Sunday, 19 February 2012

Soldiers mutiny in Ituri

Paid soldiers are happy soldiers. Unpaid soldiers can wreak havoc. Joseph Kabila would be wise to not forget this golden rule of political survival.

Radio Okapi and other media have reported a mutiny of two battalions – approximately 2,000 soldiers in Marabo (40 kilometers from Bunia ) in the north east Ituri territory. The mutiny is yet another blow to the Kabila’s fragile authority.

Salary problems started the movement. Last year a census was taken to establish the number of men in uniform compared to the ghost soldiers whose salaries were used to reinforce their pay. Once the ghost soldiers were removed from the payroll, real soldiers saw a cut in their pay.

A letter was sent to President Kabila complaining of the inhuman conditions soldiers are forced to brook and SMS messages were sent to the heads of the regional military authorities to reiterate their dissatisfaction. Their complaints read more like an NGO diatribe than a military declaration.

Major Faustin Balizana, adjunct commander of the 42nd battalion and spokesman for the rebellious troops, said soldiers continue to be poorly paid and are taken advantage of from the military upper echelons. He made explicit reference to the existence of mafia-style networks of corruption and theft of money that should go to foot soldiers.

Prior to the mutiny, approximately 30 well-armed soldiers deserted. Some headed back to their base but others are still on the loose in the vicinity of the Lubero forest.

200,000 national army troops and the majority of MONUSCO blue helmets are deployed in the east. They have not succeeded in bringing local militias, FDLR, FNL and the Lords Resistance Army under control. The political economy of plunder and blood minerals earnings are strong incentives to continue sabotaging the security landscape.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Land grabbing, sovereignty and a new agriculture law

Affirming national sovereignty is a recurring pattern in post-conflict situations. It can have positive implications for regaining a sense of national unity and reshaping identity. It can contribute to the state-building process.

Nationalisation of foreign held assets is an awkward form of affirming sovereignty: awkward because it tends to be applauded by local stakeholders in a populist logic without concern for broader macroeconomic considerations, but anathema to foreign investors stripped of their businesses. Arbitration between investors that were nationalised by Mobutu in 1973 and the Congolese government is still unresolved.

Congo’s new agriculture law is a measure that could be interrupted as a means of affirming national sovereignty. But it is too early at this stage to say if it will do more harm than good. Although the law itself has been approved by parliament and was signed by President Kabila on 24 December 2011, the by-laws and application measures are still being elaborated. This could take some time: Congo’s forest code became law in 2002 but the presidential decree establishing the implementation procedures was signed in 2005.

Foreign investors are legitimately preoccupied by the law and particularly by the terms stipulated in Article 16 which says that only Congolese have the right to land. Foreigners cannot be majority holders. In an attempt to reassure current concession holders Agriculture Minister Norbert Basengezi declared that only new concessions are concerned by this provision. The provision is considered by some as discriminatory and anti-constitutional because Article 34 of the Constitution guarantees investment rights to both Congolese and foreigners.

While article 16 is contentious (there are 84 other articles), the new law has been accepted enthusiastically by most Congolese and by many international NGOs. Approximately 70% of Congo’s population lives off the land. Farmer associations - with the support of internationals NGOs such as AgriCongo - lobbied their representatives to have the law approved. Congo’s rural populations welcome the law because they perceive it as giving them greater security in what is a very ambiguous land tenure context. The importance of family farming is now recognized.

Congo’s agricultural space is going to come under increased pressure as land grabbing becomes more systematic. Land ceded to China in Equateur Province for palm oil production is a concrete example. Future opportunities for biofuel production or REDD exchanges will have to be tracked carefully if the agricultural law is to live up to local expectations.

Lack of coherence with other development priorities is a challenge. Economy Minister Jean-Marie Bulambo announced the reduction of food import duties in May 2011. Staples like meat, poultry, fish, wheat and rice, etc. – all commodities that could be produced in Congo – are given priority over local foodstuffs. The logic here is to respect consumer demands more than the needs of producers. From a political point of view this made sense in the run-up to elections.

One major but still unresolved issue is the definition of broader land use strategies that give coherence to agriculture, mining and forestry policies. Another is infrastructure development that could help Congolese products be competitive for the national market.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Augustin Katumba Mwanke: profile & analysis

Augustin Katumba Mwanke died today in a plane crash near Bukavu.

Augustin Katumba Mwanke was Kabila’s éminence grise. His voice in economic matters was taken seriously. Already close to Kabila père, this Katangais (b. Pweto, 1963) was behind the Congo-China deal and was very influential in facilitating relations between the Kinshasa political elite and the mining sector. Although he did hold any official position in the Kabila cabinet, he was former head of the Alliance for the Presidential Majority (AMP).

Kabila already has serious problems managing criticism of the recent elections fiasco. The loss of his main advisor is an additional blow.

This former governor of Katanga (appointed by L.-D.Kabila in April 1998) served on the board of Anvil Mining. He was accused of financial wrongdoing by the UN group of experts investigating the illegal exploitation of Congo natural resources which led to his dismissal from the position of Minister of State Assets (portefeuille de l'Etat).

The profile below is excerpted and adapted from a classified cable by US Ambassador William J. Garvelink.

Known for his business acumen, political discretion and efficiency, Katumba made no secret of his desire to leave the DRC to become ambassador to Israel, Switzerland or South Africa.

Katumba was suspected of having significant health problems. He spent several weeks in South Africa in 2009 for medical treatment. The nature of his health problems is not known but some observers believe he was HIV positive. This theory would seem bolstered by his emaciated physical appearance.

Katumba rarely met with diplomats. He was viewed by many as a kind of shady, even nefarious figure within Kabila’s inner circle. A former financier who lived many years in South Africa before returning to the DRC after Mobutu’s departure, he is believed to have managed much of Kabila’s personal fortune.

He was known to be close to Dan Gertler, a mysterious Israeli trader in precious minerals who, according to some sources, lends Kabila his private jet for trips abroad. Gertler invited Katumba to Israel often. Although Katumba would like to go to South Africa, it seems that Pretoria would not accept him because of suspected illegal banking transactions in the past.

Before the crash, someone made a clairvoyant comment on a Congolese internet forum about Katumba. It seems an appropriate ephitaph: ‘les faucons, ils finirons un jour, croyez-moi’.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Congo divided again: Beyond the 2011 elections

President Kabila campaigned under the slogan "for a united Congo". However, the country now stands divided into two camps, between those who believe his re-election to be legitimate and those who don’t.

How then can the people of Congo build a more stable and effective democracy?
Can long-lasting solutions to the many challenges facing the country be found?
What can domestic and international actors do?

These questions will be discussed by a group of experts convened by the Royal African Society and the Oxford Central Africa Forum.

14 February, 16:00 to 19:30

School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Lecture Theatre G2, Russell Square Campus, London


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Pragmatism trumps democracy in Congo

Maintaining the status quo and lack of leverage over Kabila is how Michelle Faul sums up the West’s response to Congo’s chaotic elections.
Full story.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Contested representations of Congolese Rwandophones

Lars-Christopher Huening has just defended a PhD dissertation on discourses about Rwandophones in the DRC. “A case of mistaken identity? The Kinshasa press, political discourse and contested representations of Congolese Rwandophones, c.1990-2005”.

Based on an analysis of the Kinshasa’s press, Huening historicises the continuous redefinition of conflicting identities as a constantly negotiated, politically contingent and ideologically malleable process.

Particular focus is given to the agency of political actors in using powerful memories and historical narratives to link the Rwandophone ‘other’ with future-orientated fearful visions of perpetual Rwandan expansionism. The dissertation provides new insights into the dynamics of exclusion as a principal dimension to the outbreak of Congolese domestic and, ultimately, interstate violence in the Great Lakes region.

For further information, contact Huening at: