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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Updates: Kamitatu, $637 million and ministerial discord

A few updates:
  • The Congolese government signed a deal yesterday with its Chinese counterpart for a $637 million loan to rebuild the Zongo II hydroelectric dam in Bas-Congo. The dam is supposed to produce 150 megawatts, a part of the Kinshasa's 1000 megawatt needs. It's not clear what the terms of the loan are.
  • The Alliance pour le Rénouveau (ARC) political party of Planning Minister Olivier Kamitatu announced that they will support incumbent Joseph Kabila for the 2011 elections, but intend to run on their own for the legislative elections. ARC currently has about 5 percent of seats in national elected institutions - 25 MPs, 7 senators and two national ministers.
  • The government appears to becoming more and more dysfunctional - for a second time in the space of a few days, Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito reversed a decision taken by one of his ministers. Two days ago it was the reinstatement of directors of the National Lottery Society, who had been fired by the Minister of State Companies. Several days before that, Muzito had countermanded the decision by the Education Minister to suspend the executive board of the National Pedagogic University (UPN).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Breakthrough in peace talks with armed group in the Kivus

This past week there was a breakthrough in peace negotiations between the national army and the Forces Républicaines Fédéralistes (FRF), a mostly Banyamulenge armed group based in the High Plateau in South Kivu above Uvira and Fizi.

There have been many rounds of talks, led by different envoys from Kinshasa, since the FRF established themselves in the High Plateau in 2005. The group, led by self-proclaimed Generals Venant Bisogo and Michel Rukunda, has never been a serious military threat, fluctuating between 50 soldiers at the beginning and over 500 at the moment. But Congolese army operations against them have often led to causalities and abuses among both civilians and military and have had a serious impact on the humanitarian situation in the High Plateau. The FRF have also played a role in a complex web of alliances that has included the FDLR, various Mai-Mai groups and young Burundian Tutsi.

If this peace deal holds, it will obviously be a good thing.

Why have talks succeeded this time? It is not entirely clear. The terms appear to be favorable to the Banyamulenge insurgency. Bisogo (previously a colonel in the RCD rebellion) and Rukunda (who I believe was a major, but a stanch critic of Rwanda) will be able to keep their ranks of general and their troops will be integrated into 431st brigade that is deployed in the hills close to where their families are. A key condition of their integration (and that of the CNDP before them) had always been that their troops remain in the Kivus.

Perhaps the largest concession they were able to extract from the government is the departure of General Pacifique Masunzu, the Banyamulenge commander of South Kivu's military region where they are located. Masunzu fell out with FRF and has led the often brutal military operations against them since 2005. In addition, Bisigo would become the second in command of South Kivu's military region and Rukunda (who is also known as Mekanika) would become the operational commander in Uvira.

However, the FRF apparently had to drop their demands for back pay and has agreed to hand over all of their stocks of weapons and ammunition. In addition, the contentious status of Minembwe has been deferred for the moment and it seems unlikely - if the peace deal holds - that it will be brought up again. The FRF, along with many other Banyamulenge, had been pushing for the creation of a territory of Minembwe, so they could have had their own administrative services (land and marriage registry, etc.) and electoral district.

Already, a peace ceremony has been held in Minembwe, and some 500 FRF soldiers are reportedly on their way to integrate with the Congolese army. The soldiers are supposed to be deployed in operations against the FDLR. However, there are fears that this will set a strong precedent for other armed groups, and that they will now also be making similar demands. Nonetheless, there were reports of a sizable demobilization of Mai-Mai Cheka, Kingombe and Kifuafua in Hombo, on the border between North Kivu and South Kivu this past week.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Reports that don't often make it to the surface

A friend sent me this paragraph from an internal UN agency report this week.
On 26 January XXXXX received reports that twenty seven women in Kasakwa (29 km southwest of Fizi) claimed to have been raped and looted by FDLR/FOCA on their way back from Milimba market (37 km southwest of Fizi) on 21 January. XXXXX. Meanwhile, the Cmdr of the 4211 FARDC Bn informed PakBatt-3 EWC TOB Lulimba (south of Fizi) on 26 January, that an FARDC Corporal from the   4211 Bn FARDC temporarily attached to the HQ 421 Bde FARDC located at Misisi, raped his own eight year old daughter. The perpetrator is allegedly on the run but is being pursued by the FARDC to face the law.
 Unconfirmed reports, but disheartening nonetheless.

What happened to Stephen Kinzer?

Stephen Kinzer, a staunch supporter of Rwandan President Paul Kagame just published an opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper saying that the country's authoritarian turn is risking its future.

Strange, because less than a month ago, Kinzer published a piece in the same paper, saying that "the authoritarian regime is the best thing that has happened to Rwanda since colonialists arrived a century ago."

Just compare these two passages. In his December piece:
The Rwandan regime has given more people a greater chance to break out of extreme poverty than almost any regime in modern African history – and this after a horrific slaughter in 1994 from which many outsiders assumed Rwanda would never recover....My own experience tells me that people in Rwanda are happy with it, thrilled at their future prospects, and not angry that there is not a wide enough range of newspapers or political parties. 
 The piece published yesterday:
President Kagame should accept the possibility that his judgment may not always be correct, and listen earnestly to Rwandans with different ideas. He still has the chance to enter history as one of the greatest modern African leaders. There is also the chance, however, that he will be remembered as another failed African big-man, a tragic figure who built the foundations of a spectacular future for his country, but saw his achievements collapse because he could not take his country from one-man rule toward democracy.
The motivation for his criticism, he says, are events of recent weeks, and in particular the opposition to the regime by Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa and three other former high-ranking members of the RPF. But the "Rwanda Briefing" he mentions was published in August last year, and the assassination attempt against Gen. Kayumba was in June. Yes, over the last month we have seen the sentencing in absentia of those four former officials, as well as an alliance being forged between Kayumba's Rwandan National Congress and Victoire Ingabire's FDU-Inkingi.

But Kinzer's about face is surprising.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who is buying minerals from the Kivus?

Apparently not many people. President Kabila imposed an export ban on minerals from the Kivus in September of last year; since then, it has been difficult for companies to sell even the ore they have stockpiled in Goma, Bukavu and Kigali. As commodity prices soar on the London Metals Exchange, prices of tin in the region have fallen. One mineral exporter I spoke to even said they had dropped to a third of the world price. This goes not only for Goma, but also for Kigali apparently - the rationale is not just Kabila's export ban but reputational problems for companies and banks involved in the trade. We reported here last year that Malaysia Smelting Corporation, which used to be the largest buyer of Congolese tin, was having problems securing credit on international capital markets due to reputational risks.

So the export ban has fueled smuggling of tin, tantalum and other minerals, but apparently much of the ore is just sitting in warehouses in the region, waiting for better days.

The question is then not only when will Kabila open the trade again, but when will steps be taken to ensure that companies can buy ore from the Kivus without incurring reputational damage?

Slow progress in voter registration

Here are the latest figures I've been able to get from the UN regarding voter registration:

Voter registration has been concluded in Bas-Congo and (partially) in Kinshasa. It is currently ongoing in Maniema and the next provinces will be Kasai Occidental and Katanga, then Bandundu, North and South Kivu, Kasai Orientale, Equateur and then back to Kinshasa to finish updating the electoral roll there.

But will they finish in time? Already, the results have  been meager in some places. In Kinshasa, the revision took place between June 7th and September 1st, but only 1,405,300 people registered - that's about half as many voters registered for the 2006 elections. As a reminder, the electoral commission has asked everyone to re-register. Five years ago, the big draw was that the electoral card also served as an ID card - that is no longer an incentive.

In Bas-Congo, the registration was much more successful. Registration offices were open for 4 months and registered 1,489,350 voters, a good 200,000 more than had previously signed up.

In Maniema, after two months of registration they are only at 409,440 registrations - that's only around 60 percent of the voters registered in 2006. There were two weeks of delays when materials ran out and had to be brought in from Kinshasa. Elsewhere, there have been protests at the lack of registration offices; in North Kivu, these were reduced by half in comparison with 2005/6, meaning many people had to walk much further and with fewer incentives than last time around.

My worry is now that with only ten months to go before elections, the CENI will be hard pressed to register all the voters, clean the lists of duplicates and publish them. They plan to step up registration operations, but with 8 provinces to go, plus another revision of Kinshasa's electoral roll, it will be tight. Until now, they have only done two provinces at a time. My uneducated guess is that they will now have to do four provinces at a time and only for 2 months to have enough time to process all the information and tidy up the lists.

I hope I am wrong.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Regional countries mull over the possibility of joint military action

As previously reported here, Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo met in Kigali last week to discuss the military situation in the eastern Congo. At the end of the meeting, they alleged that a new coalition of rebel groups had formed in the Kivus region, including such unlikely allies such as the FPLC, Mai-Mai Sheka, FDLR, Mai-Mai Yakutumba and FDLR-Soki.

The most controversial allegation to come from the meeting was that two Rwandan dissidents, Col. Patrick Karegeya and Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, are allegedly involved in this new rebel coalition.
While sources from the eastern Congo  certainly confirm sporadic collaboration between the FPLC, Mai-Mai Sheka and the FDLR, the links among the other armed groups and the involvement of the two former Rwandan officers are less clear.

Some sources familiar with the closed-door meeting suggest that the three countries were not just sharing information. Allegedly, new joint military operations on Congolese soil are being discussed. Congo Siasa reported a possible joint operation between the Congolese and Rwandan armies in November, but talk of such a plan subsided as tensions within the CNDP decreased; most importantly, the Congolese government decided not to move ex-CNDP units out of the Kivus, the CNDP political party joined the ruling AMP coalition and some ex-CNDP military ranks were confirmed. The massive recruitment drive that Gen. Bosco Ntaganda had carried out between September and December relented somewhat, although some forced recruitment continues.

Now, Congo Siasa has obtained a copy (available here) of an operational order outlining similar joint operations, dated December 20th, 2010. The document, whose authenticity I have not been able to confirm with the Congolese government but which comes from a reputable diplomatic source in Kinshasa, orders the North and South Kivu commanders to each put together a company of 120 well-trained soldiers by January 6th. Each company is supposed to consist of 40 per cent former soldiers from CNDP and PARECO armed groups, with the rest coming from the regular army. The purpose of the mission: carry out joint military operations. No further details are provided.

It is not clear whether the plan will actually be carried out, and whether this document was indeed signed by Amani Leo commander Gen. Amuli. A military source familiar with the substance of the Kigali confirmed that joint military operations were on the agenda.

The surprising part of this development is that military operations will certainly not be advantageous for President Kabila's public image. It was during the last joint operations that Vital Kamerhe fell out with the president over the deployment of Rwandan troops on Congolese soil. Even if these new deployments - that appear to be quite small, at least on the Congolese side - are kept relatively secret, this is a very delicate subject for the Congolese government during this pre-electoral period.

It is also unclear why a new operation would be launched now. The most obvious reason is that the Rwandan government appears genuinely concerned about a coalition between Gen. Kayumba and rebel groups in the eastern Congo. An international official in South Africa reported to Congo Siasa recently that the South African government was preparing a meeting between Gen. Kayumba and other Rwandan diaspora figures late last year; it is not clear whether the meeting actually took place. Last week, the Rwandan government tried and sentenced Gen. Kayumba and three of his colleagues to long prison sentences in absentia.

It is highly unlikely that the South African government would agree to extradite the former Rwandan officials. The government in Pretoria is still furious over the attempted assassination of Kayumba last year on its soil, allegedly by Rwandan agents. Their ambassador to Kigali was recalled last August and, to the best of my knowledge, has not returned.

Burundi, whose minister of defense participated in the Kigali meeting but is not mentioned in the operational order, is also increasingly concerned about attacks on police, allegedly linked to the re-arming of the FNL rebellion, which is reported to have bases along the border with the Congo on the Rukoko plains.

What would an operation entail? Again, there is little clarity. A diplomat I spoke to in Kinshasa speculated that the governments want to target a small breakaway group of ex-CNDP soldiers loyal to Nkunda and prevent any possible alliance with Gen. Kayumba from congealing.

UNC members arrested, regional military meet

  • According to diplomatic and NGO sources, two members of Kamerhe's UNC party have been arrested in Kindu. According to these sources, the charge against them is insulting the head of state, although one victim says he was initially simply accused of walking in front the PPRD party headquarters with a UNC T-Shirt. He was beaten up by PPRD members before being handed over to the police. This is reportedly the seventh time in a month that a UNC member has been intimidated, arrested or threatened.  
  • A meeting took place in Kigali this week of defense ministers and intelligence officials from Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo. Officials at the meeting denounced a new coalition of armed groups in the region that includes the FDLR, the FPLC, Mai-Mai Yakutumba and Sheka, as well as the participation of Col. Karegeya and Gen. Kayumba and even Al-Shabaab. These two Rwandan dissidents have in the past denied any involvement in military activity. The countries say they will set up various commissions to share information, create extradition agreements and set up a "joint operational protocol for defense and mutual security." It is not clear what this last point means, but according to sources close to the meeting, the countries may once again be considering joint military operations on Congolese soil. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Videos of the main electoral contenders

A few recent interviews of Kamerhe, Tshisekedi and Kabila.

Kamerhe speaks on TeleSud for an hour about himself and Lula, Kabila's deal with Rwanda and how a parallel government runs the country.

Tshisekedi speaks on France 24 about how foreign countries imposed Kabila as winner in 2006 and how some still influence the country today; he also says that he will run in the election because he doesn't want to be accused again of sitting the elections out.

Finally, Kabila can be seen here giving his New Year's 2010/2011 speech. He says "all the fundamentals are in place," "the future has never been so bright," and mentions debt relief and the infrastructure rehabilitation.

For anyone who can get through all those, you are allowed to watch this gem: Bemba and Kabila ice-skating. I seem to remember that their duo in March 2007 in Kinshasa didn't go this well:

Update on elections

I made a few slight mistakes on my previous elections posting -

A total of $98 million has been pledged so far to the electoral process through the Projet d'Appui au Cycle Electorale (PACE) office that is managed by UNDP in Kinshasa. Of that money, $77 million have already been made available. In addition, MONUSCO is currently budgeting for around $80 to $100 million in logistical support to electoral operations.

This does not include money going to NGOs for electoral education - the US government has given $4 million to IFES for this kind of work (although nothing, I believe, to the electoral operations themselves).

So we are better off that I had written with regards to the funding, but fears remain. The US government is making very little funding available for election monitoring, which is why groups such as NDI and Carter Center are having a hard time sending election observation missions. MONUSCO was never granted the additional electoral staff it had asked for and when the time for the new resolution comes in May it will be too late.

This was what one foreign diplomat in Kinshasa wrote me this last week:
Voter registration is so far free of too much fraud, although there are the usual complaints in certain areas that more registration centers are set up in one area or the other. The process is however very slow and the electoral specialists say that the process should be finished at least six months ahead of election day (the whole appeals process takes a long time). The CEI has distributed all the material, but training of their staff is lagging behind. The CENI has finally been accepted in its current composition and we are awaiting the presidential decree. With Pasteur Mulunda leading the show, we are in for a frustrating period.

On the political front, some of the EU members are currently arguing that, with the new rules of the game, their financial commitments will have to be renegotiated.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Updates: CENI, army ranks and remembering LDK

A few stories of interest:
  • The national assembly has finally approved the composition of the new electoral commission (CENI). It will be composed of Ngoy Mulunda, Flavien Misoni, Elisée Nkoy and Matthieu Mpita for the majority AMP; and Jacques Ndjoli, Laurent Ndaye and Carole Kabanga for the opposition. They will now consensually elect a new president to replace Abbé Malu Malu. 
  • I have posted the long list (several thousand) of officers who were recently promoted here. I have not gone through it too rigorously, but (unlike I had previously reported) notorious human rights offenders like Col. Gwigwi, Col. Zimurinda and Col. Ngaruye have all been confirmed as colonels; the commander of the troops who recently sacked Fizi and raped women there, Kibibi Mutware, was confirmed at Lt. Col.
  • Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the assassination of President Laurent-Desiré Kabila. Whatever one may think of him - he was a bombastic but erratic visionary, committed to military solutions even when these were no longer feasible - he was a gifted speaker. Here are some clips:

Spotted in Ivory Coast: Bizima Karaha

Some eyebrows have been lifted recently by the AU's choice of envoy to the Ivory Coast: Raila Odinga, the Kenyan Prime Minister who sort of played the Alassane Ouattara in Kenya's own election fiasco of 2007. Some have wondered how the Kenyan's experience would help persuade Gbagbo to step down.

Well, here's another strange character to be in the delegation: Bizima Karaha, the former head of security for the RCD rebellion after being Laurent Kabila's foreign minister. Bizima has been trying to reinvent himself for quite some time - he was close to getting a high-ranking position in government several times in relation to his role in the CNDP peace talks, but never quite made it. Of late, he has popped up as a key political figure behind Gen. Bosco Ntanganda in Goma. It looks like he finally got a top AU job - although his role in the Odinga delegation is not clear (to me at least). What can the former rebel, who had a nasty reputation during his tenure at the head of the RCD security, teach Gbagbo? And who got him the job - Kabila?

Bizima is the one between Gbagbo and Raila. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Are we prepared for elections?

In theory we are now ten months away from presidential and legislative elections in the Congo, and yet it seems that compared with 2006 there is a lack of urgency and commitment to the process.

We have yet to see the new electoral commission (CENI) inaugurated, as legislators are still bickering about its composition. The revision of the electoral roll is ongoing in the provinces, but there have been many complaints about the lack of registration sites where people can register.

Compared to 2006, when there was a large international mobilization to support and observe the country's first multiparty elections in 40 years, from what I can see, there is little action among donors . The Carter Center apparently doesn't have the funds to set up a long-term observation mission like the one they deployed in 2006. National Democratic Institute (NDI) no longer has an office in Kinshasa, as the US government, its usual donor, has not provided it with funding for this election cycle. Only Open Society Institute (OSI) is trying to see if they can help set up a civil society network to monitor elections, like the RENOSEC and ROPI did in 2006.

As for donor governments, things are pretty precarious. President Kabila asked for $350 million from donors, but I think has only received pledges for $70 million from the European Union/Belgium and $4 million for the US government (I think that money may actually be going to IFES for voter education).

MONUSCO has an electoral division; in their October report to the Secretary-General they said they would ask for an additional $40 million for support to the elections; and the mission has already been providing 2-3 planes a day to the CEI to transport equipment and material around the country. The head of the mission Roger Meese has said repeatedly that elections would be one of his main priorities. However, MONUSCO is also under a budget squeeze, so it may not be able to provide as much support as it would like to.

Admittedly, I don't have all the information - please write in if you have more details about programs or funding to support the elections. In particular, the funding to the elections should be coordinated through the Projet d'Appui au Cycle Electorale (PACE) at the UNDP office in Kinshasa - I haven't been able to find any more precise information about PACE's current funding levels and programming.

Why this apparent lack of interest? Elections are not perceived as so fundamentally historic as in 2006, that is certain. Last time, elections were the culmination of the peace process, everything had been building up to that - and people desperately wanted to bring an end to the clumsy 4+1 power-sharing formula. By contrast, most donors are now in the throes of a financial crisis and the purse strings around the world are being tightened, as current debates in US Congress clearly show.

Also, the stakes of the elections appear lower to many. After all, what's the worst thing that could happen if we don't pay too much attention? Kabila might rig the elections, and many observers don't think that  armed groups and political parties have enough power to stir up too much trouble if that happens. Will the mess that the Congo is be any worse with a rigged election - or any better if a dark horse like Kamerhe wins, potentially destabilizing the country?

Of course, not only is that kind of attitude morally dubious, but we should ask ourselves if the consequences of rigged elections would really be so mild - true, neither Kamerhe or Tshisekedi has an army, and it isn't clear whether either could muster much popular unrest (although those pictures of the crowds going to meet Tshisekedi at the airport might indicate otherwise). But imagine a Congo in which the ruling party controls a large majority in all elected bodies, and not through an ungainly coalition that it has to bribe and coerce in order to get anything done, but - as it currently planned - a more hierarchical system with many fewer political parties.

The argument at the presidency is that such a PPRD-dominated landscape would allow them finally to get the job done, reform the state and promote development without being distracted by dozens of smaller parties and political lobbies. The problem with this argument is that there is little sign that the current government, even when it does have the ability, takes decisive steps towards meaningful reform - at least not in areas such as the security sector.

Is the current mal congolais due to the fragmentation of the political scene or something else, something that has less to do with electoral politics, but rather can be attributed to leadership and internal power dynamics within the upper stratum of decision-making? It seems that in areas such as impunity and security sector reform that the problem lies rather with the obsession with survival in a weak state, coupled the deep distrust in independent institutions - the reason that Gen. Gabriel Amisi, Gen. Olenga or Col. Zimurinda are not arrested followed accusations of corruption and abuse is that such action could prompt an insurgency within the army or a defection of the CNDP. The reason that Kabila's former chief of staff is not fired after his actions lead to a deadly plane crash in Kinshasa is because benefits of disciplining him are seen to outweigh the disadvantages. We should remember that Kabila's first lesson in office - delivered to him by his father's demise - is that you can be easily stabbed in the back by those closest to you.

All this is to say that free elections may not bring development or prosperity - in fact, I doubt they will in the short run. But the alternative is not great, either. And the long-term prospect of reform will be much better in a state with multiple poles of power and wealth than in one dominated by a just a few interest groups.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Videos of Tshisekedi's return

I had been looking for some good video's of the UDPS's leader maximo's return on December 9th, 2010 - I finally found some yesterday. Whatever one may think of Tshisekedi, and bearing in mind that these roads are often full of people, this is very impressive.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Are the amendments to the constitution illegal?

There has been some healthy debate in the comments section (h/t to Rich and Julie M.) on whether the government was in its rights to amend the constitution. On the face of, nothing illegal has been committed -the text of the constitution was more or less followed (aside from some procedural irregularities - they didn't send the revision to the president for comments, etc).

The amendment process is also not in itself too exceptional - the French constitution, for example, also allows for the parliament united in a joint session to change the constitution with a 60% vote (it is much more difficult in the US).

Even some of the content of the proposed revisions is not too outlandish - as I have pointed out here before, countries like Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and the Philippines elect their presidents in a one round, plurality-wins elections.

However, from a more principled stance, the revision is flawed. First, it appears that the government has amended the constitution not in the public interest, but so as to benefit private individuals. Holding just one round of elections will benefit President Kabila, as the vote will largely be a pro- or anti-Kabila vote, and in a one-round election, the opposition will split the anti-Kabila vote, making it easier for the incumbent to win. The justification that a one-round election will save money does not hold water - the country has to hold two rounds anyway so as to carry out provincial elections in February 2012. The other argument, that the country will be polarized by a two-round contest, is more defensible, but does not trump the fact that a one round election will give undue advantage to the incumbent (especially since the opposition is so divided). Also, while the 2006 election was very tense, the violence that did ensue was rarely East vs. West, but more due to local conflicts.

The speed at which the whole vote was carried out was also alarming, given that parliament was revising the founding document of the republic. On this count, the Republic of South Africa has a clause in its constitution that prevents any amendment from being voted on within 30 days of its submission to parliament.

The substance of the revisions are also questionable - some have argued that placing prosecutors under the authority of the ministry of justice violates the independence of the judiciary mandated by the constitution. I will leave this question to the constitutional experts, but in many European systems prosecutors are also appointed by ministries of justice; of course one can argue that those ministries are more accountable than the Congolese one, but at least pro forma they are not too far out in left field.

On the dissolution of provincial assemblies, however, and the removal of governors (after consultation with the council of ministers and parliament) I think they have gone too far. If a provincial assembly is democratically elected, and it then elects governors, the president should not unilaterally be able to remove these officials as he pleases. This was the debate in Pakistan over the years. The dictatorship of Zia allowed the president to dissolve provincial assemblies, a power that was controversial, suppressed by the 13th amendment and then restored by the 17th amendment under General Musharraf.

So the revision of the constitution should have been much more deliberate and thoughtful and should have taken into consideration the spirit of the law, not just the letter.

And, of course, Julie M. is right in pointing out that if MPs were bribed into passing the law, then it was illegal. But how to prove that?

Senate passes the constitutional revision

Another step has been taken to make serious changes to the Congolese constitution: Today, the senate passed the 8 revisions with 71 votes out of 108. Kabila's AMP coalition accounts for roughly 58 senators (give or take a few), and they often get another dozen votes from independent senators. Nonetheless, I didn't expect this to go through so quickly - for a body that takes months to debate insignificant laws, passing a major overhaul of the country's founding document in a few days is disheartening.

They are now saying that the senate and national assembly will be convened tomorrow to vote on the revision together - they have to pass the proposed amendments with 60% of both chambers together, which seems all but certain.

It's important to highlight that this will not just change the electoral system - from a to round run-off system to a one round, plurality-win election - but also gives the president the ability to dissolve provincial assemblies, remove governors and call referenda. The minister of justice will also have official control over the prosecutor's office. In short, the presidency is made more powerful. One can imagine the provincial MPs will be more reluctant to press for decentralization of revenue, as required by the constitution, if the president can kick them out and call a new provincial election. The prosecutors - who are already not known for aggressive steps against abusive officials - will be even more reluctant to press charges against them now.

Such provisions do exist in other constitutions, but in the context of the Congo they will lead to a dangerous centralization of power in the presidency, which has shown little interest thus far in combating impunity and securing its citizens' rights.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The glass is half full

I came across this IMF report on progress made by the Congolese government on its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). It's pretty brazen in its blinkered optimism, but worthwhile glancing at, if only to see what the government will be saying going into the election campaign. The figures are for 2009, but many are relevant today.

They include somewhat ridiculous statements like:

With respect to security, operations successfully reestablished peace and the government’s authority in the eastern and western parts of the country (the Goma peace accord, the Amani Programme for the Security, Pacification, Stabilization and Reconstruction of the Kivu Provinces, the joint Umoja Wetu operation with Rwanda, Kimia I and II, Operation Amani Leo, and the assimilation (brassage), disarmament, demobilization, and integration of ex-combatants).  
This is for 2009, mind you, when military operations displaced a million people in the Kivus and killed thousands of civilians.

But there were also some real accomplishments, although I would emphasize that this is apparently a ministry of planning (Olivier Kamitatu) report, not an IMF one, letterhead notwithstanding:

There was an Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) report; the repair of several turbines at the Inga dam, as well as the installation of power facilities in Kananga and Kindu; the modernization and regularization of fiscal management (they apparently brought emergency expenditures under the regular budgetary process); the construction and repair of courts, prisons and administrative buildings.

Here are some other figures we are sure to hear more of soon:

  • Primary school enrollment went from 64% to 84% between 2006 and 2008 (sounds a bit too miraculous)
  • Under five mortality was reduced from 172 to 148 per thousand over the same period
  • Maternal mortality fell from 1,289 to 944 per 100,000 between 2001 and 2008
  • 22,900 kilometers of roads were completed (both paved and non-paved)
  • 12,000 children working in mines were removed
The report is obviously heavily spun and leaves out the huge failures to provide services, combat impunity and restore peace. Most of the initiatives that the government claims responsibility for were largely planned and executed by foreign partners and donors. 

I find it a bit objectionable that the IMF would publish such a document under its own letterhead - it takes a few seconds to realize that this is really a Congolese document. I guess all in the name of local ownership and collaboration. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Addendum: Constitutional Revision

The exact vote count (h/t Rich) on the constitutional revision was 334 for, 1 against and 2 abstentions. The rest of the MPs apparently walked out in protest.

For those looking for the actual proposed revisions, you can find them in two parts here and here along with the government's justification. They have proposed revising eight articles:

  • the election of the president (one round instead of two)
  • allowing MPs who become ministers and then lose their job to go back to being MPs
  • allowing the government to obtain provisional credits if the budget isn't voted in time
  • placing the prosecutor's office (parquet) under the authority of the minister of justice
  • allowing the president to dissolve the provincial assemblies and revoke governors
  • giving the power to the president to call a referendum
  • postponing the creation of 26 provinces out of the current 11

Constitutional revision passed in the national assembly

The news just in from Kinshasa: The constitutional revision passed the national assembly today with 350 out of 500 votes. The Palais du Peuple got a bit chaotic when a fistfight broke out on the podium between opposition and majority MPs, but the vote eventually passed. Already there are accusations that the votes were bought in order to make this one of the fastest legislative acts of the national assembly (talk of $20,000 per MP) - it passed in just a few days, and apparently violated legal process as it was not sent to the government for comments before adoption.

Three hundred and fifty is pretty impressive, for more than the official total of AMP members in parliament - apparently they even got a few MLC members to vote for the revision, which again elicited accusations of bribery.

The proposed revision must now go to the senate. Given, however, that the current session closes in two days, some MPs doubt that the senate will have time to pass the revision and will have to take it up again in March when it comes back from vacation. But Kabila's AMP only needs 51% of the vote there, which is should have, and then 60% in a joint session of both chambers, which it should have, as well.

So what were the changes? I believe there were 18 articles put forward for changes, but I haven't seen the full list yet. The most important change was of course in the electoral system - the president is now elected by a plurality vote in one round of elections instead of two. He can win even with 15% or 20% of the vote, as long as he's ahead of his competitors.

Other changes include giving the minister of justice authority over the prosecutor's office, a power that exists in many other countries but that the Congolese constitution had thus far prevented - I am sure that critics will also claim that this change is anti-constitutional, as per Article 220 the independence of the judiciary cannot be tampered with through constitutional revisions.

The creation of 26 provinces out of the 11 current ones - a process known as découpage - has also been put on hold. Even though the constitution still says that these provinces will be created (Article 2), the period of 3 years over which this must be done (that has expired) has been removed.

Other changes are in the budgetary process (the president can ask for temporary credits if the budget isn't adopted in time) and in allowing the president to dissolve the provincial assemblies and revoke governors.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bad omens for the electoral season

The New Year has not kicked off well in the Congo. At least in electoral terms. After Vital Kamerhe was prevented from holding rallies in Goma and Bukavu - authorities argued that the campaign season had not yet begun - the opposition in Kinshasa was briefly prevented from meeting in Kinshasa to discuss a joint stance on the proposed constitutional revision (they eventually met and denounced it).

Then, a journalist for the CCTV TV station was reportedly arrested in Bas-Congo after organizing a debate on Kabila's presidency (the governor's office says he was arrested for other reasons). In Uvira, a journalist was arrested for ten days following a radio program during which he criticized the president and the local administrator. Another journalist who participated in the same program has been living in hiding since then.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Kash on the Congo

Kash Thembo is hands down the best Congolese caricaturist. He has just released a new book, which you can order here:

The book has texts by Pascal Kambale, a veteran Congolese human rights activist and co-founder of AZADHO, and an introduction by Professor Yoka Lye, a prominent Congolese satirist.

To whet your appetite, here are a few recent Kash drawings.

A bar fight leads to pillage and rape in Fizi

New Year's Day in Fizi, South Kivu, brought bad news and gave an idea about how stupid and arrogant the violence in the Kivus has sometimes become.

A argument broke out in a bar between a Congolese army soldier and a civilian, reportedly over a woman.  The soldier shot the other man in the abdomen, which then prompted a mob to lynch the soldier. As retaliation, the local army battalion went on a rampage in town, raping and looting the village. Various reports suggest that between 10 and 29 women were raped and at least two people were killed. Much of the population fled to the surrounding areas. A delegation led by South Kivu Governor Marcellin Cisambo and MONUSCO arrived in Fizi on January 7th and the UN is deploying peacekeepers to the town. The population has asked for the army headquarters of the 43rd Sector to be relocated away from Fizi.

All this because of a bar fight?

Policy recommendations for an election year

I was in Washington this past week to participate in a brainstorming session on the Congo at the State Dept. I was asked to give a 5 minute presentation on what US policy should be - here it is, in an expanded version. Feedback is, as always welcome.

The overwhelming issue this year will be elections. This election will be in many ways more difficult and challenging than the 2006 election. Then, the incumbent was likely to win (and he did), the business and political establishment just wanted stability and the biggest rebel threat (RCD) had been marginalized.

This time, although there has been no reliable polling and grassroots proclivities are hard to intuit, Kabila would be likely to lose a free and fair vote, given that he is probably no more popular in the West and his popularity has frayed in the war-torn East. His main strategy has been to marginalize or suppress any viable alternative. It appears ever more likely that there is a popular alternative in the form of a Kamerhe-Tshisekedi-Bemba coalition, although there are substantial tensions among these figures. 

Even if Kabila succeeds in changing the constitution to a one-round plurality vote (which he may well do), he could lose even then. This will prompt him first to try to repress the opposition, leading to abuses, assassinations and silencing of the media. A indication of this was provided when Vital Kamerhe visited the Kivus a few weeks ago – the crowd that had come to welcome him was shot upon, killing one and injuring many others; his rallies were broken up. Flawed elections could lead to anything from a Nigerian 2007 situation – where rigging led largely to shoulder shrugging – to a Kenya 2007 or Ivory Coast 2010, with much more dire consequences. But I think we can all agree that rigging would be a bad thing.

It is imperative that the US strengthen its engagement during this election year. That means several things. First and foremost, we need to fund the elections. Only then will donors be able to have a say if abuses arise. At the moment, my understanding is that the US in particular has not contributed much to the electoral process – the Congolese have asked for $350 million, we have only offered around $5 million so far, in contrast to the EU's’ $70 million. We should remember that lack of funding is Kabila’s excuse to change the constitution in favor of a one-round election. In addition to funding, we need to make sure that everything is in place to ensure election transparency: a strong civil society monitoring group, a thorough review of the electoral roll, public counting of ballots at polling stations, a better media monitoring body, and so on. If we remember back to the 2006 elections, these safeguards were already being set up a year before the polls.

Secondly, we need a coordinated way of engaging with the Congolese government if problems arise, as they surely will. In 2006, the CIAT played an important role, with SRSG Bill Swing particularly actively before and after the elections in resolving disputes. We want to avoid calling anything CIAT this time around, as we are dealing with a sovereign, democratically elected government, but donors should create a formal or informal working group that is willing to engage with Kabila publicly on these issues as they arise. In addition, the African Union could be very valuable in the electoral process (cf. Ivory Coast) by already now appointing an envoy, a position that the US could help fund.

Now to the East. Things have been relatively calm in recent months, but looks should not deceive. While I do not think that there will be another crisis in the nest few months or possibly year (one never knows), the current daily levels of pillage, rape and extortion are unacceptable. Solving this will largely be a question of security sector reform, but there are also regional political imperatives.

The CNDP integration has been a human right failure but a relative political success. While they maintain parallel chains of command throughout the Kivus and in particular in the Masisi highlands, these chains of command are confused and often linked to immediate financial gain; there is no overall commander of the troops, even within the pro-Nkunda faction. There was a real chance of escalation in October/November, when CNDP officers were upset about their lack of official ranks within the Congolese army and in particular about the possibility that they would be asked to leave the Kivus, possibly by the Rwandan army. There was a spate of serious recruitment of over 1,200 soldiers, including of many children. However, since then the CNDP has officially joined the AMP ruling coalition, the threat of removing them from the Kivus has been benched, and the ranks of some (not many) officers were confirmed this week. Almost as important, the Rwandan government is afraid enough of an alliance between RPF dissidents and the FDLR in the Kivus that they will do their best to prevent the CNDP from starting a new rebellion that they couldn’t control.

As for the FDLR – they are weakened and increasingly seeking coalitions with Mai-Mai and other militia. They have lost many of their officers, as well as their international spokesmen and some reports put their strength as low as 3,000. They have sought out a coalition with the FNL, which is reconstituting itself in the Rukoko plain on the Burundi/Congo border. Some reports – although we need to treat these with great caution, as Kigali may be trying to discredits its rivals – suggest that Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa has contacted various armed groups in the East. This is very worrying – I doubt they would plan to launch a conventional attack on Rwanda, but they could try to destabilize the country in order to further fragment the RPF regime and promote a palace coup. As I have said many times before, much more can be done in terms of brokering individual deals with FDLR commanders to return to Rwanda. MONUSCO has recently begun this kind of work, but the Rwandan government is the key party in this, as they can provide security assurances, ranks in their army and other incentives for commanders to leave the bush. And, with their fear that Gen. Kayumba is reaching out to the FDLR (whether this is true or not), Kigali may be more receptive to a more proactive stance on bringing the FDLR home.

Overall, the humanitarian situation in the Kivus remains precarious. IDP levels rose sharply in South Kivu in 2010, although falling slightly in North Kivu. There were more attacks against NGOs and UN staff in the last year than in either of the preceding ones.  There are still over 1,3 million people displaced in these two provinces. Reports of pillage and rape continue on a daily basis for anyone reading MONUSCO reports.

This state of affairs will only change by getting rid of non-governmental militia and reforming the security sector, including the judiciary. This is a long, political process. On the one hand the government will be more interested than ever in beginning these reforms now, as Kabila wants to improve his stature before the elections. But there will also be opposition – he will not want to create any more enemies – especially in his military and police, or in Kigali – in the run-up to a volatile period.

Little has happened on SSR in the past years, despite consistent promises by donors that this will be a priority. Donors have acted bilaterally, training individual battalions that then often disintegrate once they are deployed. The US has provided welcome training to one battalion and to military justice staff. But the problem is not just a lack of training – although that is a problem – but above all a problem of political will and institutional capacity. We should remember that Mobutu’s officers were trained at Saint Cyr (France), Fort Bragg (USA), Sandhurst (UK) and Nanjing (China).

For meaningful reform, we need a comprehensive plan for SSR rather than donors working in a piecemeal approach as they currently are. Donors need to sit together with the government and legislature to draft a major SSR plan that will build barracks and training schools, computerize their record keeping and inventory, support parliamentary oversight and a functional auditing system and create a strong and professional military justice system. While this may seem unrealistic in an era of fiscal crunch – we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade – this is the only way of really tackling impunity and the grinding abuse that affects millions of Congolese.

If you decide that such central and rooted reform is impossible, the next best option is to work on reforming the army in the Kivus. Such an approach would also require a large investment and a comprehensive plan with the government, but would focus on short term capacity building projects in military justice reform, barrack building and a streamlining of the very confused and corrupt chain of command in North and South Kivu. This is political, as it would deprive many units of their corrupt cash flows – in particular the ex-CNDP units – and would need serious political engagement with the governments of both Kigali and Kinshasa.

Any approach would have to put a premium on tackling impunity. First and foremost, we should work with the Congolese government to arrest some of the major abusers – Gen. Bosco, Col. Zimurinda, Col. Gwigwi to name just a few. One could draw on the profiling work currently being done by MONUSCO for a more thorough-going, yet improvised vetting operation in the Kivus. Such arrests – or, in some cases, just administrative sanctions and suspension – would require serious engagement with Kigali and Kinshasa, as Kigali in particular as a vested stake in the Bosco wing in particular, a stake that has increased since they have become more fearful of Gen. Kayumba’s influence in the East. But it must be done.

The other action that can have an immediate impact on improving the lives of civilians is cantoning soldiers. We have upwards of 40,000 soldiers in the Kivus, many of whom live off the backs of the local population. While both STAREC and ISSS were trying to build barracks, these projects have faltered due both to lack of donor engagement and government inertia. We need to jumpstart this – especially with the polls coming up, we don’t need tens of thousands of soldiers intimidating voters.

This is probably the right point to mention conditionality. Sustainable solutions will only come from the Congolese people and their leaders, but the international community, which has at times been part of the problem, should provide support for these solutions. For this, the US government and other donors need leverage. And yet, we have been reluctant to use our financial power as leverage. Donors contribute to roughly half of the Congo’s $6,5 billion budget; around 1/3 of that is from the Chinese now, but 2/3 is still mostly from the IMF, World Bank and bilateral donors. Around $700 million of that is budgetary aid. There was a good attempt to create such conditionality through the governance compact in 2006, but even though that was adopted by the national assembly, there was almost no follow up. Since then, we have squandered much of our leverage by giving away debt relief and providing billions in funding without conditionality that goes beyond narrow fiscal responsibility. If we are serious about political reform, about combating sexual violence, about promoting a stable and equitable society, then we should use our financial leverage in both the Congo and neighboring countries to do this.

Lastly, a brief mention of conflict minerals, as this is an area where the US has taken the lead and deserves praise. Despite my admiration for these efforts, however, I doubt that the due diligence efforts of the OECD, the US administration or the ICGLR will have much impact if there is not better information coming from the field. In other words, if the entire due diligence system is premised on knowing which minerals are linked to human rights abuses, if we do not have this information in the field, all efforts will be in vain. Auditors from Price Waterhouse Coopers or other companies will go to Goma and Bukavu, only to be utterly confused by the complexity and opacity of the minerals trade there. And it is very difficult to know exactly which companies are buying from where, and a lot of vested interests in keeping that information secret. The US government can perform a very valuable function by investing in an oversight mechanism that would work with the Congolese government to provide information that can be used by prosecutors, auditors and companies. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Controversy in Kinshasa as Kabila Tries to Change the Constitution

Talk of changing the constitution and electoral law in the Congo is now mounting, with the national assembly debating the issue and parties tallying their members' votes to see whether they can win the vote. Yesterday, Congo's Catholic Cardinal Monsengwo came out in opposition to one of the more controversial reforms, which would make the presidential race into a single-round plurality vote. But it looks like President Kabila might have the votes to push through the reform anyway.  

What is at stake exactly? President Kabila has long said that he wanted to change the way representatives are elected. In particular, he and his associates have complained that it is difficult to push through the necessary reforms with 70 different  political parties in the national assembly alone, which has resulted in endless horse-trading and bribery. The ruling AMP coalition therefore has proposed to changing the electoral law to what they are calling a majoritarian system - this means that MPs will be elected based on lists determined by their political party and not as individuals.

Let's take an example - the Lukunga electoral district of Kinshasa currently has 14 seats in the national assembly. In 2006, voters elected their MPs individually, with several parties obtaining seats in Lukunga. If the proposed change goes through, the district would still have 14 votes, but voters would elect the MLC or PPRD or ARC list instead of individuals. If the MLC wins 50% of the vote, then they get all 14 seats. If they have less than that, under the proposed law, they would split the seats proportionally - they might get 4, PPRD 4 and ARC 6, for example. 

This proposal might not get through, as many current MPs, who would have to vote on these changes, fear that this list-based system would give too much power to the party leadership. Especially the smaller parties could suffer, as the PPRD is aiming at using its muscle and cash to dominate the upcoming elections, thereby eliminating many of the smaller parties that would only get through if they made an official alliance with another party (in which case they would have to cede some of their power and autonomy) or if no one in the district got the necessary 50% of the vote. 

This, however, is not the controversial reform. President Kabila has made waves by asking for the presidential election to be held as a one-round, plurality vote. This means that the candidate with the most votes in the first round gets elected, even if he only has 15% of the vote. This is what Cardinal Monsengwo has denounced a undemocratic. It is a smart move - Kabila would probably lose a fair two-round election in which his opponents would form an alliance and present one candidate in the run-off. This happened in the Ivory Coast, for example, an election that has struck fear in the heart of the ruling Congolese coalition. It would also save the government a lot of money, which has been their main selling point - they argue that up to half of the costs could be saved. 

In a one-round election, however, Kabila's opponents would split the anti-Kabila vote among themselves and the incumbent could still muddle his way to victory, as he knows that it is unlikely that Kamerhe and Tshisekedi, the strongest candidates for the opposition at the moment, would run on a joint ticket in the first round. If Congolese elections were issue-based elections, this system may not be so bad. But in the Congo, the vote is often based on approval or rejection of the incumbent alone - in this context, the proposed system would favor the incumbent Kabila, as the main policy issue in the election is whether you approve of the incumbent or not, and the anti-incumbent vote would be split in two, giving Kabila a much better chance at winning. This means that 60% of the population could vote against Kabila (30% Kamerhe, 30% Tshisekedi), but he would still win. Even worse, Kamerhe could win 20% in the Kivus, Tshisekedi 20% in the Kasais and Kinshasa, a gaggle of other candidates 30% in the rest of the country and Kabila could get elected with 21%, purely Katangan votes. 

These changes would not be unconstitutional - although some might argue that they go against the spirit of the constitution. Congo's constitution is relatively easy to amend - you only need 60% of the votes in parliament, and the AMP thinks it can rally these easily. Also, other countries in the world have a similar system, in particular countries in Latin America - Mexico, Nicaragua (although I believe you need at least 35% of the vote there), Paraguay - but also the Philippines and Seychelles. So the revision of the constitution and electoral law would be legal, but it could very well end up producing an unrepresentative vote. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011: Election year in the Congo

Elections will trump everything else in Congolese politics in 2011. Joseph Kabila will have to fight for his survival. He is vulnerable in much of the country, even in his Kivutian heartland. The fight will be all the more difficult if his main challengers - Tshisekedi, Bemba (or whoever he endorses) and Kamerhe - are able to forge an alliance, as they appear to be trying to do.

Two things happened in the first days of 2011 that will have an impact on this dynamic. First and foremost, the parliament has begin to discuss a possible change to the electoral code that would get rid of the a presidential run-off election. This means that whoever wins a plurality of the vote in the first round would win, meaning that Kabila would not have to face a Tshisekedi-Bemba-Kamerhe alliance, but would merely have to get more votes than each of them alone. He could possibly - depending on the wording of the law - win with 30% of the vote, for example.

The second development has been the promotion of 14,280 officers and NCOs in the Congolese army - a huge number of promotions for an army of around 160,000 soldiers. Pundits in Kinshasa are linking this to the elections, of course, suggesting that the president wants to maintain the loyalty of his officer corps at this critical juncture.

In particular, analysts point to the integration of CNDP troops in the Kivus - CNDP officers have long grumbled about the fact that their ranks (there had been serious rank inflation under the CNDP regime) had not been confirmed, as they had demanded during the peace negotiations. According to one high-ranking Congolese army source, 8 CNDP officers have been promoted/confirmed to be full colonels, including Innocent Gahizi, Innocent Kabundi, Claude Mucho, Sultani Makenga, Faustin Muhindo and Baudouin Ngaruye. This is, however, fewer than the 18 that had been agreed upon during negotiations with Kinshasa high command six months ago.

Why is this important? The CNDP has wide-ranging influence in the Kivus due to their deployment for Kimia II and Amani Leo operations, and they can stir up trouble, intimidate political parties and secure economic interests. In short, they are a force to be reckoned with. Already, there were rumors that Vital Kamerhe benefited from CNDP protection during a visit to Goma a few weeks ago (they say that they are being smeared by Kabila's security services).  

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Some thoughts about the SEC draft regulations for conflict minerals

As required by last year's Dodd-Frank bill, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has come out with proposed regulations for US companies trading in minerals from Congo and surrounding countries. 

I have not read the whole bill - the 113 pages did not fit into my packed Christmas schedule - but a few things do spring to mind.

First and foremost, this a bill that is intended not so much to have the government regulate the mineral trade, but to provide the tools and information for concerned citizens and the press to do so. The SEC does not specify what exactly a company must do to determine whether it is sourcing its minerals from the Congo ("a reasonable country of origin inquiry") or what steps it should take to make sure the minerals coming from the Congo are not fueling conflict. It simply requires companies to say what that have done to find out from where there minerals are sourced. It would then be up to the court of public opinion to punish those companies who do trade in conflict minerals.

The SEC, however, does reserve the right to review companies' due diligence process and to judge them insufficient or unreliable. They suggest that companies could use standards such as those developed by the OECD. 

In any case, the burden is on companies to prove that their minerals do not come from the Congo. If they are unable to prove this, they will have to submit a "Conflict Minerals Report" to the SEC and will have to pay an independent auditor to review its report and make the report and the audit public on its website. 

One problem raised by this laissez-faire attitude is that companies would simply submit a report saying that they sent people into the field, but were unable to find any evidence that companies they buy from are trading in conflict minerals. Given the opacity of the minerals trade in the Kivus, they could even carry out fairly rigorous due diligence without finding any wrong-doing. Auditors flown in from Nairobi or Washington would be hard-pressed to figure out much in the muddle of Kivu politics. This just highlights the importance of independent body doing in-depth investigations into companies and armed groups in the Kivus - something like the UN Group of Experts, but with much more manpower (the UN panel only has one person working on conflict minerals) and access to company information. Bottom line: without good knowledge of local criminal networks, the best due diligence will not produce much. 

Another possible problem with the proposed regulations is that they, as the Dodd-Frank bill, say that they will define "armed group" in accordance with the State Department's human rights reports. While the Congressmen who drafted the legislation have said that by armed group they definitely meant the Congolese army, as well, some lobbyist are now apparently contesting that. The latest UN Group of Experts report highlights the importance of the Congolese army in the criminalization of the minerals trade; it would be a huge disappointment if companies felt they could buy minerals taxed and controlled by Congolese army units, who now control many of the Kivu's most lucrative mines. 

The footnotes in the proposed regulations also tell an interesting story: A lot of lobby groups have written to the SEC to express their support or skepticism about due diligence, many more of these groups, actually, than NGOs. 

Finally, there are some funny calculations in the draft about how much due diligence could cost. They suggest that up to 20% of the world's tantalum comes from the DRC, so therefore 20% of minerals-consuming companies in the US would be concerned: a total of 1,199 companies. But what if all companies in the US used tantalum from the Congo to the tune of 20% of their supply? In any case, they only use this figure to speculate about how much due diligence might cost the industry - they use the mean of a figure provided by NGOs ($25 million) and by the industry ($8 million) and come up with $16.5 million. They then add to that the amount a private sector audit of the Conflict Minerals Report would cost - only $25,000 per company, a very low figure that suggest that auditors would not have to go into the field - and  multiply by 1,199 companies: $29,975,000. Together with the due diligence, that totals $46,475,000 for the whole industry. Pretty funny math, if you ask me, even if it's just to get a ballpark figure. 

Anyway, this is just a draft. The SEC welcomes comments until the end of January. You can email them at:

News for the New Year: An unjust budget, Kabila's speech and Chinese prostitutes

Congo Siasa is back after the Christmas vacation. There was not much action in the Congo during the holidays - as opposed to previous years, when there had been LRA massacres and CNDP offensives. The short-staffed UN mission (many officials go away on vacation at this time of year) breathed a sigh of relief.

A few stories of interest, nonetheless:

  •  Veteran Congolese human rights activist Pascal Kambale had a good column in Le Potentiel newspaper that analyzed the Congolese budget. How can Kabila, he asks, say that there will be "Zero Tolerance" for impunity in the country and then allocate a measly 0,1% of the budget, a mere $6,7 million, to the justice sector? The state prosecutor's office has just over $1 million to hunt down and arrest criminals, less than the budget of the somewhat redundant ministry of parliamentary relations. The anti-corruption cell has a budget ($141,621) that is fifteen times smaller than the Bureau of Personal Services for the President. Kambale also highlights some of the more ridiculous budgetary lines: over $1,2 million for the upkeep of the prime minister's residence, $60,000 for "clothing" for the ministry of culture and arts, and $60,000 for the same ministry's food and drink budget (whereas the ministry of justice only got $5,000 for the same budget line). 
  • The president gave a New Year speech to the nation that was broadcast via radio and television. You can find it here. It was pretty vague and pollyannish (he said that never had the country's prospects been as good as in 2010), which annoyed some Congolese - see an opinion piece here from Congoindependant. Alex Engwete had a some thoughts here, as well as this report of an incident at parliament: 
Earlier on during the day, at a Senate hearing--and I commend senators and MPs for working on New Year's Eve--the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education was confronted by senators over the "achievement" being claimed by the government of "free primary education for all children!" It did however transpire from the hearing that the claim of free primary education is at best a pipe-dream or at worst a practical joke at the expense of Congolese citizen. Many parents, fleeced by schools, have already given up on educating their kids--in a country with 96% unemployment rate! 

  •  Finally, on a lighter note, the Chinese government carried out a sting operation together with the Congolese police on a karaoke bar in Kinshasa. Apparently 11 Chinese prostitutes had been trafficked there and were working for the establishment. However, they ladies of the night refused the offer to return to Chinese - the $100 they got per customer (half went to the bar) was apparently better than they could get back home.