Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Friday, March 27, 2015

What socio-economic data tells us about sexual violence, découpage, and living conditions in the Congo

A satellite view of Kinshasa (bottom) and Brazzaville (top)
For those of us who think numbers and statistics can give a useful––albeit partial––insight into political and social dynamics, the Congo frustrates. The are no reliable national political polls, and socio-economic data is usually limited to the extremely limited data compiled by the World Bank and other financial institutions.

Which is why the publication of the Demographic and Health Survey last September was such a boon. This is the second installment of the DHS for the Congo, the first having been published in 2007. The study was carried out by Measure DHS, a private company based in the US, along with the ministries of planning and health.

While the survey is largely focused in social and health data, there are some useful insights into more political issues.

If you want a better life, head to the city.

This might seem surprising to those who have seen the crammed slums of Kinshasa or the squalor of Mbuji-Mayi. But by almost all indicators, life is on average better in urban areas. Women in cities spend double the years of their rural counterparts getting an education (5,4 vs. 2 years). Around 57% of urban dwellers fall in the highest socio-economic quintile, compared with only less than 1% of the rural population––this is calculated based on things they own (fridge, cell phones, radio, etc.) and features of their houses (water, electricity, kinds of floor and roofing). Finally, health indicators are better in urban than rural areas––infant mortality is lower (5,9% vs. 6.8%), malaria too (25% vs. 33% for kids), and access to health care much easier.

Congolese know this. Each year, cities are growing by over 5%, meaning that Kinshasa alone will add 350,000 people this year. By 2025, it will rival Lagos as the largest city on the continent, with a projected population of 15 million. This will change political and social dynamics, including those of protest and elections.

Sexual violence is a problem for the whole Congo, not just the conflict-afflicted East.

Rape by soldiers and combatants is certainly the most brutal and gruesome. But it is not the most prevalent, not by a long stretch. Only 1,1% of women who had experienced sexual violence said that soldiers or policemen were to blame.

When asked about having suffered from sexual violence at any point in their life, the highest prevalence was in Kasai Occidental, a province where the war was relatively short. When asked about sexual violence in the last 12 months, the highest levels were in Bandundu province, where there has not been armed conflict in the past year.

Again, we should be careful not to conflate all kinds of sexual violence. The question the interviewees were asked was a form of: "Have you ever been forced to have sex when you didn't want to?" This includes Intimate Partner Sexual Violence, as well as gang rape, which is probably more traumatic and carries greater stigma. A report by Tia Palermo et al. in 2011, drawing on DHS data from 2007, confirms that violent rape is most prevalent in conflict-ridden North Kivu, but that other, more peaceful provinces such as Equateur also have very high levels of rape, and that IPSV is highest outside of the East.

Découpage will create the strongest resentments in Katanga, Kasai-Oriental, and Province Orientale.

President Kabila just signed a law creating 26 provinces out of the current 11. The DHS data shows us that wealth is unevenly distributed across the country, which is bound to create trouble during this "découpage" process. The DHS data divides the population into quintiles. In Haut-Katanga (where Lubumbashi and many mines are located), 61% of the population is in the top quintile, compared with 0,5% in Tanganyika (northern Katanga). In Kasai-Oriental, découpage will split the diamond-rich capital Mbuji-Mayi from Sankuru and Lomami, which could also exacerbate ethnic strife between Tetela, Luba, and other ethnic groups.

There are many other gems in the report.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Podcast: Un interview avec Jean Omasombo sur la décentralisation, le découpage, et les remous politiques au Congo

Jean Omasombo est chercheur au Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale en Belgique et directeur du Centre d'Études Politiques à l'Université de Kinshasa. Dans cette émission, nous parlons de la loi sur la création des nouvelles provinces, promulguée le 2 mars 2015. Pourquoi ce découpage a pris autant de temps? Est-ce que c'est une bonne idée de décentraliser le pouvoir sans avoir consolider des institutions fortes? Et quelle analyse faire du contexte politique––la bataille sur la succession du Président Kabila, et les divisions au sein de la Majorité Présidentielle––dans lequel cette décision a été prise?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Kabila's ruling coalition frays as succession battle deepens

The battle over Kabila’s succession has begun, and is certain to be the leitmotif of Congolese politics over the coming two years. To a certain extent––to a large extent––the recent controversies over the electoral law and calendar, and the arrest of opposition members and civil society activists (a whole slew were detained on Sunday), are all part of this battle.

While the most visible manifestation of this struggle were street demonstrations, violently repressed by the police and Republican Guard, in Kinshasa in January, it is the divisions within the ruling coalition that are causing the president a headache these days. 

In early March, some of the largest parties in the ruling coalition wrote a letter to President Kabila. This included the MSR of Pierre Lumbi (the national security advisor)––the second largest party in the presidential coalition; the ARC of Olivier Kamitatu (minister of planning); the PDC of José Endundo (minister of environment); UNADEF of Charles Mwando Simba (former minister of defense); the UNAFEC of Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza; and MSDD of Christophe Lutundula; and the ACO of Dany Banza. The letter––which has not been released publicly, but has been commented on in the press and confirmed by its authors in private––warned about splits in the presidential coalition and the souring of relations between the government and the people.

Several things stand out: The signatories include some of the largest parties in the countries, making up almost a third of the ruling coalition's seats in parliament. Banza, Mwando, and Kyungu are all from Kabila's home province of Katanga, where the succession battle has become increasingly linked to the current governor, Moise Katumbi. 

Katumbi has had a very public falling out with Kabila in December, and recently announced that he will soon step down as governor when Katanga is split into four new provinces. He is widely suspected to be preparing a run for the presidency in 2016. During a recent trip to Katanga, Kamitatu is reported to have met several times with Katumbi, and one of Kabila's advisors told me that this whole letter was linked to Katumbi's "insurgency," as he called it. 

Katumbi would have a head start in a presidential race: He is very wealthy and has built himself a national brand through populist gestures and his TP Mazembe soccer team, which has won several African titles in recent years. His disadvantages include being married to a Tutsi Burundian wife––suspicion of Tutsi runs deep and often virulent in the Congo––having a past of legal troubles related to his various business endeavors, and being from Katanga. The presidency has been in the hands of Katangans for the past 18 years, a fact that westerners often complain about. 

This is not the first time that the signatories of the letter have lodged such complaints with the presidency. Last year, Lumbi's MSR party led the charge against a constitutional revision that could have seen Kabila extent his presidency by another 5 years, and Lutundula, Kamitatu and Kyungu adopted similar positions. 

Will this succession battle be led by members of the ruling coalition, or the opposition and civil society? Surely a mixture of both. But with the opposition leadership divided––Vital Kamerhe and Martin Fayulu have had a series of public fallings-out, and the UDPS is collapsing as its ailing patriarch Etienne Tshisekedi leaves the scene––these splits within the ruling coalition could be decisive. It remains to be seen whether Kabila will continue to allow this kind of dissent, or whether hardliners around him––people like intelligence chief Kalev Mutond and interior minister Évariste Boshab––will begin to crack down. 

For now, the gloves are still on, as Kabila met with the signatories of the letter individually over the weekend. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A strange peace deal: The PSCF at two

Francois Mwamba, the coordinator of the national oversight mechanism of the PSCF (Courtesy: Radio Okapi)
I was on Radio Okapi yesterday, discussing the failures and successes of the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework, which turned two years old a few weeks ago. It was a sobering hour––and a terrible phone line––that gave me occasion for some broad reflections about the PSCF.

Here are some positive aspects of the PSCF:
  • The PSCF provided what we hadn't had for many years: the semblance of a peace process, with outside monitors and clear benchmarks and goals. This addressed one of the sad paradoxes of the Congo: The official Lusaka Peace Process (1999-2006) ended in 2006 with national elections, but conflict in the Congo escalated thereafter, with no commensurate peace process. 
  • It correctly identified two key drivers of the conflict: foreign meddling in the Congo, and the dysfunction of Congolese state institutions. 
  • Much was done: The M23 was defeated, a national demobilization set up (on paper), progress on supply chain due diligence in the mining sector, and a slew of laws passed on elections and SSR.
And the negative:
  • But the PSCF was a bizarre peace process, and probably more a framework (indeed, as its name says) than a real process:
    • It was extremely cumbersome, with eleven state signatories and four guarantors;
    • Usually peace processes involve the belligerents in a conflict. This one didn't really––neither the M23 nor any other of the fifty-some armed groups in the eastern Congo was a party to the process. While Rwanda and Uganda––both erstwhile backers of the M23––were signatories, they never recognized their involvement, which made any progress in official meetings difficult. At the national level, it was even more idiosyncratic: the Congolese government was the only official member of the oversight mechanism, although it received support from donors and the UN, and was supposed to consult with civil society;
  • The progress (listed above) was mostly on paper, and arguably could have––and should have––been done without the PSCF. 
    • The defeat of the M23 was largely to result of bilateral pressure on Rwanda that happened outside the PSCF, and increased FARDC/MONUSCO military pressure;
    • The demobilization program was set up in December 2013, but has yet to be financed by the Congolese government or donors;
    • Laws on elections and SSR have indeed been passed, but (a) those laws could have very well be passed without the PSCF, and (b) both the SSR and the electoral process have been tarnished by a lack of inclusion and transparency. 
  • The PSCF created a very cumbersome bureaucracy that appeared more preoccupied with establishing long lists of metrics and objectives than in getting the job done. That's a bit cynical: Some things were indeed accomplished, and the benchmarks did perhaps serve to focus minds and to muster momentum. But at times it seemed that some of the signatories wanted to mire the PSCF in bureaucracy to slow it down on purpose. 
  • There has been little progress on key objectives:
    • Despite some arrests of high-ranking officers, it is fair to say that there has been little systematic action on holding security forces accountable for their actions, either by the courts or through parliamentary oversight;
    • There is a lack of real dialogue among Congolese political forces over key aspects of the reform agenda––in particular, elections and security sector reform;
    • High-profile political prisoners are still being locked up, while others have benefited from amnesty;
    • Lack of progress on decentralization of political power.
So was it all worth it? Yes, the PSCF has helped focus attention on a core set of issues, and create a set of common benchmarks for progress. But it has also demonstrated its limitations, with a lack of ownership by many of the stakeholders, and a lack of leverage and oversight by civil society, the international community, and other forces. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Podcast: Interview with Simone Schlindwein and Michael Sharp on anti-FDLR operations

This is the second in our podcast series and is focused on the recent operations against the FDLR. Who are the FDLR? How do these operations, now in their second month fit into regional politics? What is the likelihood of their success? Are there any political avenues that can be explored in addition to this military offensive?

I discussed these and other questions with:

  • Simone Schlindwein, correspondent for Die Tageszeitung for the Great Lakes region and the author of an upcoming book on the FDLR;
  • Michael Sharp, who has been working for the past three years with the Mennonite Central Committee doing outreach with armed group, in particular the FDLR.

Monday, March 2, 2015

RVI summer course on the Great Lakes

Interested in getting an intensive immersion into the politics and history of the Great Lakes region of Africa? The Rift Valley Institute will be holding its annual Great Lakes course in Kenya this year, between the 27 June and 3 July. You can apply here.
The Great Lakes Course covers the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi. The state and its institutions will be cross-cutting themes this year. In the DRC, the Course will look into the debates around the electoral process and the ongoing violence in the Kivus. For Burundi, the shrinking political space ahead of the 2015 elections and its impact on democratic processes will be examined. For Rwanda, the course will focus on the renewed stifling of opposition voices and the role of the state in a post-genocide context. The course is in English and French with simultaneous translation.

Highlights of the syllabus

DAY 1:  A history of land, violence and state-building in the region.
DAY 2:  Rwanda: a state in a post-genocide context; memory and culture.
DAY 3:  The DRC: what kind of state? Decentralization and institutional reform.
DAY 4:  The DRC: land and violence in the Kivus; peacekeeping; pitfalls and solutions.
DAY 5:  Burundi: the Arusha peace process; the current political landscape; justice and reconciliation.
DAY 6:  Elections, foreign aid and institutional weakness.

Core teaching staff

Jason Stearns  Director of Studies
Director, Congo Research Group, New York University
Emily Paddon PhD
Research Fellow, International Relations, University of Oxford
Judith Verweijen PhD
Senior Researcher, The Nordic Africa Institute
Scott Straus PhD
Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jean Omasombo
Professor, University of Kinshasa; Researcher, Royal Central Africa Museum, Tervuren; 
Willy Nindorera
Independent Political Analyst, Bujumbura
Michael Kavanagh
Bloomberg News
Koen Vlassenroot PhD
Professor and Director, Conflict Research Group, Ghent University
Aidan Russell PhD
Assistant Professor, International History, Graduate Institute, Geneva
Emmanuel de Mérode PhD
Director, Virunga National Park