Is this the beginning of the Third Congo War?

Yesterday Goma fell to the M23, a rebel group in eastern DRC with alleged links to both Rwanda and Uganda. The fall of Goma increases the likelihood of an all out war in eastern Congo that might quickly degenerate into a regional war – just like the Second Congo War was (for more on why peace failed see this ICG report).

I am on record as lacking any sympathies for the Kinshasa regime under Joseph Kabila (see here, here, and here). The horrendous situation in eastern DRC is as much his fault as it is of the alleged meddlers from Kampala and Kigali. The fact that the international community has taken to viewing the conflict as primarily regional is a mistake as it masks Kabila’s own failings in improving governance in the eastern DRC . It also gives him a chance to continue free riding on MONUSCO’s presence in the region.

Sadly, the international community appears set to waste this latest crisis by issuing statements and imposing sanctions which will only tackle the symptoms rather than the real problems behind the conflict. As the ICG argues:

If international donors and African mediators persist in managing the crisis rather than solving it, it will be impossible to avoid such repetitive cycles of rebellions in the Kivus and the risk of large-scale violence will remain. Instead, to finally resolve this conflict, it is essential that Rwanda ends its involvement in Congolese affairs and that the reconstruction plan and the political agreements signed in the Kivus are properly implemented.
For these things to happen Western donors should maintain aid suspension against Rwanda until the release of the next report of the UN group of experts, in addition to issuing a clear warning to the Congolese authorities that they will not provide funding for stabilisation and institutional support until the government improves political dialogue and governance in both the administration and in the army in the east, as recommended by Crisis Group on several previous occasions.
Over at Congo Siasa, the DRC expert Jason Stearns offers some preliminary thoughts on M23’s endgame:
In the past, I have speculated that it will be difficult for the M23 to conquer and hold territory, mostly due to their lack of manpower, which started off at around 400-700 and is probably around 1,500-2,500 now. They have been able to rely on Rwandan (and, to a lesser degree, Ugandan) firepower for operations close to the border (in particular Bunagana and Rutshuru, allegedly also this recent offensive), the farther into the interior they get, they harder it will be to mask outside involvement.
Alliances with other groups­­––Sheka, Raia Mutomboki, FDC, etc.––have acted as force multipliers, but have been very fickle, as the surrender of Col Albert Kahasha last week proved. From this perspective, the M23 strategy could well be more to nettle the government, underscore its ineptitude, and hope that it will collapse from within.
However, the recent offensive on Goma has made me consider another, bolder alternative. If the rebels take Goma, thereby humiliating the UN and the Congolese army, they will present the international community with a fait accompli. Yes, it will shine a sharp light on Rwandan involvement, but Kigali has been undeterred by donor pressure thus far, and has been emboldened by its seat on the Security Council. Also, as the looting by the Congolese army and their distribution of weapons to youths in Goma has shown, the battle for Goma is as much of a PR disaster for Kinshasa as for Kigali.

Six Questions You Always Wanted to Ask About Africa….

Rohac and co-authors provide answers (from Rwanda) to six questions you always wanted to ask about Africa. The questions and answers revolve around issues of rule of law, police-making, institutions, development assistance, human capital and culture.

Check out the publication here.

Give Kagame a break!

I admire Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society. That said, I disagree with the concluding paragraph in his latest post on the Rwandese military’s involvement in eastern Congo over at African Arguments:

“When a similar situation occurred in Sierra Leone, the Special Court for Sierra Leone went after the main supporters and funders of the rebel movement, in particular the President of Liberia, Charles Taylor. He was recently sentenced to 50 years in jail for his part in funding the murder and destruction of Sierra Leone. Yet the evidence of Rwanda’s support for warring groups in Congo is as strong – if not stronger – than the evidence that convicted Taylor. But because of the genocide in Rwanda and because both Uganda and Rwanda have good development programmes that western donors love to fund, they will not be criticised. Eastern Congo will continue to suffer.”

Following the damning UN report on Kigali’s adventures in the Congo and concerted campaigns by human rights activists, a number of donor countries, including the US, UK, Germany and the Netherlands, have (unwisely) stopped sending aid money to Kigali.

I am inclined to believe that there is truth to the claim that Rwanda supports the M23. But that does not necessary lead me to conclude that Rwanda should therefore be ostracized by the international community, for the following reasons:

  • Rwanda faces a real security threat from rebels in eastern Congo. Kagame is a dictator, no doubt about that (He is not your average tin pot dictator, but that’s beside the point for now). But he is also a purveyor of order in this rather volatile region of central Africa. The last thing eastern and central Africa needs is a slow motion civil war as is currently underway in Burundi. As long as Kinshasa’s incompetence continues to provide a safe launching base for rebels aiming to depose Kagame, Kigali will have no option but to (rightly so) intervene in eastern Congo. Let us not pretend otherwise.
  • The insurgencies in eastern Congo are a direct result of Kinshasa’s calculated inability to project power and control. In this instance, I think the Huntongian view that degree of government matters trumps concerns over the type of government. Eastern Congo needs order, period. Attempts at political negotiations with the numerous rebel factions must also be accompanied with strong military action to defeat all the rebel movements that refuse to come to the table. Kinshasa’s continued failure at either attempt leaves Rwanda no option but to step in in light of the observation above.

In a way the campaign to have Rwanda punished for its adventures in the DRC is emblematic of the problems associated with “mono issue activism” (Remember the danger of a single story?)

This is not a defense of Kagame’s human rights record. Everyone knows it is in the toilet. It is also not a blanket endorsement of foreign interventionism. What it is is an acknowledgement of the very complex context in which Kagame acted, and a consideration of the unintended consequences of cutting aid to Rwanda.

Rwanda’s involvement is a symptom of, and not the cause of the mess that is eastern DRC.

To those that want Kigali punished, I ask: What would it mean for Rwanda’s and the wider region’s security? What would it mean for economic growth and development for the 12 million Rwandese? What would it mean for infant and maternal mortality that have been on the decline (more rapidly than in most of the developing world) over the last decade?

Punishing Kagame (and the people of Rwanda) for Kinshasa’s ineptitude will not solve the problems in eastern Congo. That is just a fact.

UPDATE:

Please check out the comments section below for some insightful discussion on this subject. Despite the combativeness of some of the comments, they all raise some important points that I could not have incorporated in a short blog post.

On Rwanda’s brand of Developmental Authoritarianism

Many, including yours truly, have a love-hate relationship with Paul Kagame and his RPF regime in Rwanda.

On the one hand, his adventures in eastern DRC; alleged involvements in the assassination of opposition figures both at home and abroad; and overall restriction of political space in Rwanda are cause for concern. But on the other hand, he seems to be doing a marvelous job on the economic front (see here and here, for instance).

Source: Kigali City Official Website

In the latest issue of African Affairs, Booth and Golooba-Mutebi explore the nature of state-led development in Rwanda, with particular attention to how state-run companies are “ice breakers” for private sector firms in different sectors of the economy. The paper also observes Kagame’s strict separation of state and private accumulation of wealth, a fact that is demonstrated by Rwanda’s comparatively good performance on corruption indices. It is definitely worth reading.

Here is part of the abstract:

This article addresses one thematic gap – the distinctive approach of the RPF-led regime to political involvement in the private sector of the economy. It does so using the framework of a cross-national study which aims to distinguish between more and less developmental forms of neo- patrimonial politics. The article analyses the RPF’s private business operations centred on the holding company known successively as Tri- Star Investments and Crystal Ventures Ltd. These operations are shown to involve the kind of centralized generation and management of economic rents that has distinguished the more developmental regimes of Asia and Africa. The operations of the military investment company Horizon and of the public–private consortium Rwanda Investment Group may be seen in a similar light. With some qualifications, we conclude that Rwanda should be seen as a developmental patrimonial state.

I often tell my friends that at the end of the day, really, all that matters is that we bring down infant mortality to under 10/1000 live births [this is a good proxy for quality of life] and improve the standards of living for the average person, everywhere.

With that in mind, the favored retort among anti-democracy crowds in Sub-Saharan Africa – that “you can’t eat democracy” – has some truth in it. I bet most people would rather live in authoritarian Singapore than democratic Malawi (feel free to disagree).

The point here is that good governance (and for that matter, democracy) are means to an end, and we should never forget what the end is – that is, the improvement of the human condition for all. And yes, I agree that democracy, i.e. political freedom, could also be an end in itself, with the qualifier that those most likely to enjoy freedom are those that are already fed, clothed and housed, with a little more time to spare to blog and read Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o or Okot P’Bitek.

China and Vietnam in Asia, and now Rwanda and Ethiopia in Africa, are cases that will continue to invigorate the debate over how to improve living standards for the largest number of people in the least amount of time.

For now my love-hate relationship with Paul Kagame and Meles Zenawi [of Ethiopia] continues….

Africa’s Singapore or Uganda waiting to happen?

Yet Rwanda has one huge advantage: the rule of law. No African country has done more to curb corruption. Ministers have been jailed for it. Transparency International, a watchdog, reckons Rwanda is less graft-ridden than Greece or Italy (though companies owned by the ruling party play an outsized role in the economy). “I have never paid a bribe and I don’t know anyone who has had to pay a bribe,” says Josh Ruxin, one of the owners of Heaven, a restaurant in Kigali, the capital.

The country is blessedly free of red tape, too. It ranks 45th in the World Bank’s index of the ease of doing business, above any African nation bar South Africa and Mauritius. Registering a firm takes three days and is dirt cheap. Property rights are strengthening, as well—the government is giving peasants formal title to their land.

That is the Economist on Rwanda. I remain cautiously optimistic about Kagame’s brand of effective authoritarianism. I just hope that he will not be tempted to degenerate into the Musevenis of this world.

Kenyan Court Orders Bashir Arrest, Sudan Expels Kenyan Ambassador

UPDATE:

The BBC reports:

Sudan ordered the expulsion of the Kenyan ambassador after a Kenyan judge issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s foreign ministry has said.

Mr Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

Sudan has ordered the Kenyan ambassador to leave the country within 72 hours.

It has also ordered the Sudanese ambassador in Kenya to return to Khartoum.

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A Kenyan court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir over alleged war crimes in Darfur.

The ruling came after Kenya allowed Mr Bashir to visit in August in defiance of an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for his arrest.

The judge said he should be arrested if he “ever set foot in Kenya” again, the AFP news agency reports.

Kenya is a signatory to the treaty which established the ICC in 2002.

The new Kenyan constitution requires that the government implements its international treaty obligations. The ruling, though without much bite – I doubt Bashir will need to be in Kenya any time soon, has immense symbolism in the region.

It also matters for Kenyan domestic politics. Presently, a few high ranking Kenyan politicians – including the Finance minister, two former ministers and former police boss – are on trial at the ICC for crimes against humanity. The accused await judgment on the admissibility of their cases later this year or early next. The Bashir ruling means that if the charges against the “Ocampo Six” are confirmed but the government drags its feet in implementing an arrest warrant then the courts will step in.

More on the Bashir case here and here.

In other news, Uganda and Tanzania have rejected Khartoum’s petition to join the East African Community, citing “several issues like their democracy, the way they treat women and their religious politics.” Yeah right.

The other dimension of the (origins of) Congolese Conflict

UPDATE: Stay updated on the run-up to the elections in the DRC here.

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In reaction to Dodd-Frank many in the blogosphere, including yours truly, have insisted that the problem in eastern Congo is not a law enforcement problem but a governance problem whose solution must come primarily from Kinshasa.

Often ignored is the regional dimension of the conflict.

The involvement of Rwanda and Uganda in eastern DRC (in the first and second Congo wars) have been excellently documented in Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (the author also blogs at Congo Siasa).

The invading forces may have left, but the geopolitical posturing remains and has consequences for the flow of arms and mushrooming of militias in the region.

Here’s a short documentary on the same.

This is not to simply vilify Uganda and Rwanda – one could argue that the presence of rebels from both countries in the Congo provided legitimate grounds for an invasion.

The point here is that the regional dimension of the conflict should not be ignored even as we insist that attention should shift to Kinshasa in an attempt to provide a lasting end to the conflict in eastern DRC.

The EAC needs a defense pact

UPDATE: The Government of South Sudan has barred people of Somali origin from entering the country by road for “security reasons.” This wrongheaded move has created an awkward situation since not all people of Somali origin are from Somalia. In Kenya, for instance, a good chunk of the long haul transport sector is run by Kenyans of Somali origin.

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The Ugandan government recently went on a $1 billion shopping spree for six fighter jets. The deal, which almost broke the bank, made a significant dent on Uganda’s forex reserves. Many, while acknowledging the risks that might have motivated the purchase, have questioned the wisdom of spending that much money on six jets.

For those not in the know, the key motivation for Museveni’s purchase was a desire to project military power in the region for two key reasons:

Firstly, in order to create a market for Ugandan light industries – cooking oil, soap, etc – Kampala has had to project military power to help in the pacification of pockets of eastern DRC and northern Uganda/South Sudan. These markets are crucial because they create jobs in Uganda, allowing Museveni some room as he continues to preside over Uganda’s decline into a dysfunctional police state.

The second reason was Museveni’s desire for military grandeur in the region. Kigali and Khartoum are not in the best of terms with Kampala. Museveni is probably suspicious of a potential Odinga presidency in Kenya. For these reasons, the Ugandan military establishment – the real rulers of Uganda – might have wanted to ensure that non of their neighbors are in a position to bully them in the near future.

While most of Museveni’s militarism is inspired by a mentality from a bygone era, I find Kampala’s fears against Khartoum as legitimate grounds for a regional defense pact. It is an open secret that Khartoum will try as much as it can to destabilize the new government of South Sudan (and by extension the wider region). And they have a few options:

  • They can foment civil war within South Sudan – there are a lot of disgruntled armed bands within South Sudan who might decide to take their chances with Khartoum; Remember that even Riek Machar, the current vice president of South Sudan, formed a Khartoum-backed splinter group (SPLA-Nasir) that fought Garang’ back in the early 1990s.
  • They can use armed groups in the wider central African region – including Kony’s LRA and the plethora of roving bandits in eastern DRC to engineer insecurity in South Sudan. Khartoum has used the LRA against SPLM in the past.
  • They can invade in an all out war. This option is the riskiest because of its potential to generate international opprobrium. But remember that Ethiopia and its secessionist former province Eritrea fought a bloody war that generated nothing but “stern” warnings from the UN and the wider international community. The US even armed Ethiopia because it needed Addis Ababa to fight its war in Somalia.
  • Lastly, they can use non-conventional tactics. Terrorism is slowly growing in the wider east African region. So far Eritrea has been the biggest state sponsor of terror in the region – mostly aimed at Ethiopia in the Ogaden, Oromo land and Somalia. The involvement of Ugandan and Burundian troops in Somalia has created even more enemies for these groups. There is no reason to believe that Khartoum would not use these same groups to destabilize South Sudan, if for nothing then as a survival tactic for a beleaguered Bashir administration that will forever be blamed for having lost the South’s oil.

Needless to say, an unstable South Sudan is bad for the region. Period.

The proliferation of small arms is already a major problem in the areas bordering the Ilemi triangle and eastern Uganda. That instead of sticks pastoralists have to roam around with AK-47’s says it all. More conflict in South Sudan will only make a really bad situation even worse. The potential for proxy wars within the region would also be an unnecessary drain on limited resources. Because of various interests in Juba, an aggression by Khartoum against South Sudan will definitely be met with reaction in one form or another from Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.The conflict will definitely be regionalized. Lastly, Eritrea’s bad habit of supporting terrorists should not be permitted to catch on. Khartoum must know that if it tries this dirty tactic it will be met by more than just resolutions from the AU, IGAD or the UN.

Which is why I think that the EAC should have a robust defense pact. War should have to be a last resort. But that does not mean that the East African Community should not prepare for such an eventuality, if it arise.

That way, no single country will be burdened with the task of buying all the necessary hardware needed to keep Khartoum deterred.

Such a plan would face significant challenges, of course – key among them the fact that the region’s armies are non-professionalized. A functional defense pact would require near total civilian control of the army. Only Kenya and Tanzania come close to this in the EAC. Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda are dominated by their respective armies. Burundi can’t even win against rebels within its territory and remains a militarized tin pot dictatorship. And Ethiopia, if it were to join, is still dominated by the remnants of the rebellion that ousted Mengistu.

These challenges aside, it might be worth a try. Such a pact might even help professionalize and de-politicize the officer corp in the region’s armed forces.

And the biggest winner if this were to happen is MORE regional trade.

Quick hits

Texas in Africa’s review of Fighting for Darfur.

Blattman on economic growth and development.

The long arms of the Rwandan state?

The Zambian elections will be close. Last time round the opposition leader lost by a mere 3% (I will be there for the campaigns this summer).

And lastly, Kenya’s trillion-shilling proposed budget. High on development expenditure but could it crowd out the private sector?

 

The democratic republic of congo

Just in case you forgot, the Kivus are still on fire. Thousands of people remain displaced. Dozens routinely get killed and raped by both government and rebel forces, and sometimes even by UN peacekeepers. Things are crazy bad out there.

Meanwhile, Kabila and his cabal in Kinshasa remain as ineffectual as ever with no apparent strategy or plan, not just for the Kivus, but for the whole country.

The ICG has this nice report on the Congo. People may not agree on the priorities and approaches of resolving the conflict in the Kivu’s, but this report provides a good background for those who are new to the conflict.

Also check out this Report on the Congo from the Congressional Research Office.