Political Developments in the DRC

Podcast: Renowned Africanist historian Crawford Young talks with Jason Stearns about politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It looks like Joseph Kabila may be able to extend his stay in office at least until 2018. The constitution bars him from being in office beyond 2016.

The decision to extend Kabila’s stay in office is likely the beginning of a bloody phase in the DRC’s political saga. Opposition groups claim that at least 50 people have died since Monday in clashes with the army and police.

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.

Who is the M23?

Jason Stearns over at Congo Siasa provides a link to a backgrounder worth reading on the rebel group.

Also with regard to the M23, Onyango-Obbo of the East African has some advice for Kabila:

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.

conflict minerals in the congo

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.

More on this on Jason’s blog here.

quick hits

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 DRC is 50 today

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.

the drc: the fire continues to consume lives unabated

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?

don’t forget about eastern congo

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?