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

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A proposal: Making mining in the Kivus more accountable

The Center on International Cooperation at New York University just published a concept paper I wrote with Steve Hege on mining in the Kivus. It's a proposal for how to instill some accountability in the Kivus, inspired by work done by the UN Group of Experts. You can find the paper here, it's pretty short and to the point.

Here's the basic idea:

Recently, numerous initiatives have focused attention on the linkage between conflict and the mineral trade in the Congo. NGOs such as Global Witness and ENOUGH have led campaigns urging governments and companies to take action. The United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC has released several reports documenting in detail how businesses, armed actors and government actors are involved in the mineral trade.

These initiatives have focused on three avenues of dealing with the problem: due diligence, certification and reinforcing local institutions. Due diligence, as suggested by Global Witness and ENOUGH, advocates making companies responsible for determining the conditions under which minerals are mined and brought to market. Companies would have to carry out rigorous internal audits to document their entire supply chain, and an independent international monitoring mechanism would be set up to verify their compliance. While companies could begin conducting such audits immediately, absolute certainty could only come through comprehensive certification of minerals at the source. Bags of cassiterite, coltan or wolframite would have to be sealed at the mine and labeled as conflict-free, so that traders, auditors and international mining companies would be able to distinguish between legal and illegal product.

Eventually, due diligence and certification will be pivotal in reforming the Congolese mining sector. However, comprehensive certification would require reliable agents to be deployed at thousands of pits, mines and streams throughout the eastern DRC, requiring considerable time and resources to set up. Due diligence, on the other hand, remains mostly focused on international trade. In the short run, as long as armed actors control mines and mineral traffic routes, they will find ways to benefit and to get the product onto the international market.

This is why we propose a Third Party Oversight Mechanism, an independently-funded entity that investigates the links between armed actors and the mineral trade. It would provide concrete incentives to the Congolese government to prevent armed groups and military units from benefiting from the mineral trade. The oversight mechanism would function much like the UN Group of Experts has, with several key differences.

Its mandate in a nutshell:

  • It would be set up with an official mandate from the Congolese government to monitor the mineral trade. The close collaboration with the Congolese government is crucial, as this will help encourage support from local and national institutions and will help the mechanism to be sustainable.
  • The mechanism would establish a norm together with the Congolese government that would provide a definition of illegal trade in minerals. Options could include: “Buying minerals from mines controlled by armed actors is illegal,” “buying minerals that you know come from areas controlled by armed actors is illegal,” “buying minerals in direct collusion with armed actors is illegal,” or any other definition established with the government.
  • The investigators would ascertain which traders are violating this norm. It would rely on documentary evidence and eyewitness testimony based on clear evidentiary guidelines spelled out in the mechanism’s mandate.
  • The Congolese government would designate an institution that would be charged with sanctioning individuals who violate this norm, including government officials and army commanders. Ideally, sanctions would be administrative, such as a fine or the suspension of mining or export license, as this would lower the burden of proof and expedite investigations.
  • In order to provide clear guidance to traders about which mining sites are considered to be off-limits, the mechanism would include a mapping cell. This cell would establish public maps of mining sites in the three Kivus provinces. Regularly update versions of these maps would be readily available on the internet.
  • The mechanism would be funded by international donors. Ideally, its members would be appointed by the United Nations Secretariat in consultation with the Congolese government. If a UN mandate is not forthcoming, it could be set up through the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and funded by outside donors, such as the European Union. However, it would be crucial to preserve the financial and substantive independence of the mechanism.
  • It would be led by approximately fifteen international and Congolese thematic experts with extensive experience in complex and sensitive field investigations. The mapping cell would comprise an additional twelve staff members, most of whom would be hired locally from the Kivus.
  • Provide incentives and sanctions in view of formalizing trade An oversight mechanism would have a direct impact on the mineral trade. By sanctioning spoilers and promoting transparency in concrete ways in the eastern Congo, the mechanisms would provide tangible incentives to traders to stop purchasing from areas controlled by armed actors.
  • Make information available Most of the mineral trade in the eastern Congo is underground, making it easier for armed actors to profit and depriving the government of vital revenues. The mechanism would provide detailed information about mineral supply chains and their links to local and regional actors. Regular briefings would be provided to provincial and national Congolese authorities, as well as to donors. Mineral traders could draw on this information in order to know which areas would be off-limits. This information alone, however, would not suffice as due diligence.
  • Capacity to respond to dynamic trade networks The economic networks of the Kivus are highly malleable. Attempts to regulate the mineral trade by prohibiting purchases from certain mining zones could have the adverse effect of driving the trade of those minerals into the informal sector and undermine efforts for greater transparency. However, a third party oversight mechanism with geographic mapping tools would be able to anticipate these changes in supply chains.
  • Facilitate the strengthening of Congolese institutions Close collaboration between Congolese authorities deployed at Mineral Trading Centers, and this mechanism could also generate confidence amongst donors to increase their financial and in-kind support for Congolese mining institutions with a view towards facilitating the progressive handover of the responsibilities mandated for this independent oversight. Congolese members of the mechanism would also eventually play a key leadership role in this process.

Lubumbashi madness

Lubumbashi has always been a world unto itself, a weird microcosm of Congolese politics. The city is one of the wealthiest in the country, due to its proximity to the largest mining ventures in the country (although Mbuji-Mayi, the diamond capital, is one big slum). Politics here are often extremely contentious and explosive, partly due to the conversion of the two main fault lines in Katangan politics:

First, the north-south rift, which has been pronounced since independence, when the north sided with the Lumumbists and the south tried to secede under Moise Tshombe, backed by western mining interests - the two sides fought a brief but bitter war (Laurent D Kabila cut his teeth fighting with the northern militia). This rift also coincides with ethnic and socio-economic cleavages, as the north is predominantly Lubakat and the south a mixture of Lunda/Bemba/others. In addition, the north is seen as "Katanga inutile," as its economy is now mostly based on subsistence agriculture, while the south is rich in copper and cobalt mines. This particular fault line might become very explosive if the plans to split Katanga into four provinces (2 northern & poor, 2 southern & rich) ever go through.

Second, the "autochtone" vs. "outsider" cleavage. Hundreds of thousands of outsiders immigrated to Lubumbashi and other mining cities, especially Likasi and Kolwezi, during the colonial period. Most of these outsiders were ethnic Lubas from Kasai, who were often well educated and endowed with the technical expertise needed for the mining operations. Not surprisingly, this created tensions. During the early 1990s, when Mobutu was trying to deflect from opposition against him, he embarked on a policy of ethnic divisionism in the Kivus and Katanga. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Kasaians had to flee southern Katanga. Many, however, remain or have since returned, and tensions in Lubumbashi remain high between the bakuyakuya (those who come from outside) and the "indigenous" population.

To make matter more complex, Joseph Kabila is theoretically from Katanga - his father was from Ankoro, in northern Katanga, although his grandmother was a southerner (Lunda) and his mother is from Maniema (Bangubangu). He is not really considered Katangan but most there, as he never spent much time there and grew up in mostly in Tanzania. In any case, many of the power brokers around the president are from Katanga (north and south) and their patronage networks are often deeply ethnic.

All this is a long-winded way of introducing two bizarre incidents.

First, a curious round-up of students and teachers in Lubumbashi a few days ago. A small criminology institute had set up shop in a Methodist church in one of the central neighborhoods. a teacher had taken upon himself to give the students a lesson in coup d'etats, an event that is relevant for many Congolese. He was lecturing them in how coup d'etats are planned and carried out when a bunch of police and intelligence agents burst in the door and arrested everybody. They are currently being held in a prison in Lubumbashi for plotting to overthrow the head of state (Kabila happened to be in Lubumbashi at the time). Ah, the Congo, what a car wreck, it hurts to watch, it hurts to look away.

Secondly, an incident at the provincial assembly a few days ago. According to Radio Okapi, four provincial MPs had submitted a motion to impeach the "questeur" of the assembly, the parliamentary administrator, for mismanagement. The president of the assembly, Kyungu wa Kumwanza (who was partly responsible for the anti-Luba ethnic attacks of the early 1990s), basically snubbed them and they walked out of the assembly. Outside, to their surprise, a gang of youths was waiting for them, accusing them of "offending the president of the assembly" and proceeded to beat them. One of them suffered some pretty nasty wounds that can be seen on the Radio Okapi website. He walked back into the assembly, blood dripping onto his shirt. The other MPs were so outraged by what had happened that Kyungu had to stop the proceedings. Pretty ominous, but militias and youth groups are a fundamental part of Lubumbashi politics, more so than anywhere else in the country.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Political and security developments in North Kivu

There was quite a bit of commotion in the Kivus this past week. Abbe Malu Malu arrived in Goma to chair a Comite national de suivi (follow-up committee for the peace deal) with the armed groups. Here were some of the developments he announced:
  • Kabila has authorized the appointment of 6 CNDP delegates as territorial administrators, without saying where they would be based (most likely not just in the Kivus);
  • funds had already been released for the CNDP war wounded - this had been the pretext for CNDP's maintenance of parallel administration and taxation in Masisi and Rutshuru;
  • the various armed groups in the peace process will be officially recognized as political parties within the next three weeks;
  • a new president of the Comite de suivi will shortly be named and its mandate extended for another three months.
This breathed some much-needed life into the peace process. However, most of the important negotiations and developments have always taken place outside of these formal talks - giving the CNDP and PARECO lead positions in the Kimia II operations, and even the appointment of politicians from their ranks to administrative positions. So it remains to be seen how relevant the process is, other than providing per diems to its members. Also, I am not sure the CNDP will be happy with just 6 administrators - they had been gunning for ministerial positions in the national and provincial governments (they already have two such positions in North Kivu, there had been rumors of similar nominations in South Kivu). There should be a ministerial shuffle in Kinshasa in the next weeks that will be important in this regard.

The military developments on the ground have also been important. MONUC and the Congolese army have been discussing the new deployments of the Amani Leo operations (successor to Kimia II). Interestingly, MONUC chief Alan Doss has used the insurgency in Equateur province (unrelated to the Kivus) to get leverage on the Congolese army - they have provided extensive transport, fuel and medical evacuation for Congolese troops deployed there upon the condition that the Congolese army allow for closer MONUC involvement in operational planning in Amani Leo - they had been pretty much excluded from meaningful planning in Kimia II, and they have seized upon this as an opportunity.

What exactly this means is yet to be seen. The Congolese are supported to deploy eight "strike battalions" in North Kivu against the FDLR, which will be supported by MONUC. The areas that MONUC has targeted for increased civilian protection (and I assume where these battalions will be active) are: southern Lubero, north-central Rutshuru and southern Masisi territories. This means that the Congolese are supposed to deploy military police with their units to prevent abuses, and that regular police forces are supposed to move in to take care of law and order problems. Money will be provided to refurbish police buildings and prisons, and community reconciliation programs will be launched (not clear by whom and what this means).

This is a much more holistic approach than under Kimia II and will much fewer troops. As pointed out here before, however, it isn't clear where the remaining soldiers will be going, as the barracks have not yet been built or renovated for them, so they may still be preying on the local population, especially as they will no longer be receiving the extra funds from their government for operational logistics and fuel/supplies from MONUC. Previous experience in the Kivus shows that troops who are deployed in operations loot; those deployed in holding positions predate through taxation.

In the meantime, the FDLR have not changed their behavior much. Here are some quotes from MONUC's reports on the security situations in North Kivu for last week:

"Various reports have highlighted concerns that FDLR elements are causing insecurity for the local population in parts of NE Rutshuru, NW Masisi and E Walikale. North Kivu Brigade received reports from local sources that 6-7 FDLR elements looted the village of Karambi (12 km N of Tongo, Rutshuru Territory) on the night of 16 January, killing one individual. In Masisi Territory, North Kivu Brigade in Kashebere (33 km NW of Masisi) received reports from local sources that civilians in the area were apprehensive of FDLR looting around Mahanga (10 km W of Masisi). In E Walikale Territory, a MILOBs patrol to Kailenge (5 m SW of Pinga) received reports from local sources that Rhungoma (8 km S of Kailenge) was attacked by FDLR in the evening of 16 January. The attackers apparently beat local inhabitants, demanding ration cards provided to the population by ICRC. Inputs from NK Brigade suggested that this looting extended to Binyungunyungu (9 km SE of Pinga) and Kaghuli (7 km SE of Pinga). Meanwhile, local inhabitants in Ngora village (14 km NE of Walikale) reported to MILOBs that FDLR elements were based along the Mera-Ntoto axis (70-80 km E of Walikale) where they were reportedly committing exactions on the local population, including looting and rape."

A new FDLR leadership?

It appears that the FDLR are beginning to re-organize after the end of Kimia II operations. For several days now, meeting have been held in southern Masisi territory to determine how they should restructure their leadership after the arrest of Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, their president and vice-president, in Germany last year. It appears that General Gaston Iyamuremye (aka Rumuli Michel) may temporarily take the helm. Until recently, Rumuli was the main representative of the civilian leadership in the field and a quasi minister of defense. He led an office that was staffed by civilian advisers and tasked with developing military and political strategy. He is known to be a relative hardliner, although he has previously engaged in talks with MONUC on behalf of the FDLR, notably in 2008, when he met with MONUC representatives in Nyabiondo (Masisi) and promised to send a battalion of FDLR troops into demobilization as a goodwill gesture. Nothing ever came of this, and some speculated that the military commander, General Mudacumura, had countermanded his order.

Rumuli Michel is around 60 years old and is from the northern province of Ruhengeri. He was trained in Rwanda and Belgium and was leading a battalion that was in charge of logistics and military equipment in Kigali at the time of the genocide; his involvement in the massacres has not been established, but some members of the Rwandan security service have suggested that they view him as complicit.

His nomination may only be temporary as they look for someone more suitable. However, if it does become permanent, it will represent a serious shift of their public image from Ignace Murwanashyaka - who was a civilian based in Germany and was not present in Rwanda at the time of the genocide - to a military commander in the field. In that sense, it could represent a radicalization of their approach (although it seems difficult to become more radical than they are already) and a closing of the ranks. Callixte Mbarushimana, the executive secretary of the FDLR based in Paris, has apparently backed this temporary nomination and is still signing press releases from Paris. A president based in the field may also take the pressure off him, as both the BBC and the Associated Press have recently run long stories on his involvement in the FDLR and the 1994 genocide.

In the meantime, local press reports that the FDLR have retaken some of the positions they were forced out of during Kimia II operations.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Angola vs. Congo: Oil, soccer & refugees

One of the great things about blogging that I can pontificate about things I don't know a great deal about. Here we go.

Tensions remain high between Angola and the Congo. Many well-informed people in Kinshasa have been floating theories about how Luanda may have a hand behind the recent events in Equateur region, either by providing direct support to the rebels or by looking the other way as some of their allies (Congo-Brazzaville? MLC? ex-FAZ?) helped stir up trouble in the north of the country. This is still highly tendentious, but there is definitely trouble between Angola and the Congo.

First, oil. The Congo has next to no production at the moment, a mere 25,000 barrels of oil per day, which is dwarfed by Angola's 2 million barrels/day. Still, even at such low outputs, oil produces revenues easily captured by the central state - around 8% of total revenues already come from oil. With the collapse of the diamond parastatal MIBA, the government badly needs a reliable source of income that is not watered down by layers and complex and corrupt bureaucracy.

Congo has been complaining for a while that Angola has been encroaching on its territorial waters, where some of Africa's largest oil fields are located. In particular, the Congo is complaining about Block 14, which is being managed by Chevron-Texaco and produces 168,000 barrels/day and Block 15, managed by ExxonMobil and producing 600,000 barrels/day. (At $80/barrel, both blocks produce around $61 million/day in gross value). You can see why they are eager to get their hands on these concessions - even if they can get half of each field, they could be magnifying their oil production by a factor of 15. Of course, the Angolans are not happy - these two fields produce about 35% of their total national output. The US government is also following this closely, as the US imports 7% of its oil from Angola (three times as much as from Kuwait).

So the Congolese asked Angola to sit down with them and negotiate - Kinshasa set up a commission in April 2009 led by Kabuya Lumuna, a former Mobutist Katangan now close to President Kabila. They argued that according to the Montego Bay Convention, their territorial waters extend 350 miles out into the Atlantic, cutting Blocks 14 & 15 in half. Angola hired some Portuguese lawyers and hit back, saying that the current state of affairs is justified. See the map below to see how the Angolans have chipped away at Congolese territorial waters - the colored blocks are all Angolan-owned oil field, the small blue triangle in the middle is all the has been left to the Congolese.

Not to be persuaded by legal arguments alone, the Angolans have put another issue on the table to balance the scales: their support to Kabila's government between 1998-2003 (and even today, as they still maintain a battalion in Kitona to train the Congolese army). Laurent Kabila would have probably been overrun by Rwandan troops in August 1998 if the Angolans hadn't stepped in, along with Zimbabwe, to protect the capital. Similarly, after Laurent Kabila's assassination in 2001, security in the capital was maintained by Angolan troops. Reliable sources reported Angolan support during the fighting in Kinshasa in 2006/7 with Jean-Pierre Bemba's troops. Other Angolan interventions have been less welcome: the Angolan army has invaded Congolese territory in Bas-Congo and Bandunde provinces on several occasions since 2007.

These tensions have only risen over the past month. Some sources indicate that Angolan rebels who attacked the Togolese national soccer team a few weeks ago in Cabinda fled into the Congo. The attack was extremely harmful for Angola's reputation, as they had poured billions of dollars into organizing the African Cup of Nations to show the world that they had emerged from 30 years of civil war. At the same time, reports keep streaming in about Congolese being expelled from diamond fields in northern Angola, which for some time was being reciprocated by Congolese authorities in Bas-Congo.

Apparently the Congolese are now considering going to an international court for arbitration over the oil fields. Relations between the two countries will be influential in Kinshasa. While Kabila is concerned about the Kivus and Rwanda's influence there, he is even more concerned about Angola's influence, as Luanda has close ties with many in Kinshasa's political elite and could seriously destabilize the situation there if it so chooses.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Addendum: Congo death controversy

The Science Magazine blog has links to both the Human Security Report and the IRC rebuttals. Pretty strong language indeed.

Why are Congolese such bad shots?

I often wondered why Congolese armed groups could fire tens of thousands of rounds during a battle and end up hitting next to nobody. On numerous occasions, I would be close to the front line of fighting and hear hour after hour of continuous AK-47 fire, hundreds of thousands of rounds, and then find out that there had been no casualties except for a few farmers hit by stray bullets. Once, I asked the Mai-Mai commander General Padiri Bulenda, the leader of the largest Mai-Mai group at the time (2003), what the most casualties his troops had ever suffered in battle was. He thought about it for a long time, then said, "Thirty." He may have been fudging it (he probably was), but even during the Kimia operations, it is rare that the FARDC loses more than 3-4 troops per battle.

I used to think this was primarily because of poor training, low morale and lousy equipment. In other words, due to poor unit cohesion and morale in Congolese armed groups, commanders would not be able to get their units close enough to hit anybody with any reliability (i.e. 150-300 meters). I would often see soldiers crouching behind a wall, sticking their rifle over the top and shooting without aiming. Little wonder they didn't hit anything. In addition, many of their AK-47s are 15-30 years old, the ammunition is damp and the barrels are crooked or rusted up.

There may, however, be another reason. In his book On Killing, Lt Col Dave Grossman says that such behavior is typical of most armies. He quotes a US medic in Vietnam who had to crawl onto battle fields to help wounded soldiers, "What always amazed me is how many bullet can be fired during a firefight without anyone getting hurt." Equipment can play a role, but there are also psychological factors, Grossman explains. Soldiers have an innate aversion to killing, he says, and will intentionally miss or just not shoot to avoid killing.

Might sound implausible, but there is quite a bit of data to back it up. During World War II, US General S.L.A Marshall interviewed soldiers after battles and found out that only 15 to 20 per cent even fired their weapons. Another amazing factoid: After the US civil war battle of Gettysburg 27,500 muskets were recovered from the battlefield. Ninety per cent of these were loaded, almost 50 per cent had more than one bullet and 25 per cent had 3-10 bullets in the barrel! In other words, instead of shooting, many soldiers just kept on loading. Another one: in World War II, less than 1 per cent of all US fighter pilots accounted for 30-40 per cent of all aircraft shot down.

Some of aversion could be defused through racism or prejudice - 44 per cent of Americans said they "would really like to kill" a Japanese soldier, but only 6 per cent said the same about Germans.

The US army has tackled this problem through socialization, conditioning and training. They now teach their recruits to kill, they desensitize them and dehumanize their enemies. Apparently, this has allowed them to boost firing rates from the 20 per cent in WWII to 50 per cent in Korea and 95 per cent in Vietnam. While I would be very careful about these stats, it looks like there is sufficient evidence there to be able to say that most people need copious coaxing and coercing to kill their fellow man/woman.

So what about the Congo? I don't know, but I would not be surprised if commanders faced similar problems. Soldiers trained by the AFDL and the Rwandans in 1996/7 were often forced to shoot deserters or kill with knives so they would get used to it. Children are often used (in some groups, up to 50 per cent of troops are under 18) because they follow orders better and are not afraid; i.e. they are easier to condition. The use of magical potions and balms (Mai) helps persuade soldiers not only that they are invincible to bullets, but that killing is OK, absolving them from breaking this taboo.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How many people really died in the Congo wars?

Today, Canadian researchers at Simon Fraser University released the 2009 Human Security Report, challenging popular perceptions of wars. Controversially, they conclude that countrywide death rates actually fall during most contemporary wars for three reasons:
  • wars today are fought by smaller, often low-tech armies in smaller areas - there has been a 70% decrease in "high-intensity conflict" since the end of the Cold War
  • there have been huge improvements in health care (especially immunization) in many countries
  • humanitarian assistance to countries has increased dramatically in many war zones
As a case in point, they directly attack the International Rescue Committee's mortality studies in the Congo, which concluded that between 1998 and 2007 5.4 million people died as a result of the war there. They suggest that due to flaws in the IRC research, the real number could be as much as 60% lower.

This is not the first time that such questions have been raised - in 2008 two Belgian demographers carried out a study based on the results of voter registration and, using previous Congolese censuses as baselines, extrapolated how many people would have died. Their result: only 200,000, i.e. less than 5% of the IRC estimate.

I am not very qualified to grapple with all of the statistical spit balls that have been slung back and forth between Simon Fraser University and the IRC over the past few days. I do think that in general, their basic argument is a bit misleading, as they are not saying that people don't die in wars, but that those deaths are offset by improvements in health care, somehow in the process implying that we shouldn't be as alarmed by 1,000 deaths if better health care at the same time saved 1,000 other people. The death of one person is not justified or made irrelevant by saving another person's life.

But let me deal briefly with the case of the Congo, which they deal with at length. As far as I can see, they have two main critiques of the IRC: (1) That the baseline mortality rates they used for 1998 were too low, thereby exaggerating the number of deaths that could be attributed to the war in the subsequent years. And (2) that they health zones they chose do not accurately represent mortality in the eastern Congo.

For the first point, the IRC used a baseline mortality rate of 1,5 per 1,000, which was the average mortality rate for sub-Saharan Africa. They looked at the 1984 mortality rate (given by the government during its last census), which had been 1,3/1,000 and at UNICEF's mortality rate for 1996, which had been 1,2/1,000, but preferred to go with the higher 1,5 rate to make sure they did not overestimate the death toll. The Human Security Report (HSR) says their baseline was far too low and should have been 2,0/1,000, the rate for western Congo in 2000. I tend to side with IRC on this - I don't see why they should substitute a 2000 baseline for 1998; although western Congo was relatively peaceful, the effects of the war probably still had an impact there through the economic and political instability it caused (just think of the extreme inflation and unrest in Kinshasa 1999-2000, the hundreds of thousands of people who left rural areas around the country to come to western cities.)

For the second point, the IRC carried out 5 surveys over seven years. Their researchers visited several dozen different health zones throughout the Congo and surveyed as many as 19,500 households in one survey. The surveys were run by prominent researchers, epidemiologists and statisticians in top universities; the results were published in esteemed medical journals such as The Lancet. Nonetheless, as they themselves admit, there are questions whether the health zones they used were representative: they would take the mortality rate for one or several health zones (a relatively large area) and extrapolate to the whole province (which usually includes 5-40 health zones). For example, in the 2001 health survey they measured the mortality rates for Lusambo and Kisangani and extrapolated to the over 40 health zones for Province Orientale. HSR was particularly annoyed that they took rates for Moba and Kalemie, two health zones with extraordinarily high rates, and extrapolated to all of Katanga.

This is a problem, there is no doubt, and one that the IRC study admits up front. The conflict and humanitarian situation in the eastern Congo depends heavily on micro-dynamics of conflict that can vary significantly from one area to the next. How significant is this problem of representivity? First, the IRC surveyed quite a few health zones - in South Kivu they did three out of 13 health zones, Katana, Kamituga and Nyangezi. While they selected them at random, on the face of it, it isn't a bad choice: Katana and Nyangezi both include high-altitude hills as well as large towns and are close to Bukavu; Kamituga is a remote, mostly low-land jungle zone. For the rest of the Kivus, the selection of health zones doesn't reveal any immediate problems to my eye.

But the doubt does persist - as long as we don't have the real baseline mortality (we will never have it) and have good surveys of all health zones in the country, we cannot conclusively judge. But the IRC did do what I think was a thorough job, sending out dozens of teams to randomly selected GPS locations in randomly selected health zones throughout the country, often traveling on motorcycles through deep jungle and difficult terrain.

We should also bear in mind that the problem of representivity could work in both directions, by either exaggerating or underestimating the mortality rates. In particular, IRC suggests that it couldn't visit some of the most violent areas, which should bias their results towards underestimation.

The HSR report can be seen here. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the official IRC statement (I have seen an unofficial one, which I am reluctant to release). The BBC and AP stories weren't very good, I fear, and didn't explain what the disagreement is really about and make it seem like the IRC is trying to cover up a screw up, when the IRC is just saying that statistical estimates in such complex situation will also be flawed, but that they tried to deal with the challenges as best as possible.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Belgium and the Congo: Mon Dieu

There's something about feet metaphors these days when it comes to describing Belgium's relations with the Congo.

First case in point: Karel de Gucht. Now, De Gucht is no longer Belgium's foreign minister. But when he took the floor during a debate about the Congo at the European Parliament on December 17, he was seen by Congolese first and foremost as Belgian, not as the EU Development Minister. Here's what got the Congolese government upset. Talking about all the money spent on the Congo, he said: "The problem is: what impact does all of this have at the end of the day, if you don't have an appropriate interlocutor in the political arena." The Congo has become "a huge waste," a country where "almost everything has to be redone, starting with the reconstruction of the state, whose absence is at the heart of the problem."

They say the Flemish Belgian don't suffer from the same guilt complex as the Walloons when it comes to their colonial past. The colonial government was dominated by francophone Belgians, who made French the colonial language, even though according to the law Dutch had equal status. But the Congolese don't discriminate - this attitude smacks of neo-colonialism for many of them. Lambert Mende, the Congolese information minister who is not known for his soft touch, hit back, saying de Gucht "is incapable of having normal, dignified relationship" with the Congo. Others accused him of racism, even Belgian politicians (Walloons) remarked that this was no way to talk about a country. Yes, it's true that De Gucht was severe, and that language like that is not common when talking about foreign heads of state. It reminds Congolese of other remarks he made, in 2004, as Belgian foreign minister, after a trip to the Congo: "I did not find any convincing Congolese politicians." (He made the comments in Rwanda, which he said "is well managed," further infuriating the Congolese.) he has also been somewhat hypocritical, saying he has the right to criticize the Congolese (presumably because of the significant support the Belgians still provide), but would not scold the Chinese government for their human rights record on a trip to the country.

But as much as De Gucht has foot-in-mouth syndrome, usually his analysis is accurate and can help infuse some sanity in the otherwise overly prim debate. Even in Kinshasa, as much as popular opinion resents Belgian arrogance, many people sympathized with his sentiment.

The response was predictable. A few weeks later, when De Gucht was supposed to visit the eastern Congo to sign a new package of over $300 million in development funds, Kinshasa refused to give him a visa, prompting the EU foreign minister to summon the Congolese ambassador in Brussels.

Second case in point: "Belgian politicians are chewing the soles of their shoes, that's how anxious they are to get their King to attend the Congolese 50th independence celebrations this year," a friend told me a few days ago. It is true: King Albert II is expected to be a guest of honor in Kinshasa this year, when the country celebrates its independence. Does anybody else notice how bizarre this is? Any visitor to the Royal Africa Museum in Terveuren (Brussels) will remark that many Belgians are still in Lala-land with regards to their colonial past, buying the notion that Belgian had gone there to save the country from itself (at least in the post-Leopold period) - just look how much better off they were then than now! Mon Dieu. Despite some good efforts (even some nice exhibitions at Terveuren), there has been little critical reappraisal of the colonial government that ruled the Congo between 1908-1960. Just remember the outcry there was in Belgium when Adam Hochschild's book "King Leopold's Ghost" was published there.

So will Kabila behave like Patrice Lumumba in 1960, when he unexpectedly turned to King Baudouin (Albert's older brother) and said: "Who will ever forget the massacres where so many of our brothers perished, the cells into which those who refused to submit to a regime of oppression and exploitation were thrown?" I doubt it. But we won't have sanity in the Congo-Belgian relations until both sides carry out some serious re-evaluation of their past behaviors.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Changing Congo's electoral law

At the inter-institutional meeting held recently in Mbuji Mayi, President Kabila indicated that he wants to change several aspects of the constitution. As mentioned previously here, the official changes to the constitution make sense: according to the text, the country was supposed to have been split up into 26 provinces and have decentralized governance within 3 years of the inauguration of the new government, i.e. now. It hasn't happened, so there needs to be a constitutional amendment to decide what to do. Of course, there are also rumors that the "Rais" wants to change the term limits, but apparently he has given up on that battle for now.

Kabila also mentioned, however, that he wants to change the electoral law from proportional representation to a winner-takes-all system. He is unhappy with the huge number of small, unruly parties in the national assembly that has made it difficult to create strong coalitions. In other words, until now in many electoral districts there were more than one seat up for election - each parties submitted their list of candidates and the seats were distributed to the candidates with the highest vote share. In some cases, there were up to 17 seats (in the case of Kinshasa) up for grabs in an electoral district. This, along with the fact that candidates at the top of a electoral can "give" some of their surplus votes to the following candidates on their party list (i.e. if a candidate needs 3,000 votes to get elected and he gets 9,000, he can bring along with him 2 other members of his party), has produced a parliament in which some members have very few votes and with an enormous number of very small parties.

A quick glance: there are 70 parties represented in the national assembly, as well as 63 independents. A full 250 of the MPs won less than 10% of the vote in their district, Around 150 won less than 5% of the vote. I wasn't able to gauge, however, which parties would be particularly affected if, as Kabila proposes, he reduces the number of seats per district to one (the American system). Many small parties and independents would still have been elected during the last elections, although some, such as the RCD and Camp de la Patrie would probably have lost most of their seats. It remains to be seen whether Kabila would leave the number of seats and create new, smaller electoral districts (in which case, Kinshasa would end up having as many as 58 electoral districts) or leave the districts as they are and reduce the number of MPs in the national assembly. Depending on which option they decide on, the consequences would change.

Imagine, for example, they kept the district size and reduced the number of seats in the 2006 elections:
  • South Kivu, which currently has 32 seats, would only have 9. Instead of having 13 parties represented, you would have only 3, with the PPRD taking the lion's share (7) seats.
  • North Kivu, you would have 9 seats instead of the current 48, with four parties represented instead of 12 - the PPRD taking 6 seats and FR, PANADI and independent taking the rest.
  • Kasai Oriental, home of small parties, you would have 18 seats instead of the current 39. Instead of 18 parties represented, you would have 13. In other words, little change here.
  • In Bas Congo, you would have 12 instead of 24 seats. Instead of having 13 parties you would have 10, so also little change here.
So in the Kivus, there would be a sharp decline in smaller parties to the benefit of the PPRD, whereas elsewhere there would be little change. Proportionally, as the districts with many seats now are big cities, the weight would shift to rural districts with only one seat. In some areas, it could also disadvantage minorities, as they would no longer be able to get their candidate through (although not really the Tutsi, as they have few candidates get through as it was). The national assembly would also be much smaller, more manageable and less expensive to buy off (this is currently a huge expense for Kabila).

If this system is proposed, there would have to be a change in the way seats are distributed - Maniema with 650,000 voters would have almost as many seats as North Kivu with 2,5 million voters.

Now imagine that the system would change to maintain the number of seats in parliament but make many new congressional districts. This would raise the controversial question of district boundaries and gerrymandering, which would be sure to raise hackles on necks. In Kinshasa, you would create 17 districts out of one, in Bukavu 5 out of 1. Given the ethnic way neighborhoods in many cities are settled, this could lead candidates to resort increasingly to ethnic-based hate speech, but it would also make campaigning cheaper for each candidate, as they would have less ground to cover.

All this is conjecture based on the way things played out in the 2006 elections. My guess is that the dynamics of the 2011 elections will be very different in terms of funding, who runs the elections, the kinds of coalitions formed, etc. But food for thought.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dongo: We enter the fantasyland of fakirs and napalm

Ambroise Lobala, the self-proclaimed spokesperson for the shadowy Patriotes Resistants du Congo (PRC) rebels, who claims to control the troops that have been fighting against the Congolese army in Equateur since October 2009, appears to have flipped his cookies.

Here is an excerpt from a press statement he published two days ago, where he talks about the recent fighting in northern Congo. The press and MONUC reported that 157 rebels were killed in this fighting around Christmas. Not so, Lobala retorts (my translation):

"2. The Battle of Saint Sylvestre
From 29th December 2009 to 1st January 2010, the Enyele combatant forces of the Patriotes Resistants du Congo were involved in violent fighting with a heterogeneous international coalition. This coalition was composed of:
  • 500 Belgian special forces dressed in MONUC uniforms;
  • Rwandan regular army troops
  • Indian mercenaries, including [yes, indeed] fakirs and magicians, all of whom are dead;
  • Chinese mercenaries;

The outcome of this battle was catastrophic for the enemy, who only had several Belgian survivors who fled Enyele.[...]

3. The Use of Non-Conventional Weapons

Due to the significant losses in the field and the panic that took over the ranks of the coalition of his accomplices, and pursuing his logic of chaos in Equateur as well as throughout the whole of the national territory, the Rwandan impostor Joseph Kabila has ordered the use of non-conventional weapons as well as weapons of mass destruction along all of the Equateur front lines, especially on the front line in Dongo, which has become the graveyard of Rwandans, the Congolese army and its accomplices. This goes especially for bombs and napalm, a large stock of which just arrived in Gemena. The goal is to burn down all of the villages in the conflict zone, leading to the massacre of villagers without discrimination, under the approving eye of MONUC.

Signed in Libenge, January 9th, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Republican Guard

I found the following story on a Cedric Kalonji's fantastic website recently. I can't vouch for it's authenticity (neither can Cedric, it was posted by a reader as a comment), but I've heard so many similar stories that it sounded plausible:

"There is a presidential residence in Lubumbasi, on the avenue formerly known as Kamanyola. When you get within 500 meters of this residence, it's strictly forbidden to drive faster than 30 kilometers/hour, to stop and above all to talk on the phone. Last July (in 2008), my wife's brother, who had just celebrated his wedding, was in a car with his bride when they had a flat. Do you know what the soldiers guarding the residence did? (I should add that Kabila stays in the house maybe once a year) They came and dragged the groom out of the car and beat him up without any questioning. Is it the groom who controlled the mechanics of the car that they should beat him up like that on the day of his wedding? There are people who are beaten up simply for talking on their phone around this residence, as if talking on the phone could compromise the president's safety when he's 2,000 kilometers away. Go figure, it's a county of crazies."

This reminds me of my friend Serge Maheshe, reporter at Radio Okapi in Bukavu who was killed by unknown armed men in 2007. A few months before his murder, he also had had a run-in with the presidential guard. He lived in a house next to the cercle sportif (sports club) in Bukavu, with his wife and newborn son Gabriel Michel. President Kabila had taken over the cercle as his residence when he was in Bukavu - it's on the tip of a peninsula and easy to protect. One evening, Serge's brother was coming to visit him and parked his car on the side of the road close to the roadblock, right next to Serge's house. One of the presidential guards approached him to ask him what the hell he was doing, parking his car there. When he didn't get the right answer, the soldier grabbed Serge's brother and put him face-down on the ground, handcuffing him. Serge came out of the house to see what the commotion was about, and was promptly also shoved into the dust and handcuffed as his wife looked on.

Serge was released shortly afterwards, but he filed a complaint with the local commander of the republican guard. When nothing was done to sanction the culprits, Serge made his story part of a larger story about abuses of the presidential guard around Bukavu, of which there were many. Soon, he was received death threats on his phone, telling him to shut up. MONUC, which helps fund and manage Radio Okapi, had to invite the republican guard commander to its office to solve the problem. The threats stopped for a month, after which Serge was killed. The murder is unsolved to this day, and there are several plausible accounts for who may have been responsible.

Similarly, at the UN part of the Lubumbashi airport in 2005 and 2006, the presidential guard beat up UN local employees and allegedly even fired on a Radio Okapi reporter. The point is that if this is what the republican guard does to a UN employee, what must regular Congolese face? Apart from Article 140 of the Law on the Army and Defence, no legal stipulation on the DRC's Armed Forces makes provision for the GR as a distinct unit within the national army. The guard reports directly to President Kabila; some of its units were supposed to have been integrated into the national army, but only a few battalions of the estimated 10,000 have done so thus far.

What is Obama doing for the Congo?

There has rarely been as much attention to the Congo in the U.S. as now.

During his campaign and at his Nobel acceptance speech, Obama mentioned Congo several times. As a senator, he co-sponsored the sweeping Congo Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion Act. In 2006, when he visited Africa, he was even supposed to make a brief stop in the Congo, but was prevented to do so because of violence. Since Obama's inauguration, Hillary Clinton has visited the Congo, the first secretary of state to do so since Madeleine Albright went in 1997 (the highest level official under Bush to go was the Labor Secretary, I believe). Many pundits hailed the nomination of "Special Envoy" Howard Wolpe to the Great Lakes Region last year. On the legislative side, two bills that tackle transparency in the natural resource sector have been submitted to the House and Senate, respectively.

The result of all of this? Not a whole lot. Yes, USAID's budget has increased from $131 to $171 million from 2009 to 2010 (out of a total of around $640 million in humanitarian aid). But, as donors in Kinshasa wring their hands about how little leverage they have on the Congo to improve human rights, reform the army and empower institutions, the Obama administration has failed to use its considerable clout. After all, the US has a huge say in the World Bank and IMF, who provide almost $1 billion in aid each year to the Congo and who bailed the country out last year to the tune of $600 million during the financial crisis. The US also has an important vote in the Paris Club, which recently forgave up to $7 billion (total amount is not clear) in Congo's debt.

Hillary Clinton's visit to Goma and Kinshasa was welcome, but the only concrete outcome was a pledge of $17 million to help rape survivors. Good, and money is always welcome, but let's face it - a drop in the bucket and nothing to tackle the real problem of preventing new rapes. Also (as Wronging Rights points out) part of Clinton's plan is to give camcorder to women so they can film their rapists. Yes, c'est vrai.

The US has opened a diplomatic office in Goma, where the State Department has posted a knowledgeable diplomat - the guy there now used to be the head of State's Congo & Rwanda Desks and has worked on the region for two decades - and has hired several private consultants. But it isn't clear how much impact this is having on US policy. Howard Wolpe, the "Special Envoy" I mentioned before is actually just a special adviser on the Great Lakes who has apparently become marginalized in the inter-agency process.

The fact of the matter is that there has not been a coherent strategy for the Congo since the 2006 elections. That goes for all the donors, not just the US. Back during the transition, everybody had their eyes on the lodestar, the elections, and worked moderately well getting there, Now, we talk about state building, but don't know how to go about doing it, we wring out hands at not having leverage and then disburse billions in aid to the government. The US does not have a strategy document on the Congo as they do for other countries - there are some papers floating around State and other agencies, but nothing comprehensive with the appropriate carrots and sticks attached.

Some important decisions are coming up.
  • The US will soon nominate a new ambassador to the Congo;
  • MONUC's mandate will be up for renewal in June this year and the Security Council will have to decide whether the mission will downsize to become a "stabilization" mission;
  • At some point in the coming year, donors will have to decide how they want to oversee and finance the 2011 elections and whether they want to support real decentralization as conceived by the 2005 constitution;
  • Donors will also have to choose whether they want to move forwards on other important initiatives they have been kicking around: Security sector reform (including judicial reform) and transparency in the natural resource sector being two of the most important.
Nothing I have seen from the US (or most other donors) so far leads me to believe that we have a good plan for any of this. I hope I can be proved wrong.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Amani Leo - Old Wine, New Bottles?

While we were all drinking eggnog and singing Christmas carols, the Congolese army and MONUC agreed on a new military plan for the FDLR. In the last days of 2009, the UN mission signed a joint operational order with the Congolese government to end the Kimia II operations and begin a new phase, dubbed "Amani Leo," or Peace Today. MONUC chief Alan Doss had announced several weeks earlier that the Kimia II operations would end, after they had been much criticized by diplomats, civil society and human rights groups. To make sure that no one took the end of Kimia II as a sign of defeat, the Congolese army published a press statement, claiming that they had gotten rid of 75% of the FDLR by killing 1,472 of the rebels and prompting 2,029 to surrender to MONUC.

First, the figures must be treated with a good dose of salt. The surrenders probably include the Rwandan CNDP deserters - between January 1st and November 6th, 1309 FDLR and 477 CNDP soldiers had gone back to Rwanda with MONUC. I don't have the updated figures, but I doubt that more than 500 FDLR went back to Rwanda during the rest of the year. Also, MONUC officials in private say they have no way of confirming FDLR casualties, and knowing conflict in the Kivus, it is highly unlikely that 1,472 soldiers died.

What do we know about Amani Leo? If they proceed as planned, it does mark a significant departure from last year's operations. From what I can glean, the Congolese army is supposed to reduce the number of units deployed in operations in order to limit abuses to the population - they speak of employing 10 battalions per province (what diplomats are saying), or around 6,000-10,000 soldiers (these are my figures, as most Congolese battalions range from between 600-1,000 troops). That is down from twice or three times as many troops deployed in operations last year. Unfortunately, we don't know which units will be used - there are some rumors that ex-CNDP units will continue to figure prominently in these operations, as the government tries to keep their former enemies busy and flush with cash (troops in operations receive more money for logistics). The government's complaint has always been that Kimia II may not have always been successful or pleasant, but it did help solidify the shaky peace deal with their real foe, the CNDP.

The rest of the troops are supposed to be put in barracks. Unfortunately, most of the barracks are not finished. The biggest one was supposed to be in Camp Saio, Bukavu, where I believe the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is in charge of the funds to rebuild infrastructure. It's taking longer than expected, and in any case it is a large order to fill - up to 60,000 troops are deployed in the Kivus. Other barracks are supposed to be built or repaired in North Kivu and Kisangani. These seems like deja vu all over again - I remember when the South Africans renovated the Rumangabo military barracks in Rumangabo (north of Goma) 4-5 years ago. After several years, the installations' sewage had fallen apart, the paint had been sullied and the windows broken. In any case, there will be many remaining soldiers who can't participate in the operations or be lodged in the barracks, who will probably just have to stay wherever they are.

MONUC will continue to provide support to the units deployed in operations. There is some language in the agreement about not supporting abusive commanders, but it isn't clear how that will be implemented or whether the commission the Security Council created to follow up on these conditionalities will take care of this. In any case, the Congolese have recently been very allergic to any suggestion that MONUC can interfere in "internal affairs." A high-ranking Congolese official recently told MONUC that they would kick MONUC out if they suspended support to another army unit. I think this is just posturing, but the donors seem consistently incapable to find any leverage to use on the Congolese government, which has allowed Kinshasa politicians to resort to such posturing. Also, government officials appear eager to force out MONUC chief Alan Doss (who has also faced criticism from diplomats for not being tough enough...) and maybe other top UN officials in Kinshasa. This is a troubling trend - they may be inspired by neighboring Burundi, where a few weeks ago the government asked the head of the UN operations there, Mahmoud Youssef, to leave.

So, my guess is that we will continue to see operations, reprisals and abuses in the Kivus in 2010, albeit fewer than last year.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The mystery of Dongo

Over two months since fighting first erupted in Dongo (Equateur), the situation there remains a mystery. What caused the fighting initially to break out on 29 and 30 October last year? If it was really just a local conflict over fishing and land rights, why did Kabila send a battalion of special forces from the eastern Congo and hundreds of police, while MONUC sent a company of their troops? Why did over a hundred thousand people flee to violence, over 80,000 ending up in their neighboring Republic of Congo? Why have the press in Kinshasa seized on this rebellion, expressing far more interest than in what is happening in the Kivus?

The situation still remains shrouded in mystery, even the internal MONUC reports don't shed a great deal of light on the matter. I spoke with two different MLC representatives in Kinshasa about the matter, one of them from Equateur, and they also appear confused.

It appears that the fighting did initially erupt over local fishing rights, at least that was the trigger. Afterwards, some former Mobutu officers (ex-FAZ) and members of the MLC joined in, taking advantage of the armes caches left in the area by the MLC after the war. There have been allegations that the government troops sent in initially to quell the insurgency only fanned the flames by committing numerous abuses against the local population, but I haven't seen any confirmation of this.

It is also clear that what started as a small quarrel between neighboring communities quickly grew to something far more serious. MONUC troops deployed to the area reported seeing dozens, perhaps hundreds of Congolese army soldiers dead and wounded from the fighting, some of whom they evacuated with their helicopters. A MONUC helicopter was shot at by the insurgents, as well. Whatever this armed group was, they had gotten their hands on quite a few small caliber weapons. "This is about more than just smoked fish," one MONUC official told me.

Rumors in Kinshasa reported that Angola was behind this, taking advantage of a local feud to express their discontent with the government in Kinshasa, which is trying to wrest a lucrative offshore oil field away from them. Others have alleged that the former Mobutists in exile are backing the movement, pointing at Honore Ngbanda (Mobutu's former security advisor, now based in Paris), who has been publishing a stream of propaganda for the insurgents through his political "party", APARECO. Still others allege that Kabila's government has fomented this, in order to create a pretext to crack down on Equateurians.

A loose movement was created in the Diaspora, including Congolese in France, Norway and South Africa, calling itself the Patriotes Resistants, led by an hitherto unknown Ambroise Lobala. Funnily enough, some of the fighters on the ground who have been interviewed by MONUC have no idea what this movement is or who Lobala is, all they know is that their leader is the witchdoctor Udjani, who initially launched the rebellion in October last year. So it is not clear to what degree Lobala is in control of anything happening in the field.

Apparently the fighter's fortune has turned in the past week - they were surrounded on the night of New Year's in Inyele (65 km south of Dongo). According to an internal MONUC report, as well as the Congolese media, 157 Enyele fighters were killed and 12 Congolese soldiers wounded. Reports on the other side of the Oubangui river, including foreign doctors working in clinics there, indicate that no Enyele wounded have arrived there from this fighting - they last war wounded they treated arrived there several weeks ago.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Parliamentary shenanigans

The 2010 budget is still being discussed in the Congo. One of the sticking points has been over the salaries that the parliamentarians wanted to vote for themselves. In 2007, MPs got salaries of around $4,000 a month. In addition, the President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe managed to get a subsidy for each MP included in the budget for "the functioning of the national assembly" of roughly $1,700/month - the MPs fondly called this les invisibles, as it did no show up officially as their salary (it may have been reimbursement for travel expenses or something of the sort). Out of this total amount, they had to pay around $700-900 a month to pay off the debts on their cars that they had purchased through the national assembly at a cheap wholesale price. So MPs used to end up with around $4,200 a month.

That was then, when the Congolese franc traded at around FC 500 to the US dollar. Now it's topped FC 900/$, which has affected the MPs' pay, as it has all other civil servants. So the parliamentary committee in charge of drafting the budget (ECOFIN) has tried to adjust for inflation. Unfortunately, they've gone a bit overboard, budgeting salaries of over $8,000 per MP. The government, already cash-strapped, has refused this budget line, and they have spent the past several days in meetings to resolve this matter.

Of course, while we are talking about it, there are other sources of money for parliamentarians. When they travel on official parliamentary delegations, they get $450/day (USA), 400 Euros (Europe) and $400 elsewhere, and each MP who participates in a parliamentary investigation or commission gets a per diem, as well. (In the Congo, they only get $60/day) In addition, votes are often bought during important votes in the national assembly - the rumor had it that in order to make sure Evariste Boshab was elected as the president of the national assembly, each MP from the AMP coalition got $5,000 - a total of over $1,5 million, if it was true. Apparently, the presidency has now agreed to pay the rest of the money that all MOs - even the opposition! - owes for their cars, which also seems to seriously contradict the independence of the legislature. When I recently asked an opposition MP whether Kabila would be able to change the constitution, he told me that under the current constitution, where you only need 3/5 of parliamentary votes to change the constitution, it should be no problem to buy enough votes.

A few comparisons are in order. First, last time I looked Congolese army soldiers earned around $50/person/month and a school teacher around $80.

Congolese MPs are not the worst by far - in Kenya, MPs earn as much as $25,000 per month if you include various benefits, such as gym membership (have you seen the waists of most Kenyan MPs?). By contrast, a US congressperson earns around $14,000/month, but the constitution prohibits any salary increase to take place to take place during the same Congress it was enacted to prevent abuse; also, congressmen automatically get a cost-of-living adjustment every year to adjust for inflation.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

What does 2010 bring for the Congo? Part I

What does 2010 have in store for the Congo?

A few things to think about. In the first installment, let's look at elections:

Whom to believe? Abbe Malu Malu, the head of the electoral commission, who said in November that local elections will be held as scheduled in 2010? Or President Kabila, who told parliament on December 7 that local elections would not be held until 2011. These elections were supposed to take place in 2008, but were delayed due to legislative foot-dragging (several laws had to be passed for elections to take place) and the government's inaction. Closely linked to these delays is the constitutional requirement to create 26 provinces out of the current 11 and the granting of 40% of national revenues to the provinces. This decentralization was supposed to take place within three years of Kabila's inauguration (i.e. by December 2009).

In other words, the democratic institutions that are supposed to be the bedrock of post-conflict stability are looking increasingly shaky. Even the elected institutions that exist have performed poorly. While the Union pour la Nation opposition (led by the MLC) won 42 per cent of the presidential elections and had the de facto majority in three provincial assemblies, the ruling coalition has been able to co-opt and coerce its way to power in all 11 provinces, most recently in the MLC own bastion of Equateur. The national assembly, which is controlled by the ruling coalition, has done a relatively poor job of overseeing government action - they have called in some ministers for questioning, and they carried out several audits (most notably, the senate audit of mining contracts), but have had little impact at the end of the day. Ever since Evariste Boshab took over as president of the national assembly in 2009, the national assembly had pretty much become a sounding board or echo chamber for government policy.

We can't just blame the government. The opposition is weak and divided - the main MLC opposition is managed by Jean-Pierre Bemba from his exile at the ICC prison in The Hague, and is riven by internal feuds. The veteran UDPS opposition is threatened by the health of Etienne Tshisekedi, who has spent much of the past year in medical treatment in Belgium and South Africa. In his absence, his party had also been divided by internal squabbles. There are no other obvious contenders for the moment, although Kabila was seriously concerned by Vital Kamerhe (former head of national assembly, forcefully removed in January 2009) and remains worried by the popularity of Moise Katumbi, governor of Katanga.

Even though elections are still almost two years away, the prospect of facing new elections has become an obsession of the presidential clique. It may be in this vein that we should see the departure of Katumba Mwanke, the powerful presidential advisor, from leading the AMP coalition. In any case, in speaking with other presidential advisors, Kabila's strategy does not seem to be based on winning a popularity contest as on exploiting the weakness of his opponents and controlling the electoral process. In other words, he plans on winning the election by making sure no legitimate opponent emerges. In this sense, he is inspired by his neighbors to the north and south - Sassou Nguesso in Congo-Brazzaville and Edourado dos Santos in Angola, both resource-rich countries that hold elections but where the parties in power use corruption and repression to anchor their control over the country.

Kabila is worried, however, that he will not be able to live up to some of the promises he made when he was sworn in three years ago. The backbone of his plan has been the "Cinq Chantiers" (the five construction sites) - water & electricity, health & education, housing, employment and infrastructure. The government has more or less sub-contracted these projects out to the Chinese government, which has promised to provide $6 billion in infrastructure projects and loans in return for control of 10 million metric tons of copper and 600,000 tons of cobalt.Four major infrastructure projects are already nearing completion, but many of criticized the deal as being too generous towards the Chinese partners.

The other main problem is security in the East. The violence was worse this year than since the height of the war in 1999/2000, and many Kivutians are fed up with the president, even though they overwhelmingly voted for him in 2006. During a recent trip to Bukavu, formerly his electoral base, people threw stones at Kabila's motorcade. Although the government says that they are ending the Kimia II operations and that they have finished off 75% of all FDLR combatants, I doubt that the Rwandan rebels are finished. In addition, the ex-CDNP rebellion maintains command and control over many of its soldiers and continues to operate a parallel administration in much of Masisi territory.

In light of his faltering popularity, Kabila will probably try to influence the electoral process. It's too early to say whether he will just try to control the media and security forces, as he did during the last elections, or whether he will try to actually rig the ballot. He has already told donors that he wants them to finance the local elections, but not the national ones, perhaps an indication that he wants them to keep out of the process, which was closely supervised by donors last time.