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

Monday, August 22, 2011

Guest Blog: The Lord's Resistance Army and Us

Philip Lancaster was General Romeo Dallaire’s Military Assistant in Rwanda in 1994, was the head of MONUC's Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration division and the Coordinator of the UN Group of Experts on the Congo. Most recently, Philip was in charge of a international group researching ways of dealing with the LRA.

Given yet another famine emergency in the Horn of Africa, seemingly endless violence in the Middle East and the number of wobbling economies in both Europe and North America, it is understandable that concern about an obscure group of African bush fighters seems limited to a small band of Africa nerds.  But the surpassing indifference to the plight of the Azande people, who appear to have been left to the tender mercies of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is so far below the low standard of response common to these sorts of problems that it simply can’t be allowed to pass without comment.

In addition to a long running insurgency that savaged northern Uganda for over 20 years, the murder and mayhem caused by the LRA across south eastern Central African Republic (CAR), Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over the past few years was serious enough to bring both houses of the American Congress to set aside partisan politics long enough to agree on legislation. At about the same time, in August 2010, an international working group comprised of the US, UK and EU governments with participation from the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping and the World Bank, alarmed at the reports of LRA atrocities, assembled around consensus on the need for effective coordination across all the agencies and governments involved.

The UN Security Council weighed in again in July 2011 with a second resolution calling for the LRA to disarm and praising the actions taken so far by governments, international agencies and NGOs to address the harms inflicted by the LRA.  The Security Council particularly praised the efforts of the AU to organize a coordinated military and diplomatic response.

But what, exactly, has been accomplished?

More press releases, more declarations of intent to capture or kill Joseph Kony, more empty assurances of imminent victory and yet another round of search and destroy operations led by the Ugandan Army.  None of this is new and all of it has failed in the past.  The Azande people, an historically marginalized ethnic group of hunters, herders and farmers living in the border regions of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan have been targeted for special attention by the LRA, are caught in the yawning gap between rhetoric and action.  I am reminded of the feeling of abandonment felt by the few who stayed on the ill-fated UN Peacekeeping Mission in Rwanda as the outside world decided that their reports of genocide must somehow be exaggerated.  Have we all become so cynical that we will let a whole people suffer like this – again?

While the challenges of taking effective action in such a complex environment are indeed daunting, it is the shallow understanding of the military dimensions of the problem that is so disappointing.  We have ample evidence from reports of the past 20 years that the LRA are a force to be reckoned with.  Ruthless as they are, their tactics are well adapted to the terrain and the nature of the forces they face.  And yet the proposed military responses under the new AU offers no new troops, no new thinking and no sign of serious military technical analysis.  A cynic might be led to think that no one really wants to look at the problem carefully out of fear of being called to do more than they might want to.

The LRA make deliberate use of terror to tie up military forces and survive by hit and run attacks that are well-planned and flawlessly executed.  The military response from UN Peacekeeping and national forces has been totally inadequate insofar as they focus on providing limited static defense of a small number of civilian settlements.  The LRA just find the ones that aren’t protected.  Since none of the armies deployed have a policy of pursuit after attack, the LRA consistently escape with loot and abducted recruits.

Chasing the leaders, which seems to be the strategy preferred by both the Ugandan People’s Defence Force and the US military, is a hit or miss approach that will call down more attacks on unprotected civilians as the LRA instrumentalise them to send their twisted message and replace battlefield losses by abducting new fighters.  While the Ugandan/US strategy has produced some attrition, it has also generated a bloody response and a massive recruitment campaign that seems to have gone unnoticed.

During interviews conducted as part of some recent research on this subject, UPDF officers presented slides showing the numbers of LRA killed or captured but nothing about the numbers recruited.  Subsequent questions revealed that the UPDF were not really interested in recruitment.  One suspects a repetition of the ‘victory by body count’ strategy that failed so spectacularly in Viet Nam.

It is clear that there will be huge difficulties in finding the right kinds and numbers of troops that would probably be needed to be effective against the LRA.  However, it is also clear that repeating failing strategies, no matter whether through the AU or some other agency, will not work – unless exceedingly lucky and Kony and his key leaders are all killed at once.

As a matter of simple logic, and as a first step, the question of who needs to act should be informed by an analysis of what kinds of action are likely to succeed.  This could be achieved by competent technical research conducted by one of the military forces involved and it would cost very little when compared with the cost of poorly aimed military strikes.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to have been done.  Even the wealth of intelligence available from the UPDF has not been shared with the other armies now engaged and so each of them, including the UN Peacekeeping forces, are learning about the LRA the hard way. And learning very slowly.  Nor does anyone appear to have conducted a formal command estimate of the LRA problem.  Normally, no serious army would take on any mission without analysis and yet the forces engaged against the LRA seem to be operating on the premise that it’s easier to fight than to think. Surely this must have something to do with political interference with what should be a normal military staffing action.  Isn’t it time they are allowed to devote some thought to the battle plan before more civilians pay the price for the inevitable next round of blunders?

As frustrating as the problem of the LRA is, it is also a fascinating mirror reflecting political dynamics in the West.  The nub of the political problem could be understood as a manifestation of the hypocrisy of our times.  It is as simple as the old children’s story about a village of mice deciding that the solution to their cat problem is to make it wear a bell. The problem seems solved until one of them asks who is going be the brave soul to hang a bell on the cat. In the LRA case each affected state has other priorities and no third party state is willing to commit political or military resources to give either the UN or the AU a real hope of success.

But everyone involved is too polite to point out that neither organization has the capacity it needs and won’t unless someone steps up to take the responsibility to ensure that it does. 

“Who shall bell the cat?”  But, it would seem, in this case, we haven’t even started looking for a bell.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Controversy surrounds the sale of Congolese mines

Today, Bloomberg published yet another in a series of excellent reports on dubious mining deals in the Congo. According to the head of state-owned mining company Sodimico, the government recently sold its shares in two copper projects formerly owned by First Quantum. This is part of a series of sales in recent months and, according to insiders in the mining community in the Congo, it may also be linked to Dan Gertler, the Israeli businessman who recently purchased shares in two other mining concessions from the government.

The novelty - and the scandal - about this most recent deal is that we know how undervalued it was. According to the Bloomberg report, Sodimico sold its 30 percent stake in Frontier and Lonshi for only $30 million, less than one sixteenth of its actual price of around $480 million.

As a reminder, the shares that were sold earlier this year in Mutanda and Kansuki Mining to Dan Gertler were valued at $800 million. While there has been no official publication stating how much the government received in those cases, sources in the state mining company suggested that it may have been around as little as a seventh of the market price.

This comes in addition to other large mining deals concluded over the past year, including the sale by Dan Gertler of the Kolwezi tailing copper project to the Kazakh ENRC conglomerate for $175 million in August 2010.

Gertler was one of the businessmen who is said to have helped finance Kabila's 2006 election campaign, and he is still considered to be a close ally of the president.

If it is true that this latest sale is also linked to Gertler, his business holdings and assets will have expanded dramatically since 2005, when he founded Nikanor, a large copper mining company that was floated on the London AIM stock exchange for $1,5 billion in 2006. Gertler first became involved in the Congo in 2000, when he obtained the monopoly for diamond purchases from Laurent Kabila.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Responding to a critique of my book

African Arguments, which is hosted by the Royal African Society and the Social Science Research Council, posted my following response to a review of my book Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. This was a good opportunity to ruminate a bit on reactions to the book in general, five months after its publication. I also encourage you to read the review by Harry Verhoeven here.


It is rare that I get the opportunity to argue the nuances of the Congo war in broad public fora. Knowledge about the Congolese conflict is limited outside of a small circle of academics and policy-makers; depictions in the mainstream press are often simplistic blame games, pointing fingers alternately at Rwanda, conflict minerals or - usually by default - to the grinding chaos and savagery that, so they imply, the Congo is cursed with.

Given the limited nature of the debate, I am glad to have an opportunity to respond to Verhoeven’s fair and useful criticism of my book. I hope this will also clarify my thoughts on some aspects of the conflict.

Most critically, Verhoeven faults me for not engaging more with the important theories of the Congo conflict. I take him to be pointing to a lack of a causal argument in my book. What is my overarching theory? What was the role of land, ethnicity, natural resources and western powers in fueling the conflict?

I have two responses to this criticism. First, my book’s main objective is to tackle “Congo reductionism” – the tendency to reduce the conflict to a kabuki theatre of savage warlords, greedy businessmen and innocent victims. In this sense, I spend most of the book complicating, and not streamlining, any causal argument. Typically, attempts to point to the one main cause of the conflict have ended up providing simplistic solutions to complex problems. That was the case, for example, with the fixation on the ex-FAR and Interahamwe to the detriment of other motives that Rwanda and its allies had for intervening in the Congo. More recently, advocates’ focus on sexual violence and conflict minerals has ignored the complex sources of Congo’s problems at their peril. Even the notion that local conflicts over land and authority are the main reason for violence today – an argument that has gained some traction recently – neglects the knotted politics surrounding armed group formation in the Kivus and Ituri.

Above all, we need to take the Congolese on their own terms and engage with the ragged complexity of the conflict. Most of my book spins the stories of these Congolese actors, trying to decipher their motives, trying to bring their humanity – if not necessarily their decency – home to the reader. I don’t think foreigners will ever be able to work constructively with any of the leaders in the region until we can understand their interests and attitudes. This goes for the most burning challenges: revenue transparency, security sector reform and transitional justice.

Given this emphasis on actors, their stories and the complexity of the conflict, I can understand how one might find my book lacking in leitmotifs and theory. But I would suggest that my book has different ambitions than the excellent volumes by Filip Reyntjens and Gerard Prunier mentioned by Verhoeven. I do not pretend to provide a succinct theory of the Congo war; that would go against the grain of my narrative.

Nonetheless, I do address, albeit briefly, many of the issues that the review finds lacking. Like both Reyntjens and Prunier, I locate the origins of the Congo war at the nexus of local, national and regional developments. This confluence – the decay of the Zairian state, local struggles over land and power, and the Rwandan genocide of 1994 – is, as the review states, well-known and not controversial.

 What is more contentious is foreign involvement during the war. Here I differ from Reyntjens and Prunier, if only slightly. After many dozen interviews with Congolese and Rwandan protagonists of the wars, I found little evidence for American military involvement in support of any parties during the wars. The AFDL rebellion (1996-1997) – which has often been rumored to have received US military support – had enough firepower coming from Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Eritrea, Angola and a handful of other Africa countries. Nor could I find much support in my interviews for an international corporate conspiracy in support of any of the wars, although many foreign companies did make considerable profits during the war, and US policy has been sadly short-sighted on many occasions. Overall, however, the greatest sins of western countries have been ones of omission and ignorance, not of direct exploitation. We simply have not cared enough about a crisis that is too complex to fit into a sound-bite. This has led at times to one-dimensional policy-making and the search for simple heroes and villains when the roles are much more complex than that.

As for Rwanda, I leave little room for doubt about its complicity in widespread human rights abuses in the Congo, not all of which have seen the light of justice. However, Rwanda’s motives have been complex and have shifted over time. Security predominated during the initial phases of both 1996 and 1998 invasions, as rebels launched attacks into Rwanda from the Kivu provinces. Financial considerations took on an ever more important role after 1999, as individuals and the ruling party in Kigali took advantage of business opportunities in the eastern Congo. Finally, a political calculus crept into Rwandan thinking: a weak, chaotic Congo was expedient to justify internal repression and to prevent a strong, dangerous neighbour from emerging.

This complex mix of motives in its relations with its neighbour have been refracted through a fiercely hubristic and militaristic prism, which led to their clumsy dealings with Laurent Kabila in 1996 and their attempts to quickly topple him in 1998. Which of these motives, however, has predominated at which point in time, is difficult to discern.
Finally, perhaps a word about probably the most important causal factor that sticks out in my account: the profound weakness of Congolese political institutions. All these other factors, from land conflicts to mining, have become salient precisely because no state has emerged as an arbiter of these resources and disputes. The corruption of the state – and the corrosion of most forms of political organization over centuries of slavery, rubber trade and colonialism – has allowed criminal networks to flourish and small disputes to escalate. This state of affairs has undermined the state’s ability to enforce contracts and guarantee private assets – a commitment problem that political scientists like Verhoeven have focused on.

Closely linked to this institutional fragility is a crisis in moral leadership, which I hope resounds clearly in the book. With few viable social or political institutions, collective action becomes difficult. Those who do take a stand for their ideological beliefs are chopped down or simply kicked to the sidelines.

State fragility and a moral crisis of leadership are not easily packaged into media reports, and solutions for these challenges are difficult to find, in the Congo and elsewhere. But these are probably the main obstacles the country will have to overcome over next decades.

As for Verhoeven’s criticism that I left out important parts of the war  – I can only plead mea culpa. There is only so much one can do in a book, especially one that aims at bringing the Congoelse conflict to a broader audience. Perhaps a second volume will be necessary.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Death threats against opposition leader in Bukavu

According to several sources, a leader of the opposition UNC party in Bukavu has received serious death threats.

Kizito Mushizi, the spokesperson for the UNC in the Kivus and a candidate for parliamentary elections, says that he received word on Saturday, August 13 that a plot had been hatched to physically eliminate him. The decision allegedly came two days earlier, during an evening meeting of several high-ranking government and military officials in Bukavu. The officials raised Kabila's poor standing in the province, as well as the UNC's perceived popularity in Bukavu. Since Mushizi was recently named provincial leader, they allegedly took the drastic step of ordering his assassination.

One of the people in the meeting then discretely warned Mushizi of the death threat. A second military source also informed a member civil society of the plot.
Kizito Mushizi

Mushizi is the well-respected former director of Radio Maendeleo, a non-profit radio station that has been based in Bukavu for almost twenty years. Two months ago, he quit his job and officially announced that he would run for a national assembly seat in Bukavu for the UNC, Vital Kamerhe's party.

After receiving the death threat, he informed the United Nations as well as local media outlets and human rights groups. In addition, he has written a letter to President Kabila, in which he relates the information he received. According to a source within the provincial government, he has been followed since the weekend.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Guest Blog: the FRF armed group

This is the last in a series of guest blogs on armed groups in the Kivus by Judith Verweijen.
Profile of the FRF (Forces Républicaines Fédéralistes)

Until their fragile integration into the FARDC in January 2011, the FRF were a small armed group  composed of Banyamulenge (an ethnic Tutsi group of pastoralists), which used to be active in a mountain chain in South Kivu called the High Plateaux. It was led by “General” Venant Bisogo, its President, and “General” Michel Makanika Rukunda, the Chief of Staff. The group’s origins go back to an underground political party founded in 1998 in resistance to the RCD-rebellion. In 2002, it became also a military movement, when it supported Pacifique Masunzu, the present-day commander of the 10th Military Region (South Kivu), in his armed struggle against the RCD and the Rwandan army.

During the ‘transition’, this group started to fall apart in a faction that rallied around Masunzu, who was linked to the Kinshasa government, and a group of dissidents. This division was the result of two factors. Firstly, the ‘transition’ heralded changes in the general distribution of power, which triggered factional and inter-personal conflicts. The losers of such struggles often withheld troops from army integration, a strategy also practiced by the FRF. Secondly, this group of dissidents’ political vision diverged from that of the Masunzu faction. They were against the suppression of the area of Minembwe as an independent territory, an upgrade in status it had received from the RCD- rebel administration. However, this administrative change had been turned back at the start of the ‘transition’, which had signified a relative loss of power for the Banyamulenge.

It was not until January 2007 that the first clashes broke out between the dissidents, now called FRF, and the troops of the Masunzu faction, which consisted of the 112th brigade composed exclusively of Banyamulenge troops who were only nominally integrated in the FARDC. This gave the struggle more the character of a civil war within the Banyamulenge community than that of a conflict between the Government and a rebel group. This was all the more so as the FRF gradually acquired more popular legitimacy.  As the result of a negotiated cease-fire in 2007, they were allowed to control the Kamombo and Mibunda areas of the High Plateaux up to 2009. During this period, there was relative security in these zones and the FRF also organized the population to work on the construction of a road. Furthermore, they instituted an elaborate system of mining and market taxes, which enabled them to strengthen their financial position.    

In the meanwhile, popular discontent was growing in the area controlled by the opposing faction, the zone around Minembwe. Local authorities there were perceived to indulge in corrupt practices and to do no nothing to advance the development of the isolated High Plateaux, where there is still no road or phone network. The situation worsened with the start of the Kimia II/Amani Leo operations, when new FARDC troops arrived in order to fight the FRF. As they managed to push back the FRF into Bijabo forest, the operations were officially labeled a success. However, they were accompanied by large-scale looting, destruction, torture, intimidation of customary chiefs and religious authorities, and arbitrary arrests of boys and men on the pretext of being FRF combatants. This regime of atrocities reinforced support for the FRF, which now came to play a more pronounced role as a channel for popular discontent with the central government. At the same time, the already unpopular local authorities in Minembwe further lost legitimacy by allying themselves to the Amani Leo troops.

The ongoing bad treatment of the population motivated the FRF to launch a major attack on the FARDC in November 2010, which was a sign that military operations had not reduced their capacity for harm. This contributed to the re-launching of negotiations, which eventually led to the FRF’s integration into the FARDC. A new operational sector (the 44th) dominated by the former FRF was created in Minembwe, and the latter obtained a guarantee that most of their troops would be allowed to stay on the High Plateaux  for the next 3-5 years. It essentially meant that control over this area was partially ceded to the FRF.

This shows how the DR Government often negotiates with armed groups from a position of weakness, and sometimes de facto relinquishes control over zones which it has only a weak grip on. Another example that comes to mind is the ex-CNDP’s control over parts of Masisi. The (re)establishment of central state authority over such zones  is a long-term process of negotiation and accommodation with local power-holders, the outcome of which remains highly uncertain. Most often, it leads to a situation of ‘mediated statehood’, in which the central government can only exercise forms of authority in an indirect manner, through intermediaries.

At the same time, the integration of armed groups into the military weakens central control over the armed forces, for it allows parallel command chains to proliferate, while integrated groups maintain strong contacts with their former power networks. Sometimes this includes un-integrated armed remnants or break-away factions who resist the integration process. In the case of the FRF, one dissident faction under the leadership of Richard Tawimbi has up to now resisted integration and remains in Minembwe with an unknown number of troops. It is in this respect important to note that the FRF has hardly handed in any arms upon their integration, while they are known to have large arms caches that include heavy weaponry in the Bijabo forest.

Furthermore, a part of the integrated FRF troops left the Kananda training centre on August 1st  where they had assembled for regiment formation. The stated reason were complaints about salary arrears and the non-recognition of ranks, related to the fact that these troops have not yet passed through biometrical control. This lack of administrative follow-up is a standard problem with the integration of armed groups. Part of the reason for the delays in the recognition of ranks and the distribution of functions is that these usually follow lengthy negotiation processes. This horse-trading and its outcomes tend to fuel factional competition and strife both within and outside the military.

For example, the FRF managed to obtain a number of top positions in the military command in South Kivu, like second-in-command of the Amani Leo operations. Together with the creation of an independent military sector in Minembwe, these appointments were strongly resented by (ex-)Mai Mai, who saw in this move evidence of a policy of the systematic discrimination of ‘autochthones’ in favor of ‘Rwandophones’ within the military (see also Jason’s post on the restructuring of the FARDC). Furthermore, the military domination of the purely Banyamulenge ex-FRF on the High Plateaux was resisted  by the other ethnic communities living in this area. It contributed to a remobilization of Mai Mai in Bijombo and reinforced local ‘ethnic entrepreneurs’ or political actors who tap into ethnically colored discourse in order to strengthen their power position.    

To conclude, the policy of ongoing armed-group integration into the FARDC, which has recently been officially abandoned by the DR government, presents a mixed record. It has been justified by portraying it as an incremental process, yet there are few signs that it has actually contributed to diluting the influence of these groups.  Most remain in or close to their former strongholds, and some, as is the case with the CNDP, have actually expanded their sphere of influence.  The regimentation process offers up to now little prospects that this situation will change in the short term. Furthermore, the upcoming elections threaten to create yet more tensions and reinforce armed group mobilization. Therefore, the end to armed groups in the DRC seems to be not yet on the horizon.


Thoughts about conflict minerals

Readers of this blog will probably have read David Aronson's lucid Op-Ed in The New York Times a few days ago. David argues that the Dodd-Frank legislation - the "Obama law" as some Congolese refer to it - has produced a de facto embargo of minerals in the eastern Congo and has actually benefited abusive military commanders.

Efforts to render minerals supply chains more accountable have indeed had unintended adverse effects. As I have written here before, commanders such as Bosco Ntaganda have benefited from smuggling and thousands of people may have been put out of jobs. There is no doubt that the implementation of the law has been sorely wanting, and that there need to be more focus on governance and political developments in general and not just conflict minerals. Nonetheless, I still believe that the Dodd-Frank bill - in Section 1502 on the Congo - should be supported.


Here are some thoughts about David's piece.

1.  The Dodd-Frank legislation in no way mandates or supports a real or de facto embargo on minerals exports from eastern Congo.  While in general the Dodd-Frank legislation has had some foreseeable negative side-effects in the region, it is important not to confuse the law itself and its perception. The SEC regulations will not enter into effect until January 2012 at the earliest, so it would be misleading to speak of the "impact of the Dodd-Frank legislation" before the regulations have even been promulgated.  Indeed, the "de facto embargo" that the Op-Ed speaks of actually consists of two parts: a Congolese-imposed export ban on minerals (September 2010-March 2011) and decision by the main electronics lobbying body in the U.S. (the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition) to stop buying minerals from the Congo that have not been tagged or traced (April 2011-now).

The Dodd-Frank legislation did not directly lead to these initiatives, nor does it require such bans or embargoes.  Instead, it requires companies to state publicly what they have done to implement due diligence with regard to Congolese minerals.  While it is true that the fears and interests of various parties could have been better managed by the U.S. and Congolese governments – the minerals industry in particular has been taking a hard-line position in defense of its interests – this does not undermine the validity of the law itself.  In fact, it demonstrates the potential power of the law to induce real reform, and the importance of engaging with companies now to ensure they do not misunderstand the intent and purpose of Dodd-Frank.  Many analysts in fact believe the EICC somewhat cynically is taking this extreme de facto embargo stance to try to water down Dodd-Frank and delay its due diligence measures as much as possible.

2.  David’s suggestion that the legislation is out-of-date, arguing that most Congolese rebel groups have been integrated into the Congolese army, does not accurately reflect the reality on the ground.  According to the United Nations' most recent report (June 7, 2011) on these rebel groups, at least a dozen rebel groups remain active in the Kivus and many derive considerable profits from mining.  David is correct in suggesting that some Congolese army commanders have benefited through smuggling, but both the SEC and the U.N. specifically include the Congolese army in their initiatives and require due diligence to detail any involvement of Congolese officers in the supply chain.

In general, David seems to imply that doing nothing would have been better than pushing for greater transparency.  However, as various United Nations and NGO reports (including reports by Eric Kajemba and other Congolese activists) have explained in depth, the link between armed groups and mining remains strong – and delinking that nexus remains key to broader reform efforts in the region.

3.  The Op-Ed discounts the positive impacts of Dodd-Frank.  It places an emphasis on the short-term negative impact of how the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Congolese government have immediately responded to the Dodd-Frank legislation.  However, there also have been positive developments due to the push for transparency.  The Congolese army has withdrawn from some of the largest mining areas, including the Bisie tin mine, the largest tin mine in the region which produces over 70% of all tin from North Kivu province.  In addition, some large multinational corporations (Malaysia Smelting Corp and Rajesh Industries) have expressed an interest in investing in large-scale industrial mining in the Kivus and have said they would cater to western markets and would invest in certification and traceability initiatives.  While these promises have not yet fully materialized, and industrial mining carries with it risks of its own, it is a step in the right direction. Furthermore, industry leaders such as Apple and Motorola have come up with detailed certification and supply chain due diligence plans that demonstrate their ongoing commitment to purchasing in the region.

4. The Op-Ed give the impression that all Congolese oppose the Dodd-Frank legislation. This is misleading.  As recently as May 2011, a group of over 50 Congolese NGOs, together with over a dozen US and European NGOs, expressed their support for Dodd-Frank and urged for its rapid and thorough implementation. Since the beginning of the war, Congolese groups have expressed their concern about the link between mining and conflict and have pressed for action, including transparency, due diligence, and certification initiatives.  Even the activists that Aronson quotes in his piece, Eric Kajemba and Didier de Failly, despite their complaints with regards to Dodd-Frank, recognize that the law is a reality and they are now talking to the U.S. government to find ways to better implement it.  I interviewed Kajemba only last week in this space, and Kajemba said he supported the spirit of the Dodd-Frank legislation but expressed deep concern regarding the way it has been perceived and implemented so far.

This sentiment is echoed not only by large advocacy groups such as the Enough Project and Global Witness, but also the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations. In fact, the U.N. Group of Experts in their report of June 2011 said: "Since its development in 2010, this United States legislation has proved an important catalyst for traceability and certification initiatives and due diligence implementation in the minerals sector regionally and internationally."  This sentiment has been echoed by many groups, both Congolese and others, who have officially submitted their opinions to the SEC for them to take into consideration while they draft the regulations.  The authors of Section 1502 of the legislation also consulted with a variety of Congolese groups and received their support in drafting the bill.

5.  Efforts are currently underway to see how Dodd-Frank and the OECG guidelines can be implemented, the financing of armed groups undermined, while boosting transparent investment in local mining communities and livelihoods.  In particular, the U.S. government is working with international partners and industry members to implement a dual-stamp system – one in the eventuality that companies can determine their products are “conflict-free,” but also one in the immediate term in which companies can state they are “due diligence compliant.”  This dual system would help ensure that companies working to fulfill the spirit of the Dodd-Frank legislation and to mitigate any possible use of conflict minerals in their supply chains are not penalized for not immediately becoming “conflict-free.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Interview with Eric Kajemba on Conflict Minerals

The following is an interview with Eric Kajemba, founder and director of Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix (OGP), a civil society NGO based in Bukavu. Eric's work is focused on improving the accountability of government institutions and has worked extensively on the minerals trade. 

Q:What has been your analysis of the export ban on minerals [imposed by the Congolese government between September 2010 and March 2011] and the Dodd-Frank legislation in the US?

A: In general, these two things are linked. The export ban came as a consequence of the Dodd-Frank law. The government was thinking it had to do something in reaction to the US legislation, so it suspended exports of minerals from the eastern Congo. This has had a very negative impact on the local population. One problem we had was that exporters were stuck with their stock and couldn't get rid of it. Secondly, the negociants [trade middle-men] usually work on credits, but they weren't able to pay their arrears, so they had to mortgage their houses. In sum, the artisanal mining sector employed many, many people - these people lost their jobs over night. Also, many of them were demobilized soldiers, so this had the added effect of producing insecurity.

But the Dodd-Frank legislation did not explicitly require an export ban.

No. But the government was supposed to render transparent the chain in order to comply with the law. This had perverse consequences. The army kicked diggers out of the mines, only to become diggers themselves! That happened in many mines. The army just took over.

But how did they export the minerals if there was an export ban?

There was fraud. Even today with the embargo, people export. Fraud has increased considerably.

But there have been other consequences as well, for example, with other aspects of the local economy. For example, in places like Shabunda, people relied on planes to bring them goods and merchandise - rice, sugar, and so on. Those same planes then left with minerals back to Bukavu. But now that the planes cannot transport minerals [due to the export ban and embargo] they don't fly there with goods any more. So the impact has been huge in many areas. 

Do you disagree with the spirit of the Dodd-Frank law?

No. The motivation behind the law is very good - to impose transparency. But it the implementation has been the problem. We are not in a country with a functioning government, you cannot just assume that certification and due diligence can spring up overnight. Plus, there were efforts under way already by other actors to impose transparency; ironically, the Dodd-Frank law slowed these efforts down, as they were financed by the minerals trade.

No, I agree with the law, but it should have been implemented in stages, over two or three years. It was too strict, too abrupt: no tagging, no sale! But there were initiatives like that of the German Federal Institute for Geosciences (BGR) and the International Tin Research Institute (ITRI) - and other initiatives at the local level that may actually have been undermined in the short term by the law.

It is true that there is no official embargo on the Congo today, and that the Dodd-Frank law did not call for such an embargo. But the truth is that as soon as the Conglese export ban was lifted, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) [an electronics industry body] in the United States imposed a de facto embargo. Traders here only had time to sell their stock and then everything stopped again! Now most of the minerals seem to leak out through smuggling. It is the Chinese who are still buying officially, and we think that the rest of the stuff smuggled out might also be going to China.

There has been speculation that Rwanda has been laundering Congolese minerals and then selling them as their own.

That's difficult to know. Rwanda has also been hit hard by Dodd-Frank, as well. It is true that there is a lot of cassiterite smuggled into Rwanda. I am sure there are parallel structures in Rwanda, a black market. On the other hand, I think there are intensifying efforts to be more transparent - for example, they turned back Chinese trying to export minerals through Rwanda.

What do you think about the ITRI and BGR initiatives?

We need a big discussion on the way forward. We need a bunch of things, not just tracing and tagging. We need to sit together to figure out. There are a lot of initiatives that have been proposed, but this has added to the confusion. We need one approach. The centres de négoce and tagging are not enough. Tagging is good - but you can end up tagging dirty minerals, as well! There is a whole bunch of work to do. Let's not confine ourselves to tagging.

What else can be done, then?

What we are trying to is to support local communities to supervise their own mines at a grassroots level. We will try to give them a mechanism to overview the process - to see if soldiers are taxing the minerals. We want to do this as civil society and then make reports that will we publish that will help keep mines clean. This, we hope, will happen in synergy with our Congolese and foreign partners. In general, we feel that these initiatives haven't taken into consideration the contributions of local organization. But we are discussing with them now.

What about BGR?

BGR work on a larger scale, with state for training experts. They associate civil society, but they are very bureaucratic. We share a lot of information, but we can feel the competition between ITRI, PACT, ICGLR - this competition is not good.

What about the advocacy done by ENOUGH in the US?

Unfortunately I think this is the opposite of what we want - ENOUGH has hardened its tone. They only show the negative side of artisanal mining here. This one-sidedness of their advocacy has had negative side-effects. No,  we know we can't stop Dodd Frank, but we need to be aware of these negative consequences - we are not very happy with Global Witness or ENOUGH, but we feel they are very influential, and we are ready to work with them. On the other hand, we are also afraid of our government and what they are doing.

Let me explain further. We have documented the links between minerals and armed groups, we know these exist. But minerals were not the initial source of the conflict, as you know. There were many other factors. So we think the emphasis should be on security sector and governance reform, not on an embargo.  We need to do more than just biometric IDs [one of the initiatives donors have supported] for the army, we need a real security sector reform.

How do we go about that?

Take the question of military involvement in the minerals trade. The soldiers who are involved in these things are known! There are Congolese generals are involved in this! But there is no real will by the government to clamp down on them. It is true, Umoja Wetu and Kimia II did have a serious impact on FDLR, and we need to consolidate this. The links between minerals and the FDLR was seriously broken during this time. But soon afterwards, the FARDC started to behave like the FDLR, exploiting minerals and taxing people. The real emphasis should be on building strong institutions, not just embargoes and export bans. We need to focus on the army.

Then there is the whole question of zones of exploitation, which the laws in theory have called for - so long as artisanal miners don't have a place to mine, this situation will continue. But they don't, which is a huge problem. A large international company will come and kick them out, then they take up their machetes. This question of artisanal mining zones is absolutely needed.

Is there the political will here in the Congo?

Let me giving example of Katanga - they have local political dynamic that pushed the thing in a good direction, and they will be able to get around this embargo to sell minerals. Even if in the meantime they are giving us in the Kivus a bad name. They have been pro-active, they have started tagging, working with MMR and ITRI. When there is political will, you can do this. But that is just provincial, we need Kinshasa involved. We don't feel that they are.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the State Department need to know that we don't reject their legislation. It is there, we will work with it. But they need to understand that Congolese have suffered. We say: the process needs to be sequenced. We need to work together. There are NGOs here in the East - BEST, Pole Institute, there are many organizations working on this. I agree, we have problems, but some are trying to do good work.


The dangers of rushing to elections

There has been a flurry of editorial and press statements over the past few days about Congolese elections. In particular, pundits have been reporting on the election commissioner Mulunda Ngoy's meeting with the minister of interior last week, during which he handed over the annexes to the electoral law that have to be adopted by parliament in order for the electoral process to go ahead. If these annexes are  not adopted by August 10, he warned, they will be forced the uncouple the legislative and presidential elections.

What exactly is Mulunda on about? Well, the official voter registration is now over, which has resulted in a redistribution of seats by electoral district. Since there has been no census in the country since, I believe, 1984, the voter registration figures form the best idea we have of how many people live where and, therefore, how many MPs there should be per electoral district. (See here for the redistribution by province).

In order for the electoral process to stay on track, prospective MPs have to register by September 7. They cannot begin registering without knowing how many seats there are per district. Once they have registered, the election materials can be printed and distributed throughout the country. This is why several editorials in Le Potentiel and La Prospérité have urged MPs to pass this amendment quickly in the extraordinary session that will soon begin in Kinshasa. MONUSCO added their voice to this chorus yesterday with a press statement, also pressing for a quick adoption of a legal amendment.

There is, however, a danger. The voter registers have not been audited by an independent group of experts. According to civil society groups, the lists of registered voters have not even been posted on the outside walls of some of the registration centers, as is required by law. There have been many allegations of fraud, including the registration of foreigners, children and fictitious people. So wouldn't a rushed adoption of an amendment legitimize this potentially flawed voter's register? Is it really possible that, in this context of rapid urbanization, Kinshasa could lose 7 seats? And would a quick adoption of an amendment not make it difficult afterwards to revisit the problem of "cleaning" the voter register?

I have been hearing more and more voices calling for a postponing of elections. A group of Congolese civil society organizations - including ASADHO, LINELIT and CENADEP - published a memo a few days arguing that "it would unrealistic" to hold elections within the constitutional deadlines (i.e. declare results by December 6). Diplomats in Kinshasa are now beginning to say the same in private, although they would prefer if the CENI could reach an agreement with all  major parties on a deferral before they make any statement. According to some in the diplomatic community, we are now 8 weeks behind schedule in the electoral process.

Would it then not be better to postpone an amendment to the electoral law until CENI has commissioned an independent audit of the voters' register? Even the UDPS, I assume, with their reputation for legal punctiliousness, would prefer a delay to going to elections with a flawed list of voters. In this, for once, I agree with Azarias Ruberwa, the head of the RCD, who is the first (semi-)major political figure I have seen come out in favor of postponing elections.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Guest Blog: Profile of Mai-Mai Yakutumba

This is the next in a series of guest blogs by Judith Verweijen on armed groups in the Kivus. The Mai-Mai Yakutumba, according to the Congolese army, are the most important of six remaining armed groups in South Kivu, the others being: Raia Mutomboki (in Shabunda), Mai-Mai Nyakiliba (Mwenga), Mai-Mai Fujo (Uvira), Mai-Mai Kirikicho (Kalehe), Resistance Nationale Congolaise (Kabare).

After having explored some of the general factors that drive ongoing armed group activity in the DRC, we will now take a closer look at one of these groups, the Mai Mai Yakutumba. This is a politico-military movement founded in 2007 that is active in Fizi territory, in the southern part of South Kivu, close to where  Che Guevara once unsuccessfully tried to unchain the revolution in the 1960s. As is often the case with Mai Mai groups, it is named after their military leader, “Major-General” William Amuri Yakutumba. The political wing of the movement is called PARC (Parti pour l’Action et la Reconstruction du Congo), and is headed by Raphael Looba Undji. Contrary to popular images of the Mai Mai as uncivilized “bush warriors”, both these leaders are university-educated intellectuals. 

Like many other present-day armed groups, the Mai Mai Yakutumba were created by dissidents from war-era armed factions who were opposed to participating in the process of army integration during the transition between 2003 and 2006. Yakutumba, at the time a battalion commander with the rank of captain, declared that he refused to redeploy his troops from Fizi territory, as long as troops from the Banyamulenge community did not disarm or send their troops away for army integration. The Banyamulenge are an ethnic Tutsi group of pastoralists living largely in the mountainous area of the Hauts Plateaux, which covers a part of Fizi territory. They are involved in a long-standing power struggle with the Babembe, the majority ethnic group in Fizi, which revolves in part around access to local positions of authority and historical antagonisms. The Babembe are also the main constituency of the Mai Mai Yakutumba, although their combatants are drawn from various ethnic backgrounds.    

This inter-community power conflict is shaped by and shapes antagonistic identities, which are firmly rooted in specific worldviews. In the case of the Mai Mai Yakutumba, this worldview is constructed around the idea of “autochthony”, or the concept of being a “Son of the Soil”,  the “original” inhabitant of a certain zone. In this perspective, which is shared by almost all Mai-Mai groups in the DRC, the self-styled autochthonous groups are threatened by the Rwandophone communities (Hutu and Tutsi), who are seen as “foreigners” trying to take over their land and power. Betweeen 1996 and 2003, “autochthonous” and Tutsi (often Banyamulenge)-led groups clashed on numerous occasions in southern South Kivu, and there were several ethnically targeted massacres on both sides. The resulting mutual distrust and dislike continue to feed Mai Mai movements like the Yakutumba group, which serves to many Babembe as a psychological safeguard to avoid that the Banyamulenge will extend their power in Fizi and will come to dominate the Babembe.         

It is in part this function as a safeguard that makes Yakutumba fairly popular among the Babembe, although many do not approve of armed struggle and are tired of the war. What also contributes to Yakutumba’s popularity is that he is perceived to symbolize and embody what are seen as typical Bembe characteristics and values, such as resistance against domination and repression, not only from other ethnic groups, but also from the central government. This self-imagery is in part the product of a tradition of Bembe resistance dating back to the colonial era, the Mulele rebellion in the 1960s and the Fizi-based rebellion of Laurent-Désiré Kabila under the Mobutu regime.  The Mai Mai Yakutumba place themselves explicitly in this tradition, which implies a strong animosity towards Kinshasa. They consider the regime of Kabila jr. to be complicit with the Rwandophones and their plan to ‘balkanize’ the DRC, backed by resource-hungry imperialist powers.    

Wide-spread discontent with the Kabila government is not only based on its perceived discrimination of “autochthones”, but also triggered by the immense collateral damage of the Kimia II/Amani Leo operations in Fizi territory. Furthermore, the meager “peace dividend” in Fizi also plays a role, as there has been little progress with the improvement of infrastructure and development since the start of Kabila’s reign. Not surprisingly, popular support for Yakutumba is biggest in the least developed and most isolated zones of Fizi, such as the Ubwari peninsula and the adjacent coastal strip along Lake Tanganyika.

Another factor feeding the Mai Mai Yakutumba’s discontent with the current government is the performance and functioning of the national army. In their view, the Mai Mai combatants who integrated in this structure have been marginalized, and denied positions and ranks of importance. This is seen as an ingratitude, as the Mai Mai should have been rewarded for the heroic role they played during the Second War, when they fought on the government side against the RCD insurgency. In combination with the general low standards of life of the average FARDC soldier, this perceived bad and unequal treatment discourages remaining Mai Mai to come out the bush. For the commandment, the refusal to give up armed struggle is also strongly related to personal ambitions and interests. It is a long-standing demand of Yakutumba that he be recognized a General upon his integration into the FARDC, while the political leadership seeks access to high administrative functions.

So the Mai Mai Yakutumba seem to be driven mostly by personal ambitions, a certain (autochthonous) world view, inter- and intra-community power struggles, discontent with the current Government and national army, and dissatisfaction with the status of the Mai Mai and “autochthones” in the post-transitional order. It appears that initially, they were not involved in large-scale economic and criminal activities, but financed mostly through community contributions and smaller-scale extortion of fishermen and traders on the Tanganyika lake and of artisanal goldmining in Fizi. However, since the movement started to collaborate with Agathon Rwasa’s FNL (Forces pour la Liberation Nationale), a Burundian armed group, in 2010, they have importantly expanded the scale of their activities on the lake, where they are involved in more extensive smuggling and systematic extortion of maritime traffic. The Yakutumba-FNL collaboration indicates the extent to which violence in the DRC continues to be influenced by regional dynamics and is fed by trans-border militarized networks.    

The electoral puzzle

I have just returned from a three week trip to Central Africa - I promise to compensate for my prolonged absence from this space with copious postings.

The electoral season is, of course, in full swing, as various political parties (UNC, MLC, PALU, UFC-Kengo, ADR-Mwamba) have held their congresses in Kinshasa. (I heartily recommend Alex Engwete's lively blog postings over the past two weeks on these events). The last few weeks have seen a mixture of electoral ups and downs - on the one hand, the voter registration process has been marred by a series of alleged abuses, with accusations of children, "ghosts" and foreigners being registered across the country. My favorite story among these is that of a Cameroonian UN official whose visiting family had overstayed their visa by many months - instead of paying the fine, he simply decided to bribe electoral officials and get his wife and child registered as Congolese.

Other problems have arisen, as well: the head of the electoral commission has not, as promised, named new officials to his commission to replace the workers who are affiliated with the ruling coalition. In addition, the timetable for the legislative elections seems to be slipping, as parliament and the electoral commission need to urgently pass an amendment to the election law presenting the new distribution of legislative seats in accordance with the voter registration figures (summary: Equateur gains 4 seats; Katanga and Bandundu gain 3; Maniema, Kasai Or and Kasai Occ gain 2; South Kivu remains the same; Kinshasa loses 7; North Kivu and Province Or lose 2; Bas-Congo loses 1 seat). There are now rumors that elections will have to be delayed until next year due to these delays.

On the other hand, candidates have recently been campaigning relatively freely. After initially facing stiff repression, Vital Kamerhe visited the Kivus in June to large crowds. Similarly, Etienne Tshisekedi has hold large rallies in Kinshasa and, just last Friday, in Lubumbashi. This is encouraging news.

But perhaps the most striking feature of this electoral season is the uncertainty. No one has a good, well-founded prediction for who will win the elections. As I have lamented again and again, there has not been any reliable polling in the country, although some unreliable polls have been published (their results largely an expression of their political bias). Each of the opposition candidates seems to believe they are the most popular, in particular Tshisekedi, who has at times presented himself as the sole legitimate opposition candidate and has come close to claiming victory already.

This uncertainty is setting the electoral cycle up for unrest. As civil society activist Donat Mbaya put it recently: "Tshisekedi said in an interview in Belgium that, whatever happens, Kabila won't win the election, and Kabila has said that whatever happens, he will win the election. In other words, neither candidate is prepared to admit defeat."

The straw polls I conducted in North and South Kivu testament to this uncertainty. Most of the people I spoke to were disappointed by Kabila, which is symptomatic of his unpopularity in parts of the conflict-ridden East. But many still believed that he would win, by hook or crook. Three main factors were mentioned.

First, Kabila's representatives have been considerable large amounts of money and gifts in the East. In South Kivu, Minister of Agriculture Norbert Katintima has been responsible for much of this, handing out money, T-Shirts, hats and other gifts to people who attend rallies. Katintima's involvement has spurred deep cynicism among Congolese, not only because people may vote based on hand-outs, but because Katintima was the deeply unpopular RCD governor of South Kivu between 1999 and 2002 who appears to been able to buy back at least a meager popularity through money and stature. Some of the people I spoke with suggested that these gifts will create a pact of allegiance between their recipients and Kabila's candidacy that will allow the incumbent to win a substantial number of votes in the East.

This is the first part of the electoral puzzle: Will the distribution of money and gifts allow Kabila to secure votes? This is, of course, a question that has long preoccupied political scientists elsewhere - Sue Stokes, for example, has showed that vote buying coupled with extensive party networks (party operatives monitor their "clients'" behavior and try to make sure they don't take the money/favors and vote for someone else) has worked in Argentina.

The second part of the puzzle has to do with another way of buying votes. Instead of targeting voters themselves, you target key members of the community: Customary chiefs, priests, NGOs and other leaders. In South Kivu, for example, President Kabila has obtained the support of many key customary chiefs - Mwami Ndatabaye (Ngweshe chief), Mwamikazi Naluhwindja (Luhwindja chief), Mwami Idjwi South and several others (I think both Mwami Kabare and Mwami Kalehe). But in these cases, it is far from clear how strong the sway of any of these leaders is. Many of the customary chiefs have been strongly contested - through succession disputes, erosion of their authority over land, or affiliation with political parties - by the population, and may have a hard time convincing their communities to vote with them. And while some communities are traditionally very hierarchically structured (the Bashi or Bahavu, for example), others are much more decentralized and do not have overall chiefs (the Bembe, Tembo, Rega or Nyanga, for example). Hence, the second question: To what extent can leaders influence the way the population votes? Of course, a corollary of this question is how many leaders Kabila can sway - of course, he has a huge advantage in terms of campaign funding.

The third, and perhaps most important question pertains to rigging. To what extent will Kabila (or other candidates) rig the vote? There are two main ways of rigging: on election day and before election day. Pre-electoral rigging can happen through:
  • Skewing the voter registration process, by setting up more registration centers in some places, or by registering ghosts/children/foreigners;
  • Using state resources, including TV and radio stations, but also the security apparatus to favor your candidacy and the repress opponents;
  • Making sure the election commission is staffed by people close to you;
While election day rigging can happen by:
  • Preventing people from voting in certain areas;
  • Paying people to vote a certain way;
  • Stuffing ballot boxes with fake ballots, either during the vote or after the vote has been finished;
  • Toying with the election results in the computers;
  • Using the judicial apparatus to prevent impartial arbitration of election abuses.
I am sure I have left out some other ways of rigging. I would say that several of the rigging options of the first list (pre-electoral) have already been used, although it is unclear to what extent. Here, the key will be a rigorous audit of the voter lists, which will require time and good organization, as parties would probably have to do this at a very local level (who but local officials could know if a registered voter is a child or dead?)

As for the second list, I am not yet persuaded that political parties and civil society have assembled a strong enough monitoring mechanism, with observers in every voting center to observe the voting and tallying of ballots. That is another imperative.

I leave you with some maps of election results from 2006.