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

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Guest blog: US should not repeat Ugandan failures against the LRA

This guest blog was written by Ledio Cakaj. He has worked almost exclusively on the LRA conflict for the last three years as a consultant with various organizations. Most recently he was part of an international group of experts looking into possible ways to deal with the LRA. 
On 14 October 2011, President Obama announced in a letter to Congress his decision to deploy “a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces … to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield.”
Kony is the founder and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group which for more than two decades waged civil conflict in Northern Uganda before moving to bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2006. Since the end of 2008 the Ugandan army with significant US support, has hunted the highly mobile LRA in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan. The aid from the US over the last three years includes logistics and intelligence to the Ugandans to the tune of about $40 million.
US troop deployment to central Africa is part of a larger US strategy to deal with the LRA that was unveiled on 24 November 2010. Obama’s recent announcement and the related media fanfare just shy of the strategy’s one-year anniversary are somewhat anachronistic, given that the current campaign against the LRA has largely stalled. Total numbers of armed LRA combatants today are virtually unchanged compared to last November – at about 350 – and the leadership of the rebel group remains intact.
In the meantime LRA groups have conducted numerous accounts in all three countries. Since December 2008, the LRA has purportedly killed over 3,000 people and caused the displacement of 440,000. The majority of killings and displacements have taken place in DRC.
Friction between the pursuing Ugandan troops and the regional armies, particularly the Congolese (FARDC), is one of many reasons for the shortcomings of the current efforts. Despite public pronouncements from Kampala and Kinshasa hailing the Ugandan-Congolese cooperation, the situation on the ground is dire. A recent Ugandan army internal report stated that FARDC troops have openly threatened to shoot Ugandan soldiers in DRC while a Congolese army officer told a journalist that the Ugandans were intent on looting Congolese resources. Ugandan officials accuse some FARDC commanders originating from  the Kivus of being pro-Rwanda and anti-Uganda. The history of the Ugandan-Rwandese conflict played out in Congolese territory in the late 1990s and early 2000s and the abuses by both sides are firmly rooted at the heart of the current hostilities.
The willingness and ability of the Ugandans to capture Kony and his commanders is also a likely negative factor. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has repeatedly vowed to crush the LRA militarily – and systematically failed to do so – since the rebel group came to life in 1988.  Reports from the last ten years have implicated Ugandans officers in engaging in illegal mineral extraction in DRC and logging in South Sudan. It is possible that a predilection on the part of Ugandan army officers to first look for possible business deals then focus on the LRA hunt has contributed to the conflict’s longevity.
US soldiers on the ground could help to provide some transparency in the LRA operations and perhaps a rapprochement between the Ugandans and the Congolese. Supplied with sophisticated communication technology US troops should be able to provide real time intelligence on the movements of LRA groups as well as the behavior of the Congolese and Ugandan soldiers. But claims that the US troops will help quickly finish the job the Ugandans started 23 years ago are most likely a serious exaggeration. Contrary to commonly held views of the LRA as a group of rag-tag bandits, Kony’s men are well-trained, disciplined and capable of enduring extreme hardships while covering large swathes of inhospitable territory.
While US engagement is welcome as it brings much needed attention to a largely neglected conflict, the current approach might need rethinking. In its existing form, the US has comprehensively adopted the unsuccessful Ugandan policy of all-out war without appearing to question its merits or fully appreciating potential repercussions. The risk of overemphasizing the military offensive at the expense of encouraging defections of LRA combatants or enhancing civilian protection strategies cannot be overstated.
History has shown that a focus on a military solution alone has done little to end the LRA war, while simultaneously increasing violence to civilians, a strategy preferred by LRA commanders when feeling cornered. Rather than focusing exclusively on advising Ugandan soldiers how to capture or kill Kony, the US troops should help devise and carry out better strategies to protect civilians and encourage LRA fighters to leave the ranks.
The US strategy seems also to have espoused the Ugandan modus operandi of military operations against the LRA with no particular time frame, contingency plans and end-game scenarios. For the strategy to have a high chance of success, US planners need to match the LRA’s adaptability and quick thinking. Peacefully engaging LRA commanders and resuming peace talks with the top leadership of the LRA are options that should be considered either as concurrent to or as alternatives to the military approach.
Kony might still refuse to sign a peace deal, but luring his commanders out can be more devastating to the LRA than direct military action. The LRA has been greatly damaged during peaceful negotiations in the past as we have been able to learn a great deal about the otherwise secretive rebel group. Peace talks have also directly led to the defection of a few high profile commanders.
Not too long ago, my colleague Philip Lancaster argued in this forum that a serious analysis of the LRA had not been conducted by any of the militaries involved. Hopefully, the US military advisers can fill that gap and in the process help provide a flexible roadmap for ending this long and bloody conflict for good.


Anonymous said...

while this is a useful analysis, I’ve got several problems with it:

1. The idea that a bottom up approach here- ie, give these monsters 40 acres and a mule somewhere to weaken the ranks- obscures the unfortunate fact that those ranks have committed horrible violence with impunity. A top down approach- kill the leadership- is more efficient given both the cultural context of this area and how the LRA tends to operate.

2. Not to sound to jingoistic here but despite the lack of graciousness from this President’s opponents, it is perfectly clear Obama understands post modern warfare given the death of Osama, his #2, and now Qaddafi. He trusts our special forces and I gather so too do the Ugandans and the Congolese which is why this happening.

Sure, we need to minimize collateral damage but in the end this is tangential to the broader mission whose goal is to bring a more durable peace to the region. The only people in my view who don’t believe that are either cynical (“we are there for oil/minerals”/"we first sent military advisers to Saigon") or left wingers (“if Museveni was a nicer guy he wouldn’t be dealing with insurrections that morph into LRA”). I hate to break it to people but America has no fundamental strategic interests in the Great Lakes which is one reason so many problems just continue to fester there. This is (mostly) a humanitarian and stealth military mission.

Let's try not to read more into it than what it is.


Anonymous said...

Effective DDR does not in any way obscure the fact that the ranks have committed violence, but is in fact standard military procedure in most conflicts.

there is nothing about the cultural context or the way the LRA operates that makes enticing commanders to come out impossible.

killing the leadership has historically been anything but efficient, ie the top leaders have been around since the beginning.

finally, the argument of 'lets kill a few to save many' is unrealistic and has not worked in the past.

Anonymous said...

I have confidence that American Special Forces can route any enemy when given sufficient backing and resources from both the American and foreign governments.

Fairly soon, the LRA will feel the very real and very overwhelming heat of their presence and I guarantee quite a few things will shift in their "mission" in the region. It is one thing to tango with the region's relatively weak and undisciplined defense forces.

It is quite another to meet a special forces officer in the jungle.

I also have confidence Special Forces can do this with as little collateral damage as well but, in the short run, that cannot be the goal but a goal.

The Ugly American

Anonymous said...

Hi Ledio, could you send a link or two to report discussing UDP's illicit logging in South Sudan? Would be interested in reading more on that.


Anonymous said...

This is pure propaganda and rethoric. Kony is just a novice compared to Museveni and Kagame.
The two of them with the support of the same americans have succeded to create the death in both Rwanda and Congo of more than 6 million of people. I bet there is more trouble looming in DRC.

Anonymous said...

i think this is a good analysis of the possible successes and pitfalls of this new effort from someone who has clearly worked on this issue in detail. I think everyone agrees that something needs to be done to address the LRA and US involvement could be decisive if done very carefully. But i also worry about how any self-respecting military could really align with the UPDF given the history of the abuses and the current problems with the Ugandan leadership. The US should make sure it doesnt ignore the UPDF’s killings of protesters and bystanders this year in Uganda because of its strategic need to have boots on the ground in Somalia.

I think the US military advisors will have a seriously steep learning curve ahead….

Anonymous said...


I know hatred for American support for Rwanda and Uganda runs pretty high with people who likely read this blog but, as Frank said, let’s try to step back from cynicism about “imperial America” and simply look at the facts.

America has a very large, very influential, and very messianic evangelical community. They generally live in the suburbs, work in business, and life mostly revolves around Church and God. They tend to be fairly conservative, hateful of all things socialist and marxist, and are exceedingly family and community oriented- in relation to their more secular, liberal, urbane fellow citizens in America’s coastal cities (NY, LA, Chicago, Miami, Boston, San Francisco, etc). They are strong, strong, STRONG supporters of the American military. They also tend to marry inter-racially than other Americans, adopt African children at higher levels of other Americans, and do quite a few missionary stints in Africa.

Particularly central Africa.

This community is also politically very powerful and both Democrats, and Republicans, tend to listen when they press our elected officials to do X. Since Darfur, this community has pressured Congress and the White House to get busy on dealing with the LRA- primarily because many of their brothers and sisters in Christ in missionary areas tell them to. Like in Darfur, they could care less about the complexities of this conflict nor our relations with Uganda and Rwanda. As far as they are concerned, Museveni and Kagame are born again, run relatively tidy states that efficiently allocates the money they tithe to their churches, and thus are deserving of the fullest of American support. The LRA, while Christians, are blood thirsty rebels who must be crushed and the Congolese government are a bunch of incompetent thieves and vultures that speak French(whose people, evangelicals believe, are an ungrateful and now godless people). Given their general black and white view of the world, they are not interested in shades of grey. You may consider them, in historical parlance, “Spartans”.

As most people know, America is about to enter yet another season of political combat. Thus, it is time for politicians of all stripes to lock in their various bases to ensure victory in Nov 2012. Both Obama and nearly all the Republican Presidential aspirants (Bachman and Paul being the exceptions) want limited but focused efforts to KILL OFF the LRA. Just as the American Left wanted out of Iraq. And what do we have now Congo Siassa readers?

This action from Obama will do this and this goal takes primacy over all others- not collateral damage to civilians or compelling Kagame and Museveni to be “nicer” or “gentle” dictators. This does not mean America’s foreign policy apparatus doesn’t dive into details and ruminate as the guest blogger has done and Mssr Stearns does consistently. They ofcourse do this but, juxtaposed to America’s various factions, their ideas take a back seat to political calculations.

It would be wonderful if great politics and great policy went hand in hand. For readers here who are citizens of mature democracies, we all know this rarely happens. For those not part of them seeking to build them over time, get used to this basic reality of democratic life.

I really do suggest folks who read this blog gain better clarity about American politics and how it compels American foreign policy. This is particularly important for the scholars/journalists/aid workers among the readers of Congo SIassa.

- Mel

Anonymous said...

the issue here is that the US strategy, of which sending 100 troops is only part of, needs to be rethought. no one is talking about us imperialism and the like. in fact the point this piece makes is that the us should do what it is trying to but only better.

Anonymous said...

I think the point of a few American posters here is that there is no need for a "rethought" or improvement.

Obama has clearly shown he knows what he is doing on FP. Sure, the Great Lakes are getting ignored but overall the people trust him on FP at this point as opposed to the economy.

The comments here reflect this basic belief.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think French men- in particular- have had a long and storied history with American suburban women.

“there is what you do, and what you don’t do”- Olivier Martinez (now dating Halle Berry)

Anonymous said...

Ha! Yes. Given the empty and sterile lives of American suburban women- which they fill with this weird combination of material things, PTA meetings, and church- isn’t too surprising.

Anonymous said...

finally we get into the real policy concerns...

Anonymous said...

Sorry to return to this but the UK newspaper, the Independent, just released this report where they got their hands on the Zetes report.

And, in spite of the Congolese Zetes rep stating "all is well, trust us", the report by Zetes strongly suggests "tampering" of the rolls.

Here's the Independent article:

Jason's got a good framing quote in this article (thanks, Jason).

This is in contrast to the dumb comment by an EU ambassador. But, ofcourse, he's a peon to the powers that be in DC, Paris, and Brussels and its their silence on what is shaping up to be a massive fraud in the making that must be called out.

I do suggest activists get a hold of this report and clearly inform our elected leaders that if blood is shed nearing, on, or past election day we will hold them to account given these revelations.

- Mel

Anand said...

@Mel - Thanks so much for posting the link. If the language in this article is accurate, then it directly contradicts Zetes assurances that everything is fine with the voter roll. I am alarmed at the sentiment of, "Let's not be negative about all this..." that some Western statesmen are voicing. That's really a dismissal, and a way to not deal with a complicated situation. This kind of blind eyed group-think belies the fact that real problems do exist, and the consequenses could be dire. We've already seen pre-election flare ups. Seems like classic Congo international disregard.

Anonymous said...

For me, the big concern here isn’t whether or not this report- which the Independent did not publish but simply alludes to- can be verified but the seeming silence, in the name of good diplomacy, of Western diplomats. Both the Independents and Stearns reporting clearly state that our diplomats have seen this report and more or less want to head deep and hard to the elections. What that suggests, at bare minimum, is the powers that be in DC, Paris, and Brussels, seem to either not be concerned about the potential violence that a fraudulent election will mean OR there is no Plan B’s” vis a vis these elections.

Well, its time to force a Plan B. I strongly believe that we all need to put some pressure on O and Hillary to ask the Congolese to delay the elections. It would then make sense, I believe, to ask the Congolese to allow a neutral party- such as MONUSCO- to run and certify the elections and another- the Catholic Church- to train and send observers to every poll. (they are training like 30K, we need far more)

In order for this to happen, the Congolese would need to legally sanction all this which would mean both organic law (that passed by the assembly and signed by the Prez) and constitutional changes. The latter is necessary for once Dec 6th comes, a new government is constitutional required to replace it.

I know what I am suggesting is controversial but, in my view, we are now confronted with Bad and Worst options. If we do not want violence to engulf this country than the bad option is a legally delayed election run by MONUSCO and the Church. If we want elections that will be flawed with a ton of violence running up to, and beyond, election day than this would be the worst option.

I realize what I am suggesting here is asking the Congolese elites to do that which they have been unable, or unwilling, to do since independence- work together in the interest of their nation. But, in my mind, some pressure upon them to pull them back from the abyss is in order. It is perfectly clear to me that UDPS, god bless em’, are engaged in a low grade guerrilla warfare effort with their “demonstrations” whose goal it seems is to encourage this regime to engage in crackdowns, which have the effect of raising the elections profile on international news, which will focus people on this regime, and perhaps get the Congo to a place where delay the “international community” has no choice but to delay and potentially create some transitional body with UDPS on it. I ofcourse cannot be sure of this but it sure feels like that is the strategy behind the tactic of these weekly demonstrations. If so, it is deeply cynical and a sign of the abyss.

And to be clear, it is the abyss we are heading to if we remain on the current trajectory.

What do y’all think? (I’d particularly like to hear from Congolese)


Rich said...

I still hope the opposition can get to some kind of agreement on a unique candidate. However, things on the ground are not encouraging...
Here is what Kamerhe said, during an interview with Congo News.

Talking about the missed appointment with tshisekedi in the US, Kamerhe also said,

"un autre élément qui a fait que je puisse retarder mon arrivée à Washington, c'était de vouloir d'abord comprendre ce qui s'est passé à Goma, Uvira, Bukavu avec la descente sur le terrain du conseiller politique du président Tshisekedi, monsieur Mubake. Je n'ai pas compris que le président Tshisekedi m'invite pour signer un accord avec lui, pendant qu'il envoie au même moment son conseiller pour m'insulter d'abord à Goma, puis à Bukavu et s'en prendre à mon parti comme si nous étions détenteur du pouvoir."...

"la population du Sud-Kivu attend comme un messie Monsieur Tshisekedi. Et pas Kamerhe".

People are talking about fraud but no one is actually talking about the need to put out a strong campaign. J Kabila and the PPRD seem years ahead in terms of campaigning whilst tshisekedi is not even in the country.

It is sad to see people taking the Congolese opposition like an example of good governance. Most of these so called opponents are just as bad as, if not worse than, the people in power. The other thing is tshisekedi thinks he can win the elections even if he doesn't work hard to help his chances of winning them.

Kabila has been endorsed by almost all Congolese musicians and comedians. We all know how Congolese love their music and their comedy these artists have changed the whole campaign dynamic. it is difficult to see in the country any big name supporting tshisekedi or any other of the opposition candidates...

I'm not a pessimist but I believe the people who are called to offer an alternative in Congo should be challenged and lobbied to work just hard rather than playing the victim card and hope power can just fall into their hands...

The latest video making a real buzz within Congolese internet circle... Who said Congolese have no sense of humor? To get the point in this clip you may need to connect not only with the language but also the culture...


Rich said...

Mel & Brice -

Please, do not take this personal.

Let's, let's forget about the fraud even for a minute or two; on what MANIFESTO shall any of the candidates to the presidential election be elected?

The opposition must unite to give itself a good chance of winning J Kabila who is still very popular despite what people are saying. Have they (the opposition) put together their MANIFESTOS??? Will they do that??? If yes, When??? How???

The only project that seems to unite the opposition, so far, is the departure of J Kabila. Yes, J Kabila can go, then what's next???

It is all good to want change but no one is explaining what else they are going to change other than removing the head of J Kabila at the head of that country.

I don't know a country where almost 3 weeks left to the elections, candidates will simply not explain key lines of their project in government... but everyone here seem happy to want Congolese to elect unprepared people ...

I'm not even saying that these people had 5 YEARS to prepare for this...

If democracy is to advance in DRC, the Congolese opposition must be sent to compulsory training and learn how to do its homework...

For me, if the opposition loses the elections it will be more down to the lack of preparation and discipline than to fraud...


Anonymous said...


While we can argue all day about the inadequacies of the opposition and the majority, I believe Bryce is right on this accord:

At the end of the day, what is at stake here is whether or not the Congolese themselves can have faith in their power of their vote to change their destiny. That, in my mind, should be the goal. As it stands right now, it doesn’t take a political analyst to see that something deeply amiss is going on with these elections. The idea that we should just place aside potential fraud because “their all bad so let’s get to the elections” is morally wrong on virtually every level and, in my view, racist.

It might be true that the opposition isn’t prepared or isn’t campaigning. But at the same token, no one is holding this regime accountable for its many and stunning failures- some willful others not- in governance.

The only people who can do that are the Congolese themselves. Thus, if we believe IN THEM and believe that they deserve the right to BOTH hear out the ideas of the opposition AND hold the current regime accountable than it makes sense to delay these elections, get a non-partisan referee to oversee them, and allow the Congolese to vote in confidence that it will count. Doing so will open up the space to get us to not only a more vigorous campaign but deal with the logistical challenges and likely fraud that will be the November vote.

Right now, we don’t have any of these variables in place and, indeed, we seem to be heading for something that may make the Ivory Coast look like kids play.

Now really isn’t the time to defend the status quo. (let’s just have a flawed election with flawed candidates and hope for the best)

It is quite literally killing people and the Congolese absolutely deserve better.

Thank you, Bryce, for your cry in the dark and Stearns for this forum.


Anonymous said...

Not much to add other than to say its time for some urgency folks.

There is a new and strong UK-based group, Free Fair DRC (, which is starting to campaign in the US as well, that had a Forum at DC's National Press Club. It included folks from Enough, one of its founders, and who heads NDI's work in Central Africa.

Its 44 minutes and, unfortunately, in English since it was in DC.

This is quite a "cry in the dark". Its also good because its election, not conflict mineral, focused which is a good thing in my view.


Anonymous said...

One thing to respond to from Rich's comments is that it is also true that the Congolese had 5 years to prepare for these elections and, unfortunately, began the process this spring.

At some point, Congolese intellectuals have got to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are being responsible to their role in their country.

Moving forward, I believe both the international community and Congolese elites need to focus- hard- on Obama's call of "strong institutions and not men". As an American taxpayer, we have given this country almost $1 billion since the last elections and their is little to show for it.

I think it is time to completely transform how we engage with this regime that ties every dollar of aid to conditions. Since Mobutu's fall, it is entirely clear that we have drift on our policy and this has got to change. There must be conditions. I could imagine tying all aid to a free press and the right to assemble. So, if there is one arrest, or a journalist disappears- just one- that all aid, grants, and loans are cut off for 2 years. The Congolese elite must feel the real threat of poverty if behavior is to change.

Just imagine if the international community footed the bill for making Radio Okapi truly independent and tied aid to benchmarks of press intimidation? It may sound simple but there is no way on Earth we would be where we are today if the Congolese had the ability, via the press, to hold their leaders to account.

But again, we must focus on institutions and this must be the focus of elites in DC, Brussels, and Kinshasa.

What we have now clearly is not working.

Rich said...

Frank & Others -

Thanks for your input, I must say, I read it with great interest.

Just a few points:

Ref # "At the end of the day, what is at stake here is whether or not the Congolese themselves can have faith in their power of their vote to change their destiny."

I don't know about your experience but as far as I'm aware, Congolese I speak to on a daily basis have faith in the power of their vote. This can be supported by the fact that you do not register 25 Million plus in 2006 and 30 million plus in 2011 potential voters where people do not trust their vote means something. I am yet to meet a Congolese who wants to see the elections DELAYED... I'm sure there are somewhere, but I am yet to meet or speak to one who can show that the CENI is wrong with its assessment of the current progress.

Ref # "...As it stands right now, it doesn’t take a political analyst to see that something deeply amiss is going on with these elections."

I've always been quite uncomfortable with the idea of accusing people when we are not a 100% sure about their guilt or simply beholding proofs of their wrong doing whilst accusing them. Democracy and fairness should also be about making sure we accuse people only when we can prove their guilt beyond any doubt.

Ref # "The idea that we should just place aside potential fraud because “their all bad so let’s get to the elections” is morally wrong ..."

I could not agree more with you but one must make sure they are in position to detect and call out any fraud rather than limiting oneself to simply being suspicious...

I know people can lose elections because they have been rigged; I also know that people can lose the elections because of the lack of preparation and discipline. There have been cases where people genuinely lost the elections but simply refused to admit the fact...

I heard the CENI is keen to inviting as many observers as possible. Why not ask CENI to write an invite and go on the ground and have a clearer idea of what is going on?

There is only one sample of D R Congolese and all Congolese politicians can only come from that sample. Congolese know their political class better than anyone. Should these elections be fair - which I'm convinced they will - the Congolese will use the opportunity to significantly further their advance on the democratic path they should have taken more than 40 years ago...

I know where my country comes from, I am fully aware that there are still a million things that are badly wrong but I can say that I have never witnessed this much open debate -both inside and outside the country - about what should matter for the Congo. To me, we are on the right path but things will never be simple...

True POSITIVE change in the DRC MUST and WILL only come from WITHIN; no matter how long it takes and regardless of our, sometimes, legitimate frustrations.


Anonymous said...

From a pure investor viewpoint, the Congolese are really going to need to clean up their act. I can state, with complete certainty, that the Chinese, Brazilians, and others are growing tired of the near constant political risk. And with Gaddafi gone, pissed off Chinese, pissed off Brazilians, and increasing concern in the West, where will this country turn to for investors?

I hope the election doesn't lead to too much violence though Congolese friends more or less believe it is inevitable. From what I can tell, they do recognize their are a million problems to solve and one election won't solve them all but its a step in the right direction- even with some violence. Ofcourse, the Congolese business folks I know are increasingly renting villas and opening accounts in Luanda to move their families and capital just in case. Indeed, one friend just bought a condo in Miami as insurance.

I just worry that the patience of investors will wear thin if some improvement on infrastructure, the stability of contracts, and stronger institutions don't occur post election.

The future of the Congo is bright. I think we all know that. But I just hope the elite take a long hard look at the winds of change blowing across the continent and step back from the brink for the good of their people.

This continues to be my hope.

Anonymous said...

The Congolese, I can assure you, were not built to break.

This too shall pass.

Thank you, Rich.

Anonymous said...


Thank you, Rich, for your passionate defense of the Congolese and their democracy.

Your words always soothe and enlighten. Please do know that, in spite of our challenges,we stand with the Congolese.


Rich said...

November 27 2011 midnight start of the electoral campaign in Kinshasa (Funa Disctrict)...

Anonymous said...


You must mean October 27th, right? It says "November 27 2011".

Festive scene. I can assure you Americans do not celebrate nearly as joyously at the open of a campaign season- primarily because it lasts so incredibly long for us (1 year at this point).

I live in Orlando, in Central Florida (home of Disney World), and this part of the state is very contested by both parties and their candidates. So, starting very soon, I will get a flood of calls, mailers, knocks at my door during dinner time, email, and ads on the radio, tv, cable, etc on a damn near hourly basis.

Indeed the Obama campaign is already active and I have had three canvassers (door knockers) leave literature in just the last month alone. Our election is exactly one year from today- the first Tuesday in November. I'm one of those maligned suburban housewives (my life is full and rich and anything but "sterile") who has done missionary work in the Congo in the last 3 years and now first hand the challenges of the Congolese.

As Congolese democracy and its economy improves (people live in homes, with postal address, cellphones #'s become required to register, internet spreads more widely, etc) I can guarantee election season will not seem like so much fun.

Its good to see this, however, and I am wishing y'all the best.

Democracy is worth it. And I particularly look forward to the day when the Congolese organize themselves to campaign on issues- not men leading parties- that they would like their government to address.

In my view, this is the critical "next step" the Congolese need to take to consolidate democracy.


Rich said...

Karen -

Yes its you are right I meant to write October 27... Well spotted.

You are right things were not as joyous as they seem since there are places where supporters from opposite camps clashed with deadly consequences. However, there is an overall positive momentum that will be difficult if not impossible to break... but as you said, this needs further consolidation.

I can say in the past few months if not years, I have witnessed top class debates around important topics taking place in all spheres of Congolese life and that is very encouraging. But caution will always be recommended as this is too early and there is still an awful lot to be done.


Anonymous said...


Please know that you can never offend me. I care to much about this issue and realize debates will, at times, be pretty argumentative.

That said, I do sometimes feel you say things without really saying anything at all or add to the debate.

As an example, you state that its up to the Congolese to solve their problems. Well, that's true but than you stop there and do suggest what, specifically, they need to do to solve them.

You are an intellectual in the Congo right? Well, please enlighten us as to how you/others would go about creating a stronger and more effective state. It isn't enough to argue, ad nauseum, that the country is filled with complexities upon complexities. All nations are and the Congo isn't unique or special in this regard. Its time to start acting on solutions to those problems, Rich.

Please don't take that personally because to a degree this is a problem I have with this blog- its all problems, all complexity, and no solutions. Yes, Stearns does great work bringing them to light and, generally, informs on latest developments.

But that's really it. Its his blog and he can do what he wants with it but it would be nice to hear from you and others in the Congo what should be done to get to a more effective and less parasitic and violent state.

Feel free to let us know but please don't be surprised if those outside the Congo try to figure this out and, in the opinion of some, fail at the attempt because prescriptions are discussed and than implemented from outside of the Congo.

- Mel

Rich said...

Mel -

Ref # “Please know that you can never offend me. I care to much about this issue and realize debates will, at times, be pretty argumentative.”

Thanks for letting me know

Ref # “That said, I do sometimes feel you say things without really saying anything at all or add to the debate.”

I do apologise for that, I’m still new to English but I will always be more than happy to clarify or rewrite anything you think fails to meet your standard.

Ref # “As an example, you state that its up to the Congolese to solve their problems. Well, that's true but than you stop there and do suggest what, specifically, they need to do to solve them.”

I’m sorry but sometimes when you say, for instance, “there is too much salt into a dish”, that should not automatically make you LIABLE to cook one (less or non salty dish) right away… That said, I thought mine was more of an opinion expressing activity than a SOLUTION proposal… By the way, do we all have to always suggest SOLUTIONS?

Ref # “You are an intellectual in the Congo right? Well, please enlighten us as to how you/others would go about creating a stronger and more effective state….”

Who I am may not be relevant in this particular post; however, concerning, “how you/others would go about to creating a stronger and more effective state” I will be VERY HONEST with you, I DO NOT HAVE A CLUE. Mind you, if I had an answer to that question, I surely would not be here passionately exchanging with you since I WOULD HAVE BEEN BUSY FULFILLING MY FUNCTION AS THE UN General Secretary.

Ref # “…Its time to start acting on solutions to those problems, Rich.”

Trust me, if I was told that, you – Mel – were the exclusive and accredited individual to whom one shall imperatively go to VALIDATE their acts or contribution to solving the DRC’s socio-political quagmire, I would have been more than in touch.

Ref # “Please don't take that personally…”

I surely won’t and can only reciprocate the same wish.

Ref # “… but it would be nice to hear from you and others in the Congo what should be done to get to a more effective and less parasitic and violent state…”


Ref # “Feel free to let us know but please don't be surprised if those outside the Congo try to figure this out...”

I hope my confession presented above confirms the fact that I am still of the opinion that things in DRC are COMPLEX and that an answer to the problem should equally be COMPLEX rather than simplistic… Yes, I know for fact that there are many genuine good wills for the DRC from people both inside and outside; but I’m also convinced that helping people should not be more important than respecting them and there are many people outside helping DRC people to a great extent yet they still show tremendous RESPECT towards those they are called to help…

I’ve been camping on this topic for a long time I do hope this will be my last comment on it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rich.

It is precisely because I respect you that I am asking for your opinion on your nation’s chief challenge- building an effective state that can bring the kind of independence, freedom, peace, justice and unity that Lumumba died for so many years ago. (and yes, I am aware that assassinaton was hatched in DC and Brussels).

I am not asking you for the solution that solves the myriad of challenges the Congo faces.

I am asking you to try which, in my view, isn’t asking for much.

And it is my most fervent wish that you and every Congolese don’t ever come to believe that the destiny of your nation is not in your hands or should be solved by some well-meaning diplomat in NY or politician in Kinshasa- regardless of the Congo’s history or even its present.

It is a fallacy to believe that every complex problem requires an equally complex solution.

I could give many examples when a people, bound by history and a sense of collective agency, transformed peacefully the affairs of a nation. The most inspiring to certain people like Lumumba, and Nkrumah, and Nyerere, and Mandela was when a group of people in a city called Montgomery decided to organize a boycott of that city’s bus system that launched a movement to destroy a system of oppression so profound that it created physical economic, legal, social, and political barriers between human beings.

Imagine that, Rich. Boycotting a bus system to destory a system of oppression. In the face of the system they were seeking to destroy, it seemed like a fool’s errand to believe that they would succeed.

But they did succeed and not only transofrmed a nation- most clearly seen in our current President- but lit the imagination of people in your own country, much of the African continent, and successive movements on every continent where humans habitat.

Be careful about complexities, dear Rich. They can blind one to what is possible in the world and give comfort to your oppressor.


ps You can respond in French or Swahilli. I am fluent in both and know my way around Lingala.

SunTura said...

Rich said...

Those interested to find out more about the campaign, here is J. Kabila's election campaign website.

At this stage, J. Kabila is touring the East today he is in Sud Kivu and there should be pictures of that stage on his website. kamerhe is touring Kinshasa, E Tshisekedi is no where to be seen. He gave an interview from South Africa, where he said he knew he was late with the campaign that there was no problem because he will catch up, he also indicated that he came from a meeting (still in SA) with some PR consulting company to assess how they can help, quote, "ameliorate his image...". He said he is going back to DRC but did not give a date. he has hired, quote, "a private jet, a plane DC3 and a helicopter..."

On the sad side, supporters of udps and unafec clashed violently in Lubumbashi / Katanga this happened outside the HQ of unafec when udps supporters tried to force their way in front of the unafec HQ. unafec saw that as an act of provocation...

To be continued...

Thanks for your time,


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this info, Rich!

Kabila site is pretty cool.

So, I think we have all noticed the clashes between UDPS and, well, everyone at this point.

Placing aside the provactive view that UPDS's goal here is to circumvent these elections, what is your (or others) take on these grassroots incidents?

Personally, from my own interactions with US UDPS's members and UPDS supporters in the Congo who are friends, I get this feeling that they don't see other parties as legitimate and as oppressors- vs seeing them as political opponents. I hear alot of "birther", Kabila is a Rwandan stuff that is similar to my nation's birther movement that claims Obama is a muslim, not a citizen, a Mai Mai, etc, which is still going on even after Obama releasing his birth certificate publicly (and killing Osama later in the week)

Is the constant confrontation this or something else?

- Mel

Anonymous said...

I hate to say this but I can completely understand Kabila's allure.

He is so incredibly handsome! I mean, he has movie star looks and is strongly built. Yes, yes, I know he's not exactly the most competent bloak and hasn't done much to rebuild the state but he does have this quiet, powerful, allure that I gather works pretty well with the ladies.


Rich said...

Mel thanks –

Udps is often referred to as the ‘first daughter’ of the Congolese opposition. Some can see in this a way for udps to be capricious, erratic, unpredictable, mature, caring etc... So I can understand when udps members struggle to see other opponents as relevant... What I can say is, and I am sorry if I sound biased, the Congolese political landscape of 1980s when udps was first created, is very different from that of today. I say this because back in 1980s being a udps member or an opponent was almost automatic because mobutu’s regime left almost no room for any kind of sympathy. Now things are a little more open than they were under mobutu and it is a bit easier for some to spot the opposition’s mistakes and question their fitness if not readiness to run the country.

Although the political landscape has changed a lot since 1980s it is sad to notice that some of the opposition parties are still run in a kind of neo-paternalistic fashion or like private business. By this I mean, for instance, the fact that most leaders never worked hard inside their political party to prevail through party members adhering to their ideas or projects. This becomes a problem because when the head of the party who has a tight grip on everything within the party gets something wrong, it is very difficult for that to be fixed unless those calling out the mistake move out of the party...

J Kabila is very good at sitting back (both being lazy/shy or busy doing not much) and let the others doing the heavy lifting or deal with tricky things as long as they do not threaten his power... This style helps cascade some kind of power either positive or negative through the system be it within his party, his majority or indeed his regime. This allows some kind of extra reach and freedom of innovation within the movement that others in the opposition who are still leading through neo-paternalistic style cannot afford. I must say that money can also helps trickle down power...

As for the ethnic tensions, they’ve always existed on different levels and different intensity but it takes unscrupulous political leaders to exploit them by bringing them to life with, sometimes, deadly consequences. That said, I know that things have improved a great deal and a few generations down the line these tensions will fade away completely. Yes there is a great sense of regional or ethnic identity in some part of the DRC and you can understand why ... remember the DRC borders are not natural so it is only normal that it will take time for some Congolese to see other Congolese in the same light as those with whom they share the same ancestral land, the same tribe, ethnicity, dialect etc...

If anything positive from the Katangais Vs Kasaians disputes, I can say that both communities have a deep rooted history of love and hate and no matter how bitter their raw gets, they always seek solution from within or the central government / Kinshasa to arbitrate rather than relying on foreign countries or forming armed militias to sort out the disputes like this has been the case in the great Kivu...

To me, the solution to the ethnic tensions is to have a strong Congo. People will always want to identify themselves with success and a successful DRC will be something in which all Congolese will consider as the common denominator and will be happy to further consolidate. A strong DRC can be built through the consolidation of democratic processes. This should not only be the task for those in power but those in opposition are also called to forge and consolidate a responsible way of being in opposition. The political culture must change at all levels: power, opposition, civil society etc... and this is achievable. We may not live longer to witness something near the end product but I am confident the country is heading towards the right path...

Sorry this may read all over the place but I wanted to do it before I get no chance to ever do it...


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