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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

With deadline fast approaching, politics and logistics get in the way of operations against the FDLR

Congolese Minister of Information Lambert Mende, on a visit to FDLR combatants in Kanyabayonga with Deputy SRSG for MONUSCO Abdallah Wafi/Courtesy of Radio Okapi
It has been exactly one year since Martin Kobler, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo, tweeted: ""The number one priority for MONUSCO is now the FDLR." It has now been nine months since a regional organization, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, called for a military offensive against the FDLR. As previously noted here, the UN and foreign diplomats had seen the attack on the FDLR as part of the grand bargain aimed at bringing an end to the regional dimension of war in the country: First get rid of the M23, then deal with the FDLR. 

To date, no real operations against the FDLR have taken place. Why the delay?

On 2 July 2014, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and ICGLR decided to give the FDLR six months to voluntarily disarm. The FDLR sent some 200 soldiers and an equal number of dependents to a military camp in Kisangani as a gesture of goodwill, although many of those soldiers were not fit to fight anyway. That goodwill has now in theory come to an end––and yet, with the 2 January 2015 looming, it is likely that we will see little immediate concerted action against the group.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is political. Relations between countries in the region have soured in recent years, and Tanzania and South Africa––the two largest contributors to the UN's new Force Intervention Brigade (FIB)––are eager to use play the FDLR card against Rwanda. For South Africa, the resentment stems from the repeated assassination attempts against Rwandan opposition members on South African soil, including during the middle of the World Cup in 2010. Pretoria is also keen on securing access to hydroelectric power in the Congo through the construction of various parts of the Inga dam. Just in the past weeks, a blackout in Durban, President Jacob Zuma's home base, has cost their economy millions.

Tanzania's involvement is less straightforward. According to several Tanzanian officials, the animosity boils down to a personal dispute between Presidents Paul Kagame and Jakaya Kikwete. On 26 May 2013, Kikwete suggested in a speech at the African Union that Rwanda negotiate with its enemies, just as other countries in the region had done. This then unleashed a torrent of criticism from Kigali, ranging from a dismissive Kagame calling Kikwete's comments "utter nonsense" and "dancing on the graves of our people," to the simply obscene caricatures published on pro-government websites in Rwanda. There have also been suggestions, stemming from a WikiLeaks cable, that Kikwete's wife Salma is a cousin of former Rwandan President Habyarimana (a claim that many Tanzanians say is nonsense).

President Kikwete, carrying FDLR on his back/The Exposer, 22 July 2014
In return, Tanzanian officials have reportedly retorted that Kagame "will be whipped like a small boy" and have referred to the FDLR as freedom fighters. In recent meetings with Tanzanian officials, foreign diplomats report that the former have referred to all FDLR as refugees and depict the conflict in ethnic terms as Tutsi against Hutu. According to those same sources, the Tanzanian government is reluctant to authorize their troops to launch operations against the FDLR. A UN official, speaking under the condition of anonymity, suggested this was one of the reasons that the Tanzanians were being deployed against the ADF in North Kivu and not against the FDLR. (Not all Tanzanian officials, however, toe this line, and others insist that their troops will carry out UN orders regardless).

The other reason that military operations against the Rwandan rebels may be delayed is due logistical constraints. The UN has recently moved the HQ of its Force Intervention Brigade to Beni to counter attacks by the ADF rebellion, which––along with other, nebulous actors––may have killed up to 250 people since October. This means that its main fighting force has been tied down. While the entire peacekeeping force is supposed to participate in operations against armed groups, other contingents have been reticent to take risky, offensive action––as the Crisis Group documents in a new report released today. 

Nonetheless, UN officials say that they have been planning joint military operations against the FDLR with their Congolese counterparts for the past several weeks, and that they will try to launch operations following the January deadline. The FDLR, for their part, have told their contacts in the UN that they are planning to announce another goodwill gesture in order to stave off an attack. 

We will see in two-and-a-half weeks.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Fact-checking Kabila's State of the Union Address

Courtesy RTNC

This morning, Joseph Kabila delivered his annual state of the union address. Dressed in a black tie and suit––perhaps a sign of respect for the recent victims of massacres in the eastern Congo––Kabila's speech lasted for an hour and twenty minutes, in front of both houses of parliament, most accredited ambassadors, and most governors and ministers.

The highlights were well covered in the media, but defy simple sound bites: He will ask the United Nations peacekeeping mission to scale down, but says the country still needs them to deal with armed groups; and he pledged to uphold Congolese laws and hold elections, but didn't say anything about his own personal future or the timetable of the polls. The biggest applause––and the most quotable moments of the evening––came when he castigated foreign interference in the Congo. The two quotes here are:
Provided that it done in respect of our constitution, we are always willing to receive advise, opinions, and suggestions from our partners, but never orders.
We can ask ourselves about the legitimacy of certain compatriots to systematically call foreigners to settle the differences among Congolese, as if we didn't collectively have enough wisdom and maturity to do it ourselves.
But what about the rest of the 80 minutes of speech? We shouldn't fast-forward over them so quickly, as there were important, but also misleading moments. We fact-checked the main statements in the speech:

The political scene

  • The country has just seen the formation of a new government that represents most of "our political currents and social forces." SORT OF: Yes, the government includes a large majority of political parties represented in parliament, including the UFC, MLC, and a dissident UDPS member. But we don't know what a majority of Congolese themselves think of this government, and the Catholic church, civil society groups, and important opposition parties have been very critical;
  • Most of the recommendations of the concertations nationales are being carried out. IF MOST IS N/2+1, THEN PROBABLY NOT. The concertations produced hundreds of recommendations, including some that are being carried out, albeit slowly (e.g.: a census, holding local elections before national ones, get rid of foreign and national armed groups) but many others that are not (e.g.: a truth and reconciliation commission, universal health care, liberalize the insurance market, obligatory military service, electoral reforms to promote inclusion of women);
  • There is no political crisis in the Congo. YES, BUT DEPENDS ON WHO YOU ASK. A political scientist would probably back Kabila up, as national institutions are carrying out business as usual, albeit amidst much brouhaha. Opposition members or inhabitants of Beni would probably disagree.
  • More needs to be done to ensure gender parity in government. YES, BUT...President Kabila himself just presided over the formation of a new government with only 15% women, and none of his main advisers (except for his mother and sister) are women. Parliament is even worse, with less than 10% women, and every time the possibility of laws to enforce gender parity (which is required by the constitution) comes up, the political elite punts.
Administration and justice
  • The government has suppressed taxes along waterways and plans on doing so elsewhere. CORRECT. The government did ban 38 illegal taxes along lakes and rivers in July. Which raises the question why national agencies––including some that have no mandate to tax, like the army and police––were collecting these taxes in the first place;
  • The government will urgently accelerate the regrouping of far-flung villages so as to better provide services. WOW, REALLY? Villagization was never a great success in Ethiopia, Tanzania and, more recently, in Rwanda. And villagers might be interested in what services the government wants to provide them.
  • I exhort judges to live up to the creed of their profession and to pursue justice. This is obvious neither true nor false, but is stark contrast to his speech last year in which he said he would end impunity for racketeering and corruption. Here he just asks judges to be better, while omitting the public and military prosecutors that he can influence;  
  • We have set up a national program in support of micro finance, which will soon be present across the country. TRUE. The program exists, although it's not clear what they have done;
  • Mining has grown exponentially––copper production has increased from 7,200 tons in 2001 to 922,000 tons this year, cobalt from 1,200 tons to 76,000 tons, and gold from 12kg to 6,000 kg. TRUE. Of course, these figures are driven by the private sector, and Kabila probably can't claim all the credit, especially since his government has also overseen the fraudulent fire sale of at least $1,4 billion in mining assets;
  • The government's revenues from the mining sector are still small, but will increase once mining companies begin to declare profits. ABSOLUTELY. Yes, and this is important, as this will buoy state revenues considerably. 
  • We are investing in agriculture, including in an agro-industrial park in Bandundu, a fertilizer factory in Bas-Congo, and in rural service roads. MORE OR LESS. The park exists and the fertilizer factory is indeed supposed to open next year––their capacity and importance are still unclear. I am pretty sure that the rural service roads mentioned here were built mostly by donor money;
  • I grant particular attention to building Grand Inga and Zongo II dams, and repair the Inga I &II, Ruzizi, Tshopo, Nseke and Nzilo dams. WORDS MATTER. "Grant particular attention" does not really say much. Grand Inga is likely to take several decades to build, and little progress has been made in recent years, although Congo did recently sign a deal with South Africa. Inga I & II, Nseke and Nzilo have indeed, been repaired; I could not verify the other two; 
  • The airports of Kisangani, Kinshasa, Goma, and Lubumbashi are in middle of modernization. YES. They have begun work on all these airport. But they are far from finished. And, as for much of what he said about infrastructures, some of these are donor-funded;
  • We have bought 38 new locomotives for our train network, 20 from our own resources, and 21 will arrive in April 2015. SEEMS TO BE TRUE. See here and here;
  • Starting next year, we will have a national airline again. YES. This will be a partnership with Air France and KLM and will replace the LAC airline, which went bankrupt ten years ago;
Health and education
  • We have opened the Hôpital du Cinquantenaire, the Clinique Universitaire de Kisangani, and 44 health centers. TRUE, I THINK. The Hôpital de Cinquantenaire opened in March after years of delays and controversies over funding (it cost $100 million). A caveat for the local health centers: there haven't been any audits for quality, to my knowledge;
  • Our education budget has gone from 3% to 16% of the total budget in recent years, and we have built 500 of the scheduled 1,000 schools. YES. However, again, it is difficult to verify the number and quality of schools. And the proposed budget mentioned here is important, but one really has to look at what was really spent, which may be another issue;
  • The war is over. The main security risks that remain are foreign armed groups. NOT SO FAST. Yes, the M23 was defeated last year, and that was a big success. But conflict has escalated in Katanga and around Beni since then. Around 2,6 million people are displaced, a million more than at the end of the official peace process in 2006. And the importance of the ADF and FDLR should not make us lose sight of Congolese armed groups, who are far more numerous in terms of troops, and often just as deadly;

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Much-awaited government shuffle brings in opposition parties, bolsters Kabila's grasp on power

This post has been updated since it was initially published.

Over thirteen months after President Joseph Kabila said there would be a government of national cohesion, it's finally here. Announced close to midnight local time on national television, the government brings in part of the opposition, empowers the heads of political parties, and is aimed at bolstering Kabila's position ahead of his end-of-term wrangles and the upcoming electoral battles.

The government will still be heading by Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, but if his first government was intended to champion technocracy, this one intends to keep an unruly political coalition intact. During Matata's first government, heads of political parties were largely banned from cabinet positions and were instead forced to send mostly competent delegates to occupy important ministries. Some were relative political neophytes––both deputy prime ministers came out of the shadows and were considered to be technocrats, and even Matata himself always seemed more comfortable arguing technicalities than in political networking. Several of the ministers were former university colleagues of Matata and there was a high degree of trust among a core of them. 

This government is different. Almost all of the leaders of the ruling coalition are present––Boshab (PPRD), Bahati (AFDC), Kamitatu (ARC), Mboso Nkodia (PSDC), Serufuli (UCP), Mende (CCU), Tshibanda (ULDC), as well as several others. This was most likely an effort to strengthen this coalition––which has always been unruly––ahead of the upcoming battles over the electoral calendar, the census, and possibly a constitutional revision, all of which are linked to speculation over Kabila's future when his last term expires in 2016. In other words, if Kabila wants to either change the constitution––an option that he has retreated from in recent months––or just delay the next elections, he will need political capital. This new government provides him with that––not dissimilar from the recent shuffle in the army, which created a legion of new positions to keep the senior officer corps happy.

At the same time, by placing political bigwigs in the cabinet, it will be harder for Matata to have his way. Not to say that he had been having an easy time, in any case––after a first year of some successes, the past year has seen stalled reforms and, according to foreign diplomats, an increase in corruption. "What else can you expect," one quipped recently, "if you tell ministers that they have to go, and then give them an entire year to fill their pockets on the way out?"

The highlights of the shuffle:
1. The opposition enters: After all, this was supposed to be a "government of national cohesion," bring together the opposition and ruling coalition. The two main parties that entered were the MLC of Jean-Pierre Bemba and the UFC of Kengo wa Dondo: Thomas Luhaka (MLC) becomes Deputy Prime Minister for Post and Telecommunications, while Michel Bongongo (UFC) becomes State Minister for Budget. The MLC and UFC also obtain two smaller positions: the minister of industry and the vice-minister of international cooperation.
The MLC has the second-largest number of opposition seats in the national assembly (21), and while UFC has a paltry 4 seats, Kengo, the head of the senate, has played an oversized role in recent political events.
While other members of the opposition have entered––Daniel Madimba Kalonji of the UDPS and Jean Nengbangba Tshingbanga of RCD-K/ML––the first is member of a dissident faction of his party, and the latter's party has also split. It will also be interesting to see whether Thomas Luhaka, the secretary-general of the MLC who is now deputy prime minister, will receive the blessing of Jean-Pierre Bemba.
2. Political stalwarts bolstered: Almost all of the important ministries are now staffed by recognizable names, Congolese political heavyweights. This includes: 
  • Evariste Boshab (Deputy PM and Interior Minister, head of PPRD): Once Kabila's chief-of-staff and head of the national assembly from 2009-2012, he was also the biggest proponent of changing the constitution to give Kabila a third term;
  • Willy Makiashi (Deputy PM and Labor Minister, deputy head of PALU): Is now the secretary-general of one of Kabila's biggest electoral allies, the PALU party, which commands huge support in Bandundu province thanks to its patriarch, Antoine Gizenga;
  • Olivier Kamitatu (Minister of Planning, head of ARC): Always popular in diplomatic circles, he defected from Bemba's MLC in 2006. He held the same ministry from 2007-2012;
  • Eugène Serufuli (Minister of Rural Development, head of UPC): While this is not a top ministry, Serufuli's appearance in cabinet is important for North Kivu––he was governor there between 2000-2006 and via proxies was linked to much militia mobilization there within the Hutu community;
  • Emile Ngoy Mukena (Minister of Defense): The naming of this former Katangan governor means that the ministry of defense will have been in the hands of someone from northern Katanga since 2007;
Of course, other stalwarts have been kept on, such as Lambert Mende, Modeste Bahati, and Raymond Tshibanda.  
Interestingly, the natural resource portfolios that are so crucial to the regime have stayed in the hands of their previous, extremely loyal ministers: Crispin Atama (Oil), and Martin Kabwelulu (Mining). 
Finally, it is noteworthy to see that two critics of constitutional revision have been brought into government: Olivier Kamitatu and Bolengetenge Balela. The latter was the delegate chosen by the MSR party to voice its criticism about how the debate over constitutional reform had home about. Their presence in government seems to confirm suggestions that the president is backing away from a constitutional revision, at least for now. 
3.  Geographic, political, and gender distribution: This may appear trivial to outsiders, but geographic representation can easily become a lightning rod for critics. While I haven't been able to figure out where all the ministers are from, this is a first cut (omitting vice-ministers):
Bas-Congo (1); Bandundu (6); Equateur (4); Kasai-Oriental (3); Kasai-Occidental (2); Province Orientale (3); Maniema (4); North Kivu (3); South Kivu (3); Katanga (9).
Even if I'm still missing some names, it seems like Katanga is dramatically over-represented, while Bas-Congo has drawn the short straw.  Kabila has been having difficulty dealing with insurgents in his home base, so this may be a way of catering to those challenges. 
In addition, of the 38 prime ministers, deputy PMs, and ministers (not counting vice ministers), there are only 3 women.  
In terms of political parties, PPRD took the lion's share, with only four other parties––MSR, PALU, UFC, and MLC––controlling more than one seat: PPRD (10), MLC (3), PALU (2), MSR (2), UFC (2), ULDC (1), PA (1), CCU (1), ARC (1), PDC (1), UNADEF (1), MSC (1), UDCO (1), ADR (1), ECT (1), RDC-K/ML (1), PR (1), UDPS (1), UNAFEC (1), UCP (1). (Some party affiliations are still missing)

- Premier ministre: M. Augustin Matata Ponyo (Maniema, PPRD)

- Vice-Premier ministre, ministre de l’Intérieur et Sécurité : M. Evariste Boshab Mabudj (Kasai-Occidental, PPRD) 
- Vice-Premier ministre, ministre des PT-NTIC : M. Thomas Luhaka Losenjola (Kinshasa/Maniema, MLC)
- Vice-Premier ministre, ministre de l’Emploi, Travail : M. Willy Makiashi (Bandundu, PALU)

- Ministre d’Etat, ministre du Budget : M. Michel Bongongo (Equateur, UFC)
- Ministre d’Etat,  Décentralisation et Affaires coutumières : M. Salomon Banamuhere (North Kivu, PPRD)

- Affaires étrangères et Coopération internationale : M. Raymond Tshibanda (Kasai-Oriental, ULDC)
- Défense nationale, Anciens combattants et Réinsertion : M. Aimé Ngoy Mukena (Katanga, PPRD)
- Justice, Garde des sceaux et Droits humains : M. Alexis Thambwe Mwamba (Maniema, Independent)
- Portefeuille : Mme Louise Munga Mesozi (South Kivu, PPRD)
- Relation avec le Parlement : M. Tryphon Kin-Kiey Mulumba (Bandundu, PA)
- Communication et Médias : M. Lambert Mende Omalanga (Kasai-Oriental, CCU)
- Enseignement primaire, secondaire : M. Maker Mwangu Famba (Kasai-Occidental, PPRD)
- Plan et Révolution de la Modernité : M. Olivier Kamitatu (Bandundu, ARC)
- Fonction publique : M. Jean-Claude Kibala (South Kivu, MSR)
- Infrastructures et Travaux publics : M. Fridolin Kasweshi (Katanga, PPRD)
- Finances : M. Henry Yav Mulang (Katanga)
- Economie Nationale : M. Modeste Bahati Lukwebo (South Kivu, AFDC)
- Environnement et développement durable : M. Bienvenu Liyota Ndjoli (Kinshasa/Equateur, PDC)
- Commerce : Mme Kudianga Bayokisa (Bas-Congo)
- Industrie : M. Germain Kambinga (Kinshasa/Bandundu, MLC)
- Agriculture, Pêche et Elevage : M. Kabwe Mwewu (Katanga, UNADEF)
- Affaires foncières : M. Bolengetenge Balela (Province Orientale, MSR)
- Mines : M. Martin Kabwelulu (Katanga, PALU)
- Hydrocarbures : M. Crispin Atama Thabe (Province Orientale, PPRD)
- Energie et Ressources hydrauliques : M. Jeannot Matadi Nenga Ngamanda (Kinshasa/Bandundu, MSC)
- Culture et Arts : Banza Mukalay Nsungu (Katanga, UDCO)
- Tourisme : Elvis Mutiri wa Bashala (North Kivu, ADR)
- Santé publique : M. Félix Kabange Numbi (Katanga, ECT)
- Enseignement supérieur et universitaire : M. Théophile Mbemba Fundu (Bandundu, PPRD)
- Enseignement technique et professionnel : M. Jean Nengbangba Tshibanga (Province Orientale, RCD-K/ML)
- Aménagement du territoire, Urbanisme et Habitat : M. Omer Egbake (Equateur, MLC)
- Transports et voies de communication : M. Justin Kalumba Mwana Ngongo (Maniema, PR)
- Recherche scientifique et Technologie : M. Daniel Madimba Kalonji (Kasai-Oriental, UDPS)
- Genre, Famille et Enfant : Mme Bijou Kat (Katanga, UNAFEC)
- Petites et Moyennes entreprises et classe moyenne : M. Boongo Nkoy (Equateur, PPRD)
- Développement rural : M. Eugène Serufuli (North Kivu, UCP)
- Jeunesse, Sports et loisirs : M. Sama Lukonde Kyenge (Katanga)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A controversial census with a hefty price tag

Records from the 1984 census, courtesy Prof Grégoire Kankwanda
In the wake of the Blaise Compaoré's precipitous fall from power, foreign diplomats in Kinshasa report that President Joseph Kabila told his staff to put a lid on campaigning for changing the constitution. After all, it was a very similar campaign that proved Compaoré's undoing. The unrest in Burkina was only the final straw: Kabila has been facing substantial pushback from the Catholic church, foreign diplomats, and even members of his own ruling coalition on this matter.

But, even if true, this does not mean that Joseph Kabila has committed himself to stepping down in 2016. Many commentators––see Gérard Gerold here, or Vital Kamerhe here––think that Kabila might chose to sidestep controversy and simply delay the holding of presidential elections.

One way of doing this is by creating a complicated electoral process that places the presidential election after a series of other, time-consuming steps. One such step are local elections, which are currently scheduled for next year, but which could easily take until 2017 to complete. A number of laws have yet to be passed, the borders of electoral districts need to be drawn, and courts need to be set to adjudicate electoral disputes. Not to mention the revision of the voting roll, training of election officials, and distribution of equipment and materials––all of which requires money that is currently not available. As the Congolese election watchdog AETA argues, (see also good analyses by Christoph Rigaud, Kris Berwouts, and Manya Riche) local elections could easily delay presidential elections past their constitutional deadline.

Then there is the census. It should be a no-brainer: the country has not had a census since 1984. How are we supposed to know how to properly distribute polling stations and offices without this kind of basic information, let alone how to plan for development and infrastructure projects? Good points, except that initially the technical experts in the census bureau suggested that it could take up to 3 years (some say even 5) to complete the tally––this was what the national coordinator of the census office Dénis Nzita told the national assembly in 2012, and that is what Professor Grégoire Kankwanda suggested in his presentation for the Institute of National Statistics in 2010. If the census is supposed to take place before  presidential elections, as the electoral calendar suggests, that would again push those polls back by several years.

Not so, Adolphe Lumanu, the new head of the census bureau––it is officially called the Office national pour l'identification de la population (ONIP)––argued in a presentation he gave yesterday. In a long speech, he said that, based on past registration exercises, they would only need a year to complete the work. However, the price tag is considerably higher than expected. Instead of the $143 million budgeted by Nzita and the $178 million suggested by Kankwanda, Lumanu provides a budget of $500 million. That figure should raise eyebrows, as it is two-and-a-half times as much as the original budget. Kenya, a country with roughly 2/3 of Congo's population, carried out a census in 2009 for around $100 million; Nigeria, a country with almost twice Congo's population, carried out a census in 2006 that cost around $290 million. Of course, the Congo presents some extreme logistical challenges, but $500 million beggars belief.

Also, Lumanu's speech references the Chinese company Huawei as the main partner in carrying out the job, with financing from China EximBank (a governmental lending body). However, according to two sources with intimate knowledge of the contract, EximBank has been reluctant to fund the project and Huawei appears to be out of the running. The Congolese government is not a good borrower––at the moment, it is dragging its feet even on repaying internal debts and paying its bills to Congolese companies. According to one source, several other companies, including one belonging to a prominent South African businessman, are seeking to replace Huawei. The question, however, remains: Who would lend the Congolese government $500 million (or even considerably less) and what would count as collateral?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Albert Moleka on democracy in the Congo, Etienne Tshisekedi, and the state of the UDPS

Albert Moleka
Albert Moleka is a leading official in the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). Between  October 2008 and May 2014, he was first the assistant and spokesman, and later chief of staff and spokesman for Etienne Tshisekedi, the UDPS president. This transcript has been slightly shortened and translated from the original.

Mr. Moleka, the opposition is still worried over the possibility of revising the constitution to allow President Kabila to run for a third term. However, since the events in Burkina Faso it seems that supporters of a revision have taken a step back. How do you interpret this?

There is one thing that people forget: Just after the elections [of 2011], the secretary general of Mr Kabila's main political party [Evariste Boshab] went to Lubumbashi in Katanga and asked the party representatives of PPRD/Katanga to support Kabila for a third term. That was already in March 2012. And during that time, the Catholic Church had also given its position: that after two terms in power, there was no question of changing Article 220 [which limits the number of presidential terms].
"I think with regard to the constitutional revision, they have retreated and are now opting for a strategy of delaying."
So after the 2011 elections, the Kabila camp was already thinking about changing the constitution.In addition, the real purpose of the Concerations nationales was to broaden the parliamentary base for Kabila to be able to change the constitution. At the end of this meeting, when you hear the rhetoric of the opposition that took part, for example Kengo wa Dondo's UFC, you understood that they were not opposed to working for a revision of the constitution since they explicitly agreed to participate in the creation of a new majority-run government.

Currently, we have seen that the vigilance of the Catholic Church in particular made sure that this debate over the constitution has very quickly not only become one of the entire political class, but also a national and popular debate. The Kabila camp approached this debate in clumsy fashion: statements by the collaborators and supporters of Kabila, whether it was the secretary general of the PPRD (Evariste Boshab) or the President of the current National Assembly (Aubin Minaku) clearly gave the impression that they were willing to use force to push through a revision. I also believe that the appointment of a special envoy of the US government and especially the choice of Feingold has greatly helped the Congolese in the sense that Feingold speaks like a US senator, not a diplomat––in other words, he gets straight to the point.

The events in Burkina Faso have certainly also had an impact, because the international community there gave direct support to the popular position. Not forgetting, of course, that the Congolese opposition and the Catholic Church have also remained firm in their positions.

In addition, the government's famous meeting in Kingakati, where the MSR [major political party member of the presidential majority who requested an open debate on constitutional revision] openly criticized a constitutional revision, revealed cracks and dissent. This is a first. It is also known that some influential leaders in the Kabila camp, including a significant financier of its various parties, have already given firm instructions to their protégés in the presidential majority to refrain from supporting a any revision of the Constitution or otherwise run the risk of not being able to count on them for "school fees or their wives health problems in Europe, etc."

Does all this mean that the presidential camp will no longer push for a constitutional revision but will instead adopt a strategy of delaying the electoral calendar?

Yes, that is my analysis for the moment, at least. I think eventually they realized that this issue can cause popular protests. As the provinces that are the most opposed to it are Katanga and the Kivus, which some have always claimed to be Kabila's electoral strongholds, I think with regard to the constitutional revision, they have retreated and are now opting for a strategy of delaying.

The senate and the provincial assemblies have already taken advantage of delays are have gained an additional two years to their terms, so some parliamentarians now say to each other: why do we not take advantage of delays, too? Many of them know that they will not be re-elected. So the Kabila camp relies on these elected officials in their strategy of delaying. Some political leaders also see in it a source of funding for electoral contests to come.

Then you must define the local electoral districts based on groupements. Currently, their number is not yet known. There will be more than 5000. Each groupement should have its administrative court to deal with cases of electoral disputes, so you will need to build the infrastructure (buildings, roads etc …), assign judges and magistrates, and allocate wages and operating costs. There is also the issue of the census, which was also a prerequisite for the 2006 elections. Today we have established the National Office for the Identification of the Population (ONIP) for the census. The contract was given to China's Huawei, which is now looking for funds ($500 million), as the government has no money.

So we can tell that technically it is impossible [to do all this before the 2016 elections].

What attitude should international partners adopt in relation to this strategy of delays, if it exists? If they do not fund the elections, the government could try to finance without international support, which could undermine the process even more?

This is a very sensitive issue. In the Kabila camp, they tell each other: if the international community does not provide funding, it gives us one more reason to say: Voilà, we don't have enough money for the elections.
"It will be very difficult, in any case, to organize credible elections with Malu Malu, because he is too attached to Kabila."
I think the position of the international community is very clear: if we do not publish a comprehensive electoral calendar, there will be no release of funds, no money.

It will be very difficult, in any case, to organize credible elections with Malu Malu, because he is too attached to Kabila. What is important, I think, is that the international community remain consistent in its approach. Technically, the control of the national processing center must be transparent. I think we have seen in the various reports of election observers that the real problems arose at the compilation centers, which was compounded by the opacity of the national processing center, where access by both observers and political parties was firmly rejected by the CENI. If we eliminate the compilation centers and set up the necessary safeguards in the national processing center, then we can hope to see elections with credible results.

The rapporteur of the CENI, who was elected on a UDPS list to parliament, has been relieved by Malu Malu of the supervision of the national processing center, which according to the bylaws of the CENI he is supposed to oversee. This center has come under the supervision of the executive secretariat, headed by Fabien Musoni, whose proximity has Malu Malu is well established.

Let's change the subject to return to what is happening inside the UDPS. There was a recent statement signed by many UDPS officials denouncing the poor management of some leaders, including the Secretary General Bruno Mavungu and the son of the president of the UDPS, Félix Tshisekedi.

Etienne Tshisekedi fell ill on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. As his chief of staff, when I saw him the next day, I took the decision to suspend all appointments indefinitely because he was very weak. On Thursday, March 13 he called me. I saw he was still very weak. He gave me six names, three from outside the country--Félix Tshilombo Tshisekedi; Claude Kiringa, the representative in Canada; Willy Vangu, the representative of South Africa––and three inside the country: Valentin Mubake, Roger Kakonge, and myself, specifying that I remain his chief of staff and spokesman. He said this is the party's political leadership. He did not specify who would fulfill which position within this leadership.
"Since [13 March 2014], the senior cadres of the UDPS haven't seen Etienne Tshisekedi."
Our work session was interrupted by an incident that I would qualify as a family matter. Since that day, the senior cadres of the UDPS haven't seen Etienne Tshisekedi.

I think that all UDPS activists long for one thing: to see Etienne Tshisekedi in the flesh speaking freely about the progress of the party and the country. He is our elected President of the Republic, and we must understand that this fuels frustrations that are expressed in various ways. After all, UDPS says it is a champion of democracy and, as such, shouldn't it apply the principle of freedom of protest and expression to itself?

Is he communicating with you and other party officials?

No, I am not in communication with him. He has been [in Belgium] since August 16 and has not had the opportunity to meet his own representative for Benelux countries or his committee members. His health does not allow it, it seems.

How do you think the party can get out of this crisis? I saw the recent declaration by party members was based on real frustrations; I also see that not all the leaders of the UDPS federations signed the declaration, so there is a real division in the party.

We must first be willing to get out of this crisis. If there is the will to overcome the crisis and prevent the breakup of the UDPS, we must start from two facts: that the president had a vision, that is, there should be a new political leadership––but some of his relatives do not agree on that. This makes it difficult to apply the will of the president.

Second, we must see what has worked relatively well for the UDPS in recent years. In 2011 we saw an executive team capable of mobilizing the basic structures. We should go back to this approach so as not to waste time. There are national issues, issues on which the voice of the UDPS is not being heard.

Do you think the government could try to exacerbate the divisions within the UDPS by trying to co-opt a faction of the party and bringing it into a government of national cohesion?

It is true that Kabila tries to cast a wide net and possibly attract a person whose proximity to Etienne Tshisekedi cannot be doubted. Now, as the formation of this government [of national cohesion] drags on, it makes it more difficult for anyone from the UDPS to enter the government. Then again, if the famous "dialogue" that some are begging for results in the establishment of a government, I fear that there may be some takers even from within Etienne Tshisekedi's broader entourage.

What will be the reaction of your popular base if the UDPS enters into a government led by Joseph Kabila?

The party will be dislocated from its popular base, that's for sure.

Will Etienne Tshisekedi not return as the acting party president?

He is a man with whom I worked for six years, including for three years at a distance of 7,000 kilometers. I think people need to remember that in 2010 before returning home, he had given an interview to a Belgian magazine, in which he said: "I return to my country and I will participate in elections ... yes this is my last fight, the fight of a lifetime." Will we push him to put up one fight too many? I would not want that, because he is already more important for Congolese than any president. In the words of Jean Ping in 2011, employees and supporters must ensure that Etienne Tshisekedi enters history through the front door, not backwards.
"Will we push him to put up one fight too many? I would not want that, because he is already more important for Congolese than any president." 
But in the interest of the nation and the party, I pray every day that he can come back, if only to implement this new policy direction that was his vision. At present, any policy direction that is not approved by him will have serious problems of legitimacy.

Is it not a problem for the party that the transition must be guided by Tshisekedi himself? Is not an indication of the personalization of the party?

This is the reality: The real problem is that Etienne Tshisekedi has become larger than the UDPS, in some ways. He is able to mobilize huge crowds, the UDPS is not able to mobilize as many. On the other hand we must understand that he is part of a generation in which the political culture of personalization of power held sway. And did not have the culture of preparing for a succession of power. Tshiskedi thought at the last moment to set up a group that could lead this transition, at least until the party's congress. Unfortunately, we have not been allowed to go through with his idea.

Albert Moleka sur la démocratisation au Congo, Etienne Tshisekedi, et l’état de l’UDPS

Albert Moleka
Albert Moleka est haut cadre de l’Union pour la démocratie et le progrès sociale (UDPS). Il était entre octobre 2008 et mai 2014 l’assistant et porte-parole puis directeur de cabinet et porte parole d’Etienne Tshisekedi, président de l’UDPS. Cette transcription a été légèrement raccourcie de l’original. 

M. Moleka, l’opposition est toujours inquiétée par rapport à la possibilité d’une révision de la constitution pour permettre au Président Kabila de briguer un troisième mandat.  Néanmoins, on constate depuis les évènements au Burkina Faso que les partisans d’une révision ont pris un peu de recul. Comment vous interprétez la situation ?

Il y a une chose que les gens oublient : Juste après les élections [de 2011, ndlr], le secrétaire général du principal parti de Monsieur Kabila [Evariste Boshab] était descendu à Lubumbashi au Katanga et, à cette occasion, avait déjà demandé aux cellules du PPRD/Katanga de soutenir Kabila pour un troisième mandat. C’était déjà en mars 2012. Et durant cette période, l’église catholique avait aussi donné sa position : après deux mandats, il n’est pas question de changer l’Article 220 [qui limite le nombre de mandats présidentiels].

"…je crois que par rapport à la révision constitutionnelle ils vont reculer et opter pour le glissement."

Après les élections de 2011, le camp kabiliste pensait donc déjà à ces révisions de la constitution. D’ailleurs le but véritable des concertations nationales c’était d’élargir la base parlementaire en faveur de Kabila pour pouvoir changer la constitution. Au sortir de ces assises, quand tu entendais le langage de l’opposition qui y avait pris part, l’UFC de Monsieur Kengo wa Dondo par exemple, tu comprenais qu’ils n’étaient pas opposé de travailler pour une révision de la constitution puisqu’ils exprimaient explicitement leur accord de participer à la création d’une nouvelle majorité dite « gouvernementale ».

Actuellement, on a vu que la vigilance de l’église catholique surtout a fait que le débat est devenu très rapidement non seulement un débat de toute la classe politique, mais un débat national et populaire. Le camp Kabila a joué le coup d’une manière maladroite parce que toutes les interventions des collaborateurs et partisans de Kabila, que ce soit le secrétaire général du PPRD (Evariste Boshab) ou le président de l’actuelle assemblée nationale (Aubin Minaku), donnaient clairement l’impression que l’ option du passage en force était levée. Je crois aussi que la nomination d’un envoyé spécial du gouvernement américain et surtout le choix de Feingold a beaucoup aidé les congolais dans le sens que Feingold n’étant pas un diplomate a pris ses fonctions en utilisant un langage de sénateur américain, c’est à dire un langage franc, qui va droit au but.

Les évènements du Burkina ont bien sûr fait reculer, parce que la communauté internationale a donné un soutien direct à la position populaire. Sans oublier, bien sûr, que l’opposition et l’église catholique sont aussi restées fermes sur leurs positions.  De plus, la fameuse réunion de Kingakati avec la position exprimée ouvertement par MSR [important parti politique membre de la majorité présidentielle qui a demandé un débat franc sur la révision constitutionnelle] a révélé des fissures et des dissensions de fond inhabituelles.  C’est une première. Il est connu que certains influents leaders du camp kabiliste, dont un important financier de la mosaïque des partis qui le composent, ont déjà donné des instructions fermes à leurs « obligés » au sein de la « majorité présidentielle » de s’abstenir de soutenir une quelconque révision de la constitution au risque de ne plus pouvoir compter sur eux pour « les minervaux des enfants ou les problèmes de santé de madame en Europe, etc. »

Est-ce que tout cela veut dire que le camp présidentiel ne va plus pousser pour une révision constitutionnelle mais va plutôt adopter une stratégie de glissement du calendrier électorale ?

Oui, c’est mon analyse pour le moment du moins. Je crois que finalement ils ont réalisé que cette question peut réellement mettre le feu aux poudres au niveau populaire. Comme les provinces qui se montrent les plus rigides là-dessus sont le Katanga et les deux Kivus, que certains ont toujours prétendu être des bastions électoraux de Kabila, je crois que par rapport à la révision constitutionnelle ils vont reculer et opter pour le glissement.

Le sénat et les assemblées provinciales ont déjà profité d’un glissement de maintenant deux ans sur leur mandats, certains parlementaires se parlent entre eux et disent : pourquoi ne pourrions-nous pas profiter d’un glissement aussi? Beaucoup d’entre eux savent qu’ils ne seront pas réélus. Donc le camp kabiliste compte sur ces élus dans leur stratégie de glissement. Certains leaders politiques voient aussi là-dedans une source de financements pour les joutes électorales à venir tout comme l’attente continuelle par certains du fameux gouvernement de cohésion nationale.

Ensuite il faut définir les circonscriptions locales sur base de groupements à identifier ou créer, selon les cas. Actuellement, leur nombre n’est pas encore connu. Il y en aura plus de 5000. Chaque groupement devra avoir son tribunal administratif pour traiter des cas de contestations électorales, donc il faut des infrastructures (bâtiments, voiries etc…), des affectations de juges et magistrats avec salaires et frais de fonctionnement. Il y a aussi cette question du recensement, c’était une condition préalable pour les élections de 2006. Aujourd’hui on a mis sur pied l’Office national pour l’identification de la population (ONIP) pour le recensement. Le marché a été donné au chinois Huawei, qui est toujours en train de chercher des fonds ( 500 millions USD), le gouvernement n’a pas d’argent.

On voit que techniquement, c’est impossible [de faire tout cela avant les élections de 2016], c’est pour faire trainer les choses.

Quel attitude est-ce que les partenaires internationaux devraient adopter par rapport à cette stratégie de glissement, si elle existe ? Si on ne finance pas les élections, le gouvernement pourrait essayer de les financer sans appui international, ce qui pourrait compromettre le processus davantage ?

C’est une question très sensible. Dans le camp Kabila, on se dit : si la communauté internationale ne donne pas le financement, ça nous donne une raison de plus de dire : voilà, on n’a pas l’argent nécessaire pour les élections.

"Il sera très difficile, en tout cas, d’organiser des élections crédibles avec Malu Malu, parce qu’il est trop attaché à Kabila." 

Je pense que la position de la communauté internationale est très claire : si on ne publie pas un calendrier électoral global, il n’y aura pas déblocage de fonds, pas l’argent.

Il sera très difficile, en tout cas, d’organiser des élections crédibles avec Malu Malu, parce qu’il est trop attaché à Kabila. Ce qui est important, je crois, c’est que la communauté internationale doit rester constante dans son approche. Au niveau technique, le contrôle du centre national de traitement doit se faire dans la transparence. Je crois qu’on a vu dans les différents rapports des observateurs que le véritable problème s’est posé au niveau des centres de compilation ainsi qu’à l’opacité du fonctionnement du centre national de traitement dont l’accès tant par les observateurs que les partis politiques était fermement refusée par la ceni. Si on élimine ces centres de compilation et on met les garde-fous nécessaires pour que le centre national de traitement soit transparent, là nous pouvons espérer à voir un jour des élections avec des résultats crédibles. 

Le rapporteur général de la ceni, qui était un député élu sur la liste UDPS, s’est laissé délester par Malu Malu de la supervision du centre national de traitement qui lui est dévolue suivant l’organigramme de la CENI. Le centre national de traitement est passé sous la supervision du secrétariat exécutif  dirigé par Fabien Musoni, dont la proximité a Malu Malu n’est plus à démontrer..

Changeons un peu de sujet pour revenir sur ce qui est en train de se passer au sein de l’UDPS. Il y avait une déclaration récente signé par beaucoup de cadres de l’UDPS, dénonçant la mauvaise gestion du parti par certaines personnes, y inclus le Secrétaire Générale Bruno Mavungu et le fils du président de l’UDPS, Félix Tshisekedi.

Etienne Tshisekedi est tombé malade le mardi, 4 mars 2014. En tant que son directeur de cabinet, lorsque je l’ai vu le lendemain, on le voyant j’ai pris la décision de suspendre toutes les audiences pour une durée indéterminée parce qu’il était très affaibli. Le jeudi 13 mars il m’a appelé. J’ai vu qu’il était encore très affaibli. Il m’a communiqué six noms, trois de l’étranger–– Felix Tshilombo Tshisekedi, Claude Kiringa, le représentant au Canada, Willy Vangu, le représentant en Afrique du Sud––et trois de l’intérieur : Valentin Mubake, Roger Kakonge et moi même, en spécifiant que je reste son directeur de cabinet et porte parole. Il m’a dit : c’est la nouvelle direction politique du parti. Il n’avait pas encore précisé les fonctions de chacun à cette occasion.

"Depuis [le 13 mars 2014], les hauts cadres de l’UDPS n’ont plus vu Etienne Tshisekedi."

Notre séance de travail a été interrompu par un incident  que j’ai qualifié à caractère strictement familial. Depuis ce jour, les hauts cadres de l’UDPS n’ont plus vu Etienne Tshisekedi.

Je pense que tous les combattants de l’UDPS ne recherchent qu’une seule chose actuellement, c’est de voir Etienne Tshisekedi en chair et en os s’exprimer librement sur la marche du parti et du pays. A ce sujet ils seront intraitables comme Saint-Thomas. Il est notre Président de la République élu, et cela doit faire comprendre les frustrations qui s’expriment de telle ou telle manière. Après tout, l’Udps se dit championne de la démocratie et, à ce titre, ne doit-elle pas s’appliquer le principe de liberté de contestation et d’expression à soi-même ?

Est-ce qu’il est en communication avec vous et les autres cadres du parti ?

Non,  je ne suis pas en communication avec lui. Il est là-bas depuis de le 16 août et son propre représentant pour le Benelux n’a pas non plus eu l’opportunité de le rencontrer, ni un membre de son comité. La gestion de sa convalescence ne le permet pas, semble-t-il.

Comment sortir de cette crise ? Je vois que la déclaration récente est basée sur des frustrations réelles ; je vois aussi que ce ne sont pas tous les dirigeants des fédérations qui ont signé la déclaration, donc il y a une vraie division au sein du parti.

Il faut d’abord avoir la volonté de sortir de cette crise. S’il y a cette volonté de sortir de la crise et d’éviter la dislocation de l’UDPS, il faut partir de deux constats : que le président avait une vision, c’est à dire une direction politique genre directoire, mais que certains de ses proches ne sont pas d’accord sur cela. Ce qui rend difficile l’application de la volonté du président.

Deuxièmement, il faut voir ce qui a pu fonctionner plus ou moins bien dans les dernières années. En 2011 nous avons vu une équipe exécutive capable de mobiliser les structures de base. Il faut en revenir à ça de sorte à ne pas perdre de temps. Il y a des enjeux nationaux, des questions dans lesquelles la voix de l’UDPS n’est pas entendue.

Vous pensez que le gouvernement pourrait essayé d’enfoncer le clou en essayant de coopter une faction du parti, en le faisant entrer dans un gouvernement de cohésion national ?

Il est vrai que Kabila cherche à ratisser large et si possible attirer une personne dont la proximité avec Etienne Tshisekedi ne peut être mise en doute. Maintenant, comme ce gouvernement a trainé, ca rend plus difficile à quiconque de l’UDPS d’entrer dans le gouvernement. Par contre, si le fameux « dialogue » que certains quémandent résulte en la mise en place d’un gouvernement, là je crains qu’il risque d’y avoir des preneurs même dans l’entourage au sens large d’Etienne Tshisekedi.

Quelle sera la réaction de la base si l’UDPS entre dans un gouvernement chapoté par Joseph Kabila.

Il y aura dislocation du parti, ça c’est sûr.

Etienne Tshisekedi ne reviendra plus comme président fonctionnel du parti ?

C’est un homme auprès duquel j’ai travaillé pendant six ans, dont trois ans à 7,000 kilomètres de distance l’un de l’autre. Je crois que les gens doivent se souvenir que en 2010 avant de rentrer au pays, il avait donné un interview à une magazine belge où il avait dit : « Je rentre dans mon pays et je vais participer aux élections… oui c’est mon dernier combat, le combat de toute une vie. »  Le poussera-t-on à livrer le combat de trop ? Je ne le souhaite pas car il est déjà plus important pour les congolais que n’importe quel président de la république. Comme le disait Monsieur Jean Ping en 2011, ses collaborateurs et partisans doivent assurer qu’Etienne Tshisekedi entre dans l’histoire par la grande porte, et non à reculons.
"Le poussera-t-on à livrer le combat de trop ? Je ne le souhaite pas car il est déjà plus important pour les congolais que n’importe quel président de la république." 
Mais dans l’intérêt de la nation et du parti je prie chaque jour qu’il puisse revenir, ne-fut-ce-que pour mettre en place cette nouvelle direction politique qui était sa vision. À l’heure actuelle, toute direction politique qui n’est pas installée par lui même aura des sérieux problèmes de légitimité.

Est-ce que ce n’est pas un problème pour le parti, le fait qu’il faudra que la transition soit guidée par Tshisekedi lui même. Est-ce que ce n’est pas une indication de la personnalisation du parti ?

Il y a une réalité. Le vrai problème de l’UDPS c’est que Etienne Tshisekedi était devenu plus grand que l’UDPS, en quelque sorte. Il est capable de mobiliser des foules, l’UDPS seul n’est pas capable de mobiliser autant de foules. De l’autre coté il faut comprendre qu’il fait parti d’une génération qui en terme politique avait la culture de la personnalisation du pouvoir. Et n’avait pas la culture de la préparation d’une succession. Tshiskedi a pensé au dernier moment de mettre en place un groupe qui pourrait mener cette transition, jusqu’au congrès, malheureusement, on ne lui a pas permis d’aller jusqu’au bout de son idée.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Distractions and regional politics delay progress on Rwandan rebels

The Grand Congolese Bargain, as seen by many foreign diplomats, was supposed to be: Get rid of the M23 and the FDLR, and you will have removed the linchpins of the Congolese conflict. This approach makes sense, insofar as most other armed groups––as deadly and brutal as they may be––are extremely limited in their reach without regional backing. While it does not deal with the violent dysfunctions of the Congolese state, it could have been a useful first step. 

Tanzanian Special Forces during a training exercise (Courtesy of MONUSCO)

The second part of this equation, however, has been stuck in political mud. Military operations against the FDLR were supposed to begin in January 2014. "The number one priority for MONUSCO is now the FDLR," Martin Kobler, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo, tweeted on 12 December, 2013. To that end, the UN wanted to employ its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), which had played an important role in defeating the M23. 

Two problems initially arose: First, the Congolese army had other priorities in mind. They launched operations against the ADF in the Ruwenzori foothills in January 2014, informing the UN that other joint military operations would  have to wait. While the UN has the mandate to carry out unilateral operations, given the strength of the FDLR and the optics of going it alone, the mission decided to wait, instead lending support to the ADF operations. (Those operations are now bogged down in controversy, as well, as the ADF have come back to massacre dozens.)

Then there was a second, more political reason. The FIB is made up of troops from the Southern African Development Community (SADC)––from Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi. The first two countries, in particular, had initially intervened in part due to their opposition to the M23 and its Rwandan backers. Indeed, the FIB was initially supposed to be a SADC military mission in support of the Congolese army against the M23 before, following extensive international pressure, it was integrated into MONUSCO. 

South Africa and Tanzania were consequently less than eager to apply the same military élan against Rwanda's archenemies, the FDLR. In May 2013, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete urged Kigali to open political negotiations with the FDLR––anathema to the ruling party there––and his foreign minister referred the FDLR as "freedom fighters" in a communiqué in July 2014. Members of the South African government, angered at what it considers to be repeated attempts to assassinate Kigali's opponents on its soil, have echoed similar sentiments in private, although officially they still back military operations. 

South African leverage was particularly important in pushing through a SADC/ICGLR resolution in July 2014, allowing for a six month moratorium on military operations against the FDLR, to allow them to disarm peacefully. The pretext for this delay had been conveniently provided by the FDLR just weeks prior, when they had sent some 200 soldiers to regroupment camps in North and South Kivu as a gesture of goodwill. This was just the first group, the FDLR said, and the Congolese government said they would be transported to Kisangani. Neither turned out to be true––no further FDLR soldiers have laid down their weapons, and they have refused to move to Kisangani.

Five months later––and a mere six weeks ahead of the deadline given by SADC of 2 January, 2015––there has been almost no progress. Two weeks ago, the FDLR, eager to forestall military operations, said that their combatants would go to Kisangani after all. Two days ago, members of the FDLR leadership visited the military camp where they are supposed to be housed. "They complained that there was no adequate provisions for their civilian dependents," a UN official reported after the mission. Still, it is likely the FDLR will try to provide another gesture of goodwill in the coming weeks in order to postpone the military offensive once again.

In the meantime, there seems to be a splintering among the FDLR leadership, between radicals such as their overall commander General Sylvestre Mudacumura, President Victor Byiringiro, and spokesperson LaForge Bazeye on one side, and officers such as Colonel Wilson Iratageka on the other. This latter faction has sway over much of the FDLR forces deployed in South Kivu––perhaps a third of the total of around 1,500––and is also close to a new alliance of Rwandan opposition parties, the Coalition for Rwandan Political Parties for Change (CPC), led by former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu. 

Twagirumungu is now pushing (see his statement of 6 October here) for the FDLR's most notorious leaders––including Mudacumura and Byiringiro––to be arrested, but for the rest of the organization to enter into a peaceful dialogue with Kigali that would end with the creation of "a pluralist political space." That statement caused the FDLR's leadership to denounce Twagiramungu as a traitor, but it hasn't prevented the latter from traveling in the region, seeking support for his initiative and finding some sympathetic ears. 

The Congolese government, the UN, SADC, and the ICGLR all say that a military offensive will begin in the early days of January if the FDLR does not disarm. We'll see if they live up to their word. In the meantime, efforts are underway by diplomats to see if a military confrontation could be avoided––the last major operation against the FDLR in 2009-2011 displaced over a million people––not through a chimerical government of national unity in Kigali, but by organizing the defection of senior FDLR commanders and their exile in third countries. 

For now, a surfeit of possible solutions, and a complete lack of actual progress. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A year after its defeat, could the M23 make a comeback?

It's been just over a year since the M23, at the time the most significant Congolese armed group, was defeated. It had been a symbolically momentous moment––it was a rare victory for the Congolese army, and the first time since 1998 that the Rwandan government did not have a significant military ally on Congolese soil.

The anniversary was marked by remonstrations on both side––the M23 President Bertrand Bisimwa accused Kinshasa of not upholding its side of the deal, while Kinshasa complained that the M23 had not participated in follow-up meetings in Kinshasa and Nairobi in recent weeks, and said "one has the impression that they aren't ready" to come back.

M23 President Bertrand Bisimwa (left) and General Sultani Makenga in Bunagana (© Jason Stearns)
As a reminder, the M23 was scattered in three broad directions––in March 2013, infighting broke out within the group and a faction led by Bosco Ntaganda (who then handed himself over to the International Criminal Court) fled to Rwanda. 682 M23 members were interned in a military camp in Kibungo, in the east of the country. In November 2013, the M23 was defeated by the Congolese army and UN peacekeepers; most, including its commander Sultani Makenga and President Bertrand Bisimwa, fled to Uganda, while some rank-and-file surrendered in the Congo. The Ugandan authorities reported that they received 1,665 rebels on their territory––a figure that raised eyebrows, as the UN had only estimated the M23 at around 400 at that time, with a high-water mark of perhaps 1,200-1,500 M23 soldiers in March 2013.

Under pressure by the international community to conclude a peace deal to facilitate the return of those combatants, a compromise was reached on 12 December 2013 in Nairobi. Parallel declarations were signed by both parties, committing the M23 to a peaceful return, demobilization and conversion into a political party, while the government promised a conditional amnesty, demobilization program, and national reconciliation.

That was almost a year ago. Some modest progress has been made: the Congolese government promulgated a new amnesty law in February 2014 and has issued five successive lists of amnesties, totaling 288 M23 members (most of their names can be found here) out of a reported total of over 2,100 requests for amnesty. A new demobilization commission was created on paper in December 2013 (its structure and budget has since been changed), although funding ($84 million) is still pending and there have been reports of over a hundred dead in the newly established DDR camps.

But that progress is extremely limited: most of the M23 soldiers are still abroad, and the Congolese government will not amnesty the majority of M23 military commanders, whom it considers war criminals. The Rwandan and Ugandan governments, for their part, are unlikely to arrest and extradite leaders of a group that they supported.

In the meantime, many of the M23 in the camps appear to have auto-demobilized, tiring of life in the camps and returning home to the Congo or Rwanda (many were recruited from Congolese refugee camps there, or were Rwandans). According to diplomats who visited the Ngoma camp in Rwanda,  around half of the soldiers may have left since last year; a similar trend has been observed in Uganda.

However, over the past three months, there have also been increasing reports that the M23 may be remobilizing in preparation of a new attack. Several attempts have been made to reconcile the Bosco and Makenga wings, Ugandan authorities have told the M23 housed in their camps that they want them gone by the end of the year, and numerous M23 members have told friends and family that an operation is being prepared. According to a soldier in the Bihanga military camp in Uganda, Makenga reportedly gave a speech to M23 soldiers there recently, saying that "soldiers should be ready for an operation." A civilian leader of the M23 told me, "they will attack before the end of the month, that was the plan." Even their civilian leader Bertrand Bisimwa says that if Kinshasa doesn't live up to its side of the Nairobi Declaration, he cannot "give guarantees for what will happen tomorrow."

Few details about the nature of these operations are clear. Several sources suggest that there could be a group that will go through South Sudan into Ituri––the M23 had tried mobilizing there in 2012 and failed, but some of the officers formerly based in Ituri are now in Rwanda and still have contacts there. Another M23 leader suggests that they will carry out operations in the Kasindi area of North Kivu––M23 commanders from the Nande community, such as Colonel Nyoro Kasereka, currently in Rwanda, are from that area. There have also been reports of M23 mobilization in Masisi territory in recent months, documented by human rights workers.

Given the weakness of the M23, it would be difficult to mount a large-scale attack without substantial backing from the Rwandan or Ugandan governments, which would risk triggering another wave of international opprobrium. It is more likely that they would try to destabilize the Congolese government and shame its army and the United Nations with small, sporadic attacks, possibly under the guise of other armed groups, compounding the already fragile security situation. "I think they are biding their time for a political crisis, possibly linked to the elections or a constitutional revision," one M23 member said.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Ebola" pre-empts Kabila's presidential aspirations

Ok, I can tell how that title can be a bit misleading. Perhaps I should have called it: Congolese singer flip-flops on backing the president. And, despite appearances, this is actually a serious story.

This is what happened. Koffi Olomide, perhaps the most famous Congolese singer and winner of 10 pan-African Kora Awards, is not known for his firm principles. Like most Congolese artists, he sells shout-outs (mabanga in Lingala) in his songs to the highest bidder––including Congo-Brazzaville President Denis Sassou-Nguesso and the former Ivorian rebel leader Guillaume Soro. In 2010, he even traveled to Kigali to support the election campaign of President Paul Kagame, a daring venture, given the Rwandan president's notoriety in the Congo. And then, to further infuriate inhabitants of the Congolese capital, he gave full-throttle support to Joseph Kabila's 2011 election campaign in this video clip, "Koffi Chante Kabila":

But all that changed last year. Koffi released a video that surprised many. Even the title of the video––"Koffi Chante Congo"––is an obvious counterpoint to his 2011 Kabila campaign video. He kicks it off by dedicating the song not to a politician (that practice was outlawed in 2009, but still continues) or businessman, but to his son Del Pirlo Mourinho (other children are called St James Rolls, Elvis, Rocky, and Didi Stone Nike). Pretty quickly his protégée and co-singer Cindy gets to the point: "We reject the abuse of power, all we do is cry, we go to sleep hungry, our children are suffering." The Koffi chimes in: "If you love the Congo, respect democracy, if you love the Congo, respect the institutions....respect the constitution, you don't change the rules in the middle of the football game."

The context is important: the video was released during the Concertations nationales in Kinshasa last year, which brought together members of the ruling coalition, civil society, and opposition, and where one of the items discussed was whether the constitution should be changed to allow Joseph Kabila to stay on. (The answer was clear: No.)

Is this the same Koffi? Well, perhaps. Cynics suggest that he only released the video because he, along with other Congolese singers, have been hit hard by the inability to perform in some European capitals due to oft-violent protests by Diaspora Congolese, who are outraged that their musicians opportunistically support politicians, especially Joseph Kabila. One commentator (almost Olomide's poetic equal): "Has Koffi met the angel of democracy or the demon of demagoguery?" But still: surely Koffi knew that he would face problems due to the video (although he does say in the song that people should respect the presidency, although not necessarily the president)?

So when Koffi was called in for questioning by the police commander of Kinshasa, General Célestin Kanyama, two weeks ago, many thought it was for a belated haranguing over the video. But no––it was because Koffi had started to call himself "Vieux Ebola," Old Ebola, and posters had even started appearing around town advertising his concerts thus. Of course, bear in mind that Koffi has called himself pretty much everything under the sun, including some that have offended the Catholic Church (they asked him to stop calling himself Benedict XVI). But Kanyama said that he shouldn't make light of such a serious disease.

Of course, what's Kanyama's nickname? "Esprit de mort," spirit of death. This might be why.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Interview with Gilles Yabi on protests in Burkina and lessons for other countries

The following is an edited transcript and a translation of an interview with Dr Gilles Yabi. Political analyst and economist, Dr Yabi spent seven years as senior political analyst and then project director for the West Africa Project of the International Crisis Group. Holding a Ph.D in economics from the university of Clermont-Ferrand in France, Gilles also worked as a journalist for the weekly magazine Jeune Afrique. After leaving Crisis Group in November 2013, Gilles is now independent consultant in the fields of conflict analysis, security and political governance in West Africa. He also publishes articles and editorials on his blog: Le Blog de Gilles Yabi (

I'll start with a big question: What were the key factors in bringing about the fall of President Blaise Compaoré?

I think it is really the result of the attempt to change the constitution with the aim of prolonging his presidency, which was already 27 years long. That was the straw that broke the camel's back; if he had not tried to change the constitution, I think there would not have been these demonstrations or his departure. He took a risk and made a bad choice.

This is not the first time he tried to change the constitution, and he's not the only African leader to have tried to do this. But it's rare that one sees this kind of mobilization, especially one that results in a military coup. Why did we see this kind of mobilization this time and why not in other countries?

Each country has its history and it's not a technical question, but a political one––Burkina is not Benin, not the DR Congo. It has a particular history, it's a country that has a very strong political and revolutionary culture due to the time of Thomas Sankara [1983-1987], this led to a very strong politicization of burkinabé society and elites. This period of politicization and militantism is not found in many other countries, because they did not go through a revolutionary period as under Sankara. 

Why not before? Over 27 years Compaoré's regime changed. It used to be a very brutal, very harsh regime that inspired a lot of fear. That fear diminished over time––Compaoré grew older, the regime and the context changed and he could no longer resort to the same kind of pure violence as he used to. When he carried out the two previous constitutional amendments, he was stronger and inspired more fear. In particular, the mutinies of 2011 [over soldiers' benefits and rising food prices] undermined his stature, and that facilitated this mobilization. 

Talk a bit about the actors who sparked this mobilization––was it spontaneous, or were there structures underlying this mobilization?

It wasn't really spontaneous. There has been a debate for over a year over the change of the constitution that people saw coming. Everyone began positioning themselves. On the political level, we saw important members of the government, including the former head of the national assembly and people very close to Compaoré, leave the ruling party to form another party and to join the opposition. They didn't want him to change the constitution, they were concerned about how that would affect their own personal interests.

On the side of civil society––there was also a mobilization around this question for over a year. Well-known groups, such as Le Balai Citoyen, a similar kind of youth mobilization as we saw in Senegal, including rappers and musicians who began singing and mobilizing against constitutional change. Those civil society structures were crucial, as well.

But in the end, I don't think anyone thought it would be so many people in the street. People went into the streets without any organization, any rallying by political parties. Youths, in particular were fed up and wanted change.

Some say that the marches were manipulated by political elites who wanted to get rid of Compaoré. You seem to say that this isn't an accurate portrayal of what happened. 

I think that's not the only factor. Of course, there were people who worked with Compaoré who defected over the past year. The fact is that many leaders of the opposition––aside from the so-called Sankariste opposition––including its main leader Zéphirin Diabré, worked with Compaoré. Most of the leaders of the opposition were in government at one point in time. You have to understand, the government had been in power for so long that it co-opted almost all the important civilian leaders at one point in time or the other. So of course these elites were important. But the important thing was that various groups––some out of interests, some out of opportunism, some out of true dedication––came together to oppose changing the constitution. This kind of confluence of action made this kind of result possible.

What role did the donors and foreign diplomats play during the events?

On the public level, the United States had been very clear for a long time that they opposed constitutional changes across Africa. The French, as usual, played a role that was much less clear, until very recently. Eventually, they tried to facilitate a "soft departure," naming him as the new president of the Francophonie.

But international actors were not decisive in the mobilization. They were surprised, as well. If there had been change of the constitution by a majority in parliament, I don't think they would have done much in reaction.

What about the military, were they surprised, as well, and had they planned to react against a constitutional revision?

They, too, were surprised, I don't think they had taken a position on the constitutional revision. One part of the soldiers had the same feeling as the civilians, and wanted change. Also, the reaction to the 2011 mutiny, which led to some heavy prison sentences for some, had left its traces. There was no doubt that there were divisions within the army as a consequence of that and Compaoré's long rule. But as long as Compaoré was there I am not sure that the soldiers alone would have tried to do something without the popular mobilization. It was when people took to the streets that they had the choice to open fire on the protesters, or to tell Compaoré that he would have to leave.

The situation is still fragile. What is the chance that the transition to a civilian government will be successful?

I am pretty optimistic. The transition has to be the result of negotiations between soldiers, opposition, and civil society. I think the army has understood that the context has changed, and that their best options is to carry out this transition to civilian rule, to try to influence it, of course, but not to create conditions that would isolate Burkina Faso, which really depends on external aid.

Last question: What are the lessons that can be drawn for other countries from what has happened in Burkina Faso? There are other leaders who want to change the constitution to stay in power.

Absolutely. Everyone has seen or heard what has happened in Burkina, on the internet, radio, and television. I've already heard that in Chad, opposition parties cite Burkina as an example for mobilization. I think that in places like Benin, where many suspect that the president wants to stay on, some will cite Burkina as an example. But I am skeptical that mobilization can be carried out in these other countries the same way as it was done in Burkina. There is a much higher capacity for corruption in some of these countries, given their revenues, and also much greater international support for the regime. So Burkina will be an inspiration, but not necessarily provide a formula that can be easily reproduced.