Monday, 23 April 2012

Matata the academic

Matata Mapon, the new Prime Minister is known as a good technocrat. His major accomplishment as Finance Minister was the debt alleviation package. In July 2010, just days after the 50 year independence celebrations, DRC reached the Completion Point under the HIPC initiative. This meant that $12.3 billion of Congo’s $13.1 billion debt stock was forgiven. Matata was previously a respected manager of the World Bank’s Bureau Central de Coordination (BCECO).

A lesser-known fact about Matata is his academic work. In 1999 he co-signed a really excellent book with François Kabuya Kalala: l’Espace Monétaire Kasaïen: Crise de légitimité et de souveraineté monétaire en période d’hyperinflation au Congo (1993-1997), published by CEDAF/Africa Museum/L'Harmattan. Jean-Claude Masangu Muongo, who was already Governor of the Central Bank, signed the forward.

The book analyzes how the two Kasai provinces refused to use new Zaire notes for over five years, while continuing to use demonetarized notes. The bills were very badly worn and had no legal basis but people believed in them. The creation of this unusual monetary space enabled the Kasais to avoid some of the serious macroeconomic problems that crippled other parts of the country. The book was well-received by Congo economy experts.

For a look at this other dimension of Matata-the-academic, see l’Espace Monétaire Kasaïen.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Chebeya Film Banned in Congo

Censurship is an ugly tactic of dictators.

Thierry Michel’s tragicomic film about the political assassination of human rights activist Floribert Chebeya has been banned in Congo.

After seeing the film, I was amazed that Michel had even been allowed to document the masquerade trail of Chebeya’s murderers.

But after its release in Europe and the US where it won numerous prizes such as the Grand Award at the International Human Rights Film Festival in Paris, Luzolo Bambi (Minister of Justice and Human Rights) formally requested the Congolese National Censorship Commission to ban the film’s distribution and showing. Why? Because certain sequences are allegedly disrespectful to President Kabila.

The trial’s outcome was disappointing. Lower-ranking henchmen were found guilty but the boss and probable godfather of the murder, John Numbi, was not put on trial. General Police Inspector Numbi was Kabila’s security boss from 2007 until his suspension in June 2010 following the international outcry caused by the murder. This native of North Katanga was not sacked but suspended and replaced by the Tutsi general Charles Bisengimana.

Very close to the president, Numbi was the architect of some special operations such as the joint Rwanda-Congo military operation in North Kivu and the bloody repression of the Bundu dia Kongo political religious movement in Bas-Congo. Numbi is too close to the president and knows too much to be put on trail.

The ban is an embarrassment for some European sponsors from France and Belgium that planned on showing the film in their cultural centers in Congo. It even puts into question holding the IOF Francophonie international jamboree in Kinshasa in October this year.

It would be shameful for the IOF to hold such an important summit in Congo until progress in the democratic process has been made.

The assassination of Floribert Chebeya - and Fidele Bazana who is commonly described as his driver but who in fact was a respected colleague of the Voix des Sans Voix leader is a hideous blemish on Joseph Kabila’s record.

It does however prove that some people in Congolese civil society refuse to be intimidated and dare to speak out. Chebeya’s fight, thanks in part to Thierry Michel’s documentary, lives on.

The US National Endowment for Democracy honored Floribert Chebeya posthumously with its Democracy Service Medal. Past awardees include Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and the Dalai Lama.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Priorities of Congolese Citizens

'Reach Out to Us: Findings from Focus Groups with Young Men and Women in the DRC' is a timely and informative report produced by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

Based on a focus group methodology, the report found that Congolese are primarily concerned about their economic subsistence. They want jobs and security; they are extremely unhappy with the current state of their country and they hold the government responsible for not addressing the country’s woes. People dream of a country where their basic needs are taken care of and where they can live in peace.

The report's findings are hardly surprising. The approach (twelve discussions in six provinces) may even be perceived as naïve, superficial or unrepresentative. Nonetheless, its message and approach are important.

Congo Masquerade repeatedly made the point that reform and development strategies in DRC fail because they are designed and implemented by experts who are disconnected from local reality and ordinary peoples’ perceptions of what needs to be done. Primary beneficiaries – the people- are insufficiently informed, consulted and engaged. State-building strategies are imposed upon them - they are not embedded in their expectations or needs.

By giving voice to the people, this report sends a clear message to Congolese authorities and international partners who now have meaningful political information from the streets and villages of Congo of how people see their future.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Political Maturity in Congo

The obvious news coming out of Congo in the past few months relates to electoral fraud, human rights violations and attempts at forming a government.

Examples of political maturity on the part of ordinary Congolese seem to me, however, to be under-reported. I spent a good part of March in Congo (Kinshasa and Bas-Congo) asking people what they consider to be signs of political maturity.

Informants bitterly reported that authorities (particularly those at the CENI) proved to be brilliant in their ability to cheat and manipulate the electoral process. But there was also a clear sense of awareness, maturity, patience and good judgement on the part of ordinary people. They claim to be informed of what is going on on the political landscape. They are committed to keeping Kabila under scrutiny saying ‘ce Monsieur doit être plus prudent’ and ‘la pression peut affaiblir’.

Despite the huge potential for post-electoral violence, people did not express strongly felt political frustration through violent means. There were incidents but these were relatively limited. Most of the violence that did take place was carried out by the police and military – not by the people.

The discourse of violence also mutated. Heeding the lessons of the Arab Spring, Kinois claim their cell phones (tshombo) are their weapons and text messages bullets. This was a concern to the government which shut down SMS transmission from 3-28 December.

Another example of maturity is voting patterns. Of course we don’t really know who won the presidential vote but the legislative results are truly remarkable. The vast majority of MPs who sat in the previous legislature were not re-elected. They were sanctioned for not delivering on their 2006 promises. They voted themselves $6,000 per month salaries and perks while neglecting social priorities.

People also said that the free tee shirts and tins of sardines that were distributed on the campaign trail were not going to influence their vote as in the past.

Important political figures – even some Ministers (José Endundo - Environment, Alexis Tambwe Mwamba – Foreign Affairs, Martin Kabwelulu - Mining, Raymond Tshibanda - International Cooperation…) were not re-elected. This proves that a well financed campaign is not enough to maintain the trust of a frustrated constituency.

Alphonse Awenza Makiaba, a man with no political experience who feeds his family by transporting bags of rice and manioc on his bicycle, was elected to represent the city of Kisangani at the national level! This candidat des pauvres generated massive popular support precisely because voters could empathize with him.

While ethnicity structures Congolese society, last year’s voting was not always tribal. The election of Désiré Khonde Vila-ki-Kanda is a case in point. Originally from Bas-Congo where he ran and lost in 2006, he now won a seat in the North Kivu city of Goma where voters remembered his accomplishments as Provincial Governor during the Mobutu years.

Dictatorship, war and social stagnation have taught Congolese to be patient. And patience is another sign of political maturity. While some people say that the election fiasco has discouraged them in participating in the voting exercise, others are already gearing up for the next round in 2016.