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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

String of massacres reportedly kills over 80 around Beni

Over the past month, over 80 civilians have been killed in Beni territory of North Kivu, civil society organizations report. Most point the finger at the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels, who have been based in this area––their main redoubt was in the Ruwenzori mountains along the border with Uganda––since 1995. The attacks have displaced over 30,000 people, according to a United Nations source, and many of the victims, including young children, were hacked to death with machetes and hatchets.

This is by far the worst spate of violence in recent months in the Congo––for comparison, during the nineteen months of the M23 rebellion, the UN reported 116 fatalities at the hands of those rebels. And yet, many questions remain about these recent killings.

ADF attacks over last month (red); ADF base of operations pre-2014 (blue polygon); ADF Kamango attack December 2013 (blue)
A few facts are clear: Following their defeat of the M23 in November 2013, the Congolese army launched a large offensive against the ADF on 16 January, 2014. These operations––which were controversial, as the UN peacekeeping mission wanted to prioritize operations against the FDLR––allowed the Congolese government to take back ADF strongholds that had been occupied for years. The Congolese army declared victory on March 13, 2014, when the army destroyed their last military base in the Ruwenzori mountains.

Fighting was very heavy, and the Congolese army suffered at least 217 fatalities in this period. The Congolese government initially said they killed 531 rebels during those operations. A UN official I spoke to yesterday suggested that the figures of ADF killed cited by the Congolese were now around 700, a figure that Uganda authorities deem to be credible, although the UN Group of Experts said in June 2014 that casualty figures were most likely inflated.

It is also clear that the ADF are no strangers to brutality. In mid-2013, they reportedly beheaded five people around the village of Kamango, where according to local civil society they also killed 40 people on Christmas day in 2013.

According to sources within the UN, the ADF appears to have split into three parts, with some having fled northwards into Ituri, while others try to maintain their supply lines into Uganda. The same UN source, who has been following the ADF attacks closely, said that these atrocities smacked of desperation, since the group may have lost up to 80% of its troops in the past year. "We estimate them to be around 150 strong now," he suggested. Other UN sources have placed the number higher, at 500, but still considerably lower than the 1,200 estimated in January 2014.

So what prompted this latest killing spree? Some suggest that it was intended to distract from Congolese army operations, which have continued to the southwest of Beni. This sort of strategic violence would also serve to discredit the Congolese army, which would be exposed as unable to protect its population, and would require redeployment of troops. This is certainly a possibility––probably the most likely one––although the pace of FARDC "Sokola" ("Clean") operations has slowed considerably since March 2014. Another hypothesis links the massacres to the FARDC operations earlier this year, suggesting that they were simply revenge attacks, without strategic purpose. Finally, some local leaders have suggested that the attacks may have been carried out in complicity with––or perhaps even entirely by––Congolese army officers, who are upset that they were passed over in the recent army shuffle.

Whatever the reason, the ADF has now taken on a much higher priority for both the Congolese army and the UN. Senior MONUSCO commanders were on their way to Beni yesterday to assess the situation. Relations between the UN peacekeeping mission and their Congolese counterparts had soured in recent months, especially since the head of the mission Martin Kobler turned his attention toward the electoral process. The commander in charge of Operation Sokola, General Muhindo Akili Muondos, has cooler relations with the UN than both General Lucien Bauma and Colonel Mamadou Ndala, the previous commanders of North Kivu and Operation Sokola, respectively. On their part, the local population has complained that the local UN troops are rarely seen patrolling and never at night.

For more information on the ADF, the International Crisis Group published a report on the group in 2012 here. One of the important takeaways from that report––and the reporting by the UN Group of Experts––is that, despite the presence of foreign Islamists within the group, the links to Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab have probably been exaggerated.

Congo Siasa: Back Online

We're back! 

After ten months of absence, Congo Siasa is opening its doors again today. Over the coming months, you will notice some changes to the layout and content of the blog. Besides your usual prattle about Congolese politics, these new features will include:
  • A new, more engaging layout with pictures and graphics;
  • More guest blogging from the Congo and beyond;
  • Podcasts and audio interviews with key players in Congolese politics.
It will take a few months to have completed all these changes, but that will not prevent us from providing commentary and analysis on current affairs.

A last note: Due to the high level of spam, all comments will now have to be approved before being put online. This may cause slight delays. 

Aksanti kwa kuvumilia; melesi pona kozela. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

RVI summer courses

Rift Valley Institute Field Courses 2014

The Rift Valley Institute's field courses on Sudan and South Sudan, the Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes take place from May to July 2014. Now in their eleventh year, the courses provide a basis for understanding current political and developmental challenges in the region. They are taught by teams of leading specialists--from the region and beyond-and offer a unique opportunity to spend time with an outstanding group of specialists, away from routine distractions. RVI courses are designed for policy-makers, diplomats, investors, development workers, researchers, activists and journalists--for new arrivals in the region and those already working there who wish to deepen their knowledge. A dawn-to-dusk programme of seminars, lectures, group discussions and special events examines the key social, environmental, political and cultural features of each of the three sub-regions.

Horn of Africa Course
31 May - 6 June 2014
The 2014 Horn of Africa Course, held in Kenya from 31 May to 6 June, will cover Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland, and northern Kenya. The course offers a multi-disciplinary examination of the crises afflicting the Horn and explores continuity and change under new political leadership at the national and sub-national level across the region. 

Sudan and South Sudan Course 
14 - 20 June 2014
The Sudan and South Sudan Course will also be held in Kenya, from 14 to 20 June. New rebellions and ongoing civil war in both the Sudans have put social and economic development in jeopardy. Understanding the history of state formation and conflict in the two countries is more important than ever. The course addresses the challenge of working in this complex, fluid environment, linking analysis of current events to contextual understanding of history, politics, war, society and economy. 

Great Lakes Course
28 June - 4 July 2014
The Great Lakes Course Course, held in Burundi from 28 June to 4 July, will cover Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The 2014 course will examine the ongoing violence in the Kivus in the wake of the defeat of the M23 rebel group, and the prospects of institutional reform in the DRC as the country prepares for local elections. In Burundi, it will examine the challenges facing the country in the run-up to the 2015 elections. For Rwanda, the focus will be on the tensions between political liberalization and the top-down approach to economic and social development. The course is in English and French with simultaneous translation.

To apply online--and to obtain further information on courses, staff, and locations--please visit and download the 2014 Field Course Prospectus. For a general introduction to RVI courses please see our one page overview of the courses. Applications are considered in order of receipt. Places are limited. You can apply here.

Accounts of previous years' courses can be found here, and testimonials from previous course participants can be read here. In the coming months the RVI will be sending out updates on the courses, including on teaching staff and locations. In order to receive these, please subscribe to the RVI mailing list

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Siasa hiatus

As readers will have realized, Congo Siasa is on a hiatus for the coming months. I hope to be back soon.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How the Congolese army perceives itself

During the recent military escalation in the Kivus, the Congolese army fared far better than in the past, defeating a weakened M23. While the army leadership made an effort to streamline the chain of command and to ensure adequate supplies, army reform will have to be far more deep-rooted.

It is interesting to see how Congolese officers themselves see the challenge. In February of this year, the army high command invited around 120 senior officers to Kinshasa for a seminar on army reform––it was an excuse to remove them from the field, where they were clogging up the military hierarchy and, in the case of some, embezzling funds. But many of them are highly qualified officers, and when they were asked to produce an analysis of the army's defeat to the M23 in Goma in November 2012, they came up with a telling and damning document.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's left to save in Kampala?

On Monday, the peace talks in Kampala seemed to (again) be on the verge of success. The M23 and the Congolese government delegations were on their way to State House, and international envoys said both sides had agreed on the eleven articles of the agreement. At the last minute, however, the deal fell apart––over the simple issue of a title.

The Congolese refuse to sign an "agreement" (accord) and merely want to issue a "declaration" to conclude the talks. The M23 and the Ugandan mediation, meanwhile, are pushing for a formal, binding agreement.

The Congolese––who have been blamed by the Ugandan mediation for the failure, and who in their turn blame Museveni––don't see why they should sign a binding agreement with an organization that no longer exists. "No country in history has signed an agreement with a movement that has declared its own dissolution," said the Congolese information minister. The Congolese delegation is under pressure from a Congolese public that never liked the Kampala talks and is all the more opposed now that the M23 has been militarily defeated. Meanwhile, the M23 leadership, who have little to gain personally by signing a deal, as they are unlikely to receive any high-ranking positions, don't want to hand the Congolese a diplomatic victory on top of the military one. 

They seemed to be backed in this position by the Ugandan facilitation, who, after all, has most of their military leaders in custody. The Ugandans immediately blamed the Congolese, saying they had been given a long time to study the agreement and refused even to enter the room with the M23. The Ugandans later made a semi-veiled threat, saying the M23 "can still regroup," something that would only be possible with Ugandan complicity, as the M23 rebels are now largely in the custody of their army. 

Why is a deal still important? For several reasons. First, there could be over 2,500 M23 soldiers still at large––390 have turned themselves over to the Congolese army, around 150 surrendered to the UN mission, over 600 are in Rwanda since Bosco Ntaganda's defection last April, and the Ugandans claim (although it begs credulity) that there are 1,700 on their soil. The peace deal would have given amnesty for crimes of insurrection and could have paved the way for the rank-and-file, at least, to come back home and enter demobilization or army integration. Now they are sitting around, an accident waiting to happen. This was the argument that Martin Kobler, the head of the UN mission, made yesterday.

Secondly, a peace deal would clearly state that there will be no amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity, at least theoretically preventing the Congolese from striking any deals with commanders with blood on their hands (although those deals are fairly unlikely now).

Finally, a peace deal would allow for the diplomatic process to continue. It would allow President Museveni's role––as controversial as it was––to be officially recognized, and bring the Kampala talks to a close. It would allow for Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda to put the M23 behind them and move forward on substantive issues of regional integration and dealing with other armed groups, such as the FDLR and ADF-Nalu. And it would marginalize the top M23 leadership, like Sultani Makenga and Innocent Kaina. 

For now, however, a peace deal seems a long way off. The international envoys have left Kampala, a war of blame has started between Kampala and Kinshasa, and only a small skeleton crew remains at the negotiation table. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Kabila's choice: reforms or survival?

Following the national concertations in Kinshasa in early October, President Kabila gave a speech in which he announced, in the interest of national unity, the formation of a "government of national cohesion." Now, a month later, there are signs that Kabila will move soon to set up this government. When he does so, he will have a difficult choice: keep the current prime minister and maintain course on state reforms; or bring in someone who can help him rally the political elite around him.

Prime Minister Matata Ponyo, who has been in office since April 2012, has been able to make modest progress on improving governance, especially with regards to the economy and state finances. He is particularly popular with the donor community, who think that he has been able to name some competent technocrats to various ministries and has inspired a new élan in government. Many soldiers and state officials are now paid directly through bank accounts and through mobile cash transfers; ministers are more transparent in their interactions with journalists; and inflation has remained negligible. (Although the cours des comptes recently released a damning audit of state finances.) If Kabila wants someone who can keep up this progress, then Matata and his team might be the best bet.

But is this Kabila's priority? The president is about the plunge into a difficult period in the run-up to the end of his term in 2016. Due to constitutional term limits, he will then have to hand over the reins to someone else or change the constitutional term limits––which is explicitly forbidden by Article 220 of the 2006 constitution. A third option is also increasingly being floated: just deferring elections, much like Gbagbo did in the Ivory Coast, for several years, using the national census and funding problems as a pretext.

As the president enters into this turbulence, it may be more important to have a prime minister who can rally the fractious political elite around him, so they can back whatever delays or legal changes he wants to push through. The current prime minister is a competent technocrat, but (in part, precisely because he comes from a technical background) he does not have much of a political base or the ability to mobilize key power-brokers. What's more, he has angered many bigwigs by clamping down on some of the corruption rackets they were running, and by insisting that heads of political parties are now allowed to participate in the government themselves. In other words, he has made a lot of enemies who are now clamoring for his departure, and the president may be looking for a different skill set in his next PM.