Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Monday, February 28, 2011


A few interesting stories:
  • Around a hundred Congolese are apparently stuck in Libya and are having a hard time getting help;
  • Radio Okapi gives us a lesson in what steps must be taken to organize a legal demonstration in the Congo;
  • International Alert published a report on stereotypes, rumors and discrimination in the Great Lakes - they discuss nasty epithets for ethnic communities, including "those with the projecting teeth," "Banyabungo," "sorcerers," as well as the myths of Lirangwe, Nkundiye and Kangere; and
  • A high-ranking Kenyan investigator was murdered while tracking down gold worth around $100 million that had allegedly been smuggled from the Congo.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Leader of Congolese armed group assassinated

The main military commander of the FPLC armed group, Col. Emmanuel Nsengiyumva, was assassinated two days ago, according to diplomatic and military sources in the region. The FPLC was created in early 2010 by former members of the CNDP after Gen. Laurent Nkunda's arrest. Nsengiyumva himself was Nkunda's first cousin and had been one of his staff officers since the RCD.

The circumstances of his murder are still unclear, although it appears that his own bodyguards killed him. There has also been speculation among Congolese intelligence officers of involvement by the Rwandan army or Gen. Bosco Ntaganda. The FPLC has increasingly attracted defectors from the Rwandan Defense Forces, as well as Nkunda loyalists angry with their former leader's arrest. The FPLC is a nexus of anti-Kigali groups, with ties to the FDLR and local Mai-Mai groups; Rwandan intelligence officers have also accused Rwandan dissident Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa of being in touch with the FPLC, although this is not confirmed.

According to a UN official familiar with the situation, another possibility is that Nsengiyumva was killed due to disagreements over a ransom some believe the oil company Soco International paid to the FPLC after one of its workers was abducted in the Virunga national park two weeks ago.

Despite being a magnet for anti-Rwandan crusaders, the FPLC is not a formidable fighting force. They have an estimated 200-500 soldiers under their direct command. Their operations are largely confined to Rutshuru territory, around the border with Uganda and the Virunga national park. Their erstwhile leader "Gen." Gad Ngabo was arrested in Uganda last year after pressure by the Rwandan and Congolese governments. There have been some reports over the past weeks that Gad might have been released.

Attack on state installations in Kinshasa - Coup attempt?

Two groups of men armed with machetes and machine guns attacked the Kokolo military camp and the residence of President Joseph Kabila on early Sunday afternoon in Kinshasa. According to reports, at least six soldiers had been killed, including several in the Congolese army. Up to eight of the attackers have been captured, and two are currently being interrogated at a DEMIAP (military intelligence) camp in the capital. The situation in Kinshasa is now calm.

The minister of information is currently calling the incident a coup attempt. Was it? The situation is fluid and information is still coming in, but we know that the attackers were coordinated enough to pull off two simultaneous attacks, to enter into the presidential compound and to kill several guards. On the other hand, they it was a pretty ramshackle group of soldiers: many of them were only armed with machetes - could there be a serious coup attempt carried out by people with a few guns and machetes?

It is too early to say for sure, but I doubt this was a coup attempt, which would have required the defection of a large part of the military command. At most, this was an assassination attempt against Joseph Kabila - I don't think several dozens soldiers could have taken over the state apparatus.

It does seem possible that this was an  attempt on the president's life. Over the past week, there have been reports from people in the opposition and government that a small group of men has been organizing to launch an attack. A source within the national security service said that people and guns had been coming across the Congo river, including former members of Mobutu's army and of the Enyele militia.

A leading MLC member told me that his party had been contacted by state officials this week, who accused former soldiers in Jean-Pierre Bemba's bodyguard of preparing a rebellion in Kinshasa. When the MLC official I spoke with looked into it, it turned out that some youths and former MLC soldiers had indeed been organizing, buying machetes and plotting an attack, but that it was small group of perhaps 40 to 60 people and was allegedly unconnected to the MLC political leadership. According to this source, before the MLC could do anything about it, the attack was launched.

The whole thing does smack somewhat of amateurism. If there really was a high-level conspiracy to kill the president or to even take over the state, wouldn't it have been better organized? There are,  expectedly, conjectures that this incident was staged in order to justify a crack-down on the opposition. After all, this is the second time in as many weeks after the attack on Lubumbashi's airport that a state installation has been attacked. The MLC official I spoke with said: "The security services told us that they had infiltrated this group and knew that it included ex-MLC soldiers. If this is true, why didn't they just shut this operation down before it got this far?"

But if it really was a fake attempt, would they have gone so far as to kill soldiers and attack Kabila's house?

In any case, more questions than answers for now. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A hiccup in efforts to render mineral trade more transparent?

Bloomberg had an article this week suggesting that the US legislation against conflict minerals could lead to a boycott of all mineral exports from the region. Smelters, mostly located in southeast Asia, are apparently telling their suppliers that as of April this year they will not be buying tin, tungsten or tantalum from anywhere in Great Lakes region that is not clearly tagged and traced. This deadline mirrors one announced by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), an industry group in the United States.

The Rwandan government, along with local suppliers, is calling foul, saying they need more time to implement traceability schemes. The Rwandans say that 30,000 small-scale miners in their country could be affected by this. They also say that the SEC regulations, which will be published in April, do not come into effect until fiscal year 2012, so why rush things?

Dealing with conflict minerals was never going to be smooth ride. We always knew that aggressive regulation of conflict minerals would lead companies to avoid buying minerals in the region altogether, for fear of reputational damage. And that would affect not just the questionable dealers and the armed groups, but also tens of thousands of diggers and traders who live hand-to-mouth off the trade.

For many analysts - myself included - this initial shock may be necessary to force traders in Goma and Bukavu to lobby the government to withdraw its troops from mining areas. After all, most of the key mining areas and trade routes have been in the hands of the Congolese army for the past few years, following their massive campaign to push the FDLR into the forests and to retake key economic sites. In economic lingo: a demand shock would change the incentives for the traders, and they have enough clout in Kinshasa to change government behavior.

Of course, there is an alternative, less optimistic story that could be told: That the US legislation will just lead to more smuggling, which will disproportionately benefit armed groups, as smuggling usually involves military force. Instead of listening to the traders in the Kivus, and despite the difficulties getting the minerals to market, the government will prefer to keep their soldiers in mining areas, as removing them might affect their peace deal with the CNDP (who control many of these areas) as well as the personal interests of many high-ranking officers.

There is no doubt that the voices of the critics will crescendo in coming months as the SEC regulations kick in. But the conflict minerals legislation alone was never going to be a silver bullet. It needed to be accompanied by a lot of supporting fire on the ground. Here are some thoughts off the top of my head of what could be done to reinforce the momentum to regulate the trade:

(1) Due diligence is based on knowing where your product comes from. At the moment, the murky maze of minerals trade in the Kivus - stretching from thousands of pits to comptoirs in Goma and Bukavu - is impenetrable for industry auditors, and receipts and documents are easy to fake. But the maze can be penetrated - Global Witness, Enough and the UN Group of Experts have done so, it just takes months of investigative work and good local knowledge. We need to institutionalize this research - a third party oversight body should work with the Congolese government to map the minerals trade, investigate dealers and provide information to companies regarding what is good and bad product. See a proposal for this here.

(2) We need to encourage the industry not to abandon the Congo. Create a labeling scheme for well-traced, bona fide "conflict-free" minerals that could be hyped through labels akin to fair trade coffee. Work with the many mining co-operatives to operationalize this. Start with the Bisie polygon in Walikale, where perhaps over half the region's tin comes from. Of course, this would mean you'd have to get the Congolese army out of Bisie first.

(3) The ball in really in Kinshasa's court. The government does not appear to have a coherent (or at least a public strategy) for how to deal with mining in the Kivus. Although President Kabila himself said that the trade was being run by "mafia-like networks" last September and declared an export ban on minerals, there hasn't been much effort since then to clean up those networks. His own army chief of staff was exposed by the UN and BBC of using army assets to further his personal gold business. The army units that occupy the mining sites of Bisie, Misisi, Ziralo, Kamituga, etc. are still there, profiting from the trade. Can't the diplomatic community engage the government, perhaps to set up a Task Force for Mining in the Kivus to support civilian regulation of the sector, boost infrastructures (a lot of the minerals still have to be flown out of the jungles at huge expense) and eventually invite in international, industrial investors?

These are just some off-the-cuff ideas. But they all would be in line with the mandate that the Dodd-Frank bill gave the State Department: To develop "a strategy to address the linkages between human rights abuses, armed groups, mining of conflict minerals, and commercial product." This strategy must include provisions to "develop stronger governance and economic institutions that can facilitate and improve transparency in the cross-border trade involving the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to reduce exploitation by armed groups and promote local and regional development."

That strategy was supposed to have been submitted to Congress by last month.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

How not to write about Congo

Let me take a page from Binyavanga Wainaina's essay and blog my own two cents, a little bit less tongue-in-cheek, about how not to write about the Congo.

It's not all about rape and minerals. Yes, things are bad in the country, and by all means file stories about the conflict and the suffering. But focusing on the ghastly violence distracts from the politics that gave rise to the conflict. This comes at a cost: If all we see is black men raping and killing in the most outlandish ways imaginable, we might find it hard to believe that there is any logic to this conflict. We are returned to Joseph Conrad’s notion that the Congo takes you to the heart of darkness, an inscrutable and unimprovable mess. If we want to change the political dynamics in the country, we have above all to understand the conflict on its own terms. And those terms are not just: Rebels are raping their way across the country to get their hands on conflict minerals.

Look for agents, not just victims. In print and on radio, the Congo sometimes descends into a kabuki theater of snot-nosed children/rape survivors oppressed by savage black soldiers. We need to get away from this. Some Congolese are unscrupulous and vicious, but they usually have reasons for what they do. If we can understand why officials rape - and it's not always just as a 'weapon of war' - and why they steal money - it's not just because they are greedy - we might get a bit better at calibrating solutions. Of course, it's much harder to interview a rapist or a gun-runner than their victims. But don't just shock us; make us understand. Otherwise we only have ourselves to blame when we react to a rape epidemic by just building hospitals and not trying to get at the root causes.

Be careful with ethnic descriptives. For a while, the CNDP was "an ethnic Tutsi rebellion." While the group was indeed led by Tutsi and backed by many in the Tutsi community, without further context, that description makes it seem like the reason for their rebellion was rooted in their ethnicity. Of course, it was, but it was not because part of their DNA sequence gave them a predilection for AK-47s, but because their ethnicity was historically entwined with land conflict and local power struggles since at least the 1930s.

Which brings me to the FDLR. Yes, they are almost all Hutu. And some of their leaders were involved in the 1994 genocide. But we really don't know how many were - a study done for the Rwandan Demobilization Commission in 2008 only had evidence of a handful of FDLR leaders' involvement in the genocide. And of the soldiers who return to Rwanda, very few have been found guilty in gacaca courts for crimes of genocide. Yes, anti-Tutsi diatribe is still prevalent among the FDLR, but the group has also included a few Tutsi officers in the past, and has collaborated with Tutsi groups such as the Banyamulenge in South Kivu and RPR in North Kivu. So be careful not to conflate them with genocidaires.

There are few unambiguous heroes and villains. Paul Kagame is not a saint, not is he Beelzebub. Joseph Kabila is not a Tutsi infiltrator, a Manchurian candidate, or a selfless patriot. They are both leaders acting within the constraints of their political systems, driven by a mix private and public motives. What exactly those constraints are and that mix is: that, my dear foreign blogger/activist/foreign correspondent, is the challenge to figure out.

I hate to disappoint you, but many local NGOs have some pretty serious governance problems; those aid-workers in their air conditioned vehicles are not always just in it to save the world (and when they are, it can be all the scarier). But some of these people have persevered despite all adversity. Figuring out who is who and what shade of gray their moral universe is colored can take some time. Take that time.

Challenge yourself. Write different stories. Who are the Chinese companies working in the Congo and what have their experiences been? Did you know that Congo was one of the first countries to experiment with mobile cash-transfers to pay for demobilized soldiers? Have you checked out the famous artist studios in Kinshasa of Cheri Samba or Roger Botembe? The country's tax revenues have doubled over the past several years - how does that square with its corrupt reputation? What are Dan Gertler's financial relations with the Israeli right-wing? The Kivus apparently produces 40% of the world supply of quinine - might be a story there.

It ain't easy. I know that most journalists writing on the Congo only have 300-1,000 words or a few radio minutes to explain a mess of a conflict. I empathize. And many writers do a great job. But there are also few long, investigative pieces about the conflict that make it into print. That goes for both Congolese and foreign writers. I am convinced that there is a market for intelligent, well-crafted pieces that do not reduce Congolese to a good-guys-bad-guys morality play. So let's raise the bar.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Divided they fall?

It appears that President Kabila's constitutional revisions are already paying off. Yesterday, Etienne Tshisekedi announced that he would not consider backing another, joint opposition candidate against Kabila. "I didn't fight for twenty years [sic] to allow someone else to take my place."

Kamerhe then hits back in this interview.  He insisted on unifying the opposition against Kabila: "I am terrified of providential men. That's what killed the Congo. 'It's me or nobody.' Nobody is indispensable, nobody is better than another, we are all children of God, let's humble ourselves and God will elevate us."

So the opposition seems to be fracturing. Interestingly, Kamerhe - who is well situated to know the inner workings of other opposition parties - suggested that Jean-Pierre Bemba would also likely to be designated as the MLC candidate for the presidency. That would almost certainly happen while he's on trial in The Hague. Is it really the best thing to put yourself forward if there is a decent chance that you will spending the next few years in prison, unable to carry out any government duties?

Monday, February 14, 2011

WikiLeaks: Angola-Congo relations

This is the second in a series of postings based on extracts from US embassy cables obtained through WikiLeaks.

It used to be that close observers of the Congo would locate the main regional fault line between Kigali and Kinshasa. Things appear to have changed. In meetings with diplomats in Washington and Brussels, the relations between Angola and Congo are increasingly mentioned as a matter of concern, although even high-ranking officials admit these dynamics are opaque and difficult to understand.

Since 2007, the two countries have been embroiled in disputes over border demarcation, oil extraction and the expulsion of citizens. As WikiLeaks documents indicate, the oil dispute is probably the most contentious. The offshore Block 15 is the crown jewel of Angola's oil production - the four wells operated by Exxon Mobil pump 30% of the country's entire production, and the field contains estimated reserves of 4 billion barrels.

In July 2007, according to a Kinshasa embassy cable, a joint Angolan-Congolese commission agreed to "a 50/50 share of production and revenues from new oil wells developed in an offshore Zone of Common Interest extending from the 15 km coastal zone in a 10 km strip to the 375 km (200-mile) limit." This arrangement would not affect the current wells in the area, which include Block 15 and possibly Block 14, 0 and 1 (see map below). The deal also suggested that the two countries would have joint ownership over a $2 billion highway linking Luanda and Cabinda across the Congo, as well as over gas and oil pipelines.

However, the deal was never signed, and later in 2007 the Angolan government expelled thousands of Congolese migrant workers from diamond fields in the north of the country, prompting Doctors Without Border to accuse their security services of systematic rape and abuse. When Kinshasa proudly held the summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Kinshasa in September 2007, President Dos Santos failed to show, leading many - including the embassy - to speculate about rising tensions.

A cable from the embassy concluded: "It is difficult to judge exactly what motivated the GOA to expel illegal DRC aliens at this moment.  Many have speculated that Angola is unhappy with DRC attempts to have the maritime boundaries redrawn, which would apparently involve a significant transfer of off-shore oil fields to the DRC.  Some have speculated that Luanda is unhappy with the on-going rapprochement between the DRC and Rwanda, and therefore wanted "to remind" the DRC where its real interests lie."

The situation continued to fester. The Congolese protested that they never received any of the promised share of revenues from the oil in the contested territory. The Congolese government set up a committee of 35 experts led by Prof. Kabuya Lumuna, a respected professor and Kabila ally, to study the issue. The Congolese Foreign Minister asked the US government to mediate, but Washington appears to have kept an arms length from the dispute.

Expulsions from both countries continued. Since 2004, the Angolans have expelled 400,000 illegal immigrants, most of them Congolese and many of them working in diamond fields.  The Angolan ambassador in Kinshasa complained to the US embassy that his country had lost between
$350-700 million in lost diamond revenues as a result of unauthorized artisanal mining.

Nonetheless, in a July 2009 cable, the US embassy wrote that "The prospect of the DRC becoming a major oil producer is the simplest explanation for the mounting tensions between DRC and Angola." They professed ignorance as to which maritime claim was more legitimate, but reported that Angola had gone so far as to make an offer of $600 million in arrears for the use Congolese maritime space. However, Africa Confidential estimates that the production from the contested area could have been as high as 150,000 barrels/day in 2009 ($12 million at today's prices) and might increase to 1,2 million barrels/day ($100 million). The Congolese have been holding out for a better deal and in 2008 mooted going to international arbitration, which infuriated the Angolans.

In December 2009, the embassy suggested another possible reason for Angolan ire. Quoting a contact with good access to the Congolese presidency, the embassy reported: "According to our contact, Angola exposed DRC Communications Minster Lambert Mende's involvement in a corrupt oil deal, which Katumba [Mwanke] apparently arranged." Katumba, who had just been unseated as the head of Kabila's AMP coalition, had reportedly facilitated the sale of a number of Congolese oil blocks, which Luanda believed belonged to Angola.  The embassy continued, still quoting their contact: "Compounding the issue, Katumba then sold the blocks to friends, including Israeli businessman Dan Gertler, who have no capacity to exploit the fields.  They rather plan to sell their concessions to major oil companies."

The situation, however, changed. Far from falling from grace, as the embassy had speculated at the time, Katumba has since emerged as an even stronger figure. But little has since been heard of those dubious oil contracts with Mr. Gertler. And President Kabila has apparently softened his position on the oil blocks. He visited Luanda in September 2010 to confirm his friendship with the Angolan president, and has since pulled back from international arbitration. On January 18 of this year, the Congolese commission suggested that they may take until 2014 to finish negotiations with their Angolan partners.

It is probably a good idea for Kabila to make sure that he maintains good relations with all of his neighbors in this election year. There are already persistent rumors in diplomatic circles that one of his main opponents Vital Kamerhe is receiving financial backing from Angola. And, those of us fond of conspiracies, consider this: Francois Soudan, the author of the recent shellacking of Kabila in Jeune Afrique, is married to a cousin of Denis Sassou-Nguesso, president of Congo-Brazzaville and close ally of the Angolans.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Could Congo be Egypt?

About three weeks ago, the various Congolese listservs I am subscribed to stopped talking about the Congo and started transmitting messages about Tunisia and Egypt full with "Congo is next!" and "Make the Gare Central into Tahrir!"

So it is possible? I doubt it. First of all, the Congo is still a multiparty democracy coming up on its second national elections. But there are other reasons, as well:

The Egyptian uprising was carried out by several groups. (1) A networked and discontent middle-class of Facebook-savvy urbanites who rallied through social groups such as "April 6th movement" and "We Are All Khalid Said;" (2) a mobilized labor sector that, especially later in the uprising, was able to bring part of Egypt's economy to a standstill through strikes; and (3) a well-organized Muslim Brotherhood that bridges professional and workers' classes and was able, especially later in the demonstrations, to organize and rally more people against the regime.

In addition, the fervor of the Tunisian uprising served as a direct inspiration to the Egyptians, who saw themselves in a similar situation. Media from around the world, but especially Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, broadcast images to millions of Egyptian households throughout the demonstrations, spreading the word and further mobilizing the population. At the same time, foreign media flocked to Egypt, aware of the country's importance in the region due to its economy and its role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This made it difficult for Mubarak to crush the uprising with brute force.

In the Congo, there are factors that could, on the face of things, foment unrest. The absolute misery of the people is much worse than in Egypt in terms of health, nutrition and general welfare. Kinshasa is the third largest city in Africa behind Cairo and Lagos and has plenty of disaffected youth. In 1992, the "Marche des Chrétiens" brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets of Kinshasa against Mobutu, and the recent return of Tshisekedi may have sent similar numbers onto the streets.

But the political networks are not sufficiently strong or deep to sustain large protests for very long in face of a government that would likely use force before abdicating. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 21% of Egpyt's population has access to the internet and 5% are on Facebook; in the Congo, the corresponding figures are 0.5% and 0.1%.

In Egypt, GDP per capita is around $2,200 and the inequality (Gini) index is 32 (the higher, the more unequal the income distribution) and around 15% of the population finish university. In the Congo, GDP per capita is $171, its Gini index is 44 and around 3% have university schooling. While this is not enough of an indicator of middle-class strength, numerous other factors suggest that there is much more of an educated, semi-affluent middle class in Cairo than in Kinshasa or elsewhere in the country. This is a factor not just for creating strong, politicized networks, but also for maintaining people in streets - in the Congo, a key problem for demonstrations is that people eat from hand to mouth, surviving on what they can make each day.

You don't need to be educated to belong to a strong social group. But most political parties in the Congo have relatively meager loyal followings, and the unions that exist and strike regularly (doctors, teachers) do not threaten to bring the economy to a standstill.

There are, of course, some notable exceptions. Tshisekedi's UDPS has certainly shown that they can mobilize people, and the Catholic church can be a huge force if it overcomes some internal divisions. But, on several occasions - in 2005/6 during the UDPS boycott of the electoral process, and in 1997 when the AFDL arrived in Kinshasa - the UDPS has also shown that it has a hard time sustaining large, peaceful demonstrations in the face of possible violence. When I lived in Bukavu under RCD rule, we used to march by thousands in the streets against the RCD, supported by the Catholic church and civil society. But the local officials obviously didn't care at the time, nobody was watching on TV or Facebook, and we were faced with hundreds of soldiers with AK-47 who were not shy at using them.

And that brings us to the last, important point. My guess is that protesters would have to face a greater risk of violence than Egyptians. Not that the hundreds of Egyptians who died do not testify to the bravery of the protesters there. But in the Congo, the army and police are probably less well trained, more poorly equipped and less wedded to serving civilians than their Egyptian counterparts. And if the army opens fire and kills hundreds of civilians, donors and international press would be less likely to raise a stink. After all, something similar happened in Bas-Congo in 2007, and donor protest soon abated.

Of course, nothing is impossible. If Egypt and Tunisia taught us something, it is that when revolutions arise, they do so suddenly and unexpectedly.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Armed groups weaken in the Kivus

Some good news from the East, finally. Following up on previous reports about the integration of the FRF armed group in the South Kivu High Plateau, a large delegation of FRF officer visited Bukavu last week to discuss the terms of their integration. Some issues have apparently not yet been resolved, such as Gen. Patrick Masunzu's departure from the province, which the FRF had demanded, as well as the creation of an independent territory of Minembwe. However, it is fairly clear that the two FRF leaders "Generals" Bisogo and Rukunda will be appointed to high-ranking positions, including as deputy commander of South Kivu. In addition, a separate 44th military sector for Minembwe has been proposed, to be commanded by ex-FRF officer Col. James Shyaka. The FRF may have anywhere between 200-500 troops, although there have been reports of recent child recruitment to inflate their numbers during the negotiations.

At the same time, there have been reliable reports of negotiations with Mai-Mai led by "Colonel" Lucien Mastaki (aka Saddam) have been ongoing in Otobora, close to the border between North and South Kivu. While there has not yet been a deal, the Congolese army had conducted a census of his troops, counting 434 soldiers with around a hundred weapons.

There have also been reports of Mai-Mai under the command of Commanders Yakutumba, Kapopo and Aoci - all located in the southern part of South Kivu - would be willing to integrate the national army as well. At the same time, however, there have been reports of other Mai-Mai faction in the same area going on a rampage.

To whom do we owe this sudden will to integrate into the national army? After all, many of these groups have been resisting integration for years - Lucien, the FRF and Yakutumba at least since around 2005. Col. Dephin Kahimbi, the deputy commander of Amani Leo operations in the Kivus, has been traveling around the region over the past month, feverishly negotiating with various armed groups. According to some diplomats, a fair amount of money may have been involved in convincing the various commanders to join up.

In the case of the FRF, another factor apparently played a role. On Christmas day last year, Richard Tawimbi, a leading FRF political cadre, was reportedly arrested in Burundi on the way back from South Africa. According to one UN official, he is alleged to have met with dissident Rwandan Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa, and his computer contained interesting information regarding possible collaboration. In any case, Tawimbi's arrest was a blow to the FRF and further encouraged them to give up their opposition.

Finally, the recent CEPGL meeting of regional states in Kigali may have helped put pressure on the Congolese government to deal with recalcitrant armed groups. Kigali is reportedly worried their enemies - Gen. Kayumba in particular - could find allies among these various armed groups. At the same time, one of the allies of many of these groups, the FDLR, is leaking soldiers at a steady rate - just this week, MONUSCO reported that 1,881 FDLR were demobilized by the UN in 2010. That means that close to 4,000 FDLR have been left the groups since the beginning of Umoja Wetu operations in January 2009.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

WikiLeaks Paint Unflattering Picture of Congolese Leaders

Congo Siasa will be publishing a series of articles over the coming weeks drawing on information from several thousand WikiLeaks cables from the Kigali and Kinshasa embassies.

When Vital Kamerhe was forced out of his position at the head of the Congo's national assembly in early 2009, it brought out the worst in Congolese leadership, sometimes in the offices of the US embassy in Kinshasa. When the stand-off was reaching a peak on March 2, 2009 the US embassy sent a cable to Washington stating, "The Kamerhe affair is the first major political crisis of a democratically-elected government."

The crisis had begun on January 21, when Kamerhe had publicly condemned a deal to conduct joint operations with the Rwandan army on Congolese soil. For Kabila, this was perceived as a personal affront from a man who had been instrumental in setting up his political party and running his election campaign in 2006. He demanded that Kamerhe resign - when he refused to do so, the presidency deployed "the big guns," as the embassy cable states. A "Gang of Four" - Planning Minister Olivier Kamitatu, former Defense Minister Tchikez Diemu, head of the PPRD party Evariste Boshab and head of the AMP coalition Katumba Mwanke - were allegedly put in charge of obtaining Kamerhe's resignation. Three members of the national assembly's directorate stepped down, and several sources told the embassy that they had each been bribed with $200,000 by the presidency. Shortly afterwards, Kamerhe began telling diplomats that he had received physical threats.

In this cable and others, the embassy is skeptical of Kamerhe, who comes off as mercurial and capricious. "Contacts we spoke with report that his blind ambition to one day become president has compromised his judgment." The cable then details allegations of corruption leveled against Kamerhe, commenting that "whether the allegations are true, all Western representative we spoke with agree that Kamerhe lies frequently in efforts to obtain political advantage. In fact, last week he told an EU rep he would have to resign because the United States wanted him removed from office. When we met with him last week, he began the conversation by denying he had made such a statement and claiming that Kabila and his supporters were spreading malicious rumors that the United States were spreading malicious rumors that the US was against him." Nonetheless, the embassy considers Kamerhe as "probably one of the most politically sophisticated of DRC's political class" and as "an energetic champion of the National Assembly's prerogatives as set forth in the Constitution."

The presidents' representatives - who frequently appear throughout the cables as guests in the embassy's offices - do not come off any better. A high-ranking envoy told the ambassador in April that if Kamerhe is thinking about challenging Kabila by force, he needs to be prepared to go into permanent exile, "otherwise the cemetery of Gombe is nearby."Another official from Kabila's inner cirlce told the ambassador that "if there had been a free vote without the enforcement of strict party discipline, Kamerhe would have survived any no-confidence vote." Parliamentarians were apparently afraid that if they had supported Kamerhe, they would have been forced out of the party.

As tensions peaked, the international community got involved, albeit daintily. Key ambassadors, including the US representative, met with Kamerhe and with people at the presidency (neither Kabila nor Katumba Mwanke, who was cited as key in pushing Kamerhe out of office, were available to speak with). They expressed their concern at the threats against Kamerhe. In the end, however, the US position was that this was an internal matter that, despite the backstage shenanigans, was on the face of things legal.

"Kamerhe's departure from office, however, proceeded non-violently in accordance with constitutional and parliamentary procedures, as well as pursuant to the internal procedures of Kamerhe's and Kabila's political party." In talking points for the August 2009 visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the embassy wrote: the "recent high-profile power struggle between the President and [...] Vital Kamerhe [...] was resolved according to established, democratic procedures."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tshisekedi wants to go it alone

Reuters carried this story two days ago, an interview with Tshisekedi in which he says: "When I put forward my name as a candidate it was as the president of my party, the UDPS. And I believe I'm capable of doing that at the elections without necessarily making a coalition with other candidates."The interview made it plain that Tshisekedi is determined to run for the presidential election.

None of the local media seem to have picked up the story. In fact, the same day as the Reuters story ran, Radio Okapi ran a story on how the political opposition (including the UDPS) wanted to put forward a single candidate for the presidential election.

Vital Kamerhe recently urged the opposition to pick one sole candidate, but in private has also reportedly been suggesting that he is determined on running.

In the absence of good polling data, it is difficult to know how each candidate would do in a presidential election. Kamerhe has a solid base in the East of the country, and grew up in Bandundu and Kinshasa, while Tshiskedi has a large following in the capital, the Kasai provinces, Lubumbashi and other urban areas.

500 kilos of gold, a war criminal and Gulfstream jet

It is a plot made in Hollywood - last Thursday, a Gulfstream jet arrived at the airport in Goma with two Nigerians, a Frenchman and an American on board. According to local sources, the plane was immediately received by guards loyal to ICC-indictee Gen. Bosco Ntaganda. These soldiers offloaded some boxes and headed towards town. According to one version of the events, the Republican guard followed in pursuit but were told to step down when they saw the boxes were headed towards Bosco's residence. The crew was the arrested by Congolese intelligence officials, the engines of the aircraft still on.

So what was in the boxes? According to the governor of North Kivu Julien Paluku, $6,8 million. The Congolese authorities first suggested that Bosco might be behind it, but the head of intelligence for Amani Leo, Col. Wilson Nsengiyumva (also an ex-CNDP officer), said that Bosco had actually led the sting operation against unnamed Congolese businessmen who "were trying to steal the country's riches." According to other sources, however, Bosco was trying to sell up to 500 kilos of gold - that would be worth around $20 million on the international market if it is decent quality.

Where would Bosco get the gold from? It is true that many of his soldiers control mining areas, but the gold trade usually goes through Bukavu or Butembo, not Goma. And 500 kilos would be a huge amount, an eighth of the estimated gold trade in the Kivus, although those estimates are very approximate given the underground nature of that trade.

And who are his presumed business partners? The press suggests that they are American Edouard Carlos St. Mary III, Nigerians Adeola Alexander Ehinmola and Mukaila Aderemi Lawal, and French citizen Franck Stephane M’Bemba.

Interesting fact: an Arizona court ruled last year that two local businessmen were guilty of defrauding investors for over $640,000 in a pyramid scheme they had set up with a certain Edward Carlos St. Mary who runs a company called Axiom. (The court document suggests that the two convicted men had sued Mr. St. Mary, but do not mention the outcome of that case.) The investment? Buying diamonds. The company's motto was "buy cheap, sell high." Apparently it didn't work out this time.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rift Valley Course on the Great Lakes this summer in Bujumbura

We will be teaching a course this summer on the politics and history of the Great Lakes in Bujumbura from July 9-15. It is a lot of fun - we have some of the foremost experts on the region coming to teach. Last year, we had diplomats, humanitarian officials, academics and journalists attend.

This year the teaching staff includes Isidore Ndaywel (leading Congolese historian), David Newbury, Catharine Newbury, Willy Nindorera (ICG analyst on Burundi), Filip Reytjens, Pascal Kambale (leading Congolese lawyer), myself and 5-6 others. We have around six presentations a day, and debates and discussion that spill over into drinks and dinner.

For more information, see the pamphlet below and email

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What happened to Francois Soudan?

There must be something in the water these days that makes journalists prone to radical changes of opinion. After Stephen Kinzer, now it's the turn of Francois Soudan, editor at Jeune Afrique magazine.

Jeune Afrique published an article called "Kabila: Mobutu Light" this week. The title is pretty clear. Francois Soudan's article can be summed up thus: Kabila did a lot of good in his first years in power, but he has become corrupted and since roughly 2003 he began an authoritarian drift, accompanied with the luxurious excesses and abuses that Mobutu was known for.

Compare that with an article Soudan wrote for La Revue in August 2006: "Joseph Kabila knows how to inspire a desire of protection among his elders, to appear older than his age and, above all, to project his resolve." (my translation) He has him leading the defense of Kinshasa in 1998 (no mention of Zimbabwean or Angolan troops), unifying the country and restoring the state's authority.

In October 2009, Soudan was still writing on his blog that people were unfairly succumbing to "Congo-bashing." He writes: If the country had been unified and had made peace with its neighbors it was thanks to Joseph Kabila; it was this president who had struck a lucrative deal with China and had begun to rebuild the country. "For the first time in a long time, an answer has been provided to this monumental challenge: how to reestablish state control over the whole territory?"

Journalists should criticize politicians - and President Kabila deserves serious criticism - but they should also do so in a balanced way. The fact that the same journalist within the space of a year should interpret the same facts in radically different ways raises serious questions of impartiality.