The Congo governments and the UN (WHO) Ebola virus epidemic containment effort in eastern Congo has been generally successful. So far confirmed cases have been confined to North Kivu and Ituri provinces. However, the provinces are large and populous and the epidemic has not abated. Moreover, attacks by violent militias have damaged clinics and disrupted logistical support for medical aid agencies. The ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) Islamist rebel group is likely responsible for some of the worst attacks but local Mai-Mai militias and other armed groups have also launched attacks. The city of Butembo is a frequent target of attacks and has been the scene of several firefights pitting soldiers and police against militia fighters. Local authorities in Butembo report the militia fighters motives for launching attacks are not clear, but banditry is a possibility.
The eastern Congo epidemic officially began August 1, 2018, so it has lasted ten months. In the last 40 years, Congo has had ten known Ebola virus epidemics and, statistically, the current epidemic is the worst in terms of confirmed cases and deaths. Over 1,600 cases have been confirmed, though higher figures (1,800 to 2,000) may be more accurate. The eastern Congo epidemic has killed over 1,300 people. International aid agencies believe the eastern Congo epidemic is the second-deadliest in recorded history. It is surpassed only by the 2013-2016 outbreak in West Africa, in which more than 28,000 cases were reported and at least 11,300 people died.
In mid-April WHO announced that the eastern Congo epidemic did not yet warrant a “global emergency declaration.” However, new cases continue to appear. In the last ten days, WHO and the UN Security Council have called for more vigorous efforts and additional resources (to include medical personnel) to contain the virus, keep it from spreading to neighboring countries and ultimately end the outbreak. Uganda is particularly worried that Congolese fleeing violence will seek refuge in Uganda and some of the refugees will have the virus. The UN and aid agencies have demanded better security for humanitarian workers and healthcare facilities, particularly the Ebola Treatment Centers (ETCs) in North Kivu and Ituri.
The truth is, political and cultural issues also impede medical services. Many eastern Congolese do not trust the national government. The pervasive corruption of the government led by former president Joseph Kabila is one good reason. Some residents doubt western medicine and have turned to “faith healers” and “folk doctors.” Medical workers and Congolese political leaders are trying to convince the doubters to get vaccinations and help identify people who have contracted the disease. (Austin Bay)
May 10, 2019: The fraudulent December 2018 presidential vote count has not been forgotten.. Former presidential candidate Martin Fayulu continues to claim the December presidential election was stolen and he has evidence that he got over 59 percent of the popular vote. In several recent interviews he has described himself as “the president-elect” and his tone is measured, not bitter. He has also discussed with journalists a proposal to correct the fraud: Congo should conduct another election in “12 to 18 months.” Fayulu argues that former president Joseph Kabila will eventually undermine President Felix Tshisekedi and this will lead to another national crisis. To paraphrase, Kabila will never let another Congolese leader succeed where “he failed.” Best to conduct a new and clean election. Fayulu also openly discusses “the agreement” (the deal) that Tshisekedi accepted in order to be declared the election winner. According to Fayulu, Kabila demanded Tshisekedi give him (Kabila) control of Congo’s economic bureaucracies (mining and finance). Kabila also has loyalists in the security services. (Austin Bay)
May 8, 2019: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), a Mai-Mai militia launched another attack in Butembo. Observers reported the attack specifically targeted an Ebola Treatment Center. The militia fighters withdrew after exchanging fire with security forces.
In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), a militia associated with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) claimed that on May 7 it launched an attack on a military position in Bunduguya near the Ugandan border. The propaganda release added that the attackers fought for ISIL’s “Central Africa Province affiliate,” the Islamic State Central African Province (ISCAP). Congolese authorities said the attack occurred and the ADF rebel group was responsible. This is the third time since April 18 ISIL has claimed responsibility for an attack in the region.
Two escaped prisoners accused of killing two UN investigators were recaptured by police. The men escaped on May 7 from a prison in southwest Congo (Kananga). A third prisoner being held on murder charges did not escape, despite reports that he had.
May 6, 2019: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), over 12,000 people have fled to areas near the Uganda border to escape armed attacks elsewhere in the province. Ongoing military operations have made it difficult to provide humanitarian aid for the IDPs. Some aid has been routed through Uganda.
May 5, 2019: Rwanda officially buried (reinterred in most cases) 84,437 victims of the 1994 genocide. The burial took place in the Nyanza Genocide Memorial in the capital, Kigali.
May 4, 2019: China has agreed to let the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) restructure its debt. It is believed Congo-Brazzaville owes China and Chinese entities over nine billion dollars. International agencies believe that is over a third of the country’s foreign debt.
May 3, 2019: In Congo, the Ministry of Public Health reported that 1,510 confirmed cases of Ebola have been reported in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
April 30, 2019: Congolese judicial officials have agreed to end a Kabila-era investigation into charges that opposition political leader Moise Katumbi hired mercenaries with the intent of toppling the government. Katumbi has been in exile. With the charges dropped, Katumbi will likely return to Congo in May.
April 29, 2019: Congo opposition leader Martin Fayulu called on his supporters to help remove president Felix Tshisekedi from office.
In Uganda, police arrested opposition political leader Robert Kyagulanyi. He is a member of parliament but also a well-known musician who performs under the name Bobi Wine. He was charged with conducting an “illegal assembly” (protest) of the government. He is a vocal opponent of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and is regarded as a likely presidential candidate in the next election.
April 25, 2019: In Central African Republic (CAR), the UN peacekeepers awarded the Senegalese Attack Helicopter Unit a UN medal for professionalism and “laudable work” in fulfilling the peacekeeper's mandate. The Senegalese Attack Helicopter Unit conducted reconnaissance and intelligence missions “and air strikes when necessary” which contributed to protecting CAR civilians and UN peacekeepers.
April 24, 2019: In Congo, the UN peacekeeping force will soon face another round of personnel and funding cuts. The UN is finalizing a new peacekeeping budget which goes into effect July 1. Some details are known, mainly that 764 civilian jobs will be eliminated. Most of these jobs are held by Congolese citizens. Eight UN regional offices will be closed.
April 19, 2019: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), militiamen armed with machetes launched another attack on an Ebola Treatment Center clinic in Butembo. The attack killed a WHO epidemiologist working with the facility. Police killed one attacker and arrested five others.
April 18, 2019: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), ADF attacked an army base leaving three soldiers dead and five wounded.
April 17, 2019: A German court announced that Rwandan Ignace Murwanashyaka, a former senior leader of the notorious FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) rebel group, died in prison while awaiting a new trial on war crimes charges. He had been in poor health. The charges he faced stem from FDLR attacks in eastern Congo in 2009. His original conviction was overturned in 2018 and the court ordered a new trial. Murwanashyaka was nominally president of the FDLR.
April 16, 2019: In Congo, president Felix Tshisekedi declared that he and his government want to join the U.S.-led global coalition battling ISIL. Tshisekedi said that ISIL has ties to the ADF jihadist terror group which since the mid-1990s has launched attacks in eastern Congo. There are rumors that the ADF has offered to help Islamic State fighters slip into central Africa. UN peacekeepers estimate that since 2014 terrorists and rogue militias have killed over 1,000 people in and around the city of Beni in North Kivu. UN officials believe that ADF terrorists are responsible for the bulk of the murders.
Also on April 16, while visiting Beni, Tshisekedi called the current Ebola epidemic the worst one to ever strike Congo. He urged residents of North Kivu and Ituri provinces to trust health workers and understand the “it is not an imaginary disease.” Tshisekedi said that there is a lot of misinformation, some of it spread by community leaders. He said that if everyone follows health worker instructions “in two or three months Ebola will be finished.”
April 15, 2019: Russia announced it will deploy up to 30 military personnel to the Central African Republic to serve with the UN’s peacekeeping mission. The contingent will include military observers and communications specialists. Russia already has a training base in Bangui with several hundred soldiers who are training CAR security personnel.
April 14, 2019: The UN (WHO) announced that the Ebola epidemic in eastern Congo does not yet warrant a “global emergency declaration.” But new cases are appearing in North Kivu and Ituri provinces. With 1,206 confirmed deaths, the current epidemic is now the second deadliest Ebola epidemic in history. Ebola isn't the only epidemic afflicting central Africa. The Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) is confronting a Chikungunya epidemic. The disease first appeared in January. So far the disease has afflicted over 4,000 people.
April 12, 2019: In eastern Congo (South Kivu province), soldiers killed 36 Burundian rebel fighters in two separate operations. The largest clashes occurred April 6 and April 8. Three soldiers died in the battles. The Burundian fighters belonged to the FNL (National Liberation Forces) and FOREBU (Burundian Republican Forces) rebel groups. Both are predominantly Hutu organizations. It is believed senior FNL commander Aloyse Zabampema was wounded in one of the firefights.
April 9, 2019: In Congo, president Felix Tshisekedi continues to have trouble with Joseph Kabila, his predecessor. Kabila wants Tshisekedi to appoint his close ally, Albert Yuma, as chairman of Gecamines (Congo’s national mining company). So far Tshisekedi has refused. He regards Yuma as “compromised”—and he is. Yuma has been accused of corruption involving several state ministries. Control of Gecamines goes a long way to controlling Congo’s valuable mining industry. Kabila would continue to have an extraordinary influence on contracts and potentially access to Gecamines coffers.