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.