Kabila now joins his neighbors Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Denis Sassou Ngwesso of the Republic of Congo as the latest in a small but growing list of African presidents who continue to buck the trend by abrogating constitutional presidential term limits.
This should not come as a surprise to students of political development.
Leadership transitions are notoriously difficult to manage. Especially in relatively shaky states like the DRC. In case it is not obvious, there will not be any easy solutions to the current impasse. Kabila clearly has the support of a sufficient number of elites that want him to stay in power — primarily for their own benefit. Enough that they are willing to send in the troops to kill protesting civilians.
This means that moralizing about Kabila’s disrespect for electoral democracy will not work. It is not just Kabila on the hook here. His domestic elite-level allies and foreign business associates who pillage the DRC’s resources are also on the hook. And they can’t simply be wished away. Furthermore, the ghosts of the Two Congo Wars will likely inform any regional intervention to try and resolve the constitutional crisis. Nobody wants to ignite more killings and instability.
Unfortunately for Congolese people, Kabila and his allies know this. And have revealed that they are willing to blackmail everyone into letting him stay in power.
In the past 15 years, the Banyamulenge have fought the same fight in the DRC [ “the persecution of the Congolese Tutsis”]. Kabila can be smart, offer them a political deal and save DRC, or choose the destructive path preferred by successive Congolese governments of recent years and lose eastern DRC — or even power in Kinshasa.
Criticisms and ultimatums to the eastern DRC rebels like that issued at last week’s Kampala emergency summit, and international condemnation and sanctions, will not change that fact.
I share Onyango-Obbo’s view on this matter.
The international community’s singular focus on the humanitarian disaster in eastern DRC (caused by Rwanda’s and Uganda’s meddling) is giving Kabila a chance to kick the can down the road one more time – until the next time that a group of a few hundred men with guns chase his troops out of town and kill and rape and loot and cause all manner of harm to innocent civilians while they are at it. Then the same dance will be orchestrated – condemnations from the UNSC and bloggers, regional summits, a few resolutions that never get implemented, etc.
The present hue and cry in the media about the M23 misses the fact that you can’t simply wish away the de facto power imbalances in eastern Congo by appealing to humanitarian concerns. The woefully incompetent FARDC and the Kinshasa government cannot tackle the better organized rebels backed by more savvy armies in Uganda and Rwanda.
To end the conflict in eastern Congo Kabila must give a lot of concessions to the rebels. Without concrete concessions the conflict will merely have been postponed to a later date.
The alternative is for Kabila and his Kinshasa cronies to wake up one day and decide to lead a competent government and national armed force that will deter Rwanda, a country that is 88 times smaller with almost 7 times fewer people, from meddling within their country’s territory. That is, if they can.
As is now common knowledge, the mineral glut in the DRC has been more a source of pain rather than gain. Minerals have financed both corrupt governments and their cronies in Kinshasa and marauding rebel groups in the ungoverned corners of the vast country.
To over-simply the issue, reforms will have to tackle both angles of the problem, i.e. both Kinshasa and the plethora of armed groups will have to come clean with regard to the extraction and sale of mineral resources. Kinshasa’s hoarding of all the benefits from the trade provides a perverse legitimacy for armed groups to continue their illicit activities.
Jason Stearns, the author of Dancing In the Glory of Monsters [I highly recommend the book], has a post on the complexities surrounding conflict minerals in the DRC.
First, “cautious” is the operative word. The Congolese export ban (September 2010 – March 2011) and the US electronic industry’s embargo of untraced minerals (April 2011 – present) have caused major job losses in the Kivus, as well as played into the hands of a select elite of military commanders, including ICC-indictee Bosco Ntaganda. It is, however, important to point out that neither initiative was caused directly by the Dodd-Frank legislation in the US. Rather, the export ban was decreed by the Congolese presidency, while the industry embargo was an aggressive interpretation of the US legislation. Dodd-Frank call for companies to carry out due diligence and to report their findings; the OECD guidelines call on companies to minimize the risk of financing armed groups.
Secondly, the Malaysia Smelting Corporation (MSC), which I had reported as having signed a deal for the largest tin mines in the Kivus, has not yet officially concluded a deal. A large Congolese delegation visited Malaysia earlier this year, and MSC and their Belgian partners Traxys then came to meet with President Kabila. A “confidentiality agreement” was signed with MSC regarding the Sakima concessions in Maniema, a good place to start as most of the mines there are removed from the main areas of conflict. In addition, MSC has not yet given $10 million for certification an tracing schemes, although the mining minister says they have agreed to fund these initiatives.
The long awaited discussion about the real content of higher education in Africa is underway. Be a part of it.
The DRC is getting ahead of itself with elections. One wonders whether holding elections is the wisest thing to do right now. Wars raging in the east. A country the size of western Europe but with the most rudimentary infrastructure. Loads of mineral wealth that create a few billionaires – most of them non-Congoleses – while the real Congolese starve or eke out a living with one eye on the lookout for marauding rebels and government forces thugs. The DRC is one big mess in need of radical clean up. Kabila simply will not do it. But he will win these elections for sure. And that means more instability in the great lakes region.
I just found out that I shall be in Zambia for the election campaigns – elections due in October – so watch this space for stuff on Zambian politics this August and September.
And lastly, China is upping its involvement in the Kenyan economy. According to Business Daily:
Several Chinese manufacturers are already setting up local production plants in Kenya, shifting from the previous strategy in which they supplied the domestic consumer market with goods imported from their home country.
More jobs = lower infant mortality rates. Everybody wins.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is 50 years old. The last 50 years (after they killed Lumumba) have been absolutely disastrous for this vast country in the middle of the Continent; Independence merely replaced the brutality, cruelty and pillage of King Leopold’s men (King Albert II attended the independence day “festivities”) with the brutality and kleptocracy of Mobutu. All I can say is that I hope the future holds a less punishing existence for the country’s 63 million plus.
Congratulations to Congolese people the world over for their enduring spirit. Kofi Olomide, the prolific Congolese soukous musician, sums it up in a quote from Samba: “This is hell’s system. The fire is raging but we don’t get burned.”
The other Continental disaster, Somalia, also turned 50 on Wednesday. No cause for celebration there either.
In the recent past the Niger coup, the return of the ailing Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua from a hospital in Saudi Arabia and the supposed peace deal between Khartoum and the Darfuris have stolen most headlines on the Continent.
But let us not forget that the eastern reaches of the DRC still approximate a war zone, to put it mildly. The ineffectual government in the opposite side of the country in Kinshasa still lacks the capacity to provide any amount of security to its citizens in the east. Makes you wonder why the DRC still survives as a single sovereign state.
The number of actual dead in the bloody civil conflict that begun with Kabila’s match towards Kinshasa in 1998 is sort of debatable – ranging from a low of just over 2 million to a high of 5.4 million, pick your number. Really, does it matter that only 2 million human beings instead of 5 million have so far died in the conflict? At this point should the numbers even matter?.
So let us not lose perspective here. Even by conservative estimates more than 2 million lives have been lost. Millions of children continue to stay out of school (with grave long-term consequences for the security and economy of the region). And those that benefit from the conflict – the generals and arms and mineral smugglers – continue to do so with impunity. There is also no question that international big business is either directly or indirectly bankrolling the conflict (check out the more detailed report from Global Witness here). Hillary Clinton’s visit last year to Goma highlighted the unbearably gruesome existence of those (especially women and children) who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a war zone. Everyone who matters in the country and region know these facts. So the big question is: What will it take to change people’s approach to this conflict? Why isn’t more being done?
The DRC might have a space program, but don’t be fooled by this rather strange choice of resource allocation in a country of nearly 69 million souls and per capita income of US $300. All forms of atrocities still take place unabated in the eastern regions of the country. When will those with the ability to stop this madness start giving a rat’s ass?
The pictures say it all. King Leopold’s ghost never left the vast central African country that is the DRC. In the East, a man by the name of Nkunda is waging a war against the Kinshasa government for God knows what reason. I don’t buy the story that he is protecting Tutsis from Hutus. If the rumors are true, Rwanda is in this for the minerals. Nkunda is an accomplice. Since when did an African warlord care about the people? This man thinks that the lives of Eastern Congolese people are expendable. He does not care about the people. I say he gets captured and taken through a public trial and then offered as an example to all future rebels.
In Kinshasa, Kabila is just as guilty. He is responsible for the power vacuum in the East that lets lunatics like Nkunda run around killing innocent women and children. His own soldiers, according to the NY Times, are killing people. Shooting the very civilians they are supposed to protect in the back.
It is time to stop pretending. Rwanda, if it supporting Nkunda should stop immediately. I am a fan of Kagame and I’d hate to see him tarnish his legacy this easily. Kagame, you saw it happen in your country, do not let the madness continue in the DRC. Kinshasa should be given an ultimatum: win the East or give it up. Fair and square. If Kabila’s forces cannot impose his will in the region, he should cede authority to the only force that currently seems to have the power to do so – that of the rebels led by Nkunda.
4 million human beings have died already. How many more can we let die before something gets done? I want to see people getting tried and punished for war crimes. I want to see Kabila out of power. I want to see Nkunda jailed or neutralised for his crimes. I want retribution. I want peace for the people of the DCR. If they can’t be a rational-legal state I want to see it split up. And my only reason is pure and simple: Enough is enough.
So Gen. Nkunda and his men have yet again captured an army base in the East of the DRC, further raising questions of the viability of this vast country as a united nation-state. The news reports did not come as a surprise. I have said again and again that Kabila seems unable to take it to Nkunda and his army and because of this I think that the DRC should be split up. Millions of people should not live forever in misery and at the mercy warring armies simply because of King Leopold’s greed several decades ago.
Kabila does not have complete control of the country and because of this the African Union and the UN should consider putting the Eastern part of the country in a trusteeship with the aim of granting them complete autonomy if they so choose in a referendum some time in the near future.
Time will not stand still to wait for Kabila, Nkunda, Museveni and Kagame to resolve their differences. As they, through their surrogates, squabble, millions of real people continue to die or be confined to lives as base as no human being should have to countenance in the 21st century. Addis Ababa and New York have buried their heads in the sand for too long over this matter. It is time to wake up and face the realities on the ground.
Yes, I know this seems as too simplistic a suggestion. Rwanda has a stake in this because of the deposed Hutus in the region – Nkunda himself is a Tutsi claiming to be fighting to defend his ethnic kinsmen from these Hutus. Uganda is involved too, perhaps because of the minerals or just because of Museveni’s need to keep his army busy to avoid discontents at home. It is a complicated mess to put it mildly. But all these other facets of this conflict do not negate the fact that the DRC, a vast country that is the size of Western Europe, is too big to be governed by a weak government in Kinshasa. Kinshasa cannot project its power throughout the country. Period. No society, at least not in the modern political economy, can exist without government. The chaos in the East of the DRC are as much a result of Kinshasa’s ineptitude as they are of foreign meddling by Kagame and Museveni. I say divide the country, or give the East more autonomy and move one.
One of the defining characteristics of a legitimate state is that it ought to have a monopoly over the use of violence. The army, the police and all physical security apparatus belong to the state. When a state cannot command enough authority and support to have this monopoly – for more than a decade – then the question of whether such a state is legitimate ought to be seriously considered.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is such a state. This central African country is the size of Western Europe but with an infrastructure that is probably worse than the Persians’ during the reign of Xerxes. Strictly speaking, the DRC has never been a cohesive nation-state. It began with Katanga secessonists right after independence. Mobutu’s kleptocracy barely held it together with an iron feast and bribes. With Kabila I came the chaos in the Kivus. Kabila II keeps losing battles to ethnic Rwandese rebels. Kinshasa’s control and political legitimacy does not extend to the Eastern region of the country.
So the big question is: Is the keeping of the territorial integrity of the DRC worth the 4 million lives and counting it has cost thus far? I say no. If Southern Sudan is anything to go by, sometimes partition can be the answer. It is almost certain that Southern Sudan will vote to secede in the forthcoming referendum. May be Eastern Congolese ought to be given this option as well. Kinshasa is very far from the Kivus – both literally and figuratively. The Easterners are closer (culturally and economically) to the Swahili speaking East Africans than the inhabitants of the Western parts of the country. It is and will always be very hard to forge a cohesive nation-state out of the mess that is the DRC.
So as I have stated before, Kabila II has two options. Either declare an all out war and defeat the rebels once and for all (I am no fan of rebel movements, regardless of their cause, and never will be) or agree to lose the Eastern part of the DRC. Eastern Congolese have had enough of this war of attrition. News that Gen. Nkunda has captured yet another vital army base just serve to confirm how weak Kinshasa is. If you cannot fight for the East let it go, Kabila. Let it go!