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, July 29, 2010

So what does the conflict minerals bill actually say?

It seems to be that there has been an awful lot of debate of late about the "conflict minerals bill" - known on the streets as "Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act: Conflict Minerals" - without much mention of what it will actually do. Allow Congo Siasa to edify.

This is what it calls for:

1. Reporting
  • Within 270 days (i.e. by April 2011), the Securities and Exchange Commission has to publish regulations requiring companies to report annually whether they are using minerals from the Congo and what they have done to conduct due diligence on the source of minerals and the chain of custody;
  • They then have to commission a private audit of this report that lives up the standards of the US Comptroller General;
  • The purpose of the report is to ascertain whether they are trading in minerals that have benefited armed groups, either because the groups controls the mines, taxes the minerals along the transport routes, controls the trading houses or benefits in any other way from the trade;
  • Armed groups are not just rebel groups and militias, but also any units that are guilty of widespread human rights abuses;
  • These reports then become available on the Internet to the public;
2. Strategy

  • Within 180 days, the Secretary of State, in consultation with USAID, must submit a strategy to Congress on how to deal with the linkages between armed groups, human rights abuses, conflict minerals and the minerals trade;
  • This strategy must support efforts by the Congolese government and UN Group of Experts to monitor and prevent the financing of armed groups through the minerals trade;
  • It must also help strengthen institutions involved in the management of this trade so as to make cross-border trade more transparent and legitimate;
  • It should provide guidance to private companies on how to conduct due diligence;
  • And propose punitive measures for those entities found to be trading in conflict minerals;
3. Map

  • Within 180 days, the Secretary of State shall (in according with the UN GoE report) produce a map of mineral rich zones and areas under the control of armed groups and make it available to the public;
  • The map must be updated every 6 months;

4. Sexual Violence

  • The Comptroller General of the US must submit a report within one year on the rate of sexual violence in the eastern Congo and adjoining countries;
5. Reports

  • After two years, the Comptroller General must report back to Congress on how effective these measures were and what challenges they posed.

Some comments:

  • It responds to the need express by both Laura Seay and Harrison Mitchell have argued on the comments section here that we need better governance and stronger institutions - in a best case scenario, the Act will result in investment in the Congolese regulatory institutions in the Kivus;
  • As Friends of the Congo have argued here, these are just Congress' demands. How the SEC, State Department and the Comptroller General execute these requirements is a different matter altogether;
  • Most importantly: They only ask for companies to say what they have been doing to conduct due diligence - they don't say at what point a company would be sanctioned (I guess the State Dept strategy should outline that) and what the consequences of trading in "conflict minerals" would be. In other words, we are likely to get an awful lot of information about what the supply chains look like, but there is no legal consequence to trading in conflict minerals;
  • A map that is updated once every 6 months will not be that useful - these arrangements need to be more flexible, as the situation on the ground can change very rapidly.
That is what my novice eye can make of the bill. If you want to have a look yourself, here it is (scroll all the way to the end).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is Kamerhe on the election path?

Ever since Vital Kamerhe fell out with Joseph Kabila in January 2009, rumors have been circulating that he's going to challenge the Rais for the presidency next year. The last round of such rumors were sparked when he attacked the Kabila personally for the murder of Floribert Chebeya - a far cry from the much more careful criticism he provided last year when he resigned as head of the national assembly, when he made sure not to directly criticize the head of state.

Apparently he has spent part of the past year getting rid of some of his investments in Kinshasa, moving his family to South Africa and preparing to launch his own campaign. Some, however, still doubt that he has decided to throw his lot in with the opposition. He was apparently invited to the president's official gala dinner at the 50th anniversary celebrations, where he even hung out with his alleged rival, Augustin Katumba Mwanke. It is also strange that the new head of the national assembly, Evariste Boshab, has not taken steps to get his predecessor expelled for having been absent for almost a year from parliament; Boshab apparently said that the by-laws don't require the MPs to be physically present (so only in spirit?).

Nonetheless, the Bukavu native is currently in the US visiting businessmen and Congolese Diaspora in Washington and Florida - according to one source at least, he confirmed to them that he will be running in the elections next year. According to some of his friends, he also met with Assistant Secretary of State Johnny Carson. Other sources suggest that he has even been to The Hague to see JP Bemba to obtain his support for next year's polls. (An MLC cadre told me that he had asked for a visit, but had not yet seen him). Congo watcher Colette Braeckman recently also blogged that The Pacifier (as musicians call Kamerhe) is going to run next year.

Both of the leading opposition parties, the MLC and UDPS, appear to be headless going into next year's elections, as Bemba is in jail (hearing in August) and Tshisekedi is in poor health. Already, Kabila appears determined to deal harshly with any challenges - two days ago security agents shut down the two MLC-affiliated TV stations CCTV and CKTV, allegedly because a MLC cadre had prematurely launched the election campaign. According to the MLC, all he did was criticize the president in the opposition's usual manner.

If Kamerhe does run, it will get very tense. He would be a real competitor in the Kivus, where he is popular, and might also be able to join forces with westerners like Bemba, Kamitatu and Nzanga (who I have heard is thinking about dropping out of the AMP, as well). That could prompt Kabila to rig the elections, which could in turn bring more chaos. In any case, things promise to get interesting in 2011.

More thoughts about due diligence in the minerals trade

There's been some good fisticuffs on the internet of late around conflict minerals. Laura at Texas in Africa has several good posts, and Chris Blattman picked it up, as well. Both are skeptical of the recent legislation, while I am grudgingly in favor, so let me respond to some of their points:

1. The mineral trade is not the only source of revenue for rebels in the Kivus (Laura):

Absolutely. But I would argue that it is probably the most militarized sector of the economy. It is difficult to say how much the different armed groups make, and the situation is changing. Basically, the Kimia II and Amani Leo operations have taken a lot of mines away from the FDLR; many of those mines are now occupied by Congolese army units, many of which are controlled by the ex-CNDP. Bisie, where almost 70% of tin in the Kivus come from, for example, was taken away from the renegade 85th Congolese army brigade in 2009 and is now controlled (until very recently, at least) by the 1st brigade, led by ex-CNDP officers. Many other mines are also controlled by CNDP units, and it seems that one of the terms of the Kimia II/Umoja Wetu deal of 2009 was to give army officers control over mines.

Which leads me to my main point: as long as minerals trade is so heavily militarized, different interest groups will fight over it. As far back as 2004, the CNDP traded blows with the FARDC over the Walikale mining sector.

Yes, it is true that other trades are important, as well. But none are quite as militarized and lucrative as mining, where the material is easy to tax and control. Soldiers at Bisie mine can make over $120,000 a month in taxes at the mine, without talking about other rackets associated with Bisie. I doubt anybody is making that much a month from taxing cows, although charcoal and timber might be in the same ballpark. My back-of-the-envelope calculation is that the tin trade in the Kivu is probably worth around $40-120 million a year (the low figure was official exports in 2007, the high one includes smuggled and undervalued goods). Charcoal, which is much more of a cottage industry spread out over large areas, might be worth around $30 million a year (that was the ICCN figure).

In sum, I would never say that instilling good governance in the minerals supply chain will bring an end to the conflict. It won't. But it will diminish the stakes over which the various parties are fighting and it may make demobilization more attractive for some combatants when they can no longer occupy lucrative mines. This goes for the Congolese army, as well - the SEC regulations and the OECD guidelines should include language about abusive FARDC units, as well. Friends in Bukavu already tell me that businessmen have begun discussing - albeit rather timidly - with the Congolese army about getting their troops out of the mines.

What I don't quite understand is why so many people appear to be vehemently against good governance in the supply chain? I agree that it is not a silver bullet, but it might very well help if done intelligently, and what is the harm? Yes, trade in the Kivus overall might decrease, but that will also be an incentive to the government to get its act together.

2. The advocacy campaign has been sloppy and sometimes distasteful (Chris):

This is what Chris says, and I think Laura would agree:
Here’s the source of my concern. In my experience, advocacy groups like Enough create simple but problematic messages that get the attention of the US public and Congress, but eventually come back and bite good policy in the ass. The advocacy message drives aid, policy priorities, and national agendas to an amazing degree. Get it wrong, and you focus policy attention on the right problem but the wrong solution.
I couldn't agree more. In fact, I made a similar point here several months ago. This is where I believe that some campaign groups have become overly zealous in flogging the message. If you get the facts wrong, if you simplify issues or distort them, it will eventually come back and bite you in the ass. Having said that, I do have a feeling that some people love to hate Enough and Eve Ensler because of their flashy celebrity style of advocacy more than for its content. Let's keep our feet on the ground and our heads screwed on.

3. It's really about ideological issues, such as citizenship and access to land (Laura):

This is a long debate that I often have with Severine Autesserre, whose recent book on the Congo you should read. She argues that the main reason that violence has continued in the eastern Congo is because we have not focus on the local dynamics of violence, including conflicts over land and local governance.

These issues are certainly very important, there is no doubt. But I would argue that the main drivers of violence since 2003 in the Kivus have been regional and national elites. The creation of the CNDP in 2004-6 was tightly linked to the fears by elites in Goma and Kigali that without the RCD they would no longer be able to defend their political and economic interests and defend the Tutsi community. Nkunda did not attack Bukavu or Goma in order to solve land disputes - in fact, it is the Tutsi community that stands perhaps to lose the most if the land issue is really opened up, as many of the huge plantations in Masisi and Rutshuru belong to Tutsi.

It is true that land conflict and resentments against Kinshasa made it easier for Nkunda to recruit soldiers, but most of those soldiers were poor, marginalized Hutu; many of them joined the CNDP for economic, not ideological reasons (because they were poor) and many others were forcefully recruited. Desertion rates for the CNDP were very high; interviews with defectors consistently indicate that they had joined for economic reasons and left because it was too harsh.

In other words, I don't think that by setting up land arbitrage groups and grassroots reconciliation committees we will solve the problem of armed groups or violence. It may be necessary, but it is far from sufficient. We need to target all levels at the same time: sanction the elites for supporting armed groups, deprive them of sources of income, reconcile communities over past feuds, solve land conflicts and provide alternate sources of income for the unemployed youth. None of this is easy, but it has to be a comprehensive package.

As for citizenship, this is still an emotional issue, but no longer such a legal one. The electoral cards that most Tutsi and Hutu in Masisi were able to obtain in the run-up to the 2006 elections also function as a proof of citizenship. The issue remains a live one only really for the Congolese in the Diaspora, especially the Tutsi who live in Rwanda and Burundi and did not register for last elections. Correct me if I am wrong, but most rwandophones no longer mention citizenship as a big problem.

The above description of the interface between local-national-regional only holds for the CNDP. Other groups may be more swayed by local issues, such as the APCLS or the Mai-Mai Kifuafua.

But once, again, just because people like myself (and Global Witness, and HRW, and Amnesty) endorse the minerals bill doesn't mean we should forget about all the other soap boxing we have done in the past on land reform, security sector reform, governance, demobilization programs, etc. etc. etc.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Congo enters the axis of evil

Ok, not quite. But numerous sources in Ugandan intelligence have placed the blame for the Kampala bombings of July 11th on the ADF-NALU, an armed group based in the Ruwenzori mountains in North Kivu. (See this well-sourced story by Andrew Mwenda regarding alleged ADF involvement in the bombings). According to these allegations, Muslim radicals from the Tabliq community and connected to Al-Shabaab were the masterminds behind the attack.

Some in Uganda have suggested that Museveni playing up the domestic terror threat so as to clamp down on opposition in the run-up to elections. Others have placed the blame solely on the Somali Al-Shabaab group, which claimed responsibility for the attack. Indeed, one might wonder why the ADF-NALU when they have been relatively dormant for several years; most intelligence reports I have seen from MONUC indicate that they are mostly composed of Congolese and have little political agenda.

But there are reasons not to dismiss the ADF-NALU outright. UN officials who have recently interviewed ADF-NALU defectors suggest that there are regular visits to the group by foreigners, certainly from Sudan, but apparently also from South Asia and Somalia. Training sites have allegedly been set up for special forces, whose purpose is not known but could include bombings like the ones we saw in Kampala. Raids of ADF-NALU camps have reportedly yielded instruction manuals on how to build makeshift bombs and I.E.D.s. Defectors are often young Muslims who were brought across the border by relatives from Koranic schools in Uganda.

The ADF-NALU have carried out bombings in the past. According to the government, they were responsible for a string of bombings in restaurants and markets in Kampala and Jinja in the late 1990s, killing 62 and injuring 262. Also, according to Mwenda, the CIA intercepted ADF communication in June, saying they would carry out a bomb attack.

So who are the ADF-NALU? According to Prunier and Alex de Waal, trouble began with the spread of the initially moderate Islamic Tabliq community to Uganda. The Tabliq are a revivalist sect born in South Asia in the 1920s; it spread to Uganda in the 1980s and established links with the Sudanese government. In 1991, strife broke out within the Ugandan Muslim community when a pro-Iranian candidate was enthroned as their mufti. The Tabliqfaction protested and 450 students occupied the central mosque in Kampala, promptly leading to their imprisonment.

It was these prisoners, who were released two years later, who later formed the backbone of the Islamist insurgency, led by Jamil Mukulu.

In January 1995, a group called the Ugandan Muslim Liberation Army (UMLA) declared war against Museveni's government, accusing him of having killed Muslims during the civil war. At the same time, a Baganda monarchist movement, the Allied Democratic Movement (ADM), was formed in London, demanding the reinstatement of the Buganda kingdom.

The UMLA launched an attack in western Uganda in February 1995 and was prompted defeated and pushed across the border into Zaire. In Bunia, the remnants of the UMLA met up with Sudanese intelligence officers, who were using the airstrip there to ferry supplies to the LRA and the ex-FAR. They fused with the ADM to create the Allied Democratic Front, and joined forces with the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda, which had its base among the Konjo community of the Ruwenzori mountains. Voila: ADF-NALU was born. It now has the honor of being on the US Terrorist Exclusion List.

So what would the motive be behind these attacks? The ADF have been relatively dormant - just a few years back they were estimated to be under 1,000 soldiers, mostly Congolese and with tight links to Mbusa Nyamwisi's former rebellion. According to humanitarian sources around Beni, they have been fairly quiet over the past few years, although they have ambushed several aid convoys in the region and stolen supplies. They appeared largely to be reduced to smuggling gold and cutting timber in the Erengeti area on the border between North Kivu and Ituri.

Now, all of a sudden, intelligence reports from both Uganda and MONUC indicate that they had been gearing up for an attack.

It is possible that Museveni had been tipped off, as Mwenda suggests, and encouraged Kabila to launch an offensive against them. For whatever reason, on June 25, the Congolese army launched Operation Ruwenzori, sending in several thousand troops to attack the ADF-NALU, displacing 60,000 people. According to MONUC sources, the ADF were much better equipped than the Congolese army expected and they have taken heavy losses in their initial battles.

Was it perhaps in reaction to that offensive that the ADF carried out the bombings in conjunction with Al-Shabaab?

Whatever it was, I am sure people in Langley have been calling around to find out who exactly these guys are.

Congo, welcome to the land of international terror.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Why legislation on mineral trade is a good thing

There has been some debate of late in the blogosphere about the US legislation on improving supply chain due diligence with regards to Congolese minerals. See here for an interesting debate on Texas in Africa on this topic. The main criticisms can be boiled down to this:
  • Minerals are not the main issue. Land conflict, communal tensions, state weakness and failed demobilization programs are more important. (Texas in Africa, Pole Institute)
  • By tarring the whole mineral trade with the brush of conflict minerals, we could end up in a boycott of a sector that provides livelihoods to up to a million people in the region. (Resource Consulting Services, Dan Fahey)
  • The way advocates like ENOUGH portray the role of minerals in the conflict is simplistic and often wrong. That kind of advocacy can be dangerous. (All of the above sources)
I have been a critic of the sensationalism of the "conflict minerals" lobby in the US. But I do support the bill (as do many other advocacy groups) both on principle and because it could contribute to rendering the Congolese state more accountable. Here are my responses to some of the criticisms.

1. Minerals were not the origin of the conflict, and many other factors are important. However, proceeds from minerals are a key pillar in financing these groups.

I myself have often chided pundits for reducing the conflict to a spectacle of savage Africans raping the country in order to get their hands on minerals. The conflict began more or less in 1996 (although the roots are much deeper) following the collapse of the Zairian state, the arrival of a million Rwandan refugees after the Rwandan genocide, and as local conflicts over land, identity and power got out of control. Minerals did not play a major role in this initial phase.

Minerals have, however, taken on a large role in the local economy and the conflict since then. In 2008, at the height of conflict in North Kivu, official statistics record around $30 million in tin, wolframite and coltan exports from the province. The real level of exports were probably at least two to three times as high due to smuggling, and this is without accounting for extralegal gold trade, which the Congolese senate estimated to be around $1,2 billion a year, mostly from the eastern Congo.

In 2008, I was the head of the UN Group of Expert. It was clear that the FDLR, Congolese army and the CNDP all benefited from this trade to the tune of millions of dollars a year. Talking with members of armed groups, it was very clear that minerals trade was important to the CNDP, FDLR, some Mai-Mai groups and the Congolese army. While some of this has changed since then (ex-CNDP and other Congolese arm units have taken over many mines previously controlled by the FDLR), minerals still play an important role in the conflict economy. If we assume that access to resources and power plays a key role in the Congolese conflict, then we have to assume that the minerals trade is at the core of the conflict.

Having said that, we must be sure not to reduce the conflict to minerals, minerals, minerals. The charcoal trade around Goma alone was estimated to total $30 million a year by the national park, and armed groups benefit from this, as well. Cattle herding plays a key role in the conflict, as the ex-CNDP in particular has deployed its soldiers to protect tens of thousands of cattle, worth $300-$900 each, many of which have crossed the border from Rwanda. And coffee, tea, fuel and timber also play a large role in the local economy. En bref, armed groups can benefit from any profitable trade in the region, not just from minerals.

Of course, the economy is not the only thing driving the conflict; people don't just fight due to greed. Conflict over land tenure has long antagonized local communities, fueled ethnic divisions and driven youths into armed groups. The immigrations of tens of thousands of Rwandan Hutu and Tutsi to Masisi in the 1930-1960 period further poisoned these communal relations and led many to claim that the descendants of these communities are not really Congolese.

Institutional weakness is another important factor in the conflict, as the Congolese army is desperately corrupt and weak, allowing space for small militia groups to form, often buying weapons from the very army that is supposed to get rid of them. Local land conflicts blow out of proportion because the administration cannot deal with them; military abuses go unchecked because the courts do not have the resources and clout to prosecute.

And yet, I do not see how promoting due diligence in the mineral trade will prevent us from addressing these other issues, as well. Instilling accountability in the minerals supply chain can have positive externalities on the Congolese administration in general by helping to promote accountability, strengthen the capacity of the revenue collection agencies and provide an incentive to the government to crack down on the local power barons who benefit from the trade. In order for this to be the case, however, donor efforts need to focus on working with the relevant Congolese state agencies (Ministry of Mines, CEEC, SAESSCAM, Cadastre minier, OFIDA customs agency).

Hence, I agree with Pole Institute and Nick Garrett/Harrison Mitchell of RCS that in the end we need to strengthen the state and make the minerals trade more transparent. But I think that a key way of doing this is by implementing audits that will require Congolese traders and the Congolese state to be more transparent in the way they deal with the minerals trade. Without strong incentives, the trade will continue the way it is.

2. In terms of strategy, promoting supply chain due diligence is smart.

We have been trying for years in the United States and Europe to promote greater involvement in the Congolese conflict. Largely in vain. Donors have thrown money at the conflict and deployed a peacekeeping operation there, but for the most part we just don't care enough.

That has changed with the emphasis on sexual violence and conflict minerals. Of course, some of this focus in unsavory in the way it distorts the facts. Indeed, I think the reason there has been such a backlash against "conflict minerals" advocacy has been due to the way these voices depict the violence. As I have said before, militias in the Congo do not rape women just because they want to get their hands on minerals. Most minerals in cell phones do not come from the eastern Congo. The war did not begin as a conflict over minerals. And so on. I find a lot of this kind of lobbying distasteful - we do not need to tweak the facts to get attention, it's bad enough already, just present the facts.

But, for the first time since the beginning of the conflict, this lobbying has prompted a substantive push by legislators in the US. We now have a meaningful piece of legislation asking the Security and Exchange Commission to regulate the supply chain. This will be difficult to implement, but in the end should do something that I applaud: render companies accountable for the conditions under which their product is produced. As a consumer, I do not want my sneakers to be made by 9 year-olds , I do not want my sweatshirts to be produced in abusive workshops. If we can introduce legislation to promote accountability in the business sector in the eastern Congo, it is a good thing.

Yes, I wish we could have greater engagement in strengthening the Congolese judiciary and police. I wish there could be meaningful land reform and that disputes over farming rights could be settled by expert mediators (UN Habitat is beginning to do this). I wish we could have transparent democratic institutions throughout the country. But none of those issues stand necessarily in contradiction with due diligence in the minerals trade. I can't tell you how often I have been in meetings with officials at the State Department, insisting that they help in security sector reform and in paying attention to the return of Congolese Tutsi refugees. Nothing much came of that. Now that we have a chance to help promote meaningful reform in the minerals trade, I think we should seize the opportunity.

Of course, we should remind our interlocutors in Washington, New York, Kinshasa, Kigali, London, Addis and Paris at every step of the way that we want greater engagement on strengthening state capacity, promoting checks and balances, enhancing judicial capacity and independence and reforming the army.

But this does not stand in contradiction to due diligence in the minerals trade.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Do we need white people to save Africa?

Nick Kristof wrote a nice blog piece yesterday about his portrayal of aid in Africa. He had been criticized for consistently placing western protagonists in his stories of humanitarian crises, portraying "black Africans as victims" and "white foreigners as saviors." He answers by saying that (a) he often also portrays black heroes and (b) that, as much as he feels uncomfortable with it, it is easier to market a story with strong western protagonists.

I can empathize with Kristof on this. It is difficult to market stories on Africa. He mentions a trip made by Anderson Cooper to the Congo, in which I took part - Anderson lost 20-30% of his viewers just by broadcasting from Africa. Also, when I first tried shopping my forthcoming book on the Congo war around publishers the predominant answer was: We need stronger western characters.

Kristof has done strong reporting to bring stories to light that no one else will cover. And yet I would like to disagree with Kristof on one important matter. I am consistently vexed by his reporting, not only because he highlights white protagonists, but because his view of politics is often pretty rudimentary. It's not so much that he shows only black victims and white saviors, but it's the kabuki theater of victims and saviors in general that leaves me unsatisfied.

Here is Kristof comparing Congo with Darfur, for example, back in 2007:
Darfur is a case of genocide, while Congo is a tragedy of war and poverty.… Militias slaughter each other, but it’s not about an ethnic group in the government using its military force to kill other groups. And that is what Darfur has been about: An Arab government in Khartoum arming Arab militias to kill members of black African tribes. We all have within us a moral compass, and that is moved partly by the level of human suffering. I grant that the suffering is greater in Congo. But our compass is also moved by human evil, and that is greater in Darfur. There’s no greater crime than genocide, and that is Sudan’s specialty.
"Evil" is greater in Darfur? I'm not sure I know what that means. The level of human suffering is lower in the Congo?

But his writing on the Congo has evolved. He has emphasized that the rapists are not just savages, but that they rape as a strategy to undermine communities, control the population and get their hands on resources. This year, he came up with a four-step solution to solve the rape crisis: (1)Pressure on Rwanda to stop supporting the ex-CNDP, (2) A regime to monitor mineral exports from the Kivus, (3) A push to demobilize the FDLR and (4) A drive to professionalize the Congolese army.

This is pretty much NGO orthodoxy, and is pretty good. And yet, I still have two problems.

First, he does mostly depict suffering without a political context. His columns are usually based on a personal story of suffering intended to pull at our hearts strings. he rarely spends much time explaining why the calamity happened in the first place. This has the unfortunate side effect of making it seem like the war can be reduced to a bunch of rebels raping women in order to control minerals. That is not true.

Soldiers did not take up their weapons yesterday so as to get to mines - some armed groups are nowhere close to mines (e.g. LRA, some Mai-Mai groups), and some of the worst cases of rape have been by the Congolese police, far from conflict zones and mining areas. It is an open question how much rape is used to control populations, or whether it is a tool to socialize new recruits, or even just happens opportunistically.

In general, the origin of the conflict is rooted in the collapse of Zaire, local struggle over land and resources in the East, and genocide in Rwanda.Minerals have exacerbated the problem and prolonged the conflict, but are not the source of violence in the Congo.

The danger with Kristof's kind of reporting is that as long as we don't understand the political logic of the Congolese conflict, our solutions will be slapdash and inadequate. If it is just a bunch of savages raping to get minerals, we might conclude that the problem is getting rid of these savages or creating due diligence in mineral supply chains - laudable initiatives, to be sure, but they don't get to the bottom of the problem. Indeed, the current donor approach seems to be pretty much at sea and is largely focused on addressed humanitarian emergencies rather than promoting institutional change.

The Congolese problem is, unfortunately, complex (which is why no one has found an easy solution). It is rooted in institutional collapse, the logic of patrimonial rule, and competition between national and regional elites. In the Congolese political system, a leader's survival is based on accumulating resources and using force to co-opt or coerce your rivals. There is no contractual security to guarantee business or political investments, there are few strong institutional checks and balances - courts, audits, parliaments - to rein in excesses of power.

Why does this matter for Kristof?

Well, in this context, creating strong security institutions may be anathema to President Kabila, as it was to President Mobutu, as he fears being constrained by them or even overthrown; demobilizing the ex-CNDP may be anathema to Kigali and the Congolese Tutsi community, as they need muscle to protect their security and other interests; and demobilizing the FDLR - which has been a priority for the past decade - means either forcing Rwanda to negotiate with some of them or using force, neither of which is easy.

So the solutions he proposes may not be so easy.

Yes, it is complex. But so is all politics. Imagine what a wonk like Paul Krugman would sound like writing on the Congo? Please, Mr. Kristof, continue your vivid reporting. But also go the extra mile to understand the politics.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another Affaire Ngulu

I should really be writing about the arrest of another journalist in Rwanda. Or the aftershocks of the Kampala bombings. Or even the Congolese army operations against the ADF-NALU, which have displaced 20,000 people around Beni. All in due course.

Because today there are other important matters to catch up with. Felix Wazekwa, aka Le Monstre, has been arrested! Yes, that's right, the musician who inspired Kabila to put a grey streak in his beard, the inimitable Congolese musician of Faux Moto Moko Boye and Yo Nani fame, was sentenced to two years in Belgian prison this last week. Ok, so he's in Kinshasa and unlikely to return to Belgium anytime soon (he once said: "I don't care much about Belgium, it's a small country, 40 times smaller than the Congo. Who cares?"), but it is yet another indictment of Congolese musicians.

His crime: Smuggling people into Europe as members of his band in 2004. Other Congolese musicians have done this before, it's called "Affaire Ngulu" (A pig's affair) because they ship people like animals. Papa Wemba was convicted of the same crime some years ago and had to serve time in France.

Other Congolese musicians have also been in the press of late for the wrong reasons. Koffi Olomide has been cited in the Congolese blogosphere for being charged with rape in France last year. Let's hope it's not true.

Now back to the real news.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


What was Joseph Kabila thinking? According to local and Belgian press, he gave Belgian Queen Paola a diamond necklace, earrings and bracelet on the occasion of Congo's 50th anniversary celebrations. A bit of a PR catastrophe. The whole point of the pomp and speeches was to emphasize the country's new-found sovereignty after years of war, not to remind us of the sordid past - Belgian colonialism, big man politics and blood diamonds.

All parties involved have been involved in damage control. The Conglese embassy in Brussels published a statement, denying the gift's existence altogether, saying that the royal couple had received, like all other guests, a watch with a symbol of the 50th anniversary emblazoned. Minister of Info Lambert Mende said the gift of diamonds existed, but that it had been given by the First Lady Olive Lembe. Diamonds and gold are produced in the Congo, he added, why not make such a present?

The royal press secretary confirmed that they had received the gift and announced that it will be given to the royal donation, which, as far as I can understand, belongs to the state and could be drawn on to reduce the growing national deficit. Belgian MPs have asked the Prime Minister Yves Leterme about the gift, and Leterme had already called the celebrations "a true waste," due to the costly parades and pomp involved.

So why did Kabila do it? Was he eager to make new friends in Belgium? Impress the king and queen? Whatever the reason, it was a throwback to the pomp of olden times, when Mobutu would send diplomats away with envelopes of cash and jewels. Not in good taste. Obama gave the Queen of England an iPod with some music on it, that might have been a better idea. I'm sure King Albert would have enjoyed some Werra Son and Feix Wazekwa.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Chebeya's autopsy result

The results from an independent Dutch autopsy of Congolese activist Floribert Chebeya were made public yesterday. The plot thickens, really: they could not find signs of serious violence, suggesting that the cause of death could have been a heart attack. Apparently, Chebeya, 47, had been suffering from heart problems. They did find indications, however, that he had been grabbed by his hands and legs and probably handcuffed around 30 to 40 minutes before his death. None of this is conclusive, but we should recall that the initial version of Colonel Daniel Mukalay, the head of the notorious Special Services of the police, had initially confessed that there had been orders to torture Chebeya, but that his people “had gone too far” and he had died.

This will certainly be welcomed by Kabila's people, as it opens the possibility that this may not have been a murder conspiracy after all. According to people in the presidency, the prime suspect is still John Numbi, the chief of police, who is still under suspension (but not arrested). Numbi's people protest, however, that he was meeting the president at the time of the murder and was not involved. They say that he is being set up.

Numbi is one of the most powerful members of the Congolese military nomenklatura. Before becoming inspector of the police, he was commander of the air force and commander of the military region of Katanga. He was a key broker in the peace deals between Kigali and Kinshasa in 2007 and 2009 and has substantial interests in business in Katanga. He got his start in politics in the JUFERI militia in Katanga the early 1990s, which was formed to help the UFERI party win elections, but became famous in expelling tens of thousands of Kasaians from the province.

Is Agathon Rwasa in eastern Congo?

Sources close to the FDLR suggest that Burundian FNL leader Agathon Rwasa might be in touch with the Rwandan rebel group in the eastern Congo. More precisely, he is supposed to be in northern Mwenga territory, close to the border with Walungu and Shabunda.

The former Burundian rebel leader and presidential candidate fled Burundi last month fearing arrest in the run-up to elections. He was later reported to be in the eastern Congo, and he himself has been on local radio stations, saying he had to leave the country due to concerns for his safety.

At the same time, sources within Burundi suggest that the FNL has begun re-recruiting some of its demobilized soldiers. The election boycott by the opposition and the expected victory by the CNDD-FDD in local, legislative and presidential elections had apparently radicalized some members of the opposition.

These are reliable sources, but as yet not fully confirmed, and I am sure Nkurunziza's government would encourage the dissemination of such rumors. An alliance between the FNL and FDLR would serious undermine the former Burundian rebel leader’s reputation, could be a serious threat to stability in the region and could bolster President Nkurunziza's dented reputation. We should, however, recall that during the thick of the Burundian civil war, the FNL were based largely in Burundi. To the extent that they did have rear bases in the Kivus, they struck up coalitions with Mai-Mai groups and only to a lesser extent with the Rwandan FDLR.

I doubt Kinshasa would be happy about Agathon's presence in the Kivus, as it would only underscore the weakness of its army and would provide a morale booster for the FDLR, who are desperate for a lifeline.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Another arrest in Rwanda

In Rwanda, there have been more arrests of high-ranking RDF officers. On July 3, Colonel Diogene Mudenge was arrested, accused of threatening a civilian with a pistol in a dispute over money. According to the RDF spokesman, Mudenge had bought a piece of land from a farmer but later abandoned the project. When he asked for his down payment back, the owner said he had already spent it, leading to the altercation. Others, however, are skeptical of this account. Mudenge is married to the sister of the powerful Minister of Defense, General James Kabarebe, so the tongues have been wagging in Kigali and abroad about the possible meaning of this. Meanwhile, I have also learned belatedly that David Himbara, the influential former Principle Private Secretary (PPS) to President Kagame, also left Rwanda in January for South Africa. The circumstances of his departure are, however, not clear. He has not made any declarations since his arrival in South Africa, although sources among the RPF dissenters suggest he might have fallen out with the powerful first lady.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Arrests of CNDP members

As readers of this blog will know, the Rwandan government has been cracking down against ex-CNDP members in their country. There could be several reasons behind this: Rwandan security sources suggest that ex-CNDP members may be linked to the recent grenade attacks in Kigali and could also be in contact with General Kayumba Nyamwasa. Members within the CNDP close the Laurent Nkunda has also been protesting the general's continued detention in Rwanda and are not happy with the leadership of ICC-indictee Bosco Ntaganda.

So who has been arrested?

We don't know anything for sure. But this is what several sources indicate:

  • Sheikh Idi Abbas (Tutsi) a former leader of the CNDP, was arrested in Gisenyi (Rwanda) by security officials in March this year. According to several sources, he was called in by members of the security services and hasn't been seen since. He was very close to Laurent Nkunda.
  • Patrice Habarurema (Hutu, Masisi): A former cabinet member of General Laurent Nkunda, he launched a dissident movement within the CNDP in protest of Bosco Ntaganda in May. He was arrested only a few days later by members of the Rwandan security services in Gisenyi.
  • Denis Ntare Semadwinga (Tutsi, Ruthsuru): A former Mobutist cabinet official and Nkunda's civilian chief of staff, he was murdered in his house in Gisenyi in June. I have not heard whether Rwandan police have launched an investigation, but Semadwinga's neighbors say that they called for help but the police, stationed nearby, didn't show.
  • Robert Ndengeye (Tutsi): This self-proclaimed general was not officially a member of Nkunda's CNDP, but was close to him and the Rwandan government. In early 2007, he led several hundred CNDP soldiers to join the Congolese army in Kinshasa after striking a deal with General John Numbi. He later returned to Kigali. He was reportedly arrested in Kigali in March this year, although the Rwandan security services say they don't know anything about it. His family is still looking for him.
  • Claude Nsengiyumva: A major in the CNDP, he was called to Rwanda by the security services in May and arrested. Nothing has been heard of him since then.
  • A source within the CNDP says that numerous other former CNDP officials or people close to Nkunda have been arrested in Rwanda and Congo, but I haven't been able to confirm this with other sources.

Can you say that again, Mr. Ntsaluba?

I had been told that South Africa was handling the Kayumba assassination attempt with secrecy and delicacy. Right. Until this afternoon, when a senior diplomat fell victim to a serious case of foot-in-mouth syndrome.

Mr. Ayanda Ntsaluba, the director general in the foreign ministry, told reporters that "foreign security operatives" were involved in the shooting of General Kayumba on June 19 in Johannesburg. Aha! So they have confirmed the suspicions that the Rwandan government was behind it!

Not so fast. The silver-tongued Ntsaluba continued: "[This matter] also involves a country with which we have good and strong diplomatic relations," he said. "This why we will not make a determination about where the suspected attackers of General Nyamwasa come from."

So they might have come from Kyrgyzstan? Montenegro?

"We want to be cautious and we are not pointing an accusing finger at any country," Ntsaluba said.

Of course, because security operatives from any number of countries could have wanted to kill General Kayumba.

After that, Mr. Ntsaluba's coherence began to crumble altogether.

"It is accepted practice that the foreign missions of any country has fully declared intelligence and security operatives," he said. "If people from another country operate clandestinely, that is an entirely different dimension."

"They must not get caught because that compounds relations between countries," he added. "It cannot be taken lightly because that is subverting the stability of a country."

So it is OK if foreign spies carry out assassinations as long as they don't get caught? I don't get it. But I do think that the South Africa government has just confirmed that the Rwandan government was behind the assassination. Merci, M. Ntsaluba.