Saturday, 22 February 2014

Motorcycles and agricultural innovation

Mobile phone use took off in Congo in the late 1990s. It transformed society in general while also providing a much needed boost to food production and marketing. It helped communities organize collective transportation which reduced costs and increased security. Farmers became better informed of price fluctuations and market opportunities so were less likely to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous traders and intermediaries. The mobile continues to revolutionize access to banking services such as credit and payments, which still constitute bottlenecks in commodity chains.

The relatively inexpensive motorcycle made in India or China is the social innovation today that is contributing to change in the lives of rural farmers, especially those that live in isolated communities far from feeder roads. Eastern Congolese cities first introduced motorcycles for individual transport and as taxis. Usage has spread rapidly throughout the country. Reluctant at first, Kinshasa’s population has now embraced them for their efficiency in navigating through the capital’s infamous traffic jams. These easily maintained motorcycles are cost efficient and well adapted to the laterite tracks that criss-cross Congo’s rural landscape, even during the rainy season.

As poor road infrastructure is one of the major handicaps for getting crops to market, the motorcycle is a welcome novelty. The heavily laden bicycle is still the more common means of carrying produce, although a slow and exhausting form of labour. It is nonetheless increasingly frequent to see a young man on a motorcycle with a bag of cassava, a plastic jug of palm oil or even a pig or a goat en route to an intermediary drop-off point accessible to pick-up trucks or large lorries. As the purchasing power of the young villager is weak, coming up with the approximately one thousand dollars to buy a 125cc motorcycle is beyond the reach of most. But young men hanker after them, seeing them as the undeniable symbol of modernity, prestige and liberty.

Many of the motorcycles plying Congo’s rural tracks are purchased by traders who advance payment for them in exchange for promises of agricultural goods. Young men consequently enter into a kind of indentured servitude to pay off their debts. Although the motorcycle’s impact is slight in terms of agricultural marketing, it is an emerging positive trend whose ramifications are difficult to predict.While the motorcycle will unlikely contribute significantly to feeding Congo’s towns and cities, it is nevertheless already augmenting rural revenues.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Financing Congo's Agricultural Development

Ed Rackely’s post on Congo’s recently launched National Investment Plan for Agriculture offers a realistic analysis of some of the country’s challenges in modernizing the agriculture sector. He mentions correctly that there is not enough funding to reach targets. I would add that the little money that is available is largely spent on salaries in Kinshasa with minimal trickle down into the field.

But it is not only a money problem. 

On the institutional landscape, there is an overall lack of professionalism and capacity in terms of human resources and material. Government offices responsible for agricultural priorities are under-funded, under-staffed and in need of competent experts with up-to-date professional skills and vision. They also lack data management systems and basic equipment such as phones, copiers and computers.

An additional hurdle is the number of Ministries involved in managing the sector. The Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Rural Development, the Ministry of Environment Conservation, Water and Forests, the Ministry of Scientific and Technological Research and the Ministry of Women and the Family all share rural development and agricultural objectives. In theory, the Ministry of Planning coordinates the financing of these five ministries but is, in reality, overwhelmed with other urgencies.

The problem here is that when priorities are supposed to be dealt with by multiple partners, no one really does anything. There is an absence of coordination, tasks get passed on to someone else, disagreements over costs surface and there tends to be a generalized absence of accountability or ownership.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Reactivating the Masquerade blog

After a long period of inactivity, I am going to give a new life to this blog. The first reason is to announce the publication in French of Congo Masquerade, now available as Congo, la mascarade de l’aide au development at

I also want to let you know of a new book I am writing. The working title is Congo’s Environmental Paradox: Potential and Predation in a Land of Plenty. 

Future posts will be less about politics and more about the political economy of natural resource management.

Below is a summary.

Congo’s Environmental Paradox is about the political economy of natural resources - forests, minerals, land, water and oil. A land of plenty with the resources the world needs, DRC is a resource paradise for some, but an environmental nightmare for others. 

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, rain and sunshine, Congo’s farmers could feed a billion people while also providing new sources of sustainable biofuels. More than half of Africa’s fish and water are located in this troubled nation, whose hydroelectric capacity could light up the entire continent. Congo has oil too, so as some major importers like the United States shift their dependency away from the Middle East, its geo-strategic significance as a petroleum producer could increase.

The book is original because it is will present Congo’s five strategic environment sectors in a holistic way and through an historic lens that tracks the major changes since Joseph Kabila has asserted himself as president. It will revise conventional political economy understanding of how power is structured in the DRC, analyzing how recent trends in globalization and elite politics have stimulated new power relations.

Congo's Environmental Paradox adopts a political economy approach to analyze the complicated interactions between power and natural resources and between the sectors themselves. There is little published information about the governance of Congo’s agricultural sector, water resources and oil. Whatever information does exist tends to be sector specific and lacks historic depth. But it is impossible to implement a viable forestry policy without making linkages to the energy and agriculture sectors. Artisanal mining has consequences on food production and industrial mining is thirsty for power – meaning it needs electricity. Oil production undermines protected area management. These are some of the interconnections to be examined through a holistic conceptual framework.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Coltan, Goma & my mobile

Here is a link to a BBC article I published today about why Goma matters.

Photos from a visit there in September 2012.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Energy politics in eastern DRC

Note the portraits of the three
presidents in the power station's control room
Information in the recently leaked UN report about about Rwanda & Uganda supporting the M23 rebellion in North Kivu does not come as a surprize.

The day Joseph Kabila and Paul Kagame refused to publically shake hands at the UN meeting in New York late September, I was visiting the Ruzizi II hydroelectric plant in South Kivu, an hour’s drive from Bukavu.

The Ruzizi II power station, built in 1989, is operated by a tri-national company (Burundi, Rwanda and Congo) but the dam, power station and transformers are located in the DRC.

One third of the electricity, is for Congo, one third for Burundi and another third for Rwanda. Pressumambly, if Kinshasa decided to throw the switch, it could deprive its troublesome neighbours of power.

According to most expert reports, only 9% of Congolese have access to electricity (with 30% in urban areas). But given the frequent blackout spells (délestage) there is never 9% that has electricity at any given moment.

In addition to being a social and economic problem lack of electricity is an environmental catastrophe. People chop down Congo’s forests to produce cooking fuel.

The question that was on the tongues of many Kivutians who know that Congolese electricity is going to Rwanda and who have only limited accesss to electricity themselves is this: if our president is really at odds with Kagame, why are we still supplying Rwanda with our much needed energy?
Does anyone have an anwser to this?

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

5,000 limos for the Francophonie VIPs

François Hollande’s election to the French presidency cast some doubts about whether the Sommet de la Francophonie would be maintained in Kinshasa – and if so, would the Socialist President who has vowed to redefine France’s Africa policy would attend.

Much to the dismay of some Congolese opposition forces who lobbied against his presence in Kinshasa, Hollande decided to make the trip – indicating however that he'll also be meeting with opposition and civil society leaders.

Now that this diplomatic hurdle has been passed, the Congolese government has some serious logistical challenges to tackle. In addition to lodging, transport is one of the major ones. Gridlock, dust and pollution, and breakdowns that disrupt traffic are the lot of commuters from Masina, Kimbanseke and N'djili. VIP summit delegates will soon discover Kinshasa’s transport nightmare.

A transport commission has been set up by summit’s organizing committee. The commission will provide 5,000 Lexus and Jaguar limousines to shuttle around the delegates. This seems incongruous on two counts. One, these limos will be travelling on some of the worst roads in an African capital (except for some refurbished stretches along the 30 Juin, Triomphal and Lumumba) and two, most Kinois ride in crammed taxi vans that are more akin to cattle wagons than passenger vehicles. The 5,000 limos are part of the presidential fleet!

The Chinese company SINOHYDRO is working on Boulevard Lumumba from the N’djili airport to the Limete bypass but it seems unlikely that they will finish the work in time. I traveled that road last week: construction progress is as slow as the traffic.

Even if the work isn’t finished to welcome the 3,000 delegates, the government has techniques to keep traffic off the roads to facilitate VIP arrivals and departures. One way is to announce spot checks to ensure drivers have their insurance policies and vehicle registration in order. As most don’t, they will avoid the city on those days.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

M23 Fact sheet

The M23’s military actions have made news recently but media coverage has been very sketchy, making it difficult to draw a clear picture of what the group’s objectives are, how and by whom it is run and where it comes from.
Here is a humble attempt at making sense of these questions. It wasn’t easy filtering the propaganda from the facts so there may be errors.
Comments/corrections welcome.

- CNDP: Congrès national pour la défense du peuple
- FARDC: Congolese National Army
- FDLR: Force démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (armed Hutu group associated with the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwanda genocide).
- LRA: Lord's Resistance Army
- RCD-Goma: Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie-Goma (Rwanda-supported rebel movement during the Second Congo War (1998-2003)
- RPF: Rwanda Patriotic Front (formerly a Tutsi diaspora political and military group, now the ruling political party in Rwanda)
- UPC: Union des Patriotes Congolais

The M23 is rebel movement comprised mainly of Congolese Tutsis, who formerly comprised the CNDP. The M23 defected from the Congolese army in April this year amid pressure on the government to arrest General Bosco Ntaganda. It is the newest avatar of Rwandan support for Tutsi rebellions in Eastern DRC.

The CNDP was set up -and justified its actions- in Eastern DRC to fight FDLR forces and protect Tutsi minorities. It also sought to control mineral extraction and access to land.

The CNDP was a political armed militia established by Laurent Nkunda in December 2006. The CNDP’s strategic underpinning was the RCD-Goma, a rebel movement during the Second Congo War (1998-2003) that later entered mainstream Congolese politics. Its aim was the overthrow of the government of Laurent-Désiré Kabila.

In January 2009, the CNDP split and Nkunda was arrested by his Rwandan backers who made a deal with Joseph Kabila. Elements of a CNDP splinter faction, led by Bosco Ntaganda, were integrated into the FARDC, Bosco with the rank of General.

Until a few months ago, around half of FARDC officers stationed in Kivu came from the CNDP. Supported by Rwanda they continued to hunt down Hutu rebels hiding in the bush, including high-ranking Hutu officers such as Commander Emmanuel who was assassinated.

M23 political leader: Jean-Marie Runiga

M23 military leader: Colonel Jules Sultani Makenga

Spokesperson: lieutenant-colonel Vianney Kazarama

Bosco Ntaganda fought with the RPF during the 1994 Tutsi takeover of Kigali. He later served as military leader to warlord Thomas Lubanga who was sentenced to 14 years of prison by the ICC in July 2012. Lubanga founded the UPC. 

Bosco Ntaganda, nicknamed ‘the Terminator’, was protected by Joseph Kabila who used him to direct military operations in Kivi since 2009 against the FDLR and to facilitate illegal mineral exploitation.

Despite being sought after by the ICC for war crimes, Bosco was given immunity by Kabila. Bosco and the CNDP participated in vote-rigging and voter intimidation in favor of Kabila in the run up to the 28 November elections.

Soon after the elections, under the pressure from the international community and to appease factions of radical Congolese who were angry with the Rwandan influence in Congolese politics, Joseph Kabila decided to (i) reposition the Tutsis within FARDC to other regions of the DRC and (ii) declared his intention to arrest the renegade General Bosco Ntaganda. These were the two main issues of contention that violated the 23 March Agreement – explaining the movement’s name. Realizing that he could no longer count on Kabila’s promise for immunity, on 30 April, Ntaganda took to the bush with 600 to 700 men, some of the best of the CNDP’s 4,000 troops.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant against Bosco in 2006 for the same crimes against humanity for which Lubanga was convicted in March 2012. Lubanga was found guilty of using child soldiers in the 2002-2003 civil war in Ituri. Fighting between militias and interethnic violence over control of gold mines and other resources caused an estimated loss of 60,000 lives.

The 23 March Agreement
On 23 March 2009 the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the CNDP signed a peace agreement in Goma.

Signed by Dr Désiré Kamanzi, President of the CNDP and H. E. Mr Raymond Tshibanda, Minister of International and Regional Cooperation for the Government of the DRC, under the auspices of UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, H.E. Mr Olusegun Obasanjo and of the co-facilitator of the African Union and of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, H.E. Mr Benjamin William Mkapa, the parties formally agreed on 15 issues relating to:

Article 1: Transformation of the CNDP (ceasing its existence as a politico-military movement and integration in the Congolese National Police and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Article 2: Political Prisoners

Article 3: Amnesty

Article 4: National Reconciliation Mechanism

Article 5: Resolution of Local Conflicts

Article 6: Return of Refugees and Internally Displaced People

Article 7: Disaster Areas (reconstruction of infrastructure)

Article 8: Management of the Territory (based on local sociological realities)

Article 9: Public Administration (based on the proximity needs of local populations)

Article 10: Army and Security Services Reform

Article 11: Voting Procedure (assessment and revision of electoral law)

Article 12: Specific Issues (including ‘Parties agree to formally recognize the ranks of former CNDP members both in the Congolese National Police and in the FARDC’)

Article 13: Economic Reforms (including ‘Parties agree to the necessity for reliable and effective good governance and … control of natural resources’)

Article 14: National Monitoring Committee (in charge of implementing the Agreement)

Article 15: International Monitoring Committee (set up to monitor the Agreement)

Support from Rwanda
According to a leaked UN Sanctions Committee on the DRC report of June 2012, M23 has received support from high-ranking Rwanda officials such as Defense Minister James Kabarebe and Chief of Joint Military Staff General Charles Kayonga and Generals Jack Nziza, Emmanuel Ruvusha and Alexis Kagame.

Support takes the form of arms, heavy artillery, military supplies and new recruits.

Roger Meece, head of UN peacekeeping mission Monusco, declared that M23 combatants speak English and wear uniforms different from those of the FARDC.

An 'Africa Confidential' article suggests that Rwanda may not only be supporting the M23 rebellion, but may also be helping create a new state on its border with Congo. Pro-Balkanization forces have circulated the name ‘République des Volcans’.

Rwanda President Paul Kagame denies any involvement in the support of M23 or Balkanization.

Rwandan officials have been using social media networks in a lobbying campaign to improve Kigali’s position on the dispute concerning its involvement.

Military context
After days of fierce fighting in July, M23 rebels secured the economically strategic town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border prompting displacement of civilians and the fleeing of 600 FARDC troops over the Ugandan border. Having seized this key mineral transit town, the rebels proceeded to advance on Rutshuru, taking this and other towns close by. M23 forces encountered no resistance from the FARDC who abandoned their positions.

Throughout their advance M23 rebels have called for talks with the Kabila regime, stating that their aim is only to have their voices heard – meaning respect for the terms of the 23 March Agreement that Kabila reneged on.

The fighting between the rebels and the Congolese army has displaced more than 200,000 people in recent months, according to estimates by aid groups, with many fleeing to neighboring Uganda and Rwanda.

July 2012 Kinshasa sends its best troops to Kivu (the 321st and 322nd battalions trained by Belgium and the 41st and 42nd battalions trained by South Africa). The Congo government moved a US-trained battalion from the north of the country to Goma. The battalion was previously used in the hunt for LRA fighters.

But very few officers in the Congolese army received military training explaining their poor performance in confrontations with M23 forces.

June 2012: the UN Security Council renews Monusco’s mandate for another year.

Alliances have been forged in recent weeks between various armed groups including the UPC, M23, Mai-Mai Kava wa Seli and Mai- Mai Mandefu, who have joined together in the common cause of fighting Congolese government forces. The head of a Mai Mai group with alleged ties to M23, General Kakule Sikula Lafontaine, led an assault on an army base in North Kivu’s Lubero Territory in early June.

As FARDC committed resources to fighting M23, the security situation in other parts of the Kivu provinces degenerated.

On the frontlines in the fighting between M23 and FARDC, civilians are stranded or displaced causing a new wave of humanitarian crisis.