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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Changing Congo's Constitution

It was to be expected: President Kabila had broached the subject of changing the constitution. Of course, this is cause for alarm: Mobutu did the same when he first came to power in 1965, progressively getting rid of multiparty democracy and the checks and balances of a the legislature and judiciary.

This is far from Mobutism, at least for now. We need to update the constitution, as the one approved in 2005 said that 26 new provinces were supposed to be created by December 2009, and 40% of national revenues were supposed to be managed by these provinces. This hasn't happened, so there needed to be an update.

The commission, however, charged by the president to propose a constitutional revision has gone quite a bit further. It submitted its conclusions to the government on Monday, prompting Kinshasa's press to ask: "Is our constitution in danger?" Here are some of the things they want to change:
  • The creation of 26 new provinces
  • The decentralization of 40% of state revenues to the provinces
  • The composition of the National Council of Magistrates, the supervisory authority of judges and prosecutors
  • The proportional representation electoral system
It isn't clear how exactly they want to change these clauses, as far as I can tell. The biggest controversy is the suggestion that the president should preside of the National Council of Magistrates, which would go against Article 220 of the current constitution, which explicitly prohibits any constitutional changes that could undermine the independence of the judiciary. Of course, Kabila will argue that the same council in France is also presided over by the president.

The other controversy is regarding term limits: The commission has delicately suggested that there be "a deep reflection" on the presidential mandate and term limits, which are currently limited to two five year terms. A constitutional change in this sense is also prohibited by Article 220 of the current constitution.

We should remember that the Planning Minister Olivier Kamitatu recently suggested in an interview with Jeune Afrique that it would be wise to get rid of the prime minister, the president needed more power to rule the country efficiently.

I'm not a constitutional scholar, but it always seemed a bit bizarre to insist in a constitution that certain aspects of the constitution couldn't be changed. A constituent assembly could change anything they want about a constitution, after all they created the current one. This is what certain legal scholars like Evariste Boshab, the president of the national assembly, argue. But would they need to convene a special assembly and submit changes to a referendum, or could they just change it according to the dispositions of the current constitution?

The clauses regarding constitutional changes are very weak: Changes (excepting those prohibited by Article 220, I guess) can be pushed through with a simple 3/5 majority, not a very difficult feat for Kabila's AMP coalition.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

For Once, UPDF, FARDC and LRA All Agree

For once, the Lord's Resistance Army has found a point of agreement with the Congolese and Ugandan armies: that Human Rights Watch is wrong.

HRW came out with a report two days ago that says 321 people were killed and and 250 abducted by the LRA in a remote area in northeastern Congo. In response, the Ugandan army spokesperson said in a BBC interview yesterday that he questioned whether the attack ever happened. The people in the area are too spread out, he suggested, and it was unlikely that the LRA would be able to carry out such a massacre over a four day period. The Congolese army also questioned the veracity of the report, although the UN radio confirmed the massacre with church, political and civil society leaders. At stake, of course, is the reputation of the Ugandan and Congolese armies - both were involved in Operation Lightning Thunder in December 2008 against the LRA. Uganda later claimed that the operations had been successful.

Thanks to Anneke van Woudenberg and Ida Sawyer, the HRW researchers, for providing common ground to these rivals. Somehow I don't think it will be enough to restart the peace talks. But it has increased pressure on the UN to keep MONUC troops in the Congo for longer and to come up with a real strategy for dealing with the LRA.

In this line, the US Senate unanimously passed the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act on March 11, 2010. If it becomes law, it will require President Barack Obama's administration to develop a regional strategy to protect civilians in central Africa from attacks by the LRA, to work to apprehend the LRA's leadership, and to support economic recovery for northern Uganda. The bill was sponsored by Feingold (D-Wisconsin) and Brownback (R-KS) and is currently before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where is it being sponsored by James McGovern (D-MA).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Where is Dongo?

For those who haven't been following the Dongo crisis that closely (how is that possible?), here is the best map of the area I could find.

Basically, Dongo is on the opposite side of the country from the restive Kivu provinces. It lies on the northwestern border with the Republic of Congo, on the Oubangui river, in Equateur province.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dongo Crisis Timeline

Below is also a picture of Odjani, the leader of the militia, sitting in the middle in robes.

1946 - The colonial administration intervenes following an outbreak of violence between Inyelle and Manzaya over fishing ponds.

1972 - A number of Manzaya are arrested for illegally fishing in Inyelle ponds and the two ethnic groups are ordered to fish jointly.
2001 – A Boba Territorial Administrator organizes elections in Dongo and unsuccessfully attempts to ensure a victory for his tribe at the expense of the native Lobala.
2007 - A Monzaya man and his Boba wife are caught fishing illegally and beaten up. The lack of justice leads the Manzaya to unilaterally seize the ponds from the Inyelle.
February 2009 - After the Inyelle’s final attempt to negotiate with the Manzaya fails, they solicit the support of the witchdoctor Ibrahim Mangbama who sends his son Odjani.
March 31, 2009 – The Inyelle forcefully gain access to the ponds and drive the Manzaya away through Odajni’s leadership.
June 18, 2009 – The Manzaya counter-attack against the Inyelle killing two and kidnapping one girl.
July 4, 2009 – Odjani leads a massive operation to burn down the entire village of Manzaya and driving its population away.
July 25, 2009 – Another provincial governmental delegation, including the Minister of the Interior, seeks to mediate the conflict and deploys 60 FARDC soldiers to the zone.
August 20, 2009 – The Chief of Army Staff, the Commander of the 3rd Military region, and the District Commissioner are unsuccessful in attempts to meet with Odjani.
October 21, 2009 – Ojdani troops come at night to pillage the cigarette factory in Dongo centre leaving a message that that all non-Lobala were to leave immediately.
October 28, 2009 – Odjani’s militia attacks Dongo centre killing between 250 and 500 civilians. November 13, 2009 – A rapid reaction force of the police moves to Dongo centre along with Ghanaian peacekeepers.
November 26, 2009 – Odjani’s militia attack Dongo centre again, driving out the Congolese police, shooting at a MONUC helicopter, and stealing a Ghanaian armored personnel vehicle.
December 8, 2009 – The Belgian-trained commandos of the FARDC defeat the insurgents at Bobito, only 60 kms from Gemena.
January 1, 2010 – The commandos and the 81st Bde formed by the South Africans attack the insurgents killing a reported 157 insurgents at the village of Inyelle.

Exclusive interview on Dongo crisis with Refugees International

The following is an interview with Refugees International's Camilla Olson (advocate) and Steve Hege (consultant) on the Dongo crisis. They will be releasing a report on Wednesday on the situation there - check it out at Alex Engwete has kindly published a French translation of the interview on his blog here.

Q: Can you give us a brief history of the local dynamics of the conflict? How long have there been tensions between the Boba and the Lobala? What are the main issues of contention?

Camilla: A quick word on the political context: Dongo sector is divided into six groupements, almost all being under the customary leadership of the Lobala tribe. The Boba originate from Bomboma sector to the southwest of the Lobala, but, because they don’t have access to the river and have traditionally had greater opportunities to study, they have come progressively to take up important administrative and commercial positions in Dongo centre, the sector capital.

Boba candidates have also sought to win the key political post of Sector Chief, which under customary law should go to the Lobala but under the current electoral system, anyone can run in the election. The Lobala have won the Sector Chief post each election, but just barely.

Because of the Boba’s growing dominance in Dongo centre and surrounding areas, the Lobala have felt more and more marginalized, and they sought with the recent conflict to express their frustrations through military force.

Q: if I understand correctly, the current conflict did not break out between the Boba and Lobala, but between two sub-groups of the Lobala community, the Inyelle and the Manzaya. Can you explain what the conflict between those two groups was and how it related to the larger conflict between the Boba and Lobala?

Camilla: It’s true that the wider conflict between the Boba and Lobala was initially sparked by localized tensions between two ethnic groups, the Inyelle and the Manzaya.

The Ineylle and Manzaya are both Lobala. Their grievances date back to the 1940s and center around access to fishing ponds, which originally belonged to the Inyelle. At the time, a number of agreements were reached in which the Manzaya would be allowed to fish jointly with the Inyelle. In exchange, the Manzaya would provide security for the ponds since they were known as fierce hunters. Over the years, the Manzaya broke this pact on numerous occasions when they over-fished the ponds without informing the Inyelle.

The situation escalated in 2007 when a Manzaya man was caught illegally fishing in Inyelle territory. He, and his Boba wife, were beaten by the Inyelle population as a result. When compensation was ultimately paid to the Manzaya, leaders in the community, including the father of the Boba woman, deemed that it was insufficient. As a result, the Manzaya seized control of the ponds and blocked the Inyelle from fishing there for the next two years. This led to violent clashes between the two groups, most dramatically in July 2009, the displacement of the entire Manzaya village by the Inyelle and the burning of hundreds of homes.

The Manzaya, while Lobala, have historical ties to the Boba – and when their population was displaced as a result of the violence carried out against them by the Inyelle in 2009, they fled to the Boba controlled area in Equateur. This connection to the Boba is the premise under which Lobala politicians and businessmen came forward and supported the initial Inyelle insurgency against the Manzaya to create a larger platform to defend the rights of the Lobala against the Boba, and address their growing grievances.

Q: Who is Odjani and how did he become the leader of the Inyelle rebels?

Steve: After over a year and a half of not having access to their own fishing ponds, in February 2009, the Inyelle attempted to negotiate with the Manzaya. Despite eleven hours of discussions, the latter ultimately refused to cede any access to the ponds.
As a result, the Inyelle called upon the most famous witchdoctor (“feticheur”) in the region by the name of Ibrahim Mangbama. Mr. Mangbama was said to have often conducted special rites and for former President Mobutu. When Laurent Kabila’s AFDL deposed his privileged client in 1997, Mangbama fled to the Republic of Congo side of the river. The Inyelle hoped he would perform the ceremonies to give them the physical force to defeat the fierce Manzaya. As Mr. Mangbama had been training his son Odjani, he decided to send him in his place to begin forming the young Inyelle in traditional practices to defeat the Manzaya.
By July, it was reported that Odjani had already trained over 350 young Inyelle men. All information we gathered seemed to indicate that Odjani’s original ambitions did not go beyond aiding the Inyelle to simply retake the fishing ponds from Manzaya.

Q: What role did national politicians and military officers play in the creation of the insurgency?

Steve: In light of their clear success in retaking the fishing ponds under the leadership of Odjani, external Lobala notables throughout the DRC and in the diaspora joined in supporting his forces with the hope of creating a wider platform to defend their socio-economic and political marginalization at the hands of the Boba. Moreover, a number of FARDC officers requested vacation and came to join the rebels passing through RoC. One particular Captain was said to have conducted military training for the insurgents.
National Deputy Léon Botoko and Provincial Deputy Oscar Molambo were said to be amongst those supporting the insurgents. One demobilized insurgent, who claimed to have been Odjani’s driver, told us that Lobala politicians had sought to link the insurgency with the security force of Jean-Pierre Bemba still guarding his massive compound in Gemena since the post-elections violence in Kinshasa in 2006. Botoko had communicated with the Captain responsible for the unit and they had reportedly agreed to join the insurgents once they reached the District Capital.
The Sector Chief in Dongo during the initial violence between the Inyelle and Manzaya was Mr. Edo Nyabotabe. He was suspended from his duties in early September for having sided with the Inyelle. This move was a critical error on the government’s behalf as not only did Edo eventually join Odjani’s insurgency, but his suspension served to galvanize greater fears that the Boba would soon take the key post of Sector Chief away from the Lobala.
By this time Odjani was going by the alias of “Nkunda II,” reflecting the hope of the Lobala leaders behind him that his armed movement would provide a platform as strong as the CNDP in order force political concessions from Kinshasa.

Q: What role did the presence of weapons in Equateur and disgruntled ex-combatants play?

Steve: The arms that the insurgents employed were said to come from multiple sources; a) those the Manzaya used for hunting, b) those seized from the police, c) those that the Lobala FARDC officers brought with them, d) those that were collected by the sector chief Mr. Edo from MLC arms caches around Dongo sector.

Throughout Dongo sector, there were already numerous demobilized soldiers from the MLC who had never received any reintegration assistance by the National Demobilization Program, CONADER. Upwards of 400 of these ex-MLC began to enroll in Odjani’s service, many of them receiving payments. Ironically, after the CONADER simply withered away as a result of incompetence and corruption, one of its former staff members was appointed the new sector chief in Dongo in order to lead the government’s reconciliation efforts between the Lobala and Boba.

Q: The conflict then escalated on October 21 and 28, 2009. What happened?

Camilla: Since Dongo centre had become the center of the Lobala’s frustrations with the growing Boba control, it makes sense that this is where Odjani would plan his first major attack.

The night before the attack, the acting Sector Chief received a list of names of people who would be targeted – this included Boba politicians who were planning to run for the Sector Chief post in the next local elections.

Early in the morning, Odjani’s forces arrived to Dongo centre and began systematically targeting Bobas – going house to house, and killing people and burning homes along the way. Eventually, according to local people we interviewed, the insurgents began targeting all of the local population who were fleeing the violence.

People flooded the banks of Oubangui River as they tried to escape to the other side for safety. We met with displaced women who told us their children and husbands had been killed in the violence, or they’d become separated and did not know where their family members were.
From what we heard, the insurgents claimed to have retreated from Dongo centre by their own free will on November 7 after achieving their objective of driving out the Boba. They were replaced by a rapid reaction force of the police and a small platoon of Ghanaian peacekeepers with MONUC. Nevertheless, after the commander of the police left to restock rations in Gemena, Odjani’s troops decided to attack Dongo centre for the second time on the night of November 28.
When a MONUC scheduled flight sought to land the following morning, the insurgents attempted to take down the helicopter and injured five MONUC military and civilian personnel, who were taken to Impfondo in the Republic of Congo for medical treatment.
After driving out the Ghanaians and stealing a large armored personnel carrier (APC), Odjani and has backers reportedly began to believe that that they could eventually take Kinshasa.

Q: How did the FARDC perform when they were deployed to quell to rebellion?

Steve: After Odjani drove the Rapid Reaction Police (Police d’intervention rapide – PIR) out of Dongo for the second time, the insurgents headed for Gemena in early December. The first FARDC units to be deployed were the 10th Brigade from Kisangani. On their way to two consecutive defeats at the hands of Odjani’s troops, now utilizing MONUC’s APC which they took from the Ghanaians in Dongo centre, the 10th Brigade behaved much like FARDC units in the east. In Bozene, we heard accounts of rapes and pillaging by this unit on their way to and from the front lines.

By this time, MONUC had helped fly in the Commando Brigade, which had been undergoing training with the Belgians at Kindu. Along with resistance from the Ngabaka population around Gemena (of which Jean-Pierre Bemba is a member) the Commando’s resoundingly defeated the insurgents and drove them back to the village of Inyelle, where the original fishing dispute had started. On January 1st, it was reported that over 150 insurgents were killed by the Commandos.

Throughout the FARDC’s deployment to these areas, outside of those initial abuses carried out by the 10th Brigade, the Congolese Army was reported to have generally respected the civilian population. Nevertheless, we did hear reports of Lobala villages being burned down on the axis between Dongo and Inyelle as well as operations to force the internally displaced to return home, which they referred to as “escorting.”

Q: Does Odjani's militia still exist? How much of a threat are they?

Camilla: After the fighting in Dongo centre, Odjani’s forces divided into two fronts – one to take Gemena and one to take Mbandaka. In Bobito, about 60 kilometers from Gemena, Odjani’s forces were eventually pushed back by the FARDC to their operations base in Inyelle.

In Inyelle, there was a major attack on January 1, 2010, and Odjani’s forces suffered a near defeat.

At the moment, from reports we’ve seen, there are not many of Odjani’s forces still active. There are rumors that Odjani himself has been injured, but this hasn’t been verified.

There continue to be clashes along the Oubangui River, as the FARDC pursues the remaining insurgents – and this insecurity is causing new displacements, and also preventing people from going home.

At the same time, the fact that Odjani has not been captured or is verified to be dead, is also preventing returns – the mystical elements of his insurgency was cited by many displaced people we talked to as a reason why they continued to be afraid to go back.

The ongoing instability and lack of returns are clear indicators of why it is important for the UN peacekeepers to maintain their presence in Equateur – many people told us they feel safer with MONUC than with the FARDC. And as long as the insurgents are active, albeit, not widespread, there will be ongoing concerns about civilian protection.

Q: How do you react to the allegations that neighboring countries and former Mobutists in exile got involved to support Odjani? Who was the Ambroise Lobala - did he really represent the insurgents?

Steve: Mobutists Ex-FAZ officers who supported the rebellion of President Sassour in the RoC began monitoring more closely the rapid transformation of this local militia into a wider rebellion. However, it appears that they were waiting to see if Odjani was capable of taking Gemena before throwing their weight behind him. Given that the ex-FAZ officers were career military professionals under Mobutu, it was thought that they were hesitant to follow the leadership of a young withdoctor like Odjani.

With regards to Ambroise Lobala, no one on the ground believes that he was anything more than a Diaspora opportunist, those that even had heard of him. We never once heard the name he gave for the rebellion, “Patriots Resistants de Dongo.” However, if I had to conjecture about his identity, I would guess that Ambroise Lobala is a pseudonym (“Lobala” being the name of the tribe) for former FARDC Lt. Col. Benjamin Nyambaka, who provided funds to the insurgents through Odjani’s father. Nyambaka was a Lobala officer working in FARDC headquarters in Kinshasa who was accused of stealing massive salaries before fleeing to London. As Ambroise’s communiqués were said to leave from London, this might be one explanation.

Q: I understand you don't think enough has been done to deal with the root problems of the crisis. Why not? In particular, how could local elections reignite these antagonisms?

Camilla: The localized grievances between the Inyelle and Manzaya, which sparked the wider conflict, were never really addressed properly by the Congolese government. While they sent delegations to meet with the concerned parties – from what we observed, and in speaking with local authorities, they never took seriously the growing tensions, or expected the crisis to build to such proportions. The principal strategy for dealing with this issue was through paying off local chiefs and calling it “reconciliation.” The same is true for the wider Lobala-Boba conflict. The Congolese government did not seem to think that the situation would turn as violent as it did.

At the same time, there seems to be a lack of understanding of the conflict in general – many news reports state that the violence in Equateur which forced 200,000 people to flee their homes is just over fishing rights, when clearly there are wider economic and political grievances behind this conflict.

The Congolese government is pushing for returns of the displaced, and seems to want the situation to just go away. However, our concern is that if these wider issues are not addressed through proper reconciliation and dialogue, then you will just have more violence and displacement.

Steve: The political elements of the conflict – in particular, the desire of the Boba to take the Sector Chief post, could reignite the violence when local elections take place.

While the current decentralization law would re-affirm customary leadership in the east, ethnic groups in the west would not be guaranteed the political leadership of their territorial homelands. As such the Boba could use their economic power in Dongo to take the Sector Chief position from the Lobala. In order to avoid any backlash, the Boba would like to see Dongo centre receive a special territorial and administrative status outside of Dongo sector, such as a “rural commune.” However, this designation would most likely incite considerable resistance from the Lobala who would see their traditional capital carved out from within their homeland.

Much more serious work needs to be done to resolve these underlying political and economic tensions between the two groups. MONUC has an important role to play in our view, in supporting a more comprehensive and serious response from the Congolese government between now and local elections scheduled for next year. Civil society organizations, already active around Dongo and Gemena, also can contribute positively to the mediation efforts. They should be supported through capacity building and funding by international donors.

In the end, the situation in Equateur is an example of the overall instability that exists in the DRC – and that sits just under the surface waiting to explode. President Kabila’s talk of drawdown of MONUC is premature, and Equateur just shows the inability of the Congolese government to deal with these types of crises without the support of the international community.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Are we in 1962 or in 1965?

I attended a panel discussion yesterday at Columbia University on peacebuilding in the Congo and Sudan. One of my fellow panelists was Herbert Weiss, Emeritus professor at the City University of New York, who wrote the seminal study of political protest in the Congo in 1967.

Herbert framed the current situation in the Congo in the following terms: Are we in 1962/3 or in 1965?

No, Herbert has not gone off the deep end, far from it. In 1961, the Congolese parliament brought an end to the constitutional crisis created by the assassination of Patrice Lumumba by electing Cyprien Adoula as Prime Minister. Adoula was faced with a country in turmoil - Katanga had seceded and rural revolts had engulfed almost a third of the country. The Belgians had left almost nothing in terms of administrative capacity and Adoula's grasp on power was dangerously weak. A paragraph from a Congo scholar on the period:
Prolonged neglect of the rural sectors, coupled with the growing disparities of wealth and privilege between the political elites and the peasant masses, inefficient and corrupt government, and [army] abuses, created a situation ripe for major uprising. Further aggravating the frustration of the rural masses, the promise of a life more abundant made at the time of independence had remained unfulfilled. It seemed to many, especially disaffected youths, that nothing short of a "second independence" would bring them salvation.
Sound familiar?

Adoula failed to put order in his fractious house. He decentralized power to satisfy the provinces, creating twenty-one provincettes, exacerbating ethnic tensions (this is often cited by contemporary critics of the current decentralization program as an ominous precedent). He dissolved parliament, complaining that the MPs could never agree on anything and were an obstacle to progress, which in turn sent many politicians into the arms of the rebellion. Another factor fueling the insurgency was the anticipated withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces by June 30, 1964, (Independence Day) as they were the main prop of the central government.

Sound familiar?

Ok, but let's see what happened in 1965. On November 25, 1965, the commander of the army Joseph Mobutu overthrew the government (Adoula had been replaced by Moise Tshombe in 1964) and took power. He quickly dismantled the institutions of the First Republic, centralized power and abolished multiparty democracy. The country was tired of five years of war and instability and strong nationalism characterized political mobilization. Mobutu was very popular at the beginning of his rule, and the country enjoyed relative stability and prosperity until he nationalized much of the private sector in the 1970s.

So is Joseph Kabila an Adoula or a Mobutu?

Of course, the answer is neither. The country's political scene is not as chaotic and divided as in 1962, and the government controls most of its territory. But Kabila is also not Mobutu, given how contested he is within his own power base and his introverted personality.

But it is an interesting historical comparison.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How's that Hopey Changey Thing Working Out?

In January this year the Congolese army launched a new set of operation together with UN backing: Amani Leo (Peace Today - they really need better code names). Let's take a quick look at South Kivu to see how these operations are doing in terms of abuses against civilians.

I had missed this report by OCHA (the UN humanitarian coordination agency) - it's their February summary of the humanitarian situation in South Kivu. I know, sounds drab. But they have this great breakdown for security incidents. Mind you, this is just incidents reported to the UN. South Kivu is big, twice the size of Belgium or Maryland.

So, in February the UN recorded 1,444 security incidents, along with 13 attacks on aid workers in South Kivu. You might not be able to read the chart too well, but around 35% was extortion or looting, another 15% forced labor, around 30% violent attacks (rape, beating, murder, arson) and the rest arbitrary arrests.

Most notably, OCHA says this is about the monthly average for the last trimester of 2009. In other words, Amani Leo troops have not much kinder to the population of South Kivu than the Kimia II ones. Of course, it is too soon to tell (January was much more peaceful), but the early indications don't look good.

Keep a special eye out for the High Plateau of Minembwe, where the Congolese army has launched an offensive against the FDLR and the FRF Banyamulenge rebels. Congolese soldiers stormed into an MSF hospital and dragged people out at gunpoint a few days ago. MSF wasn't happy.

Minerals & oil

Over the past few years, reporting for the Congo has changed focus a bit. Reuters was bought up by Thomson (a publishing and financial research company) in early 2008, and began to focus more on financial news. A bit before that, Bloomberg agency set up shop in Kinshasa, with its traditional focus on business and the economy. (The other foreign correspondents in Kin are from BBC, AFP, Xinhua and AP, I believe, although some are stringers and some are staff).

All this to say that we've been getting good coverage of financial news in the Congo. Take the past few days, for example:

  • An oil conference is underway in Kinshasa, and the Congolese announced that they will be opening Lake Kivu (natural gas) and Lake Tanganyika (oil) for prospection.
  • Simultaneously, the Angolan government announced that they want to extend their territorial waters from 200 to 350 kilometers, further encroaching on Congolese waters.
  • Then the Congo released the first of three reports commissioned to audit revenue transparency in mining and oil. The report is for 2007, and was released under the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). In 2007, 25 companies paid $405 million in taxes to the government, but there were discrepancies on the order of $75 million - but sometimes the government reported more, sometimes less than the companies said. The Planning Minister Olivier Kamitatu is in charge of the initiative, as well as the plan to lift the Congo by 20 places in the World Bank index of doing business.
  • And the IMF confirmed that the Congo was on track to get $10 billion in debt relief by June 2010.
Not bad for a few days.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Affleck, Amanpour & Congo

Christiane Amanpour hosted a show on the DR Congo today, with myself, Ben Affleck and human right activist Sylvie Maunga as guests. The story behind the show was that Affleck launched his Eastern Congo Initiative today, so they used it as a hook to talk about the country. The producers themselves were a bit cynical about their business (as they should be), and Amanpour even said that "it takes a celebrity to bring these issues to our attention." Those who read this blog will be a familiar with my skepticism about celebrity activism, but Ben handled himself well on the show and was humble.

Quite in contrast to yours truly. I got a bit excited when Amanpour talked about Hillary Clinton giving $17 million to victims of sexual violence in the Congo while the US has done almost nothing on more meaningful institutional reform (OK, they are training one battalion). And I meant to call her gesture "window dressing," but somehow it came out as "propaganda."

There go my chances to get a job in the Obama administration.

All in all, a good show, although it always extremely frustrating to scratch the surface, give your few sound bites and leave it at that. Such is TV. I would have liked to have been on hand for the previous week's show, when Amanpour quizzed Kagame on the elections and the Congo - but there, too, it was frustrating to not be able really to get into the issues. Both that show and yesterday's show are on Amanpour's website under "podcasts."

Friday, March 19, 2010

50 years later, the Belgian king welcomed back to Kinshasa with honors

It has been confirmed now for several weeks: the Belgian King Albert II will be the guest of honor at the 50th independence celebrations in Kinshasa on June 30th, 2010. Minister of Information Lambert Mende said that he was be "the first amongst our guests of honor."

This is a bit bizarre on several levels. First, the Congolese government has been building up these celebrations as "a return of sovereignty" with the departure of MONUC and the "pacification" of the eastern Congo. Why, then, make the guest of honor the descendant of King Leopold II (not direct - he was his great-great-great uncle), who devastated the country? It was Albert II's older brother Baudouin who handed independence over to the Congolese in 1960 with these words:

"The independence of the Congo is the crowning of the work conceived by the genius of King Leopold II undertaken by him with firm courage, and continued by Belgium with perseverance. Independence marks a decisive hour in the destinies not only of the Congo herself but- I don't hesitate to say-of the whole of Africa."

To which Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba answered:

Our wounds are too fresh and too smarting for us to be able to have known ironies, insults, and blows which we had to undergo morning, noon and night because we were Negroes. We have seen our lands spoiled in the name of laws which only recognised the right of the strongest. We have known laws which differed according to whether it dealt with a black man or a white. (The whole speech here.)

To get a feel of those celebrations 50 years ago, read this Guardian article.

Overall, I've been amazed by the lack of controversy this has stirred in the Congo and Belgium. Colette Braeckman, the best known foreign correspondent reporting on the Congo, seemed positively enthusiastic about the visit in her blog posting here. Why don't they just invite the Prime Minister, why the king?

A quick look at Queen Elizabeth's visits abroad indicates that she hasn't attended any independence day celebrations in India, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia or Zimbabwe, where the UK's colonization saw more violence than elsewhere. (However, the Brits are trying to repair a statue of Henry Morton Stanley that is in a Kinshasa museum.)

The backdrop is the Congo's desire to maintain good relations with one of its most important foreign partners. When Karel de Gucht was foreign minister, these relations suffered terrible setbacks due his persistent criticism of Kabila's government, but his successor Steven Vanackere has tried to normalize relations. The Defense Minister even went so far last week to invite the Congolese army to join a military parade in honor of Belgium's national day, which caused an outcry given the FARDC's abuses.

In other news, the organization committee has announced their budget for the 30 June festivities: $2 million. Bonne fete.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The future of MONUC (and debt relief)

For those who haven't noticed, these are important days in the future of the Congo.

Two important decisions are being taken by the international community: debt relief and the future of the peacekeeping mission.

First, the end of MONUC. It so happens that there was a closed door session of the Security Council today, with the head of UN peacekeeping Alain Le Roy giving a briefing on his recent trip to Kinshasa. As reported here, Le Roy was told bluntly by the Congolese that MONUC needed to leave by the end of 2011. Now it's up to the Security Council's to figure out what to do. According to diplomats who attended the briefing today, the US was the most forceful in calling for MONUC to stay, saying that it was entirely premature for the peacekeeping mission to leave, that it was needed for two tasks: Protection of civilians and security sector reform. Unfortunately, as Le Roy told them, the Congolese have told MONUC that they won't no multilateral (i.e. UN) interference in their efforts to reform, they "privilege bilateral engagement."

The French, who usually take the lead on Congo matters, were also pushing for MONUC to stay. Pity, however, that their representative fell asleep for a full 15 minutes during the briefing.

Then, at the very end, came the Chinese. We are all used to their rhetoric about non-interference in sovereign countries, but this time they outdid themselves. Stability is returning to the eastern Congo, he said, and MONUC needs to respect the government's wishes. Moreover, there will be no new beginning for the Congo as long as MONUC is there (!), and the Chinese government fully supports President Kabila's desire "to fly with his own wings." I loved this euphemism: We need to take advantage of this new opportunity in the relationship between the UN and the Congolese government. (The opportunity, of course, being the end of the peacekeeping mission.)

This is strong language. Basically, it looks like there will be a showdown between the Chinese and the Americans. I fear that, given all the other tensions between the two countries - google, currency depreciation, Dalai Lama - that the Congo will get short shrift. In April the Security Council is supposed to travel to Kinshasa, in May they have to decide on a new MONUC resolution. I don't think we can shove anything down Kabila's throat, but there are ways of finessing this. For example, we can withdraw troops from the West and drawdown several thousands (Le Roy has already proposed this), but insist on not committing on a final date for MONUC withdrawal, as Kabila wants.

Second, the debt: the country is saddled with $11 billion in debts, mostly from Mobutu's period. (Reuters put out a nice factbox today with a breakdown of figures.) If they paid all of their interest, it would consume 10% of the budget each year (they only pay around half now). In February, the Paris Club decided to forgive $1,3 billion and it's possible that the IMF & World Bank will cancel up to 90% of the remaining debt in June, when the Congo reaches completion point in the HIPC program. Hint to diplomats who constantly wring their hands about not having leverage on the Congo: you might want to think about asking for meaningful reform in return for debt cancellation.

Monday, March 15, 2010

News: Kagame at West Point; Gul in Kin; Constitutional Revision

News items of interest:
  • Rwandan President Paul Kagame gave a speech at US military academy West Point yesterday - it was parents' day and he was visiting his son, who goes to school there. The topic: How sovereignty shouldn't trump humanitarian imperatives.
  • Meanwhile, the US State Department has released its yearly appraisal of human rights in Rwanda - it's a pretty balanced and interesting read, especially given the elections in August. At the same time, US Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) gave a speech on democracy in Africa in which he criticized - albeit lightly - Kagame's government for the restrictions on press and opposition parties.
  • Turkey's president Abdullah Gul arrived in Kinshasa with a large business delegation of 150-250 people (depending on which report you read). He said his country wants to invest in forestry and mining to boost trade from $20 to $100 million per year.
  • The national assembly opened its spring session in Kinshasa with its president Evariste Boshab announcing that they would be looking into revising the constitution - this had been expected, as they need to amend outdated parts regarding the creation of new provinces and decentralization, but the opposition has warned against changing presidential term limits, which the constitution explicitly forbids. The other law on the table is the creation of a new electoral commission, which is much needed given upcoming elections.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


A cash for weapons operation began in North Kivu this past week. It is being led by an organization called PAREC, which is run by the Pastor Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, a close associate of President Kabila. The idea: bring us your weapons and we give you money - $50 for an AK-47. The operation was funded by the provincial government to the tune of $10,000.

It is was a highly orchestrated production, with Kabila's twin sister Janet in attendance, and two national MPs contributed several hundred dollars to the operation.

The result? In Kitchanga, the former capital of CNDP-held territory, only 14 weapons were handed over after local leaders had told them not to hand over their guns. The population there is heavily militarized after Governor Serufuli distributed thousands of weapons in 2001-2003 (although Gen Bosco declared that it was a huge success). In Goma, however, the population handed over 986 weapons in just 3 hours. But what kind of weapons: according to people who were there, barely a single AK-47. Instead, a lot of old, decrepit rifles, the kind that poachers use, barely functional. A lot of doubts that this was for real. "They needed to show something for the president's sister," one Congolese soldier who attended the ceremony told me. Others have suggested that this has been a way to pay off disgruntled CNDP officers after they failed to get positions in government. Nonetheless, some national newspapers (close to Kabila) hailed it a huge success and proof that peace had come to the eastern Congo.

MONUC's departure: What about all the MONUC, Jrs.?

A hilarious article in Le Potentiel today satirizing the nefarious consequences of MONUC withdrawal: The abandonment of all the "balles perdues," the bastard children MONUC will leave behind across the country.

And there have been many. In Goma, there is even an association of women who have children with members of the Indian contingent. Shows you the strength of civil society.

Kabila's showdown with the UN

The head of UN peacekeeping Alain le Roy arrived recently in Kinshasa to talk about the future of MONUC with the Congolese government. We now know that government wants all of MONUC troops confined to the Kivus and Ituri by the end of 2010 and out of the country altogether by end 2011. But what exactly happened?

Apparently, Le Roy arrived with a large delegation and tried to get a meeting with Kabila for several days without luck. They finally met with the Prime Minister Muzito and his cabinet, who gave them a thorough thrashing and told them they needed to leave the country, much to the surprise of MONUC boss Alan Doss, who had not seen this coming.

Then, just before their departure, le Roy's delegation was called to meet with Kabila, who was more conciliatory, although keeping the same line. There had been a meeting of national defense council the night before and some MONUC staff think that they may have coordinated this good cop-bad cop message, especially since in private apparently Kabila has been the most adamant about MONUC's departure.

Some members of the UN delegation, including Ray Zenenga, the head of Africa for Department of Political Affairs, stayed to try to negotiate better terms, but at the end they left without achieving much. The Congolese have dug in, and we are likely to see more anti-MONUC sentiment in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of independence celebrations in June this year.

Things are bound to get worse in coming months: the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be released a bevy of reports by special rapporteurs in the coming weeks, all very critical of the government and some not even translated into French, which will infuriate Kabila. Then, at the end of April, the UN Security Council is supposed to visit the Congo, no doubt to try to negotiate once again with Kabila not to kick MONUC out entirely. Finally, in May the Council has to pass a new resolution to extend MONUC's mandate, which will be controversial, as well.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Innocent is Guilty; MPs get paid

Two news articles of interest:
  • First, MONUC has hit once again by the press after The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that one of the most abusive commanders in the Congolese army benefited from their support during operations in December and January. This despite the UN's alleged screening of the units they support for such culprits. In the interview, Colonel Innocent Zimurinda told the Post: "We want to say 'thank you' to the U.N." Great quote, great name. Human Rights Watch has called for Zimurinda and his commander General Bosco Ntaganda to be arrested.
  • A piece in Jeune Afrique on the Congolese national assembly and their salaries. As I reported in January, they get over $4,000 a month plus $1,700 for phone bills and transport. Not bad. The piece talks about the wrangling over what they get paid, but the worst for me is that since Evariste Boshab took over the presidency of the institution a year ago, the MPs don't seem to be working much anymore. Many MPs show up, sign their name in the register - so they get their expense allowances - and leave again.
  • Finally, a nice picture of Bukavu from 1932. Hard to believe that where now 500,000-700,000 people live, only 70 years ago was this bucolic scene. This is a view of La Botte, courtesy of Collection J.CL Duhot (here).

Refugee return: Who are these people?

This is perhaps the most explosive political issue in the Kivus at the moment: The return of some 50,000 Congolese Tutsi refugees from Rwanda, where they fled between 1994-1996. Most of them are from the highlands of Masisi, and their return has heated up tempers around Goma, as many politicians and locals claim that these are not Congolese Tutsi but Rwandan newcomers who have never lived in the Congo. In addition, many claim that the CNDP operations (and the Kimia II operations led by ex-CNDP soldiers) have displaced locals (mostly Hunde and Hutu) from lands that the returnees will now occupy.

Is this true?

There are mounting indications that the returnees are not from the areas they are returning to. These kinds of investigations are difficult to conduct - locals always have plenty of reasons to want to smear the returnees for fear of having to cede their land to them, or because of ethnic antagonisms. Plus, the fact that many returnees don't speak Swahili or French is not always a sure-fire way of knowing they aren't Congolese, as some communities in Masisi really only speak Kinyarwanda (although almost everybody, especially the men, will have working knowledge of Swahili).

So what do we know? Well, according to diplomats and researchers who have recently been to Bwiza and Kitchanga, where many returnees are arriving, say that many - perhaps up to 20-40% - are Hutu. Almost none of the people in the UNHCR camps in Rwanda are Congolese Hutu. Also, many of the local Tutsi and Hunde are reporting in private that they don't know these people and that they are Rwandan, that they don't know their way around and admit that they are Rwandan. Many of them have Rwandan IDs - which in itself is not proof that they aren't Congolese, but raises questions - and have come with large herds of cattle that, according to some analysts close to the CNDP belong to affluent members of the Goma and Kigali elite.

This has created serious tensions. One researcher reported that locals are being forced to sell or relinquish land to the newcomers and the ex-CNDP soldiers. "Reportedly in Matanda, all Hutus were forced by these armed herders to simply relinquish the land that they had purchased." This has, of course, exacerbated anti-Tutsi sentiment amongst the local population. While Kabila's government seems to think that this is the price to pay for peace - they have turned down offers from UNHCR to help register the returnees - it seems foolhardy to think that this won't lead to further ethnic violence and massacres as we have seen in the past. People like General Janvier of the APCLS militia are already using the Tutsi return as a rallying cry for recruitment.

Another delegation recently visited Kitchanga and concluded that many of the returnees are Congolese Tutsi who had been settled in the Gishwati area. There may be a link to the Gishwati forest, where the Rwandan government and US conservationists are engaged in a major effort in reforestation. According to the Great Ape Trust, the US organization backing the project, "It is about the people of Rwanda and improving their lives and livelihoods. This collaborative effort will reduce poverty’s threat to conservation by improving water quality, controlling floods, promoting ecotourism and enhancing local employment." It will also provide jobs, prevent land slides and attract tourism.

But reports in the media suggest that 5,000 families (25,000 people?) will have to be moved, all to save 14 chimpanzees. Is it possible that some of these families went to the Congo?

Some organizations like Pole Institute have sought to calm tempers, suggesting that politicians are hyping up the presence of Rwandans for political gain. They visit the border crossing, as well as the IDP camps where the returnees are supposed to be located and conclude that the 12,000 returnees are probably only a small fraction of that and are mostly Congolese. While I appreciate Pole Institute's accurate reporting on other issues, I think they may have gotten it wrong on this one. Several other delegations that have visited the same areas have come to contradictory conclusions - even the Tutsi local chief in the Bwiza camp says that 5,000 refugees have returned recently. Internal reports by UN officials as well as human rights group also indicate that many of the returnees are not Congolese; the fact that there are many Hutu present amongst the returnees is another indication that there Rwandans may be returning - to my knowledge, there are very few Congolese Hutu refugees in Rwanda and almost all of those in the UNHCR camps are Tutsi.

I am aware of the trenchant anti-Tutsi sentiment that is ever-present in the Kivus. That, however, cannot be an excuse for taking these allegations lightly.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What is US policy on the Congo?

The Great Lakes Policy Forum - a group of scholars, government officials and students of the region - will be hosting Howard Wolpe, the US Special Advisor on the Great Lakes, next week. A good time to reflect on US policy in the region, as it's been a little over a year since Obama's inauguration and over six months since Dr. Wolpe was named special adviser.

First, a word on the special adviser position, as it is indicative of the lack of urgency displayed by Washington on the Great Lakes. According to sources within the State Department, almost immediately after Clinton was named Secretary of State, she told Wolpe she wanted him to be her Special Envoy to the Great Lakes, a position he had previously occupied under Bill Clinton's presidency. It took almost half a year, however, to officially name him and when he came out the other side of the bureaucratic mess, he was only a Special Advisor on the Great Lakes, a lower ranking position. Why? Not entirely clear, although some sources close to State seem to think it was because Obama was coming under fire for the proliferation of Special Envoys and Wolpe's title got axed.

In any case, by August 2009 Wolpe was ready to go. His ideas sounded solid: His first priority was to try to create a new donor coordination group, something akin to the CIAT grouping of major donors during the 2003-2006 transition. This made a lot of sense too many advocates, who were baffled by how scattered donors' effort had been since the 2006 elections and how little leverage the international community seemed to have despite having 20,000 troops in the Congo and providing over a half of the government's budget. Wolpe said he would work with the Europeans and even try to bring in the Chinese into a coordination group.

His second idea also made a lot of sense: Prioritize security sector reform (SSR). For long term stability in the East, the government will have to stop negotiating with every neighborhood militia as it currently does. It will also have to stop preying on its own population - hence the importance of SSR. Previous efforts have trained isolated battalions but not systematically addressed the institutional problems at the heart of the problem. Again, we all applauded.

Then, in early August, Hillary Clinton visited the Congo and the policy priorities seemed to slip. Sources in State said: "She's been briefed at sexual violence is at the top of her list." Great, because the brutalization of women is a huge problem and could be an avenue towards getting at real reform of the justice system, the army and the police. Right? Nope. Clinton visited hospitals and pledged $17 million to combat sexual violence. That's right, $17 million, which is about 2% of annual humanitarian aid to the Congo. To make matters worse, there were suggestions that she wanted to construct a new hospital instead of giving to the existing, well-functioning fistula hospitals Heal Africa (Goma) and Panzi (Bukavu). The cherry on the cake was the suggestion that she wanted to fund video cameras so that rape victims could film their attackers. Maybe not such a good idea, given that there attackers usually have AK-47s and come in groups of 2-8. (Texas in Africa blogged on this here and here.)

In any case, Wolpe and Clinton came back without any discernible achievements. Finally, to make matters worse, the government has only been able to confirm one position in USAID - where most of the money is - since it came in: the Administrator, Rajiv Shah. All the other positions have been stymied in bureaucracy, apparently due to wrangling between State Dept (read: Clinton) and the White House, in part due to bad blood that emerged during the campaign, in part just to regular turf war.

So what gives? No comprehensive approach to Congo policy emerged over the coming six months. Elsewhere, as for Somalia, there has been an inter-agency process of developing a united approach to conflicts (not that it has had much success there). Why not for the Congo? I hope we find out this coming week.

I should qualify my negativity with two good things that have happened:
  • According to diplomats, the US military is apparently doing a decent/good job in training a battalion of Congolese soldiers in Kisangani - not comprehensive SSR, but not bad.
  • We now have an impressive coterie of diplomats in Goma following the situation very closely - there are US, UK, French and Belgian representatives based there now. Not that it has made a huge difference - they mostly report back to capital and don't get too involved in the peace process. But at least we have a finger on the pulse
Ok, so that wasn't exactly a ray of sunshine in the darkness. Maybe a glow stick.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

News round-up: Lafontaine, corruption scandals and Nkunda

A few tidbits:
  • Africa Confidential reports this week on a Congolese parliamentary investigation into mismanagement of public funds. (subscription required) The highlights are allegations that almost half of the $50 million signing bonus from China's Sinohydro-China Railway has gone missing; that the government had not properly accounted for $84 million paid in dubious debts to a private Congolese bank; and that $25 million had been unjustifiably paid by the government to the diamond company of wealthy Israeli businessman Dan Gertler
  • One of the more important Mai-Mai leaders remaining in the bush, General Sikuli Lafontaine, showed up in Goma this week, saying that he had agreed to integrate into the national army. This is not the first time, he joined the national army once before only to defect and create a new militia.
  • A Voice of America interview with defected Rwandan General Kayumba Nyamwasa can be read here - he is now confirmed to be in South Africa. In the meantime, another Rwandan opposition figure, Deogratias Mushaidi, formerly head of the Rwandan journalists' association, was arrested in Burundi and transferred to Rwanda. The Rwandan government accuses him, too, of plotting the recent grenade attacks in Kigali.
  • Laurent Nkunda trial has once again been postponed. His lawyers appeared in front of the Supreme Court this week, but their challenge to his house arrest was once again postponed until the end of March.

Friday, March 5, 2010

As peace returns to the Congo, the UN leaves

What's wrong with the title of this blog?

The head of UN peacekeeping Alain Le Roy announced two days ago after meeting with President Kabila that they would begin drawing down the UN peacekeeping mission MONUC. He was pretty guarded in what he said, suggesting that they would withdraw peacekeepers from Katanga and Kasai in several months and that a UN team is currently in the Congo, tasked with drafting recommendations about a drawdown.

However, the ebullient Minister of Information Lambert Mende spilled the beans later: UN troops will leave everywhere but the Kivus and Ituri by the end of 2010 and leave the country altogether in 2011. When asked by reporters whether MONUC will play a role in the upcoming elections, Mende said that MONUC might help with local elections but that the Congolese would carry out their own presidential elections in 2011. It is hard to imagine how this is possible, given the enormous logistical support MONUC provided for the last elections. But it is clear that the Congolese don't want outside interference this time, which could also mean they don't want the heavy foreign and domestic monitoring presence there was in 2006.

We had been expecting this, but it is nonetheless big news. None of this has anything to do with an improved security situation, obviously. While the CNDP have officially been integrated into the national army and the FDLR perhaps (a strong conditional, as we don't know how many new recruits have come in) reduced to 70% of their former size, the situation in the East is still volatile. As long as there are political and economic elites in the Kivus (and Kigali) that think they need to maintain armed groups to protect their interests, and as long as the Congolese government does not implement meaningful security sector and customs reform, there will be rebel groups in the region. A drawdown itself is not a bad idea - MONUC has been politically marginalized and has proven unable to protect civilians in the East - but it should be replaced with a deeper engagement in strengthening Congolese institutions, especially the security sector. This is what has happened in most other post-conflict (pardon the expression) situations in Liberia, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan (to greater and lesser extent). In the Congo, however, nothing similar has emerged. We are still training one battalion here, another there. Piecemeal reform.

Another problem with MONUC drawdown is the loss of the civilian presence. MONUC currently has 3,600 civilians (1,000 ex-pats and 2,600 locals) working in human rights, child protection, civil affairs and administration (I imagine about 20-40% of that is substantive sections, the rest administration). They provide invaluable information on developments throughout the country and form an important oversight of the still shaky peace process in the Kivus. As much as we might criticize MONUC, they provide escorts to humanitarian convoys, they inspect prisons, patrol volatile areas, give logistics to journalists and foreign delegations, conduct military operations with the Congolese army, have an excellent radio station, mediate between warring parties, follow local and national politics and (not least) inject several hundred million dollars into the local economy each year.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Former Rwandan Army Chief Defects

The French revolutionary George Danton apparently said: Much like Saturn, the revolution devours its children.

In Rwanda, it hasn't been quite as spectacular as in the days of the Jacobins, but it is remarkable nonetheless. Earlier this week, the Rwandan government confirmed that Lt. General Kayumba Nyamwasa had fled the country and was now faced with an arrest warrant for alleged terrorism, including a recent grenade attack in Kigali that a killed two people.

Lt Gen Nyamwasa, a Tutsi who grew up in southern Uganda, had been one of the most powerful members of the Rwandan army, climbing through the ranks in the Ugandan army before becoming the head of military intelligence and then chief of staff. He was known to be a hardliner. Then, suddenly, in 2001 he was marginalized and sent for military training in the United Kingdom. There were rumors of an attempted palace coup, of him being upset over the way President Kagame was running the country. Soon after his training program, he was sent as ambassador to India, allegedly to keep him out of trouble.

And now the Rwandan government is accusing him of terrorism and even complicity with the FDLR. They claim he has joined Colonel Patrick Karegeya - the former head of external intelligence - in South Africa. Who knows what to make of the allegations, but what is certain is that the RPF has much more to worry about from within its own ranks than from the weak and divided opposition parties.

I do not have an exhaustive list, but there are around 50 high ranking RPF members who have defected since they came to power in 1994. "Opportunists," Kagame has called them, people who were not fit to serve their country. Perhaps. But they include two former prime ministers, at least three former ministers (including ministers of defense and foreign affairs), the speaker of parliament, supreme court justices and several ambassadors. Many of the former RPF heavyweights have been moved to the sidelines or have gone into business.

President Kagame is still going strong, and the signs of discontent within the RPF are still outweighed by the prosperity that the party has brought to many of its members. There is no doubt that tensions are running a little bit higher than usual due to the upcoming presidential elections, set for August 9th.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

News round-up: Maniema Dojo, Nkunda and Agathe

A short news round-up:

  • In the next installment of my series on raucous caucuses, Maniema's provincial assembly almost blew up yesterday, literally. A group of 11 MPs had tabled a motion to impeach the governor of the province for corruption. Soon the battle lines were drawn. According to one press report, the legislature was transformed into "a dojo" and the the MPs "became suddenly experts in martial arts." The police had to break up the fight between the besuited legislators, and the minister of interior immediately ordered everyone onto a plane to Kinshasa. And this is Maniema, where almost every MP elected is in Kabila's AMP alliance.
  • Nkunda was supposed to have his day in court yesterday, Rwanda's Supreme Court. I haven't heard what the result was, but I doubt he has been set free.
  • Olivier Kamitatu, the Minister of Planning and the former deputy of JP Bemba before defecting to Kabila, gave an interview to Jeune Afrique for their latest edition, suggesting that there needs to be a constitutional revision to make the Congolese president stronger. This is sure to irritate some people, but Kamitatu is far from alone - many around Kabila are fed up with the amount of time they spend making the many different arms (and pockets) of government happy. Democracy can be a real waste of money and time.
  • Ah, and yes, France arrested Agathe Habyarimana yesterday, the widow of former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana. It's probably no coincidence that this comes days after President Sarkozy visited Kigali and Rwanda re-opened its embassy in Paris. Agathe was the powerful head of the akazu kitchen cabal around Habyarimana that helped plot the genocide - however, until now, the UN court in Arusha has not issued an arrest warrant for her, and her brother Protais Zigiranyirazo was recently released by the court. So where will Agathe be tried?

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Richest Man in the Congo?

George Forrest embodies the symbiosis of business and politics in the Congo. (He is also very litigation-happy, so I better watch what I say here). There is apparently nothing that the Congolese-Belgian magnate can't do or become. In addition to his vast existing business empire, he has just this last week announced, together with Belgian's flagship airlines Brussels Airlines, the creation of a new airplane company in the Congo, Korongo (crane in Swahili).

A bit of background should indicate to what extent he has become a Congolese Rockefeller. His father immigrated to the Congo and founded the Malta Forrest Company in Lubumbashi in 1922. The company began in construction and soon branched out into mining, enjoying the support of the Mobutist elite. By the 1980s, George Forrest had taken the helm of the company, although their fortunes dipped during the last years of Mobutu. But he persevered: according to UN investigators, Forrest was a partner with Angolan UNITA rebels in large diamond venture in northern Angola in the early 1990s.

Forrest's huge expansion, however, came under Laurent and Joseph Kabila. He was briefly made Chairman of the largest Congolese state mining company Gecamines between 1999 and 2001, during which - in what a UN report termed "a flagrant conflict of interest" - his company negotiated lucrative mining contracts with Gecamines (i.e. with himself). He has been accused by human rights groups and the UN of depriving the Congolese government of huge sums of tax revenues. In 2004, Forrest obtained one of the most lucrative mining concessions in the country, the Kamoto mine, and created the Katanga Mining company. According to an analysis by a well-known law firm, the deal led “extensive assets, part of the national wealth of the [DRC], which are being transferred to be used by the private sector without an evaluation and assurance that the country will be appropriately remunerated for the privilege granted to a private concern.” The World Bank suggested the deal violated all norms of international best practice.

Forrest has long known how to make the friends necessary to do business. He was cozy with Mobutu's regime and allegedly donated a huge sum ($20 million is the figure batted around, but I don't know how anyone can know for sure) to Kabila's election campaign (there are no financial regulations for elections in the Congo). Not all that he does is nefarious: he is the country's biggest private employer, with 15,000 people on his payroll, and is probably the biggest private taxpayer in the country. He has created a foundation that funds schools and health centers, although all of this is, according to his critics, just a distraction.

Just a few other business interests he owns:
  • The last operating cement factory in the country, in Bas-Congo
  • A controlling stake (bought recently) in BCDC, one of the country's largest banks
  • An ammunition factory in Belgium, New Lauchaussee
  • A newly created joint venture with Korean partners, Forrest Rowemberg Minerals Korea (FRMK)
  • Over 30,000 head of cattle on his vast ranches in Katanga
Just as important, Forrest knows how to rub elbows with the right people. He recently helped the French uranium giant Areva negotiate a deal to control Sinkolobwe, a huge uranium concession in Katanga (allegedly where the stuff for Hiroshima bomb came from). He has employed as his vice-president the former Belgian Special Envoy to the UN and Secretary of Trade, Pierre Chevalier, (who was forced to resign from diplomatic service when his business connection to Forrest came to light) and is close to several Belgian senators and politicians. Some of the awards that his efforts have earned him:
  • Honorary French consul in the Congo (he is allegedly close to Patrick Balkany, mayor of the French town Levallois-Perret and friend of Nicholas Sarkozy)
  • "Kyalika," the Great Builder, a title given to him by Katangan traditional chiefs
  • Councilor to the Belgian government in foreign trade
  • Honorary chairman of the United Nations University of Peace in Africa
  • See pictures of him here with Omar Bongo, former president of Gabon (whom he called a visionary), and President Francois Bozize of the Central African Republic.
Not bad. Maybe Fortune 500 (Africa Edition) should be paying attention.

(Correction: in an earlier version of this posting, I had suggested that the Forrest Group had purchased Forsys, a uranium company mining in Namibia - it turns out they failed to buy it. Also, Shinkolobwe produced the uranium for the Hiroshima bomb, but not for the one that fell on Nagasaki.)