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, December 28, 2009

Mob justice in Bukavu

This week there was another case of mob justice in Bukavu. On December 20th, a gang of thieves robbed and killed the student Justin BAHATI as he was walking home in the Kadutu neighborhood. The culprits are were one of the more notorious gangs in town, called "The Finders." Apparently, they insisted that he give them his bag with his laptop computer - he refused, as the bag contained his senior thesis that he was finishing to graduate from the ISP (Superior Pedagogic Institute, the teacher's college). In the ensuing tug-o-war, he thieves stabbed him and left him to die. He was rushed to the hospital, but succumbed to his wounds the following morning.

Students in Bukavu tend to stick together - under the RCD occupation, they used to burn tires in the streets and lead demonstrations, especially to protect one of their own. (Unfortunately, when it comes to sustained political pressure, the various student unions always seem to be co-opted by the authorities). This time, they held true to their reputation. A group of students rushed down to the nearby police station, where the alleged killers were being held. According to the human rights group ICJP, the students threatened to burn down the market if the police didn't hand over the bandits. They finally complied, handing over 14 members of the Finders, who were taken to the ISP campus. There, on the street in front of the school, one of the thugs was doused with gasoline and set alight when he tried to flee. The others were taken to the basketball court that is surrounded by student dorms and severely beaten with stones, sticks and knives. (See here for Radio Okapi's version of the events.)

This is not the first time such mob justice has taken place in Bukavu. This year alone, there have been at least four other such incidents in town. On August 26, a mob caught the leader of a gang of thugs in Kadutu and beat him to death. Several days later, a thief was captured by the population in the Ibanda neighborhood and stoned to death. Around the same time, a group of youths almost killed a Congolese army colonel who was lurking about a round-about in Kadutu with an AK-47 in civilian clothes. On November 4, two alleged robbers were captured by a local mob in Kadutu and burned to death.

It is not surprising that people would take justice into their own hands. No one has any faith in the justice system - most of the people in jail have not been sentenced or even charged due to lack of funds and the torpor of the judicial system; those who have been sentenced often escape. A few examples:
  • In July last year, one of the alleged killers of journalist Serge Maheshe escaped from Bukavu prison during a Catholic mass held there.
  • On November 24 of this year, the alleged assassin of Didace Namujimbo, another Radio Okapi journalist, escaped from the jail cell of the 10th military region in Bukavu just five days after his arrest.
  • Also in November 2009, 90 prisoners escaped from the Kindu prison in Maniema province.
  • Two army officers, a major and a colonel, escaped from the Bukavu prison on 9 January 2009. They had been arrested for treason and leading a rebel movement.
  • On August 1, 2007, 115 of the 155 prisoners of the Uvira prison escaped. On April 9, 2009, 222 of the 225 inmates of the same prison were freed by armed gunmen.
  • 24 prisoners escaped from the Mbandaka prison on July 15, 2007 after they noticed that the three prison guards had left their posts. Between 10 and 15 escapes are registered each month in the Mbandaka prison.
  • Several high-ranking CNDP officers escaped from Bukavu prison in July 2006, including Colonel Jean-Pierre Biyoyo, who had been sentenced for child recruitment.
The most famous prison break was probably the escape of the alleged assassins of President Laurent Kabila from the Makala prison in 2001. According to some of the people at the prison who were there at the time, they walked out of the prison to a waiting car, which then took them to a boat they used to cross the river to Congo-Brazzaville. Not even the assassins of the president are safely locked away.

Little wonder, therefore, that if you really want to punish someone, you execute the sentence yourself. It will take years to change this attitude; above all, it will require serious reforms of the judicial system. For this, the government will have to spend more than the 1% of its budget (around $6 million per year) that it current allocates to the ministry of justice.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The CNDP negotiate with a new man at their helm

The CNDP are currently negotiating their participation in the national government, according to Radio Okapi, which could mark a step towards cementing the political deal the CNDP had signed in March 2009 - they recently wrote a letter to the Kinshasa government complaining that none of the promises contained in that deal had been implemented. It's actually a fairly comprehensive list of demands, including positions for their cadres in the administration, the integration of the CNDP police force, the creation of local reconciliation committees and the holding of a tripartite meeting between Rwanda-DRC-UNHCR for the return of refugees (most of whom are Tutsi) from Rwanda.

It is, however, unlikely that even if the CNDP get what they want, their soldiers will be completely integrated into the national army. The incentives for them to maintain a parallel militia is too great, and even if they get positions and guarantees, these are not worth much given how unreliable the Congolese government is.

In the meantime, here is some more information about the CNDP's new president, Philippe Gafishi:

He was born in 1966 in Mema, Masisi and is a member of the Gogwe clan of the Tutsi. He got his bachelor's degree in statistics in Lubumbashi and then went on to study in Yaounde, Cameroon. He has lectured in statistics at universities in Kigali and Goma, and has served as a statistician for several ministries in Rwanda. He has also served as a consultant for several UN agencies and international aid groups. He has not been involved in politics until now and was not a member of either the AFDL or RCD rebellions. He does have close family ties to politicians, however: His brother is Mpumuro, the former bourgomestre of Mutara in Rwanda and the former editor of the RPF radio station. Gafishi's brother-in-law is Colonel Wilson Nsengiyumva, a CNDP officer close to Bosco Ntaganda

Monday, December 21, 2009

Finally, a solution for "conflict minerals"

In my continuing series on "What's for Christmas" blog, today I feature...drones!

Yes, folks, that's right. The Kinshasa government has cut the Gordian knot in the Kivus, slicing through the complexities of natural resources & conflict and has decided: drones are the way to go.

A bit of explanation is necessary. The Congolese Vice-Minister of Mines Victor Kasongo, who is said to wield considerably more influence than his boss in the ministry, has been visiting the US for the past few weeks. His trip was prompted by increased pressure on the Congolese government to put some order in the mining sector in the Kivus region, where various armed groups make millions in profits from the minerals trade. In particular, the government is worried that two bills in the US Congress will lead big companies to boycott Congolese minerals. Kasongo flew to Washington to reassure congressmen that the government is taking this very serious. Among the plans the government has is to use drones to take high-quality pictures of mining sites in the eastern Congo. Kasongo said that the government has looked at some US drones, but thinks they're not good enough, so they are currently considering some Israeli ones. (Israeli has previously provided weapons and training to President Kabila, as detailed here in a 2003 UN report; Congolese officials have close links to the Israeli establishment through businessmen like Dan Gertler, as suggested by this article.)

What would these drones do? This is not exactly clear. How could images, even very detailed ones, help establish the connection between armed groups and the international mining supply chain? They could help establish which mining sites are occupied by soldiers, but they would have a hard time showing whether these soldiers belong to the Congolese army or rebel groups. As the UN reports have shown, the complex and clandestine links between politicians, business and armed groups are difficult to trace and involve human intelligence gathering, not drone overflights. However, when the issue of setting up an independent monitoring team, Kasongo was reportedly dismissive in one meeting in DC, suggesting that drones could do this job. One must wonder whether the Congolese government might not spend its paltry budget on better things. Apparently civilian U.A.Vs (unmanned aerial vehicles) cost between $80,000 and $3 million.

Merry Christmas, Congo.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kabila's visit to the East

Kabila has been on a PR-blitz recently, visiting much of the country, including restive Equateur & the Kasais - both areas favorable to the opposition - and, this week South and North Kivu. In Bukavu this week, he chaired a meeting of the council of ministers and gave a speech to the population about insecurity and the FDLR operations. South Kivu has changed dramatically since he was elected with 98% of the vote there in 2006. Infrastructure projects have only made slow progress and, above all, insecurity has spiraled out of control. This month, the headlines were full of the attacks against the Catholic church. A nun and a priest were murdered by FDLR and other unknown bandits in Kabare and Murhesa, two parishes north north of Bukavu. Here is a list of incidents the Catholic church brought to the president's attention:

  • CIHERANO (Walungu): Attack and looting of church, kidnapping of priest and seminary student at 20 o'clock, October 3, 2009. The next day they were freed after paying a ransom of $5,000.
  • · NYANGEZI (Kabare) : On October 5, 2009, the school run by the Marist Brothers was attacked and looted.
  • · KABARE : Attacks of the Mukongola hosptial, two doctors were seriously injured.
  • · KARHALE (Bukavu): The Father Jérôme NDAYE was attacked by men in police uniforms at 19 o'clock.
  • · KABARE : Attack of the parish and murder of the Abbot Daniel CIZIMYA on December 6, 2009.
  • · MURHESA (Kabare): Murder of Sister Dénise KAHAMBU at the monastery, December 7, 2009.

The Catholic church in Bukavu, led by Msg Maroy, has traditionally been supportive of Kabila. But they are becoming more and more disaffected with the situation in the Kivus. Still, the letter they wrote to him was cordial and couched their demands within a sentiment of support for his presidency. They concluded:

CONCLUSION : le peuple du SUD KIVU qui vous a massivement élu vous fait encore confiance et compte sur vous pour donner un message de plus fort pour que plus jamais le sang des innocents ne coulent dans notre province .

At the same time, former Governor Norbert Katintima appears to be trying hard to position himself as Kabila's man in South Kivu so as to replace Vital Kamhere, who fell into disgrace earlier this year. Katintima, who is also from the Mushi ethnic community, has entered Kabila's inner circle this year (he is the minister of agriculture) and has taken part in several important missions for the president. Many Kivutians are very cynical about this: Katintima was governor of South Kivu for the RCD ( I think between 1999-2002) and was resented by much of the population for his corruption, disdainful attitude towards the local population and civil society, rampant human rights abuses and the creation of his own militia.

Katintima was on hand during Kabila's visit, and later led a meeting of the PPRD (the main presidential party) in Bukavu. According to people who attended the meeting, as well as UN sources, he handed out $2,200 for "dissemination of the presidential address" and another $2,000 "for Christmas festivities" to PPRD leaders. A sad state of affairs.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A CNDP Christmas

Stop the press, the CNDP (Laurent Nkunda's former armed group) has a new president! Ok, so it's not really that exciting. First of all, no one has heard of the guy. His name his Philippe Gafishi, a Tutsi from the Mugogwe clan (same as Bosco Ntaganda), born in Nyamitaba and around 43 years old. He did not take part in the AFDL (1996-7) or RCD (1998-2003) rebellions and apparently earned a degree in Lubumbashi before moving to Rwanda, where he has worked for some years.

What does this mean? Not a whole lot. As a reminder, after Laurent Nkunda was removed/arrested in January this year, a new crew was imposed: Desire Kamanzi and Jean Munyampenda. These guys were also largely ciphers (Munyampenda has been involved in the AFDL) and didn't really seem to have much weight within the CNDP. In any case, the CNDP troops are still largely divided between the minority who support Bosco Ntaganda and the majority who are behind Nkunda (even if he is under house arrest in Kigali). The CNDP political movement is now largely controlled by the pro-Bosco faction, which it is not surprising that Gafishi is rumored to be a relative of the ICC-indictee.

Talks in Kinshasa between the armed groups and the government began this past week, and it is not clear whether Gafishi will attend the talks, which are supposed to talk about the implementation of the March 23 agreement. Most of the armed groups are still unhappy that their soldiers have been integrated but the political leadership is still largely unemployed and broke.

What else is the CNDP getting for Christmas? It looks like perhaps a Supreme Court trial? Nkunda is supposed to finally get a hearing in front of the Rwandan Supreme Court, as his lawyer announced a few days ago. He has consistently complained that he has been illegally detained without an arrest warrant for almost a year. I don't think formal charges have been brought against him. The court hearing is supposed to happen on Janaury 13, 2010.

Also, more reports are coming out of the Ntoto-Kibua (southern Masisi) area of a mutinous ex-CNDP battalion. Not clear what exactly happened, but it appears that Colonel Emmanuel Nsengiyumva (ex-CNDP) deserted from his position around Nyabiondo around a month ago along with several hundred ex-CNDP soldiers. Other deserters have joined them since. Nsengiyumva is allegedly a relative of "Papa-6" (Nkunda's radio call sign) and used to be in his bodyguard. In other words, this is another sign of splintering within the CNDP.

The other CNDP wing accuses Nsengiyumva of being in cahoots with the FDLR.

Ah, Christmas in Masisi! Keep your eyes peeled, it always around this time of year (when the diplomats are busy tending to the yule log) that trouble breaks out around Goma - certainly was the case for the past three years.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gossip from the UN

Some gossip from within the UN system:

1. Discussions have begun around MONUC's mandate renewal, led by the French (they are always given the lead on Congo matters in the Security Council). There will be a 5-6 month mandate renewal, as requested by Kabila, and preparations for a drawdown based on concrete benchmarks. The good news is that the Security Council seems to be considering to take on Human Rights Watch's recommendation of creating a "civilian protection expert group" (CPEG?) that would make sure MONUC implements strict conditionalities on their support of the Congolese army. In other words, the $1 million MONUC provides to the Congolese army (rations, transport, fuel) every month would only come if they comply with some conditions. Foremost amongst these is the removal of the major known human rights offenders (I hear that Bosco, Zimurinda, India Queen, B. Byamungu are top on this list).

2. Diplomats are seriously talking about Kimia II, part II (great name, guys). This is nothing terribly new, but it is important - the army would drastically downsize its offensive against the FDLR to around 10,000 of their best troops (currently, there are up to 60,000 deployed) and put the rest in barracks. This could potentially do wonders for the population. MONUC has ironically gained some leverage for this by helping Kabila out with transport for soldiers he sent to out down the "insurgency" in Equateur province (what exactly is going on there, no one seems to know).

3. The infamous "mapping exercise" that chronicled the largest war crimes and crimes against humanity in the DRC from 1993-2003 is still meandering around in the corridors of power. It was finally vetted by a bunch of different divisions at the High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva and is currently making its way through the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York. It will then be sent to the Secretary-General, who will show it to the Congolese government before it is finally published. Word on the street is that is MIGHT be out as early as March 2010, although I fear it could take quite a bit longer. Above all, I hope they are not cutting too much of it out - there are some explosive and fascinating conclusions in the report.

4. And yes, strike up the dirge. The rumors seem to be turning into real information: Alan Doss may well be stepping down as the head of MONUC, as early as March 2010. I have heard several names floated for his replacement (not an enviable post): Aldo Ajello (former EU envoy to the region, very experienced Italian diplomat); Jean Maurice Ripert (former French ambassador to the UN and current the UN envoy to Pakistan); and Jean-Marie Guehenno (former French head of UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations). I think especially the first and the last possibilities would be promising. But as I said, these are rumors (this is why I have a blog and not a press agency, I can dabble in hearsay).

Yes, act against sexual violence

I received a lot of comments on my last blog posting - thanks for this. Interestingly, some of my human rights friends (Congolese and foreign) were glad that I put this up. "Violence has engulfed our entire society," one wrote from Bukavu, "we need to focus on the whole thing and not get so obsessed with the brutality of it that we lose sight of what needs to be done." Yes, rape is awful, yes what is going on in the Congo is outrageous, and yes we need to act. But I insist, policy does matter.

Which brings me to the next point: my Socratic method was not so appreciated by some who suggested that instead of just criticizing I should also propose solutions. Here I differ somewhat from some of my colleagues - I think short-term solutions have (a) to put an emphasis on tackling impunity and imposing accountability on the army and (b) think of better ways of dealing with the FDLR. I have written about Kimia II and the FDLR here and here. More on SSR soon. I think dealing with the mineral trade is important and urgent, but we shouldn't expect any change there for several years to come. In the meantime, we need action on the ground. See Human Rights Watch's exceptional report here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Are we focusing too much on sexual violence in the DRC?

There has been another flurry of opinion pieces this past week on sexual violence in the Congo. On CNN, John Prendergast and Sasha Lezhnev put none too fine a point on it: "Rape and murder, funded by cell phones," was the title of their online piece. In the Washington Post, Mary Lou Hartman spoke about "The evil in Congo," highlighting the 7,500 rapes against women documented by the UN in the first nine months of 2009.

Sexual violence has become the main prism through which grassroots campaigners in Europe and the United States see the violence in the Congo. It is a very effective way of portraying the situation, as its brings home in graphic and personal terms the brutality and immensity of the violence. The campaigners are morally and strategically justified in underscoring this epidemic and I have a lot of sympathy for these campaigns - after all, they have helped push for legislative action in Congress and get Secretary of State Clinton out to the eastern Congo to see the devastation for herself.

But I am concerned that it could be skewing the debate.

First, the danger is that it will lead some to say: "Voila the savage heart of darkness, this is how these people are. The horror, the horror," and just turn away. This, actually, is a lesser fear. Yes, I viscerally feel that the way a lot of the media have depicted Congolese women is distasteful, producing a pornography of violence, trying to outdo each other with the most barbaric gang-rape scenario. This has produced something of a rape tourism in Bukavu and Goma, where the same women are interviewed over a dozen times by researchers and journalists about their rape. This makes them relive their trauma, and few of them see that anything has changed.

But still, if, as I said, this leads to concrete policy change, I - and I believe many of the rape survivors themselves - would swallow this indignation for the greater good.

The second fear is not so easy to dispel. It boils down to this: by using such a reductive approach, do we end up with good policy? Campaigners have equated buying cell phones to encouraging rape in the DRC, for example, or UN support for Kimia II military operations as resulting in rape. The minerals supply chain is complex - a very small percentage of the minerals used for conductors in cell phones comes from the DRC, and it is far from obvious how companies are supposed to distinguish between "conflict" and "non-conflict" minerals (I have blogged about this ad nauseum here and here and here.) The UN operations have done a very poor job of negotiating strong conditionalities in return for the support of Congolese military operations, but if they do not participate in these operations they stand an even worse chance of preventing abuses against civilians.

In other words, focusing on rape has been very successful at producing outrage, what do we do with this? The causes of the conflict are complex, and if wield policy like a bull in a China shop, we will break things. If we start with wrong premises, we may well end up with the wrong solutions. There is precedent for this. The Congolese are still bitter after similar sort of knee-jerk sympathy led the US to give blind backing to Rwanda in the wake of the genocide, not understanding the nuances of regional politics (i.e. that their 1998 invasion of the Congo was not just about self-protection).

Mahmood Mamdani, with whom I disagree on many points, did get it right when he criticized the broad brush approach some analysts had toward violence in Darfur:

Newspaper writing on Darfur has sketched a pornography of violence. It seems fascinated by and fixated on the gory details, describing the worst of the atrocities in gruesome detail and chronicling the rise in the number of them. The implication is that the motivation of the perpetrators lies in biology (‘race’) and, if not that, certainly in ‘culture’. This voyeuristic approach accompanies a moralistic discourse whose effect is both to obscure the politics of the violence and position the reader as a virtuous, not just a concerned observer.

Journalism gives us a simple moral world, where a group of perpetrators face a group of victims, but where neither history nor motivation is thinkable because both are outside history and context. Even when newspapers highlight violence as a social phenomenon, they fail to understand the forces that shape the agency of the perpetrator. Instead, they look for a clear and uncomplicated moral that describes the victim as untainted and the perpetrator as simply evil. Where yesterday’s victims are today’s perpetrators, where victims have turned perpetrators, this attempt to find an African replay of the Holocaust not only does not work but also has perverse consequences.

Mamdani went on to argue that such a reductive approach had skewed policy towards Sudan in unproductive ways. I am not a Sudan expert to accurately judge that, but we do need to be wary that our indignation doesn't get the better of us. Sexual violence stirs up strong emotions, as it should, and gets many involved in the policy debate, as it should. But this kind of activism could push policy in the wrong direction if we don't watch out. Hillary Clinton's reaction to the rape crisis has been to send more money to NGOs in the eastern DRC; she even advocated sending video cameras for victims to film the rapists (for a good critique of this, see Wronging Rights here). This will obviously not solve the rape crisis.

In sum, I do not think that we are focusing too much on sexual violence, as some of my fellow political analysts in NGOs and the UN seem to think. However, I do think it is crucial to uphold high standards of journalistic and analytic detail when portraying the causes of violence and possible solutions, otherwise we will be on the wrong track.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Are mining companies liable for pillage in the Congo?

On the heels on the recent UN report on support to armed groups in the DRC (which can be found here), there is more and more debate about "due diligence." This term is being flung around liberally, including in the recent US House of Representatives bill, without exact definition. But how liable are international mining companies for buying minerals that fund armed groups? This is very contentious area that isn't very well defined. Although I am no legal expert, I will wade in a bit.

  • In the United States, as in many other countries, it is a crime to purchase goods that have been stolen. The key factor here is that the recipient knows that the goods were stolen. Depending on the value of the goods, it can be prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor. As far as I know, there is no exact equivalent in international law. So, are the minerals in the eastern Congo stolen? Not exactly, but their production often does lead to the violation of international law.
  • International law does, however, define the crime of pillage. The unlawful appropriation of private and public goods during conflict was prohibited as far back as the 1907 Hague Regulations and the 1949 Geneva Convention. Crimes of pillage have been prosecuted by the Nuremberg Trials, the UN Tribunal for Yugoslavia and the UN Tribunal for Rwanda. Article 8 of the International Criminal Court's statute defines pillage as a war crime. (See here for the relevant cases.)
  • But is it pillage to buy minerals that have been taxed or produced by armed groups? The Open Society Institute is explicitly looking into this possibility, as (so I understand) is the ICC in some of its investigations.
  • The key here is define what exactly the threshold of a crime is. Obviously, pushed to its extreme it would be ridiculous - could I be prosecuted for a war crime for typing this on a computer than contains minerals that were once taxed by rebels in the DRC? This is how the ICC defines criminal responsibility:
  • "aids, abets or otherwise assists in [the crime's] commission or its attempted commission, including providing the means for its commission; " any other way contributes to the commission or attempted commission of such a crime by a group of persons acting with a common purpose. Such contribution shall be intentional and shall either: (i) Be made with the aim of furthering the criminal activity or criminal purpose of the group, where such activity or purpose involves the commission of a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court; or(ii) Be made in the knowledge of the intention of the group to commit the crime;

Certainly not impossible to make the case. It will depend on knowledge and intent. But pressing these kinds of charges, even if it is just to prove that some companies were "aiding and abetting" will strike the fear of God in international business. There has been a lot of work done to dispel the notion that we are not responsible for the conditions in which items we consume are produced - just think of Nike & sweatshops. But most of the cases for far (see here for case against Rio Tinto in Papua New Guinea) in courts have concerned more direct involvement by mining companies. Let's see what the lawyers can cook up.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

MONUC pulls an 'Obama'

MONUC's latest report to the Security Council said it would like a shorter mandate - 6 months instead of a year - and will submit a plan for draw-down by 30 June 2010, Congolese independence day. This is a reaction to Kabila's request for such a plan.

It's a bit rich, given the high levels of violence in the Kivus and the problems with the integration process. But MONUC is there upon Kabila's invitation, so at least they have to make a show of doing as he requests. In reality, what the plan will include - so UN officials say, at least - is a set of benchmarks for withdrawal. I.e. "we will remove troops for the Kivus once the former armed groups have been fully integrated into the Congolese army, their command and control broken down and the FDLR dismantled." Of course, I am dreaming, but there will be some such guidelines for withdrawal. A bit like Obama saying we will "start withdrawing from Afghanistan after 18 months." Emphasis on "start."

But UN officials do indicate that they want to withdraw a symbolic chunk of troops next year and start relying more on technical advisers who would help reinforce state capacity. I'm all for it - we could have built a decent Congolese army with the $1,4 billion we spend each year on MONUC - but building state capacity is something that the international community has proven to be very poor at in the DRC. It requires hefty financial and political engagement that just isn't present at the moment.

Also in the cards is the replacement of current MONUC chief Alan Doss; the rumor mill in New York says that he may leave as early as March 2010.

What's going on in Dongo?

What is going on in Dongo, a small fishing village on the Ubangi river in the northern Equateur province? On October 30th, a gang from the Enyele community attacked Dongo and began hunting down members of the Monzaya community, along with other "outsiders." They allegedly killed 47 people, including several dozen police who tried to intervene; some of these drowned in the river as they were trying to flee.

We don't know much about the motives of the Enyele. Everything allegedly started on October 29th, when youths gathered around an important shaman/witchdoctor called Udjani to carry out a ceremony to increase the yields on their fish ponds. Apparently there was a conflict between the Enyele and the Monzaya over these fish ponds, as well as over farm land nearby. After the ceremony, Udjani led the youths to Dongo, where they proceeded pillage and loot. Over 20,000 people fled Dongo and the surrounding areas to neighboring Brazzaville.

A picture of the 27-year-old witchdoctor Udjani.

At this point, most journalists and Congo watchers thought the situation would stabilize. No such luck. The Enyele militia attacked another village close by several weeks later, even though the government had dispatched rapid intervention police to Dongo. The number of refugees having fled across the border to Congo-Brazzaville passed 100,000, an almost Kivutian level of displacement.

At this point, the matter became deeply politicized. A hitherto completely unknown politician called Ambroise Lobala Mokobe announced the creation of a new rebellion called "Patriotes Resistants de Dongo," and released a confused press statement that said that Kabila was a foreigner, propped up by Rwanda, and that MONUC was in complicity with the "mafia-like" regime of Kinshasa. Lobala signed the statement in Dongo, although the village has no internet connection and was completely deserted at the time of his statement. Other groups have also seized on the Dongo fighting, claiming responsibility - Honore Ngbanda, Mobutu's former security chief, now in exile in France, pounced on the occasion just weeks after he claimed responsibility for a new rebellion in South Kivu (in that case, the rebel leader Dunia handed himself into the Congolese government just days later). Ngbanda's organization, APARECO, is now a steady stream of propaganda for the new insurgents, claiming they have seized 25,000 tons of ammunition on a barge from the Congolese army (that's right, 25,000 tons - I guess it was an air craft carrier, not a barge) and provoked "massive desertions" from the government ranks. Check out his website for a laugh.

Nonetheless, many Congolese paid attention. Just as with Jean-Pierre Bemba, at least the patriotes resistant were "real Congolese" and not supported by a foreign power. For the inhabitants of Kinshasa, which is linked by the Congo river directly to Equateur, an insurgency there was closer to home in many ways that what is happening in the Kivus. After all, after Bemba's troops fought it out with Kabila's presidential guard in Kinshasa in 2007, many Kinois thought that Bemba might launch a new rebellion in Equateur  - "he is a real 'mwana mboka,' (son of the soil) they said." Several editorials on Congolese websites (see here for Congoindependant) seemed to approve of the actions in Dongo, although no one really seems to know what is happening (and it seems to have a large local/communal aspect to it).

Some websites are even reporting 2 batallions (up to 2,000 troops) from the Rwandan army being deployed there as I write this. What that is supremely unlikely, the government did announce that it was sending 600 troops trained by the Belgian army to enforce law and order. The police chief John Numbi even visited MONUC to ask them to deploy with his police units to Dongo - a surprising move, given that Numbi came under a lot of fire for the massacres of over 160 people in Bas-Congo in 2007 when the police went in to put down similar unrest. MONUC complied, and it is sending 500 to 600 troops to both Dongo and nearby Gemena, quite a few if this is really just a small incident.

But the troubles weren't over - at the end of November, a MONUC helicopter was shot at around Dongo, injuring several people inside. Rumors are abounding that troops (belonging to whom?) are moving on Gemena, a large city, and that the population there is fleeing. This could very well just be "de l'intoxication," as the government claims, but something appears to be afoot. MONUC chief Alan Doss said at a press conference the other day that "these are not coupe-coupe (bandits). These are brutal weapons they are using. We have several reports that there are people there who know how to use this weapons." But it's all incredibly vague.

Given previous experience, no insurgency in the Congo can be successful outside of a very narrow area without significant outside support. As opposed to the Kivus and Katanga, where there have been large insurgencies since the 1960s (and even the 1920 and 30s), there is little precedent for that in Equatuer other than Bemba's MLC rebellion, which at the start received substantial military backing from Uganda.

But we shall wait and see.... 

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Interview on the Congo's electoral process: Guillaume Lacaille

As on the momentous occasion of the third anniversary of President Kabila's inauguration, I interviewed Guillaume Lacaille from the International Crisis Group about the direction the government is taking. Guillaume was recently in Kinshasa to take a closer look at the electoral process - it isn't looking very good.
Why are the 2010 local elections that important for the continuation of the democratic process?
In addition to their own democratic merits, the holding of local elections would close the first electoral cycle of the Third Republic that started with the successful presidential and provincial elections of 2006, thus allowing to prepare for a new round of voting in 2011. This is important because rooting democracy in the DRC requires to respect the Constitution by electing people’s representatives and then going back to the people’s vote at the end of a political mandate.
To be straight forward, we would know if democracy in Congo is really solid if the 2011 presidential elections are held in time and in a similarly free and fair fashion. In that context, organizing the local elections can be seen as “rehearsal” of the presidential elections since many of the capacities and resources used for the locals will also served for the presidential vote.
Today, can we be confident that the local elections are going to be held in 2010 as officially scheduled?
Unfortunately, recent developments are indicating that this is becoming very unlikely. The international community has offered to provide $130 millions of the $163 millions that the local elections were supposed to cost. MONUC and UNDP have mobilized their electoral experts to help the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) still chaired by Abbé Malu Malu.
Still, what was expected from Congolese authorities has failed to materialize. The legal framework is still not completed due to delays in the provincial and national Parliaments. The government has only disbursed $4,9 millions of the $10 millions it had committed to make available to the CEI, and the CEI itself has not yet been able to finish revising the electoral lists used in 2005 and 2006. Since the process of revising these lists and doing the voting would take between 6 to 12 months, the window of opportunity to have local elections before starting preparation for the 2011 presidential elections is closing rapidly.
During the inter-institutional meeting that was held in Mbuji-Mayi on 25 November, Kabila has restated his commitment to hold local elections. Does that reassure you?
It does not seem to reassure the international electoral experts. A recent decision made by the Congolese political leaders is troubling them a lot. Just after the registration operations that were carried out last summer in Kinshasa to update the list of voters, the Congolese authorities have decided, against the recommendations of the international experts, to change the methodology used to update the lists in the rest of the country.
The CEI is now working on a methodology that will require all Congolese above 18 years old in 2011 to register. It apparently also included all the Congolese adults who already voted during the previous elections. Ross Mountain, the number 2 civilian official in MONUC, warned Abbé Malu Malu that this would create unbearable logistical and financial constraints, making it impossible to update the voter registers in time to hold the local elections. In Mbuji-Mayi, President Kabila has confirmed that Congo would use this new approach.
At the same time, Kabila also announced a lot of decisions in Mbuji-Mayi that demonstrate that the DRC is willing to take more responsibilities in organising its own elections. Shouldn’t that be respected by international observers?
Expressions of strong political will to support democratic initiatives are always positive when backed with concrete actions. Congolese leaders were right to say that the DRC would have succeeded when there would be no reason for MONUC to stay.
Kabila confirmed that he had requested MONUC to start withdrawing from Congo on June 30th, 2010, for the country’s 50th anniversary of independence. He announced that his government would take charge of the organisation of the 2011 elections and that revenues generated by the sell of new mandatory national ID cards will pay for the additional costs caused by the adoption of the maximalist approach of voter registration.
The problem is that these decisions would not help securing the electoral process. Without MONUC logistical assets, international mentoring, foreign donors’ money, and reasonably updated lists of voters, the presidential elections are in jeopardy, especially if local elections are not hold in 2010. Time and money are running short and the Congolese president has set overly ambitious objectives for his administration.
What would happen if there are no local elections in 2010?
Since it is technically impossible to organise both local and general elections in 2011, all actors will probably move on and turn their attention to the organisation of the general elections. It will be already a major breach into the Constitution not to have elected local representatives. Congolese technical capacities in organising votes would be lost and a lot of money would be wasted in a logistical nightmare without realistic hope of establishing a proper voter registration in time for even 2011. I would not like to see such a scenario unfolding.
The CEI is expected to announce officially an electoral calendar at the end of this week, or early next week. This will be a turning point. If Malu Malu does not offer tangible signs that the Congolese authorities come back to a more limited and realistic approach to voter registration, then local elections would not happen. An UN expert told me recently that if the CEI doesn’t reverse course, it will reinforce the views of those who believe that the DRC Government deliberately kill the local elections and that it doesn’t want to have international witnesses looking into the running of the presidential elections.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Weekend update: Katumba, garrisoning & refugee return

A few news highlights:

  • Augustin Katumba Mwanke, the highly influential presidential advisor (especially regarding all things financial) officially announced this week that he was stepping down as the head of the presidential coalition, the AMP. According to his deputy, he had submitted his resignation seven months ago but it was only made public this week. Several news sources indicate that Katumba may not have left on his own volition, but that he was pushed out as part of a falling out between Kinshasa and Luanda. Given Katumba's huge influence within the presidential circle, this would be very surprising. Other speculations have been that the forty-six year-old had left to lead the PPRD party (its previous leader Evariste Boshab has left to become the president of the national assembly) or that the AMP was no longer a useful alliance - there have been reports of intra-AMP squabbling in both North Kivu and Katanga this week. More on this soon.
  • Negotiations were held this week between MONUC and the Congolese army regarding the garrisoning of Congolese troops not involved in operations in three major army camps in the East. The fact that many Congolese troops live among the population leads to many abuses, and lack of decent housing a sanitation for their families has depressed their morale. MONUC has also called for the demilitarization of the IDP camps in North Kivu. The Congolese army told MONUC that the troops would not be able to fit in the camps with their families and suggested that some remain deployed elsewhere. The project is supposed to start this week.
  • A MONUC team visited Kisuma (20km SE of Goma) this week to check up on reports of Tutsi refugees returning from Rwanda. This is what they found: "The team heard that an estimated 3,000 people arriving from Rwanda had settled in the area of Kisuma alone over the past six months. Local authorities reported that the settlers were mixed with returnees from IDP camps in Kirolirwe. The arrivals from Rwanda are seemingly concentrating in a number of Tutsi-owned farms in the area, where they have taken over fields from autochthon populations. In Kisuma the local population reported to be no longer able to access their fields, and alleged that some of the new arrivals were patrolling the area, after imposing a curfew at 18:00 hours. However, they also noted that there was conflict among the settlers, particularly between the arrivals from Kirolirwe and from Rwanda."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Update on Masisi

A reader posted this comment in response to my posting on the CNDP parallel administration in Masisi:

I just came back from Masisi and what you write is true. CNDP maintains a parallel administration based in Mushaki. I witnessed a meeting between the official administrateur adjoint of the Masisi territory and the CNDP's administrateur adjoint, in which the latter corrected his counterpart when he introduced himself as “administrateur du Masisi”. “Masisi centre” said the CNDP man. “Masisi”, repeated the other one. It doesn't look like there's any dispute going on between the CNDP administration and Bosco.
Thanks to the “integration”, CNDP has extended its military presence to Masisi areas it didn't control yet, through the nomination of several CNDP (tutsi) officers as FARDC local commanders. It facilitates the recruitment of children, which appears to be pretty intense in the current weeks.
A clash between “ex-CNDP” and FARDC soldiers (which are supposed to work hand in hand) occurred last Thursday. An “ex-CNDP” soldier was stopped by two FARDC military policemen in Bihambwe (between Mushaki and Masisi centre). He had no order of mission but refused to be arrested and threatened the MPs, who shot him dead. One of the shooters was then lynched by the tutsi population, and the tension escalated between the communities. Monuc organized on Friday a public meeting in Bihambwe with CNDP colonel Baudouin Ngaruye, the local FARDC commander, in the aim of calming down people. It was an “incident between soldiers”, “people should preserve peace”.
The influx of thousands of people coming from Rwanda is a reality, particularly in the area of Kirolirwe. Added to the return of IDPs, it creates tensions with local inhabitants, especially cultivators whose lands are destroyed by cows !
CNDP is reproaching the government for not respecting its commitments. Kinshasa and provincial government are denying there's any problem, Monuc is petrified by its ambiguous mission (protecting civilians and supporting those who sometimes massacre civilians). I am convinced that the day Kimia II is over, or even before, CNDP or CNDP-like FLEC takes back its autonomy.

The tooth fairy also gave me MONUC's version of events (very similar):

In the afternoon of 03 December, a violent incident with possible interethnic and political impact occurred at Bihambwe (15 km of Mushake) but was calmed down by MONUC forces. Reportedly, two soldiers of FARDC/Military Police tried to arrest another soldier of the FARDC (ex- CNDP) at Bihambwe for reasons still unknown. According to some sources, the latter tried to evade arrest and attempted to hurl a grenade on the Military Police soldier, which however exploded in his hand, killing both of them. Other sources suggested that the ex-CNDP soldier refused to show his identification papers at a check post and was shot dead by the Military Police soldiers, who reportedly later also shot himself when a mob surrounded him. Yet other sources reported that he was killed by the angry mob. A larger crowd gathered on the spot trying to get hold of another FARDC Military Police, who hid in a nearby house, and the mob erected road blocks to prevent arrival of FARDC reinforcements. A MONUC team, escorted by military, which was on a fact finding mission in the area got stuck and was pelted with stones before its extrication to the TOB at Osso Farm (02 km of Bihambwe). Finally, MONUC and FARDC military commanders along with Quick Reaction Forces were sent to the location and interacted all night long with locals to diffuse the tension. The situation went back to normal in the morning of 04 December, but remains volatile in all areas around Masisi (90 km NW of Goma).

Dealing with the FDLR: The art of the possible

Inter-Rwandan Dialogue. Again and again, Congolese civil society actors and politicians come back to this as a means of solving the problems in the Great Lakes. In the words of one such Congolese activist: "Why should Rwanda be allowed to fight its civil war on our soil [against the FDLR], causing untold suffering in the Congo, while never once even considering peaceful negotiations as a means of solving the conflict?"

This sentiment has been echoed by a petition signed in 2007 by Congolese ministers, politicians and civil society members - including 66 parliamentarians - demanding an inter-Rwandan Dialogue. In countless meetings with Congolese customary chiefs, politicians and human rights activists, I have heard those three words are chanted. The Catholic lay group Sant Egidio has been pushing for years to organizing negotiations between the FDLR and the Rwandan government (Kigali has refused) and another lay Catholic group Fundacio S'Olivar (based in the Mallorcan Islands) has been pushing for an Inter-Rwandan Dialogue for several years now, and has organized meetings of the Rwandan Diaspora with this end. (This group was accused by the UN Group of Experts of providing material support to the FDLR).

A few words on this controversial topic.

First, the military reality. Ever since it fled into exile, the purpose of Habyarimana's government has been to use armed force to pressure Paul Kagame's government to accept negotiations. After all, that was the RPF's own strategy when it was a rebel group (1990-1994) based in northern Rwanda. However, this military pressure has failed. The former Rwandan army (ex-FAR) and its successor organizations (ALiR, FDLR) waged a brutal insurgency in northwestern Rwanda until 1999, when they were beat back into the Congo. Their last major incursion into Rwanda was in early 2001, when 1,000 of their soldiers were killed and even more captured. Since then, the FDLR has been unable to put any military pressure on the Rwandan government. If Kigali is going to accept negotiations, it will only be because its international partners pressure it to do so. In fact, the FDLR's strategy has changed based on this reality: instead of using military pressure on Kigali, they brutalize Congolese civilians, hoping that this will pressure donors to act on Kigali.

Second, the legacy of the genocide. The FDLR is an organization that is closely linked in Rwandan imagination with the genocide. The Rwandan press often refer to it as the ex-FAR & Interahamwe, the very forces that carried out the genocide. While this is inaccurate - a majority of the FDLR's troops were too young to have been liable for crimes committed in 1994 (under Rwandan law, I believe you have to be 16) and many of them were youths/children recruited in the refugee camps in the Congo - many of the FDLR's officers were indeed FAR officers. How many were involved in the genocide is a big unknown - I have heard 20% of the officer corps, but the Rwandan government has not indicted any of their main leaders (aside from Callixte Mbarushimana, in France) - but any pressure for negotiations must consider that we might be negotiating with war criminals. There is a good chance that their military commander, General Sylvestre Mudacumura, was involved in 1994 massacres, as well as several other of the top brass. As we know through our experience with the LRA (whose top commander is indicted by the International Criminal Court), it is not easy negotiating with people who believe that peace = arrest. Also, we need to recognize the reality of Rwandan politics. It is not just Paul Kagame who does not want to negotiate with the FDLR. The entire Rwandan political scene revolves around the genocide, it dominates the political discourse and it the point of reference for much of Rwandan politics. It would be immensely difficult to persuade the various powerful interest groups in Rwandan politics (genocide survivors, army, etc.) to accept political negotiations with the FDLR. The Rwandan government would have to accept the FDLR as a political party, which would be impossible under the current legislation, which forbids the use of ethnicity and genocide ideology by political actors.

Which brings me back to the reality - as long as Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Rick Warren, Paul Farmer, Bill Gates, TIME magazine and much of the western diplomatic establishment strongly supports the Rwandan government, it will be difficult to impose direct political negotiations with the FDLR.

But this is not to say that the sentiment of negotiations is wrong or forsaken. In the face of immense killing and displacement in the eastern DRC, any diplomatic initiatives must be considered. Even if the Kimia II operations seriously damage the FDLR - which they are doing - they will not get rid of the organization. So what can be done?

Talking to the FDLR will encourage them, will throw them a lifeline. But there is no reason why discrete, informal contacts cannot be made with moderates within the group and the Rwandan Diaspora. Some of the FDLR's top commanders and believed to have nothing to the 1994 genocide. These initial talks should focus on what is possible: providing incentives to FDLR commanders and soldiers to return to Rwanda.
  • This could mean promising them positions in the army or administration, or arranging for an exile for those who do not want to return.
  • The FDLR will not be able to be a political party in Rwanda (as they have demanded), but this does not mean that their members could not form another party and enter the political debate. This would have to come with donor pressure on the Rwandan government to open political space.
  • The Rwandan government should also reveal what kind of dirt they have in their legal files on FDLR leaders - I think it is relatively little (Rakiya Omar's comprehensive report earlier this year about genocidaires in the FDLR has information only on very few leaders).
  • While many FDLR leaders may not be liable for crimes of genocide in Rwanda, many are responsible for countless abuses in the Congo. While they shouldn't be let off the hook for this, we need to be pragmatic. Let them leave the bush, give up the brutal insurgency. Prosecution can come later. This is the position of all Congolese human rights group I have spoken with, and even (less publicly) of international human rights activists.
These kinds of informal, sustained contacts are - I believe - what US Senator Russ Feingold (Democrat, Wisconsin) was alluding to in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying
"the international community should urge Kigali to open direct negotiations with non-genocidaire combatants of the FDLR to encourage their repatriation."

This will not be easy. 2010 is an election year in Rwanda, and the RPF will not want to be seen compromising with its worst enemy. However, the FDLR are hurting and could be open to some sort of deal. After all, as Bismarck said, politics is the art of the possible.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Masisi: More reason to worry

An update on ex-CNDP administration in Masisi territory. According to a recent trip by UN staff there, the CNDP still maintains a parallel administration based in Mushaki (just to the west of the northwestern tip of Lake Kivu). The administrator there, Prosper Mashagiro, controls 152 administrative officials, whose job is primarily to levy taxes, maintain roads and manage conflicts between civilians (most people in the areas where they live think they do a much better job at the first task than at the latter two). According to UN officials, Mashagiro has no relation with the government appointed administration based in Masisi center and only rarely reports to the provincial administration in Goma.

There has been alarm in the past week, as the taxes levied by the CNDP officials at the Mushaki, Kimoka and Kilolirwe roadblocks have reportedly soared to 500 per truck with agricultural products and 700 per truck with timber. This money is allegedly going to fund the newly-founded FLEC movement led by Bosco Ntaganda. As a reminder, the UN Group of Experts estimated the the CNDP administration in Masisi gathers around $250,000 in taxes each month.

In addition, there have been reports of forced recruitment of youths (or children) around Muheto (central Masisi) and Ngungu (southern Masisi), as well as numerous CNDP meetings. Also, thousands of refugees returning from Rwanda have begun to bolster the ranks of the CNDP in these areas. We should not scream conspiracy quite yet, but it definitely seems like something is afoot.

Kabila on elections, MONUC

Kabila went on the offensive this week, visiting Mbuji-Mayi and Gemena. That's roughly like Barack Obama appearing on Fox News. The diamond capital of the Congo - and one of its poorest cities - Mbuji-Mayi is the stronghold of Etienne Tshisekedi's UDPS, while Gemena is an MLC bastion. While the president said that he had come on a humanitarian mission, to see for himself the effects of the recent unrest in Dongo and the flooding in Mwene Ditu, it was obvious that he was on a diplomatic offensive. He announced that he wanted MONUC to present a plan for drawdown by the June 30th, 2010, on the occasion of the country's 60th anniversary of independence. Then he let it be known that, while donors will help finance local elections next year, the Congo will take care of the national legislative and presidental elections in 2011. The 2006 national elections had cost $500 million, while MONUC estimated that the local elections could cost $160 million. If the Congolese government really does fund its own elections, it will cost over 10% of its budget. (Kabila's announcemet did keep the door open for some outside help.) Not easy - one main reason the 2006 elections came off so smoothly was due to the logistical miracle that MONUC pulled off, deploying much of its fleet of aircraft and trucks to help distribute and collect ballots and election staff.

What does this mean? It's a further move towards shrugging off unwelcome interference in doemstic affairs. This trend has been abundantly clear since the 2006 elections; the word "sovereignty" has cropped up more and more in official declarations since then. If donors don't fund the elections, they have less leverage over controlling and overseeing the process. The same goes for MONUC - their hundreds of electoral, political, civil affairs and human rights officers provide detailed daily reporting about what's going on in the country (not that this information is always put to best use). If they are gone, the Congo will be out of sight, out of mind.

I think Kabila, if he is really serious about this, is making a mistake. MONUC's presence has not prevented his officials from cracking down on the opposition, rig gubernatorial and senatorial elections and commit rampant abuses. If he keeps MONUC, he will be able to continue to do this AND blame them for being useless. But it may all just be bluster. After all, he's just asked for a timetable. Shortly after the announcement, he said that he had great relations with MONUC.

ENOUGH's response about US legislation

Enough sent me their response about my blog posting on US legislation on conflict minerals. I apologize for the delay in posting it and I stand corrected on the auditing mechanism the House bill proposes. Nonetheless, I think my comment that the bill relies on being able to distinguish conflict from non-conflict minerals at a local level in the DRC, which we are not yet able to do...

Toutefois, merci a ENOUGH pour la reponse:

At Congo Siasa, Jason Stearns highlights the push for U.S. legislation to tackle the problem of conflict minerals in eastern Congo. Jason rightly notes that this level of congressional enthusiasm for the Congo is unprecedented, and is already beginning to influence thinking elsewhere around the world, particularly in European capitals. He also questions the efficacy of legislation that seeks to impose accountability on the supply chain for Congolese minerals starting at the international level and working backwards to the mines themselves.

There are a couple of specific provisions within the Conflict Minerals Trade Act (H.R. 4128) worth clarifying in response to Jason’s concerns. At the core of this bill is a set of audit and import declaration requirements that have been carefully calibrated to function as part of a wider policy push to cut off the flow of financing from the minerals trade to armed groups and military units in eastern Congo. These requirements are targeted, with the audits specifically aimed at the smelting and refining facilities where mineral ores are transformed into metals. Thanks to the investigations conducted by Jason and the rest of the experts tasked by the UN to look at this issue, we know that even refining facilities based in East Asia have much more knowledge and control over the mineral supply chain than previously understood. The audit and import declaration mechanism is also sequenced: the bill would prohibit the import of goods containing minerals that come from non-audited facilities, but this only kicks in two years after the bill is enacted.

These nuances are in the bill are intended to provide practical means to incentivize minerals traders in Congo and around the world to become more accountable so as to maintain their access to international markets, recognizing that this will not happen overnight. The audit system in this bill would crucially depend upon a strong, independent monitoring body based in Congo with the authority and capability to crack down on the illicit trade, just as Jason recommends.

In response to increasing pressure, industry insiders from Congolese comptoirs all the way to Asian smelters and U.S. electronics companies have committed themselves to a more transparent and traceable way of doing business. The possibility of U.S. legislation has already invigorated those efforts and the probability that this bill might actually pass should keep that momentum going. Passing a conflict minerals law in the United States won’t solve the problem on its own, but it has a chance to catalyze wider reform efforts that would allow Congolese civilians to meaningfully benefit from these resources.

Response from journalist to last entry

I've gotten a few responses about my last posting on press & the group of experts' report. Here's another response from a journalist (who will go unnamed) who wrote about the group's report:

Some headlines and articles made me feel sick as there were celebrating bad journalism and the good old days of mis-reporting. But whoever leaked this report may now realise the risk of such mis-reporting when handing it to Congo-ignorant journos. Congo is a complex story that needs to be covered by people who know and care about it. My understanding of the media coverage is that a handful of permanent correspondents in Congo seem to have done a good job which has been killed by their hierarchy - more eager to have another "UN scandal" rather than trying to understand a serious situation. Foreign broadsheets don't care about Congo and they wouldn't bother reading such a detailed report anyway. Beyond what certain media have focused on, i think that whether Monuc is a main party to the Kimia II operations is another debate. The reality is that the UN fell into the trap of giving full support to the Kabila-Kagame new deal without even having its whole content. The problem may well be that Monuc happily advertised its support to the operations while it's always been kept aside any kind of planning and coordination. Lost into political games, the UN is now paying the price of backing an army which is responsible for the many human rights abuses we all know about. Perhaps, Monuc should never have supported a CNDP's fast-track "non-integration" into the army. But Monuc cannot just say "well, we only give fuel and rations" whenever the FARDC are reported to be responsible for more abuses. You either in or not. And the Security Council chose that Monuc would be in. - -

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Press & the UN experts' report

I have been underwhelmed by much of the press coverage of the UN Group of Experts' report, which was leaked this week to the press. Called into the BBC studio in Nairobi to comment, I quickly discovered that the reporters were focusing on the failure of the UN mission. The initial story on the BBC World Service implied that the main conclusion of the report was that the UN mission was failing to disarm the rebels. After some push-back from within the BBC, they changed the online story to: "UN-backed forces 'failing' in rebel fight." They weren't alone in assigning blame to MONUC. Reuters led with "UN Fails to Halt Congo Rebels: Experts," the Times of London featured an opinion piece: "The UN Still Failing to Rid the Congo of Its Killers," and the Guardian misleadingly wrote, "UN Peace Mission Fueling Violence in the Congo." RFI broadcast along similar lines.

Guys, please. The report's conclusion that the Kimia II operations are failing to dismantle the FDLR and that the CNDP maintains military and economic control over large areas of the Kivus. The closest the report gets to criticizing MONUC is this: "The Group also underlines the possible contradiction within MONUC’s mandate to protect civilians on a priority basis, and that of providing logistic support the FARDC, while the latter continues to commit abuses against the civilian population, and conducts military operations in disregard of protection of civilians and for international humanitarian law."

Yes, one implication of the report is that MONUC should stop supporting Kimia II. But MONUC was never a main party to these operations, which are much more the result of the Kigali-Kinshasa deal early this year than any move by MONUC. The UN, eager to back this detente between Rwanda and the Congo, joined up with Kimia II after the offensive had been decided on. In my view, MONUC's main strategic error was not to back the operations, but their failure to negotiate strong conditionalities. They provide food, transport, medical evacuation and (rarely) attack helicopter support, but are excluded from all operational planning and are almost never on the front lines, where they would need to be in order to protect civilians. In other words, MONUC gives and gives but gets next to nothing in return.

But the press has featured MONUC as the main culprit in this morality tail - it is a great press story: "The blue helmets who were deployed to protect civilians are actually fueling the violence." We seem to find pleasure in debunking altruism, in exposing humanitarianism to be just another greedy resource grab. The priest child molester is a juicy scandal; the miscreant child molester is nothing new. But let's get the story straight: the culprits in the UN report are Congolese, Burundian, Ugandan and Tanzanian businessmen, military officers and politicians who are profiting from the conflict. They are, to a lesser extent, French and American officials who do not want to go the extra mile to provide information on the conflict, and Chinese and Ukranian governments, also for withholding information. MONUC comes a distant last in the list of culprits.

Otherwise, the report was received warmly by the Rwandan The New Times (close to the government), which has demanded the Security Council to take action. The Burundian, Ugandan and Tanzanian government have vehemently rejected accusations that their officials are supporting the FDLR. Watch this space for some words on the consequences of the report in Burundi - my guess is that the report might be most strongly felt in Burundi, where the head of intelligence and one of the most important businessmen have been implicated in FDLR networks. The Rwandan government, which in influential in Bujumbura, is reportedly furious.

In the Congo, the local press did not make as much of the report as one might expect. The Congolese minister of information lambasted the Group of Experts, but focused on allegations that the offensive was failing, not on evidence that Congolese army officers are still backing the FDLR and that the CNDP has not been successfully integrated. The pro-government website called for the "unfair arms embargo" against the government to be lifted, implying that it is this embargo that is keeping the government from getting rid of the FDLR (not their indiscipline or incompetence). This has often been Kinshasa's reaction - but they seem to neglect that the embargo is only on rebel groups - the only obligation the Congolese government has towards the UN in this respect is to notify the Security Council of military imports.

It was altogether a bad press week, even in Belgium, where Le Soir reported that "The war in the Congo is being financed from Belgium." That the FDLR has supporters there is clear. That these supporters do business with the FDLR and send them funds is probable. But that the FDLR would receive even a fraction of the millions they make off the minerals trade in the Kivus is absurd.

I will leave you will a picture of the lead author of this report, Dinesh Mahtani, with yours truly in the foreground, in Masisi.