Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Friday, February 7, 2014

RVI summer courses

Rift Valley Institute Field Courses 2014

The Rift Valley Institute's field courses on Sudan and South Sudan, the Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes take place from May to July 2014. Now in their eleventh year, the courses provide a basis for understanding current political and developmental challenges in the region. They are taught by teams of leading specialists--from the region and beyond-and offer a unique opportunity to spend time with an outstanding group of specialists, away from routine distractions. RVI courses are designed for policy-makers, diplomats, investors, development workers, researchers, activists and journalists--for new arrivals in the region and those already working there who wish to deepen their knowledge. A dawn-to-dusk programme of seminars, lectures, group discussions and special events examines the key social, environmental, political and cultural features of each of the three sub-regions.

Horn of Africa Course
31 May - 6 June 2014
The 2014 Horn of Africa Course, held in Kenya from 31 May to 6 June, will cover Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland, and northern Kenya. The course offers a multi-disciplinary examination of the crises afflicting the Horn and explores continuity and change under new political leadership at the national and sub-national level across the region. 

Sudan and South Sudan Course 
14 - 20 June 2014
The Sudan and South Sudan Course will also be held in Kenya, from 14 to 20 June. New rebellions and ongoing civil war in both the Sudans have put social and economic development in jeopardy. Understanding the history of state formation and conflict in the two countries is more important than ever. The course addresses the challenge of working in this complex, fluid environment, linking analysis of current events to contextual understanding of history, politics, war, society and economy. 

Great Lakes Course
28 June - 4 July 2014
The Great Lakes Course Course, held in Burundi from 28 June to 4 July, will cover Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The 2014 course will examine the ongoing violence in the Kivus in the wake of the defeat of the M23 rebel group, and the prospects of institutional reform in the DRC as the country prepares for local elections. In Burundi, it will examine the challenges facing the country in the run-up to the 2015 elections. For Rwanda, the focus will be on the tensions between political liberalization and the top-down approach to economic and social development. The course is in English and French with simultaneous translation.

To apply online--and to obtain further information on courses, staff, and locations--please visit www.riftvalley.net/key-projects/courses and download the 2014 Field Course Prospectus. For a general introduction to RVI courses please see our one page overview of the courses. Applications are considered in order of receipt. Places are limited. You can apply here.

Accounts of previous years' courses can be found here, and testimonials from previous course participants can be read here. In the coming months the RVI will be sending out updates on the courses, including on teaching staff and locations. In order to receive these, please subscribe to the RVI mailing list


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Siasa hiatus

As readers will have realized, Congo Siasa is on a hiatus for the coming months. I hope to be back soon.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How the Congolese army perceives itself

During the recent military escalation in the Kivus, the Congolese army fared far better than in the past, defeating a weakened M23. While the army leadership made an effort to streamline the chain of command and to ensure adequate supplies, army reform will have to be far more deep-rooted.

It is interesting to see how Congolese officers themselves see the challenge. In February of this year, the army high command invited around 120 senior officers to Kinshasa for a seminar on army reform––it was an excuse to remove them from the field, where they were clogging up the military hierarchy and, in the case of some, embezzling funds. But many of them are highly qualified officers, and when they were asked to produce an analysis of the army's defeat to the M23 in Goma in November 2012, they came up with a telling and damning document.

Voilà.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's left to save in Kampala?

On Monday, the peace talks in Kampala seemed to (again) be on the verge of success. The M23 and the Congolese government delegations were on their way to State House, and international envoys said both sides had agreed on the eleven articles of the agreement. At the last minute, however, the deal fell apart––over the simple issue of a title.

The Congolese refuse to sign an "agreement" (accord) and merely want to issue a "declaration" to conclude the talks. The M23 and the Ugandan mediation, meanwhile, are pushing for a formal, binding agreement.

The Congolese––who have been blamed by the Ugandan mediation for the failure, and who in their turn blame Museveni––don't see why they should sign a binding agreement with an organization that no longer exists. "No country in history has signed an agreement with a movement that has declared its own dissolution," said the Congolese information minister. The Congolese delegation is under pressure from a Congolese public that never liked the Kampala talks and is all the more opposed now that the M23 has been militarily defeated. Meanwhile, the M23 leadership, who have little to gain personally by signing a deal, as they are unlikely to receive any high-ranking positions, don't want to hand the Congolese a diplomatic victory on top of the military one. 

They seemed to be backed in this position by the Ugandan facilitation, who, after all, has most of their military leaders in custody. The Ugandans immediately blamed the Congolese, saying they had been given a long time to study the agreement and refused even to enter the room with the M23. The Ugandans later made a semi-veiled threat, saying the M23 "can still regroup," something that would only be possible with Ugandan complicity, as the M23 rebels are now largely in the custody of their army. 

Why is a deal still important? For several reasons. First, there could be over 2,500 M23 soldiers still at large––390 have turned themselves over to the Congolese army, around 150 surrendered to the UN mission, over 600 are in Rwanda since Bosco Ntaganda's defection last April, and the Ugandans claim (although it begs credulity) that there are 1,700 on their soil. The peace deal would have given amnesty for crimes of insurrection and could have paved the way for the rank-and-file, at least, to come back home and enter demobilization or army integration. Now they are sitting around, an accident waiting to happen. This was the argument that Martin Kobler, the head of the UN mission, made yesterday.

Secondly, a peace deal would clearly state that there will be no amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity, at least theoretically preventing the Congolese from striking any deals with commanders with blood on their hands (although those deals are fairly unlikely now).

Finally, a peace deal would allow for the diplomatic process to continue. It would allow President Museveni's role––as controversial as it was––to be officially recognized, and bring the Kampala talks to a close. It would allow for Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda to put the M23 behind them and move forward on substantive issues of regional integration and dealing with other armed groups, such as the FDLR and ADF-Nalu. And it would marginalize the top M23 leadership, like Sultani Makenga and Innocent Kaina. 

For now, however, a peace deal seems a long way off. The international envoys have left Kampala, a war of blame has started between Kampala and Kinshasa, and only a small skeleton crew remains at the negotiation table. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Kabila's choice: reforms or survival?

Following the national concertations in Kinshasa in early October, President Kabila gave a speech in which he announced, in the interest of national unity, the formation of a "government of national cohesion." Now, a month later, there are signs that Kabila will move soon to set up this government. When he does so, he will have a difficult choice: keep the current prime minister and maintain course on state reforms; or bring in someone who can help him rally the political elite around him.

Prime Minister Matata Ponyo, who has been in office since April 2012, has been able to make modest progress on improving governance, especially with regards to the economy and state finances. He is particularly popular with the donor community, who think that he has been able to name some competent technocrats to various ministries and has inspired a new élan in government. Many soldiers and state officials are now paid directly through bank accounts and through mobile cash transfers; ministers are more transparent in their interactions with journalists; and inflation has remained negligible. (Although the cours des comptes recently released a damning audit of state finances.) If Kabila wants someone who can keep up this progress, then Matata and his team might be the best bet.

But is this Kabila's priority? The president is about the plunge into a difficult period in the run-up to the end of his term in 2016. Due to constitutional term limits, he will then have to hand over the reins to someone else or change the constitutional term limits––which is explicitly forbidden by Article 220 of the 2006 constitution. A third option is also increasingly being floated: just deferring elections, much like Gbagbo did in the Ivory Coast, for several years, using the national census and funding problems as a pretext.

As the president enters into this turbulence, it may be more important to have a prime minister who can rally the fractious political elite around him, so they can back whatever delays or legal changes he wants to push through. The current prime minister is a competent technocrat, but (in part, precisely because he comes from a technical background) he does not have much of a political base or the ability to mobilize key power-brokers. What's more, he has angered many bigwigs by clamping down on some of the corruption rackets they were running, and by insisting that heads of political parties are now allowed to participate in the government themselves. In other words, he has made a lot of enemies who are now clamoring for his departure, and the president may be looking for a different skill set in his next PM.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

As the M23 nears defeat, more questions than answers

The new round of fighting between Congolese government forces and the M23 rebels is reaching a dramatic climax. With the Congolese army having swept through all of the major towns that the M23 held––Kibumba, Rumangabo, Rutshuru, Kiwanja, and since this afternoon Bunagana––the  M23 may be nearing its end. This would be historic––it would be the first time the Congolese government had defeated a major rebellion, and it would be the first time since 1996 that an armed group allied to Rwanda is not present in the eastern Congo. It is, however, too soon, to declare an end to the M23, as the rebels reportedly still occupy the hills along the Rwandan border between Runyoni and Tshanzu.

How did we get here? 

The fighting began last Friday morning on the southern frontline, in the area of Kibumba. The resumption of hostilities was not surprising, given that the peace talks in Kampala had fallen apart several days prior. The following day, the Congolese army began a simultaneous offensive on the M23's northern flank, as well, where the army had been massing troops and weapons for several months. Progress was quick––by Saturday, the army had taken control of Kibumba and on Sunday Kiwanja was under their control. By Sunday, the army advanced to Rumangabo, the M23's military base, and Rutshuru, the territorial capital. Today, they took back Bunagana on the Ugandan border, where the M23's political leaders had been staying. After heavy bombardment, Congolese troops were already reported to have scaled the Mbuzi hill and were trying to close in on Runyoni and Tshanzu. 

Africa Defence Review has a summary of the fighting, with a helpful map:

http://www.africandefence.net/analysis-how-m23-was-rolled-back/


The fighting was heaviest around Kibumba, where the M23 put up a fight and both sides lost troops. Elsewhere, there seems to have been little resistance by the thinly-stretched M23––reports put their total fighting force between 800-1,500 troops. By Tuesday, there were rumors that their military commanders had fled to neighboring Uganda or Rwanda, although none of these could be verified.

But why did this round of fighting turn out so differently than previous ones? How could the Congolese army, usually better known for its indiscipline and racketeering than its military prowess, knock the M23 out so quickly?

Three factors were key, but which was paramount is different to discern for now. There is no doubt that the FARDC is performing much better now than in 2012. Its command structure has been changed and streamlined, beginning with the appointment of General Lucien Bahuma as regional commander in June 2012, and of General François Olenga as land forces commander in December 2012. These commanders have paid more attention to making sure logistics were in place and salaries paid on time, boosting soldiers' morale and enabling the newly-trained commando battalions to do their job. Then, in January 2013, over a hundred officers––many of them from the Kivus––were invited to Kinshasa under the pretext of a seminar on army reform (they are mostly still in Kinshasa today). This simplified the military hierarchy in North Kivu, which had become clogged up with competing chains of command, a coterie of high-ranking officers embezzling funds and issuing contradictory orders. 

The second factor was the United Nations. Observers on the front lines reported that the Congolese soldiers were being issued military rations by the UN, and that UN officers were jointly planning operations with the Congolese army. UN attack helicopters have been providing support, although the bulk of the fighting has been carried out by the FARDC. 

But it may be the third factor that was the determining one––the absence of support from Rwanda. According to several reports from the frontlines, despite indications of some cross-border support in the Kibumba area, the M23 was largely left to its own devices. "The Rwandans just wouldn't pick up their phone calls," one source close to the M23 leadership told me. This is a drastic change from August, when many sources––the UN, Human Rights Watch, and foreign diplomats––all reported hefty support coming across the border. The fact that the M23 did not put up much of a fight in Kiwanja and Rumangabo was another indication that they knew they stood no chance against the superior firepower of the UN and the FARDC. According to several diplomats, the US Secretary of State John Kerry as well as a senior British diplomat called President Paul Kagame last Friday to impress how important it was for Rwanda to sit this out. While similar pressure has been applied before––President Obama called his Rwandan counterpart with a similar message last December––this time it may have just been the final straw for the Rwandan leaders. 

The coming days will be interesting. If the M23 is defeated, the Rwandan, and possibly the Ugandan governments will have to decide whether they will arrest the fleeing leaders or give them amnesty. The Congolese army will be under scrutiny to see how they manage their victory––any revenge attacks or targeting of suspected M23 collaborators could spoil the mood, and many will wait to see if they proceed to target the FDLR as promised. Finally, the impact of a victory on the larger peace process in the region would be powerful. President Kabila, who signed the Framework Agreement last February largely due to pressure from the M23, could shake off some of the pressure on him to carry out national reforms and would be buoyed by the popularity such a victory would certainly bring. 

For the moment, however, we should wait to see what the coming days bring.

There was a typo in the original post. It is the FARDC that is doing the bulk of the fighting.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Kampala imbroglio


President Joseph Kabila expressed the view of many Congolese when he said, during his speech to the country today, that the Kampala talks have dragged on for too long. This despite the optimism that was on display last week as international envoys––Martin Kobler, Modibo Toure, Ibrahim Diarra, and Russ Feingold––converged on Kampala in hope of a deal. And in all-night sessions substantial progress was made, as the Congolese government and M23 agreed on a majority of the issues on the table. This included the release of prisoners; the end of M23 as a rebel movement and the possibility to establish itself as a political party; the return and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs); and the return of extorted and looted properties during the M23’s brief occupation of Goma in November 2012. The parties even made some progress on transitional security arrangements, although the M23 was still reluctant to talk about redeploying its troops across the country.

At the end, however, everything hinged, unsurprisingly, on the fate of the top M23 leadership. Since the beginning, this had been the main stumbling block. It is practically unconceivable for commanders such as Sultani Makenga and Innocent Kaina––both listed on the UN and US sanctions lists and candidates for war crimes charges––to be reintegrated into the Congolese army. Still, the Congolese delegation seemed to exaggerate––some reports suggested that the list of officers who couldn’t integrate still stands at 133, far higher than the list of 27 that had been spoken about several weeks ago in Kinshasa. But even if Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda––the head of the Congolese delegation––lowers those numbers considerably, it is difficult to imagine the M23 accepting the exclusion of even its top 20 officers. There were also reports that Kabila is now willing to accept a general amnesty for crimes of insurrection (not war crimes or crimes against humanity, obviously) for all M23 officers if they can agree on that list. 

(There was also some talk that the reason for the collapse in talks was that one of the M23 delegates, Roger Lumbala, had insulted Joseph Kabila. It is true that the Congolese are still outraged that Lumbala had said, when he was arrested in Burundi last September, that he would kill Joseph Kabila is he saw him in the street. And the Congolese delegation did demand that Lumbala be excluded from talks. But Lumbala left, and the final plenary took place, so this was not the main problem). 

There is still hope for a deal, although the Congolese main negotiators will be in Kinshasa for some time now, with only a skeleton crew left in Kampala. The next step will probably be for regional powers to discuss the M23 at a joint ICGLR/SADC summit, to take place in South Africa in early November. The danger, as always, is that a unraveling of the talks could lead to another escalation on the ground. This time, if reports from within the UN peacekeeping mission are accurate, the Intervention Brigade may be willing to push further north against the M23, using military pressure to push the M23 and its allies toward a peace deal. Of course, that’s a risky gamble, as a failed offensive could humiliate the UN and embolden the M23 at the negotiation table.