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, April 27, 2010

CNDP-Kigali rift

More and more former CNDP members seem to be falling out with the government in Kigali. I wrote here previously that some members of the Rwandan security services suspect that the CNDP could be involved in the grenade attacks in Kigali. Several are now hiding in Kampala and Goma, others have been arrested in Rwanda, and some even suggest that Colonel Sultani Makenga, one of the highest-ranking ex-CNDP commanders in the Congolese army, is one of Kigali's suspects.

In an interview with Jeune Afrique (couldn't see it online yet) this week, President Kagame hints as much: When asked who might be behind the grenade attacks, he says that they are still gathering evidence, but that it includes people in the eastern DRC and in South Africa. By which he could of course mean the FDLR, but I think it is more likely that these are people close to Nkunda.

A suivre.

Papa Wemba speaks out

Most Congolese musicians have an ambivalent relationship with politicians. Many have to maintain good relations, as their funds rely to a certain extent on the largesse of politicians and businessmen (who often have links to political parties). On the other hand, they need to maintain street cred - a Congolese musicians' ultimate test is how often he or she is played in the clubs and on the radios, and if he is seen as too close to one politician or the other, it could damage his relationship.

So most musicians make veiled criticisms in their songs of politics, and sing mabanga - shout-outs paid for by people - to anyone who will pay, from the opposition or the government. Many Congolese songs are so peppered by these shout outs that a good portion of the song is just people's names.

A great list of some of the most popular mabanga from a few years back can be read in this fine article by Norbert Mbu. It shows the sad moral state the Congolese music scene has become. My favorite mabanga are:
  • Jaques Ilunga, a Kinshasa businessman, is called, étage ya suka, the highest story or penthouse, because nobody is above him.
  • Didier Kinuani, a diamond dealer, is l'infinitif, because he can't be conjugated when it comes to money. He's also, le sauveur de l'humanite. How understated.
  • Serge Kasanda, another businessman, is FMI, the International Monetary Fund.
  • Patrick Bologna, a Paris-based Congolese society man close to the president, is la couleur d'origine.
And so on.

So it was a bit of a surprise to me to see Papa Wemba, one of the best known Congolese musicians, come out and criticize Kabila's government so strongly. Some of this interview is in Lingala, but basically he's lambasting the government for its corruption. "People who have been in power for ten years and god knows how much money they have in their bank accounts. And they don't care one bit about the population."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ingabire on trial

This is turning out to be a very exciting electoral season in Rwanda, indeed. People are paying attention: A Wall Street Journal opinion piece came out in support of Kagame, while a TIME article asked whether the "hero" was turning to oppression. While my expertise is the neighboring Congo, I thought I would weigh in on a few matters.

Victoire Ingabire: This has been the biggest news of late. The Rwandan government arrested opposition politician Victoire Ingabire last week. She was later released on bail, but has been charged with ethnic divisionism, propagating genocide ideology and association with a terrorist group. There is not enough information publicly available - here case hasn't gone to trial yet - but let's have a preliminary look at the charges:

Ethnic divisionism & genocide ideology: Rwanda has several sweeping laws against divisionism. In 2001, the legislature passed a law defining divisionism: "when the author makes use of any speech, written statement or action that causes conflict that causes an uprising that may degenerate into strife among people." The 2003 constitution has a similar, albeit vaguer clause. In 2008, the government signed a law against genocide ideology that defined such a crime as follows:
The crime of genocide ideology is characterized in any behaviour manifested by facts aimed at dehumanizing a person or a group of persons with the same characteristics in the following manner:1. threatening, intimidating, degrading through defamatory speeches, documents or actions which aim at propounding wickedness or inciting hatred;2. marginalising, laughing at one’s misfortune, defaming, mocking, boasting, despising,degrading, creating confusion aiming at negating the genocide which occurred, stirring up ill feelings, taking revenge, altering testimony or evidence for the genocide which occurred;3. killing, planning to kill or attempting to kill someone for purposes of furthering genocide ideology.
The Rwandan government is understandably worried about ethnic hate speech, and the Wall Street Journal's Op-Ed compares these laws to the laws against Holocaust denial. However, I would argue that in Rwanda, the prosecutions have gone further than in Germany, France and Austria. In the 2003 elections, the main challenger Faustin Twagiramungu and another opposition politician Leonard Hitimana were both charged with divisionism, although they didn't provide firm evidence. Alison des Forges, the late Human Rights Watch researcher and premier cataloger of the genocide, was also labeled by the Minister of Justice as a "spokesperson for genocide ideology" at a conference on justice in Kigali in 2008. The reason: she had opposed the transfer of genocide suspects from the UN tribunal to Rwanda, saying they would not receive a fair trial in Kigali. Late last year, another head of an opposition party, Bernard Ntaganda, was summoned before the Senate on charges of genocide ideology for criticizing the government.

All this has led Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to accuse the government of interpreting divisionism laws generously in order to suppress its opposition. Two days ago, Human Rights Watch's researcher had to leave the country after the government refused to give her a work visa. Human Rights Watch has had a researcher based in Kigali for over a decade.

Ingabire's crime appears to be her statement at the genocide memorial in Kigali that:
For example, we are here honouring at this Memorial the Tutsi victims of the Genocide; there are also Hutu who were victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes, not remembered or honoured here. Hutus are also suffering. They are wondering when their time will come to remember their people.
Is this divisionism? According to a Rwandan Senate inquiry in 2006, it is. They concluded that genocide ideology could include saying that: “Hutus [are] detained on the basis of some simple accusation” or that “[there are] unpunished RPF crimes.” For a comprehensive overview of Rwanda's laws against divisionism and genocide ideology, see Lars Waldorf's article in The Journal For Genocide Research - he provides a list of people who had been prosecuted or gone into exile due to similar allegations, including human rights officials, journalists and politicians. (Lars is the former HRW researcher in Kigali.)

Ingabire is also accused of other instances of hate speech, for which I have not been able to find quotes. This includes suggestions that there was really a double genocide, with comparable numbers of Hutu and Tutsi killed.

Association with terrorist organizations: This means the FDLR. The Rwandan prosecutor this week revealed that three former FDLR officers had come forward, claiming their had collaborated with Ingabire and had been in meetings with her in Kinshasa, and the prosecutor said he had proof of emails and Western Union transfers between Ingabire and the FDLR. Anything is possible, let's wait and see. As I have said before, earlier claims that the UN itself had proved such collaboration were overstated, as all the UN expert panel said was that Ingabire had attended meetings of the Rwandan opposition in the Diaspora at which the FDLR had participated. Misguided, but not proof of collaboration.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Riposte on Johnnie Carson

I was speaking with a diplomat friend in Kinshasa about US Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson's visit. It appears my blog posting did him some injustice - he did "forcefully" raise the issue of MONUC withdrawal with Kabila, and he said all the right things about democracy and elections.

But then my friend went on - and I agree with him - to say: "US policy towards the Congo is a mess of good intentions without any coherence and, most importantly, without the necessary funding to make it all work. When you look at the US policy towards conflict minerals it's a list of good ideas that begin with the phrase "pending necessary funding" or something like that. The US just doesn't really care about this place and all their focus is on Sudan or terrorism right now. It seems Carson said all the right things, but he said almost nothing of substance, except maybe opposing MONUC withdrawal."

I rest my case.

(To see how journalists should use anonymous sources, and NOT abuse them, see this article by the New York Times. How glad I am that I am not a journalist, but a scurrilous blogger.)


  • After Minister of Info Lambert Mende's diatribe against MONUC last week, where he fulminated that they had stood by while insurgents killed a civilian, now a local NGO is claiming they have proof that the Congolese army killed between 11 and 42 civilians during the same violence in Mbandaka.
  • News from Rwanda: the government has arrested Victoire Ingabire, president of the opposition party FDU, on charges of promoting genocide ideology, ethnic division and collaborating with FDLR rebels. I feel a bit concerned by this, as the UN Group of Experts (the successor panel to the one I was on) documented her participation at a meeting with other opposition figures in Spain last year at which members of the FDLR apparently also participated. That participation, of course, does not amount to collaboration, but perhaps the Rwandan government has other proof.
  • Also, don't miss it - Kagame has a new book out! "Paul Kagame and the Resilience of a People," written (or co-written?) by Francois Soudan, an editor at Jeune Afrique magazine, who has also written very favorable pieces on President Kabila and other African heads of state. There are now several books on Kagame that are deeply favorable to his record - two years ago, New York Times' Stephen Kinzer brought out a book that didn't question many of the most controversial aspects of Kagame's tenure. Philip Gourevitch also is working on a new book on Rwanda.
  • Finally, the next in a series of victories of provincial parliaments in the Congo: the governors of both Maniema and South Kivu resigned under allegations of poor governance and financial malfeasance. One of them, Leonce Mudherwa of South Kivu, was very close to the presidency. In related news, Prime Minister Muzito had to answer questions in front of the national assembly today about "the destabilization of the provinces by Kinshasa," which above all is related to Equateur, where the MLC has lost its control over the governor's mansion.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heeeere's Johnnie

Some articles in the news:
  • US' top diplomat on Africa, Johnnie Carson, visited Kinshasa this week. Let's see...what could be on the top of his agenda - dealing with security sector reform? The high-stake upcoming elections? Respecting the rule of law? Not quite. According to one story (OK, it's a business magazine), he urged Kabila "to improve the business climate." He also spoke with Kabila briefly about the huge Tenke mining concession that belongs to Freeport McMoran, a US mining company that has been in a dispute with the Congolese government over the contract. The Congolese press also mentioned his visit to meet with the minister of finance, as well as a trip to Kisangani to see how the US marines were progressing with the training of one Congolese army battalion there. He also announced the signing of a $150 million HIV/AIDS prevention program with the Congolese government. I say it again: one battalion, an HIV/AIDS project and improving the business climate is a bit underwhelming.
  • Africa Confidential has a few stories (subscription only) about the race for oil concessions. Hydrocarbons minister Celestin Mbuyu is apparently in Europe, trying to get investors to invest in the many concessions in the east, center and west of the country. They expect Kabila to try to sign deals to get the hefty singing bonuses to fund his election next year.
  • The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Oxfam have published a report on sexual violence in the Kivus. While I have some questions about their methodology (the study is based on cases reported to one hospital in Bukavu), there main conclusion appears fairly solid: that many more cases of rapes committed by civilians are being reported. They conclude that rape has become accepted in society, which is worrisome as a long-term trend.

What's going on in Rwanda?

Reports emerged in the press today that President Kagame had arrested two high-ranking generals: Karenzi Karake and Charles Muhire (in the middle in this picture, between Gen Kayonga and Gen Kayizari). This is the next in a series of rumblings within the military establishment of the RPF. As I have written here before, there have been many RPF cadres who have left the country since 1994 to go into exile, but never so many high-ranking military officers from within the inner circle. Kayumba Nyamwasa, Patrick Karegeya, Charles Muhire and Karenzi Karake are all Ugandan-born Tutsi, all probably in the top 20 or so most influential officers in the army.

Bizarrely, Kagame had just promoted Muhire to the Chief of Staff of the army reserve, from head of the air force. Why would he promote him, only to arrest him a week later?

The BBC also reports that the president gave his presidential guard a raise a few months ago, but didn't increase the pay of regular soldiers. The same article suggests that the independent Kinyarwanda newspapers that were shut down last week had reported on problems between Karenzi Karake, Charles Muhire and the president.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Introducing a new name to an old section: Kadhalika, meaning et cetera in Swahili. A big name for my links to other articles of interest on the web.
  • Colette Braeckman, probably the best known foreign journalist in the Congo, posted an article on her blog called: "Some questions about the Systeme Kabila." Braeckman is hard to predict - she has often be criticized for being too favorable to the various governments in the region, both Kinshasa and Kigali (quite a feat), and once even published an article that was very favorable towards Nkunda. But now she has come out with an article that is very critical of Kabila here.
  • The International Conference on the Great Lakes (ICGLR) finished a meeting last week on natural resources and conflict. I don't have the details, but they apparently agreed on a certification scheme for minerals. More here.
  • A good compilation of views on press freedom in Rwanda, on the occasion of the banning of the two main Kinyarwanda newspapers.
  • A nice list of blogs on Africa, compiled by African Politics Conference Group (kudos to Texas in Africa). All the nicer because I'm on it.
  • More indications that a Canadian general might take over the lead of MONUC's military. But this doesn't apparently mean that Canadian troops would come to bolster MONUC on the ground.

Affaire Enyele: Political aftershocks

The rebellion/insurgency in Equateur is, as predicted, now spilling over into the political domain. According to some sources in Kinshasa, the government is now investigating Jean-Yves Ollivier, a former arms broker and member of the old Francafrique crowd from the Mitterand days. Ollivier was allegedly close to Jean-Pierre Bemba during the rebellion and reportedly helped him with logistics and weapons. He is now based somewhere in the region, possibly in Brazzaville. If it is true that Ollivier had something to do with the Enyele rebellion, we would have to start asking questions about regional backing for Odjani, possibly from Luanda or Brazzaville, where Ollivier has done much of his business. But it's far too early to speculate.

In the meantime, the MLC has protested the harassment of their provincial leaders. The head of their party in Tshopo sector was arrested recently (not clear why), and the president and vice-president of the provincial assembly were replaced last week. This latter incident, however, appears to have more to do with internal woes within the MLC and the efforts by Kabila to take over the provincial executive and legislature - the new governor Jean-Claude Baende is close to Kabila, as are allegedly the new heads of the provincial assembly.

According to sources within the MLC (haven't seen this in the news yet), the government has also asked that the immunity of two of their national MPs be lifted: Jean Lucien Busa and Patrick Mayombe, apparently in connection with the attack on Mbandaka. Mayombe was part of a national peace delegation that went to Dongo last year to encourage a peaceful solution to the conflict. He was also the author of a motion in the national assembly last week to protest the fact that the ministers of defense and interior hadn't shown up to answer MPs' questions about Mbandaka, as they were attending a security meeting with President Kabila in Mbandaka.

Putting Humpty Dumpty back together

REPORTAGE - Les grands chantiers - RD Congo
Uploaded by AFRICA24. - News videos hot off the press.

Many of you may have already seen this, but here are a couple of promotional clips of Kabila's infrastructure program that the government has been putting out on the web recently. The government has become much more sophisticated in its public relations - many ministries have websites, and the president himself has two main ones: and

The clip gives a good idea of Kabila's meteoric ambitions. Of course, many questions are left unanswered - how many projects are there, what is their cost, who is financing each of the projects, how does the procurement and tendering process proceed and what are the provisions, if any, for audits and evaluations? In the case of the Chinese projects, is the Congolese government getting the appropriate price for the mining concessions they have given them?

Some of these questions are answered on the Cinq Chantiers website, and others on the ministry of budget's homepage, but I have had a hard time finding comprehensive data on the reconstruction projects. The clip above says that the reconstruction program is worth $2 billion, and that the initial Chinese contribution will reach $1 billion. But it is clear that the government is counting all the World Bank, bilateral and NGO efforts as part of the Cinq Chantiers reconstruction.

(FYI, check Wikileaks for the China-Congo contract, a friend recently uploaded the 2008 version with all of the mining concessions and infrastructure projects. Wikileaks is currently not fully operational, so it may be difficult to access the document.)

Another project that I initially filed in the "pie in the sky" category has actually begun: the Cite du Fleuve, a huge new Dubai-like city that is being built in the Congo river. Check out their website for a promo video, it's hard to know whether to laugh or to cry: This megaproject, which is also featured in the video above, is being financed by Mukwa Investments via Hawkwood Properties, a Lusaka based company that serves US and European investors, according to its chief investment officer, Hillary Duckworth. Duckworth has an interesting background: He comes from a prominent white Zambian family that made a fortune in farming and banking. He went on to co-found Trans Zambesi Investments, one of the biggest conglomerates in Zambia and Zimbabwe, but which has recently fallen on hard times. The Cite du Fleuve is basically supposed to relocate the entire Kinshasa downtown and also provide for residential housing. According to the plan, it span 375 hectares, include 10,000 apartments, 10,000 offices, 2,000 shops, 15 diplomatic missions, 3 hotels, 2 churches, 1 university, 3 day care centers and a shopping mall. Wow-ee. It apparently will take 8 years to build. I wonder how much the cost is?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Security Council undermines UN Group of Experts

A disturbing precedent is being set in the UN Security Council with regards to UN expert panels. As a reminder, these panels have been a key tool in the international communities' arsenal for dealing with conflict. They allow the Security Council to identify spoilers and impose targeted sanctions. Perhaps most valuably, they expose hidden business and political networks that contribute to the continuation of the conflict. In the case of the Congo, they have helped identify mineral traders, government officials and foreign businessmen who are profiting from the conflict. They have performed a similar function in Somalia, Liberia and Sudan.

The last Congo panel submitted its report in November 2009. A new panel was named early this year, led by Canadian Phil Lancaster. However, when Nick Vysny, a British human rights advocate, was put forward to join the team as the regional expert, he was blocked by the Chinese delegation to the UN. Each of the fifteen members of the Council can in principle block nominations, but this is rarely used when nominating members of expert panels. The only other time I can recall is when the Russian delegation opposed to nomination of Johan Peleman to the Somalia panel some years back due to his investigation of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. This time, however, the Congolese government vehemently opposed Nick, merely on the grounds for having previously worked for Human Rights Watch. The Congolese expressed their reservations to the Chinese, who then opposed his nomination.

The Chinese opposition was not categorical. They probably could have been swayed, especially if the US, UK and France had really pushed. But they didn't. The Americans were involved in various quarrels with the Chinese over trade, the Dalai Lama, the environment and Iran. So it appears that they either didn't want to spend their political capital on a marginal issue like the Congo or they just didn't care. In any case, Nick was blocked from taking part.

Why did the Congolese feel so strongly about Nick? It wasn't personal - it was about his affiliation with Human Rights Watch, for whom he had worked in Goma for several years. The Congolese have been on a war path with HRW since their publication of their report "We Will Crush You," in November 2008. In particular, Kabila was incensed by the suggestion that he was personally responsible for ordering the killing of Bundu Dia Kongo members in Bas-Congo in March 2008, an accusation that could in theory could amount to charges of crimes against humanity.

All of this doesn't make a lot of sense and it sets a bad precedent for future expert panels. The fact that the Chinese can block an investigator for his previous work for a reputable organization like Human Rights Watch is not good. It could undermine a key peace-building tool.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's new

A few stories of interest:
  • Rwanda suspends two newspapers critical of the government for six months, meaning they won't be able to cover the election campaigns - Texas in Africa isn't happy.
  • An excellent interview of Congolese academic Jean Omasombo in La Libre Belgique on the future of democracy in the Congo and decentralization.
  • Profiles of three newly promoted army commanders in Rwanda's The New Times. (When's the last time your national newspaper ran a profile of the new commander of the reserve force?) They share in common: raised in Uganda, highly educated - all of them underwent training in the US, and a love of sports and chess.
  • A blog posting from Alex Engwete, showing that the Spaniard kidnapped by the Enyele militia and allegedly shaven to use his hair as a fetish - had quite a bit of hair.
  • MONUC is fighting back! Ok, not on the battle field so much, but in the press. Their spokesperson contested the Congolese government's version of the attack in Mbandaka (MONUC had been accused of standing by while an innocent civilians was killed), and the head of the mission said that MONUC needs to stay longer in the country.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Announcing a course on the Great Lakes





Le premier stage d’études consacré à la région des Grands Lacs se déroulera à Bujumbura, au Burundi, du samedi 17 au vendredi 23 juillet 2010. Cette introduction accélérée, de niveau bac+3, portera sur l’histoire, l’économie politique et la culture du Rwanda, du Burundi et de la partie orientale de la République démocratique du Congo. Elle est destinée aux gardiens de la paix, au personnel humanitaire, aux diplomates, aux chercheurs, aux entrepreneurs et aux journalistes de la région comme de l’étranger.

L’enseignement sera assuré en français et en anglais par des grands spécialistes. Ce stage d’études sur les Grands Lacs est organisé par l’Institut de la Vallée du Rift (, une organisation de recherche et d’enseignement qui a son siège à Londres et à Nairobi. Le stage s’inscrit dans la lignée des stages annuels sur le Soudan et la Corne de l’Afrique organisés avec le plus grand succès par l’Institut.

Ce stage consacré à la région des Grands Lacs sera dirigé par Philip Winter, récemment conseiller à la MONUC et ancien major général du Dialogue intercongolais, avec Jason Stearns de l’université de Yale, ancien coordonnateur du Groupe d'experts l’ONU sur la République démocratique du Congo, comme directeur d’études.

L’équipe enseignante réunira:

Julien Nimubona, professeur de sciences politiques à l’Université du Lac Tanganyika à Bujumbura

Djo Munga, directeur de la société de production cinématographique Suka! de Kinshasa; réalisateur primé de Congo in Four Acts

Filip Reyntjens, professeur de droit public africain à l’université d’Anvers; auteur de The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics

Catharine Newbury, professeur d'administration publique au Smith College; auteur de The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda, 1860 – 1960

David Newbury, professeur d’études africaines au Smith College; auteur de The Land Beyond the Mists: Essays on Identity and Authority in Precolonial Congo and Rwanda

Willy Nindorera, analyste, Crisis Group, Bujumbura

Bob White, professeur d’anthropologie à l’université de Montréal; auteur de Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire

Le stage comportera tout un programme de conférences, de séminaires et de visites de sites appropriés, et favorisera les échanges informels avec les enseignants et entre participants.

Voir le programme du stage ci-joint. Pour en savoir plus et obtenir un formulaire de demande d’inscription, s’adresser à Les demandes devront nous parvenir avant le 7 mai 2010.

L’Institut de la Vallée du Rift

L’Institut de la Vallée du Rift est un organisme d’enseignement et d’intervention, à but non lucratif, présent au Soudan, dans la Corne de l’Afrique, en Afrique orientale et dans la région des Grands Lacs. Les stages d’études de l’IVR visent à vaincre les préjugés et à ouvrir des voies nouvelles en matière de politique et de développement.

Pour en savoir plus sur les autres stages, consulter

Voir aussi les vidéo clips sur

The first Great Lakes Field Course will be held in Bujumbura, Burundi from Saturday 17 to Friday 23 July 2010. The course is a fast-track, graduate-level introduction to the history, political economy and culture of Rwanda, Burundi and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The course is designed for local and expatriate peacekeepers, aid workers, diplomats, researchers, business people and journalists.

Taught in French and English by a distinguished faculty of leading regional and international specialists, the Great Lakes Course is organized by the Rift Valley Institute (, a research and training organization based in London and Nairobi. It follows in the tracks of the Institute’s acclaimed annual courses on Sudan and the Horn of Africa.

The Course Director of the first Great Lakes course will be Philip Winter, lately Senior Advisor in MONUC and formerly Chief of Staff for the Inter-Congolese Dialogue. The Director of Studies will be Jason Stearns of Yale University, formerly Coordinator of the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The teaching staff will include:

Julien Nimubona, Professor of Political Science at the University of Lake Tanganyika in Bujumbura

Djo Munga, Head of Suka! Film Productions, Kinshasa; award-winning director of Congo in Four Acts

Filip Reyntjens, Professor of African Law and Politics; University of Antwerp; author of The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics

Catharine Newbury, Professor of Government at Smith College; author of The Cohesion of Oppression: Clientship and Ethnicity in Rwanda, 1860 - 1960

David Newbury, Professor of African Studies at Smith College; author of The Land Beyond the Mists: Essays on Identity and Authority in Precolonial Congo and Rwanda

Willy Nindorera, Analyst, International Crisis Group, Bujumbura

Bob White, Professor of Anthropology, University of Montreal; author of Rumba Rules: The Politics of Dance Music in Mobutu's Zaire

The course will offer a full programme of talks, seminars and visits to sites of interest, with many opportunities for informal discussion with the teaching staff and other participants.

Please find attached the course prospectus. For further information and application forms, please write to The application deadline is 7 May 2010.

The Rift Valley Institute

The Rift Valley Institute is a non-profit research, education and advocacy organization working in Sudan, the Horn of Africa, East Africa and the Great Lakes. RVI field courses are designed to challenge common assumptions and offer new perspectives on politics and development.

For information on other courses see

For videoclips see

Pour vous abonner et/ou vous désabonner, veuillez écrire à :

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Copyright © Rift Valley Institute 2010. All rights reserved.

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Mende takes a stand against MONUC

Lambert Mende, the inimitable Congolese minister of information, is anything but understated. A few days ago, he seized on the Easter Mbandaka attack, during which a small band of rebels killed two civilians and ten members of the security forces, to lambaste the UN peacekeeping mission. He accused them of having done nothing when rebels killed a trader right under their noses. He compared this to their inaction during the Kiwanja massacre of 150 civilians in November 2008, during which MONUC also stood by and did nothing. A bit of a stretch, Lambert.

But the reason for his vitriol is obvious: His government wants MONUC out, wants desperately to tell the country on June 30, the 50th anniversary of its independence, that it can take care of any security problems itself. Mende is quite an orator, it's worthwhile reproducing part of his speech:
These events remind us of the discourteous mockery of those who, in our country but above all abroad, call without scruples for the maintenance and prolongation of MONUC's mandate in our country....[Their] speech is seasoned with miserablism that appeals to the interest of the "poor Congolese," without any doubt too "poor" to live in freedom and dignity.

It is time to remind these "friends" that one cannot pretend to help a people while trampling its dignity. Instead of trying to seize real power in the Congo in the place of the state, ostensibly to help the Congolese, it would be good once and for all to listen to the Congolese who tell you, together with the thinker John Holloway: "In your way of acting or not acting for us, refrain from alienating those in whose name your say you are engaging. Don't do anything for us. We will do it ourselves."

Hair fetishes, etc.

A quick update on the bizarre events that have been unfolding in Mbandaka. As you may recall, a group of rebels attacked the airport in the town, the capital of Equateur province, on Easter Sunday. The whole incident was an interesting exercise in how the media portrays the conflict.

According to the government, seven soldiers, three policemen, three UN workers, 21 rebels and two civilians were killed in the violence. Here are some of the titles of news stories:
  • Fighters kill UN peacekeeper in north Congo attack (Reuters)
  • DR Congo attack kills two UN workers (BBC)
  • Filipino doctor dies fleeing rebel attack in Congo (All Headline News)
  • South African bush pilot killed in DRC rebel attack (Sunday Times)
Ok, I understand that it's more newsworthy when a foreigner dies in the Congo than when dozens of Congolese die. Plus, some of the stories coming out later by the same agencies did talk about the political significance of the attacks and the displacement of the Congolese.

But this was kicker:
  • Spaniard seized by Congo rebels seeking war fetishes
By the New York Times! (Well, Reuters, but picked up by the NYT.) Anyway, apparently a poor Spanish doctor was vacationing on the Congo river (as people often do) when we happened upon some rebels. What did they do? They kidnapped our man, who was subsequently "shaved completely by Ibrahim (a rebel leader) who believes in magical fetishes made with hair and body hair of whites." Is this really newsworthy?

This story then dominated the news cycle for several days until today, the Congolese army announced that they had rescued the doctor in a "commando" operation. Again, the New York Times (via Reuters) picked up the story; here's the first paragraph:
Congo's army said on Tuesday it had rescued a Spanish doctor from rebels who had held him for nearly two weeks and reportedly shaved his hair for war fetishes.
Ahhh! What's up with his hair!?! Really, in the first paragraph? I know that no news sells like hair fetish news, but really?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Military shuffle in Kigali

More news from Rwanda:

President Kagame shuffled his military top brass, making General James Kabarebe (left) his new Minister of Defense. Lt Gen Charles Kayonga has replaced Kabarebe as the Chief of Defense Staff, undermining rumors that he had been placed under house arrest. Other important nominations are the promotion of Gen Caesar Kayizari to become commander of the land forces. Another appointment for Congo watchers will be of interest: Colonel Dan Munyuza (below right) has been appointed as head of military intelligence, a powerful position. Munyuza was key, albeit junior, character during the first Congo war, and people say that Laurent Kabila used to stay in his house in Kigali in the run-up to the war. When Kabila arrived in Kinshasa, Munyuza helped run the Rwandan intelligence services in the capital for a while.

A relative cipher - Colonel Gatete Karuranga (who did a brief training at Fort Leavenworth a few years back) is now the Director General of External Intelligence. He was previously the head of the Maintenance Battalion. (picture below)

It's hard to say what these changes mean. Usually, the minister of defense job has been a marginal one, with both Gen Gatsinzi and his predecessor Gen Habyarimana being relatively weak. That will probably change now that Kabarebe, a key figure in the security establishment, has taken over.

Debating Rwanda

Last week was Ibuka, Rwanda's annual day to commemorate the genocide of 1994. Every year, this is an occasion for speeches and ceremonies around the world to remember these horrific 100 days of horror. This year, these speeches were particularly emotion-laden in Rwanda, as the country has been gearing up for elections, and the usual criticism of the lack of political space and repression of the media have been flung about. Kagame defended himself here, saying "They call me Hitler…am not bothered at all…I just hold them in contempt," referring to an article in Umuseso newspaper last year.

Let's be clear: Rwanda is not the only country in the world with laws against genocide denial. Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria all have laws on their books against Holocaust denial and hate speech and have prosecuted prominent revisionists - unlike in the US, where neo-Nazis still march down main street and deny the Holocaust.

The difference, according to groups such as Human Rights Watch, is that in Rwanda, the law passed in 2008 was so broad that it allows the government to imprison people for merely criticizing the government. Even prominent chroniclers of the genocide, such as HRW's own Alison des Forges, have been accused by the government of being genocide apologists. According to the European Union, in the run-up to the 2008 parliamentary elections, opposition groups were intimidated based on this law, and the preparations for the 2010 elections this year have also been marred by abuses - the Green Party and PS-Imberakuri have had difficulty registering for elections, and the head of the Green Party has been accused of genocide ideology. Both parties have now split into different factions and have little hope of gleaning many votes during elections in August.

The Rwandan government has taken its offensive abroad, as well, with prominent members of the RPF writing Op-Eds in the Huffington Post, and in The New Times. They have been followed by a barrage of support from friends in international circles: former New York Times journalist Stephen Kinzer (see here for his debate with human rights activist Noel Twagiramungu), as well as Josh Ruxin (writing here on Nick Kristof's blog) and Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda here. Here is a good example of the kind of argument you can hear in some diplomatic circles, as written by Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations:
Kagame has been criticized for his authoritarianism and heavy-handed constraints on political freedoms. On this day, I leave Ntarama [a genocide memorial site] thinking that full-fledged democracy sometimes needs to take a back seat. Kagame's legacy will be whether he can build the institutions of democracy, as he claims to want to do, in this blood-soaked land that has suffered so much.
On the other hand, there are also ever more critics of the Rwandan government from within the ranks of the RPF elite. In past months, the former head of national intelligence, Patrick Karegeya, their former army chief of staff Kayumba Nyamwasa, and the former speaker of parliament Joseph Sebarenzi have all been criticizing the regime. Some of what they say is pretty emotional, but there is some level-headed stuff, too. This is what Sebarenzi, now in exile in the US, has to say:
For Rwanda to thrive, economic performance, for which Kagame deserves credit, must be coupled with political reconciliation and strong democratic institutions. History shows that stability and economic growth are durable not where strongmen reign but where institutions of governance are strong. Kagame needs to heed this lesson, or Rwanda could very well devolve into chaos again.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Worst name for a construction project?

Ad companies in the Congo apparently have a sense of humor.

Or are they are just plain stupid?

Here's a picture in downtown Kinshasa of a new state-of-the-art office building that is supposed to go up. Its name: Titanic. Great. In between two pictures of the planned building (that is nothing more than a mound of dirt for the moment), is a portrait of President Kabila that says: "Modern Titanic" and "The Congo, soon the mirror of Africa."

Makes you wonder whether any of the managers of the project have seen the movie.

More information about the Modern Construction Congo company and its various projects can be found here. It apparently belongs to several Indian businessmen who have worked in aviation in the Congo. This is almost as great as the mega-project of creating a mini-Dubai in the Congo river, the Cite du Fleuve, which can be seen. Vraiment.

News update: MONUC withdrawal, Equateur fighting and Rwandan dissent

News update:

  • UN Secretary-General submitted a report to the Security Council on Monday, addressing President Kabila's demand for the UN to begin withdrawing troops. Ban Ki-Moon's compromise is to begin withdrawing 2,000 UN troops based mostly in the West of the country, outside of the main conflict zones, in June 2010. However, for the rest of the troops, the SG wants to condition their withdrawal on certain benchmarks, especially "rule of law and viable security institutions." That could take a while. The Security Council will decide on the new mandate in May, after a trip to the Congo later this month.
  • Is the West of the country really outside of the conflict zone? The attacks on Mbandaka of a few days ago suggest otherwise, although - as pointed out on my lengthy blog postings - it isn't clear if this is that last gasp of the Enyele rebellion or the beginning of something more serious. A few hundred rag-tag rebels attacked the Mbandaka airport, killing several UN soldiers and officials and capturing a stock of weapons and ammo before begin pushed back by MONUC and Congolese troops. I got some pretty gruesome pictures of the dead rebels that I won't publish here, but suffice it to say that they look pretty rag-tag. Kabila has sent in more troops and has apparently arrested an MP from the MLC party, Oscar Molambo, who was apparently supporting the rebellion. There are already quite a few of Equateurians who are languishing in Kinshasa's Makala prison accused of sedition (many linked to Bemba's presidential guard that was involved in 2007 fighting against Kabila in Kinshasa).
  • In Rwanda, there are more and more reports of former Nkunda loyalists and other Congoelse Tutsi being arrested by the Rwandan security services. This is the case of Sheik Idi, a former CNDP cadre who was accused of sedition and disappeared in late March in Rwanda and hasn't been seen since. Also the case of "General" Robert Ndengeye, a former high-ranking RCD commander and a Tutsi from Masisi, who has been accused of being linked to General Kayumba Nyamwasa, who recently fled Rwanda. Ndengeye's family is also not aware of his whereabouts. There are rumors about others, as well, as in the context of fears about dissent within the RPF in the run-up to the August elections in Rwanda.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Five misconceptions about the Congo conflict

1. The conflict in the DRC is all about minerals.
Not quite. The war began in 1996, with three main causes: the collapse of the Zairian state after 32 years of misrule; the spillover from the Rwandan genocide with a million refugees (including perpetrators of genocide) on Congolese soil; and local conflicts over land, citizenship and power. There was a lot of money made from looting tin and gold stocks in the Kivus in 1996/7, and some multinationals (Lundin, AMF, De Beers) made deals with the rebels before they got to Kinshasa, but there is little indication that this was a main motivation for the war.

More substantial involvement in the minerals trade began with the coltan boom of 1999-2001. Now the minerals trade is the the largest money maker in the Kivusm, and many armed groups, including the Congolese army, heavily tax the minerals trade and make a fortune. But they also make money off charcoal (a $30 million dollar trade around Goma alone), fuel (the biggest import commodity) and other trade.

Also, there are many areas where there are rebel groups but few minerals - for example, the Lord's Resistance Army, that massacred over 300 people in December, does not appear to be exploiting the mineral trade. Laurent Nkunda's CNDP, possibly the strongest militia in the region until 2009, only controlled one mine, although they had interests in many trading companies in Goma for which they provided protection.

So yes, mining is a key element in the conflict and has served to prolong the fighting and motivate some of the actors. But the violence is a result of a many things and to reduce it to mining would be simplistic.

2. Coltan, a key ingredient for cell phones, is the main mineral traded in the Congo
Nope. Coltan does contain tantalum, which is a crucial ingredient for cell phones. Coltan exports peaked in 2000 due to a bubble in the market, but collapsed and little coltan was exported between 2002-2007. Tin is still king: In 2009, according to Congolese government figures, 520 tons of coltan were exported from the Kivus and around twenty times as much tin.

[Caveat: because a lot of coltan gets exported as tin (it's twice as valuable, so its cheaper to export it as tin), we may not have very accurate figures. Also, recently coltan prices have been climbing up again after several big mines elsewhere in the world suspended operations.]

It's also important to note that over 80% of the world's tantalum comes from Australia, Brazil and Canada, according to the US Geological Survey.

3. The FDLR is composed of Interahamwe and ex-FAR who carried out the 1994 genocide
Misleading, although this is what the Rwandan government and even some diplomats like to say. The FDLR was formed in 2000, and many of its commanding officers used to be in the Forces Armees Rwandaises (FAR), Juvenal Habyarimana's army that was defeated during the genocide. The former FDLR commander once told me that, several years ago, almost all officers over the rank of captain had been in the FAR. But that does not mean that they participated in the genocide - some units, such as the presidential guard, helped orchestrate the killings, while others did not take part.

As for the Interahamwe, who knows. What we do know is that a great many of the FDLR troops (perhaps over 50%) are under the age of 30, which would have made then around 14 at the time of the genocide - they could have participated, but most studies (Scott Strauss, for example), find that very few perpetrators were under the age of 14, while perhaps 20% were between 15-20 years old. That would mean that up to half of the FDLR are probably not genocidaires, although racist anti-Tutsi ideology is pretty alive within the movement.

4. The CNDP is a Tutsi militia
Sort of. The CNDP was (in theory they don't exist anymore, although they maintain their command structure) led mostly by Tutsi officers and backed mostly by the Tutsi community. They only had around 1-5 non-Tutsi field commanders over the rank of Major. But a majority of footsoldiers were non-Tutsi, including a large number of Congolese Hutu peasants and members of the Hunde and Nande community, some of whom were recruited by force.

5. The UN mission has failed to protect civilians in conflict zones
That's pretty accurate. But "protecting civilians in imminent danger," which is their literal mandate, is easier said than done. MONUC will find out about a massacre days after it happened and fly hundreds of miles to "observe corpses," which is what some Congolese think their mandate actually is. MONUC has too few soldiers, they are not embedded with their Congolese counterparts, and the country is too big.

The point is, if you wait until the danger is imminent, it's probably too late to intervene. Even if you are close enough (which is rare), intervening means becoming party to the conflict, which the UN is reluctant to do. Evidence is the CNDP Kiwanja massacre, which happened under their noses in 2008, and the RCD Kisangani massacre in May 2002 - in both cases, MONUC was within earshot of the massacre.

A better protecting civilians is by deterring violence, not intervening when it's too late. MONUC has had a spotty record at deterrence: they prevented the CNDP from taking Goma in 2006, killing up to 500 CNDP soldiers, but they allowed the CNDP to take Bukavu in 2004 and failed to get Kinshasa demilitarized to prevent to post-election violence in 2007.

(More to come soon).