integrate their troops. They operate in Rutshuru territory, but nobody knows how many they are, although they are allegedly collaborating with Tutsi commander Ngabo Gadi, who is close to former CNDP officers.
And that's just for North Kivu.

Academics interested in inter-state bargaining have suggested that the main problem with such negotiations are (1) commitment problems, i.e. how can we be sure that you will do what you promised, that after we demobilize our boys you don't just arrest us? and (2) information asymmetries, i.e. we don't really know enough about the other side, so let's hold out.

For once, such academic arguments can actually be applied to the Congo. Given that your promotion through the ranks in the Congolese army depends on your support network, ethnic affiliations and ability to work the system, it is very difficult for the often illiterate militia leaders to obtain good positions in the army - often they are promised high posts and are soon afterward demoted. Plus, once you demobilize your troops, you have no leverage to resort to if you are sidelined. As for information asymmetries, militia leaders often have no idea what awaits them in the Congolese army - many operate in areas close to their ancestral home, where they know the terrain and language. What can a Nande Mai-Mai commander do in Equateur with no formal training, no French and basic knowledge of military etiquette?

A few examples of this: the most successful RCD officer to have integrated the Congolese army is General Gabriel Amisi, better known as "Tango Four," and even better known for his role in several large massacres, including of 160 people in Kisangani in May 2002. Amisi joined the army along with the rest of the RCD in July 2003, was named regional commander in Goma, where he excelled by currying favor with Kabila while protecting Nkunda's fledgling military organization. In order to get him out, Kabila promoted him to become commander of the land forces in Kinshasa in 2004. Amisi is from the Bangubangu ethnic community from Maniema, just like Kabila's mother Mama Sifa Mahanya, and he was able to position himself in Kinshasa as reliable and a good business partner - he provided protection to the 83rd brigade that controlled the lucrative Bisie mine in Walikale for many years, and in return he and his associates got rich off kickbacks from that and from his airplane company, Maniema Aviation. He also sponsored a very successful soccer team in Kindu (a great way to political success, as Governors Moise Katumbi and Andre Kimbuta have found out in Katanga and Kinshasa, respectively). Now that's success.

In contrast to Amisi, who was an educated former Mobutu officer, the Mai-Mai have fared terribly. Aside from General Padiri Bulenda, the biggest Mai-Mai leader (although not in size) who is now regional commander in Lubumbashi, it's hard to find a single high-profile militia leader from the East in the army hierarchy, outside the few who have top positions in the Kimia II/Amani Leo operations.

Faced with a weak state that cannot enforce law and order, institutions that cannot keep their promises (how many ministerial shuffles have there been in the past 3 years?) and plenty of local resources, the option of continued insurgency with sporadic peace talks at the fine hotels in Goma is probably the best bet.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Whistling Child Soldiers?

I'll put this in the category of weird humanitarian initiatives. I saw this belatedly - the great blog Wronging Rights carried this story about an NGO that sells whistles to raise money to help former child soldiers. (Website here) The connection? Well, they say that, "Captured by Nkunda’s rebel army, the boys not big enough to hold a gun are given merely a whistle and put on the front lines of battle." According to them, thousands of child soldiers are sent to the front line with only these whistles. Celebrities like Selma Hayek, John Stewart, and other apparently support "the whistle-blowers."

I must confess, in my trips to Nkunda's troops I have never heard of this whistle story - it is possible for several dozen, but thousands? Plus, I've never met a militia in the Congo that could find a child who was too small to hold a gun. Nkunda never had much trouble getting enough guns for his troops, it was the Mai-Mai who were less well-equipped.

Plus, the website is full of statements like these: "Nkunda's rebels had gone mad with drugs. He told us it didn't matter who guarded us, the sight of our white skin would enrage them and they would fire." Um....I'm not a big fan of Nkunda's troops, but this is bullshit.

Can anybody in Goma reading this tell me if I'm missing something here? Whistle kids, really? (According to the comments from Goma on Wronging Rights site, it is nonsense and the NGOs founders were deported by Congolese authorities for not having the right paperwork). Apparently, they have raised $80,000 by selling 2,000 whistles and are helping 270 Congolese kids.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sizing up the Congolese legislative apparatus

There has been a lot of noise in Katanga over the past few weeks, as members of the provincial assembly have asked for the resignation of several members of the provincial assembly, leading to acrimonious debate and an attack by a band of youths against one of the members of the assembly. At the same time, members of the provincial assembly in North Kivu have also continued to push for the resignation of Governor Julien Paluku, who has continued to hang on by the hair of his chinny chin.

Which prompts me to ask: how successful have these assemblies been in holding the provincial leaders accountable?

It's a mixed bag. You often hear political analysts saying that the provincial institutions contain probably the most pro-active and scrupulous bunch of politicians in the country, possible because they are so close to their voters. Perhaps. But it was also these jokers who allowed themselves to be bribed to the gills to elect senators and governors and senators in 2007 (those elections are indirect by the provincial assemblies) who had little popularity in the province - thus the MLC, which had majorities in 2/3 provinces was only able to elect one governor, and South Kivu elected two RCD senators (well, one RCD plus the daughter of the RCD's main arms dealer).

Anyway, here's a brief summary of the tug-o-war in the various provincial assemblies. I think it says more about the lack of stability and discipline within the various political parties than necessarily the efficiency of the checks and balances:

  • South Kivu: Governor Chibalonza was impeached in 2008, then put back in by the Supreme Court, then removed by his PPRD party (Kabila's main party). Since then, Leonce Mudherwa has been the head of the province, but now some MPs are asking for him to resign due to mismanagement. Also, Chibalonza and several of his ministers were accused of stealing $441,000 in "severance pay" when they were impeached. Some of them admitted, claiming they didn't know they couldn't get severance pay, and paid it back.
  • North Kivu: Provincial MPs have tried to impeach Governor Julien Paluku three times, the first time in 2007 for embezzling $372,000 in road taxes, the second time for alleged embezzlement/misallocation of over $8 million of the provincial budget (that was based on an audit they had conducted). Sound arguments, but Paluku has held on.
  • Maniema: In October 2009, provincial MP impeached the vice-governor Pierre Masudi for financial mismanagement and violation of parliamentary rules.
  • Province Orientale: In October 2009, the provincial assembly accused vice-governor Joseph Bangakya of embezzling funds through fraudulent procurement of road building machines. He resigned several days later.
  • Kasai-Oriental: The provincial assembly accused its leadership (three members of the PA's office) of embezzling around $300,000. The president of the PA Francois Kabala resigned but has never been tried in a court of law.
  • Kasai-Occidental: The provincial assembly impeached Governor Tresor Kapuku in July 2007, but he was soon reinstated by the Supreme Court (which is seen by many to utterly lack independence).
  • Equateur: The provincial assembly impeached Governor Jose Makila for financial mismanagement in January 2009 (they later found that he wasn't guilty after all); the current governor Jean-Claude Baende has faced serious allegations of embezzlement, as well.
  • Kinshasa: The Governor Andre Kimbuta was accused by several witnesses of ordering the assassination of a provincial MP from the opposition, but the witnesses later retracted their statements (some allege under duress). Kimbuta was also accused by members of his own government to have been involved in the embezzlement of $15 million for road repairs.
  • Katanga: While Governor Moise Katumbi has a firm grip on the province, his provincial assembly has recently been the scene of various conflagrations (see recent blog posting), with MPs accusing firebrand PA president Kyungu wa Kumwanza of disrespect of parliamentary procedures and several members of his office of embezzlement.
In sum: the resignation or impeachment of three governors (one came back), two vice-governors, one PA president, and several provincial ministers. And all of this in just three years. Bandundu appears to be the only province to have avoided these problems.

All of this is definitely a sign that MPs will rabble-rouse when possible. I would refrain, however, from saying this is sign of democratic checks and balances at work - it is, but we have also seen many cases where cases have been brought and then MPs have been bought off - in fact, such accusations are often used as "fond de commerce," bargaining chips in order to get a piece of the pie. Also, to my knowledge none of the officials who have been impeached have been prosecuted or sentenced for their abuses.

Who Killed Laurent Kabila?

A couple of weeks ago was the 9th anniversary of Laurent Kabila's assassination. The hulking "liberator" of Zaire was assassinated in his office on January 16, 2001 by one of his bodyguards as he met with one of his advisers. In a shambolic trial several months later, the presidential military adviser Edy Kapend, the commander of Kinshasa General Yav Nawej and dozens of bodyguards were all found guilty and sentenced to death.

The assassination remains one of the great mysteries of recent Congolese history. In the past year, several prominent officials have come forward calling for either those convicted to be set free or for a new trial to be held. Mwenze Kongolo, one of Laurent Kabila's closest associates, published a book last year, saying that Edy Kapend was innocent and should be freed. Kongolo was minister of justice at the time of the trial, so he might know what he's talking about (he's also become an often critic of Joseph Kabila). A few days ago, the Archbishop of Kinshasa Laurent Monsengwo also called for the trial to be finished, saying that the proceedings had never been concluded and that there had been many flaws. Here is a nice story on the debate by France 24 correspondent Arnaud Zajtman (ex-BBC Kinshasa) - I love the part when he asks Joseph Kabila about the trial and Kabila just shakes his head and basically says: "Why does Arnaud Zajtman also bug me about this?"

That there had been many flaws is obvious. A New York Times article provides a nice description of the surreal scene at the trial. At one point, the prosecutor accused Edy Kapend of practicing polygamy, and the judge had the sole witness to the murder, Emile Mota, arrested for no reason after he took the stand.

"One prisoner, who said he was an architect held for a crime he did not commit, had painted a mural in front of which sat the judges, the prosecutor and the suspects. It depicts a bucolic scene of a picnic next to a pond, replete with grapes, mangos, bananas, bottles of wine and brandy, a violin and a bouquet of red roses.

During the proceedings, some of the women prisoners suckle their infants. The audience cheers or jeers at witnesses. During the noon breaks, prisoners, soldiers, lawyers and family and friends mix freely against the backdrop of the picnic. Sometimes cheerful Congolese music comes from the loudspeakers."

The basic facts are not contested. Kabila was speaking with Emile Mota, his health adviser, when his bodyguard Rashidi Kasereka asked for permission to enter. Acting like he wanted to whisper something into his boss' ear, Rashidi pulled his pistol and fired several shots into Kabila. He then fled the room and was shot outside the office by - here the testimonies diverge - either Edy Kapend or another bodyguard. We thereby lost the main witness to the murder. However, subsequent investigations by both journalists as well as the Congolese authorities did establish a few basic facts. The plot was probably executed by a bunch of former kadogo, or child soldiers from the Kivus, who were notoriously underpaid. But they had probably just carried out the plot - who was behind it? The problem was that by the time of this death, Kabila had made too many enemies - plenty of people apparently were gunning for him. Here are some of the main theories:
  • Some French journalists from Le Monde suggested that it was the child soldiers acting on their own. A few months before the assassination, Kabila had ordered Anselme Masasu, the symbolic leader of the kadogo to be executed, as he was suspected of conspiring with Rwanda. Masasu was hugely popular among the child soldiers, and after his execution in November 2000, Kabila had rounded up a bunch of other kadogo and killed them, as well, or had them arrested.
  • Angola. In 2000, the Angolan army had gotten close to crushing UNITA, its rebel adversary of twenty-five years. Nonetheless, according to UN investigators, UNITA continued to rake in revenues of $200 million a year through diamond deals and it appeared that Kabila, in a desperate bid for cash, had begun to allow UNITA to deal through Lebanese gem traders in Kinshasa. According to French and British insider periodicals, by the end of 2000 UNITA operatives were once again active in Kinshasa. President Dos Santos, who had supported the initial rebellion against Mobutu precisely to root out UNITA bases in Zaire, was livid. This hypothesis is supported by the curious behavior of General Yav Nawej, the commander of Kinshasa who had close ties to Angola, along with Edy Kapend, the president’s military advisor. The day before the assassination, General Yav ordered the disarmament of select northern Katangan units in Kinshasa’s garrison, who were the most loyal to Kabila. Then, within hours of the assassination, General Yav ordered the execution of eleven Lebanese, including six minors, belonging to a diamond trading family. In the meantime, Kapend had gone on the radio and ordered the commanders of the army, navy and air force to maintain discipline and calm, rankling these officers, who thought such commands to be far above his pay grade. According to this scenario, the Angolans did not instigate the assassination, but found out about it ahead of time and then told their men in Kinshasa – Yav and Kapend – not to intervene. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine the kadogo acting on behest of Angola, as they had few links to Luanda and were much closer to Rwanda. It is, however, equally difficult to believe that only the pro-Angolan officers within the presidency would have discovered the coup plot, given the porous information networks in Kinshasa.
  • Rwanda. There are several indications that Rwanda was directly involved. First, according to the Congolese security services, before fleeing, the Masasu crew admitted to being in cahoots with Kigali. Secondly, when they did flee, along with several affluent Lebanese businessmen, they made their way directly to Rwanda, where they were eventually given influential political and business positions by the government. Lastly, a high-ranking Rwandan security official told me that he had seen Colonel James Kabarebe on the day of the assassination. Kabarebe, who was still running Congo operations for the Rwandan army and would soon be promoted to become head of the army, reportedly slapped him on the shoulder and said: “Good news from Kinshasa. Our boys did it.” The problem with this theory is that, if it had been Rwanda, they certainly didn't take advantage of the situation - no major military activity was reported within the days and weeks after the assassination. Also, if it had been Rwanda, they seriously misjudged the consequences. Laurent Kabila's successor Joseph proved to be much more adept diplomatically than his father, and turned the tide against Rwanda amongst many donors.
Alas, as with some many parts of Congolese history, we will probably never know the answer. What is probably certain is that dozens of innocent people are sitting in Makala prison in Kinshasa for no good reason. I visited Kapend there last year - he has his own cell, with a poster of a Dutch tulip garden hanging over his bed. In the middle of the tulips, he had handwritten: "At the end of the day, both God and I know the truth, and it is that Edy Kapend is innocent." Maybe. Maybe not. But I doubt the Congolese justice system will ever tell us.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nick Kristof on the Congo

Nicholas Kristof just spent a week in the eastern Congo and has begun publishing a series of Op-Eds in The New York Times. This first one is here, and is less than illuminating. He talks about the how women raped and children are orphaned. He says that he has come to the Kivus, "where militias rape, mutilate and kill civilians with a savagery that is almost incomprehensible." Unfortunately, Kristof does not do much in his Op-Ed to make it any more comprehensible. Instead, he slips from one stock image to the next, without providing much explanation at all - in fact, that might be antithetical to the piece, as he states: "This is a pointless war — now a dozen years old — driven by warlords, greed for minerals, ethnic tensions and complete impunity." A pointless war. Perhaps. But does it defy reason? Is there any way to explain in simple terms what the war is about? Here are some suggestions to slip into the piece:

  • The Congo war has many causes, but two on the main ones were the collapse of the Congolese state after 32 years of misrule by a western-backed dictator; and the genocide of 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994, which drove a million people across the border into the Congo, where some of the commanders involved in the genocide still terrorize the Congolese population, along with many new non-genocidaire recruits.
  • In 1996, a Rwandan-backed coalition invaded the Congo to topple the this dictator, Mobutu. After Laurent Kabila came to power on the back of this rebellion, he fell out with his Rwandan backers, who then launched a new rebellion. The war lasted until 2003, when all belligerents joined a transitional government. Elections were held in 2006 and Joseph Kabila was elected president. However, his presidency has been marred by corruption, abuse and state weakness. In the East, former Rwandan allies went back to war, driving an insurrection that morphed through various phases and continues until today.
  • This violence is compounded by struggles over local political and economic resources that often take place along ethnic lines. Faced with a weak state, many ethnic-based militias have emerged. The motives of the fighters vary from self-defense to trying to make money to asserting manhood. [It would be very nice if journalists took more to interview perpetrators and not just victims, it helps to dispel the specter of African savagery.]

This is still hopelessly reductive; the point is, a journalist's job is to provide intelligent context and analysis, to illuminate, not stultify. Some say that it is better that Kristof is writing even these simple tidbits - it helps mobilize interest in the West and people like myself are lost in the stratosphere. I am certainly lost in the stratosphere, but I do think there is a way of writing an Op-Ed that better reflects the conflict's dimensions. After all, it's supposed to be an opinion piece. The only opinion I could find here was: "The Congo is messed up. Please help." Imagine writing a similar piece about America's school system or health care. It would never be published in the NYT.

I am not convinced that just making people care more will solve the problem. After all, caring could lead to bad policy. There is ample precedent for this. Or, people could just shake their head when confronted with such "pointless" violence and throw their hands up in the air.

Kristof also could have spoken about policy. There are currently two pieces of important legislation in Congress on helping to regulate the mining sector in the Congo. The US Defense Department is considering how to help reform the Congolese army through AFRICOM. Several organizations are considering how to intervene to help combat sexual violence through initiatives in the justice sector. This is what an opinion piece is supposed to do: influence opinion and policy. Not reinforce stereotypes.

Maybe I spoke to soon - after all, this is his first piece. Maybe he was just prepping us for cogent policy pieces to come. I certainly hope so.