Painting by Cheri Samba

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

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

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Will Jean-Pierre Bemba return?

Jean-Pierre Bemba at the ICC (Courtesy Radio Okapi)
Could Jean-Pierre Bemba walk free? What would the consequences be for Congolese politics? The answers to these questions are unpredictable, but could dramatically impact Kabila’s succession battle, which is becoming increasingly tense.

Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested in May 2008 under a warrant from the International Criminal Court for crimes committed by his troops in the Central African Republic in 2002. The trial has been percolating through the ICC system now for over four years (it didn’t begin until November 2010), and closing arguments took place in November of last year. Court watchers now expect a verdict by June, although its been pushed back numerous times.

It is difficult to predict the verdict, but based on the quality of the evidence that they have seen or heard of, some close to the court feel that Bemba stands a good chance of being released. But even then, there are several different scenarios: he could be found guilty and released after time served––he has already been in jail for seven years––or be found innocent. While in the mind of many in the west of the country, Bemba’s charges were trumped up regardless, there are far-reaching implications of a guilty verdict. Congo’s constitution does not allow individuals guilty of war crimes to run for office.

Even if Bemba is released, many questions would remain:

A second, far minor charge has been brought against him, his lawyer, and other MLC members (Fidèle Babala, Aimé Kilolo, Jean-Jacques Mangenda, and Narcisse Arido) for interfering with witnesses. That trial could prolong Bemba’s dealings with the ICC, although all the other accused in that case have seen set free pending trial.

Would Kabila allow Bemba to return? After all, Bemba had already fled into a sort of exile in Portugal when he was arrested, following deadly battles between his troops and the national army in downtown Kinshasa in March 2007. Given Bemba’s popularity, Kabila might try to prevent his return.

How popular is Bemba? There has not been any national polling in the Congo in recent years. In 2006, Bemba won 42% of the vote in the second round of polling, winning big in the center and the west of the country. Given the recent collapse of the UDPS opposition party, the illness of its leader Etienne Tshisekedi, and the lack of another leader who can galvanize national opinion, Bemba would stand a good chance of scoring high in the polls again, even though his MLC party has disintegrated over the years. 

The provinces in which Bemba won a majority in the run-off election in 2006 (Courtesy: BBC)

Even if Bemba cannot run, he could throw his weight behind another candidate. Sources close to Moise Katumbi, the governor of Katanga, say that the two have been in touch. Katumbi, who is still in Kabila’s coalition but has clearly expressed his presidential ambitions, is a Swahili speaker from Katanga. Given that the country has been ruled by a Katangan president for the past eighteen years, the support of a westerner like Bemba could be a significant boost to Katumbi.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The weekly Kash: Filimbi

On March 15, police and intelligence agents broke up a workshop on non-violent protest in Kinshasa, arrested dozens of youth activists from the Congo and West Africa, as well as journalists and a diplomat. Most have been released, but three members of Filimbi, a new youth group, have been detained by the intelligence service––which is not mandated to arrest or detain anybody––for over a month now. The three have not been allowed to see their families or lawyers.

Voici our exclusive, weekly Kash:

Monday, April 13, 2015

MONUSCO's military mandate: A red herring?

UN Security Council 
Much of the debate around the recent mandate renewal of the UN peacekeeping mission was centered on military action. News reports focused on the recent debate about a drawdown of UN troops and operations against the FDLR. But, pace Clausewitz, military action should always be part of a broader political strategy. And what is that strategy?

Yes, it is true, as news media reported, that the mandate renewal came at a time of intense tensions between MONUSCO and the Congolese government. And some of these tensions are indeed military ––the Congolese foreign minister wanted the peacekeeping force cut by 6,000, the Security Council answered with a preliminary cut of 2,000. And then there is the kerfuffle over the anti-FDLR operations: the government had been planning joint operations against the Rwandan rebels together with MONUSCO since last year, only to scrap those plans and go it alone this year when the UN raised concerns over the human rights record of two FARDC commanders. So it was no surprise that the Council reminded the government of the importance of going after the FDLR––it said that any permanent reduction in troops would depend on it––and of collaborating with UN troops.

But the real problem is not military. Yes, MONUSCO's human rights due diligence policy ("don't support FARDC commanders with poor human rights records") has rubbed Kinshasa the wrong way for many years. But it is actually in military matters that the interests of MONUSCO and the government most closely align. While Kinshasa has not always shown a lot of vigor in dealing with armed groups in the eastern Congo (read this recent post by Christoph Vogel on the FDLR), it has always been the threat of a Rwandan proxy that played the most important role in pushing the FARDC into complicity with armed groups. And for now, that threat has disappeared. Despite its lackluster performance against the FDLR, the Congolese army has deployed resources––and lost hundreds of troops––in operations against the M23, ADF, and APCLS in the past two years. So, broadly speaking, MONUSCO and the FARDC both want the same thing: to get rid of armed groups, although sometimes the UN wants it more, and the FARDC is particular about which armed groups.

Where interests diverge crassly is on the political process. The Congo is headed toward an election, possibly the most contentious poll since independence. This election could mark the first democratic  transfer of power between heads of state since independence in 1960. Or it could mark the critical erosion of institutions (constitution, parliament, provincial assemblies, etc.) that the Congolese people and donors have spent the past 16 years building.

The UN wants to play an important role in this political process. The formulation used about twenty times in the mandate renewal is "good offices"––MONUSCO is supposed to use its "good offices" to support institutional reform, democratization, and in dealing with armed groups. With regards to the elections, it says MONUSCO should:
Promote peace consolidation and inclusive and transparent political dialogue among all Congolese stakeholders with a view to furthering reconciliation and democratization, while ensuring the protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights, paving the way for the holding of elections. 
But "good offices" do little good if the government refuses to come to those offices. Or shuts them down altogether. Last year, when the head of the UN mission Martin Kobler tried to convene various political parties  to promote consensus around the electoral process, Kabila shut the initiative down. Prior to that, MONUSCO's attempts to get involved in security sector reform––as requested by the Security Council––and in the demobilization of Congolese combatants met with cold/lukewarm shoulders in government ministries.

This is the era that MONUSCO finds itself in––one in which it has been reduced to what it arguably does worst: protecting civilians in the absence of a broader political process. What it did best was precisely that: help negotiate and the shepherd through a political process during the 2001-2006 period. Since 2006, the UN has been almost entirely marginalized from the political process. It cannot broker peace deals with armed groups, arguably the most important task for the mission. It cannot, although it has tried, try to promote goodwill and consensus around the electoral process in Kinshasa. And it has struggled to play a meaningful role in institutional reform, although it has the mandate to do so.

More and more, UN missions are being deployed into situations without a viable political process. That is the arguably the case in Darfur, South Sudan, and even Mali. Of course, the absence of a political process does not obviate the need for a mission. A lot can still be accomplished––most notably, the ushering in of a political process, but also, as in the Congo, political and human rights reporting, facilitation of humanitarian aid, and a basic check on military and political excesses.

To be blunt: It is a shame that MONUSCO cannot play a role in military operations in the eastern Congo; those operations would probably be more effective and less abusive of civilians. But it is a much greater shame that military force has become the primary remit of the mission. Brute force will not solve the conflict.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Kash: Mass grave on the outskirts of Kinshasa

This is the first in a series of caricatures the Congolese political caricaturist Kash (aka Kashauri Thembo) is providing exclusively to Congo Siasa.

The Congolese media have been abuzz today about a mass grave that has been found on the outskirts of Kinshasa. Local residents alerted the UN that trucks came in the dead of night on March 19th to bury corpses in a mass grave, and some fear that the bodies may include opposition and civil society activists who have disappeared since recent protests against the government. Since then, Congolese authorities have confirmed that they buried 424 bodies in Maluku, the suburb, but say that the bodies belong to indigents and dead-born babies who were never claimed from the city morgue in Kinshasa.

Two parallel investigations have been launched, one civilian, the other military, and the government has given contradictory signals as to whether they will exhume the bodies.

In the meantime, here is Kash:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Podcast: Ida Sawyer on human rights trends in the Congo

For this week's podcast, I spoke with Ida Sawyer, the senior researcher for Human Rights Watch on the Congo. We discussed the recent arrests of civil society and opposition activists to the backdrop of an increasingly acrimonious election season.

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?