Sunday, November 30, 2008

Royal Museum Conference

If you missed last week's Fatal Transactions conference in Bonn you still have time to attend the Royal Museum of Central Africa's conference next week in Brussels.

Fatal Transactions Conference

Fatal Transactions, a network of different European and African NGOs and research institutes, held a conference on private companies in zones of conflict on November 21 & 22. Recordings of the conference speeches and panel discussions are available here.

I will provide a review later.

Ban Ki-moon Pushing for EU Force

Belgium's foreign minister Karel De Gucht told Belgium's VRT television that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in favor of sending an interim European force to Democratic Republic of Congo until peacekeeping reinforcements arrive. "The United Nations hopes that an European military force could come and fill in the gap" until the UN ramps up its forces, De Gucht said.

No official word from the UN, as far as I can tell.


The Economist features an illustrated history. One quarrel: "by some accounts"?

Friday, November 28, 2008

What Do You Know?

The CNDP has a web site: here.

Economic Harbinger? reports that the Chinese firm ZTE is divesting itself of its 51 percent share in Congo China Telecom (CCT), a mobile phone company. The article, originally published in Le Potentiel, says that no reasons for the divestment have been given.

ZTE's involvement in the Congo dates back to December 1997, when Laurent Kabila made a deal with the Chinese telecommunications firm on a visit to that country. The Chinese provided Kabila with a loan of 200 million yuan, and after he seized power in May 1998 Kabila created a new telecommunications parastatal which promptly gave ZTE the contract to supply equipment.

The article implies that Congolese officials may use government funds to purchase shares of the company at fire sale prices on their personal behalf. But I wonder if this divestment isn't a harbinger of more Chinese companies deciding to withdraw from the Congo. With the prices of Congo's raw materials plunging, disillusionment over the government's continuing confusion and inertia, and their own economic woes, China may be pulling back from its commitments to the DRC.

Nkunda's Army

From Jeune Afrique comes an interesting analysis of the dynamics behind the war in the Kivus. The Banyamulenge of North Kivu comprise waves of immigrants from Rwanda including both Hutu and Tutsi. They form a (slender) majority in the southern part of North Kivu, near Goma. But the Nande, "indigenous Congo" who form the majority in "le grand nord"--the northern part of North Kivu--won political control of the province after the election. For a while, many of the Hutu Banyamulenge threw their lot in with the Nande, leaving the Tutsi minority of le grand nord feeling ever more isolated.

But the (Banyamulenge) Hutu got very little in return for their allegiance, and now, says Congolese analyst Onesphore Sematumba, the Hutu are turning again to Nkunda, who is widely viewed as the strongman of the moment. "The Hutu feel like the made the wrong choice," said Sematumba.

My own suspicion is that the Hutu should stick with the one that brung 'em. The international community has reached a tipping point. Sooner or later, MONUC or the EU will arrive with enough firepower to put down Nkunda's rebellion, and the Nande will be again in charge. The Hutu don't want to be seen as deserters or opportunists when that time comes.

Diplomats Talk, Refugees Walk

In New York
The UN Security Council yesterday discussed changing MONUC's mission to focus more intensively on peacebuilding in the east. The French ambassador and Belgian foreign minister lobbied the Council to give MONUC the capacity to deal with illegal resource exploitation, take more forceful action against rebel groups, and gradually transfer its activities to the east by giving bilateral partners responsibility over government-controlled territory in the west. (At present, only about 5,000 of MONUC's 17,000 troops are located in the Kivus.)

Meanwhile, back at the Ranch
Congolese civilians caught in the cross-fire between rebel groups, militias, and government soldiers in the east continued to flee the violence towards Uganda. Approximately ten thousand new Congolese refugees arrived in the district of Kamungu, where UNHCR is already dealing with 27,000 people displaced since the beginning of the war in North Kivu.

Government Blasts back at HRW Report

Four ministers in Joseph Kabila's government held a press conference yesterday to denounce a recently published Human Rights Watch report that condemned the government's growing authoritarianism. The four ministers variously argued that the report was inaccurate, failed to prove its allegations, ignored the (greater) violations of the rebels, and neglected to take note of the government's progress. One minister argued that HRW had a history of bias against the government and was therefore suspect.

On the whole, it's a positive thing when a government is forced to address a report on human rights abuses, even when it does so in a meretricious manner. One can hardly imagine North Korean officials holding a public press conference on such a topic; come to think of it, it's hard to imagine the Bush administration opting for such openness. (For the past four years or so, the typical U.S. press conference has gone about like this: "Who--Us? Torture? Never. Because if we do it, it's not torture. Next question.")

Fat Vegetables Plead with Gordon Brown to Deploy EU Force

Sixteen notable figures, including former presidents, prime ministers, diplomats, military commanders, writers, and religious leaders, wrote to Gordon Brown on Thursday (11/27), urging him to deploy forces from the European Union to protect civilians in eastern Congo. The letter follows:

Dear Prime Minister,

As you will be aware, the situation in the Eastern DRC is a clear humanitarian catastrophe. The United Nations has already documented massacres, rape and the forced recruitment of children and the peacekeeping force on the ground is currently unable to protect the hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk.

To those of us who have worked on such issues for some time, current events bring back painful memories of Rwanda and Srebrenica, mass atrocity crimes world leaders promised to prevent when they agreed at the World Summit in 2005 that they had a responsibility to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Of course, it is clear to all of us that only a political solution can bring an end to this crisis. We all strongly support an end to impunity; an army that protects it own civilians rather than preys on them and an inclusive political process. It will be critical for President Olusegun Obasanjo in his role as Special Envoy to receive high level support over the coming months if it is to be successful.

But it is also clear that the political track will take time to yield results and would suffer badly from any sudden destabilisation that could take place at any moment. While the UN has authorised an additional 3,000 troops it will likely take between three and six months to deploy them. The Congolese people cannot wait.

The UN Special Representative to the DRC has called for an interim force to deploy immediately to protect civilians and support the UN peacekeepers until reinforcements can arrive. It is increasingly clear that the EU is best placed - through its standing battle groups - to play this role and deploy now.

We urge you to speedily agree to the temporary deployment of an EU force. In our view this would help protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians currently at risk.

It needs your personal political leadership to make sure this happens and ensure 'never again’ really means never again.


Lloyd Axworthy, former Canadian Foreign Minister
Jorge Castaneda, former Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs
Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (Retired), Canadian Senator and former Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda
Vaclav Havel, writer and former President of the Czech Republic
Frederik Willem de Klerk, Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of South Africa
Jan Egeland, Director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, former UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator
Joschka Fisher, former German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor
Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.
Juan Mendez, President of the International Center for Transitional Justice, former Special Advisor to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide
Mike Moore, former Director General of the World Trade Organisation, former Prime Minister of New Zealand
Archbishop Njongo Ndungane, former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town
Bishop Monsengwo Pasinya Laurent, Head of the Catholic Church in Kinshasa
Mary Robinson, President of Realizing Rights, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
George Soros, Chairman of the Open Society Institute
El Hassan bin Talal, Prince, Jordan
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate
The Rt Reverend Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester
Richard Dowden, Author of Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles
Tom Stoppard, Playwright

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Government Failures Multiply--but Congolese Rarely Protest

A Reuters AlertNet analysis argues that the Congolese government is facing a "perfect storm" of pressures, including the government's embarrassing military failures in the east, tumbling mineral prices, popular discontent over continuing mismanagement and corruption, doubts about the government's much-delayed review of mining contracts, and growing concern that Chinese mining agreements are not delivering as promised. [Update 11/28: This article in l'Observatoire de l'Afrique centrale is a crushing denunciation of the government's multiple failures.]

Copper prices have fallen 60 percent since Kabila was elected to office in July 2006, and over 40 mining companies in Katanga have ceased operations. A promised $350 million loan from the Chinese has been caught up in red tape. The president's much-vaunted "cinq chantiers" or five projects approach to rebuilding the country has achieved few visible successes.

In Western nations, this monumental level of failure would likely lead to the collapse of the government. Indeed, outside observers have been waiting decades--from the late Seventies--for the Congolese people to rise up. That they haven't has been attributed to their poverty (impverished people haven't the wherewithal to mount a challenge against their government), to the strength of the police state, and to their own uncanny ability to bear suffering with grace.

My sense is that none of those explanations for Congolese political quiescence has quite nailed it. My impression--and it is just that--is that the Congolese simply don't expect much from their government. When outsiders ask--as we so often do--why there is not more popular discontent--why the people of Kinshasa, for example, haven't demonstrated or rioted against the government--we are imputing ideas and feelings to the Congolese that I am not entirely sure they share.

Indulge my half-baked ideas as I play political sociologist of the longue duree. The notion that the government exists to serve the people--rather than the other way around--was one of the deepest and most wide-ranging transformations in Western thinking. It came about because centuries of wars, rebellions, and revolutions led Western political thinkers to develop new ideas about the proper relationship of rulers to ruled. These ideas extended across a range of fronts, were given voice by artists, writers, and even composers, and eventually were taken up as causes by new political actors, revolutionaries in their day. Gradually, over time, these ideas took root, spread, and became embedded in the very structure of our government. Now we have so deeply internalized them that they are subtly reflected in everything we do--from how we raise our children, to what TV shows we watch, to what we expect from the police if we are pulled over for speeding. But these ideas are neither universal nor natural. If anything, the belief that the individual is and ought to be subordinate to the government--that the less powerful must yield to the more powerful--is the more "natural," intuitive notion.

That's why the Congolese have at times demonstrated so forcefully against MONUC. They know why MONUC is there; they understand what its mission is. When it fails to protect them, they get angry. But from their own government, they expect nothing. And when that's what it delivers, they are neither surprised nor outraged.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Swiss Reveal their True Nature

Reading this story about Swiss authorities indicating they are about to return Mobutu's millions to his family reminded me of this passage from Paul Collier's book, The Bottom Billion:
The societies of the bottom billion might become safe haven for criminals, terrorists and disease. Paradoxically, some of this is reciprocal: the rich countries have been a safe haven for the criminals of the bottom billion. One grotesque form of this safe haven role has been that western banks have taken deposits looted from the bottom-billion societies, held the money in great secrecy, and refused to give it back. . . The banking profession has a responsibility to clean up its act, just as de Beers did in respect to diamonds. At present, a small minority of bankers are living on the profits from holding deposits of corrupt money. We have a word for people who live on the immoral earnings of others: pimps.

Is the US blocking MONUC's Request?

Anthony Gambino, former peace corps volunteer and USAID mission director in the Congo, says in a Huffington Post editorial published today that he has heard reports that the US is "taking the lead" in resisting MONUC's request for additional troops. This would not be the first time the US has squelched greater UN involvement in African tragedies. (See genocide, Rwanda.)
Gambino points out that the troops will give MONUC the enhanced capacity necessary to launch surprise attacks on concentrations of rebel militias, disrupt their operations, deny them access to mining sites, and protect concentrations of civilians in both urban and rural areas. He reiterates the argument from his Council on Foreign Relations report, that only MONUC has the potential to bring security to the region.

Susan Rice to UN?

Susan Rice, former assistant secretary of state for Africa under Bill Clinton, may be in line to become the next US ambassador to the United Nations.

Rice and former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake were early supporters of Obama, and had been mentioned for more senior positions in Obama's administration. They are known as "hawks" on Sudan and Darfur, having proposed last year that the US be prepared to bomb Sudan if it failed to accept UN peacekeepers.

Because of Obama's own parentage, and because some of his early, senior advisors were Rice, Lake, and Scott Gration, a Swahili-speaking air force general who grew up in the Congo, there was some hope that Obama's foreign policy might place a higher priority on Africa than it's enjoyed in the past. (Samantha Power, another early supporter, would also have pressed Obama to focus on the genocide in Sudan and mass killings in Congo.) But with Hillary Clinton's likely appointment to State and Robert Gates likely to retain his position at Defense, that possibility is dimming. These are both traditional, centrist foreign policy thinkers with at best moderate tendencies toward international humanitarianism.

Another possibility much discussed during the campaign was that Obama might raise foreign aid to a cabinet-level position. (It was integrated into the State Department during Bush's tenure.) That also looks less likely today than in the past, as there have been zero leaks suggesting it's in the works, and Susan Rice would have been a natural choice to occupy that position.

The bottom line: there will probably be fewer major changes in US policy toward Africa than we might have hoped. However, reading these tea leaves is always a bit iffy. Bill Clinton devoted much more attention to Africa after his presidency than he did during it, so it's possible that some of that concern may have rubbed off on Hillary.

Remains of 2,000 Said to Be Found in Bukavu

The national television station RTNC is reporting that more than 2,000 human skeletons were discovered last Sunday (11/23) in a residential neighborhood in Pajeco in the commune of Ibanda, in Bukavu. The RTNC says the parcel where the remains were found once belonged to Azarias Ruberwa, leader of the RCD, and that the remains date to the period during which the RCD occupied Bukavu.

But doubts surfaced quickly about the report. The prosecutor general of Bukavu said that it was not clear whether the bones belonged to humans or animals, and that much more work was required to sort out the details. The RCD suggested skepticism was in order. Hubert Efole, its spokesperson, noted how difficult it would be to bury 2,000 people in a big city like Bukavu without anyone knowing about it, and suggested the site could be an old cemetery.

Human Rights Watch Blasts Kabila

Human Rights Watch has issued a report on the status of democracy in Congo titled "We Will Crush You: The Restriction of Political Space in the DRC." The contents can be inferred from the title. But what makes the report unique--to my knowledge--is its presentation. Unlike most HRW reports, which feature very matter-of-fact prose interspersed with one or two photos for illustration, this report includes a sharp-elbowed, animated political cartoon, depicting both Congolese and Western figures as complicit observers in Kabila's authoritarian takeover of the government. (Former MONUC chief William Swing is shown urging President Kabila to pay no attention to a growing accumulation of human rights reports. He speaks in strongly accented French.)

I enjoy political cartoons, and I think these are well done, but I wonder if Human Rights Watch is taking a risk with this style. An organization like HRW has no police force, no army, to back it up. Yet it is widely viewed as being authoritative: HRW says this or that, so it must be true. If it gets into the business of political cartooning, it runs the risk of becoming another opinion-monger, no better than anyone else (me, for example). On the other hand, HRW's old style limited its audience, whereas everyone will "get" the cartoons.

On substance, I think the report is right to flag the issue of Kabila's growing authoritarianism. In a country like Congo, where everything lies in a state of ruin and disaster, it can be hard to develop priorities. The roads, the social services, the health system, the poverty, corruption, basic security, the rule of law, reform of the army--the list of tasks is endless. But I think there are three underlying issues that need to be addressed--three issues that, depending on how they turn out, will determine whether anything else is possible. They are: 1) regaining state control over the east, to put an end to the upheavals that have cost so many lives; 2) reversing the logic of the patrimonial state, because a government that exists primarily to benefit its members through rent-seeking and corruption will never get serious about rebuilding the country's infrastructure and social services; and 3) maintaining democratic possibilities, so that the people of the Congo keep the final political trump card--the power to throw the bums out.

The report focuses on the third of these. It says that Kabila's lack of popularity in the western regions of the Congo--including Kinshasa and Bas-Congo--and his fear of a military overthrow (natural, given what happened to his father) have left him with an almost paranoid attitude towards any opposition. He speaks frequently of "neutralizing" or "crushing" the "savages" and "terrorists" who oppose him. After the run-off against opposition leader Jean Pierre Bemba in August 2006 and March 2007, Kabila's forces executed as many as 500 of Bemba's supporters, and attempted to cover up the crimes by dumping bodies in the Congo river or in mass graves. Kabila's forces have also launched pre-emptive strikes against a political-religious movement in Bas-Congo called Bundu Dia Kongo, killing hundreds in March 2008.

The report also has harsh words for the international community. In its effort to establish good relations with the newly elected president, says the report,
donor nations and other international actors have given little attention to the grave human rights violations of the first two years of the Kabila government and the failure to hold accountable the perpetrators of these abuses. The rare UN reports detailing abuses were buried and others published too late to have a significant impact on policy decisions by diplomats in the immediate aftermath of the events.

The immense toll of the war in the east can distract us from what is happening in the west. Yet it is important to keep Kinshasa in our sights. After all, it is the failures of the central government, due to its corruption, incompetence, and misbegotten priorities, that allow the situation in the east to fester. A competent administration, with clear priorities and access to the sort of mineral wealth available to the Congolese government, should have no problem imposing its rule on the country.

Monday, November 24, 2008

In Kibati, Refugees Stone UN Convoy while Soldiers Pillage Camp

Refugees and civilians in Kibati in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo surrounded and stoned a UN convoy in anger at the organization's failure to protect them after it was stopped by soldiers searching for rebels. The army took more than 20 men from the convoy, tied them up and presented them as fighters loyal to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. But the UN said the men were in fact pro-government Mai Mai militiamen.

Soldiers then went on an overnight looting and shooting spree in the sprawling refugee camp, witnesses said Monday.

The BBC story is here; Associated Press here.

The BBC provides a helpful map of the region:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rally in DC Urges DRC Intervention

Amnesty International held a rally in front of the White House Sunday afternoon, drawing an estimated 60 to 100 demonstrators who urged the U.S. government to more aggressively support the international peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo. Organizer Christoph Koettel (with megaphone in photo below) said the rally was organized in the last week or two in response to the growing insecurity of the situation in eastern Congo. Similar demonstrations are being held in various European capitols this week. The goal of the demonstrations is to make sure that the international community moves quickly to implement the Security Council's recent decision to deploy an additional 3,000 troops in Congo. A second goal is to urge that more be done to protect women in the region against rape and sexual violence.
Many of the demonstrators were members of local chapters of Amnesty International, including local colleges and a couple of high schools.
Speakers at the rally noted that the world's appetite for cell phones and other high-tech appliances has helped fuel the violence. These devices use an alloy made from coltan, a mineral widely exploited in eastern Congo by many of the armed groups contending for power. "We need to raise awareness of this problem," said Koettel, so that people understand that they are connected to the issue.
Father Jean Claude Atusameso, the executive director of the Jatukik Providence Foundation, which helps orphans in Congo, said that many people fail to understand the nature of the conflict in his homeland. "It's not a civil war, it's a war of aggression over economic wealth," he said. He blamed Rwandan leader Paul Kagame for supporting rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.
One specific legislative goal of the demonstration was to urge support for the International Violence against Women Act, which would increase US diplomatic attention on this issue and develop a more integrated and robust response.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reminder: Amnesty Rally Today

Amnesty is holding a rally today in front of the White House to urge the U.S. to support additional peacekeeping assistance to the DR Congo. See their flyer, here.

The U.S. can and should be doing much more to help the people of the Congo. In my opinion, there are several clear demands that demonstrators can make, particularly of the incoming administration.
1) We can and should be providing much more assistance to the people and organizations providing relief in eastern Congo.
2) We can and should be doing much more to discourage the epidemic of rape in the east, and we can and should be doing much more to help the women and girls who have been victimized by the sexual violence.
3) We should urge the U.S. to support Belgium's proposal that the UN force take control of the mines that provide the rebels with their funds. By seizing the mines, the UN forces will not only take away the rebels' main means of support, but will remove the rebels' main motive for undertaking the rebellion in the first place.
4) We should apply clear pressure on Rwanda and Uganda to stop interfering in the affairs of the DRC. They are attuned to international opinion and amenable to pressure.
5) We should, to the extent that we can, assist the DRC military in developing a competent, human-rights respecting force capable of administering the east.
6) We should support civil society institutions that pressure the Congolese government to obey the rule of law and administer the Congo's mineral wealth in the interests of her people.

We should not forget that the U.S. has a historical responsibility to the people of the Congo. It was during the 31-year rule of Mobutu, installed and supported by the U.S. during the Cold War, that the Congo's entire state administration and national infrastructure disintegrated. Mobutu's legacy--which is in part our responsibility--is the political and military vacuum that has resulted in the chaos we see today. It was during the Clinton Administration that the Congo's transition to democracy was derailed, in part because of ill-advised U.S. policy decisions. And later in that decade, it was the Clinton Administration's uncritical support of the post-genocide Rwandan government that led it to support Rwanda in its 1996 and 1998 invasions of the Congo. We are still emerging from the wreckage of those wars.

We should also give credit where it is due. We are belatedly helping the Congo; we are, for example, the biggest financial contributor to MONUC. And we continue to provide some amount of bilateral assistance to Congo under USAID. But we owe it to the people of Congo to do much more, not so much because of what we have done to them, but because of how much potential good our actions can do. Congo is not under some global curse to remain wretched forever. A Congo at peace, under a modestly competent administration, would be an enormous gift to the future of Africa. Taking up that cause could save more lives; it could end more suffering; and it could give more hope than any other humanitarian effort we might undertake today.

IRC: Rape on the Rise in North Kivu

An International Rescue Committee team that conducted a three-day assessment of conditions in Kibati Camp, north of Goma, found that women and girls are being raped both in and around the camp. The camp temporarily houses 55,000 people. "Women and girls are forced to leave the camp in search of additional firewood, food, and income for their families and these daily chores expose them to sexual violence," says Sarah Spencer, who oversees IRC programs for rape survivors in eastern Congo.

Rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout eastern Congo for years. Indeed, the Kivus are sometimes said to be the worst place in the world to be born a woman. The IRC says that women and girls are at much greater risk of violence and exploitation in the region during times of heightened military conflict, displacement and in unstable and unprotected settings.

Spencer says the international community is only scratching the surface of what's needed to aid rape survivors in North Kivu. She says much more needs to be done now and in the long-term to expand services and improve the safety and well-being of women and girls in the region.

"The health and psychological needs of rape survivors in Congo will continue long after the fighting stops," says Spencer. "Addressing their needs must become a priority for the international community."

Meanwhile UNICEF reports that fighting in North Kivu has caused massive disruptions in schooling for hundreds of thousands of children. Throughout the province, thousands of schools are closed. Many schools are now occupied by displaced people.

UNICEF estimates that 60 per cent of the newly displaced people are children. Since late August, over 250,000 people have fled conflict, bringing the total number of displaced in the province to over one million.

Congolese Journalist Killed

Radio Okapi reports that Didace Namujimbo, a journalist with Radio Okapi, was shot and killed outside his residence Friday night in Bukavu. He leaves a wife and two children. Police are investigating. Namujimbo is the second journalist working for Radio Okapi to be killed in Bukavu. The previous murder occurred in June 2007.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why Going Green Could Help the Congo

If the United States and other industrial powers ever overcome their addiction to oil, it could be thanks to the DRC. Plug-in electric cars with rechargeable batteries may eventually replace our carbon-emitting gas-guzzlers--and the most promising technology for these batteries are made with cobalt, according to a story on National Public Radio. It so happens that the Congo's Katanga province contains half of the world's known reserves of that mineral.

Unfortunately, that possibility wasn't enough to keep Congo's main cobalt mine in production. Yesterday, the Central African Mining & Exploration Company said it had suspended copper and cobalt mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo after a drop in demand and prices. "The decision is a swift reaction to a sudden steep decline in cobalt demand from China, as well as a further decline in the copper price," said the London-listed miner.

Rally in DC this Sunday

Amnesty International is sponsoring an emergency rally in front of the White House at 2pm on Sunday, November 23, in order to raise awareness about the crisis. The rally will call on the US government to support the UN peacekeeping mission and to commit to a long-term involvement in human rights issues in the region.

For more information see Amnesty's DRC country website and its flyer.

Now what?

The UN Security Council yesterday unanimously authorized the "immediate" deployment of 3,000 additional peacekeeping troops to the DRC, raising the total number of peacekeepers in the country to 20,000. But observers noted that it could take several months for the troops to arrive, and details about who will provide them and what their mission will be remain to be worked out. Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich, spokesman for MONUC, urged that the extra troops come well equipped and well trained. "We want infantry troops. We want troops who are mobile. We have also requested engineers. It will be up to the contributing countries to send troops regarding the requirements on the ground," he said.

MONUC has come under criticism recently for failing to sufficiently protect civilians in North Kivu and for not stopping rebel incursions. MONUC currently has about 5,000 troops positioned in North Kivu. "The means we have are fine for patrolling, but to do more than that we are already stretched," said Dietrich. "What we do not have is a mobile reserve -- to act quickly when an event happens. The 3,000 troops won't change our main duty here, which is to protect the civilian population."

France proposed the resolution authorizing the additional troops, but on Wednesday its UN ambassador seemed to imply that MONUC had been overly cautious in its approach to date. "We ... think they (MONUC) should take the opportunity to re-read the rules of engagement," said the ambassador, according to a Reuters report. After the resolution passed, France's chief foreign affairs spokesperson said that "it needs to be stated more clearly that the use of force can very clearly be envisaged ... to protect populations, including in a proactive fashion."

Belgium said United Nations peacekeepers should be given a revised mandate to strengthen their military role and intervene in "illegal" mining. Competition over access to the country's mineral wealth has played a key role in fueling the DRC's conflicts. If the UN could seize control of the main production sites and transport routes, this could neutralize the ability of rebel groups to fund their insurrections--and eliminate one of the central motivations for war.

Aid agencies and human rights observers were emphatic that more needs to be done, and have urged European Union nations to send a rapid-reaction force there. (The E.U. sent an expeditionary force to Bunia in 2003 that halted inter-ethnic fighting in the city.) France, Belgium, and the Great Britain have expressed support for the idea, but so far the proposal has not gained traction. "E.U. leaders are dragging their feet," said Erin Weir of Refugees International. "The diplomats say it is on the table but what we are getting is a lot of dithering," said Human Rights Watch's Anneke Van Woudenberg.

Full text of the UN resolution here.
Reuters report here, AFP here, and Bloomberg here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brilliant New Video from MSF

Condition Critical: Voices from eastern Congo:

A Desperate Plea from NGOs in North Kivu

A Plea from Local Organizations and Civil Society in North Kivu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, to the United Nations Security Council and Other International Leaders

Goma, November 18, 2008

Dear Excellencies,

As the representatives of Congolese non-governmental organizations in North Kivu, we come before your authority to request an immediate reinforcement of peacekeeping forces for the Democratic Republic of Congo, reinforcements that would be capable of protecting us. This would help to prevent the atrocities that continue to be committed against civilians on an ever greater scale here in North Kivu, on the border of Rwanda and Uganda.

This letter presents a sad, cynical, tragic and very frustrating situation, which reveals the misery in which the population of North Kivu are immersed. We are anxious, afraid and utterly traumatised by the constant insecurity in which we live. We don’t know which saint to pray to; we are condemned to death by all this violence and displacement. We have been abandoned. Who will protect us? Who will help us? The United Nations says that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, but our dignity and our rights are violated every day with hardly a cry of protest. Do we not deserve protection? Are we not equal to others?

Since August 28, fighting has intensified in many areas, causing deaths, rapes, lootings, forced recruitment and further displacements of civilian populations. The population has thus been immersed in unspeakable suffering. In the last few days, fighting has drawn closer to large populated areas, such as the town of Goma. Fighting has also invaded and torn apart the region of Rutshuru, particularly in the town of Kiwanja, where hundreds of civilian deaths have now been recorded.

The suffering has gone on too long for the population of North Kivu. It is time for the government and the international community to protect the civilians who have fallen victim to the atrocities of the conflict.

We are aware that during several high-level visits to eastern Congo this year, you and your representatives heard many firsthand testimonies which could not have left you indifferent to the tragedy facing the population of our region of the DRC.

The various diplomatic and political meetings held over the last few weeks have demonstrated your commitment to finding an immediate and sustainable solution that would establish peace in North Kivu and thus bring stability to the Great Lakes region. Among the most remarkable developments, we note Rwanda’s direct involvement in the search for a sustainable solution to the crisis.

While we wish to thank you for these supportive visits and for your concerns about the tragedy here in eastern Congo, we also urge you to move from theory to practice, by transforming your kind speeches and messages into action. Diplomacy always takes time, and we understand this, but unfortunately we do not have time. The population of North Kivu is at risk now; with each day that passes, more and more people die.

For more than three decades, eastern Congo has been at war, and those who suffer most are civilians, especially women and children. There have been many attempts to resolve the crisis in the east, but none have succeeded. The most recent initiative to date was the Goma Peace Agreement (the Act of Engagement], signed by all belligerents in January 2008. But today this is no longer respected. Instead of peace, we are witnessing the continuation and exacerbation of the conflict.

In the past several days, the region of Rutshuru has been in the grip of hostilities. The town of Kiwanja has been taken and re-taken by the CNDP, and the population is paying the price. We are witnessing tragedies on a scale never experienced before in history, in which civilian populations are being summarily executed by bullets or blows from machetes, knives, hoes and spears. Corpses line the streets of the city and the odour of decomposing bodies greets passers-by. Indeed, the number of corpses already found is not conclusive, as searches continue, and, according to the latest reports, even more dead bodies are locked inside houses or thrown down latrines.

As the conquering army of Laurent Nkunda gradually takes new areas, the Congolese army takes flight. As they flee, they end up killing, pillaging, raping and stealing, leaving chaos and total disorder in their wake. This is the case in Goma, where more than 20 civilians were killed, several women were raped, and valuable goods were stolen on October 29. Since last week, the towns of Kanyabayonga, Kirumba and Kayna have been invaded in almost the same way as Goma by FARDC soldiers fleeing the fighting.

Forced recruitment has also intensified. In several areas of Rutshuru and Masisi, armed groups, the CNDP in particular, go from door to door to force young boys and adults – aged between 14 and 40 – to go to the front, without any prior military training. Last week, reports documented the recruitment by force of hundreds of civilians by the CNDP, especially in Kitchanga, Kiwanja, Rutshuru and Rubare.

In all of these cases, we, the civilian population, have been held hostage and caught between many lines of fire.

Women are among the first victims. Sexual violence has become dramatically worse since the end of August, as military forces and armed groups have reduced women to a battlefield.

Faced with a sense of abandonment, the people’s reaction has become one of self-defence. We do not know the limits of this. This has been the case of Mai Mai in Kiwanja and in the Kanyabayonga area.

MONUC has fallen short of fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians, openly and publicly, but no concrete action has been taken. Powerless, MONUC witnesses all the atrocities committed by the armed forces and groups. At times, its interventions are delayed, if not ineffective. We can therefore no longer continue to rely on MONUC to protect us. The case of Kiwanja, where civilians are massacred daily near the MONUC base, is a striking example.

We ask you urgently to assist us at this most difficult time. It is absolutely clear to everyone that we need reinforcements of troops capable of protecting civilians effectively and efficiently, with the means to deal with any kind of attacks. This must be done quickly.

We therefore urge you to:

· Immediately send EU troops which can deploy quickly to provide protection and security for civilians as you did for our brothers and sisters in Bunia, Ituri, in June 2003.

· Increase the number of troops for MONUC and provide them with a mandate that allows them to sufficiently protect civilians and to do so as their top priority.

Your Excellencies, you must save our lives now; otherwise it will be too late.

Yours sincerely,

The representatives of 44 Congolese NGOs in North Kivu:

1. Action de Promotion et d'Assistance pour l'Amélioration du Niveau des Vies des Populations (APANIVIP)
2. Action Paysanne pour la Reconstruction et le Développement Communautaire Intégral (APREDECI)
3. Action pour la Promotion de la Participation Citoyenne – Nord Kivu (APPC/NK)
4. Action pour la Promotion et la Défense des Droits des Personnes Défavorisées (APRODEPED)
5. Action Sociale pour la Paix et le Développement (ASPD)
6. Africa Justice Peace and Development (AJPD)
7. Blessed Aid
8. Bureau d’Information, Formation, Etude et Recherche en Développement (BIFERD)
10. Campagne Pour la Paix (CPP)
11. Centre d’Observation des Droits de l’Homme et d’Assistance Sociale (CODHAS)
12. Centre de Recherche sur l'Environnement, la Démocratie et les Droits de l'Homme (CADERCO)
13. Centre de Recherche sur l'Environnement, la Démocratie et les Droits de l'Homme (CREDDHO)
14. Centre pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme – Peace and Human Rights Center (CPDH-PHRC)
16. Change Agents Peace Program (CAPP)
17. Coalition pour mettre fin a l'utilisation d'enfants soldats en RDC /Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in DRC
19. Collectif des Associations des Femmes Pour le Développement (CAFED)
20. Collectif des ONG de Droits de l'Homme (CODHO)
21. Collectif des Organisations des Jeunes Solidaires du Congo (COJESKI)/ Nord Kivu
22. Conseil Régional des Organisations Non Gouvernementales de Développement (CRONGD)
24. Encadrement des Femmes Indigènes et des Ménages Vulnérables (EFIM)
26. Group d'Etudes et d'Actions Pour un Développement Bien Défini (GEAD)
27. Human Dignity in the World (HDW)
28. Platform des Femmes du Nord Kivu pour un Développement Endogène (PFNDE)
29. Programme de Lutte Contre l’Extrême Pauvreté et la Misère (PAMI)
30. Promotion de la Démocratie et Protection des Droits Humains (PDH)
31. Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives Féminines (PAIF)
32. Réseau Congolais d’Action sur les Armes Légères et le Petit Calibre (RECAAL)
33. Réseau d’Organisations des Droits Humains, d’Education Civique et de Paix (RODHECIP)
34. Réseau Femme et Développement (REFED)
35. Réseau Provincial des ONG de Droits de l'Homme (REPRODHOC)/Nord Kivu
36. SAMS
37. Société civile Territoire de Rutshuru
38. Solidarité pour la Promotion sociale et la Paix (SOPROP)
39. SOS/Grands-Lacs
40. Syndicat des Associations Féminines pour un Développement Intégral (SAFEDI)
41. Synergie des femmes pour les victimes des violences sexuelles (SFVS)
42. Synergie des ONG locales pour les Urgences Humanitaires dans le territoire de Rutshuru
44. Villages Cobaye (VICO)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nkunda Pulls Back, Doss Confronts Press

Reuters reports that hundreds of Congolese rebel fighters pulled back on Wednesday from frontline positions in a move U.N. peacekeepers hoped would open the way for talks on ending weeks of conflict in east Congo.
"Since yesterday evening they (the rebels) have been withdrawing. They are pulling back south on three axes - from Kanyabayonga towards Kibirizi, from Kanyabayonga towards Nyanzale and from Rwindi south," U.N. military spokesman Lt.-Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich told Reuters.

Alan Doss gave a press conference from Kinshasa on Tuesday afternoon. It is available here. Doss said that more peacekeepers could help stabilize the east, but will not bring peace to the region. "Reinforcements will allow us to do something about the situation, which has deteriorated fast, help us to stabilize the situation a bit, and allow the political and diplomatic process to go forward." But, he added, "reinforcements are not going to resolve all the problems."

Doss noted that one complication has been that the FARDC sometimes disintegrates when faced with a challenge from Nkunda. In response to a question about expanding MONUC's mission, he said, "I'm not sure the council would want us to substitute for the national army. That would require a new mandate and I think they would emphasize that diplomatic and political tracks be fully utilized, that force not be the single solution to the crisis. Reinforcements will help us protect population centers, but I don't think the Council is saying, 'Go out and defeat forces throughout Kivu.' Rather it is about bringing political and diplomatic forces into play."

Doss added that he was unable to confirm rumors that Angolan or Rwandan forces were involved in the fighting.

Kinshasa Responds

Indications that Kinshasa is finally responding to the crisis in the east: first, President Kabila has appointed a new military commander for FARDC, Lieutenant General Didier Etumba Longila; second, Kabila has announced that he will be moving his office from the National Palace into the parliamentary building, the Assemble Nationale.

Radio Okapi features a discussion (in French) among three Congolese about the significance of these two measures. The three Congolese are Emery Okundji, national deputy for the Forces novatrices pour l’union et la solidarité (Fonus); Adèle Kayinda Mahina, national deputy for PPRD; and Achille Kabongo, a jurist.

Catholic Bishops of Congo Issue Plea


The Permanent Commission of the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo issued a "cry of grief and protest," saying that they are "disturbed and overcome by the human tragedy in the east and northeast Democratic Republic of Congo."

In a statement sent to Fides news agency, the members of the Permanent Committee of CENCO affirmed that in the eastern part of the country, they are witnessing a "a silent genocide."

"The great massacres of the population, the planned extermination of the youth, the systematic robberies, used as a weapon of war...a cruelty and exceptional violence is once again being unleashed upon the local people who only ask that they can live in a decent manner in their homeland. Who is willing to take interest in this situation?"

The bishops criticised the UN peacekeeping force, MONUC, saying that "the most deplorable fact is that the violence is taking place right before the eyes of those whose duty it is to maintain peace and protect the civilian population."

They also questioned the government, noting that "our governors appear impotent before the gravity of the situation, and give the impression that they are not prepared to respond to the challenges of peace, nor to the defence of the population and the integrity of national territory."

The natural resources of the DRC are fomenting the greed of several powers at large, the bishops said.

They also said there was a plan to split the country. "We ask the Congolese people not to cede to these desires for balkanizing national territory. We advise that the international borders of the country, established and recognized in the Berlin Conference and subsequent accords, may never be placed in dispute."

Full text of the Bishops' plea is available here.

In a related story, the Catholic Archbishop of Bukavu François-Xavier Rusengo has asked neighbouring countries to stop interfering in the Congo war as it only adds to tensions in the country.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Several opinion editorials weigh in on the question of how to help the Congo. Neil Campbell of the International Crisis Group says that EU diplomacy is unlikely to accomplish much, but that Europeans could still help by sending forces to "temporarily secure Goma and its airport, allowing the UN forces to concentrate on security in the surrounding areas of Rutshuru and Masisi." But Simon Tisdale of the Guardian argues that talk of sending British troops to the Congo is a "diplomatic fantasy." He argues that "the best hope of progress rests, as it did before this year's truce broke down in August, with persuading Rwanda's leadership to halt its support, direct or indirect, for Nkunda; and obtaining a similar change of heart by President Joseph Kabila and the Congolese army in respect of the FDLR and Mai Mai militias." How to change these particularly obdurate hearts he leaves unaddressed.

Francois Grignon and Fabienne Hara, also of the ICG, point out that dealing with the crisis in the Congo "will require a radical shift of international attitude toward Mr. Nkunda and Rwanda. . . . Mr. Nkunda knows he can still easily and efficiently manipulate Western guilt over the early 1990s genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda by flagging the fears of similar Tutsi victimization in eastern Congo, even though his troops have been among the worst human-right abusers in the province since 2004." They write:
Ending this latest chapter of the Congo war will require sustained and significant pressure by the U.S., China, France, the U.K., South Africa and Belgium, the former colonial power. Specifically, they must demand that Kigali and Kinshasa implement the Nairobi declaration; insist that Mr. Nkunda retreat to his previous deployment points; and require Mr. Kabila to remove all army commanders collaborating with the Hutu extremists.

It is worth remembering that virtually every serious scholar of the region has been arguing since 1998, if not earlier, that the international community needs to develop a more nuanced understanding of President Kagame and the role of the Rwandans in fueling the Congolese conflict. Rene Lemarchand, Alison Des Forges, Gerard Prunier--among the more senior observers--spent years futilely arguing that U.S. policy was tilted too far towards the Rwandan regime.

Ending Conflict Coltan

High tech companies may no longer have an excuse to continue buying illicit tantalum fueling conflict in the Congo. From Business Week comes news about a major technical development that could transform the Congo's coltan industry. Coltan, of course, is short for colombo-tantalite, the latter forming a metal used in high-tech equipment such as cell phones. Illicit coltan production in the DRC has long been fingered as a primary source of the country's instability, as local and regional powers vie for control of the mines. This problem was particularly acute in 2000 through 2003, when prices for tantalum skyrocketed to $300 per pound. Although Business Week points out that today, less than two percent of the world's coltan comes from the Congo, and that "the odds that your phone contains conflict coltan are pretty long," activists maintain that the fight for control over tantalum production continues to destabilize the region. Many of these activists have urged high tech companies to police their supply chain and make sure that they aren't unwittingly funding civil war in Africa. One obstacle has been identifying where suppliers get their tantalum.

That problem may be solved. Business Week reports that there may be a new way to keep illegally mined coltan and other valuable metals off the market.
Frank Melcher, a scientist at Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in Hanover, leads a team that has devised a way to identify where ore comes from. Every coltan mine has its own geological history and composition. Melcher's team has already catalogued 600 unique coltan "fingerprints," and can tell precisely where ore comes from, even when batches from different locations are mixed together.

With backing from the German government, Melcher is pushing to set up a system in which legitimate mines would register their coltan fingerprints. An independent organization would spot-check ore and reject any that isn't in the approved database. "Our goal is to establish a certified trading chain between traders and consumers," Melcher says. Such a system could also be used to ensure that mines provide decent working conditions and meet environmental standards.

The problem is that the testing procedure is costly and time-consuming. But Melcher sounds optimistic that companies that use components containing tantalum will support his plan. "They don't want to be in the news again," he says.
This appears to be the relevant page from the German Institute.

Now we need a similar technique for tin, the production of which has replaced coltan in the Kivus as the major source of funds for Congolese militias, including General Nkunda's CNDP. (Update 11/28: See this article from Financial Times outlining some of the difficulties involved.)

For background, this story by Blaine Harden in 2001 in the New York Times magazine was the first major publication devoted to the subject. And this report by Global Witness was the first major NGO report. Both are excellent.

MONUC Ramps up to Eleven

The Reuters Foundation reports that the U.N. Security Council hopes to vote this week on a French-drafted resolution that would boost the number of U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo by 2,750 military personnel and 300 police. The draft resolution calls on MONUC to protect civilians and follow robust rules of engagement, and is based on UN Sec Gen Ban Ki-moon's call for a "troop surge."
Several questions come to mind: What countries will the additional troops come from? Will they be sufficiently equipped to do their job? Precisely what is that job: To protect civilians caught in the middle of firefights--as they failed so notably to do in Kiwandja earlier this month? To take, hold, and protect city centers and townships on a broader basis than they've been doing so far? To work alongside DRC troops in putting down the rebellion? Will they seek to regain control of the many tin, gold, and coltan mines in the region whose earnings finance the rebellion? If so, what will they do with those mines?

A (very) Short History of MONUC
The UN has a history of coming in with too few troops too late in the game to matter. Time and again, additional troops have arrived only after some crisis precipitates renewed international concern. But with each incremental addition of troops, MONUC's capacity and engagement have increased. What began with a small contingent of observers and liaison officers in 1999 was transformed by a Security Council resolution in February 2000 into a proposed Chapter VI peacekeeping force of 5,500. These troops were slow to materialize, however, and by December 2000 there were only 224 military personnel deployed; by July 2001 they numbered 2,366.
After the July 2002 Pretoria Agreement promised an end to the civil wars and the holding of national elections, MONUC's mission focused on putting down violence in the east, helping with the demobilization and repatriation of foreign troops, and establishing security conditions for a national election.
A series of battlefield embarrassments--such as Bunia in 2003 and Bukavu in 2004--prompted the UN to pass a succession of resolutions increasing the number of military personnel in MONUC and broadening its mandate. Resolution 1493 of 2003 authorized an increase in military personnel to 10,800, imposed an arms embargo, and authorized MONUC to use all necessary means to fulfill its mandate in the Ituri district and--as it deemed it within its capabilities--in North and South Kivu. By November 2003 a total of 10,415 peacekeepers were in place in the DRC.
In June 2004, Bukavu was briefly occupied by rebel generals Laurent Nkunda and Jules Mutebutsi. Despite deployments in the city and nearby airport, MONUC troops could only protect their own installations. Their failure to defend the city led to nationwide demonstrations, and in one unfortunate case, forced blue helmets to open fire on looters in Kinshasa. In October 2004, Security Council Resolution 1565 authorized a reinforcement of 5,900 military personnel and defined MONUC's mandate and strategic military objectives:
* proactively contributing to the pacification and general improvement of security in the country;
* providing support for conflict resolution in politically volatile areas;
* improving border security through regional confidence-building mechanisms, such as the Joint Verification Mechanism, and effective patrolling and monitoring of the arms embargo;
* gathering and analyzing military and other information on spoilers.

The Force reached a strength of more than 16,000 peacekeepers, split between two brigades in the east and west of the country, in early 2005. That number has slowly crept up to 17,500 troops today, of which the largest contingents come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uruguay, South Africa, and Nepal. The cost of the mission was $1.2 billion in FY 07-08, of which the United States contributes the largest share, at $285 million.

Scandals Notwithstanding
Along the way, MONUC has had its share of scandals. An internal UN investigation in 2004 found that MONUC troops had committed 68 confirmed incidents of rape, prostitution, and pedophilia. A draft of the report, leaked to the Washington Post, said that "sexual exploitation and abuse, particularly prostitution of minors, is widespread and long-standing. Moreover, all of the major contingents appear to be implicated."
In 2005, the BBC alleged that Pakistani MONUC peacekeepers in Mongbwalu traded for for gold with Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) militia leaders, and even returned to FNI leaders the weapons that had been confiscated from them for human rights violations in exchange for gold. A UN team sent to investigate these allegations was physically intimidated by Pakistani troops; the investigation was eventually buried to avoid alienating the Pakistanis, who are MONUC's largest contributor of troops. Similar allegations have more recently arisen against Indian troops involving trade in gold and ivory.
Nevertheless, Virtually every serious observer of the situation affirms MONUC's vital necessity to the peace process. Even at the height of the scandal over sexual abuses in 2004, Human Rights Watch Congo specialist Anneke Van Woudenberg testified before Congress:
While it is shocking that U.N. peacekeepers have been engaged in acts of sexual abuse, far more women and girls have suffered rape at the hands of armed groups and armies on all sides in the DRC. According to aid agencies figures, over forty thousand women and girls have been systematically raped, mutilated and enslaved during the conflict, abuses that continue today. This is the real tragedy of the Congo and one which rarely grabs the headlines. When I recently interviewed women about sexual abuse committed by U.N. peacekeepers, one woman said to me, “Yes it is true that some girls have been raped by U.N. soldiers, but so many more have been brutally raped by other armed groups. Please focus on stopping this as it brings us so much more pain and suffering."

More recently, Anthony Gambino writes that "MONUC’s presence remains the single most important factor preventing the full collapse of state authority in the east."

Never Enough
Although it is the largest peacekeeping mission in the UN's history, MONUC remains vastly underfunded compared to the scale of the challenge. The following three slides from a 2006 presentation by William Swing at the U.S. Institute of Peace give some indication of the scale of the problem:

Although these slides represent troop and funding levels from early 2006, and are not entirely current, they do indicate that MONUC has historically never received the resources it needs to adequately do its job. Nor should it be omitted from any reckoning of MONUC's mission that it has lost 116 men and women in the operation.

P.S. About the title: American readers of a certain age will recognize the reference to the 1984 mockumentary, Spinal Tap. For others: Spinal Tap is a "documentary" about a fictitious heavy metal band touring the United States. At one point, the "filmmaker" Marty interviews band leader Nigel about his amplification equipment:
Nigel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...
Marty: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel: Exactly.
Marty: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty: I don't know.
Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel: [pause] These go to eleven.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nkunda Breaks Ceasefire, Advances North

Both AP and Reuters are reporting that Nkunda's troops overrran a small government-controlled military base in Rwindi, 130 kilometers north of Goma, on Sunday night. The Congolese army abandoned the post in the face of small arms fire and long-range heavier caliber weapons. The AP quotes U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich: "The [rebels] are continuing their offensive further north. This shows they're not respecting their own cease-fire they've declared." AP reports that the UN troops in the area stayed at their base during the fighting, and refused to let fleeing Congolese join them in their bunkers. Reuters reports that fleeing Congolese troops shed their uniforms and boots on the way out of town, and adds this resonant detail:
A U.N. official told Reuters that the retreating Congolese government soldiers at Rwindi destroyed ammunition and a rocket launcher by setting them on fire causing explosions and rockets to fire in the direction of U.N. peacekeepers, wounding one.

New Stories, Same Plot Lines

Two of the United States' most influential papers published front-page stories on the Congo this weekend. The Washington Post's article portrays the misery of Congolese on the run from rebel forces and describes what they've lost to plundering soldiers. The New York Times shows how tin mining is underwriting Nkunda's war effort. It features an excellent photo essay, and promises to be the first in a series about the role of natural resources in fueling African conflicts. [It follows up on that promise today, profiling one 15-year-old boy who works at the bottom rung of the impoverished mining hierarchy.] In an independent opinion editorial, "An African Crisis for Obama," the Washington Post's Jim Hoagland bemoans the world's failure to protect the Congolese, in spite of the UN's adoption, three years ago, of the doctrine of a "responsibility to protect." He wonders whether President Obama will rise to the challenge and quotes French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner wondering the same:
"This could change everything," Kouchner said, "and not only for Africa. You Americans have just held a world election. President Obama should not wait to show what that means."

Kinshasa to Allow Kigali to Chase down Rebels

Le Potentiel is reporting that Congolese Foreign Minister Alexis Tambwe Mwamba is open to the proposal that Rwandan intelligence officers help hunt down Rwandan Hutu rebels of the FDLR based in the eastern Congo. The journal quotes Mwamba from an interview he gave with Radio Rwanda on Saturday morning, in which he says that "We are very open to [the idea that] your intelligence officers can be part of the troops that will hunt down the FDLR, so that the accusation that we support the FDLR can be put to rest once and for all."
Kigali has argued for over a decade that the continuing presence of the FDLR in eastern Congo constitutes a major security threat. Yet previous peace agreements called on Congolese troops to round up the remaining Hutu rebels in eastern DRC--a task they were neither capable of nor committed to. In principle, allowing Rwandan officers to be "part of the troops" hunting down the FDLR makes sense. In practice, the proposal is rife with potential complications: who would they accompany? Who would be their commanding officers? What would be the rules of engagement? We'll wait to see whether this idea gets any traction.

Issues to Follow this Week

Several issues bear close attention this week.
1) The status of the war. Will General Nkunda maintain his unilateral ceasefire? Will other countries--Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe--become more deeply implicated in the conflict? Or has the possibility of a major flare-up in the region abated?
2) Obasanjo's peace initiative. Who is he meeting? What are they saying? Are the parties to the conflict "buying in" to the peace initiative, or are they using it for merely tactical advantage?
3) The proposed ramping up of MONUC. Will the 3,000 extra troops be found? What extra resources will they be given to shore up the situation? If 3,000 more troops are provided, will this be another in a long series of inadequate half-steps that don't really change the underlying dynamics, or will it be a tipping point?
4) The continuing fall-out of the global economic crisis for mineral deals in the Congo. What impact for deals still to be confirmed? What impact for the operations of companies on the ground? And what impact, if any, on Chinese operations?
5) The investigation into UN troop conduct during the massacre at Kiwanja.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Situation for Relief Workers Remains Hazardous

This map shows recent incidents against relief workers in North Kivu.

Global Downturn Hits Congo Hard

The global economic downturn is having a devastating effect on mineral prices, with dramatic consequences for the stock value of mining companies doing business in Congo. According to Barry Sergeant at Mineweb:
The average weighted loss in market value for listed DRC/Zambia copper/cobalt miners . . . computes at 87%. Taking peak prices, all seen in the past year, the 18 stocks that fall into this category boasted an aggregate market value of USD 18.7bn. Today, USD 16bn of that value has evaporated into thin air . . . This battered bunch of 18 stocks is now worth a pitiful USD 2.5bn - in total, that is. First Quantum has surrendered 80% of its value; Katanga Mining, busy restoring the Kamoto and related mines, one of the greatest mining districts in the world, has seen 95% of its value go down the drain. Not so long ago, it carried a market value of USD 3.2bn; today, the comparable number is a paltry USD 144m.
Sergeant provides a very useful table showing the declining stock value of 18 mining companies doing business in the DRC.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that the continuing unrest in the east and the recent slump in commodity prices could swing the much-delayed negotiations between the government and international mining companies over concession rights in favor of the mining companies. Congo "has perhaps waited too long to clinch the deals, and the pendulum may have swung back in favor of the companies," said Patricia Feeney, executive director of Rights and Accountability in Development, a group that promotes corporate accountability. "Deals may start to unravel."

Why Now?

No one seems to have a ready explanation for why General Nkunda restarted the war in late August, or what his long-term game plan might be. The Christian Science Monitor profiles Nkunda here. The BBC carries an interview with him here. Shashank Bengali of the McClatchy news chain has an entertaining appraisal here. Money quote:
Nkunda clearly has a great deal to answer for, and journalists need to continue to hold his feet to the fire. But he's achieved a great deal very, very quickly, and leaving him out of the diplomatic process, for now, seems to me to be a mistake. Congo is such a vacuum of authority that pretty much anyone with a few guns and a little savvy can claim territory - and often they do. But I've met my share of African rebel groups, and Nkunda's, in terms of leadership, organization and understanding the field of play, is one to be reckoned with.

Photo Essays on the Latest Violence

From the World Food Programme available here.
And from the London Times available here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Essential New Site

Follow developments in the DRC on a GOOGLE map: Ushahidi means “testimony” in Swahili, and is the name of a Web 2.0 site, launched on November 7, which collects information about battles, refugee camps, disease outbreaks, and so on, from on-the-ground observers via SMS or emails. These testimonies are then plotted onto a Google map in order to provide a way to visualize the situation at a glance. To quote from its home page, Ushahidi is a platform that "crowdsources" crisis information. “We want to alert people about situations which would take time to be told in the traditional media,” explains Ory Okolloh, administrator of the site. The majority of the input so far has come from NGOs working in the region.

Congolese Turning against MONUC

The indispensable Colette Braeckman reports that the mood in Congo is turning against MONUC:
The days are gone when William Swing, special representative of UN Secretary-General, was called "Coco Swing" in a song affectionately dedicated to him . . . Today Congolese throw stones at the white UN vehicles and editorialists [in Kinshasa] call for the departure of the UN peacekeepers. For his part, General Nkunda writes to the UN that his movement "can no longer guarantee the safety of UN forces on the front." Ten years after the arrival of the first UN observers and two years after having contributed to the success of the country's first democratic elections, the UN Mission has united almost everyone against it.
The UN mission has weathered criticism in the past. In 2003, before the arrival of French troops in Operation Amarylis, the population of Bunia had turned sharply against the UN for failing to protect them and end the fighting. In 2006, demonstrations against the UN broke out in Bukavu after that city was ransacked by rebel leaders. But Braeckman says that the massacre at Kiwandja in early November, whose death toll may exceed 200, could mark a point of no return. Not only did the 140 peacekeepers stationed in the town fail to act, but Alan Doss, the head of MONUC, then added insult to injury with ill-advised comments suggesting that the Mai Mai and the CNDP were equally to blame. (Most Congolese view the Nkunda's CNDP as the primary villain, and regard Mai Mai as local protectors.) Coming on top of a series of scandals--Indian soldiers discovered to be engaged in the mineral trade, Moroccans dismissed for sexual abuse, other UN officers discovered trafficking in ivory in Bunia, and above all, the inability of the UN to disarm and repatriate the Rwandan Hutu fighters who have infested the Congo since 1994 and whose presence has provided a pretext for the entire war--this latest turn could be permanent.

Specifics, please

Ban Ki-moon's request for another 3,000 troops appears to be gaining traction. Gordon Brown has come out in favor of it, and Bernard Kouchner, France's foreign minister, is also said to be agitating for additional resources. But there is little public discussion about how MONUC will deploy those additional troops to quell the violence. The danger of merely adding another 3,000 under equipped and poorly trained forces to the DRC is that it will prove to be another failed half-measure, insufficient to the task at hand, and further disillusioning the Congolese whose lives depend upon them.
Nor is there much information publicly available about the battle dress of the various forces operating in the region. Here are rough estimates from the BBC:
CNDP: Gen Nkunda's Tutsi rebels - 6,000 fighters
FDLR: Rwandan Hutus - 6,000-7,000
Mai Mai: pro-government militia - 3,500
Monuc: UN peacekeepers - 6,000 in North Kivu, including about 1,000 around Goma (17,000 nationwide)
DRC army - 90,000 (nationwide)
Theoretically, of course, the DRC army ought to be more than a match for a few thousand underequipped rebels. That they aren't is explained by stories such as this one in Le Phare, which reports that nearly all of the resources recently dispatched to the front from Kinshasa have been "diverted."

Hari points fingers at the West & at Kagame

Johann Hari writes that Westerners are in part responsible for DRC casualties, for not having curbed the companies that bought the minerals that have funded the militias in Congo. He quotes François Grignon, Africa Director of the International Crisis Group, that Nkunda is a Rwandan creation:
[Grignon] tells me the truth: "Nkunda is being funded by Rwandan businessmen so they can retain control of the mines in North Kivu. This is the absolute core of the conflict. What we are seeing now is beneficiaries of the illegal war economy fighting to maintain their right to exploit."
Hari calls for a global coltan tax to adequately fund a multinational force equal to the challenge of maintaining peace.

Global Reactions

The renewed outbreak of war in the Congo has elicited predictable responses. The US State Department last month issued a bland statement of concern.

The New York Times practically sleep wrote this editorial demanding that the world not forget the lessons of Rwanda: "The international community failed to stop Rwanda’s genocide and promised not to let it happen again. Has the world forgotten so quickly?" Which would be more plangent if the NYT had actually covered the tragedy in the DRC in any but the most minimal fashion over the past decade. The editorial called for beefing up MONUC.

Speaking from Abuja, Nigerian president Umaru Yar'Adua said that he was "very confident" that the AU's ongoing mediation in the crisis would produce an enduring solution. He rejected any non-African solution to the problem. Just named as chief negotiator for the AU is Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president whose eight-year rule of that country is widely regarded as a disappointment. It is hard to imagine any diplomat bringing peace to the Congo under the auspices of the AU, but particularly hard to imagine Obasanjo doing it.

SADC promised to send military assistance to the DRC, but has so far only sent observers.

Miscellaneous Atrocities

I'm going to try not to post too many of these because of how depressingly repetitive they become, but the situation in North Kivu has grown increasingly dire. An Oxfam representative reports that
There has been an increase in incidents of forced labour, rape and widespread brutality . . . as armed men from all sides prey upon those who have sought 'sanctuary' from the fighting in North Kivu.
BBC estimates that 250,000 people have fled their homes and are now living in desperate conditions. Video here.

CNN is reporting that rebels are making roadblocks out of human bodies.

The Guardian reports that cholera outbreaks are spreading from the refugee camp near Kibati to Goma and neighboring populations. The WHO says that it has launched a massive operation to try to control cholera.

UN Sec Gen Ban Ki-moon says that
at least 100,000 refugees are cut off in areas north of the city [Goma], chiefly around Rutshuru and East Masisi. Because of the ongoing fighting, these people have received virtually no assistance. Their situation has grown increasingly desperate.
Radio Okapi is reporting that Congolese military are returning to areas they previously pillaged in Lubero district.

An eyewitness account from the BBC is here.

Meanwhile--quite apart from the fighting between Nkunda and the Congolese military that is taking place in North Kivu--in Orientale Province, the LRA is up to its usual tricks. HRW reports that Joseph Kony's merry band, displaced from Uganda
[has] killed at least 10 civilians, abducted scores of children, and pillaged and burned untold numbers of homes and schools in northeastern Congo in the last two months alone.
HRW calls for more peacekeepers to protect civilians in the area.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Excellent map from Relief Web

Showing current fighting, refugee movements, available here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

War, again

"The Democratic Republic of Congo is once again burning."
--The Weekly Observer, Kampala.

Has war resumed in the DRC? Or is this just a temporary uptick in the ongoing violence that has persisted in the region despite the formal close of war in 2003? The AP's Michelle Faul reports that UN officials have spotted Angolan soldiers among Congolese forces battling Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. And Africa Intelligence says that Ugandan troops have joined Rwandan soldiers fighting on behalf of Nkunda. (Shown in picture on right.) Both accounts are uncomfirmed, but it seems increasingly likely that we're seeing a resumption of the hostilities that beset the Congo earlier this decade, when as many as seven African national armies clashed during Africa's "first world war." (That war lasted from 1998 to 2003, and should, more accurately, have been called Africa's first continental war.)

A recap: Despite hosting the largest peacekeeping mission in the world, and despite innumerable diplomatic initiatives, peace agreements, and political developments--including, most notably, the successful holding of a nationwide presidential election in 2006--eastern Congo remains a cauldron of instability. Observers disagree on where to put the emphasis, but several problems stand out:
1) Local conflicts over land issues between neighboring ethnic groups, such as the one between the Lendu and the Hema near Bunia. That conflict resulted in a brief but successful French-led peace-enforcement operation in 2003, but other conflicts have simmered on. (See "The Trouble with Congo", by Severine Autesserre.)
2) Long-standing tensions between various groups of Rwandan settlers in eastern Congo, on the one hand, and indigenous Congolese--the so-called autochtones--on the other. These tensions predate the Rwandan genocide, and were manipulated at various times for short-term political advantage both by the colonial authorities and by Mobutu. (For a quick review of how Rwandan immigrant communities came to be seen as ineluctably alien, see "The Troubled East" by Gerard Prunier.)
3) The utter incapacity of the DRC government to police and control the eastern third of the country. In particular, its inability or unwillingness to detain the ex-Hutu genocidaires who found refuge in Congo after 1994. Their continuing presence has provided Rwanda with the rationale--pretextual or genuine, depending on your sympathies--to intervene repeatedly in the DRC.
4) The easy availability of mineral wealth, providing the motive and means for every village bully to establish a private fiefdom exploiting the gold, tin, or coltan underfoot. (See, for example, this report by Global Witness.) The lure of easy wealth--and the absence of any controlling authority--has drawn in neighboring regimes, led to the multiplication of militias, corrupted virtually every party to the conflict, and resulted in bewildering arrays of short-term opportunistic alliances between the parties.
5) The contempt of Rwandan elites for Congolese, and the reciprocal, untempered anger of the Congolese toward Rwanda.
6) The contest between British and French humanitarian ambitions, reminiscent of the battle over interpretations of the Biafra conflict some forty years ago, with the U.S. again straddling the division. (See this entertaining video of former English development minister Claire Short denouncing current French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.)

A good summary of current developments is Stephanie Hanson's "Eastern Congo on the Brink," from the Council on Foreign Relations. An excellent briefing that reviews the relevant history and provides recommendations for policy makers, published just before the current eruption of violence, is Anthony Gambino's optimistically titled Securing Peace, Sustaining Progress.

The predictable people are suffering, but to an extent that makes this war unique. It is, first of all, the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since World War II. According to detailed population surveys by the International Rescue Committee, some 5.4 million people died in the DRC from 1998 through 2007, most as an indirect result of the violence. As of January 2008, some 45,000 people were dying every month--a number that has surely increased with the recent rise in violence. Second, the war is unique in the level of violence it has occasioned against women. See this report by Human Rights Watch, or the HBO film, The Greatest Silence, among the many thousands of reports and testimonials on the subject.

So exactly what is the situation today? Who are the antagonists, and what are their motivations? What are the roots of the conflict and how can they be addressed? Who can help bring peace, and how? In this blog, I will attempt to provide a rolling commentary on the Congo, with a specific focus on resource exploitation, in the hope that what must surely be the most damaged country on earth will someday know peace.