Friday, December 30, 2011

The UN on the SEC

In sharp contrast to Enough, Global Witness, and ICAR, the latest Group of Experts Report proposes that companies be allowed in certain cases to avoid having to describe a product as either conflict-free or not:

United States Securities and Exchange Commission
(bb) The Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States should make reference, in the implementing rules of the Dodd-Frank Act, to the due diligence recommendations of OECD and the Group as reliable due diligence processes for meeting relevant aspects of the reporting requirements set out in section 1502 of the Act. As a time-bound measure, “issuers” should describe a product as neither “DRC conflict free” nor “not DRC conflict free” when the issuer and the mineral processor have:
(i) Taken reasonable steps and made good-faith efforts to conduct due diligence;
(ii) Know and can show that they have identified, assessed and responded to risks in accordance with the risk management strategies recommended by the due diligence recommendations of OECD and the Group;
(cc) Where risks of direct or indirect support for public or private security forces are identified, and issuers and mineral processors decide to continue to trade, they must demonstrate significant measurable improvement within six months and have their due diligence practices audited by an independent third party. If, within six months of the adoption of the risk management plan, there is no significant, measurable improvement, issuers and mineral processors should discontinue their engagement or suspend their relationship with the supplier for a minimum of three months.
By contrast, this is what the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable wrote to the SEC about this matter:
Specifically, companies should not be allowed to report that the minerals in their products are of indeterminate origin; rather, if companies fail to determine the origin of the minerals in their products, they must describe them as “Not DRC-Conflict Free” in their Conflict Minerals report.
The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (“ICAR”) is a coalition of human rights groups including Amnesty International, EarthRights International, Global Witness, Human Rights First, and Human Rights Watch.

Reuters Joins Gang of Warlords & Lobbyists

The UN just released its latest Group of Experts report on the DRC. The news agency Reuters, clearly in the pay of Bosco Ntaganda (or the US Chamber of Commerce), reports on it thusly:

Conflict minerals crackdown backfiring in CongoUN
By Jonny Hogg and Graham Holliday
KINSHASA, Dec 30 (Reuters) - A U.S. crackdown on so-called "conflict minerals" in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has backfired by pushing trade deeper into the hands of criminals and smugglers, including at least one former rebel leader, a U.N. report said on Friday.
The new UN report, available here, goes into considerable detail on a variety of topics, from an update on the region's armed groups to summaries of harebrained attempts at gold smuggling to an analysis of the impact of SEC 1502 on militia participation at several important mines in north and south Kivu. One thing it doesn't do is what I've been calling for: undertake a thorough assessment of the impact the de facto embargo is having on the miners and their families. Still, the report is worth reading in depth. As most of these UN reports have been, it is well-written and impressively detailed—even the annexes are worth perusing.

I'll have more to say once I finish reading it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bisie: A Reality Check

One of the most repeated criticisms of my NY Times piece about conflict minerals is that in my zeal to make the case against Dodd Frank I ignored the many positive developments that were happening on the ground as a result of it. Principal among those developments was said to be the de-militarization of Bisie, the largest tin mine in the Kivus.
Below I cite three instances of advocates making that argument, but there have been many more. Advocates have advanced the claim that Bisie has been demilitarized not only in writing but in conference after conference and to numerous journalists, diplomats, and policymakers. In fact, I can't think of another development they have cited nearly as often as this one to demonstrate the legislation's achievements.

  • However, we have already seen a number of changes in the minerals sector, which can, in part or in whole, be attributed to the impending arrival of DoddFrank, or rather DoddFrank in its full form. Those include some very positive impacts. For the first time in five years, the Congolese Government has removed national army units from the region’s most important mine, which is called Bisie in Walikale in North Kivu, which accounts for around 70% of the tin ore production from the province. That is pretty unprecedented in terms of the history of this conflict. Mike Davis, Global WitnessHouse of Commons, Tuesday 13 September 2011, Oral Evidence Taken Before The International Development Committee Inquiry Into Working Effectively In Fragile And Conflict Affected States: DRC, Rwanda And Burundi 
  • International pressure generated by the Dodd Frank Act and UN and OECD initiatives has already persuaded the Congolese government to remove army units that were illegally occupying key mining areas. The most important example is the withdrawal of troops from the region’s largest tin mine, Bisie, which accounts for 70% of the tin ore produced in North Kivu Province. This paves the way for the establishment of a conflict free mineral trade that meets international due diligence standards and can foster peaceful economic development in the region.     Global Witness, Unsigned. August 10th, 2011. "The Dodd-Frank Act – recent developments and the case for urgent action." 
  • Since the legislation passed, it has had a direct impact on armed commanders. Our team travels frequently to Congo, and we have seen first-hand how the Congolese army has pulled out of several major mines. For example, the Bisie mine produces some 70 percent of North Kivu's tin ore and was occupied illegally by a renegade unit of the Congolese army for years, but was demilitarized this year. Whether this demilitarization lasts is dependent on further reform, but it is starting to occur at Bisie and several other mines.     Sasha Lezhnev, The Enough Project, on Aug 09, 2011     "What Conflict Minerals Legislation Is Actually Accomplishing in Congo"
Given that Bisie was the advocates' primary example of success, it is worth checking in with some researchers who have actually visited the mine recently. IPIS and Fatal Transactions are well-known for their thorough mapping reports of the conflicts in the Congo. No one would call them stooges for the Chamber of Commerce. Recently, a couple of their researchers visited Bisie. This is what they had to say:
Much has happened in the mining sector of Eastern DRC over the last year. President Kabila imposed a ban on all mining activities last fall, during which production fell considerably. As soon as the suspension was lifted in the spring of this year, the major global electronic companies stopped buying minerals from the region, provoking a de facto embargo on Congo’s minerals with detrimental effects on the sector. At the same time, the Congolese government has taken major steps to restructure its army in the east of the country. These different decisions in the mining and security sectors have affected the nature and volume of minerals production and export and have reconfigured the security situation in the region. The consequences of these actions are discussed and illustrated with the use of the most important and well-known cassiterite mine in North Kivu called Bisie.

Bisie shows first that production fell significantly during the ban, but mining activities unquestionably continued, as satellite imagery indicates. Second, despite the ban’s focus on ending the involvement of military and civil authorities in the illicit exploitation and trade of minerals, certain military units strengthened their grip. Third, while the regular army withdrew from many mining sites as a result of military restructuring, armed groups sometimes filled the void, increasing widespread insecurity. Fourth, the de facto embargo has decreased the potential profit for armed groups and corrupt military units, but it has also left many miners unemployed, increased smuggling, and undermined the continuation of important government and industry-led due diligence initiatives.
Sarah Zingg Wimmer, Filip Hilgert
IPIS and Fatal Transactions, 28 November, 2011
 Bisie. A one-year snapshot of the DRC’s principal cassiterite mine
So to summarize: The electronics companies stopped buying the minerals, thus imposing a de facto embargo.  The embargo has led to a precipitous drop in mineral exports, and driven the remainder of the trade underground. While some army units have left Bisie, other units have strengthened their control over other portions of it.  Elsewhere, militia groups moved back in as soon as the army withdrew. While armed groups may, on the whole, be making less money than they used to from minerals, the embargo has deprived miners of their livelihoods, increased smuggling, and thrown a wrench into the various government and industry-led due-diligence initiatives that were in place and trying to move the issue forward. 

If that's the advocates' primary example of success, I'd hate to see what their idea of failure is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

1502: A Better Way

Two civil society organizations in eastern Congo have written the SEC to propose a better way of implementing Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank law. The two groups, Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix (OGP), led by Eric Kajemba, and Bureau d'Etudes Scientifiques et Techniques (BEST), led by Pere Didier de Failly, submitted their letter on December 26.

Briefly, they argue that the problem with the legislation as it now stands is that there are no mechanisms  in place to determine which minerals are "conflict-free." As a result, companies had little choice but to instruct smelters to stop accepting mineral shipments from the region. A better way to harness some of the benefits of 1502 is to put the mechanisms in place first, so that the legitimate mineral trade has a chance to grow and gradually crowd out the illegal trade.

In their letter, they:
(i) describe the current impact of § 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act on mining communities in eastern DRC;
(ii) outline the mechanisms necessary for the traceability and due diligence of conflict minerals;
(iii) recommend a phased approach for implementing § 1502; and
(iv) encourage the Commission to undertake a more comprehensive cost-benefit analysis before promulgating its final rule, in part by studying the law’s impact on local communities.

I think their proposal is a far more thoughtful way of proceeding. It is in keeping with the consensus of informed local opinion. It harnesses the potential benefits of 1502 without accelerating the harm it has caused.

I suspect that the perspective of two little ngos in eastern Congo won't count for all that much in the SEC's deliberation, but one can always hope. If you believe it represents a wiser course, please write a letter of support to the SEC at this address.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Have Global Witness and Enough Brought Kwashiorkor to Central Africa?

Wikipedia Photo of Children
suffering from Kwahsiorkor
Imagine that your stated goal is to advocate for patients suffering from a terrible, debilitating disease, and that a new drug comes along that promises to alleviate many of the worst symptoms of this disease. Now imagine that the expense and difficulty of producing the drug, coupled with the fact that the disease itself is rare and little known, make it hard to get anyone interested in manufacturing the drug and putting it in the FDA pipeline. Imagine, nevertheless, that you find a company willing to risk producing the drug and succeed in persuading the relevant decision-makers to put it on the fast track for approval.

Now imagine that reports start filtering in from clinics where patients are being treated experimentally with the drug. The reports, at best, are mixed. At worst, they suggest that the drug may be truly harmful.

What do you do?

Do you redouble your efforts to get the drug approved? Mobilize the public to lobby elected officials by emphasizing the horrors of the disease and demanding that the government take action? Blame sensationalist media for playing up negative reports? Dismiss accounts of the drug's ill-effects as "temporary setbacks" or "inevitable side-effects"? Do you hold conferences in prestigious venues where only one side of the issue gets discussed? Plant stories in friendly media casting dissenting voices as shills rather than patient-advocates? Cherry pick a couple of patients to act as spokesmen? And if all else fails, do you rely on that old rhetorical standby, that the drug was never meant to be a "panacea"?

Or do you take a step back and revisit the research? Do you spend a little bit of the money you have on hand to make sure that you've got it right? Do you hire a few of the top specialists to conduct an independent evaluation? Do you make sure that you aren't breaking the physician's first commandment--to do no harm?

The analogy to the conflict minerals campaign isn't perfect of course. There is no accepted methodology for evaluating human rights advocacy. Nor is there any independent agency tasked with evaluating human rights policy initiatives. Nor, finally, is there any established forum for bringing the voices of those affected by the policy into the discussion. On all of these matters, we rely, traditionally, on the wisdom and good sense of advocacy groups, and trust that they speak for the people whose interests they claim to represent. And precisely for that reason, advocates should act with an abundance of caution, making sure that the work they do meets with the approval and support of the local population, Above all, advocates should cause as little harm as possible, and no more than is absolutely necessary.

Which is why I've been so astonished and saddened by the reaction of Global Witness and the Enough Project to news that their campaign is causing severe unintended harm to the people of eastern Congo. Many of the most important questions about the benefits and harms of the conflict minerals campaign are wholly empirical. I've outlined them here. Answers can be gathered by a small team of qualified social scientists in a matter of weeks, not months, at an expense that ranges in the tens and not the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But even as one after another independent scholar or human rights group comes out with a report alleging that the campaign has caused people irremediable harm, the advocacy groups have chosen to respond as if the truth of the matter could be settled by winning a public relations campaign.

I write on Christmas Day with real anger. I have just received independent confirmation that children in two mining communities are suffering from the protein malnutrition disease kwashiorkor as a direct result of the embargo on Congolese minerals brought about by the conflict minerals campaign. This must be a historic first: Never in the history of human rights advocacy have advocacy groups, with nothing but the best of intentions, brought so much predictable suffering to the people they purport to defend. And never before have they then blithely denied that anything had gone awry, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

So Merry Christmas Global Witness! Merry Christmas, Enough Project! Congratulations on all your good works. And may you spare an idle thought, this holiday season, for the people whose lives you have so carelessly smashed up.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Headline of the Day

No End to the Tears
Analysis: Congo set to remain world's worst nation
--The BBC, calling it like they see it

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Memo to US Africa Policy Makers

Go read the comments in Jason Stearns' recent blog post on the elections in Congo.

This one in particular struck my eye:
Is it the democracy selective?
Kagame is close to Bill clinton, the former US president that during his mandate, the US helps Kagame entered DRCongo ( Zaire) and Kabila is supported by Kagame and Clinton is the US State department chief is it possible to get change in DRCongo political?
Now that we see that USA, Western countries are supporting Rwanda, Uganda to kill more than 6 millions of our brothers and systers in RDCongo for economical interested and Help the so called Hypolyte Kanambe alias " Joseph Kabila, the Fraud winner of Election " we have the right and option to defend our rights including by terrorism actions, Wapons and all options to defend our country against Rwanda, Uganda and Western countries invasion.
To finish my analyse, We congolese understand now, the reason of El-shabah are fighting, Taliba, and others. When economical interested become more important that democraty and free speech, it become important to be associate with other to defend people interest.
It's the begining of the fight and the fight will be popular. Ingeta
 I don't know how prevalent this sort of sentiment is in Congo just yet.  I've long been puzzled that Congolese aren't angrier at Americans, and it may be premature to suggest there has been any significant change in mood among them. The politically powerless can remain quiescent for an awfully long time. But you've got to figure that they'll get angry, at some point, and that their anger, once it finds release, could be dangerous. The weak tend to lash out indiscriminately when they feel cheated. If the United States continues along the path many of us see it as having set for itself--of refusing to recognize and support the democratic aspirations of the Congolese people--this sort of sentiment may become more and more common. I have no idea how common, or if it will ever be acted on, but isn't the point of diplomacy to minimize these sorts of risks?

Friday, December 16, 2011

US to Congolese: Democracy Tomorrow, Maybe! (But not Today)

US assistant secretary of state for Africa Johnny Carson told senators at a hearing on the Congo today (Thursday, 12/15) that while there were "flaws" in last week's election, he doesn't believe that anyone can prove that the outcome would have been different had the election been run properly. He also told the senators that the US encourages the opposition to take their complaints to the courts (where they will be dismissed), but not to the streets. Peacefully assembling could provoke Kabila's trigger-happy troops, he warned, undermining US efforts to keep Kabila in power. Finally, he congratulated Kabila for the great effort he put into making the elections worth stealing in the first place.

That's not exactly what he said, of course. He's a highly paid professional diplomat. His job is to say something that gives the impression he means one thing while actually saying another, but never in a way that can be called a flat-out lie. And give him credit: he's very good at what he does.

In fact, if you don't speak diplomatese, you might have come away thinking that the US is deeply concerned about what has happened in Congo and is working hard to rectify it.

Fortunately, I lived and worked among diplomats for several years and can understand their language, although I speak it badly. So allow me to translate. First, I'll give the quote from Carson, then I'll translate what he meant into human English, and finally I'll tell what Carson would have said if, in some alternate universe, the US actually gave a damn about the Congo.

Carson: The DRC is the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa. With a population of over 71 million, it lies at the core of Central Africa and is bordered by nine other countries. It is also a country of enormous economic potential...

Meaning: I'm going to bore you with shit I took out of wikipedia so you're all too stupefied to ask me tough questions. By the way, did you catch that phrase: "at the core of central Africa"? It takes Grade A Diplomatic Gravitas to get away with shit like that.

Alternate Universe Carson: He would have skipped this crap and gone straight to the issues.

On Hitchens

--Not Congo Related--

Even his games were intimidating. Re-titling Shakespeare plays as Ludlum thrillers: The Elsinore Vacillation, the Dunsinane Reforestation, The Rialto Sanction, etc.

So naturally, coming up, he was the guy you wanted to get into the ring with. I got the chance myself, briefly. He had come to Middletown, Ct., to give a talk--on what I forget--and after his speech I rose shakily on undergraduate legs to challenge him on some minor point. (This was ages before Iraq.) Me: "I have a question for you, Mr. Hitchens, but I'm afraid you'll take it as a bit belligerent." Hitchens: "I wouldn't worry about that." Me: "That's just it. I'm afraid you'll enjoy it too much."

Gratifying chuckles from the audience. But it was the chesire of a smile emanating from Hitchens that I basked on for weeks.

His topics--Kissinger, God, Mother Teresa, the British royalty--always struck me as woefully undeserving of his talents. We all felt that way about Kissinger, though it was good to have the case made so concisely. But lascivious troll that he was, Kissinger was embedded in an entire social and ideological system, and it was the system that needed working over. Excising Kissinger from his environment made him seem at once too big and too little for the accusations Hitchens leveled against him.

And what was it about the mildly objectionable that so reliably got Hitchens' goat?  The mother superior turned out to be a bit of a huckster? No surprise there: real saints seldom garner much press coverage. Princess Diana? Pretty, and pretty dull--hardly worth the indignation she summoned out of him. I sometimes wondered if there wasn't a hidden source of rage within the man that found a safe release in smashing these Hamilton Collection figurines. God knows he had reason enough for anger.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Free Fair DRC Maps Electoral Blips #DRC2011 #congo

Free Fair DRC has just published an excellent map of the questionable electoral results.
Now we need a similar map for post-electoral violence. Ushahidi Man, Where Are You?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Re-Count, Re-Do, Or Run-Off?

What's it to be for the Congo?

Can there even be a recount, given how much of a mess the original count was? How can anyone check the electoral results against the precinct tallies now? How can we count the ballots when they have been so badly mis-handled?

Redoing the election would be a gigantic undertaking, requiring hundreds of millions of dollars. Who has that kind of money?

And the idea of a run-off featuring Kabila vs. Tshisekedi has a nice symmetry to it: that's what would have happened anyway, had Kabila not messed with the Constitution earlier this year.

But Kabila will do everything in his power to prevent that from happening, and the US will support him to the hilt. Can you say president-for-life Kabila?

What a mess...

Brookings Now just another Ideology Mill

Brookings sponsored a six-hour event today entitled "Transparency, Conflict Minerals, and Natural Resources: What You Don't Know about Dodd Frank."

I went so that you wouldn't have to.[1]

Held in a richly appointed lounge at the National Press Club, the event featured speakers representing the full range of opinion, from those who think Dodd Frank is a great piece of legislation to those who think it's the greatest ever. There was even a Congolese among them, if that sort of thing concerns you. (I know, right? Like asking a pig to judge a bacon tasting contest.)

The master of ceremonies for the love-fest was Daniel Kaufman, a micro-economist formerly of the World Bank. Among the speakers were three from Global Witness, a congressman, a senator, and an array of electronic companies and consultants, every single one of them on record as supporting the legislation.

To My Congolese Friends in the USA #Congo #DRC2011 #RDC

Do not believe what they tell you.

The US government is about to embark on a highly ritualized dance. It knows that all its bland assurances that the election would work out well are exploding in their face. It knows that there's a lot of anger out there. And it considers neutralizing you an important part of the job it must do now. So it will tell you that it is "seized by" events in Congo, that it is "deeply concerned" about developments there, that it "calls on" all parties to respect the "voice of the people," and that it is working toward a solution "acceptable to all."

Do not believe it.

The US government will tell you that its primary interests in Africa are trade, democracy promotion, humanitarian assistance, and conflict resolution.

That's what Johnny Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told an assembly of Africanists at last month's African Studies Association conclave.

Do not believe him.

The US government's primary interests in Africa lie in its oil, its minerals, its assistance at the UN (50 votes!), its assistance in the War on Terror, and its cooperation in the event that we need to access its sea lanes or overflight paths.

How do I know this? Because half an hour before Carson spoke, retired US ambassador David Shinn, twice an ambassador in Africa, told me so.

RePublishing: Why We Need a Social Impact Assessment on Conflict Minerals

How many Congolese children are going to bed hungry tonight because of Dodd-Frank 1502?

This is not a rhetorical question. In fact, we have no meaningful data regarding the extent of the harm caused by DF-1502. What we do know is the following:

1) The economy of eastern Congo was severely damaged by 30 years of kleptocracy under Mobutu and 14 subsequent years of war. As a result, eastern Congo is one of the poorest regions within Congo, itself one of the poorest countries in the world. Most of the economy is informal and subsistence in nature.
2) DF-1502 precipitated a de facto embargo of minerals from eastern Congo. This embargo began on April 1, 2011, after Western electronics companies, under pressure from Western NGOs, ordered major international smelting companies to cease accepting minerals from eastern DRC.
3) There were roughly 400,000 people working as artisanal miners in the Kivus before that date, more people than in any sector but agriculture.
4) Most of those miners supported families, meaning that somewhere between one and two million people depended directly on the mining trade for their livelihood. Mining was the region's major foreign currency earner.
5) Artisanal mining is difficult, dangerous work, but for most miners it is the best alternative within the universe of possibilities available to them. 
6) The embargo led to a 75 to 90 percent drop in the export of tin, tantalum, and tungsten.
7) Of these "three Ts," the most important to the region was tin, or cassiterite, which miners are now able to sell at only one half to one third of its pre-DF 1502 value, to the extent that they can sell it at all.
8) The gold trade, to all appearances, has not been affected by DF-1502.
9) We have little understanding of the secondary economic impacts of the embargo. Visitors report visible signs of economic deterioration in Goma compared to the pre-DF period. Bukavu is less visibly distressed, but economic actors from market women to bankers report experiencing an economic downturn. 
10) Numerous mining communities sprang up in remote locations in the Kivus. Once the embargo was put in place, these communities were virtually cut off from the outside world. The planes that had provisioned them no longer arrived, as the communities had nothing to sell.

The embargo is the direct, predictable result of actions taken by two Western NGOs: Global Witness and the Enough Project. They both campaigned for DF-1502 and threatened to cause reputational harm to companies that did not cooperate with them. They ignored warnings from credible Congolese mining experts of the problems they might cause, and failed to disclose those warnings in any of their reporting on the subject. Their actions led directly to the passage of DF-1502. As one of the provision's congressional sponsors told a gathering of Enough supporters: "Without your efforts, this would not have happened."

The Enough Project insists that the damage to the miners and the broader economy will be limited in duration and scope. They say that "dislocations are inevitable." Global Witness has yet to admit that DF-1502 has caused any harm to the region's inhabitants. They say that concerns about what they call the "current hiatus" amount to no more than "alarmist talk." The head of the UN's Group of Experts acknowledges that DF-1502 has caused "collateral damage," but claims that it has had a "massive and welcome impact so far"--without specifying who has welcomed it or why.

In contrast, several letters from Congolese mining associations testify to the problems the law has caused local communities:

  •  "We can not give you exactly the number of lives that are lost each day following the cessation of artisanal mining in the DRC and yet even if a child died or who is hungry or do not go to school because his father digger lacked money, this is a tragedy, it is a sad news that should challenge our humanity." --Serge Mulumba, president of the mining cooperative CDMC, in a letter to the SEC.
  • "Please listen attentively to our cries of weeping and anguish. Our families and us will be doomed to death if you do not hear these cries of alarm. Do not wait to rescue us when we will be already in the grave. Act in time to avoid the humanitarian catastrophe that would arise from the consequences of your suspension to purchase our minerals." --Pastor Raymond, in an open letter posted on Fair Jewelry Auction.
  • "What is the refuge of all the Congolese jobless, around 85 % of the population. Is it to make peace or to trouble the peace, when the life is stopped for a population? No job, no life. Please imagine the consequences…" --Heads of three South Kivu mining associations, in a letter to the SEC, begging them to reconsider DF-1502. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Funny Business in Kasai Occidental and Kinshasa

There is something fishy in the numbers Ceni is reporting for Kasai Occidental and Kinshasa: They don't match up to the numbers the voting commission gave out in the earlier releases.

For example, in Kasai Occidental the fifth partial release indicated that with 94.5% of polling stations reporting, 1,590 votes (in thousands) had been counted. On that basis, I projected that 1,667 votes would be tallied; with 2,661 registered voters, this meant a turnout of 63 percent. However, in its final numbers, Ceni says that only 1,412 votes were tallied--less than the actual number they reported for their fifth release. On that basis they claim a turnout of only 51 percent.

In Kinshasa, the fifth release indicated that 1,807 votes had been tallied out of 80.5% of stations reporting. I projected a total of 2,244 votes, out of 3,288 registered, for a turnout of 68 percent. In the end, Ceni reported 1,869 votes tallied, for a turnout of only 57 percent.

So were the numbers cut deliberately to favor Kabila?

Had my projections held, I would have expected Tshisekedi to receive 1,329 votes in Kasai Occidental and Kabila to receive 311. Ceni reports that Tshisekedi received 1,027 and Kabila received 296. This means Tshisekedi "lost" about 283 votes relative to Kabila.

In Kinshasa, I expected Tshisekedi to receive 1,437 votes, to Kabila's 542. Ceni reports Tshisekedi receiving 1,162 to Kabila's 545. Again, Tshisekedi lost votes relative to Kabila. My projections say he lost a net 278 votes.

Between these two provinces alone, Tshisekedi should have come 561,000 votes closer to Kabila than Ceni reported. That's not enough to make up the difference between them, but it's not beanbag either.

Elections, 2011

Republishing Censored Guardian Article on Peter Grossman, Debt Vulture

The Guardian newspaper published and promptly removed this article on debt vulture Peter Grossman, who is reportedly buying up debts owed by third world countries and then pursuing them to repay the debts with huge interest fees and penalties.

Frankly, I don't see him as any different from other sorts of misery entrepreneurs exploiting the Congo, like Bennett Freeman, for example, of Calvert Investments, who's running his own lucrative racket off conflict minerals.

But I do object to England's archaic libel laws, which I suspect are at the root of the article's sudden disappearance, and in the spirit of solidarity am republishing this piece. (h/t: Pascal Musavuli.)

Occupy Wall Street comes home to roost with Congo's 'debt vultures'
Nowhere are the ill-gotten gains of the 1% more grossly apparent than in the activities of 'debt vulture' hedge funds

Greg Palast, Friday 9 December 2011 21.37 GMT
Article history

This past Sunday, a deputation from Occupy Wall Street crossed the bridge from Manhattan and brought its protest to the Brooklyn residence of one of New York's "vultures" This type of vulture doesn't roost in a tree, but in a swish brownstone in the gentrifying neighborhood of Brooklyn's Clinton Hill. OWS will be visiting again this Sunday.

A "vulture" is a financial speculator who, as we recently reported, gets his hands on debts owed by desperately poor nations. The Brooklyn "vulture" targeted by OWS and Friends of the Congo is Peter Grossman. Two weeks ago, the Guardian exposed him as a financier who is demanding the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the world's poorest nation, pay $100m to the hedge fund he manages, FG Hemisphere.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What Happens Next? Rethinking Congo after the Election

Last week’s election in the Democratic Republic of Congo was marred by technical deficiencies and punctuated by incidents of voter intimidation and fraud. With the opposition crying foul and the prospect of urban unrest looming, attention is understandably riveted on the post-election drama. However, it’s what happens next year, not tomorrow, that’s the real problem.

First a little background. On Friday, the Congo’s national electoral commission declared incumbent president Joseph Kabila the provisional winner of the presidential race. He defeated his nearest challenger, veteran opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi, by nearly three million votes.

Predictably, Tshisekedi and other Congolese opposition figures are claiming the election was rigged. Tensions are especially high in the capital Kinshasa, where Tshisekedi is immensely popular. A word from him, whether stray or deliberate, could unleash serious violence.

Western diplomats and journalists alike may be tempted to dismiss Tshisekedi’s complaints as the posturings of a sore loser. They'll point out that Kabila’s margin of victory is too large to be accounted for by the instances of fraud and mismanagement chronicled by electoral monitoring teams. In truth, however, too many incidents and too little oversight gave the opposition every reason to be suspicious.

The international community should work with the main political actors to ensure that the results are audited, by comparing polling station results to the final tally enumerated by the electoral commission. Someone acceptable to both sides, perhaps a retired African leader, can credibly head this job. Tshisekedi has stated that he will abide by the electoral results. We should take him at his word.

The bigger problem is what happens after the electoral mess gets resolved. The Congo scored dead last out of 187 countries on this year’s UN Development Report, an annual assessment of well-being. Corruption is reaching levels last seen under Mobutu, with ministers auctioning off the nation’s mineral wealth for suitcases of cash. The UN has spent a billion dollars a year for the last decade on peacekeepers. Yet they seem incapable of reining in the rag-tag assortment of militia besetting the eastern provinces. Nor does the country’s own army seem interested in taking them on—although they did fire on a group of unarmed demonstrators in the capital last week, killing five. Meanwhile, rape in the Congo has become an international cause celebre, earning the country a reputation, much resented within it, as the rape capital of the world.

Kabila has presided over the Congo for a decade already, since taking over from his assassinated father in 2001. Assuming he retains the presidency, he will remain in power through 2016—half the length of Mobutu’s rule, a truly depressing thought. With much of Africa beginning to boom, the Congo threatens to remain a huge hole in the center of it, a blight on the continent and a stain on the international conscience.

From the outside it can all look a little hopeless. Yet people who visit the country come back consistently hopeful. There is nothing wrong with Congo that Congolese can’t fix—provided they are given the tools and the resources to do the job.

What Just Happened?

Despite his continuing personal popularity, Obama is likely to lose the next election if the unemployment rate doesn't start dropping soon--or so our political scientists tell us.

Yet in Congo, voters just reelected the president of a country that is now ranked at the very bottom--187th out of 187 nations--in the United Nations Development Report. A country where corruption is reaching levels last seen under Mobutu, with ministers auctioning off the nation’s mineral wealth for suitcases of cash. Where the army seems incapable of reining in the rag-tag assortment of militia besetting the eastern provinces—although it did fire on a group of unarmed demonstrators in the capital last week, killing five. A country that is known internationally as the rape capital of the world.

And not only did voters chose him, they chose him resoundingly, by 49 percent to 32 percent for the main opposition figure. Even allowing for a certain amount of fraud, that is an impressive win. Furthermore, a greater percentage of registered voters actually voted in the election--often at considerable inconvenience--than vote in the richest and most stable democracy in the world. What's going on?

I have to admit that I don't really understand what voting means for many Africans. What expectations do they have for government, what sort of "social contract" do they imagine obtains between themselves and their leaders, how do they adjudicate competing claims for their allegiance? Who decides who to vote for, and on what basis? What family dynamics are at play, whose authority is decisive, what sources of information are considered relevant?  I just don't have a good, clear, granular understanding of these dynamics at all. Any reading suggestions?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Quote of the Day II

Today in Kinshasa, from the always entertaining Alex Engwete:
Ordinarily, a taxi takes in 4 fares (1 on the passenger seat by the driver, 3 in the back seat). But I rode today in grand style--from Grand Hotel to Place Victoire, I was the lone passenger of a dejected cabbie!
"Fucking guys ought to get over with it already," he scowled.
"Jesus-Mary-Joseph! We alreadly know the name of the one the Whites have chosen for us! Let's move on! How am I supposed to scrape a living with this! These elections are fucking stupid, I tell you!"

Quote of the Day

From Jeune Afrique:
Q: À votre avis, pensez-vous que Joseph Kabila pourrait l’emporter sans les fraudes qui ont entaché le scrutin ?
A: Joseph Kabila n’aurait pas remporté ces élections sans les fraudes. L’atmosphère sur le terrain le jour du vote a révélé que les Congolais désiraient le changement. Il n’y a pas de doute sur ce point.
My translation:
Q: In your opinion, could Kabila have won without the fraud that has marred this election? 
 A: Joseph Kabila would not have won the election without fraud. The atmosphere on the ground showed that people wanted change. There is no doubt about it.
--Mwila Kayembe, president of the Réseau national pour l'observation et la surveillance des élections en RDC 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

First Past the Post: Would it have Mattered?

Kabila infamously rammed through a change in the Congolese Constitution this past January so that the election would be decided on a first-past-the-post basis. Would it have mattered if he'd left the Constitution as it was, so that he would have had to compete in a run-off against Tshisekedi next month?

It doesn't look like it. Based on my projections after the third round of votes released, Kabila won 47 percent of the vote against a crowded field, to 34 percent for Tshisekedi. To win a run-off, Tshisekedi would have had to secure the support of nearly all the other candidates. To put it differently, he would have needed to win nearly 85 percent of the votes that went to the other nine presidential candidates.


Round by Round

This chart shows how the two main challengers did relative to Kabila for each round of reporting. You can see that Tshisekedi's numbers went down in round two, back up in round three, and stayed roughly even in the final round. Kamerhe's numbers swelled through the first three rounds, and then diminished a bit in the final.

Final Partials Show Kabila Clear Victor

My projected vote totals show Kabila is likely to get northwards of nine million votes to Tshisekedi's 6.6 million. These numbers represent reported votes received in each province weighted by the percent of voting districts included in the tally.

Bas Congo
Kasai Occidental
Kasai Orientale
North Kivu
Province Orientale
South Kivu

So, for example, if Kabila received 1,137 votes (in thousands, rounded off) in Province Orientale, and 90 percent of the districts have reported in, I estimate he'll eventually receive 1,263 votes.

Here is what that table looks like in graphical form:

I project overall turnout to be at about 60.5 percent, about what I predicted on Sunday. (I added all candidates' votes, divided by percent of districts reporting in, and got a projected total number of votes for each province. I then divided that number by the number of registered voters per province.) Here is the breakdown:

Bas Congo
Kasai Occidental
Kasai Orientale
North Kivu
Province Orientale
South Kivu

I'll have more to say in a bit. But the turnout doesn't seem to have greatly favored Kabila. Yes, the turnout in Katanga is high, but it's equally high in Kinshasa and just somewhat lower in the Kasais. Lowest turnout is in Equateur, perhaps because favorite son Jean Pierre Bemba is locked up in the Hague, and in Orientale, a province with proportionally fewer urban areas. 

Again, there's nothing in the numbers we've been given that would indicate any systemic fraud. No cache of votes that suddenly inflate Kabila's numbers in one round versus another, no opposition strongholds where turnout is suspiciously low. Obviously the right thing to do now is to try to compare the final tallies to the numbers that the voting stations themselves independently report. Still, I'd be surprised to discover anything significant.

On a side note, shouldn't Robin Wright be weighing in with her analysis about now? No doubt hers will be the final word.