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

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter celebrated in Kinshasa with Political Rallies and Debates

Easter was celebrated in Kinshasa with several political events. First, Etienne Tshisekedi held a large political rally, his first since arriving back in the country in December last year (aside from his welcome rally). According to AFP and Radio Okapi, around 50,000 people were inside the stadium, filling it to capacity, while 20,000 listened outside. It was encouraging to see the government allow the rally to take place and to deploy policemen who did not disturb the UDPS. Apparently, Tshisekedi reminded the crowd of the role that the UDPS played in fighting against Mobutu's dictatorship and encouraged them to vote for him.

The other political event was a debate hosted by Radio France International at the Halle de la Gombe in Kinshasa. It was the first real debate of the election season to my knowledge, with two members of the opposition and two from the presidential coalition: Vital Kamerhe (UNC) & Constant Ndom (MLC) vs. Lambert Mende (MP - Presidential Majority) &  Atundu Liongo (MP).

Again, it was very encouraging to see such an open debate and to see RFI back in Kinshasa after many years of tension with Kabila's government. It was a rowdy affair, with the audience siding mostly for the opposition. The debate centered around the "Cinq Chantiers," the promises Kabila had made with regards to rebuilding the country. No surprises here: Mende said the government had done a lot , while the opposition said that not enough had been done and that many of the projects had been poorly executed and overpriced. Mende talked about the roads built, Kamerhe countered that the roads were poorly done; Mende said they were about the inaugurate a new big hospital in Kinshasa, Ndom said that the hospitals that exist don't even work. Worth a listen to get a feel for how the electoral fever.

Little was said about the conflict in the East or regional relations, I guess that's for the next debate.

One of the memorable quotes - when Atundu Liongo said "anyone who says that we haven't begun to rebuild the country, just see the married couples who go and take pictures on the new Gare..." Kamerhe responded, "The Congolese people don't need to take pictures! They need to rebuild their country." Ndom said: "Before taking pictures, we need to eat!" [I paraphrase.]

Mende said: "Just look at the new Hopital du Cinquantenaire in Kinshasa that will be inaugurated in Kinshasa." Ndom parried: "That's for us, the elite - what about the poor people?" [I paraphrase.]

Friday, April 22, 2011

Donors wary of involvement in Congolese elections

With only seven months to go before elections in the Congo, donors are trying to calibrate their political and financial involvement in the polls.

One forum where this is playing out is the UN Security Council, which will have to renew MONUSCO's mandate in June. At a recent meeting of the Contact Group - a coordination body of the country's main donors - members of the Security Council pushed for a stronger UN role, perhaps even going so far as being the official arbiter of the elections, similar to the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire.

Others, however, think this is a bad idea. This includes the leadership of MONUSCO, which wants to confine the UN role to logistics and support, while leaving monitoring and oversight to NGOs and other international bodies. Since the new chief of the mission Roger Meece arrived, MONUSCO has been at pains to reestablish a good working relationship with the Congolese government on issues such as protection of civilians and security sector reform. Its leadership is worried that being an arbiter of the elections will put it in a confrontational relationship with the government, undermining its other work. In addition, members of the UN, as other diplomats, now increasingly believe that Kabila will win through a combination of rigging and a divided opposition, so why risk your good standing in vain?

At the same time,  EU parliamentarians have discouraged the EU foreign minister from even sending an election observation mission to the Congo. Their argument for disengagement is different from that of MONUSCO, however: they say that the process is already so compromised that the election will not be free and fair, therefore sending an EU mission would just legitimize a fraudulent election. Plus, it would be too expensive - nearly a quarter of the EU's annual budget for these kinds of missions.

I think there are some dangerous logical fallacies at play here. The following argument does not, in my mind, make much sense: "The elections will be rigged anyway, so we shouldn't send observers." It is precisely because there are serious questions about the process that neutral observers should be sent. If there is serious rigging, the mere presence of such observers in the Congo will not legitimize the vote - on the contrary, a clear documentation and denunciation of fraud will make it clear that the vote was not free and fair. If they do not send observers, ironically that could end up legitimizing the process, as few outsiders will be there to state the facts.

As for MONUSCO's mandate, the matter is more complex. I find the argument that the UN can't jeopardize its good relations with the Congolese government a slippery slope - once we begin to refrain from criticism to keep in our hosts' good books, when do we stop? And the notion that we can separate civilian protection and the reform of Congolese institutions from the elections is not straight-forward: The Congolese government has not shown much sincere interest in reforming its own institutions over the past five years, who is to say that just because we don't press them on elections they will do it in the next few years?

On the other hand, the situation in the Congo is very different from that in the Ivory Coast. The Congo is a sovereign country with a democratically elected president, as opposed to 2006, when elections took place at the end of a peace process. If the Congolese government does not want MONUSCO to be the official arbiter, and there are no such calls from the opposition and civil society, the UN should not take on that role. However, there are other options that could be equally important: the formation of a centralized monitoring group of donors, which together with civil society could gather information of human rights and electoral abuses; help making sure the logistics are in place throughout the country so people can vote; and help level the access to the media for all political parties through the UN Radio Okapi.

These elections have the potential of being more controversial than the 2006 polls. While none of the opposition candidates is affiliated to an armed groups, as was the case 5 years ago, this time the incumbent is arguably less popular than he was in 2006. In general, it's disappointing that some of the people who are supposed to help Congolese elect their representatives are treating the elections as a foregone conclusion.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New round-up: MLC leadership change, election commissioner visits Togo and Rwandan businessman criticized

Some news items of interest:
  • The MLC party has changed leadership - Thomas Luhaka, the former executive secretary, will be taking over the Francois Mwamba, the former secretary general. There has been wrangling within the party due to Mwamba's perceived challenge to Jean-Pierre Bemba, who continues to be the MLC president despite his imprisonment in The Hague.
  • There has been some criticism of electoral commission president Daniel Mulunda Ngoy, who visited Togo last week. He said he was bringing a personal message from President Kabila, which some critics thought undermined his credibility as impartial head of the electoral commission.
  • The Rwandan government has accused business magnate Tribert Rujugiro of helping funnel military aid to an anti-Kigali rebellion in the Kivus. Rujugiro, who was one of the main financial backers of the RPF until recently, has not returned to Kigali since last year, and has been associated with other RPF dissidents Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa and Col. Patrick Karegeya. The Rwandan government impounded eight vehicles purchased by Rujugiro's Supermatch company that were on their way to Goma.

New book out on Rwanda

A new book was released on Rwanda this week, edited by Scott Strauss and Lars Waldorf, that takes a critical look at the post-genocide state, its challenges and policies.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Alison des  Forges. I have a chapter with Federico Borello on transitional justice in the Congo, in particular regarding Rwanda's involvement there. Other authors include Catharine Newbury, Joseph Sebarenzi, Nigel Eltringham, Aloys Habimana and Filip Reyntjens.

The Rwandan government has come out strongly against the book, with articles published in the government-owned The New Times even before the release of the book. In addition, a blog has been set up to dismiss various critics of the regime, with several postings on the book and its authors.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Congo's Mining Contracts Still Shrouded in Secrecy

This is a guest blog by Elisabeth Caesens, DRC Mining Governance Project Coordinator for the Carter Center. The views expressed here are her own and do not represent those of the Carter Center. 

A few days ago, the World Bank reviewed Congo’s improvements in natural resource governance and expressed its satisfaction on mining contract disclosure, something the Congo promised to do after it signed a few disquieting contracts in 2010.

The optimism stands in sharp contrast with the current state of contract transparency, as the overwhelming majority of agreements are carefully kept confidential. For copper rich Katanga, only two contracts are in the public domain. Two out of 30, or 40, or 50 – who knows.

Let’s start with what is public: : the controversial Metalkol and Sodifor contracts which replaced First Quantum’s cancelled KMT project (in which the World Bank’s IFC had a 7.5% stake) and its revoked Frontier license. The deposits were awarded to unknown companies. This ‘asset flipping’ did not only affect legal security, it also implied several billions of dollars of potential new debt. “If Congo wants debt relief, don’t recognize the Metalkol contract”, the IMF reportedly told President Kabila on the eve of the 50th anniversary of independence celebrations. The President promised, debt relief got through, but so did the Metalkol contract a month later. Barely had the presidential endorsed the deal when the junior sold a majority stake to London-listed ENRC.

The president’s betrayal understandably depressed diplomats in Kinshasa who have been working for years on DRC mining governance to improve the business climate and attract major players who find Congo to risky to invest in. After the Metalkol debacle, Promines, a $90 million World Bank-DfID sponsored mining governance project, was put on hold; other donors reconsidered projects they had in store.

Anti-depressants quickly came in the form of the “Economic Governance Matrix”, a list of steps aimed at improving extractive industries governance. Congolese authorities promised to publish contracts, concessions, revenues. Ironically, the transparency guidelines themselves were kept secret for several months. Before the Matrix was even finalized, the Government published the Metalkol (KMT) and Sodifor (Frontier) contracts to alleviate political pressure. Technically, not doing so could trigger a repeal of debt relief. But what is nice about the Matrix is that the Government pledges transparency across the board: not just for Metalkol but for all contracts, not just for contracts but for tax payments, concession maps, policies.

Now let’s see what the Matrix did for contract transparency across Katanga’s copper belt. Unfortunately, nothing much. All the copper-cobalt contracts other than the above are secret. There’s probably about 40 of them, including investments just as important as Metalkol. There is Freeport’s two billion investment in Tenke Fungurume Mining (TFM), China’s six billion Sicomines contract, Glencore’s involvement in Katanga Mining (with deposits richer than TFM’s), ENRC’s control over the world’s richest cobalt deposit at Boss Mining well before it added Metalkol to its growing portfolio, OM Group-Forrest exploiting the lucrative Lubumbashi tailings. These are the copper-cobalt lungs that should make Congo breathe, but at this point we don't know whether it will produce any oxygen, let alone how much, as we ignore the rules the lungs obey to.

Mind you – the Government considers these agreements already public.  The Matrix asserts that mining contract disclosure… «Has been carried out. The Ministries of Finance and Mining had published the joint venture contracts between public and privates companies in June 2007 (...)  The Metalkol one was published in the Journal Officiel [the journal of state record]. Since January 2011, six (6) new contracts have been published on the website of the Ministry of Mining." 

Indeed, a lot happened since June 2007, when the Government published 63 contracts it wanted to revisit. The Revisitation Commission listed all contracts as either ‘to be renegotiated’ or ‘to be cancelled’. Renegotiations ensued in 2008. In 2009 and 2010, the Ministry of Mines announced the end of the renegotiation process several times, sharing some sector-wide results. But the new terms for individual contracts have never been published. We  know barely anything about their content, other than the little information some companies published on the stock-exchange to reassure their shareholders in Toronto or Johannesburg.

We don’t even know for sure whether renegotiated contracts exist. I have asked diplomats, activists, investors and government officials alike for copies. A lot of promises (‘je peux te les avoir facilement’), a few summaries of renegotiated terms (‘they’re not final, they need updating’), 3-4 draft supplemental agreements full of track changes (‘bon, vous gardez ça pour vous’). The one signed amendment I could glance at is that of TFM (‘vous voyez que ça existe’). The amendment was dated December 10, 2011, meaning negotiations went on for at least two more months after the official announcement that the deal was sealed. Four months after signature, the new TFM contract is still awaiting presidential approval. In other words, the terms governing the single biggest private investment in Congo’s mining sector could still be changed. The same may be true for many of the other revisited mining contracts.

Other, non-revisited contracts are equally kept secret. Take China’s 9 billion infrastructure-for-minerals deal signed in 2008 and renegotiated down to 6 billion in 2009 after strong IMF criticism of the new massive debt it implied. The 2008 contract was leaked efficiently, but hunting down the 2009 amendment is a real pain. There are also the infamous Caprikat and Foxwhelp contracts for oil blocks in Lake Albert which, with three contracts for the same oil blocks in a five year period, were as much of a torn in the eye of the IMF and the World Bank as the First Quantum saga. It didn’t help the new investors were better known for their political connections than their geological expertise. Here again, copies circulate from inbox to inbox: we’ve been waiting for an official publication in vain.

So what is needed now is not anti-depressants, it’s vitamins, coffee and other stimulants for people to demand contract transparency for as long as it takes to get the job completely done. Now that Metalkol is published, the Bretton Woods institutions should press for disclosure of all the rest. Global Witness should extend its advocacy for transparency beyond the China contract. One cannot accuse China of opacity while tolerating it for all the other mining investors. The same goes for local civil society, now absorbed by the new advocacy in vogue – tax transparency. A crucial endeavor, but you cannot track whether companies have paid their dues if you don’t know what they owe in the first place. For that, you need contracts. We need them all up there, along with Metalkol and Sodifor and a few gold and tin contracts. Site en cours de maintenance (website under construction)? Transparency is like an optical illusion – they say it’s there, but it isn’t, really.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Constitutional questions loom large during election season

As we wait (still) for the election commission to publish the new electoral calendar, many wonder what would happen if the results of presidential elections come in after December 6th.

On Radio Okapi, Professor Jean-Louis Esambo, the president of the Association of Congolese Constitionalists (indeed), argued that President Kabila mandate would become "illegitimate but legal." He justifies this mind-bender by referring to Article 70 of the constitution:
The President of the Republic is elected by universal direct suffrage for a mandate of five years, renewable only once. At the end of his mandate, the President of the Republic stays in power until the installation of a newly elected President. 
A bit confusing. In other words, the honorable professor argues that the section about his "staying in power until there is a new president" supersedes the previous section about him only being in power for five years. I'm not a lawyer to take issue with the president of Congolese constitutional lawyers, but the article does seem a bit ambiguous to me. The united political opposition (UNC, UDPS and MLC) certainly thinks so, as they made clear at a meeting two days ago, where they insisted that after December 6th the president would become "illegitimate." Which is different than illegal, as the professor has pointed out. But elsewhere in their speech, they suggested that his continued stay in power would violate the constitution - so it would be illegal?

It is certainly confusing. To make matters worse, the constitutional court, which is supposed to interpret the constitution and make the final call on such matters, has little credibility with the opposition, which sees it as allied to Kabila. I believe they would say it is illegitimate. Not illegal. 

In the Congo, even beauty can be bought

Sad but true: Miss Vodacom Congo, who was just named several weeks ago, had to give up her crown due to fraud. Vodacom - one of the largest phone companies in the country - announced two days ago that of the 4 million votes cast by SMS, 1,5 million were fraudulent, a racket that involved Vodacom employees and outsiders.

Lauriane Odio of Kinshasa had to make way for Olga Yumba of Lubumbashi. Strangely for beauty queen, you can't find many pictures of them on the internet (my search was, of course, purely academically-minded).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Troubles within the MLC

A meeting took place on Sunday at the residence of Francois Mwamba, the secretary-general of the MLC, in Kinshasa. A group of MPs from the MLC submitted a memorandum to Mwamba complaining obliquely about the lack of leadership in the party since Jean-Pierre Bemba's departure. Jean-Pierre Bemba is still officially the leader of the party, even though he has been locked up in prison in The Hague for three years, and is in theory still the MLC candidate for the presidency.

According to some officials in the party, Mwamba is taking advantage of this internal dissidence to push Bemba out of the party and take over. Others, however, feel that Mwamba, who had long taken a more moderate stance towards Kabila than Bemba, would lose any overt battle with Bemba. Yesterday, Adan Bombole, the head of the MLC Kinshasa federation, managed to calm down party militants demanding Mwamba's departure.

Many in the MLC expect Mwamba to leave soon and create his own party. This would leave Thomas Luhaka, who does not appear to have any presidential ambitions of his own, as the head of the MLC in the Congo. In any case, Jean-Pierre Bemba will soon face the fact that if he does not register to vote he will be ineligible as a presidential candidate. That turning point will probably come around June or at the latest in July.

Election news: Calendar politics and the election law

The Congolese public has been waiting for weeks now for the election commission to publish their new calendar. The delays have fueled rumors about internal wrangling and quarrels. According to a high-ranking member of the opposition, the crux of the matter is whether elections can be held so that the president can be sworn in by December 6, 2011, five years exactly after Kabila took office in 2006. The current proposal made by election commissioner Daniel Mulunda Ngoy has the elections taking place on December 5, a date that has been rejected by the opposition as unconstitutional, as it would take weeks for the results to be counted.

The election commissioner is now asking to add several more weeks to the election calendar, and negotiations are ongoing, but even his initial proposal was optimistic. Insiders within the election commission suggest that they probably won't have the time and funding to make sure elections are held by early December, meaning that Mulunda Ngoy might set an early election date to satisfy the political opposition but then force through a delay until 2012 when it becomes clear that the date is unrealistic.

The commission has, however, apparently scrapped plans of holding separate legislative and presidential elections. That's a relief.

In the meantime, a new election law was rejected en masse by both opposition and majority in parliament yesterday. The MPs said that instead of submitting revisions to the old law the draft was a completely new law, with over a hundred new articles. But, while they rejected the law on procedural grounds, many are also not happy with its substance. The draft would have MPs elected on lists determined by their political parties in a winning list-takes all system. For example, in a district with 6 seats, if the UDPS list wins 51%, it will take all seats, even if some of their candidates were much less popular than individual candidates on other lists (if no party list gets the majority, they divvy up the seats proportionally).

This system is obviously unfavorable to small parties with no money that initially got elected in the past system that favored individuals, not lists. That's what produced a national assembly with over 70 different political parties, a nightmare for collective action.

Making matters worse, the new charter of Kabila's alliance, the Majorité Presidentielle (MP) gives the leadership of the MP the power to name the lists. For the incumbent parliamentarians, this spells disaster, as they do not trust the MP to treat them favorably.

For both of these reasons - the new MP charter and the list-system proposed - the electoral law is bound to be contentious.

Monday, April 11, 2011

News roundup: Conflict minerals and election planning

[I apologizes for my brief absence, largely linked to the publication of my book. Hopefully I'll be more regular in the coming week.]

A few important news stories:
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission has apparently delayed the adopting of rules regulating "conflict minerals" until later this year. The rules were supposed to come into effect in April, with companies due to issue their first "conflict minerals report" by June 2012. I haven't seen an official announcement, but industry insiders confirm the delay and the SEC has posted on its website that they won't adopt the rules until August-December this year. This could be good, in that it gives governments more time to set up tracing and tagging programs and for industry to set up internal due diligence mechanisms, avoiding a potentially harmful boycott of the Congolese mining sector. It could also be bad, however, if the SEC loses focus, dilutes the regulations and donors don't invest the necessary capital in those mechanisms on the ground.
  • The Congolese election commission still hasn't come out with its new election calendar yet, as internal negotiations continue. However, parliament has begin debating a new election law that could make presidential candidates pay $100,000 to register, with the price tag for legislative candidates set at $5,000. This would be a heavy burden to bear for some poorer parties - if you try to field a presidential candidate plus national assembly candidates for all of the country's seats in the national assembly, that would come to $2,600,000 just for registering your candidates.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Registration in South Kivu

We eagerly await news from the national electoral commission on changes to the electoral calendar. In particular, there are mounting rumors that the presidential and legislative elections might be held separately. Holding the presidential election first would probably give the winner of those elections an edge in the parliamentary elections, as he could use his moral and political authority to influence the polls; being in the same party as the president and having access to power and resources provided legislative candidates an aura of authority and legitimacy. In addition, knowing that Kabila, for example, has been re-elected will affect and perhaps undermine alliances within the opposition in the legislative race.

While we wait for news - which we weer supposed to have received days ago - registration kicked off in six provinces simultaneously last Saturday. The electoral commission wants to hurry up the process so everyone can register in time for elections.

There have, however, been hiccups in many provinces, with delays in paying for transport and registration staff and malfunctioning computers and printers. Many around the country still complain that they have to walk much further to register than they did in 2005.

On 6 April, the fifth day of registration in South Kivu, only 47% of the registration centers had been opened.  According to the electoral commission in the province, this slow pace is due to the delayed deployment of electoral materials, a problem they hope to have fixed by next week. Where the centers are open, people often have to wait in long lines to register.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sad day for the UN

After the killing of UN staff in Afghanistan, this has been a tragic week.