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.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Dubious dealings in Virunga

Congo Masquerade touched on the problems between SOCO, the Virunga park, UNESCO and the DRC government. Here is an extract (pages 119&120) that gives some background to the attack on Chief Warden Emmanuel de Mérode.

The threefold political sin of corruption, predation and patrimonialism is laid bare by a disturbing deal recently brokered between Congo and two British companies. In flagrant contradiction to Congolese legislation which prohibits mineral and petroleum production in national parks, Joseph Kabila signed a presidential decree in 2010 allowing SOCO International and Dominion Petroleum to explore and drill for oil in the Virunga National Park. Virunga is a World Heritage site in eastern Congo and home to endangered mountain gorillas. If the deal goes through, wildlife will be threatened and decades of costly and committed conservation work will be annihilated. SOCO's environmental impact assessment, required by law, made no reference to the park's status as a protected area. The decision is inconsistent with Congolese commitments for nature conservation and was severely criticized by UNESCO chief Irina Bokova. Environment Minister José Endundo cynically downplayed the inconsistency stating ‘we'll do everything possible to preserve the park but the Congolese people also have to benefit from the riches under the soil’. Endundo added that if oil activities were excluded from the park, he might seek compensation from rich nations in return for not drilling... Given the high economic stakes on the one hand and the social and environmental impacts and the blow – once again – to Congo’s international credibility on the other, it would not be naive to presume that high-ranking officials received corruption money.

Emmanuel de Mérode shot: an emerging saga at Virunga

Emmanuel de Mérode, head warden of the Virunga National Park  in North Kivu, DRC was shot and wounded this week while driving alone from Goma to park headquarters at Rumangabo.
de Mérode's jeep with bullet holes in windscreen

This is one of the most dangerous areas in DRC. Congolese armed forces with international support are gradually regaining control of the area but armed rebel groups and militias are still present. Some carry out illegal exploitation of natural resources.

The attack is not surprising. More than 130 park rangers have been killed in Virunga since 1996.

Loved by his staff and well-respected by conservationists, the Belgian warden also made powerful enemies. Poachers are shot and charcoal makers who are illegally active in the park are systematically routed out.

MONUCSO boss Martin Kobler and Belgian ambassador to DRC Michel Lastschenko travelled to Goma to be with de Mérode, proving the high-profile nature of the attack.

The attack on de Mérode, qualified as a seemingly ‘targeted ambush’ by the Belgian ambassador in a confidential cable, may have something to do with his longstanding battle against British oil company SOCO.  SOCO has been given oil exploration rights in the park. This contravenes DRC’s commitments to conservation and is in flagrant violation with UNESCO which has listed the Virunga park as a National Heritage Site. It also reveals the fragmented nature of Congolese power systems. The Ministry of the Environment is a featherweight compared to the far more powerful Ministry of Oil.

Head warden de Mérode deposited a legal complaint against SOCO at the Goma public prosecutor’s office the morning of the ambush. One of the items in the complaint relates to bullying of local populations by SOCO sub-contractors. A similar complaint is about to be lodged in London with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

SOCO is suspected of being behind the attack – a suspicion that they reject. Belgian MP François-Xavier de Donnea qualified the coincidence as ‘extremely worrisome’ as reported in La Libre Belgique.

SOCO is an international oil and gas exploration and production company, headquartered in London, traded on the London Stock Exchange and a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index. The Company also has interests in Vietnam, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and Angola.

 Billionaire son of Warren Buffet, Howard G. Buffett is the Executive Producer of a film about park rangers in Virunga to be previewed at the Tribeca Film Festival today. Buffet has been involved in infrastructure development and peace-building initiatives in and around the park in recent years.

Nature conservation is dangerous business in DRC. This is just one of many violent incidents. The presence of armed groups is an ongoing conservation and human tragedy. The deadly Lord’s Resistance Army has been active in Garamba (where de Mérode did his PhD fieldwork in the mid-1990s), as was the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army. Virunga has been threatened by multiple armed forces such as the M23 rebel group, the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and other Mayi Mayi militia. At the Epulu Reserve, militia chief Morgan and his men stormed the main station with AK47 assault rifles killing seven people and all but one of the 16 okapis in June 2012.

These events testify to the legacy of armed conflict in the Congo that continues to haunt people and wildlife. Even when armed conflict ends, negative impacts persist.

Emmanuel, get well soon. The Virunga staff needs you, the gorillas need you, conservation needs you. All the best and bon courage.