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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Adieu, Bosco?

Gen. Bosco Ntaganda spends a lot of his time looking over his shoulder these days. The army commander, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court for abuses in Ituri as chief of staff of Thomas Lubanga' UPC, is still deputy commander of Amani Leo operations in the eastern Congo. He was put in that position in early 2009, after the arrest of Laurent Nkunda, and has explicitly been cited by Rwandan and (some) Congolese officials as "the lynchpin of stability" in the region.

How can someone who has been accused of so many human rights abuses, in Ituri and the Kivus, against the civilians population but also against his own commander, be seen thus? Bosco was given the command of the ex-CNDP troops after Nkunda left, and is seen as crucial part of the deal that saw Kinshasa and Kigali make peace, semi-integrate CNDP troops into the Congolese army, and jointly attack the FDLR.

But this might be changing.

Last week, two top Nkunda commanders - Colonels Innocent Kabundi and Richard Bisamaza - departed for Kinshasa, possibly to take up positions in the West of the country. This kind of deployment outside of the Kivus has long been anathema to the CNDP, who know that they will lose their strength (and their protection rackets) if redeployed. In addition, Bisamaza and Kabundi were once seen as Bosco loyalists, and Bosco reportedly ordered them not to fly to Kinshasa. But they refused. (Some also say that Nkunda's younger brother, Seko, was part of the Kinshasa trip).

The Bosco wing of the CNDP suddenly began to express its discontent with its current lot, despite the high profile, lucrative positions they currently occupy within military operations. A letter, allegedly signed by Bosco himself, was sent to MONUSCO in Goma on March 24, saying the CNDP wanted to return to peace talks. And a delegation of Tutsi community leaders in North Kivu met yesterday with MONUSCO in Goma, expressing its disapproval of Bosco's ICC arrest warrant and warning against his arrest. Why all this noise if Bosco has nothing to worry about?

Finally, diplomats appear to be taking advantage of the post-electoral turmoil to push some policy points. The compromise with Kabila's government seems to be: we have accepted the fraudulent elections, but if you want international legitimacy, carry out some quick-and-easy reforms. Arresting Bosco is part of this, and on my recent trip to Kinshasa his name was on the lips of many diplomats.  (This blog by Tony Gambino and Lisa Shannon in the NYT contributed to this push.)

It doesn't hurt that many Congolese army officers and security officials barely conceal their dislike for the general - the former commander of North Kivu operations, Col. Bobo Kakudji, used to be liberal in his criticism of Bosco, so much that he was moved out of the region. Another colonel told me: "We have shed our blood for Kabila, we have remained loyal throughout the years - today we stay at home watching TV, and Bosco, the biggest traitor, is given a high ranking post!"

So the times may be changing for Bosco. He reportedly does not move around Goma without a large, muscular escort. The myth that he is a stabilizing force is slowly being discredited, and his is becoming an embarrassment, even to his friends in the Rwandan army next door (the UN Group of Experts report from December cites his complicity in minerals smuggling with the Rwandan government, which is intent on proving the conflict-free credentials of its supply chains). Those relations are crucial, and some Congolese army officers say that it will be easier for the Rwandans to arrest him, as they did with Nkunda, as that will ensure that the other ex-CNDP officers will stay in line. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Congolese army launches new operations in the Kivus, raises fears

Without much fanfare, and after almost a year of staying in holding positions, the Congolese army launched a new military offensive on February 18th. Eager to improve on past operations, this one is called Amani Kamilifu ("perfect peace" in Swahili), a successor to Amani Leo ("peace today"), Kimia I & II ("peace I & II") and Umoja Wetu ("our unity"). 
The operations appear to be confined for the moment to South Kivu, to the territories of Kabare, Kalehe, Mwenga and Shabunda, and are primarily focused against the FDLR. According to one source in the Congolese army, five battalions have been currently mobilized for these operations, one in each sector, including the following
  • 6 Sector (Colonel Rugayi): Battalion 10611 under  Lt Col Avula Yav in Hombo-Ekingi
  • 7 Sector (Col Mungura): Battalion 10721 under Lt Col Simeon in Nindja-Mpesi
  • 8 Sector (Col Kabundi): Battalion 10812 under Lt Col Kavz in Miki-Mbandakila
  • 9 Sector (Col Bernard Byamungu): Battalion 10911 under Lt Col Jaguar in Marungu-Lubumba
  • 10 Sector (Col Saddam): Unknown.
The operations have raised fears among humanitarian officials, but they also will try to build on the successes of the past months. For almost a year, the total number of displaced people had slowly fallen as aggressive military operations had largely come to a halt in the run-up to elections. Now, the United Nations has documented several new waves of displacement and abuses, especially against humanitarian workers, that may involve both army soldiers and rebel forces.

For example, a Doctors Without Borders team was attacked and robbed of their belongings in Marungu (Uvira territory) on February 27, which led the NGO to suspend its services to 38,000 vulnerable people in the area. The health center of Tchombi (Shabunda) was attacked and pillaged on February 12, allegedly by the Congolese army. The FDLR raided several villages in Kabare in March, including Cifuko, Kahamba and Mupoke, killing at least three people and burning down over a hundred huts. 

By far the worst incident occurred during a confrontation between a local militia, the Raia Mutomboki, and the FDLR in Ekingi, in the Bunyakiri region of South Kivu. Between March 1st and 4th, the Raia Mutomboki allegedly killed over thirty wives and children of the FDLR, along with a local chief. Following these incidents, the FDLR hunted down and killed three Raia Mutomboki soldiers.

It is not yet clear whether there was any collusion between the Congolese army unit based nearby, which had allegedly been in the same FDLR village just days before, and the Raia Mutomboki. Survivors of the attack report that they had never seen the Mutomboki there previously.

In the meantime, there are other operations ongoing against the FDLR, ADF-Nalu and Congolese armed groups in North Kivu that have led to the displacement of thousands of other civilians.

A series of attacks by the Congolese army and local militia over the past several years has led to the steep decline in the strength of the FDLR. Most recently, a spate of assassinations against their leaders - allegedly by Rwandan special forces based in North Kivu, together with local militia - has been particularly devastating for the organization.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Life gets better for Kinshasa elites, but is a struggle for most

I have just returned from a quick trip to Kinshasa, my first in a long time.

Several things surprised me. First, the city has developed spectacularly in some respects over the past several years. Dozens of kilometers of new roads have unclogged traffic in some select areas of the city as Chinese contractors have repaired and broadened some of the main thoroughfares: Boulevard de 30 Juin, Avenue des Huileries, Boulevard Lumumba (under construction), Boulevard Triomphale and Avenue des Poids Lourds. The favorite word for the construction seems to have been "anarchique," as the roads often lacked drainage, resulting in flooding, and traffic signs - dozens of people have been killed in traffic accidents as a result.

But there is no doubt that there has been some modest - and relatively untransparent, given some opaque tenders - improvement to infrastructure in the city. The main Boulevard de 30 Juin is a different (and less leafy) street altogether. Add to this the Hôpital du Cinquatenaire, the largest Central Africa apparently (but which has also raised questions about expropriation of land, long delays, and management challenges), the Rakeen Towers, the quixotic Cité du Fleuve, and a possible new Sheraton, and some Kinois grudgingly admit that the government is developing the city.

But the progress has mostly benefited the narrow elite - the number of new highrises, restaurants, internet cafés and bars is astounding (as are the prices on the menus). For the average citydweller, life has gotten harder, mostly because the cost of living has gone up. A look at food prices gives a decent idea of these hardships:

Much of this price hike is due to inflation, but for Congolese who earn in Congolese francs, that is not a great consolation. In addition to this, gas prices have gone up around 10% in the past two months alone, which trickles down to higher food and transport prices. So when the Kinois see a new highrise, instead of talking about development, they are more likely to quip about which minister is gone into business with which Lebanese businessman.

(The Crown Towers, the Congo Futur Shopping Mall, Paradise and Riverside complexes belong to the Tajideen family, which is close to Kabila and (partly) under US sanctions for supporting Hezbollah; the Rakeen Towers is a UAE investment; the Sheraton building reportedly belongs to an Indian businessman who owns Services Air airlines.)

It is difficult to separate perception from reality and to say whether life has really gotten worse for most. But the frequent strikes by state employees (including doctors) and the rising food prices put a stain on the picture that the government wants to paint of its burgeoning capital.