Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Endorsements for Congo's Environmental Paradox

 Thank you Ed, Daniel, Crawford, David, Tom and Jeroen.

‘Congo’s Environmental Paradox is a fascinating read, giving a no-nonsense view of the multitude of problems besetting Congo’s natural resource sectors, how they affect ordinary people’s daily lives and how well-meaning donor initiatives are often intrinsically flawed. The book puts today’s problems into historical perspective and will serve as a reality-check to politicians and activists.’
Daniel Balint-Kurti, Global Witness

‘An invaluable contribution … the succinct and sparkling summation of the key elements of the political economy is most useful. The author’s capacity to convey a rich treasure chest of information and acute analytical skills make this a landmark work.’
Crawford Young, University of Wisconsin

‘Most studies of natural resources and development delve into the details sector by sector. Linkages to violence, politics and state-building are treated separately for different resources. This eloquent and richly documented book focuses attention on the connections, and on the global forces adding complexity to these interactions and altering the political economy of possible change.’
David Booth, Overseas Development Institute

‘This remarkable, fact-filled study will undoubtedly rank as required reading for anyone with an interest in the DRC – whether for specialists or for the general reader. Following his Congo Masquerade, this should confirm Trefon’s standing as one of the most perceptive observers and analysts of that central African giant.’
Edouard Bustin, Boston University

‘The first successful attempt to take stock of emerging trends in Congo’s natural resource sectors. Well-written, clearly structured and thoroughly documented, Trefon offers fresh analysis on the gap between resource potential and socio-economic development.’
Jeroen Cuvelier, University of Ghent

‘A remarkable guide to the tangled relationships between minerals, water and other sectors of the political economy in the Congo. It goes beyond slogans such as “rich land, poor people” to explain how the rich get richer while the poor struggle to survive. Indispensable reading for humanitarians and human rights advocates, both Congolese and international.’
Tom Turner, author of The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality

Natural Resource Management in the Congo

A preview to the book. Publisher information here: Congo’s Environmental Paradox: Potential and predation in a land of plenty. 

Book launch in London at SOAS Monday 9 May 5:15 PM

Book launch in Oxford Tuesday 10 May Nuffield College, Clay Room, 5:00 PM 

Book launch in Birmingham Wednesday 11 May 4:00 PM

Congo matters. It is land of plenty with the natural resources the world needs. No other country in Africa, and few countries worldwide, has such an impressive concentration and diversity of natural wealth. Congo has over 1,100 mineral substances and is home to the world’s second largest tropical rainforest. Endowed with abundant arable land, its farmers could feed a billion people. More than half of Africa’s water is located in this troubled nation, whose hydroelectric capacity could light up the entire continent. And Congo has oil too. But after a decade of robust growth driven by the extractive sectors, there is little evidence of social development.

Neither optimistic nor pessimistic this book intertwines three main threads of information: an overview of what we need to know about the natural resources themselves; analysis of the sectors through an institutional and political economy framework; and the challenges, pathways and opportunities for improved natural resource management.

The primary ambition of this book is to present up-to-date data and analysis of Congo’s natural resource sectors. Congo’s Environmental Paradox is essentially empirical and argues, sector by sector, that state-building initiatives cannot be successful without improved natural resource management. Efforts consequently need to be embedded in locally realistic and appropriate perspectives, including in the framework of the stalled decentralization process.

Part of my motivation for writing this book stems from frustration about mainstream discourse and analysis of Congo’s natural resources. Most information tends to be sector specific and lacks historic depth. Articles, NGO reports and policy documents suffer from extreme fragmentation. The scholarly landscape about these resources is covered by vertical silos with few horizontal connections. The urgency in trying to come up with management solutions or policy recommendations also means that these writings usually lack historical depth.

The book therefore includes historical accounts about natural resource management because the trajectory of Congo’s resource exploitation does not exist in an historical vacuum. The main focus, however, is the period since President Joseph Kabila came to power in 2001. Much has evolved in the area of resource use and management since then, despite many patterns of continuity.

Congo’s Environmental Paradox adopts – and advocates for - an integrated approach in analysing the potential of Congo’s natural resources. Integrated (sometimes used synonymously with holistic) refers to the interconnectedness of natural resources themselves, combined with governance practices, economic activities and the stakeholders involved – such as Congolese officials, farmers and miners, international institutions, Western multinationals, new commercial partners and actors in unofficial trade and trafficking networks. The book identifies relationships between all of these elements and highlights the lost opportunity costs of not pegging development policies to them.

The following examples support my argument of why an integrated approach is necessary. Efforts to improve the sustainable management of Congo’s forests focus more often than not on the forest sector sensu stricto. This is necessary but not enough. Sustainable use of these forests can only be achieved by looking beyond the sector itself. Links need to be made between forests, water, energy and agriculture. Agriculture is a major driver of deforestation and consequently contributes to global climate change. Food insecurity in the DRC clearly stems from production and transportation weaknesses but there are other causes too. Artisanal mining is one example because it has tempted large numbers of farmers to trade their hoes and machetes for picks and shovels. Oil production undermines protected area management threatening Congo’s amazing biodiversity.

The section on industrial mining draws attention to DRC’s energy deficit, which is a serious obstacle to the creation of added economic value. While extraction of bulk ore is not particularly energy dependent, its transformation is. The central government wants the country to export value added products but processing by mining companies is not economically profitable with inadequate electricity supplies.

Dilapidated transportation infrastructure, like the energy deficit, is another cross-cutting problem with negative implications for each of the five sectors analysed. This pertains to difficulties in getting crops from field to market, timber from forest to sawmill or port, or minerals from mine to rail and road networks. The oil sector is not seriously handicapped by transport issues today because production takes place in the vicinity of the Atlantic coast. Nevertheless, a looming logistical problem faces upcoming oil production in eastern Congo: the pipeline question remains unresolved for national political concerns and regional rivalry. These are some of the other connections that are highlighted in an integrated way.

All of these sectors merit entire books in and of themselves but this one has the merit – for the first time – of pulling together this information in a single volume. It is intended primarily for people interested in the Congo and in African environmental issues. But students wanting to learn about global climate change or hydropower politics, wildlife lovers fascinated by Congo’s outstanding biodiversity, food security experts interested in fish farming, NGO campaigners tracking land deals or struggling to end the trade in conflict minerals, companies exploring investment opportunities and donors trying to think creatively about aid delivery strategies, as well as students of development more broadly, should all find some parts of this book conceptually useful and socially pertinent.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

DRC in the Panana Papers

The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of data from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. They reveal how the rich and powerful take advantage of secretive tax regimes. President Kabila’s twin sister Jaynet Désirée Kabila Kyungu, an MP since 2012 and boss of Digital Congo (a media company with TV, radio and internet activities) is one of a few African elites caught up in the scandal.

Mossack Fonseca has been involved in the DRC. The company registered Caprikat and Foxwhelp in the British Virgin Islands. In 2010 Joseph Kabila signed a presidential decree awarding Caprikat and Foxwhelp an oil exploration contract to blocs 1 and 2 in Lake Albert. This award sparked cries of corruption and foul play, in part because no one really knows who controls these two little-known companies. The Financial Times quoted the Congolese Oil Minister saying Dan Gertler was associated with Caprikat and Foxwhelp. More on Dan Gertler and Caprikat and Foxwhelp in Le Monde, here.

It is generally believed that Gertler and the late Katumba Mwanke were behind this award. Antoine Ghonda, a close Kabila ally is also reported to have been involved. The South African press reported that Khulubuse Zuma, President Jacob Zuma’s nephew and the president’s legal advisory, Michael Hulley, owned Caprikat and Foxwhelp. Deployment of South African troops in the Intervention Brigade set up by the United Nations in March 2013 to reinforce MONUSCO in eastern DRC is an indication of President Zuma’s motivation to stabilize the region for economic reasons. South Africa is also present in Congo’s oil sector through its firm Engen Petroleum Ltd, which is a major petroleum distributor.

More information about Caprikat and Foxwhelp is avaible in the chapter on the DRC oil sector in Congo’s Environmental Paradox, forthcoming this May.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Happy New Year from UK Ambassador

Graham Zebedee, the British Ambassador to the DRC highlighted some important facts about Congolese public finance in his New Year address.

The government spent just as much money on the Parliament as on the country’s health system in 2014.

12% of public finance went to the Presidency, the Prime Minister’s office and Parliament; the equivalent of funding for primary, secondary and technical education.

Public services are funded by ordinary people, diaspora groups, Church associations, NGOs and foreign partners.

Few countries worldwide are as aid dependent as the Congo.

With annual disbursements of $550 million annually, the UK is Congo’s second most important donor after the US.

As emphasized in the Congo Masquerade book, the Ambassador drew attention to the gap between policy design and policy implementation.

Source : QUOTIDIEN 14ème Année Edition n°4029 APA du 8 janvier 2016 OLB-BBOS.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Virunga National Park: Goma to Rumangabo

Here are some photos taken on a road trip yesterday between the city of Goma and the Rumangabo station where the Virunga National Park has its headquarters.

The approximately 50 kilometer drive along the 'Route Nationale 4' took around two hours. As elsewhere in the DRC, the road is slow, bumpy and dusty. Lorries, Jeeps, SUVs, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, tshukudus, cattle herders and pedestrians all converge along this main artery linking Goma and Kampala in Uganda. The road also goes through the beautiful but threatened Virunga National Park - formerly the Albert National Park created in 1925 - Africa's first park.

Although the security situation in Goma has improved over the past year since the defeat of the M23 rebel group, insecurity is still a problem in the region. The population is under threat from militia. One villager told me 'pour la sécurité, on se couche tôt'. Businessmen increasingly complain of hostage taking in exchange of ransom money.

In addition to security problems, natural risks persist. Last night a minor earthquake woke up the people of Goma, but the magnitude of the quake was worse in Bukavu (5.6 on the Richter scale) where it caused the death two children and a police officer. Sixty people were injured. People I spoke with in Goma said they left the house to pray with their neighbors. Everyone was talking about the tremors this morning. By the afternoon the subject was no longer part of the conservation.

The Rutshuru area is a complex land use mosaic occupied by the Virunga National Park, rural villages and the Katale coffee plantation.

This sand pit is exploited for the rapidly expanding construction sector in Goma which now has a population of over one million inhabitants, many of whom fled the insecurity of North Kivu and have decided to stay.

Entry point in the Virunga National Park to start the approximately five-hour climb up the Nyiragongo which last erupted in January 2002. The volcano sits under the clouds.

The Kibumba market is an important rallying point for the farmers and traders who feed the people of Goma.


High rural population density means that land use is carefully planned.

Cattle herding is a longstanding tradition in the region.

These are potato plants. Potatoes are an important staple in the Kivu diet.

Young tshukudeur with a sack of potatoes.

It’s a long, dusty and bumpy road.

Insecurity persists in the region despite the presence of UN peacekeepers and the Congolese army.

Dream on.

Access to water is a daily struggle.

Drying laundry and manioc

Ranger Francine. Women are assuming important roles in the ICCN ranger force.

Virunga park headquarters at Rumangabo

Baboon in the vicinity of Rumangabo

Head warden office building at Rumangabo

Virunga patrol blood hounds


Pay day at the Katale coffee plantation

Raw coffee

Lucas and I at the Katale coffee plantation

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Optic Fiber Snags

“Millions of dollars were misused in the first phase of a project to build a national fiber optic network in Democratic Republic of Congo, a parliamentary mission has found… In one case, the report says that at least $3.4 million loaned for the construction of a landing station for the submarine cable appear to have been withdrawn from a bank account by beneficiaries ‘not directly linked to the project.’”

For more see Aron Ross’ post.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Demonstrations against Kabila

Here is a link to an interview with me conducted by Francois Misser and posted on Dominic Johnson's blog. A shorter version appeared in the German newspaper TAZ.

The message in a nutshell is this: Joseph Kabila is not about to walk away from power in 2016. The parliamentary compromise is no more than a tactical withdrawal.