In Fall 2015 Congo political opposition leaders warned that president Kabila was putting everything in place politically to violate the constitution and run for a third term. And they had good reason to believe this. Kabila was clearly delaying preparations for the November 2016 national elections. The opposition calls this glissement (sliding or slippage). Now several opposition party leaders and some former Kabila allies are arguing that that rather than lose power Kabila will risk another civil war. Opponents say the new election timetable Kabila’s government published January 14 supports their accusations. Several of them have formed a coalition to stop Kabila, the Citizen Front 2016. Kabila’s supporters turn that argument around and say that having credible elections in 2016 is not possible and Congo needs at least two more years to organize credible elections. Kabila and his supporters are essentially arguing that if Congo wants peace, elections must be delayed. What would a new Congo civil war look like? The general media consensus is much like the Great Congo War (1998-2003). But that civil war included major interventions by neighboring countries. Uganda and Rwanda both suffered penalties because of their interventions. If civil war ignites the UN will work hard to stop or minimize outside interventions, especially usual suspects like Zimbabwe. The war would still be deadly. Another possibility is an “intra-provincial” civil war (conflicts within Congo’s provinces) fought on tribal and political lines. This makes the province of Katanga particularly important and a wild card actor. Katanga is comparatively wealthy. It also has a secessionist streak. Katanga seceded from Congo on July 11, 1960, 12 days after Congo became independent of Belgium. Kabila’s father, Laurent Kabila, was Katangan (of the Luba tribe). He was born in South Kivu province, but he remains a Luba. So Joseph Kabila now faces stiff opposition from his ”home province”. The biggest wild card is the UN and its peacekeeping force. The UN says it intends to draw down peacekeeping forces. Many UN contingents are very professional, especially those serving with the IBDE (Intervention Brigade) and some of the rapid reaction units operating in eastern Congo. The UN effort has been a partial success. If Kabila undermines the partial success, even though the UN is not supposed to take sides, he runs the risk of making UN peacekeepers an adversary if not quite an enemy. (Austin Bay)
January 28, 2016: The UN said that the Congo government’s election timetable (published it January 14) makes it all but impossible to hold the November elections as scheduled.
MONUSCO and the Congolese Army (Forces Armees de la Republique du Congo, FARDC) have agreed to resume joint military operations against the Rwandan Hutu rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). UN peacekeepers withdrew from joint operations because two Congolese generals involved in the operation have been accused of human rights abuses and possible war crimes. The situation was politically difficult. UN forces continued to cooperate in other operations in eastern Congo, including against the Ugandan rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The “no cooperation” line blurred at times. The UN continued to provide some limited logistical support to Congolese forces involved in anti-FDLR operations because the Congolese were also providing protection to vulnerable civilians in North Kivu province. The new joint cooperation agreement says UN forces can provide the Congolese Army fighting the FDLR with logistical aid and armed support. Congo and the UN will also establish a “formal mechanism” for investigating the allegations against the suspect Congolese generals.
January 27, 2016: A religious group in the Central African Republic (CAR) claimed that the Ugandan rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA) remains active in the CAR. The group charged that the LRA “enslaves” villagers and forces them to serve as load bearers and sex slaves.
January 24, 2016: The Burundi government claimed that the local situation is stable and there is no need for the African Union (AU) to deploy a force of 5,000 peacekeepers in the country. The statement followed a visit by UN officials on January 22. The U.S. UN ambassador was part of the UN delegation. Burundi also claimed that most of the rebels its forces have captured in the last few weeks were armed and trained in Rwanda.
January 22, 2016: The UN reported that attacks on aid convoys and aid workers have increased in Congo. The increase in attacks has delayed food deliveries and essential relief operations.
January 20, 2016: UN peacekeeping force commanders and senior UN administrators in Congo said the response of South African peacekeepers to rebel attacks in early January was flawed. Rwandan rebels (FDLR, Democratic forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) launched attacks the first week of January. The UN investigation indicated the peacekeeper response to the attack on the village of Miriki January 6-7 was slow and inadequate,
January 19, 2016: This marks the first anniversary of the so-called Telema Uprising (January 19, 2015). The name refers to a series of protest demonstrations by young Congolese and college students who oppose President Joseph Kabila. Kinshasa witnessed the biggest demonstrations. Several dozen protestors were killed by security forces -- no exact number of casualties was ever released. At the time the government was trying to pass legislation that required a new Congo census before holding national elections. The name Telema Uprising is redundant. Congolese point out “telema” means “rise up” in Lingala, which is Congo’s national language.
January 17, 2016: In Burundi president Nkurunziza is confronting more accusations of pushing his country to civil war. Around 450 people have been killed since April 2015 when he decided to run for a third term. Around 230,000 Burundians have fled the country because of the violence.
January 16, 2016: Congolese opposition leaders rejected the National Independent Electoral Commission’s voter registration timetable. They contend the timetable is another excuse for President Kabila to delay elections and remain in power.
January 14, 2016: The political opposition in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) tentatively agreed to have a candidate contest the March 2016 presidential election. The opposition had threatened to boycott the election because the current chief executive, president Nguesso, changed the law so he could run for a third term. The opposition boycotted the October 2015 referendum that let Nguesso make the constitutional change. Nguesso has run Congo-Brazzaville for 31 of the last 36 years.
Across the Congo River in Congo the National Independent Electoral Commission released a timetable that said it will take another shows it will take another 13 months to register and verify voters for the national elections. This is a problem, since the elections are scheduled for November 2016.
January 13, 2016: Ugandan ADF rebel fighters killed four Congolese soldiers and wounded seven in a firefight in the east (North Kivu province). At least two rebels were killed. The army is conducting operations against the ADF in the area.
January 12, 2016: The Congo government claimed that the Congolese Army had killed over 1,000 FDLR rebels during 2015. An estimated 400 FDLR rebels remain active in the field. The Congolese Army claims that these were operations independent of UN forces.
January 11, 2016: Suspected ADF rebels fired on a UN helicopter in North Kivu province. The helicopter landed safely.
January 9, 2016: The UN has made it official. After a study announced in late 2015 the UN has asked Congo to withdraw its peacekeepers from the Central African Republic (CAR). The UN said that the battalion of Congolese soldiers serving with UN peacekeepers did not meet UN training and operational standards. Rape accusations made against three Congolese peacekeepers in August 2015 spurred the investigation.
January 7, 2016: FDLR rebels have killed at least 15 people and wounded at least eight in an overnight attack on a village in North Kivu province. The attack was in Nande territory and there is a history of tribal friction between the Nande and Hutu. The FDLR was founded by radical Rwandan Hutus who were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
January 6, 2016: It recently became known that in December 5-6 2015 the Simba Mai Mai militia launched a couple of attacks in the isolated Mambasa area of Congo’s Ituri province. This involved kidnapping 47 people. There was also at least one gang rape. The Simbas left leaflets threatening further attacks. The Simbas’ original commander, Paul Sadala (also known as Morgan), was killed in April 2014. He was replaced by two of his lieutenants. In 2015 civilians in Mambasa reported new Simba activity.
January 3, 2016: The joint operation by UN peacekeepers and the Congolese Army against the Ugandan rebel ADF in eastern Congo is continuing. The operation began in November 2015 after the ADF launched an attack that killed 24 civilians. The ADF is in need of food supplies and looting is the usual way to deal with that. The operation against the ADF contrasts with the Congolese Army’s go-it-alone operations against the FDLR. UN peacekeepers are still reluctant to cooperate with that operation because the Congolese commander may have been involved in war crimes.
January 2, 2016: An unidentified Mai Mai militia attacked in the city of Bunyakiri (South Kivu province) leaving seven rebels and a civilian dead. It was rumored that the militiamen were mostly Hutu tribesmen. If that is the case, it suggests the Nyatura militia might be responsible. The Nyatura is a predominantly Hutu outfight that operates in the Ziralo area. South Kivu has several other active Mai Mai militias. They include the Raia Mutomboki, the Mai Mai Kifuafua and the Mai Mai Kirikicho. These militias are mainly from the Batembo tribes which refer to them as self-defense militias. The Mai Mai sometimes serve that function. For example, the Raia Mutomboki have fought several battles with FDLR fighters who have attacked villages in the Bunyakiri area.
January 1, 2016: A South African Defense Forces (SADF) senior officer, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi, has assumed overall command of UN peacekeeping forces in the Congo. Mgwebi has extensive peacekeeping experience. He served as head of the UN mission in Burundi from 2004 to 2006. He replaced Brazilian Army Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, who commanded MONUSCO forces for two years. Mgwebi has commanded SADF infantry and special forces units.
December 31, 2016: Rwandan president Kagame has joined the “third term club” as he announced that he will run for a third presidential term in 2017. Congo’s president Kabila is considering a third term, though it violates Congo’s constitution. Burundi changed its constitution so that president Nkurunziza could succeed himself. Burundi is now convulsed by a “slow” civil war. The Congo Republic (Brazzaville) changed its constitutions so the current president could succeed himself. There was some vocal opposition in the Congo Republic but little violence. (Austin Bay)