Thursday, 22 December 2011

Congo Elections Open New Wounds

"An incumbent entourage that is likely to continue pillaging the country's resources opposes an aged runner-up with a political ego larger than his capacity to propose a constructive political agenda."

"Europe and the US have relatively little leverage over President Joseph Kabila because DR Congo has the natural resources that the world needs."

"Mr Tshisekedi is not going to bow down to Mr Kabila or be shoehorned into a power-sharing arrangement."
Full BBC story

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

'Consuming the Congo' & 'Masquerade' reviewed in Foreign Affairs

Review by Nicolas Van De Walle

Two new books survey the contemporary Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), following close to two decades of state collapse and civil conflict. Eichstaedt’s book focuses on the conflicts in the eastern DRC in 2006–9. Through interviews with soldiers, politicians, and businesspeople, along with ordinary people, the book explores the role that resources such as gold and coltan played in fueling the conflict. One particularly fascinating chapter narrates a decadelong struggle between rival warlords and their foreign backers, including the Ugandan government, to control a lucrative gold mine. Coltan, a mineral widely used in advanced electronics, such as cell phones, has emerged as a convenient symbol of the West’s complicity in the wars in the DRC. Eichstaedt diligently traces the supply chain, from primitive mines in the forest to the subsidiaries of major Western corporations. But he notes that probably less than ten percent of the world’s coltan comes from the DRC and reports that many companies have responded to the negative publicity by adopting voluntary codes of practice that aim to mitigate the worst abuses associated with coltan mining.

Trefon takes a broader view of the DRC, examining the country’s sociopolitical dynamics and its failing institutions. His book has no heroes. It is sharply critical of the DRC’s rapacious political class. But Trefon is perhaps even more critical of the aid efforts of the United Nations, various bilateral and multilateral donors, and international nongovernmental organizations, all of whom he suggests might actually be making things worse, by perverting institutional incentives for reform. The Congolese state, meanwhile, remains essentially collapsed, unable to provide social services or ensure law and order. The uncoordinated proliferation of donor projects weakens the state apparatus by hiring away the few available competent Congolese administrators and by providing various perks and resources to a class of local middlemen who now live off foreign aid.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

What’s next in Congo?

A handful of opposition protestors were shot down by Kabila’s Republican Guard over the week end while the stench of burning tires permeated the already polluted air of Kinshasa.

But the doomsday scenario didn’t unfold – at least for the moment. Fears of mass violence in Congo’s capital city of ten million hungry inhabitants appear to have been exaggerated. Congo’s demonstrators do not want to be martyrs like those of the Arab world. The fear of winding up in The Hague at the International Criminal Court calmed the tempers of both Kabila and opposition leaders.

Frustrated Congolese took to the streets from Johannesburg to Ottawa, London and Paris. Chants of ‘Tshi Tshi President!’ in the Brussels Congolese district mobilized a crowd that accused Belgium of supporting Kabila until 400 protestors were arrested Saturday night.

Kinshasa was cautiously back to normal Monday morning. Taxis were overcrowded and street vendors were out selling baguettes and plastic bags of drinking water. The heavy Chinese-made padlocks securing small businesses that had braced against threats of pillaging were unlocked.

Elections took place but they were flawed. Approximately 17 million people cast their ballots, representing just under 60% of eligible voters. Kabila was declared winner by the Independent Electoral Commission – what many Congolese refer to as the Non Independent Electoral Commission.

Etienne Tshisekedi and his followers have strong arguments to contest the results. The Carter Center and the European Union observation teams documented ‘serious irregularities’ in the voting procedures and the compilation of results. Reports from 2,000 polling stations in Kinshasa were lost – Kinshasa is pro-opposition. Voter turn-out in pro-Kabila Katanga exceeded 100%! This challenges the veracity of the results.

International observers however are far less of a threat to Kabila than the Catholic Church which has also come out with a strong critique of the results. Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo said ‘official results were neither true nor just’. His voice counts in this fanatically religious country.

Kabila is in a position of vulnerability, especially in Kinshasa where his approval rating is rock bottom. Imagine President Obama being persona non grata in Washington, D.C. That is Kabila’s situation in the city that is the seat of the country’s institutions.

Tshesikedi declared himself winner. The 78 year old veteran opposition leader contributed to destabilizing the Mobutu dictatorship in the early 1990s. He is not going to bow down to Kabila or be shoehorned into a power-sharing arrangement. Stubborn and megalomaniac, Tshesikedi is also unpredictable. This explains why Western diplomats actually prefer a Kabila wearing the emperor’s clothes. Despite certain contentious issues with him – such as the lack of investment security in the mining sector – he does represent a certain sense of continuity.

It is still too early to tell what will happen in the coming days and weeks. Tshedikedi has more to win by peaceful action than by inciting street movements. The official declaration by the Supreme Court will be a non event. Kabila appointed its members so it is favorable to him. He will applaud, Tshi Tshi will cry foul. The announcement of the parliamentary elections in January will be more interesting because opposition MPs could outnumber Kabila loyalists. This would slow down the functioning of an already sluggish government even further.

Congo is heading for a protracted institutional stalemate opposing an incumbent entourage that wants to continue pillaging the country’s resources against a runner-up with a huge political ego. ‘When elephants fight’, says an African proverb, ‘the grass is trampled’.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Tree of liberty

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants."

Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, 1787.

Interesting thought but I hope Congolese can find liberty without further bloodshed.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Taking it to the streets in Brussels and Kinshasa
 Congolese and Belgians of Congolese origin wreaked havoc in the Brussels Matonge district Monday and Tuesday nights. Shop windows were smashed, dozens of cars were destroyed and trash was set ablaze in this anti-Kabila demonstration. Nearly 200 people were arrested.

Similar demonstrations took place in Johannesburg, Paris, London and Toronto.

The Congolese diaspora is angry. The demonstrators view Belgium as pro-Kabila and involved in supporting him. They are also angry because the Congolese government did not take measures to allow them to vote.

Members of the Congolese community in Belgium bear a deep-rooted grudge. Few of them have good jobs. Congolese with university degrees – sometimes PhDs - work as postal carriers and delivery boys. Their wives often work in lower-level health and social care services. Congolese do the night work that Europeans refuse.

Taking to the streets is one way of venting this frustration - and if controlled, could be a positive way of channelling political mobilisation.

There is a lot of speculation that UDPS supporters will also take to the streets in Kinshasa tomorrow night once the results are made known – most likely announcing a Kabila victory.

Bill Richardson, President Obama’s special envoy currently in Kinshasa, like other Western diplomats, has little leverage overTshisekedi and his ‘combattants’.

Fear of winding up in The Hague is however a consideration. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor at the ICC, said his office was monitoring developments in DRC. "I urge leaders, commanders, and politicians on all sides to calm your supporters," he said in a statement. "Electoral violence is no longer a ticket to power, I assure you. It is a ticket to The Hague."

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Local Voices DRC

The Local Voices blog just published a post and photo slideshow that clearly depicts what it looks like in a compilation center.

The information provided in this post is useful in visualizing the rather haphazard handling of electoral documents. This could be an argument when it comes to contesting the results.

People are reported to be much more motivated to control the results of legislative candidates than the presidential votes.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Post-election worries

Congolese and international observers, first suspected, and then documented numerous irregularities in the electoral process. The big day has passed; today, reports describe the situation as being relatively calm.

Tomorrow will bring other problems – ntango eza ndeko ya liwa. Giving some examples of these irregularities will help frame what the ambiance will be once results are announced.

Compared to the 2006 vote, this one was more violent and fewer voters cast their ballot. MONUSCO and other international observers witnessed attempts to cheat.

Reporting from Goma, Cindy McCain - founding member of the Eastern Congo Initiative and wife of Arizona Senator John McCain - referred to technical difficulties from the polling stations that were clearly organized.

The electoral process initiated in 2006 legitimized poor leadership. Kabila used his first five-year term to consolidate power at the expense of the Congolese people. His position as incumbent, plus the money generated by the selling off of state assets at bargain prices, enabled him to dominate the campaign landscape.

Candidate Kabila had a disproportionate access to state media.

Kabila illegally used state planes, jeeps and helicopters while on the campaign trail.

The state security forces under Kabila’s control systematically obstructed opposition candidates from campaigning – notably Etienne Tshisekedi.

Kabila’s clansman Pastor Ngoy Mulunda, head of the Commission électorale indépendante, was partisan, not independent.

Fictitious polling stations and pre-marked ballot papers were discovered. Stuffing the ballot boxes is not uncommon in Africa, but inventing fictitious polling stations seems to be a new twist on Congolese creativity.

The Belgian company Zetes organized the high tech services needed for voter registration. Zetes reported that hundreds of thousands of voters were registered twice.

Some European Union election observers were withdrawn from polling stations on election day for their own security, testifying to the potential for things to explode.

Some opposition candidates – but not Tshesikedi - have called for the annulment of the elections because of these irregularities.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Theodore Trefon speaks with BBC News: "Failed state: can DR Congo recover"

As the Democratic Republic of Congo prepares for just its second general elections in four decades on 28 November, BBC News spoke with Trefon on whether whether this failed state, still recovering from a war which led to an estimated four million deaths, can ever be rebuilt.

Read the full article:

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Kabila condemned by UK MP, Eric Joyce

British MP Eric Joyce, chair of the UK Parliament Great Lakes of Africa Group, has just released a devastating report. It details Kabila’s systematic pillaging of Congo’s resources. Kabila and his friends are the beneficiaries – the Congolese people are the big losers. The government sells state-owned mining assets to shady business partners based in the British Virgin Islands.

Joyce documents a strategy that has already resulted in the loss of $5.5 billion – 'Powerful evidence proves that the natural resources of the Congo are not being used as a legitimate source of revenue for the people. Instead, a series of complex arrangements between their own government and various BVI shell companies means that a few are enriched at the terrible cost of the many.'

copyright Eric Joyce

Read the full report:

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Congo’s social agenda

Can logistical obstacles be overcome to allow people vote on 28 November? How will the runner-up and his supporters react to the results? Will Congo follow the Côte d’Ivoire scenario? Will the disenfranchised of Masina, Kimbanseke and other ‘zones rouges’ of Kinshasa take to the streets? These are important questions. They are timely and require immediate planning.

But focus on these questions tends to mask other priorities. The recently released UNDP report on human development indicators puts elections hype in perspective. It ranks DRC at the bottom of the list of 187 countries surveyed. The new Doing Business report also reveals Congo’s fragility. Already poorly positioned last year, DRC dropped down two points this year, ranking 178 out of 183 countries.

Some macroeconomic stability has been achieved under the aggressive tutelage of the FMI and IMF. Public works efforts at reconnecting the fragmented territory need to be acknowledged thanks to the EU and China.

Security in the Kivus remains alarming despite the UN’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping force. Five years after the election of Joseph Kabila, ordinary people have not seen social benefits. They remain hungry and poor, angry and confused. The 'cinq chantiers' development program is an unequivocal failure. The current government is reproducing the historic dynamics of institutionalizing humiliation.

Kabila or Tshisekedi (or Kamerhe or Kengo) as president matters little. The way that power will be structured to improve the well-being of ordinary Congolese after the elections is the real issue. With attention riveted on the elections and the personality politics character of the campaign, people’s needs and expectations tend to be overlooked. Holding elections is important but designing and implementing a participative social agenda is equally essential.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Leadership issues in Congo

Boston University's Leadership Corner asked me to comment on leadership issues in DRC.

Below is the text of that interview:

BU in Congo
Dr. Trefon, thank you for spending some time with me. One of the topics that BU students in the MSL program tackle is the definition of the term "leadership." It is a concept that seems simple at first, yet grows more complex the more you probe it. You have spent the past 25 years studying the politics and anthropology of state/society relations in Congo/Zaire. With that breadth of experience, how have you come to understand what it means to be an effective leader?

The main problem facing Congo today is precisely the lack of responsible leadership. In a country where political authorities do very little for their constituents, when officials do just a little, they are venerated. But this is populism and not real leadership. There are few outstanding figures on the political landscape with vision, those who are able to bring an end to corrupt government, reduce poverty, solve the country’s security problems or improve the well-being of ordinary people. This would require the talent of being able to mobilize people around shared objectives, the power to deal forcefully and pragmatically with regional and international partners and the capacity to manage the macro-economic challenges facing what has unfortunately become one of Africa’s notoriously failed states. President Kabila does not have these leadership credentials; ex-dictator Mobutu had the charisma and flair of what is sometimes expected of an African ‘big man’ but he used it against the interest of the people; the first democratically elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated before having the chance to deploy his leadership skills.

The situational model of leadership focuses not only on the leader personally but also the context in which the leader operates. In Congo Masquerade, you focus on the ingrained political culture of corruption among the Congolese elite. What situational challenges do leaders (both within and external to the Congo) face in trying to improve the quality of life of the ordinary Congolese? In other words, besides being a strong leader in and of himself, what must a politician know about the Congolese system in order to be effective?

After 32 years of dictatorship, violent conflict and machinations orchestrated by Rwanda and a very difficult – but still unsuccessful political transition towards democracy, everything on the state-building agenda is priority. Public health, education, road infrastructure, providing people with water and electricity, re-engineering public service provision, creating the enabling conditions for political participation, etc. are all priorities. But there is no master plan shared by the Congolese authorities and their international partners. While many programs appear to make sense at the theoretical level, implementation is a real problem. The country is also vast (the size of Western Europe) and diverse (in terms of distribution of natural wealth, ethnicity and population density). Managing a country that is fragmented in this way is an additional challenge. Probably the most important thing for a Congolese politician or international partner to bear in mind is the only thing that is predictable in Congo is the unpredictable.

How does the ordinary, everyday Congolese citizen view the leadership of his or her country?

Congo is one, but plural at the same time. Again, the country is diverse and fragmented so it is impossible to expect a consensus on anything, let alone on leadership. This is a very hot question because presidential and legislative elections will take place at the end of November. Perceptions of political leadership in Congo have to be understood in terms of social issues. People are very frustrated by the lack of progress in the government’s development program known as ‘cinq chantiers’. There is a lot of justifiable grumbling about lack of water, electricity, roads and access to health services. Kabila has strong support in some provinces but faces heavy opposition in others. The fact that he was able to amend the constitution, to have a single round of voting instead of the two-round system is a distinct advantage for him so he is likely to win the elections. Winning the elections is one step, transforming it into legitimate authority based on respect and transparent negotiation is something else. People have become very skeptical about how much government can really do for them and have consequently come to rely on their own home-grown systems to survive.

Students learn in class at BU about leader emergence, or how one individual rises out of the crowd and assumes a meaningful leadership role. Often this emergence is due not only to the individual's traits, but to the perception of the individual by the others in the group. Have you witnessed any instances where an otherwise ordinary individual rises up from the ranks and assumes a leadership role, no matter how small?

As people expect relatively little from government, new forms of social organization emerge. Congo, however, remains a very hierarchical society, perhaps something that is a spillover from Belgian colonialism. Religious leaders, civil society activists, traditional chiefs, diaspora representatives, successful businessmen and women and even musicians are leaders and opinion formers that political authorities have to deal with.

I know that everyone at BU Brussels is very happy to have you join the team. Turning to your role at BU, what do you feel are the most important lessons that students can learn about leadership? What new understanding and knowledge do you hope to pass on to them in your class?

I’ve devoted the past twenty-five years to Congo/Zaire as a researcher, project manager, professor and consultant. My approach is policy oriented and I have tried to narrow the conceptual gap between political science theories on development and state-building and a grassroots, anthropological understanding of very local-level social dynamics.

My course at BUB accordingly focuses on international development. Specifically, the discourses, practices, strategies, pitfalls, challenges - and when relevant - success stories of this vast agenda. I try to avoid over conceptualizing or theorizing about these issues because at the Master’s level, students seem to be more motivated by pragmatic examples and case studies. Are the Millennium Developments Goals attainable? How does micro-finance work? How do you carry out stakeholder analysis in the field? What are the links between access to natural resources and well-being? The main messages that I try to convey are one, development is a very complex issue so we have to be culturally sensitive and humble, two, be open-minded – bringing in the private sector in development strategies, for example, is something that I explore with students and three, be prepared for the unexpected – the role of social media in the Arab spring is a good case in point.


For further information:

Monday, 12 September 2011

Decentralization Ministry Abolished

Ex-Decentralization Minister Antipas Mbusa

Lack of progress in territorial decentralization has put into question the political will of the Kinshasa authorities to redefine the administrative map of the country and transfer rights and responsibilities to new decentralized political entities.

President Kalila just took a bold decision by abolishing the Ministry of Decentralization and Urban and Regional Planning. While it could be interpreted as reprisal against former rebel leader Antipas Mbusa and now ex-Minister of Decentralization for entering the race for the presidency, it is more likely a commentary on Kinshasa’s policy about this financially important and politically sensitive priority.

When the Congolese people ratified the 2006 constitution they were promised greater local-level autonomy within a three-year period. The aborted decentralization process reveals how an important constitutional commitment was made without taking into account overwhelming administrative, political and macroeconomic challenges. The commitment was also made without thinking through the mechanisms and technicalities of implementation. Research shows that low income countries emerging from conflict rarely have the human and material resources to make decentralization happen. It should have been obvious at the outset, given the extent of state collapse, Congo would not have the means or the political will to decentralize.

Decentralization is a complicated political process that requires the commitment and involvement of both central government and provincial authorities. It cannot take place in a democratic vacuum where political actors ignore – or distain – the principals of accountability. The process requires the establishment of overlapping interests and the achievement of mutual trust between the central government and representatives from the decentralized entities.

From the Kinshasa perspective, decentralization is antithetical to its efforts to consolidate power. The government’s objective is to capture and secure power, not redistribute it. A system has to be strong to share power; the Congolese government is too vulnerable to share.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Pre-election violence in Kinshasa: a hint of what’s to come

Dead soldier, Kinshasa, March 2007 @Getty Images
Pre- and post-election violence is to be expected in Kinshasa because insufficient effort has been made at trying to restore people’s faith in government or in improving their well-being. The government’s main objective in the past five years has been regime consolidation and personal enrichment, abetted by Congo’s compliant international partners.

Factional violence shook Kinshasa last week just hours after Etienne Tshisekedi officially entered the race for the country’s highest office by registering with the CENI.

UDPS headquarters was vandalized and the studios of a radio and television station close to the opposition - Radio Lisanga - were set ablaze on 5 September. A PPRD office was also destroyed. The next day police broke up a UDPS demonstration, killing one and wounding at least two others. The following night, the Congo Embassy in Paris was attacked with Molotov cocktails by unidentified assailants. Pursuing opposition politics abroad is an indicator of political repression back home.

Governor of the Kinshasa ville-province, André Kimbuta (whose son Gaylord Kimbuta was murdered in Belgium earlier this year) temporarily banned political demonstrations. UDPS and PPRD activists declared they would respect the ban. Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo spoke out, appealing for calm. UDPS has been demonstration in front of the CENI offices demanding access to their computer files to ensure transparency in the registration and voting procresses.

These flare ups are harbingers of what will come following elections. Results will be contested by the runner up with a possible Côte d’Ivoire style stalemate. The type of violence that resulted in hundreds of deaths in March 2007 when overzealous troops loyal to Kabila clashed with Bemba militiamen in Kinshasa won’t surprise anyone. Capturing power is one thing, but transforming it into a social agenda is something else.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Election snags in Congo

Pastor Ngoy Mulanda, president of the National Independant Electoral Commission - CENI, has systematically confirmed that elections will take place as scheduled on 28 November. But with less than three months to go, ballot boxes, voting booths and other equipment are unavailable. The material has not been delivered by Chinese, South African, German and Lebanese suppliers who have received 70% of their purchase fees. MONUSCO has committed to dispatching voting equipment within the country - but has refused to import it from abroad.

Ngoy has recalculated the budget. The new one is now $1.2 billion, up from $700 million. While international partners paid most of the voting costs five years ago, the brunt of the burden is on the Congolese government this time around. To generate money needed to carry out the polling, the government has proposed to sell of Gecamine state assets in what has been reported as shady deals.

There are growing concerns that the elections will consequently be delayed. While this is not a major problem for most of Congo’s international partners who are more preoccupied about fairness and transparency, delays would be severely condemned by opposition leaders. This is somewhat of a paradox because the opposition seems to timidly making progress in talks about presenting a single opposition candidate - so they could benefit from delays. Another concern about delays is that they will give the Kabila camp more time to figure out how to cheat on results reporting. This will be done by a sophisticated computer system that even the best intentioned elections monitors will be unable to control.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Congo Masquerade now available

I am pleased to inform you that Congo Masquerade is now available. Orders can be placed with Zed Books. Many thanks to everyone in Congo, Europe and the US who helped make this book possible.

Here is what the experts have to say.

'The Trefon volume is indispensable reading for all those interesting in post-conflict state-building. He provides a devastating critique of how the large international investment in this project in DR Congo has fallen far short, through the failings both of the external parties and the Congolese political elite.'
- Professor Crawford Young, University of Wisconsin

'Trefon's sweeping survey of reconstruction efforts in Congo, from bridge repairs to security sector reform, delivers a stinging indictment of both the Congolese government and its international partners, leaving no one unscathed. Sure to create controversy, this book makes for a compelling read and calls for an understanding of Congo and the Congolese on their own terms.'
- Professor Pierre Englebert, Pomona College

'Understanding the Congo -- formerly Zaïre -- is not easy, which explains why we tend easily to think according to clichés, old and new. If we are to move away from Manichean interpretations, including whether the Congo is or is not 'the heart of darkness', we need to rely on scholarship that is at once empirical and sensitive to the historical and cultural context of the country's present condition. Trefon's Congo Masquerade is an important contribution to such scholarship since it asks the right questions about why aid has failed to lead to the required reforms in the country. Focusing on the contemporary period, Trefon explains how state failure can be 'profitable' for those who control it and why the prevalent political culture prevents reform from taking root. Written in simple prose and short chapters, this book will provide a more convincing explanation of what is happening in the Congo than most other books available today. It should be mandatory reading for all those who are concerned with the country or are involved in efforts to reform the state and spur development.'
- Professor Patrick Chabal, Kings College London

'Trefon has written a compelling and well-informed account of the ever unfolding catastrophe that is the Congo; he ably chronicles the mixtures of incompetence, venality, and short-sighted selfish interests on the part of domestic and international actors that have been that country's undoing. This is an excellent introduction to the Congo's complex problems.'
- Dr Nicolas van de Walle, Department of Government, Cornell University

'An impressive piece of work. In 150 pages of concisely analyzed and carefully referenced data, Trefon covers the most salient features of the Congo's 'unending crisis'. There is plenty of blame to be shared, and Trefon evenhandedly identifies the tacit collusion that links the transnational networks of 'aid donors', INGO's, and local NGOs and Congolese actors. The combination of 'development aid' that 'neither aids nor develops with a largely impotent yet arbitrary state apparatus -the legitimacy of which has been in doubt for over fifty years- accounts in large part for the appalling gap between the Congo's potential and its enduring misery. In a nuanced yet compelling way, Trefon argues (as others have done for Liberia and Sierra Leone) for the need to 'put the state back in' and to reform it in such a way as to give it the capacity to deliver public goods. He also points out that, contrary to some Western stereotypes, the Congolese have maintained a genuine sense of national identity which (whether or not it represents a form of 'imagined community') suggests that the Congo is, in some ways, a nation in search of a state, and that 'state-building' may be a more urgent priority than 'nation-building'.'
- Edouard Bustin, Boston University

Monday, 15 August 2011

Kamerhe, Rwanda’s Trojan Horse?

Etienne Tshisekedi’s resounding success in Katanga and Kinshasa, where he filled the Stade des Martyres with over 80,000 followers, has given the Kabila camp good reason to worry. Only a few months ago, Kabila was riding high – the opposition was fragmented and there was cause to doubt the viability of Tshisekedi’s candidacy. Isn’t he too old and frail, intellectually diminished and unable to consolidate factions within his Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social ? His comeback has responded to those doubts.

If his success is a concern to Kabila, it is also a reason for Vital Kamerhe to rethink his strategy. It would make more electoral sense for Kamerhe, who has a relatively solid powerbase in theEast (but more in North Kivu than in South Kivu) to lend support to Tshisekedi in exchange for assurances to be appointed Prime Minister. Bemba hasn’t said much about what he thinks about a single opposition candidate, and his position counts (even though he currently sits in an International Criminel Court prison cell).

Though it seems rather far-fetched, some Congolese believe that Kamerhe is Rwanda’s ‘Trojan Horse’. The 'falling out' between Kabila and Kamerhe is seen as part of a Machiavellic scheme to destabilize the opposition. The rift they claim is a trick, master-minded by Paul Kagame who needs Kabila to stay in power so Rwanda can pursue its campaign to Balkanize the Congo.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Kinshasa voter frustration

Jardin Zoologique de Kinshasa
 32 million Congolese registered to vote in the operation carried out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) that recently came to a close. This is up from 25 million during the previous round five years ago. The process was highly politicized and took place despite major technical and logistical obstacles.

The registration situation in Kinshasa, where the population voted massively for Jean-Pierre Bemba in 2005 - and where President Kabila remains unpopular - was analyzed by Guy De Boeck in the Revue Dialogue n° 35. Although the expected figure was 3.5 million, 3.3 million people registered in the capital.

Four categories of problems were identified.
(i) Technical and logistical obstacles included the long distance some people had to walk to reach a registration center (up to 15 km), disorder in queues, delays in processing due to computer breakdowns or the lack of election kits and the issuance of cards that are not conform to standards.

(ii) ‘social’ problems: because electoral agents were not paid, they took excessively long breaks  and aggravated the waiting period. They also insisted on people paying for their voter registration cards, which is against the free and fair logic of the process.

(iii) establishing the real identity of voters was a major problem. Police officers served as electoral agents and there was poor communication about voting procedures.  Candidates anxious to boost votes in their constituencies bussed people to their voting districts outside of the Kinshasa city limits.

(iv) a host of psychological factors were also reported. People are frustrated by the lack of social and democratic progress since voting five years ago so are discouraged by the electoral process. They believe Bemba won in 2005 but was robbed of his rights.  Changing the rules of the game – going from two elections rounds to one – is perceived as a harbinger of fraud and manipulation. There is clear lack of confidence in the CENI.

Kinois do not have high expectations and are largely disillusioned by the electoral process. The CENI probably did not make it particularly easy for registration in Kinshasa given Kabila’s general lack of popularity there. In the probable event of a Kabila victory nationwide, the key question is whether or not they will transform apathy into mobilization. This will be determined largely by the mots d’ordre given by opposition leaders.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

World Politics Review on U.N. in DRC

Congo experts will not learn much from this posting which is an email interview I did for World Politics Review. It may however introduce you to an interesting web platform on international relations.

Global Insider: The U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

By The Editors | 18 Jul 2011

In late-June, the U.N. Security Council renewed the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), despite calls by DRC leaders for its withdrawal and fierce criticism of the mission's failure to halt the country's rape crisis. In an email interview, Theodore Trefon, senior researcher at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium and author of the forthcoming book "Congo Masquerade," discussed the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission in the DRC.

WPR: What are the main challenges facing the U.N. in the DRC?

Theodore Trefon: Powerlessness is the word that best captures the challenges facing the U.N. in this Western Europe-sized country of 70 million people. Congo is a fragile state with overwhelming macroeconomic, security and governance troubles. The territory is fragmented, with no real central government. Those in power lack political expertise and tend to be driven more by personal gain than the common good.

After decades of dictatorship, state collapse and war, both the state and society need to be rebuilt. Public health, education, infrastructure, security, the economy and establishing trust between government and people are all priorities. But the U.N. has neither the financial means nor the conceptual or operational capacity to deal with these fundamentals in a coherent way.

There is no master plan to piece the country back together. The reconstruction agenda is a series of isolated actions by partners with diverging perceptions and objectives. This is exacerbated by the fact that Congolese authorities see their sovereignty undermined by the U.N., and so have not accepted the relevance of the imported state-building agendas.

WPR: What successes has the U.N. Mission in the DRC achieved?

Trefon: It makes more sense to start with failures. The U.N. Mission in the DRC (MONUC), as it was originally called, is powerless to protect civilian lives. It has been accused of sexual abuse of children, gold and diamond smuggling, arms trading and running away from rebels. It has formal links with the national army, which is the major perpetrator of human rights abuses.

Nonetheless, the mission can claim some tenuous achievements. It participated in peace building and the transition toward democratic rule by overseeing the Lusaka Agreement and the Sun City national dialogue. It provided logistical support for the 2006 elections and helps coordinate humanitarian aid while monitoring human rights abuses. MONUC has monitored cease-fires between foreign and Congolese forces, brokered local truces between rival groups in the Kivu provinces and disarmed and repatriated thousands of foreign combatants.

The mission's aviation sector plays a major role in reuniting the country through the transportation of goods -- electoral kits for example -- and people. Its Radio Okapi is one of the best sources of nonpartisan information.

WPR: How have the mission's objectives changed over the course of the mission, and what impact will the recent one-year extension have?

Trefon: There has been a shift from a military approach toward a political one. The mission's military strategy was justified in the early years because of the illegal exploitation of natural resources, institutional weaknesses, ethnic rivalries, land disputes, the perpetration of human rights violations and the presence of heavily armed rebel groups.

The world's largest U.N. mission had 20,573 uniformed personnel in early 2010. But 2,000 troops withdrew in July 2010, and the operation was rebaptized the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in in the DRC (MONUSCO). "Stabilization" implies development work and political support, along with the ongoing priority of preparing for this year's presidential and legislative elections.

Withdrawal will not be easy. By staying, MONUSCO continues to artificially replace the state, perpetuating dependency. When it leaves, a security vacuum could result with the likelihood of renewed armed conflict.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Urban and peri-urban agriculture, credit, fuel, food and hunger

Peri-urban farm plot - Maluku

Congo Masquerade is a critique of how reform initiatives and development projects have done little to help ordinary Congolese improve their well-being. Despite the book’s harsh assessment, I agree of course that there are numerous counter examples – in other words, real Congolese sucess stories. Agriculture is a good example of how positive change is emerging thanks to peoples' committment, adaptability and creativity. Agriculture is also the sector par excellence that highlights the interconnectivity of wide ranging development priorities.

The Congolese are amonst the hungriest people in the world. The urban poor are particularly hard hit. A $10.4 million FAO programme was consequently set up in five large cities to fight against malnutrition. It has increased daily intake of greens, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables.

Farmers have seen their incomes increase dramatically. In Kinshasa and Lubumbashi for example, annual income of each farmer has increased from around $500 in 2004 to $2,000 in 2010. In Likasi it rose from $700 to $3,500. There have been similar increases in other cities.

The programme has also created jobs, providing work and income for 16,000 small-scale market gardeners and more than 60,000 people that form the links in the horticulture chain from field to table.

The first thing FAO did was to put in place institutional structures to link FAO, government and local authorities with horticulturists and farmers’ groups. It supplied seeds for new food varieties and invested in repairing irrigation infrastructure which had a side benefit of providing safe and clean water for the communities. The programme also introduced Integrated Production and Protection Management to help reduce reliance on synthetic pesticides.

Improved food security initiatives have also been supported by the Alliance Agricongo. The NGO platform has documented grassroots efforts in a beautifully illustrated book, highlighting the realities of what can be accomplished despite overwhelming challenges. The book provides powerful testimony to the ability of people – mainly women - to get things accomplished at their own micro-levels.

Intiatives to transform the urban unemployed into productive urban and peri-urban farmers have benefited significantly from greater farmer accessibility to micro-finace schemes. The FAO programme has been supported by FINCA which provides group loans to over 11,000 poor clients in urban and rural DRC.

Cell phone availability and food production is an important but understudied phenonemon. In a country with practically no landlines, cell phones contribute to improving the efficacy of food trade networks. Urban buyers can place orders directly with rural or peri-urban cooperatives, transporters share information about road conditions (and security/administrative hassles) and credit based on social capital and trust can be arranged thanks to direct communication without going through intermediaries. This also has an impact on establishing prices.

Peri-urban charcoal traders
Peri-urban farming is a concern that needs to be analysed in close conjunction with peri-urban charcoal production.  Food production and consumption and access to makala in and around Congo's big cities are also interconnected priorities.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Kinshasa vigilante whistle-blowers

This is a random story about agency in Kinshasa – the way ordinary people organize to cope with state failure – in this case the absence of local police. A friend told me about how his neighbourhood in Limete was increasingly subjected to house breaks and low-intensity violence.

Fed up, with burglaries and problems of insecurity, we decided to take things into our own hands. We have no police here. Discussions took place in the comités de quartier. We decided to form a task force to propose solutions to prevent further instances. We wanted to protect ourselves and our belongings while being humane at the same time. We came up with an idea and everyone pitched in to buy what was needed. We made a group purchase, followed by distribution to every household. Instructions were given. In case of an incident – everyone would be mobilized…”

After the Rwandan massacres, you can probably guess what I imagined. But there were no machetes here.

My friend continued: “In case of an incident, we would take our new whistles and blow as loud as possible, alerting the neighbourhood and scaring off the intruders.”

This seems to be a good lesson in humility and creativity, a popular response to a real problem that the government hasn’t been able to address.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Tshisekedi banned - journalist harrassed

Congolese journalist Serge Bitangilayi was detained and intimidated by officers of the notorious Agence nationale des renseignements (ANR) in Mbuji-Mayi this week. His crime? Broadcasting images of UDPS leader Etienne Tshisekedi. Kasai provincial authorities banned broadcasts of the veteran opposition heavyweight who will compete with Kabila for the presidency later this year.
Etienne Tshisekedi

Harassment of media professionals is ongoing proof of how factions in the Kabila government are strangling freedom of expression in the run up to elections.

The incident was condemned by Observatoire de la Liberté de la Presse en Afrique (OLPA) and by Journaliste en Danger (JED).

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Mickey au Congo

@Walt Disney Co.
Beaucoup d’enfants européens et américains découvrent l’Afrique et la forêt tropicale en regardant les filmes Disney. Ce n’est donc pas étonnant que la maison mère de Mickey investi dans la conservation de la forêt africaine.

En novembre 2009 Disney s’est déclaré prêt à investir 4 milliards de dollars dans le mécanisme REDD en RDC et au Pérou en collaboration avec l’ONG américaine, Conservation International. La Réserve des Gorilles de Tayna est le site en RDC identifié pour les efforts Disney. Il s’agit d’appuyer les communautés locales à mieux gérer leurs forets, à améliorer leurs conditions de vie et à mener les études afin d’accompagner le pays dans le processus REDD.

Je n’ai pas trouvé d’informations récentes sur le travail de Disney dans la Réserve de Tayna. Si vous en avez, merci de bien vouloir les partager.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Natural resources transparency decree

Global Witness has rightly welcomed the publishing of a ministerial decree requiring the disclosure of contract information relating to oil, mining and forestry. Signed on 20 May, the decree could be considered as a useful step in enabling Congo’s fragile civil society to presure government for more transparency in what has so far been a realm of shady deal-making.

The Global Witness press release also emphasizes the need to ensure that the decree is correctly implemented. This is the real challenge. Le Potentiel of 5 June comments that: ‘Des clauses contractuelles secrètes ... peuvent être envisagées et les moyens d’évasion fiscale sont si sophistiqués que même un gouvernement, fortement déterminé, a du mal à éradiquer la corruption’.

Given the high economic stakes, it is illusory to think that officials in high places will not be able to circumvent the terms of the new decree. The non-respect of the December 2005 presidential decree about forestry could be an indication. The secrecy surrounding the Congo-China six billion dollar barter deal is another example of Congolese non-transparency.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Triste anniversaire: Floribert Chebeya


Monoko ya mokonzi ezali mobeko. Oboyi kotusa monoko ya mokonzi, obuki mobeko ya leta.

Le président de la Voix des sans voix, avait été retrouvé mort le 2 juin 2010. Daniel Mukalay, chef des services spéciaux de la police, avait avoué avoir participé, comme exécutant, au meurtre du président de l'ONG. Il risque la peine capitale. Mais il y un grand absent devant la justice : le patron de la police congolaise, le général John Numbi, mis en cause par Mukalay.
Un an après l'assassinat du défenseur des droits de l'homme congolais, le procès des assassins présumés touche à sa fin. Le verdict devrait être rendu dans trois semaines...

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Belgium’s Congo Agenda

Belgium has become a secondary commercial and political partner for Congo whose partnerships with China and other emerging economies are constantly increasing. Conversely, the former Belgian colony still has a place on the agendas of numerous political leaders and institutions in the former metropole. Activities in Brussels this June provide ample proof.

The number of high-level events could be interpreted as a follow-up to the activities that took place one year ago to mark 50 years of Congolese independence from Belgium. Also, as Belgium has broken all records for a country without a government, Congo helps fill a political vacuum.

The Congolese Embassy, with the support of the Belgian Ministry of Development Cooperation will host the Forum économique congolais dans l'Union Européenne on 9 & 10 June. Reconstruction de la RDC: Secteur financier, Investissement et Diaspora is the forum’s theme.

EGMONT, the Royal Institute for International Relations in association with CRE-AC and the Observatoire de l’Afrique will host two Congo events on 8 June. A panel debate on the challenges and opportunities for Elections in DRC and a book presentation by Jason Stearns who has just published Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa.

The Commission universitaire pour le Développement gives Professor Pierre Verjans (University of Liège) and Augustin Muhesi (PhD candidate at the Graben Catholic University) the floor to present their perceptions of Bonne Gourvernance Provinciale et Pratiques Efficientes en RDC. Date: 9 June.

The Socialist Party’s Institut Emile Vandervelde, under the auspices of Marie Arena inaugurated ‘les vendredis du Congo’. On 16 June a round table on Congo’s natural resources will take place.

On 14 June E-CA – CRE-AC pursues its Rotunda Policy Talks with a debate on how Belgian experts perceive and represent Congo. Herman De Croo, David Van Reybrouck and Colette Braeckman will exchange views with Congolese Ambasador Henri Mova Sakanyi and Olivier Chastel, Minister of Development Cooperation.

A Congolese environmental success story, Ibi Village will present its work at the Espace Delvaux on Tuesday 14 June. A group of international experts will present Ibi’s socially sensitive approach to carbon sequestration. Prior to the debates, the pioneering film by Henri Storck Les Seigneurs de la forêt will be shown with a presentation by environmental historian Patricia Van Schuylenbergh.

In honour of the International Day of the Environment (17 June), the Agence Belge de Développement is hosting a workshop on Payment for Environmental Services  Case studies from Indonesia, Peru, Equator and DRC will be discussed.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Coup de théâtre à l'Assemblée nationale

Palais du Peuple - RDC
Les journaux kinois de cette semaine et Radio Okapi évoquent la coupure de l’électricité au Palais du Peuple du mardi 24 mai qui n’a pas permis aux députés de clôturer leurs débats sur des points de la loi électorale qui divisent Opposition et Majorité. Les Députés ont quitté la Salle de Congrès du Palais du Peuple en se servant de leurs téléphones portables, comme des lampes torches, pour sortir de l’obscurité.

Selon certains Députés, cette coupure de l’énergie n’était pas fortuite mais c’était un manœuvre préméditée. La Prospérité précise que ‘la brusque interruption aurait été provoquée pour permettre à la majorité de procéder au rappel des troupes pour obtenir le passage de certaines dispositions de la loi contestées et par les Députés de la majorité et par ceux de l’opposition’.
D’autres évoquent tout simplement que le Palais du Peuple ne serait pas à l’abri des pannes qui touchent régulièrement la capitale.

Rappelons d’autres coupures d’électricité à des fins stratégiques : ‘panne’ à la morgue où se trouvait le corps de Floribert Chebeye, assassiné en juin 2010 ou encore la prise d’Inga par les Rwandais qui a plongé toute la ville de Kinshasa dans l’obscurité avec des conséquences humaines et économiques monstrueuses, provoquant ‘la bataille de Kinshasa’ d’août 1998.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Dodd-Frank vs Europe

When President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in July 2010, there was hope that corruption and conflict from mineral-rich poor countries such as Congo would be reduced. The Act requires oil, gas, and mining companies registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to publicly disclose their tax and revenue payments to governments around the world. It also requires companies to disclose information about the origins of tin ore, coltan (used in cell phones and computers), wolframite (used in armaments) and gold.

This initiative could be a constraint to corruption, but only if realistic verification mechanisms are put in place and if there is sufficient pressure to make sure legislation is respected. This is an improbable set of conditions given the shady actors involved in Congo’s mineral business.

The European Parliament is currently discussing a similar law but it appears that Europe has no intention of adopting tough legislation like that of Dodd-Frank.

This is yet another example of how Congo’s international partners are powerless to act collectively in addressing the country’s macro-economic and security challenges.

Christopher Dodd, who pushed for this piece of legislation is the son of another Connecticut senetor, Thomas Joseph Dodd, who visited the Congo in 1961 to investigate the Katanga seccession.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Natural resource management, livelihoods and the environment

Fish farm in peri-urban Kinshasa
Elections dominate news coming out of Congo. But this should not mask other pressing priorities, especially those relating to the environment and natural resource management. The economic future of Congo and the Congolese will depend on how the country’s natural heritage is managed. As most Congolese maintain vital economic relationships with their natural surroundings, realistic environmental policy-making is crucial.

The April 2011 Greenpeace report on REDD Bad Influence provides excellent analysis of how DRC is one piece in the struggle to regulate macro-level climate change.

A new book edited by Ansom and Marysee (unfortunately very expensive) takes an environmental livelihoods approach to understanding nature’s importance to ordinary people. Their research shows that ‘the poor’ are not marginalized victims but agents acting strategically to capitalize on new environmental opportunities.

Maintaining the fragile peace that Congolese and their international partners have tried to achieve will be increasingly contingent upon improving natural resource management, respecting a ‘rights & responsibilities’ logic.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Moïse Katumbi says goodbye - really?

Future ex-governor, Moïse Katumbi
Not many Congolese political leaders leave office voluntarily. The charismatic governor of Katanga (and multi-millionaire businessman!) just set an example by declaring he will not run for office in the upcoming elections. In a country were political authorities do practically nothing for people, the slightest effort is widely acclaimed. Katumbi is described as a mix between Chavez and Berlusconi.

It is not easy to connect the dots in his declarations. He complained of being unable to accomplish his development projects for the mineral-rich province because Kinshasa did not allow provinces to retain the much disputed 40% tax base that was stipulated in the Constitution. This is a direct criticism of Kinshasa politics – la kinoiserie. At the same time, he urged the population to register to vote and support Joseph Kabila whose campaign he funded in 2006.
Officially he wants to devote his efforts to his business activities and his champion football team T.P. Mazembe.

Katumbi will certainly resurface as a populist political avatar - reculer pour mieux sauter.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Newt Gingrich, PhD

US presidential contender

NEWT GINGRICH just became the first officially declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. While he may never make it to the White House, he will certainly liven up the campaign. Gingrich’s favourite theme is American exceptionalism: the idea that the US is uniquely superior to all other countries.

Why is this relevant to the Congo Masquerade blog?

Believe it or not, Gingrich has a PhD from Tulane University and wrote a thesis about education policy in the Belgian Congo. While many children learned to read and write under Belgian rule, there was practically no elite formation like in the French or British colonies. Poor leadership in contemporary Congo is a legacy of this lack of training. The slogan so frequently repeated in Belgian colonial circles with respect to education was: pas d’élites, pas d’ennuis’ (‘no elites, no headaches’).

It’s the elections, stupid!

‘It’s the elections, stupid!’ The paraphrase of a famous Bill Clinton campaign slogan sums up the priorities being discussed about current Congolese politics. The new ICG report ‘Congo: The Electoral Dilemma’ provides a clear picture of the overwhelming challenges facing the whole range of stakeholders: Congolese authorities, opposition groups, civil society and the country’s international partners.

According to the report, the government is confronted by the need to either respect the constitutional deadline and ‘botch’ the elections or postpone them and thus enter into a situation of constitutional illegality: some informed Western sources appear to prefer this option. In both circumstances, the government’s legitimacy will be subject to new criticism. While the report provides excellent analysis of the political situation (as well as technical, financial and logistical issues) its recommendations are less convincing because they would be difficult to implement on the Congolese political landscape. The recommendations do however emphasize the necessity for international partners (who are paying for the elections cost either directly or indirectly) to keep up the pressure on the government to guarantee transparency.

My view is that elections will be held more or less on schedule because Kabila plans on capitalizing on his efforts to consolidate power, a process that has been ongoing since he was elected five years ago. He needs to be re-elected before the opposition can get organized and present a viable candidate.

To read the latest ICG report, click below:

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Congo Security Catch-22

This year's Kent State Symposium on Democracy focused on gender-based violence against women and the devastating impact Rwanda has had on the people of the Kivus. This is perhaps representative of a trend by activists and academics whereby problems in the Kivus dominate the debates about state-building challenges.

Security and politics in the Kivus - and relations with their neighbours - appear to be isolated from the broader national political debate. While there can be no solution to security challenges in the Kivus without improved govenrnance at the macro level, there can be no improved governance without security in the Kivus. Symposium participants concurred this is a Catch-22 that will take many, many years to resolve.

Theodore Trefon, Thomas Turner, René Lemarchand at KSU (27 April)

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Masquerade électorale au Congo

L’actualité politique en RDC sera de plus en plus dominée par les débats autour des élections prévues pour la fin de l’année. Il s’agit, notamment, de la nouvelle loi électorale, le rôle du CENI, l’évolution de la composition de la famille présidentielle, le financement des élections (y compris la participation des partenaires internationaux), la sensibilisation des électeurs et comment l’opposition va pouvoir se positionner.

Or, il n’est pas inutile de rappeler que confondre élections et changement démocratique sera une grave erreur. Nous l’avons déjà vu en 2006 : gagner les élections et s’approprier le pouvoir ne se traduit point par l’amélioration de l’accès à l’espace politique des Congolais ordinaires. L’objectif du Président Kabila et ses alliés est la consolidation du pouvoir et non pas son partage.

Les élections vont avoir lieu, peut-être avec un retard, et Kabila sera probablement réélu. Mais cela n’est pas la question la plus intéressante. Le vrai débat c’est comment les élections pourraient contribuer aux changements positifs. C’est une question le plus souvent escamotée – et ça c’est la malheureuse masquerade.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Laurent au Congo

Prince Laurent's visit to Congo last month caused quite a political stir in Belgium – far more so than in Congo. He was criticized for promoting his personal activities under official cover. His brief meeting with President Kabila who paid for his mission, after the Royal Palace and the Government explicitly asked him not to undertake the trip, sparked new debate about the future of the monarchy.

His father, King Albert II attended the high-profile 50-year independence ceremonies in Kinshasa and was criticized for lending credibility to Kabila and thus supporting his electoral ambitions in the upcoming presidential elections.

Prince Laurent in Ibi village, DRC
Recalcitrant at first, Laurent finally accepted to respect his royal responsibilities – for the sake of maintaining his stipend. Indeed, the Belgian taxpayer provides him with 26,000 Euros every month.

A summary of the debate is available at:

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Congo at Kent State

The Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators on 4 May l970 killing four and wounding nine.

This video about the shameless Kent State shootings is a must!

Students were protesting against the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam and Cambodia. The shootings caused a sentiment of national mourning and triggered a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close.

The event instilled an ongoing sense of social justice at Kent State which is holding its 12th Annual Symposium on Democracy. This year, international Congo experts will examine war-related sexual violence, the resource curse and fragile agency in this troubled geography of political exclusion and violence.

Symposium programme available at:

Monday, 18 April 2011

Smoke and Mirrors

'Smoke and mirrors' is the title of a new report that critically assesses the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). The report highlights the lack of concrete results of this World Bank initiative to improve forest governance. The findings have policy implications for the DRC because of the ostensible efforts elaborated in partnership with Congo to improve New Environmental Services such as carbon trading. The report unveils a game of 'smoke and mirrors' with the World Bank and recipient governments colluding with each other to mask defects in FCPF operations. Public statements, policies and guidance notes pay lip service to forest peoples' rights and local benefit sharing. Yet there appears to be no real intention to put these principles into action.

See report at:

Friday, 15 April 2011

Indigenous people's rights

Indigenous people achieved a political milestone in DRC.

Jérôme Bokele Bondenge, a 44-year-old Pygmy, recently entered the the Equateur Provincial Assembly as a provincial deputy. In the 2006 elections, he was runner-up (suppléant) to José Bankita who passed away earlier this year, leaving his seat vacant. Entering the Assembly is an important breakthrough in an environment where indigenous people are often marginalized.
Bokele says he will pay particular attention to the needs of forest peoples whose livelihoods are threatened by both industrial logging and protected areas.

Read more at:

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Jeroen Cuvelier’s  recently released report provides new insight and empirical data on the links between conflict and minerals in eastern DRC. The complexity of resource governance in a context of state fragility: The case of eastern DRC looks at the modus operandi of mineral trading networks, impacts on the local political economy and the militarization of the mining sector.

Recommended reading!


Masquerade may seem an insensitive term to associate with the Congolese social tragedy. But as this book will reveal, it is a title that makes sense. Masquerade refers to situations of disguise, trickery and concealment where actors make a show of being what they are not, where they can be both themselves and their opposites. Hypocrisy and the art of the unsaid are key characteristics of masquerade.

Masquerade hides the true human nature of personal and political intrigue. It is synonymous with the hidden agendas of development experts and political actors who have mutated into reform avatars. They are the forces that are contributing to the definition of Congo’s still uncertain process of becoming.

Congo is indeed on the move. But do we know where it is heading? Unlike the masquerade of the European Renaissance that contributed to comic reversal of social order, the masquerade being played out in Congo today appears far more tragic than carnivalesque...