Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Belgium’s Congo Agenda

Belgium has become a secondary commercial and political partner for Congo whose partnerships with China and other emerging economies are constantly increasing. Conversely, the former Belgian colony still has a place on the agendas of numerous political leaders and institutions in the former metropole. Activities in Brussels this June provide ample proof.

The number of high-level events could be interpreted as a follow-up to the activities that took place one year ago to mark 50 years of Congolese independence from Belgium. Also, as Belgium has broken all records for a country without a government, Congo helps fill a political vacuum.

The Congolese Embassy, with the support of the Belgian Ministry of Development Cooperation will host the Forum économique congolais dans l'Union Européenne on 9 & 10 June. Reconstruction de la RDC: Secteur financier, Investissement et Diaspora is the forum’s theme.

EGMONT, the Royal Institute for International Relations in association with CRE-AC and the Observatoire de l’Afrique will host two Congo events on 8 June. A panel debate on the challenges and opportunities for Elections in DRC and a book presentation by Jason Stearns who has just published Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa.

The Commission universitaire pour le Développement gives Professor Pierre Verjans (University of Liège) and Augustin Muhesi (PhD candidate at the Graben Catholic University) the floor to present their perceptions of Bonne Gourvernance Provinciale et Pratiques Efficientes en RDC. Date: 9 June.

The Socialist Party’s Institut Emile Vandervelde, under the auspices of Marie Arena inaugurated ‘les vendredis du Congo’. On 16 June a round table on Congo’s natural resources will take place.

On 14 June E-CA – CRE-AC pursues its Rotunda Policy Talks with a debate on how Belgian experts perceive and represent Congo. Herman De Croo, David Van Reybrouck and Colette Braeckman will exchange views with Congolese Ambasador Henri Mova Sakanyi and Olivier Chastel, Minister of Development Cooperation.

A Congolese environmental success story, Ibi Village will present its work at the Espace Delvaux on Tuesday 14 June. A group of international experts will present Ibi’s socially sensitive approach to carbon sequestration. Prior to the debates, the pioneering film by Henri Storck Les Seigneurs de la forêt will be shown with a presentation by environmental historian Patricia Van Schuylenbergh.

In honour of the International Day of the Environment (17 June), the Agence Belge de Développement is hosting a workshop on Payment for Environmental Services  Case studies from Indonesia, Peru, Equator and DRC will be discussed.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Coup de théâtre à l'Assemblée nationale

Palais du Peuple - RDC
Les journaux kinois de cette semaine et Radio Okapi évoquent la coupure de l’électricité au Palais du Peuple du mardi 24 mai qui n’a pas permis aux députés de clôturer leurs débats sur des points de la loi électorale qui divisent Opposition et Majorité. Les Députés ont quitté la Salle de Congrès du Palais du Peuple en se servant de leurs téléphones portables, comme des lampes torches, pour sortir de l’obscurité.

Selon certains Députés, cette coupure de l’énergie n’était pas fortuite mais c’était un manœuvre préméditée. La Prospérité précise que ‘la brusque interruption aurait été provoquée pour permettre à la majorité de procéder au rappel des troupes pour obtenir le passage de certaines dispositions de la loi contestées et par les Députés de la majorité et par ceux de l’opposition’.
D’autres évoquent tout simplement que le Palais du Peuple ne serait pas à l’abri des pannes qui touchent régulièrement la capitale.

Rappelons d’autres coupures d’électricité à des fins stratégiques : ‘panne’ à la morgue où se trouvait le corps de Floribert Chebeye, assassiné en juin 2010 ou encore la prise d’Inga par les Rwandais qui a plongé toute la ville de Kinshasa dans l’obscurité avec des conséquences humaines et économiques monstrueuses, provoquant ‘la bataille de Kinshasa’ d’août 1998.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Dodd-Frank vs Europe

When President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in July 2010, there was hope that corruption and conflict from mineral-rich poor countries such as Congo would be reduced. The Act requires oil, gas, and mining companies registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to publicly disclose their tax and revenue payments to governments around the world. It also requires companies to disclose information about the origins of tin ore, coltan (used in cell phones and computers), wolframite (used in armaments) and gold.

This initiative could be a constraint to corruption, but only if realistic verification mechanisms are put in place and if there is sufficient pressure to make sure legislation is respected. This is an improbable set of conditions given the shady actors involved in Congo’s mineral business.

The European Parliament is currently discussing a similar law but it appears that Europe has no intention of adopting tough legislation like that of Dodd-Frank.

This is yet another example of how Congo’s international partners are powerless to act collectively in addressing the country’s macro-economic and security challenges.

Christopher Dodd, who pushed for this piece of legislation is the son of another Connecticut senetor, Thomas Joseph Dodd, who visited the Congo in 1961 to investigate the Katanga seccession.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Natural resource management, livelihoods and the environment

Fish farm in peri-urban Kinshasa
Elections dominate news coming out of Congo. But this should not mask other pressing priorities, especially those relating to the environment and natural resource management. The economic future of Congo and the Congolese will depend on how the country’s natural heritage is managed. As most Congolese maintain vital economic relationships with their natural surroundings, realistic environmental policy-making is crucial.

The April 2011 Greenpeace report on REDD Bad Influence provides excellent analysis of how DRC is one piece in the struggle to regulate macro-level climate change.

A new book edited by Ansom and Marysee (unfortunately very expensive) takes an environmental livelihoods approach to understanding nature’s importance to ordinary people. Their research shows that ‘the poor’ are not marginalized victims but agents acting strategically to capitalize on new environmental opportunities.

Maintaining the fragile peace that Congolese and their international partners have tried to achieve will be increasingly contingent upon improving natural resource management, respecting a ‘rights & responsibilities’ logic.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Moïse Katumbi says goodbye - really?

Future ex-governor, Moïse Katumbi
Not many Congolese political leaders leave office voluntarily. The charismatic governor of Katanga (and multi-millionaire businessman!) just set an example by declaring he will not run for office in the upcoming elections. In a country were political authorities do practically nothing for people, the slightest effort is widely acclaimed. Katumbi is described as a mix between Chavez and Berlusconi.

It is not easy to connect the dots in his declarations. He complained of being unable to accomplish his development projects for the mineral-rich province because Kinshasa did not allow provinces to retain the much disputed 40% tax base that was stipulated in the Constitution. This is a direct criticism of Kinshasa politics – la kinoiserie. At the same time, he urged the population to register to vote and support Joseph Kabila whose campaign he funded in 2006.
Officially he wants to devote his efforts to his business activities and his champion football team T.P. Mazembe.

Katumbi will certainly resurface as a populist political avatar - reculer pour mieux sauter.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Newt Gingrich, PhD

US presidential contender

NEWT GINGRICH just became the first officially declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. While he may never make it to the White House, he will certainly liven up the campaign. Gingrich’s favourite theme is American exceptionalism: the idea that the US is uniquely superior to all other countries.

Why is this relevant to the Congo Masquerade blog?

Believe it or not, Gingrich has a PhD from Tulane University and wrote a thesis about education policy in the Belgian Congo. While many children learned to read and write under Belgian rule, there was practically no elite formation like in the French or British colonies. Poor leadership in contemporary Congo is a legacy of this lack of training. The slogan so frequently repeated in Belgian colonial circles with respect to education was: pas d’élites, pas d’ennuis’ (‘no elites, no headaches’).

It’s the elections, stupid!

‘It’s the elections, stupid!’ The paraphrase of a famous Bill Clinton campaign slogan sums up the priorities being discussed about current Congolese politics. The new ICG report ‘Congo: The Electoral Dilemma’ provides a clear picture of the overwhelming challenges facing the whole range of stakeholders: Congolese authorities, opposition groups, civil society and the country’s international partners.

According to the report, the government is confronted by the need to either respect the constitutional deadline and ‘botch’ the elections or postpone them and thus enter into a situation of constitutional illegality: some informed Western sources appear to prefer this option. In both circumstances, the government’s legitimacy will be subject to new criticism. While the report provides excellent analysis of the political situation (as well as technical, financial and logistical issues) its recommendations are less convincing because they would be difficult to implement on the Congolese political landscape. The recommendations do however emphasize the necessity for international partners (who are paying for the elections cost either directly or indirectly) to keep up the pressure on the government to guarantee transparency.

My view is that elections will be held more or less on schedule because Kabila plans on capitalizing on his efforts to consolidate power, a process that has been ongoing since he was elected five years ago. He needs to be re-elected before the opposition can get organized and present a viable candidate.

To read the latest ICG report, click below:

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Congo Security Catch-22

This year's Kent State Symposium on Democracy focused on gender-based violence against women and the devastating impact Rwanda has had on the people of the Kivus. This is perhaps representative of a trend by activists and academics whereby problems in the Kivus dominate the debates about state-building challenges.

Security and politics in the Kivus - and relations with their neighbours - appear to be isolated from the broader national political debate. While there can be no solution to security challenges in the Kivus without improved govenrnance at the macro level, there can be no improved governance without security in the Kivus. Symposium participants concurred this is a Catch-22 that will take many, many years to resolve.

Theodore Trefon, Thomas Turner, René Lemarchand at KSU (27 April)