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 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.


Anonymous said...

Great and well balanced post Jason, thanks for it.

As already said a number of times: I think there is a generalized fear among sub-saharian African countries about Congo becoming the strongest country in the region. You see, once situation with Rwanda is arranged (more or less) tensions are arising with another country who is also alleged of supporting rebellions.

Is that true that in marge of last SADC meeting few months ago there has been a closed-door meeting of all representatives where only DRC and Rwanda were absent?

And once again you see the level of Congolese political class; everybody still more interested in personal interest rather than country's wealth.

Do you believe one day they'll understand that if the country goes well they can achieve even better personal results?
See in this light the contracts with Chinese have been a good choice. If the President only have to trust himself...

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,

Can you provide us with the link to the cables you quoted in your piece.



Anonymous said...

I guess I am trying to figure out what’s really news here, Jason.

To state this clearly, I really like your blog. Yes, its a bit heavy on the academic side- short of solutions or even ideas about potential solutions to the Congo’s many challenges- but broadly its always very enlightening and at times even entertaining.

But, perhaps because I really haven’t been swept up by the hoopla over Wikileaks, I just question the need for this post and series.

Is it newsworthy that the Congo’s leadership and that of the region are corrupt and cynical to the core? Or that our own government is clearly incapable or willing to come up with a comprehensive policy toward the region?

Perhaps to some of your readers all this is new, or a enlightening inside view of political intrigue in the Congo. But its fairly clear to most people who have even a fairly casual understanding of the Congo that its political class, in a word, suck. It is as clear as day.

So, just as a clarifying point, why are you publishing these cables? (not to mention the cross posting on Enough’s blog)

They may serve an educational or academic purpose to further elaborate on the Congo’s many challenges. But I guess I question the need to continue to do that when opportunities, however challenging they may be, are before its people to change these dynamics.

(and with John Pendergrast was here in Atlanta recently, I challenged the constant focus on sexual violence and conflict minerals given these opportunities as well. So its not just you)

Again, really appreciate the blog and your always insightful analysis. But, as some friendly constructive feedback, I believe Bryce’s post some time back- “please do more than take us to the water’s edge”- was fairly accurate.

Thank you,

Jason Stearns said...

@ Melissa - Thanks for the comments. These blog postings are supposed to provide insights into the way Congolese politics and business works in all sectors of society - the government, the opposition, the armed groups, etc.. As such, I try to be non-partisan to the extent possible; if others want to rise to the opportunities you describe, that's great, but I still think, given the complexities of the situation, there is a place for sober information and analysis.

Out of curiosity, what would "going beyond the water's edge" look like?

Anonymous said...

The single only strongly & seriously constructive act in the otherwise disastrous legacy of the Kabila regime would have been international arbitration to confirm the DRC's rights on it's oil blocks, as Angola has been clearly abusing, and given the huge developmental challenges facing the DRC with its plus-60million population of which most are young (and jobless).

Unfortunately you mention that JoKa is backing away from even this corageous act...why are we not surprised?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. I was wondering if there is much in the way of Wikileaks cables from the period of the transition of 2003 to 2006, and if so have we gained any real insight into how US officials interacted with the 1+4? Do you have any estimate of when these cables may become public? Thanks for the help.

Anonymous said...

I won’t speak for Melissa (I too was at the Pendegrast event in Atlanta and she can speak for herself quite well!) but when I said “please do more than take us to the water’s edge”, I essentially meant two things:

1. It is true that your blog is, as the young people say these days, teh awesome. But a real hole it seems is that there is never any commentary about what civil society actors IN THE CONGO think about all the “complexities” you raise nor what they are doing about it. That, in my view, raises some real problems, Jason. Surely you see that? Thus, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts about what THEY are doing with these “complexities” or hear directly from them. I assume because you work with elites as part of your studies and profession its possible you don’t know any said persons/actors in the Congo who are trying to transform their nation or, perhaps you do and showcasing them here could put their lives at risk. But it would be good to hear their voices once and awhile. You do a fantastic job “sketching” the Congo and it’s dizzying problems. It is time to start adding color to these sketches, Mr. Stearns.

2. Relatedly, it is not partisan to try, even if its just throwing stuff at the wall, to start facilitating a discussion about solutions to the “complexities”. Yes, you have elaborated a brilliant framework in post about what, particularly, Americans need to do to move us to a brighter future in the Congo. But it would be interesting for you to lead more discussions here about both those external things and the internal things we need to do. What could that look like?

Siassa readers: As you know, Americans have no real interests in the Congo. As such, policy emanating from the Obama Administration is patchwork, disjointed, and woefully in adequate given the challenges facing the nation. From what I know, the main challenge we face here is X, Y, and Z. Given these variables, what should be a goal with the Administration in the short, medium, and long term?”

Again, just basic facilitation but informed by what I am sure are your many contacts in a variety of places both here and abroad.

While I was on my yearly missionary trip to the Congo last year, I purchased and read economist Paul Krugman’s autobiography. Among many interesting things in his book, he recounts how much better an economist he became when he began to blog and write for the New York Times. Like most academics, he was wedded to the “complexities”. And for good reason. But as he said, there are real people with real problems that his research would effect and it wasn’t until he began a deeper dialogue with real people through his blog and his classes did he see this link clearly.

I am not asking you to become Krugman. But, again, try to do more than sketch out, no matter how finely detailed, the problems.

We need some color, Jason. Particularly in this moment- however challenged- of opportunity in the Congo.

We all really appreciate the blog and, most of us atleast, want you to succeed in bringing light to the world about the Congo.

Senior Minister
Decatur Baptist Church
Decatur, Georgia

Anonymous said...

That's really helpful, Jason.

And basically, Bryce's intimations dovetail equally with my own about "taking us to the water's edge".

Just my thinking that as elections approach, your blog will get more traffic. And if its all sketches and no "color", a wasted oppo is likely.

Please do take this in stride, Jason. Really is just friendly feedback. While pursuing my doctorate at Stanford, I led the grad student paper and without steady feedback I really wouldn't have become a good journalist and, later, a PR executive.

Do more facilitation here. It would enlighten us further. And bring in some local Congolese civil society actors. I have met quite a few and they are awesome and need to be heard.


- Mel

andrea said...

@ Melissa and Brice: I just want to share with you my views of congolese society and why I appreciate this blog.

Just as introduction I spent 3 years in Uvira, and worked all long the East, from Kalemie to Masisi, so I can say I know quite well what is going on there.

Among all complexities in DRC I found one thing quite clear: civil society is the weak ring of the chain.

Local relief organizations: most of them exists only to spill money out of aid system, they appear and disappear like mushrooms.
The few ones really committed I met were working on human rights but suffered enormously of lack of resources and faced intimidations and threats. They finally result isolated and unable to recrute followers.

FEC (federation of businessmen): it's not even the case to mention that they go where money goes and the only interest they have in politics is how much their financial and monetary gain would be.

Churches: a part from the catholical church that proved in the past to be able to mobilize people other institutions are dispersed and not well recognized.

Others? Not relevant.

Sorry to say that but in South Kivu everybody is complaining but nobody is tryind to do anything else.

What has been the result of women's march in bukavu months ago? A big scream and a lot of photos but two weeks ago FARDC integrateg in their rangs 2 commanders from a rebel group guilty of war crimes, recruting children and raping women. Nothing changed, the impact can be considered equal to zero.

I was jealous while I was in Uvira because It was difficult to find fresh-hand news from Kinshasa and then I found Jason's blog.
All changes in DRC comes from the high, and this will stay for a while.

So if you want to try to understand what is going on I think this blog offers a good reviews and brief, well-shaped analysis of the country.

Jason Stearns said...

Thanks for the constructive comments.

For the civil society point of view, while I agree with Andrea that local NGOs and churches have many weaknesses, I have been aiming at providing more interviews with civil society activists.

I actually know civil society quite well. I worked for a local human rights NGO in Bukavu, Heritiers de la Justice, for a year, and I keep in close touch with members of civil society in several cities.

I take the criticism that I need to talk more about possible solutions.

Rich said...

- Jason
I think you are doing a great job and in my opinion you can never please everybody. That said, may I suggest that those who believe the blog is not going far enough to actually submit their own text to Jason so that he can publish them here and allow us to comment on them?

There is only a limited amount of things that a blog such as this one can do. I am sure Jason’s contribution to and his involvement in Congo doesn’t start or end on this blog.

Changing the editorial profile of this blog by promoting a rather partisan position will only render it biased and attract the bile circulating on the many blogs dedicated to the DRC’s situation. It is also possible that such change of editorial line can lead Jason to losing the trust of some of his sources who actually provide useful insights on some of the weaknesses of the current regime…

I’d advocate objectivity more than anything else

That’s just my opinion

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jason.

Rich- we are not asking Jason to be biased, nor or we asking him to change his editorial perspective.

We are simply asking him to broaden his perspective, on one hand, and facilitate discussion as one FURTHER means of enlightenment on the other.

What is so dangerous about that? How is that partisan?

In my view, this seems like a pretty well-established approach to providing information so it is a little alarming to hear you call for "objectivity" and then, in the same breath, suggest "there is only a limited amount of things a blog such as this one can do".

Sorry Rich. It cannot be both and there are few editors of any medium of information that would agree with that- regardless of that medium's main object of inquiry. Noone is suggesting he cease being objective in his presentation of information. Melissa and I are simply suggesting he broaden the scope, bring in other voices, and facilitate discussion on solutions.

I completely respect yours and Andrea's desire for "news" given it is my thinking you both live in the Congo and likely desire and deserve what this blog provides. But if all this blog does is analysis, from simply elite perspectives, it is by default not entirely objective. Indeed, it would be partisan to those who simply want analysis and really biased against those who crave solutions.

Having been in similar positions in my own life and work, I am not suggesting their is a easy way to strike this balance. But for the good of the Congo we must try, Rich.

Bottom line: I trust Jason's intelligence, grit, grace and his plainly obvious love for the people of the Congo to maintain a line. But, in keeping with the interactive nature of this medium, simply lengthen that line every so often.


Andrea- I have spent months, every year, in the Congo for the last 17 as a minister. I am fully aware of the challenges of civil society leaders and organizations in the Congo. Those are not unique to the Congo and, even if they were, its actual leaders are a pretty sad lot anyway. Nonetheless, there are good and dynamic leaders in both government and non-government life in the nation. I know many as I am sure Jason does as well. Again, all we are asking is to hear those voices from time to time- particularly when discussing solutions. This is all. And the more we can support them the stronger, more credible and inviting these organizations will be to the people of the Congo and the more likely they will generate leaders who can rise to the fore and transform the nation.

Post a Comment