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)