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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Release: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters

My book Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa was released today. I have set up a web page with more information about the book here.

The book draws on over a hundred interviews with protagonists of the conflict, painting a nuanced picture of the wars that have devastated the country since 1996.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Is the Congo prepared for elections?

Seven months before elections, criticism is growing louder of the lack of preparations by donors and the government alike. On Friday, the new head of the election commission - Daniel Mulunda Ngoy - opened a seminar on the electoral process in Lubumbashi. In the meantime, the national assembly is debating changes to the electoral law. There are rumors that there will be a delay in the electoral calendar and that the presidential elections may be held before the legislative polls, but we will have to wait for probably another week to have any confirmation of this.

In the meantime, where do we stand in terms of the financing of the elections?

The total budget for the elections is $618 million, which includes the regular operating budget of the electoral commission between 2007-2013. The Congolese government is supposed to supply $350 million and donors $265 million. MONUSCO is also supposed to give $80 million in logistical support.

I am not sure where we stand on government support (by January they had disbursed $113 million), but here's where I think we stand on donor support. The figures might be a little outdated, as they stem from a few months back:

Amount asked for: $265 million
Amount pledged: $171 million
Amount signed for: $98 million

(By far the largest contributor is the UK government, with Belgium and Canada following. The US is nowhere to be seen, as it is only providing $5 million to NGOs for civic education).

That leaves us with a shortfall of $94 million if all the pledged money comes through. However, donor officials suggest that most of that shortfall (around $78 million) will be for the local elections, currently scheduled for 2013, and for the operations of the electoral commission in 2012/3, so it is not an emergency. However, they have also pointed out that the funding needs may change depending on what the electoral commission decides this week. Also, MONUSCO's mandate to support the elections may not be extended beyond 2011, which would also affect funding - PACE (the UN-managed basket fund for election support) has submitted a new budget to take this into consideration.

While it appears that the funding situation may not be as dire as some thought, there are other risks regarding the elections. First, the civil society monitoring groups do not yet appear to be as organized
as they were in 2006. The Open Society Institute is trying to get funding for a monitoring network, but this is still in the works with only seven months to go. There has been no independent evaluation to my knowledge of the electoral registration process, which has been ongoing for months now.

Secondly, the donor community has not moved on creating a coordination body - even an informal one - on election monitoring. Donors need to be able to speak with one voice if they are confronted with election abuses and concerns.

Lastly, the electoral institutions are already politicized, in particular the commission itself, but also the constitutional court that will preside over major electoral disputes. This could seriously compromise the electoral process in case of major problems.

See here for a good list of recommendations put forward by OSISA and AfriMap (from the Open Society Institute family) on elections (in French for now).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fears of a possible boycott of Congolese minerals

As reported earlier, the Securities and Exchange Commission will be publishing their conflict minerals regulations soon (there are some rumors that publication could be delayed until July, but they are scheduled for April). This means that companies that trade in minerals from anywhere in the Great Lakes will have to submit "Conflict Minerals Reports" by the end of next fiscal year - as some of these fiscal years begin in July, some companies have to begin implementing due diligence mechanisms in a few months.

This gives mineral comptoirs in the Kivus region just a few weeks to dump their large stockpiles of tin, tungsten and tantalum onto the market before the regulations kick in. Since there had been a government export ban on minerals between September 2010-March 2011, the comptoirs have been working overnights to get rid of their minerals before April 1st.

The Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) - which includes most large US electronics companies (Apple, Philips, Microsoft, Intel, HP, etc.) - has announced that they will stop using minerals that have not been properly tagged and traced on April 1st. Lobbyists for some of these companies have been pushing for the SEC regulations to be delayed, while congressmen Durbin and McDermott (the sponsors of Article 1502 of Dodd-Frank) dismiss these claims as scare tactics and say that companies have had plenty of time to set up due diligence mechanisms.

The main trigger for a boycott of Congolese minerals will be a decision by Malaysia Smelting Corporation (MSC), which is the main smelter for minerals from the region. They are due to decide in the coming weeks if they will continue buying from the region. If they begin a boycott, there is a fear that the supply chain will shift to supply the domestic Chinese and Indian markets. If the final goods do not reach the US (or Europe if the EU passes a similar bill), then companies will not be scrutinized for the use of conflict minerals.

According to analysts in the region, the Congolese comptoirs are reluctant to rely entirely on Indian and Chinese markets. Companies there pay less - sometimes as much as 10-20% less - and are perceived as less reliable. In addition, the UN Group of Experts has reminded the Chinese and Indian governments that they were given the mandate by the UN Security Council - where both China and India are currently members - to investigate companies everywhere for violating the due diligence requirements put forward by the Group last year.

In the meantime, critics of the Dodd-Frank bill complain that it will affect mining areas outside of the conflict zones of the Kivus - in particular Katanga and Rwanda - where there are tin and tantalum mines. Thousands of miners depend on this artisanal mining for the livelihoods there. Rwanda recently invited experts to a conference in Kigali, where they announced that they had almost concluded a certification process that would allow their country to conform with the requirements of the Dodd-Frank bill. Critics have pointed out that Rwandan government officials are no longer admitting that a large part of the country's tin exports used to originate from the eastern Congo and continue to be smuggled into the country. It is unclear whether the certification process will be able to exclude these conflict minerals.

UN officials in the eastern Congo have pointed out that since the Congolese export ban on minerals was imposed last September, troops led by war crime-indictee Gen. Bosco Ntaganda have been in charge of much of the lucrative smuggling operations. They control much of the lake and land border with Rwanda and Uganda where the smuggling happens.

It is unclear how a boycott of Congolese minerals will play out. As I have argued here before, in an ideal world, the threat of such a boycott should prompt Congolese business to pressure the government in Kinshasa to reform the sector by demilitarizing mines and setting up traceability schemes. This is a bit idealistic - according to people in the sector, the government in Kinshasa has shown little interest in real reform. There is a plan to give the military six months to secure mining areas, but in key area like Bisie and Walikale, the Congolese army could withdraw from some areas today and allow the mining police to take over, while stepping up aggressive prosecutions of military units involved in mining. Symbolic steps could be taken, such as suspending Gen. Gabriel Amisi, the commander of the army, for prosecution of his own involvement in gold mining at Omate (the UN and the BBC have reported on him).

But I also doubt that all minerals will suddenly begin to be shipped to China and India. I am not sure if companies there can easily separate products destined for domestic and foreign use, and they will probably also be wary (although perhaps not too much) of investigations by the UN Group of Experts.

To tackle this conundrum, here are some thoughts:
  • Donors and industry bodies need to urgently invest in traceability schemes (including both oversight investigatory bodies and certification) that work with the Congolese government to provide a basic chain of custody from mines to the end-user. They could start with non-conflict mines such as Nyabibwe or Maniema mines, or even the large Bisie polygon in Walikale (that would require demilitarization first).
  • NGOs in the US and the State Dept need to inform public opinion that the goal is not an embargo on Congolese minerals, but rather investment in a more transparent, accountable supply chain that can transform the conflict economy. This may mean that NGOs would have to step back from a blanket ban on trading on conflict minerals (as the realities of the eastern Congo make it difficult for the moment to guarantee a 100% "conflict-free status") towards promoting companies that are deemed to being doing the best possible job. This is not ideal, as could result in a largish loophole for companies, and more thought would have to be put into this.
  • There needs to be real engagement by donors and NGOs with President Kabila in the run-up to elections to demilitarize mining areas.

Deal between Kinshasa and the FDLR?

On March 14, President Joseph Kabila presided over a state security meeting in Kinshasa, at the end of which he reported that a peace deal with the FDLR was in the offing.

According to UN officials, talks have been ongoing between the FDLR and the Congolese government for several months now, with the involvement of a European government as sometimes-facilitator. The deal would reportedly involve the transfer of FDLR headquarters from the border of Masisi-Walikale (North Kivu province) to Maniema province. Up to 1,500 soldiers would be concerned, which could be between 25-35% of their forces. The rest of their troops would be likely to  hold their current positions, but would maintain a ceasefire.

According to one UN official Congo Siasa spoke with, the deal could involve the disarmament of the FDLR forces concerned. This would be surprising, given that the deal involved Gen. Mudacumura, the FDLR overall commander, who was part of an FDLR disarmament deal in Kamina in 2002 that ended in bloodshed when Congolese troops - led by the current head of Congolese military intelligence - attacked the FDLR, who had refused to return to Rwanda and had begun to arm themselves.

There has been no official indication of where in Maniema the troops would be moved. The province is large, roughly the size of of the state of Florida.

For President Kabila, these talks are part of a large pre-electoral push to pacify the Kivus. His commanders have concluded at least four integration deals with different armed groups in past months, including FRF and Mai-Mai Kapopo. According to officials who have followed these deals closely, they usually involve large sums of money as incentives to the rebel commanders. Kabila will be announcing as part of his election campaign that he has been gotten rid of most armed groups in the Kivus.

For the FDLR, the peace deal could buy some respite from the battering they have received at the hands of the Congolese army over the past two years.

Re-location of the FDLR has long been mooted as part of the solution to the violence in the eastern Congo and was included (in a temporary fashion) in the November 2007 deal between Rwanda and the Congo regarding the FDLR in Nairobi. It is unlikely, however, Rwanda will be happy with such an arrangement of so many FDLR combatants, especially if they include he FDLR high command.

It is too early and too few details have leaked out to pass a verdict on these developments.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pressure on US universities grows to de-fund conflict minerals

Numerous US student groups have launched initiatives to prevent universities from investing in or purchasing conflict minerals from the Congo. Stanford University, the first to take concrete steps last year by passing proxy voting guidelines, is now hosting a conference from April 8-10 to share experiences and strategies and to plan further actions.

These initiatives fall within the spirit of the US legislation passed last June. The Dodd-Frank bill does not punish companies for buying or using conflict minerals, instead imposing fines if they fail to publish what kinds of efforts they are taking to determine where their minerals are from (in "Conflict Minerals Reports"). In other words, the legislation will criminalize the lack of transparency, not the use of conflict minerals.

Hence the importance of private actors, such as universities. If universities - some of which have huge endowments - begin divesting from companies that use conflict minerals, these businesses will change their behavior.

This is the spirit in which universities such as Stanford have passed proxy voting guidelines, which mean that if a shareholder vote comes up with regards to this issue, Stanford will vote against the use of conflict minerals. It's an important, albeit symbolic step - it is unlikely that such a vote would come up in the first place, but it still sends a strong message.

The University of Pennsylvania is pursuing another route, this past week issuing a statement saying they would not purchase electronics from companies that are not members of the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), which include most major electronics companies and has said its members will stop purchasing minerals from the eastern Congo in April this year if they are not properly tagged and traced. The U Penn initiative was also made following pressure by students.

Yale University, where I am involved in a similar initiative, is considering writing to major electronics companies it invests in (it has a $17 billion endowment that it invests) to ask them to adopt OECD guidelines in their due diligence efforts. If companies do not adopt thee guidelines, or if they are found to be in violation of the SEC rules or using conflict minerals, we would ask Yale to divest.

Will these initiatives have an impact? Hopefully, but it all depends on how this US-based pressure impacts the situation on the ground. Ideally, this pressure will create incentives for suppliers in the field to pressure the Congolese government to demilitarize key mining sites - after all, most large mining areas are now controlled by the Congolese army - and set up sound tracing schemes. At the same time, pressure would grow for the Congolese army to chase non-state armed groups out of other mining concessions and sanitize them, as well, for international trade. This would lead to less corruption of the Congolese military and greater incentives for demobilization for other armed groups. Some pilots for tracing schemes are under way, although the mineral export ban by the Congolese government between September 2010 - March 2011 brought a halt to those initiatives.

But there is another possibility: that the pressure in the US will just lead to a boycott of the Congo by endusers in the US, pushing trade to the domestic Chinese and Indian markets. Tens of thousands of Congolese jobs could be lost in the short-term and in the long-term little would change, as the endusers in Asia would probably not care much about due diligence. The authors of the conflict minerals bill say that these are scare tactics, and that western companies will continue to buy from the Congo, but I am less certain. Several Congolese organizations - including BEST in Bukavu and Pole Institute in Goma - are critical of the Dodd-Frank legislation and say the Congolese government and the industry need more time to implement the requirements.

The only way that we can ensure that activism in the US can have a positive impact on the situation in the Congo is that donors actively engage with the Congolese government to help demilitarize mining zones (perhaps starting with the lucrative Bisie mining area) and set up tracing schemes. If we don't do this, our efforts here in the US could backfire.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little movement in this direction by the US government. The Dodd-Frank bill required State Department to come up with a strategy for conflict minerals, including through support to the Congolese government, and State (after a long delay) finally brought out a short paper two weeks ago. I will post it later, but it does not appear to contain any new concrete diplomatic or institutional initiatives - a lot seems to be riding on the World Bank's Promines program.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Strange Kind of Rebellion

The Congolese diaspora is well-known for its rambunctious demonstrations and protests, usually against President Kabila, whom they often accuse of mass murder and being a Rwandan stooge. Over the past two months, however, protests in Belgium and France have focused on Congolese musicians. Concerts of Werrason, Papa Wemba and Fally Ipupa were targeted, resulting in two cancellations. The protesters accuse the musicians of supporting the government, although in some of the video footage from the demonstrations (not more than 50-300 people usually) the protesters appear to be more outraged by the cost of the tickets (around 100 euros).

Most Congolese musicians make money off "mabanga," shout-outs they give to people who pay for their names to be sung by popular singers. Often these mabanga are dedicated to politicians, many of whom are in Kabila's government. Werrason in particular has been known to be a supporter of Kabila. For the others, however, it is less clear - Fally, perhaps the biggest rising star, has sung the praises of Vital Kamerhe (although when he was still allied to Kabila), and Papa Wemba and Koffi Olomide have openly denounced the government's corruption.

Personally, I can't help for being sympathetic towards the young lady in this clip, who berates the demonstrators in front of Werrason's concert in Brussels (which had to be canceled because of the protests) for protesting against these musicians while Egyptians give their lives fighting for democracy.

On the other hand, the Congo's musicians do seem to be particularly lacking in moral character. Where Nigeria had Fela, Cote d'Ivoire Tiken Jah Fakoly and Kenya Eric Wainaina - Congo has Koffi? When the presenter criticizes Koffi's lack of social responsibility, he just answers: "I am a musician."

We'll keep you updated on how the various musicians weigh in on the elections.

We Inch Closer to a US Special Envoy to the Congo

While Congo Siasa was on hiatus, an important hearing took place at the US House of Representatives. Ben Affleck, John Prendergast and several NGO and US government officials gave testimony to the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa.

Although we have previously asked ourselves who chooses the experts to testify in Congress, this star power has helped to move the heavy wheels of power in Washington. Affleck was backed up by Cindy McCain, who recently joined his Eastern Congo Initiative as a board member and investor. The presenters emphasized clamping down on conflict minerals, ensuring free and fair elections and promoting security sector reform. Affleck, Prendergast and Francisca Vigauld-Walsh from Catholic Relief Services all called for the appointment of a US Special Envoy to promote these goals.

These points were not new, but the reaction by the committee did indicate a shift in opinion. At one point, the chairman of the committee Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) told the hearing that "Congo cannot be put on the backburner of US foreign policy....every member of our panel strongly wants that Special Envoy yesterday."

What are the chances of an envoy being named? The Obama administration has 25 special envoys and representatives, whose mandates range from Afghanistan to International Disability to North Korean Human Rights. On the one hand, this strengthens the hand of those pushing for a special envoy to the Congo - if the Organization of the Islamic Conference can have one, why not the Congo? On the other hand, previous attempts to appoint a special envoy have met with resistance from envoy-fatigued officials in State Department who feel that these envoys compete with conventional chains of command.

Howard Wolpe was supposed to be named special envoy in 2009, but was quickly downgraded to special advisor. When he retired last year, most people in State Department doubted he would be replaced. This latest push, however, may change that.

Would a special envoy be a good idea? Yes. At the moment, many people in the US government are "seized of the Congo issue" but their approach is largely piecemeal. There is an Undersecretary of State for Economy, Energy and Agricultural Affairs working on conflict minerals; an Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues working on sexual violence; an Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs working on human rights; and an Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. However, we do not have a comprehensive, coherent strategy on the Congo, and no one working in the field with the various interlocutors to implement such an approach. A special envoy would be able to bridge divides between US agencies, as well as between embassies in various countries in the region.

Who could be named? Several names have been batted around. As Prendergast said at the hearing, it is important that it not just be an official from within State Department's Bureau for African Affairs. The name that has been most frequently suggested in recent weeks is Tony Gambino, the former head of USAID in the Congo and a Congo watcher since the 1970s, when he served in the peace corps in the country.

Whoever it is, he/she has to be named soon if they are supposed to weigh in on the electoral process.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Congo Siasa Hiatus

Congo Siasa will be on break until March 14.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Update on military changes in South Kivu

Following up on my last post, here is some information about what kind of military changes are happening in South Kivu.

According to UN sources, only around 6,000 troops will be concerned by the restructuring in the province, the remaining troops will remain under the control of Amani Leo command for the near future.

The new orders will create five regiments, each composed of two battalions and totalling 1,200 soldiers each. The regiments will come under the administrative control of the 10th military region based in Bukavu, and under the direct operational control of army headquarters in Kinshasa. This means that troops in South Kivu will continue to be managed by parallel chains of command - they get their fuel and food from Bukavu, their deployment orders from Kinshasa while neighboring units come under Amani Leo command.

Each regiment will be given a training staff of 10 officers for a period of three months to improve their performance and cohesion.

The location of the regiments will probably be in: Katana (Kalehe territory), Kavumu (Kabare), Nzibira (Walungu), Luberizi (Uvira) and Fizi (Fizi) - in other words along the eastern edge of South Kivu province. Other army units will deploy to fill the holes these battalions leave.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Military changes come to the Kivus, slowly

Over the past several months, the Congolese army has been slowly reconfiguring its units in the Kivus. Eventually, the changes may lead to an end of Amani Leo operations and the weakening of some ex-CNDP units made up of Nkunda loyalists, as well as the ex-PARECO units.

In part, these changes involve consolidating dispersed battalions into "regiments," which are about the size of brigades. Some of these regiments are in the process of being deployed outside of the Kivus, although others may be replacing them. The changes will also return military authority to the 8th and 10th military regions based in Goma and Bukavu, respectively, as Amani Leo commanders are deployed elsewhere in the country. The currently military commanders of these two military regions, Cols. Mayala and Masunzu, are also rumored to be replaced. 

The first phase of this restructuring has begun and will last until the end of April. In will involve at least two brigades in each South and North Kivu. These brigades will gather in integration sites to undergo restructuring and training. According to UN sources, the four brigades selected are the 133rd and 212th in North Kivu, and the 241st and 512th in South Kivu. All of the brigades have substantial ex-PARECO and ex-CNDP components. The second phase will then begin in May and involved other brigades.

These developments will have several consequences. First of all, it will impact the integration of the CNDP and PARECO. Many of the units that are being moved around within the Kivus are led by ex-CNDP commanders, in particular the Nkunda loyalist wing of the ex-CNDP. This was the case for the 133rd brigade, which had been deployed close to the strategically important Ugandan border at Ishasha (it has been replaced by the Bosco-loyalist 132nd brigade), as well as for the 212nd brigade.

Some UN analysts see this as a test run for deploying units composed of Hutu (PARECO) and Tutsi (CNDP) outside of the Kivus, a move that these fighters have long resisted. As worries persist in Rwanda about a potential alliance between various armed groups in the Kivus and Rwandan dissidents, pressure has grown to move CNDP and PARECO units out of the Kivus. The first to go is the regiment led by ex-CNDP commander Lt. Col. Munyakazi, currently based in Beni. Munyakazi is a Congolese Tutsi, but is not known to be close to the Nkunda wing (he is also one of the only CNDP officers in the brigade). 

However, many un-integrated battalions, especially those loyal to Bosco Ntaganda, are apparently not affected, and there will probably be fierce resistance by ex-CNDP units if they are forced to move substantial numbers outside of the Kivus. The current integration deals that are being negotiated, including those with the FRF in South Kivu, entail some guarantees that the ex-insurgents will not be immediately deployed outside of the province. And while Amani Leo will probably fizzle out eventually, its staff includes many ex-CNDP officers (including Bosco) who would be left jobless, which could also destabilize the situation. 

In a related vein, there are persistent reports again of Rwandan units in the Kivus to ensure the smooth deployment of these ex-CNDP units.

Secondly, and a possible positive consequence of these changes, the total troop number in the Kivus may decrease, which would have a positive effect of the living conditions of civilians who have been living under the thumb of the military for many years. This will depend on whether they manage to redeploy regiments without replacing them. Officially, there are 34,000 Congolese troops in North Kivu alone, but many of these are bound to be "ghost soldiers" intended to bloat the payrolls of their commanding officers.

However, and this is the downside, the realignment will leave civilians in some areas at the mercy of the FDLR and other non-state armed groups. Already, the FDLR have moved into some areas vacated by the Congolese army. 

In sum, the military realignment in the Kivus is primarily intended in the short-term to test ex-CNDP units close to Nkunda and may eventually bring about a drawdown in the overall deployments in the East. 

[This posting was slightly changed since its initial publication.]