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, July 20, 2013

Is the Congolese army getting better?

Fighting has cooled between the M23 and the Congolese army––after almost a week of fighting, the front line has been calmer now for the past three days. The Congolese army has been able to advance and retake some ground, and UN observers and journalists on the ground suggest that their performance has been better this time than during the November fighting, when Goma fell. (However, the reports that the UN is holding the army back appear to be bogus; Congolese officers told me the reason they hadn't gone on the offensive was Kinshasa hadn't given them the order.)

If the Congolese army is really performing better, then why?

"This time, the logistics are much better," a UN official who works closely with the army told me. "The salaries are being paid, the supplies are getting to the front line. They still overreact and waste too much ammo, but there are a much better fighting force." When I asked a senior Congolese intelligence officer, he confirmed this, saying that General Francois Olenga had been making an effort to make sure supply chains actually function.

Both sources agreed that the departure of dozens of senior officers to Kinshasa––where around 120 officers have been sitting around in hotels in January, ostensibly for training seminars, but in reality awaiting redeployment––helped, as well. "These officers had been embezzling funds and running parallel chains of command. Their departure has simplified the military hierarchy." The Congolese intelligence officer argued: "Some of these people had been in collaboration with our enemies. Getting them out of here helped."

In addition, the army is now giving more prominence to the commando battalions, the 321 and 322 trained by the Belgians (a third is currently being trained in Kindu), the 391 trained by the Americans, and one by the Chinese (on the northern front line in Tongo). During the operations last year, these battalions had been mismanaged by the military hierarchy, which dismantled them, sent them to areas where there was little to do, and "sabotaged them by sending them into battle without supplies or knowledge of the terrain," according to one Belgian trainer.

The retirement of 322 colonels and generals in a July 7 decree also simplified things, although none if any of these commanders were on the front lines.

Of course, the problems of the Congolese army are far from over. As argued here before, the real challenge of army reform lies in tackling the culture of patronage, racketeering and impunity that undermines military discipline and any sense of hierarchy in the armed forces.

Monday, July 15, 2013

From Mutaho to Kampala––What's next?

For weary observers of the M23-FARDC standoff, the cycle of events is becoming all too predictable. Every week, dozens of rumors are spread via SMS, the web, and word-of-mouth about cross-border infiltrations from Uganda and Rwanda––most of them false, but persistent enough for it appear to be an orchestrated campaign of misinformation. Some MONUSCO officers spend many of their waking hours just hunting down the latest canard, usually to come up with nothing.

Then the fighting: in past weeks, a variety of militia loosely allied to the Congolese government have launched attacks against the M23. Last week, a small bunch of APCLS Mai-Mai somehow made their way to the north of Goma to harass the M23; before that, it was the MPA and FDLR-Soki to the northeast of Rutshuru. And now it is the M23's turn again to strike against the FARDC, attacking Mutaho, a village overlooking Goma from the north.

The backdrop of this fighting is provided by the Kampala talks. Here, too, there are patterns: both parties deploy large delegations to the Ugandan capital, where they spend weeks at a time without meeting each other. The Congolese prevaricate between a refusal to negotiate, an ultimatum for the M23 to sign a proposed deal (several of these have come and gone), and more a more flexible stance.

What is the current status? On Monday, July 8 the Ugandan facilitator put a new deal on the table, following a revised proposal by the Kinshasa delegation. The facilitator's deal would provide for an amnesty for everything but violations of international law, the integration of M23 officers and political cadres, a concrete plan for refugee return, the creation of a National Reconciliation Mechanism, and the declaration of a state of disaster for the East. The follow-up would be largely provided by the ICGLR, but would be integrated into the Framework Agreement, thus allowing UN Special Envoy Mary Robinson and the various oversight mechanisms to weigh in.

This is more than the Congolese wanted––most notably, they didn't want to integrate M23 politicians, and suggested that national reconciliation be spearheaded by the National Oversight Committee for the Framework Agreement (comité de suivi). Moreover, they will probably shirk at declaring the East a disaster area, which would commit them to legal and financial obligations toward provinces in the East (although the government had done this in 2009).

But the deal is a much bitterer pill for the M23 to swallow. It would basically require them to disband their movement, accept the deployment of their officers anywhere in the country, and receive little in return. For some of their leaders, in particular Makenga and Kaina (as well as some of those in Bosco's wing, currently in Rwanda), the sentence "promulgate legislation granting amnesty...taking into account international law," will leave their personal future in suspense.

So will fighting continue? Will the M23 or the FARDC escalate? Anything is possible, but I would imagine the Congolese army would wait for the Intervention Brigade (FIB) to fully deploy, and for the army to carry out its ongoing restructuring before making a move––and that could take at least another month. The M23 would have a greater interest in escalation, perhaps in order to preempt the FIB from deploying or improving the deal on the table. But their problem continues to be a lack of troops. With only 1,500-2,500 troops, they have to protect an area 100km long and some 20-50km wide.

So taking Goma would leave a considerable vacuum along the Rwandan border, and would probably only be possible with backing from the Rwandan army––would this once again be forthcoming?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What will become of the national dialogue?

While international attention continues to focus on the M23––there have been persistent skirmishes to the north of Goma, a meeting between the government and the M23 in Kampala, and the death of the head of FDLR-Soki––the political opposition has been meeting in Kinshasa to decide on the way forward.

Since last Saturday, hundreds of opposition politicians have been hunkered down in the Limete neighborhood, trying to decide what to do about the national dialogue. Since the controversial 2011 elections, the opposition has been demanding such a dialogue, an initiative President Kabila seemed to endorse in his State of the Union address last December. The UN Security Council has also apparently thrown its weight behind the idea, asked the head of the peacekeeping mission to "promote inclusive and transparent political dialogue among all Congolese stakeholders with a view to furthering reconciliation and democratization" in Resolution 2098. 

But the various parties seem to have radically different visions of what this dialogue should be. In his decree of June 26, Kabila used the name Concertations nationales, and placed the heads of the national assembly and senate at the head of the "presidium," which will coordinate the meeting, control the funds, and––to the outrage of the opposition––unilaterally adopt the meeting's by-laws. Discussions will take place in the assembly, which will include hundreds of people from all political parties, customary chiefs, civil society, courts and public administration, experts, and "historical figures." It's hard to see how they will come to an agreement on anything, especially as the whole thing is only supposed to last for twenty days. And there is nothing to guarantee the implementation of these conclusions: President Kabila is simply required to report the conclusions to the Congolese people, after which he is apparently free to ignore them.

The opposition has, not surprisingly, called foul, and is pushing for a change to this decree to make the discussions more balanced and their conclusions more binding. We will have to wait for the end of the Limete conclave to know more, but the opposition is also becoming a victim of its own internal divisions. The two biggest opposition parties––the MLC and the UDPS––are not officially attending the conclave, although some UDPS members are present. The UDPS continues to suffer from the split created when a majority of its election parliamentarians refused to obey Etienne Tshisekedi's order not to take up their positions in the national assembly. Accusations are now piling up that Samy Badibanga, the leader of one of the UDPS factions in the national assembly, is growing too close to Kabila.

Things are hardly better within the MLC. Jean-Pierre Bemba continues to manage the party from his jail cell in The Hague––he made the decision not to attend the conclave, suspicious that the concertations would be a means for Kabila to co-opt the opposition through a government of national unity, and perhaps even to change to constitution to allow Kabila to stay in power past 2016. This remote-control-management has allowed relations to sour among the party's remaining leaders––Jean-Lucien Bussa and Thomas Luhaka have fallen out over how the party should be managed, most recently over who the MLC should send to the national election commission. Bemba reportedly believes that a verdict in his ICC case will be forthcoming this year, and that he could be let off with time served, despite the long list of MLC-defectors who have testified against him.

Meanwhile, the new head of the UN peacekeeping mission, Martin Kobler, has not yet arrived. When he does arrive in Kinshasa, he will have the unenviable task of trying to make sure the concertations do not turn into a farce. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Promotions in Congolese army, precursors to military reform?

Back to blogging after a two month long hiatus. I will be catching up on some of the M23, national dialogue, and third term debates soon.

Yesterday, the Congolese media published a list of new promotions in the Congolese army, including 106 new generals. This includes three ex-CNDP commanders: Esaie Munyakazi, Innocent Gahizi and Innocent Kabundi, but also a whole slew of former Mai-Mai and Hutu Local Defence commanders (Alunda, Nakabaka, Kasikila, Mayanga, and Rugayi).

In any case, the promotions are not the real story, although they do provide some solace to officers who were worrying about their future. In the Congo, very little money depends on your ranks––a Lieutenant-General earns a monthly salary of around $130, just about $60 more than the rank-and-file soldier. The money comes with the position, which bring with it official supplements (prime de commandement, fond secret de renseignement, etc.) as well as opportunities for all kind of illegal rackets. So the real news will come when the new army structure is announced and new positions are doled out, which according to some of those promoted may come later this week.

What is this new structure? According to the official plan, the county will be split into three Zones de Défense, based in Kisangani, Lubumbashi, and Kinshasa. Each zone will have three rapid reaction brigades, two defense brigades, and a share of the 20 regiments (to be reconstituted out of the current 32). As the current military regions will remain, this means that a new layer of military bureaucracy will be created, creating hundreds of new positions for officers.

Will these new structures be successful? Hard to say––the army reform plan deals mostly with form, not with substance. It creates new structures, calls for new equipment and more training. But it does not provide remedies for the root problems of the army: parallel chains of command, rampant racketeering and embezzlement, and impunity.

These new structures will, however, allow the government to deploy some of the ex-Mai-Mai and ex-CDNP officers who have been involved in local militia politics, smuggling, and profiteering in the Kivus in recent years. But will the new commanders be better?