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, April 27, 2013

The politics of the intervention brigade, from Pretoria to Kigali

The intervention brigade is on its way, and it has inspired Cassandras and Pollyannas alike. 

Most of the talk has focused on the military efficacy of the brigade, which will consist of 3,069 troops from southern African countries and will be led by a Tanzanian general. This focus is not surprising, given the robust mandate the Security Council provided in Resolution 2098 to "carry out targeted offensive neutralize [armed] groups."

The brigade is expected to deploy by June or July (around the same time as drones), with its base in Sake and operations probably beginning in the following months. But, despite the aggressive media campaign waged by M23 against the brigade, its political importance is likely to be as hefty as its (few) helicopter gunships and armed personnel carriers. As one Rwandan official put it to me: "Imagine the M23 kill ten South Africans. It doesn't matter whether we support the M23 or not, Zuma will blame us."The brigade forms a sort of political firewall––if the M23 puts it to shame, it will draw in some of the most powerful countries in the region into the conflict. 

This points to a larger dynamic: the regionalization of the conflict. Back in 1998-2003 the Congolese war drew in eight countries and effectively split the region between the enemies (Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi) and allies (Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe) of Kinshasa––we are obviously not back to that sort of escalation, but the intervention brigade makes this conflict more regional than at any point in the past decade. 

The big, muscular newcomer to the Kinshasa camp is South Africa. Two reasons can be made out: First, relations between Pretoria and Kigali have soured since the assassination attempts against General Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa in the middle of the FIFA World Cup in 2010, the country's most important international event in a generation. Secondly, the ANC government has become increasingly financially invested in the Congo––the energy-strapped country is particular intent on cornering access to Inga Dam hydroelectric projects (and Zuma is alleged to have personal interests in the oil sector in the Congo). Just last month, both countries put fina touches to a draft agreement that would give South Africa around 2,600 megawatts of power from the Inga II dam, around 6% of that country's current power supply. At full capacity, Grand Inga could produce up to 39,000 megawatts.  

South African involvement was particularly on show during the 2011 elections, which took place just weeks after a Kabila granted the South African government a contract for Inga III . Zuma was then one of the first presidents to congratulate Kabila for his victory, despite rampant irregularities. Then, when Uganda began facilitating peace talks with the M23 as chair of the ICGLR, South Africa and Angola (which has also just signed a lucrative offshore oil deal with Kinshasa), worried about Uganda and Rwanda's influence in the ICGLR, offered to send troops to Kinshasa's aid through SADC. Kabila reportedly believes that the brigade will help bring an end to the nettlesome M23 rebellion. 

Tanzania is more of a cipher––relations between Kikwete and Kagame have been strained in the past, but the country where Joseph Kabila grew up has been much less politically and economically involved in the Congo than South Africa. 

The arrival of the brigade will therefore introduce new political as well as military dynamics to the conflict. The M23 may well try to use another military offensive, either before or after the brigade's arrival, to gain political leverage. But while it is unclear whether the brigade will be able to live up to its ambitious military mandate, it comes with hefty political clout to back it up. 

Rwanda recovers from financial squeeze, slowly

The Rwandan government issued a $400 million Eurobond yesterday, successfully borrowing capital on the international market to plug its debt gap. The funds, which pay a yield of 6.875 per cent, will be used to finance the building of its convention center, the development of RwandAir, and a hydroelectric power project.

This success comes on the heels of the World Bank and the African Development bank releasing some of the funds that had been suspended last year––$50 million and $49 million, respectively, according to diplomats in Kigali. While most of this money has been shifted from general to sectoral budget support, the range of donors I spoke with in Kigali all questioned this absolute distinction, suggesting that both categories consist of fungible funds. This releases some pressure on a cash-strapped budget. Donors estimate that at the end of the financial year in June, the Rwandan budget will be around $30-$50 million down due to aid cuts, but that's a sharp improvement on the over $200 million in suspensions that took place last year. The UK government, the largest bilateral donor, is due to make its decision on released aid in June. The IMF has projected healthy GDP growth of around 7,5%, still far below the Rwandan target of 11,5%.

The challenge confronting donors is to make decisions on aid while the M23 and Congolese government are in a de facto ceasefire, pending the talks in Kampala. In the past, Rwandan support has been most obvious during fighting, when the understaffed M23 has relied on Rwandan support. So how do you know whether Rwanda has really ceased its support if fighting has halted since November?

For the moment, most donors don't seem to have evidence of Rwandan support to the M23 this year, although there have been unconfirmed reports from Congolese and NGO officials during the past several weeks of Ugandan and Rwandan crossings. The UN Group of Experts is due to submit an interim report––which is usually conservative, saving most information for the final report at the end of the year––in several months.

Meanwhile, the relation between donors and the Rwandan government has been deeply affected. While donors used to be intimately involved in financial planning with the government, relations have cooled on both sides.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Justice in the Congo, peace through satellites

A court in Bukavu today sentenced the former governor of South Kivu Déogratias Buhamba Hamba to twelve months of prison and a fine of $1,000. The reason? Last Saturday, at around midnight, he was coming out of a marriage party when a UN military observer blocked his path with his car. When the Uruguayan officer took too long to move his vehicle, Buhamba got out and attacked the man, ripping his shirt and taking some of his documents. 

In his defense, Buhamba, who is now a provincial parliamentarian, argued that he had the right to carry out the arrest of the UN official as a member of parliament. The court thought otherwise. 

Meanwhile, in Kinshasa, the government announced that it would put its first satellite into space. The Coordinator of the Space Project, Blaise Wamba Yetshi, said that the Congo will join South Africa and Nigeria as African countries with satellites in space. Quoted in the newspaper Le Phare, he also said that the launch would bring prosperity for the Congo, raising the budget dramatically, and bringing peace and institutional stability. 

See here for a past similar experience....  

Tanzania reportedly arrests deputy FDLR commander

Numerous sources are now reporting on the arrest of General Stanislas Nzeyimana (aka Izabayo Bigaruka), the deputy commander of the FDLR––the German Tageszeitung wrote about it last Friday, and sources close to the Tanzanian security services are now confirming.

Bigaruka, as he is commonly known, was not directly involved in the 1994 genocide, as he was in undergoing military training abroad at the time. However, he did play a significant role during the insurgency in northwest Rwanda between 1997-1998. He later became commander of the South Kivu division and eventually was promoted to become deputy overall commander in 2008.

It is not clear how and when Bigaruka was arrested, although according to one UN source he was taken into custody by Tanzanian security officials at the Serena Hotel on April 5. He was allegedly accompanied by two Congolese protestant ministers. The newspaper Umuvigizi, which has been banned in Rwanda, however reported that he had been arrested in Kigoma, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, where he had been based for several years as an FDLR liaison officer. Accounts also differ on Bigaruka's fate, although it appears the Tanzanian authorities have not yet accepted to extradite him to Rwanda.

If confirmed, Bigaruka's arrest would be a further blow to an already weakened organization. In the past two years, the FDLR have lost their Chief of Staff Colonel Mugaragu, head of logistics Lieutenant-Colonel Furaha Honoré, and the influential battalion commander Lieutenant-Colonel Sadiki Soleil. Their president and vice-president are being tried by a German court, and the appearance of the Raia Mutomboki, which made it increasingly difficult to protect their civilian population in particular, have been further setbacks.

The FDLR's future depends on whether it can re-establish its alliance with the Congolese army, or at least with other armed groups. There have been numerous reports in the past year that Kinshasa––or at least certain officers––have considered renewing their ties with the FDLR in order to defeat the M23, especially after many commanders lost faith in their own troops after the Goma debacle in November 2012. But those ties are still extremely tentative, and it is questionable whether the FDLR would present anything more than a huge reputational liability for the Congolese government.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Who are the Raia Mutomboki?

The Raia Mutomboki are perhaps the largest armed group in the eastern Congo, in terms of territory they control. Over the past two years they have managed to flush the Rwandan FDLR rebels out of vast areas, even forcing them to abandon their headquarters of many years in southern Masisi. And yet, the Raia Mutomboki are also one of the most ramshackle, fragmented, and ill-disciplined armed groups.

The Usalama Project's sixth report on this phenomenon can be found here.

So what is so special about the Raia Mutomboki ("Outraged Citizens")? The group is a franchise built around an idea––defending the local population against predation, especially by the FDLR––not a single organization. The movement began in the jungles of Shabunda in 2005, then went dormant for several years only to reappear in 2011, then spreading into Walikale, Masisi, Kalehe and Mwenga territories. While there are four main RM factions––and now even more, as the Sisawa-Ngandu-Meshe group has succumbed to internecine fighting in recent days––all of them use a variety of dawa (a magical potion), were born out of popular anger against the FDLR, and are known for their ruthless attacks against FDLR and their dependents (often more the latter than the former).

But perhaps most importantly, the RM are a product of flawed peace processes. In 2005, the first tentative appearance took place in southern Shabunda, as Mai-Mai left the area to join army integration, giving the FDLR unfettered access to the lucrative mines around Kalole, where the witchdoctor Jean Musumbu created the first RM group.

But the group never would have reached out of its jungle backwater if it hadn't been for another, more notorious peace process: the 2009 integration of the CNDP, a deal that was only possible because Rwanda and the Congo agreed to gang up against the FDLR. While the deal was heralded by many diplomats, it caused a humanitarian catastrophe as Congolese civilians were caught up messy counterinsurgency operations. This was the main precursor to the explosion of the RM.

Ironically, it was an initiative that was intended as a corrective to the CNDP integration, which had given the former rebels disproportionate control of operations in the Kivus, that rekindled the RM. The regimentation exercise, which was supposed to streamline army units and counter CNDP networks, drew soldiers out of large areas of the Kivus to army camps, leaving the population at the mercy of FDLR, especially in remote Shabunda. It was particularly in mining areas in Shabunda where violence erupted, as the FDLR tried to violently impose their authority.

In response, the RM formed, first in Shabunda, and then spreading like wildfire into Kalehe and Masisi as their fame and success became known.

Much more can be found in the report. Below is a map of the main RM groups as of January this year. The situation has already changed, however, as the former Kifuafua now deny ever having been RM, the Bunyakiri group has increasingly split away from the Shabunda faction, and the northeastern Shabunda group is a big mess.

Published under Creative Commons licence held by the Rift Valley Institute

Was the Congolese army ordered to rape in Minova?

Maria Eriksson Baaz is Associate Professor at the Nordic Africa Institute and the School of Global Studies, Gothenburg University. Judith Verweijen is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Conflict Studies at Utrecht University and the Faculty of Military Sciences at the Netherlands Defense Academy.

A BBC reportage that aired this week asserts with conviction that the rapes committed last November by the Congolese army (FARDC) in Minova were ordered, claiming they have “uncovered evidence” for this. Yet, the basis of this “evidence” is rather thin. But that is just one problem with  this BBC reportage, which is a glaring example of irresponsible, sensationalist journalism that hampers, rather than facilitates, the efforts to tackle the problems of large-scale sexual violence and army indiscipline in the DRC.

So why is this piece of journalism problematic? Let us start with the nature of the “evidence” presented, which is based on the testimonies of a few soldiers (whom we can only assume were indeed those present in Minova).Their stories are neither cross-checked, nor put in context, or subjected to thorough analysis. Rather, the BBC reportage “reflects the ease with which media headlines turn ‘testimony’ into ‘confirmation’”, as observed earlier by Johan Pottier in relation to reports on cannibalism in the DRC. The reporting fails to recognize that all accounts and testimonies, regardless the story-teller, are also performances informed by various interests and assumptions.  Importantly, they are often shaped by what the storyteller believes the interviewer wants to hear. This general feature of story-telling is not in any way less prominent in conflict settings, on the contrary. As concluded by Danny Hoffman in relation to Liberia and Sierra Leone, following the growing role of media in war zones, visibility has become increasingly important for combatants, as “to be seen is known to be profitable and becomes an end in itself”. This often entails quenching the thirst for stories of brutal, savage African warriors, featuring outrageous atrocities.

We are not claiming that the soldiers in the BBC reportage are necessarily fabricating “untruths”or that one of them did not -  as he states -  rape 53 women.  These soldiers’ narratives, no matter how much induced by the camera (and perhaps the expected or real related fee), are one perspective, one possible truth among many, and they should be valued as such. But they do not allow for drawing conclusions spread in screaming headlines as authoritative, unquestionable truths (“DR Congo Soldiers ‘ordered to rape’ women”).

Moreover, the soldiers’ narratives appear somewhat contradictory to the analysis of the context made by a human rights researcher at the beginning of the reportage. The latter tells us that there was total disorder and chaos, as the withdrawing FARDC fell apart in bands of uncontrolled soldiers, looting and raping. This seems to indicate that the command chain had broken down.  Indeed, as concluded by The Guardian, “commanders had disappeared and the battalion and regiment structures had disintegrated”.

But then one soldier refers to “the colonel who ordered him to rape”. This evokes numerous questions. Most importantly, one can wonder how, in a situation of a breakdown of the command chain and on-going chaotic movement, an order given by what we presume is a regiment or battalion commander (given the rank of colonel) can be somehow passed down to a foot soldier (via company and platoon commanders, who can often only communicate via mobile phones that quickly run out of battery at the frontlines)?

We certainly do not claim that no orders were given; we simply do not know. It might not even be possible to uncover the “truth” in such complex situations as Minova in the first place, in light of the obvious difficulties with self-reporting and eye witness reports, as established by an important body of research (see also here and here).  However, we do think that any analysis of the events should take the nature of the FARDC into consideration. Most importantly, it must consider that what is called in military sociological terms “vertical cohesion”, or the bonding and trust between soldiers and their superiors, is extremely low in the FARDC. This reduces the overall capacity of commanders to control and motivate their troops, while lowering the threshold for the breakdown of discipline.

The reasons for low cohesion in the FARDC are many. One factor is the constant restructuring and breaking up of units, causing soldiers to frequently face new superiors.  In the span of only three years (2008-2011), we have seen the disbanding of the Integrated Brigades, the creation of the Kimia II/Amana Leo brigades and then regiments. However, none of this restructuring has been followed by extensive training. Yet, training is widely recognized as one of the most effective tools for fostering cohesion in armed forces, as highlighted recently once more by Anthony King;  it contributes to the socializing of troops into routinized command procedures, which fosters the standardized and predictable behaviour that is at the core of discipline. None of this is present in the FARDC, where command styles vary per commander and troops very seldom engage in any training, since they are deployed permanently at the frontlines.

Another reason for low cohesion is the distribution of command positions on the basis of political/patronage criteria instead of merit. The frustration engendered by placing troops under the command of officers and NCOs who are less experienced and less educated than their subordinates is profound. This also leads to subordination, since troops simply lack trust in commanders judged incompetent and may refuse to execute orders deemed life-endangering. A final factor are the bad service conditions in the FARDC and the enormous gap in income between superior officers and the rank-and-file.  This creates a strong resentment that is potentially explosive, especially when it gets mixed up with identity-based tensions, power struggles, and suspicions that superiors are in connivance with the enemy. 

The findings of our research, based on several years of fieldwork, indicate that due to this low cohesion (in combination with a number of other factors that undermine command and control) abuses in the FARDC are in many cases not explicitly ordered. Certainly, this does not apply across the board, since there are large variations per commander. Furthermore, what can be called “a permissive climate” (or the broad behavioural parameters of troops set by the commandment) plays an important role in all cases of abuse. In fact, it appears that commanders sometimes do not dare to intervene in case of misconduct, as they fear their troops might turn against them.

These findings do not in any sense imply that one embraces an apologetic position: the fact that no explicit orders are given does not diminish command responsibility for misconduct. However, it does indicate that punishing commanders and perpetrators is far from enough to improve the ways in which the FARDC acts on and off the battlefield.  When commanders’ grip over their subordinates is low, breakdowns in discipline might easily reoccur, especially in combat-related situations.

While we do not know whether orders in Minova were given or not, we do know that this incident has highlighted once more the dangers of the fragile cohesion and tenuous command and control in the FARDC. These are phenomena that cannot be solved with judicial action alone, but require prolonged periods of training, the re-establishment of meritocracy, the improvement of service conditions and an end to the on-going integration of rebel fighters.

Unfortunately, such important discussions get overshadowed by sensationalist media reporting such as this week’s BBC reportage. The latter is also questionable for interfering in on-going judicial investigations, since it establishes an interpretation of the events as “truth”, ahead of trial. Finally, it appears unethical in that it does not sufficiently protect the identity of the informants, as many of their personal details are revealed. In sum, this BBC reportage represents a true case of misguided journalism.  The money wasted on flying in the production crew could have certainly been of more use to the victims of the rape and looting in Minova.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Guest blog: Time for a Change in U.S. Congo policy

The following is a guest blog by Anthony Gambino, the former USAID director in the Congo, and Steve Weisman, the former staff director for the US House of Representative's Subcommittee on Africa.

The last weeks have seen a burst of Congo news: a strange, small attack by Mai-Mai in central Lubumbashi; the surrender and transfer to the International Criminal Court of indicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda; and Mary Robinson appointed as U.N. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes. These disparate events hint at some deeper truths about the Congo: its continuing instability; the hope for progress as Bosco, a major spoiler, leaves the scene; and the need for smarter international engagement to deal with the continuing challenges.

On this last point, it is time for the Obama administration to revise its failed Congo policy.
The heart of the failure is, oddly enough, that the Obama Administration during the President’s first term did not follow its own policy directives on democracy promotion. Despite considerable financial leverage (the U.S. alone provided $700 million for the DRC in 2012), the U.S and other donors have squandered chances to address the Government’s low political legitimacy and the predatory nature of the Congolese state.

Four Years of Missed Opportunities

The U.S. failed to provide crucial support for democratic elections and institutions.

After working hard, particularly diplomatically, to ensure the success of the 2006 national elections, the U.S. and the international community did not follow through. They did not lean on the Government when it removed dissenters from parliamentary positions and engaged in rampant legislative bribery. Then they drastically reduced their financial support for and political engagement with the 2011 elections. For example, in early 2011, the U.S. Government was silent when President Kabila, using bribery, rammed a constitutional change through parliament that eliminated a likely – and greatly feared by Kabila’s camp – run-off between President Joseph Kabila and the main opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi. The U.S. did not weigh in diplomatically against the pro-Government biases of the Election Commission or the Government’s packing of the Supreme Court with loyalists. It did not even press its own initiative for an independent review of the election results, once the Congolese Government objected. The U.S. has remained virtually silent in the face of the Government’s continual postponement of constitutionally mandated provincial and local elections.

The U.S. failed to hold the DRC accountable for its unwillingness to implement “good governance” in civil and military affairs.

The U.S. has not put pressure on the Government to implement constitutional provisions providing for government decentralization. Nor has it condemned the growth of parallel decision-making networks in the President’s Office that obviate constitutional and legal requirements. The U.S. has not pressed the Government to adopt and implement a real plan and budget for security sector reforms.

The environment of corruption has seriously undermined some U.S.-backed programs to improve governance. An October 2012 International Crisis Group report on the International Security and Stabilization Support Strategy in the eastern Congo criticizes “a lack of consultation, especially with the beneficiary populations, a prevalence of material construction over governance reform.” The U.N. recently reformulated this program to emphasize “democratic dialogue” between local civil society and provincial administrators, but its success will ultimately depend both on the Congolese Government and on donor willingness to insist on performance and results. U.S. and other international military training efforts have been hampered by weak Government logistical support and the Generals’ habits of levying “taxes” on their soldiers’ low wages.

The U.S. failed to work vigorously to curb violence in the volatile North and South Kivu Provinces of eastern Congo.

Two decades of serious provincial violence, stemming partly from local struggles over land and power, has been exacerbated by Rwanda’s military support for Congolese Tutsi-led groups.

The U.S. response has been extremely weak. It has not vigorously pressed MONUSCO to carry out its mandate to protect civilians. It successfully deleted an explicit reference to Rwanda in a U.N. Security Council Resolution concerning the current M-23 crisis. Only recently has the U.S. cautioned Rwanda’s leader, suspending a small military training program, and supported a U.N. Special Envoy and regional intervention force. 

An Alternative Policy

U.S. policies have focused on individuals and foundered on over-optimistic expectations concerning the “political will” of DRC President Joseph Kabila and his government. We recommend the following new priorities:

1. Promote greater democratization – in the broadest sense of the word – as the central thread of American policy
  • Press for the holding of long-delayed provincial elections in 2014, to be followed by local elections.
  • Publicly support reforms necessary to make the “Independent National Election Commission” truly independent, including a revamping of its leadership.
  • Begin steps for a parallel vote tabulation for the 2016 national elections.
  • Hold regular U.S. Embassy meetings with major opposition parties and civil society leaders to listen to their views.
  • Speak out publicly when the Congolese Government violates human rights.
  • Expand continuing in-country technical assistance in support of the democratic structuring of political parties and improved legislative effectiveness.
2. Promote improved civilian governance with the recognition that, pending increased democratization, any initiatives will encounter an unfavorable environment and require intense international supervision and financial support.

3. Promote improved military governance with the recognition that the unfavorable environment requires coordinated international supervision and financial support.

The root of the problem of “lack of political will” is the Government’s vested interest in its corrupt, patrimonial system of rule. A government more open to forces from below would be under greater pressure to utilize its democratic institutions and meet the demand for effective public services.
  • Press the DRC to implement legislation on decentralization.
  • Work with the IMF and World Bank to hold the Government to standards for budget transparency and levels of government expenditure for key sectors.
  • Support the restructured U.N. stabilization strategy for eastern Congo.
  • Build on the existing USAID program of aid to local civil society groups that have had some success in increasing provincial transparency and influencing budgets, and expand it to the national level. 
  • Press the Government to increase transparency in the mining sector based on U.S. laws and Congolese membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
  • Publicly call out the Government on major issues of corruption and look for opportunities to support anti-corruption initiatives.
  • Ensure that genuine community consultation informs all U.S.-assisted governance programs.
  • Press the Government to adopt a concrete plan and budget for security sector reform as emphasized by the U.S. and Congo NGO 2012 report, “Taking a Stand on Security Sector Reform.”
  • Consider, in the context of other international efforts, U.S. training assistance to select army units, particularly in the East, but only when a comprehensive Army reform program initiative is underway, using U.S. regular military as trainers to mentor and monitor human rights and other performance. 

4. Promote conflict resolution in the Kivus, including the withdrawal of Rwandan assistance to military factions
  • Work with the Government and representative local actors towards a fair process to dispose of land issues.
  • Support local conflict resolution programs.
  • Use diplomatic pressure, international aid leverage and economic sanctions to end Rwandan assistance to militarized factions. 

Finally, to make sure these policies are effective, the U.S. must measure progress towards each of the above objectives with meaningful quantitative and qualitative “benchmarks” for “significant progress”; and be prepared to adjust U.S. programs accordingly. Outside of humanitarian assistance, and support for democratic institution building, all other U.S. aid should be conditioned on performance.

It is time for the Obama Administration to abandon its failed policy towards the DRC and lead the international community in a more effective approach to that key country’s challenges.

How to understand local violence in the eastern Congo

For those interested in the debate surrounding peacekeeping and local violence––which Sévérine Autesserre launched several years ago––I just published this review in The Review of African Political Economy. The first fifty readers apparently get free access. Don't forget to check out the great articles by Judith Verweijen, Ann Laudati, and Theodore Trefon in the same issue.