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

Friday, March 29, 2013

MONUSCO's new mandate––some thoughts

The UN Security Council just voted in MONUSCO's new mandate yesterday. The most remarkable part of the text concerns the deployment of an intervention brigade. While the press has focused on this, there are other important parts to the text, which makes for an ambitious vision for the UN mission:

1. The Intervention Brigade: The Security Council calls for the creation of a special force of three infantry battalions, in addition to artillery, special forces and reconnaissance companies to be based in Goma. They are supposed to carry out offensive operations against all armed groups to neutralize and disarm them. This is heady language for the United Nations––it is a radical new way of interpreting the protection of civilians, from a purely reactive to an aggressive, preventative stance.

It remains to be seen whether the countries contributing to this force––probably South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe––will take on these risky operations, and which groups are given priority. My guess is that the M23 and FDLR will be in the line of fire, but the UN has to decide on whether it will allow the stagnant peace talks in Kampala to run their course before launching operations.

2. The Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework (PSC): The Framework Agreement signed on 24 February 2013 creates the blueprint for a new peace process with a national and regional dimension––an end to cross-border meddling, and a new push to reform Congolese institutions.

This Security Council resolution creates a bifurcated structure, with the new UN Special Envoy Mary Robinson taking the lead on the regional process, and the head of MONUSCO (Roger Meece is due to step down in June) piloting the national side. This has raised some eyebrows. While the SRSG and the UNSE are supposed to collaborate, each reports to a different hierarchy: the SRSG to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and the UNSE to the Department of Political Affairs. In other words, there are two different chains of command dealing with separate parts of the Framework Agreement.

A first test for the UN Special Envoy will be coming up with concrete benchmarks and follow-up measures to make the Framework Agreement a reality and to give it teeth.

3. The Council is pushing for greater involvement for MONUSCO in Congolese state reform. Wary of concerns over sovereignty, the formulation adopted by the Council is: "Provide good offices, advice and support to the Government of the DRC"for a variety of issues, including:

  • a comprehensive demobilization program for Congolese and foreign armed groups;
  • reform of the army, with a priority on creating a Rapid Reaction Force that should eventually take over from the UN Intervention Brigade;
  • reform of the police and (with UNDP) of the justice sector;
  • build on the STAREC and ISSS policies to stabilize the eastern Congo.
This is ambitious, to say the least. Let's see how the SRSG engages with the Congolese government on these different issues. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Bosco surrender: more questions than answers

There has been a lot of conjecture and speculation surrounding Bosco's "surrender" to the US embassy on Tuesday morning. In recent weeks, various parties to the conflict have been purposely spreading false information, which has made it difficult to parse the facts. Here are my own thoughts on some of these points.

Why did Bosco surrender?

His time was up. On February 24, an internal battle had broken out among the M23, pitting Bosco's wing against that of Sultani Makenga (for more information about Bosco's career and the divisions within the M23 see the Usalama Project's briefing here). While Bosco led a large group of soldiers––at least 500 were reported to have crossed the border on 14 March––he was short on ammunition. After weeks of fighting, he decided to run.

The larger and perhaps more important question is: Why did the M23 implode? Divisions existed since the group's creation in April 2012, driven by ethnic considerations (Bosco is from the Gogwe sub-ethnic group, many of Makenga's officers are Banyajomba), historical differences (Makenga was close to Laurent Nkunda, whom Bosco replaced in January 2009), and struggles over money and power (each carried out promotions behind the other's back and set up separate tax structures).

The final straw, however, appears to have been the looming possibility of a peace deal, or at least Bosco's perception that one might take place. With an international arrest warrant looming over his head, and declarations by the Congolese government concerning his arrest, he knew that he would have no chance of re-integrating the Congolese army.

Nonetheless, important questions persist. Allegations abound, for example, that President Kabila exacerbated the divisions with bribes. But which side did he bribe––each accuses the other for having received blood money.

Rwanda's role is also curious. Reliable reports point to Rwandan backing for the M23 up until the capture of Goma on November 20, 2012. Since then, however, support appears to have declined (perhaps also because there has been a de facto truce with the Congolese army during the Kampala negotiations). However, if the Rwandan army had wanted to prevent the implosion, they most likely could have. Also, if they had wanted to solve Bosco's ammo problem, they could have easily sent bullets and mortar rounds across the border. So why didn't it? Had the aid cuts affected its view of the conflict, and the M23 squabbles looked like a way out?

How did Bosco get to the US embassy?

Again, there appear to be more questions than answers. It is obvious that Bosco thought his choice was the ICC or probable death––but at the hands of whom? And was it his choice to make?

The first version, supported by many current and former M23 soldiers, has Bosco crossing the border along with the rest of his troops, probably on 14 or 15 March, being arrested by the Rwandan army and debriefed. They then decided that they didn't want yet another Congolese rebel under house arrest in Rwanda––Laurent Nkunda and Jules Mutebutsi are enough of a headache, and Bosco's ICC warrant would certainly make him a more difficult case.

But why would the Rwandan government hand Bosco over to the US embassy, where he immediately asked to be transferred to the ICC? The Rwandan government opposes the ICC, and is probably concerned by some of the revelations that Bosco could make on the stand. After all, Kigali backed the UPC armed group for whose crimes Bosco is now answering, as well as the CNDP and M23. If this version is correct, it may be that Rwanda was not left any good options and preferred Bosco being sent to the ICC than having him sit around under house arrest in Rwanda (or worse). After all, Bosco's former UPC boss Thomas Lubanga stood trial for 5 years without any revelations being made about outside support to his group.

The second version, supported by ex-CNDP officers, diplomats and Congolese and Rwandan intelligence agents, suggests that Bosco slipped across the border, evading detection and eventually arriving at the US embassy in downtown Kigali. According to this version, he took advantage of his contacts in the Rwandan army, as well as his ethnic kin and family in Ruhengeri, to escape arrest. There have even been reports of Rwandan intelligence agents being arrested for failing in their duties to detect him.

True? Hard to say––Bosco does have friends and family in Rwanda, as well as a lot of money. But if he wanted to hand himself over to the ICC, why not just go to the MONUSCO base in Kibati (just north of Goma), which was under his control up until the last minute? It would probably have been safer for him. And could he really escape detection by Rwandan security services, who have extensive contacts with M23 members and good control over their own country?

Will he be transferred to the ICC?

Yes. There has been a lot of conjecture about the fact that the US is not signatory of the Rome Statute; Congolese analysts have also been suggesting that since the US is an ally to Rwanda, they might not want to transfer him, or that he will have to get from the US embassy to the airport, going through Rwandan territory.

At the end, none of this matters or is accurate. The Obama administration has not signed the ICC (it thinks it would be difficult to push it through domestically), but it backs the court. The expansion of the Rewards for Justice program last year to include individuals indicted by the ICC was an expression of that support––and it put a $5 million reward on Bosco's head (no one is thought to have picked it up, however). And President Kagame has now said that it will not block Bosco's extradition. So it's just a matter of time.

What will the impact be of his transfer to the ICC?

In part, it strengthens Makenga's hand––he is now rid of a large faction of his officers and political leaders who had been a thorn in his side. While he has probably lost over a third of his troops to death or defection, he has rationalized his military chain of command and now has more reliable politicians to represent him in Kampala. While he is now rid of all of the officers with serious legal problems (except himself), it is unclear whether this will result in a peace deal in Kampala. M23 delegates say that they can't accept the terms proposed by Kabila, which amount to integration with almost nothing in return. In particular, they insist on good ranks, political positions, the return of refugees, and a generous amnesty. As one of Makenga's officers told me today, just before a meeting of the officer corps, "Alituambia: vita ingali. Kungali njia mrefu." (He told us: there is still war. The road is still long).

On the other hand, Rwanda emerges with a boost to its reputation. While it isn't clear what role it played in Bosco's surrender, at the very least they signed off on the implosion of the M23, which makes it look like their are more part of the solution than the problem. In recent weeks, the World Bank has disbursed $50 million of the cut aid, and other donors may soon follow suit.

What will happen at the ICC? Bosco is reportedly more of a slam dunk that other cases currently being tried. Given his direct involvement in military operations, there is strong evidence against him for the Ituri crimes (rape, recruitment of child soldiers, murder, pillage). In addition, the prosecutor will seek to add charges related to his time as chief of staff of the CNDP (2006-2009).

So, in sum, Bosco's arrest won't bring peace to the eastern Congo, but Bosco's arrest does spell a victory in the battle against impunity and the dismantling to one of the barriers to a peace process in the country.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Amid good news, doubts

Two bits of good news broke today––first, Bosco Ntaganda turned himself in at the US embassy in Kigali. Apparently, he thought an almost sure prison sentence was better than his other options––the Rwandan government probably either forced him to hand himself over or he was so afraid of what would happen if they arrested him (or Makenga got a hold of him) that he made a run for the embassy.

The second piece of good news was the nomination of Mary Robinson as UN Special Envoy––as former Irish president and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, she has a higher profile than the other candidates in the running (Jean Ping and Said Djinnit had been floated).

But allow me to rain on the parade, and to join up these two pieces of information. Robinson was appointed as UN envoy in order to pilot the implementation of the recently-signed Framework Agreement. However, the agreement was very vague, consisting of two parts: an end to neighbors meddling in the Congo and reform of the Congolese state. Robinson will have to put meat on the its bones. However, if Kabila manages to strike a deal with Makenga's M23, then logic of the framework could easily fray: Kabila thought it was necessary to sign up to a relatively intrusive deal in order to bring an end to the M23 threat. Without the M23, Kabila no longer needs the Framework Agreement.

There is, of course, still some way to go before there is a deal between Makenga and Kabila. And even then, it is possible that donors could squeeze some water from that rock. But Robinson faces a steep climb.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Interview: Stabilizing the Kivus––lessons learned, the path ahead

Guillaume Lacaille is an independent political analyst who specializes in conflicts in Africa. He has previously worked as a political officer with MONUC and as the senior Congo analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG). In 2012, he was seconded by the Swiss government to MONUSCO to support the UN stabilisation unit in redesigning the international stabilisation strategy for eastern Congo (I4S). 

The result of this revision has just been presented to the UN Security Council in a special annex to the report of the UN Secretary-General on the DRC that was released on 15 February.


Once a major conflict has ended following peace talks and elections, the international community usually funds stabilization activities in conflict-affected areas. Such programs aim at helping a fragile new government to restore state authority and provide the general conditions that would allow for long-term development to pick up and victims of the conflict to resume a normal life.

In the Congo, donors drafted this kind of a stabilization plan in 2007, but it was only in 2009 that the security and political situation was seen as propitious for implementing the International Security and Stabilisation Support Strategy (ISSSS or I4S). Indeed, 2009 was marked by a peace deal with armed groups in the Kivus and the diplomatic reconciliation between the DRC and Rwanda. As a result, the Congolese government rolled out its own programme, the Stabilisation and Reconstruction Plan for Eastern Congo (STAREC).

Together, these interconnected-plans were supposed to take advantage of the relative improvement in security to build infrastructure, redeploy state agents, support a political dialogue process and allow economic recovery to facilitate the return of refugees and IDPs.

At the end of the first 3-year implementation phase, hundreds of miles of roads had been rehabilitated and dozens of administrative building and police stations built, but the Kivus little progress toward long-term stability. After much criticism of STAREC/I4S, donors began questioning the impact of the $270 million already spent for this first phase of I4S. In late 2011, MONUSCO launched a major strategic review of the stabilization efforts, in which Lacaille played a key role. 

Q: There has been a lot of criticism of STAREC and I4S. Briefly, what do you think their major failings were?

A: The initial plan for I4S was drafted in 2007 by a small group of people in the UN headquarters in Kinshasa on a counter-insurgency model of ‘clear-hold-build’. It has good intentions, […] but it was based on a lot of problematic assumptions.

It assumed that the Congolese government and its foreign partners would work together; that the military operations conducted by the national army with UN support would improve security; and that Congolese authorities would hold a political dialogue involving the communities. Also, it was believed that national reforms and local elections would contribute to improving governance in the country.

These assumptions proved incorrect. The leadership of the UN mission in Kinshasa lost interest in making stabilisation a priority, despite the renaming of MONUC into MONUSCO in mid-2010. The successive heads of MONUSCO’s stabilization unit were discouraged from raising key questions with their Congolese counterparts regarding the political choices that were impeding stabilization. Over time, the I4S approach became more and more technical and less political.

Q: Do you think this is the right time to have a major stabilization effort, given the escalation of conflict with M23 and other armed groups? Shouldn't we try to broker an end to the fighting first, and then engage with stabilization?

A: What you suggest is precisely the sequence tried in 2009, with negotiations leading to the 23 March agreement followed by the launch of I4S/STAREC and UN-supported operations to disarm the remnant militias. This failure should be a lesson to us. Firstly, negotiations shouldn’t be opaque like they were in 2009. Secondly, negotiations must be informed by the simultaneous pursuit of an inclusive process to address the causes of the fighting at all levels.

In their initial version, I4S and STAREC did not have the expected results less because of insecurity on the ground than because there was no reconciliation and dialogue processes, and no improvement of the legitimacy and capacity of the state representatives at the local level. Despite continuing military operations against the FDLR and Mayi-Mayi groups, I4S implementing partners were still able to work throughout the Kivus with some good results.

The new I4S that is now presented to the Congolese government and its international partners aims at improving local governance and reducing ethnic tensions through local dialogue mechanisms. Redirecting international resources towards empowering the populations in identifying sources of disputes and formulating responses will positively impact local dynamics in which only rebel leaders and unaccountable Congolese officials currently have influence.

Q: How did the review process take place? Given that there has been a lot of criticism of the absence of Congolese civil society in STAREC and I4S, were their voices and those of the Congolese institutions taken into account?

A: Well, since I also made those criticisms in late 2011, I hope we tried to do a better job for the review. Congolese people in the eastern provinces have looked at stabilisation as another top-down initiative that does not benefit them. In early 2012, when we discussed within the UN stabilization team how to review I4S in coherence with STAREC, we knew inclusiveness was going to be key.

A one-year review process was designed to engage the Congolese STAREC team and political authorities, civil society, UN agencies, donors and implementing partners. We first produced a contextual analysis to understand the weaknesses of the past approach for which twenty different organisations were consulted. Then, the stabilization team started hosting one workshop for each of the 5 pillars of I4S where Congolese and international people from Kinshasa, Goma, Bukavu and Bunia could discuss the strategic principles and content of the new I4S.

Initially, the donors, the UN stabilisation team and a few UN agencies were the most eager to save the mutually interconnect I4S and STAREC from irrelevance, but the Congolese provincial authorities understood very quickly that this could become a locally driven program that could work for them. Even NGOs like OXFAM that were critical in the past now support the revised version of I4S.

The difficulty relies on how to generate interest in Kinshasa. The Congolese national leaders are typically just focused on the M23 crisis. When they do look at the stabilization programs, I think they have mixed reactions. On the one hand, it could be a good stream of international funding for a lot of projects. On the other hand, if implemented as designed, they know it would shift some power to provincial and local authorities, away from Kinshasa. This is why the central government sometimes complains about the lack of consultation in an attempt to subtly block the elements of I4S it doesn’t like.

Q: You have followed the review process closely––what are its main proposals for how to change I4S?  

In the past, the focus was on restoring state authority in areas vacated by rebels through the building of infrastructure and the deployment of state agents. These agents were often unpaid and the provincial authorities had no resources to support them. Without inclusive political settlement of the conflict, reforms of the state administration and the army, as well as decentralisation, I4S was criticized for extending the reach of a “predatory state”. 

The revised I4S maintains 5 clusters of activities (security, democratic dialogue, state authority, early recovery, and fighting sexual violence). The outcomes of the new platforms of dialogue -between communities, the civil society and the local state administrations -will inform all the I4S-funded activities within these 5 clusters.

The democratic dialogue pillar is in fact transversal and should partly compensate for the absence of an inclusive peace process. I4S security projects will improve the FARDC’s ‘holding capacity’ and facilitate the cohabitation of locally deployed soldiers and civilians. Socio-economic projects will be informed by discussions with the communities with the aim of building social cohesion in areas of return and refuge.

During the workshops it was decided to focus the ‘state authority’ pillar on helping states agents to answer better and more equally the most basic needs of the people through the provision of incentives. The population will be regularly asked for prioritizing these needs and for performance feedback to try to bring in basic accountability for state agents (as well as the international partners).

Q: One of the central complaints has been the lack of Congolese government ownership––it only pledged $20 million of the $340 million in projects for STAREC/I4S, and three quarters of that has not been disbursed. While the proposed changes to I4S give greater voice to local communities, there is little here than suggests more genuine involvement from the government in Kinshasa.

You are totally right, and this is partly because the international community has failed to present the political benefits of a stabilization program to the government in Kinshasa. To be fair, until recently, diplomats at the UN Security Council and Secretariat had barely heard of the existence of I4S/STAREC.

The Congolese leadership has consistently favoured a military approach to put an end to the successive crises in the Kivus. This approach is yet again encouraged by the talks of a new international brigade under MONUSCO to defeat the rebels who resist the FARDC.

When the M23 recently attempted to mobilize support beyond the Tutsi community, it pointed at the failure of President Kabila to fix the abysmal Congolese governance. Most people in eastern DRC, even those who opposed the M23, agree with that the government in Kinshasa isn’t delivering and call into question President Kabila’s legitimacy.

It is in Kabila’s political interest to demonstrate that he is actively working on the causes of conflict in eastern DRC. By promoting STAREC in the Kivus and showing initial positive results, he would demonstrate to the Congolese people that the rebels have no legitimate agenda that justifies their actions.

Q: The Secretary-General's special report on MONUSCO was published just a few days ago. It included a section on I4S, giving some ideas about the way forward. What do you make of the report?

To be honest, I am puzzled. The special report talks about the need to address the root causes and is meant to inform discussions on how to streamline MONUSCO’s mandate. It doesn’t include a section on I4S, it just briefly mentions it once under the humanitarian chapter.

It is curious that the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Congo excludes from its political priorities its own $340 million stabilisation strategy, which is precisely the only platform that has been collectively designed at the ground level to address root causes. I fear that the promoters of a “peace enforcement” mandate for MONUSCO downplay the important role to be played by the UN civilian specialists in Goma, Bukavu, or Bunia to actually help promote peace.

I’m also worried that with the new regional Peace and Security Framework the focus will remain on unmonitored commitments made at the regional and national levels, and on military offensives at the local level. I4S can only work as part of a holistic approach that integrates the diplomatic, political and military strategies at the regional, national and local levels.

The top leadership of the UN is in the best position to promote coherence among these interdependent strategies. And if the donors are not confident that this coherence exists and that MONUSCO is capable of leading on stabilisation, there will likely be little funding for the next phase of I4S. Then, the result of the one-year strategic review of I4S will just remain an interesting concept paper.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Interview: Is there too much focus on sexual violence in the Congo?

On Monday this week, Laura Heaton published an article in Foreign Policy about the mass rape of women in the Congolese jungle town of Luvungi in late July and early August 2010. Heaton’s reporting suggests that that the rape figures were exaggerated, and that in general sexual violence has received far more funding and attention than other humanitarian needs in the eastern Congo––she reports that the 1,4 million displaced people in 2011 only received half as much aid as rape victims, and that NGOs dealing with sexual violence in South Kivu had grown from 10 to 300 in ten years. 

Q: The choice of anchoring the article in the Luvungi case is controversial––the United Nations published an extensive report suggesting 387 people had been raped, which has been supported by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Group of Experts. The International Medical Corps, which you criticize in your article, has also responded to your article in the pages of Foreign Policy. How do you respond to this criticism?

A: Yes, it is indeed controversial. When I first visited Luvungi with a Congolese colleague while we were in the area doing other research in 2011, I was instantly skeptical of what local sources we spoke to told us about how the incident had actually transpired, because the accounts diverged so much from the established narrative about the event. But as I spent time talking to people there I found it interesting that an entirely different explanation about the incident existed that had never even been hinted at in the public reporting. This prompted me to look more closely at where the actual source of the public narrative was, and all the news coverage, U.N. investigations, and NGO reports had used one account as the starting point: IMC’s numbers.

When I asked IMC back in April 2011 about how they had come up with their numbers, their staff member explained very openly that the numbers were unconfirmed because they were based on self-reporting. As a medical aid group, IMC, quite understandably, isn’t in the business of trying to forensically verify whether the person who comes to them seeking assistance was truly victimized in the way she/he said she/he was. If they ask for medical care, they receive it. But where the reporting on Luvungi gets muddled is that the numbers that IMC gave to the media weren’t most often presented as unconfirmed stats, nor was there any impression that the count could possibly be smaller; IMC’s figures were typically presented as a low estimate, and over the course of several weeks the numbers mounted. IMC explains the growing numbers as the result of victims feeling more comfortable coming forward. All of my local sources independently explain that since people increasingly saw that the entire focus in the aftermath of what had been a terrible attack -- in which people lost all of their belongings and food stocks -- was on the victims of rape, the most likely way to ensure you didn’t get left out of any aid response that might come was to say that you too were a victim of sexual violence.

As I mention in the final section of my FP piece, one woman in Luvungi explained that there was also an interest among members of the community to go along with this narrative, because it would mean that the women who truly were raped wouldn’t be ostracized. Several other civil society sources had given me the same explanation, attributing this decision to the local elders. “Once the gardiens de coutume [elders] have made that decision, you can’t say anything different,” one civil society leader explained to me.

But in short, what was striking as I started looking into the incident was that all of the international groups that reported on Luvungi took IMC’s account as a given and wrote their reports from there; no one questioned, at least publicly, whether IMC had gotten the original story right, even though IMC readily admits that they weren’t attempting to confirm cases included in their count.

Q: The broader point you are making seems less controversial––there has been enormous attention to sexual violence, and this seems to have had some perverse consequences. Can you explain what some of the unintended side-effects of this campaigning has been? Pundits have suggested that the focus on SGBV has deprived funding from other humanitarian programs and have even argued that it has given incentives to armed groups to rape to gain notoriety and leverage.

Several academics have spent a great deal of time looking into these issues, including Severine Autesserre (Columbia University), Maria Eriksson Baaz (Nordic Africa Institute), and Maria Stern (University of Gothenburg). Nynke Douma and Dorothea Hilhorst, who wrote the 2012 Wageningen University paper entitled “Fond de commerce?” compiled multiannual budgetary statistics from humanitarian donors pooled funds and compared how funding for various themes (IDPs, water/sanitation, security sector reform, sexual violence, etc.) is allotted. I included in my FP piece their findings about how sexual violence funding compares, for instance, to security sector reform funding (SSR is half as much) and the peace building trust fund (sexual violence funding is nearly half as large).

To give you one specific example of the impact, Douma and Hilhorst drew some very interesting and troubling conclusions about how the disproportionate focus on prosecuting sexual violence crimes is skewing much needed judicial reforms. Drawing on the insights of two Congolese lawyers, they produced an analysis of forty sexual violence case files. This review, supplemented by interviews, led them to conclude: “Under pressure to combat impunity, […] an increasing number of suspects are (sometimes innocently) convicted on the basis of flawed proof.” They didn’t seek to determine whether suspects were indeed guilty of the crime for which they were accused. Instead, they assessed whether the convictions had the necessary legal backing to be valid. Of the 19 convictions, they found that half did not.

“It is remarkable from our case studies that cases that result in release are much better argued by the judges than the cases that result in conviction,” they wrote in their 2012 paper, noting that some of their interviewees indicated that judges feel pressure to defend why they decided to release a suspect. Quoting one source, Douma and Hilhorst wrote: “If a presumed perpetrator of sexual violence is found not-guilty by the court, the media reports on such cases with disgust and incomprehension, influencing public opinion to believe that all suspected perpetrators should be convicted no matter what.”

Q: Don't you think that the campaign against rape in the Congo has been able to galvanize international attention and pressured diplomats to focus on broader issues in the Congo? In other words, just as you argue that this campaign has had negative side-effects, one could argue the opposite: that it has had positive side-effects. 

Absolutely. The fact that former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally made a point of visiting eastern Congo, in spite of the security risks, during her August 2009 Africa trip, is a testament to how the focus on sexual violence has generated much needed attention. Clinton visited Heal Africa hospital, met with rape survivors in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Goma, and announced $17 million in funding to fight sexual violence, so it’s clear that what moved her to visit the region was her concern in particular about the horrifying accounts of violence against women. And her visit raised awareness about the conflict more broadly too because it helped show that among the many challenges the region and the continent faces, eastern Congo should be a priority for the international community.

So yes, the particularly riveting and emotional stories about rape in Congo are very important to highlight, in and of themselves and because they can be an important entry point for galvanizing concern and interest in Congo. Of course, the ever-present challenge for advocacy is getting people (especially donors) to engage in addressing the root causes after you’ve sparked their interest.

Q: What lessons about reporting on the Congo have you been able to draw from your investigation? How should campaign groups and journalists deal with the question of sexual violence?

One of the main takeaways for me, which I hope I’ll always keep in mind while working as a journalist, is the danger of accepting, with few questions, a story that fits our preconceptions about how various actors will behave and who to trust. I spent a long time working on this story, which was really a luxury, and given the demands of the journalism industry (shrinking budgets, correspondents expected to cover dozens of countries), the reality is that we have to get the story quickly and often rely on second-hand accounts.

I’ve taken some heat -- and I knew I would -- about a line in my piece about an instinct I had during some interviews on my first trip to Luvungi that the women my Congolese colleague and I spoke to, at the insistence of village elders, may not have been honest with us. On my last visit for this story, I learned that two of the three women (and possibly the third as well) had been evacuated from Luvungi, along with four other elders, by ICRC, in 2012. Local civil society sources explained that the community had grown frustrated and hostile after all of the attention didn’t lead to the assistance people had expected, and these six were blamed because they had been the gatekeepers of the story -- the people that any outsider would meet with first. “People wanted to kill them,” said one activist, “because they sold us.”

And so it seems that my colleague’s impression that they had been “coached” or that the stories had been rehearsed pans out. Obviously an instinct is just a starting point, but it’s worth pausing to consider, because, as in this case, it can lead to a host of questions that were nowhere on our radar when we first arrived in the village.

There’s no question that sexual violence is a huge problem in Congo. Through this research I was struck by how little focus is being devoted to the underlying causes of sexual violence and in particular, the very troubling role civilians play in perpetrating the majority of attacks. And while this is openly discussed in eastern Congo, for some reason it’s a reality that many Western donors and NGOs are less interested in tackling -- or even acknowledging. But doing so, in part through prompting from journalists, seems like an important starting point for actually ending the problem.

Laura Heaton is a Kenya-based freelance journalist and consultant at the Enough Project.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rift Valley Institute Great Lakes Course

The Rift Valley Institute's Great Lakes Course 
Saturday 22 – Friday 28 June

The fourth Great Lakes Course will be held in Jinja, Uganda, from 22 to 28 June 2013. It covers Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the border zone with Uganda. 
The 2013 course examines the current crisis in the Kivus, the prospects of institutional reform in the DRC, regional resource issues, and political developments in Burundi and Rwanda, and is intended for journalists, diplomats, aid officials, civil society activists and local leaders.
The course is in English and French with simultaneous translation.

The Director of Studies will be Jason Stearns, whose continuing series of Usalama Project reports on the armed groups of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are available for free download here. 
The Deputy Director of Studies is Emily Paddon, Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Oxford. 
The core staff this year will include: 

  • Koen Vlassenroot –– University of Ghent 

  • Jean Omasombo –– Royal Museum for Central Africa 

  • Jean-Paul Kimonyo –– Senior Advisor, Office of the President, Rwanda 

  • Emmanuel de Merode –– Chief Warden, Virunga National Park 

  • Michael Kavanaugh –– Bloomberg news correspondent, Kinshasa 

  • Willy Nindorera –– Political analyst, Bujumbura

As well as others, to be announced soon.

A course prospectus, containing further details on all three courses, can be downloaded here (also available in French). Apply online here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

M23: Split and join?

Things have been topsy-turvy in M23 land. First, the dramatic and bloody internecine fighting between factions loyal to Gen Bosco Ntaganda and Gen Sultani Makenga, beginning on February 24 and escalating four days later, when Bosco-loyalist Gen Baudouin Ngaruye launched an all-out attack on Makenga's base in Tshanzu. The attack failed, although several high-ranking officers died there and in fighting in Kibumba. While fighting since then has subsided, there is little hope of reconciling the two factions, with Bosco's group still camped out between Kibumba and the Nyamulagira volcano, and Makenga retrenched in the hills between Rumangabo and Bunagana.

While this rift has existed for a long time, the split seems to both have been prompted by and catalyzed the chances of a deal with Kinshasa. Ntaganda has been worried about a possible deal for some time––the ICC-indictee has no future in the Congolese army, and knows that he could be easily sold down the river at an opportune moment. A similar logic goes for Ngaruye and several other officers in the Bosco camp (most notably Col Innocent Zimurinda, who is under UN sanctions), for whom the Congolese government has reportedly been preparing arrest warrants.

Whether this was paranoia or well-sourced information, this fear of a peace deal may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Congolese government has been preparing a formal deal for the M23 for some time, and the internal M23 split may have provided the break they needed to make the deal acceptable for the rebels. Last Saturday, President Kabila flew into Kampala to meet with his Ugandan counterpart to express his condolences over the death of Museveni's father. According to a member of the Congolese delegation––as well as reports by Radio Okapi and RFI––a peace deal was also discussed.

The contours of the peace deal, which could be signed on March 15, are similar to past proposals by the Congolese government (see this post from February 9): reintegrate the rank-and-file and officers up to the rank of lieutenant, and condition the integration of more senior officers on their individual records, although many of them might just receive a demobilization package. For the top M23 brass, an amnesty would have to be issued and confirmed by parliament; Kabila is reportedly in favor of an amnesty for Makenga. All the officers would have to accept redeployment elsewhere in the country.

This deal begs the question: What's in it for Makenga? Yes, the rebel commander has been weakened, but there is little in this deal––unless there are other clauses or incentives that have not been reported––to make it attractive for the M23, it boils down to: 'Reintegrate, and if you are lucky we won't arrest you.'

As it now stands, the deal is merely a tentative proposal––I don't think its final version has been signed off on by Kabila, let alone by the M23. Makenga has reportedly given contradictory views on the deal, telling colleagues that he wouldn't accept it, but alerting his troops to a possible integration in coming days.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Mining transparency in the DRC: all or nothing?

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. 

‘Transparency’ is not a word one normally associates with Congo’s extractive industries. Yet, the Government has made substantial efforts to disclose information throughout the past year. When these advances, however, fall short of internationally mandated transparency benchmarks, should we throw the baby out with the bathwater?

That is the dilemma transparency activists are now facing with regards to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI): that the DRC, in spite of all its efforts, has failed to comply with international revenue transparency benchmarks, and may get excluded from further participation. In the coming weeks, EITI’s Board will consider whether to validate the DRC as an EITI-compliant country, a good governance distinction the DRC has failed to acquire twice. If it fails to comply with one of the 21 EITI requirements, theoretically it is considered to have failed as a whole. Problematically, the DRC’s exclusion would primarily benefit those who enjoy the dark, while hurting those pushing for transparency.

That the Congolese Government is still falling short of reforms was made evident by the recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) decision to let expire an outstanding $225 loan after it failed to publish the contract of a particularly suspicious deal. But the IMF decision eclipses the fact that the new government has disclosed more than 100 contracts of which we had started to suspect they would never come out.

Similarly, the Government has shown more political will to implement the EITI. The Initiative aims at shedding light on revenues from mining and oil projects. Some African governments consider radiation as a blessing rather than a curse. Exit revenue transparency? Good riddance. But the DRC Government has gone to great lengths to prevent that scenario. Data collection for the most recent EITI report, which covers extractive revenues for 2010, took about 20 days. The same process took more than 20 months for the last report. Minister of Mines Martin Kabwelulu personally rang up major mining companies in Katanga. “Monsieur le Directeur, you haven’t submitted your formulaire yet for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. We need it now.” A particularly dynamic national EITI coordinator, Prof. Mack Dumba, developed the bad habit of ringing up people in the middle of the night to clarify outstanding gaps in the report. His obstinate efforts have even led to threats against him and his family – the strongest and most regrettable sign that the walls protecting confidential revenues are starting to crumble.

The tangible result is a 120-page report full of disaggregated figures – by company, by revenue, by tax agency (for an English version, click here). Civil society actors have started digging into the numbers. They are wondering why, as the report shows, there is no comprehensive law requiring company audits in the DRC. They want to understand why the Ministry of Finance lacks oversight over one of its tax collecting agencies, as the report says. They are starting to appreciate the diverse contractual revenues that benefit Congo’s state-owned companies, revenues no one really seemed to master entirely throughout the EITI data collection.

Given Congo’s complex and traditionally opaque revenue management system, it is no surprise that a lot of payments were missing in earlier drafts of the report. One by one, the EITI Committee has tried to include them, tackling hurdles of insufficient knowledge and political sensitivity. Notably, the Committee overcame its own reluctance to incorporate the transactions under the Chinese minerals-for-infrastructure deal. This key pillar of Kabila’s 5 chantiers program now has its own annex in the 2010 report.

One of the few remaining reporting gaps is a $15 million payment, which state-owned company Gécamines received for selling its stake in one of its joint ventures, SMKK. Gécamines lost a lot of money in the transaction: the buyer, a British Virgin Islands vehicle associated with Dan Gertler, soldthe stake four months later for $75 million to a Kazakh multinational, ENRC. Despite the loss, $15 million is still worth more than 2% of all revenues Congo got from mining in 2010. The EITI DRC Secretariat is now trying to get in touch with the buyer to fill the gap. Mister Gertler, could you please pick up the phone? There is a country trying to get EITI validation here.

The 2010 report cover features the following caption: “les lignes bleues [sur la couverture] sont plus sombres à la naissance et deviennent de plus en plus transparentes, ce qui traduit le processus de mise en œuvre de l’ITIE en RDC.” A 2011 report could build on the lessons learned and help address the structural problems that have come to light in the 2010 edition.

But the question remains whether there will be a next report. EITI rules technically call for a black or white judgment. In comparison, the IMF  is now discussing bottleneck governance issues before writing a new check. The IMF decision to cancel its loan with the DRC might have hurt the country in the short term, but it has already spurred serious conversations about transparency and corruption at the highest levels of Congo’s government. If those conversations result in tangible reforms, the IMF can reengage and everyone wins.

EITI rules don’t provide for constructive re-engagement on how to fix a country’s tax collection system. But if EITI leaves Congo entirely, it’s possible that everyone – EITI, the Government, and Congo’s citizens – will lose out. The EITI would benefit from a wider range of carrots and sticks to encourage countries that make progress and mark those who are stagnant or regress. It has already started thinking in that direction in some cases. It is this long-term engagement rather than a pass/fail system that will help the DRC move upwards along the blue transparency lines.