Congo: Even The Bad Guys Are Seeking A Way Out

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February 6, 2017: Many Congolese are not convinced the president Kabila will ever comply with the December 31, 2016 agreement brokered by the Catholic Church. That deal (“the December accord”) was made between the political opposition and several senior members of Kabila’s government. However, Kabila himself was not personally a party to the agreement. The agreement stipulated that Kabila could remain in power until national elections are held near the end of 2017. He would then step down as president and an elected successor would replace him. Kabila cannot be a candidate in the election. The constitution forbids him from seeking a third term. The agreement also stipulated that an opposition leader would serve as prime minister. That presumably would limit Kabila’s control of the government during the interim period. Critics say that the failure to get Kabila’s personal commitment gives him a technical excuse for ignoring the agreement and then completely breaking it at a convenient moment. He might even declare he’s a candidate for a third term. Kabila could also say a crisis requires that he stay in office. His government is already portraying news the mid-January return to Congo of some M23 militiaman as a crisis. The critics also point out Kabila has already violated the constitution. He was supposed to leave office on December 19, 2016. He didn’t. Another wild card is the February 1 st death of key opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.

Kabila and his family are wealthy and that fortune could be lost or severely depleted if a reform-minded new government decides to recover billions stolen by corrupt politicians. The Kabila clan has extensive mineral interests (including gold, cobalt, diamonds and copper). Many of these family interests are in Katanga province. Corruption in the government Kabila controls has made his family and associates wealthier. It’s an old and wretched story. (Austin Bay)

February 5, 2017: The UN reported that in the first nine months of 2016 (January through September) armed conflict and insecurity (fear of attack) displaced 547,000 people in Congo. At the end of 2017 there were 1.9 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Congo. Approximately 45 percent of the IDPs were in North Kivu province (eastern Congo, bordering Uganda and Rwanda).

February 3, 2017: In the west (Bas-Congo province) police killed eight members of the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) who were trying to claim the bodies of BDK members killed during protests in January.

Meanwhile dynastic power survives elsewhere in Africa. Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos announced he will leave office before the August 2017 election. He said that in the presidential election the he would support his defense minister, Joao Lourenco, who is also deputy leader of the governing MPLA party. Dos Santos has been president since 1979. Isabel dos Santos (the president’s daughter) heads Angola’s national oil company, Sonangol.

February 2, 2017: Burundi claimed it has released 2,000 prisoners. Several dozen members of the opposition MSD Party were among those released in the last few weeks. The government has been under growing local and international pressure to release political prisoners.

February 1, 2017: Etienne Tshisekedi, the leader of Congo’s main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), died today in Brussels, Belgium. In 2011 he was a candidate for president and was defeated by Joseph Kabila. His son, Felix Tshisekedi, has been selected to serve as prime minister until new presidential elections are held and Kabila is replaced.

January 31, 2017: Congolese troops report that a group of former M23 rebels captured four crewmen on the helicopters that went down January 30. The government claimed that three of the crewmen were tortured and killed.

January 30, 2017: In the east (North Kivu province) five crewmen from the two helicopters that crashed on January 28 have been rescued. Three are Russian and two are Congolese army officers.

January 29, 2017; In Rwanda 30 unarmed men claiming to belong to the M23 rebel group have asked for asylum. They fled Congo sometime in the last week. Some of the men reportedly claim they were fleeing a Congolese Army attack. Most M23 fighters were ethnic Tutsis. Many of them were former Congolese Army soldiers.

January 28, 2017: In the east (North Kivu province) two Russian-made military helicopters crashed and was not immediately clear what caused the aircraft to crash. Several rebel groups operate in areas along the Ugandan and Rwanda borders.

January 27, 2017: The UN extended its arms embargo on the Central African Republic (CAR). Some sanctions targeting individual “bad actors” were also extended.

The Congo government said that it fears M23 is reviving its insurgency in eastern Congo and warned that a new conflict with M23 might “jeopardize” its ability to organize elections in 2017.

January 26, 2017: The Congo government said it will extradite to Burundi 186 suspected Burundian rebels who were captured in 2015 and 2016. That move has been criticized because the current Burundian government has been known to mistreat prisoners, often to the point where some prisoners die from the aftereffects of “aggressive interrogation.”

January 23, 2017: Members of CENCO (Congolese Catholic Bishops Conference) warn that talks discussing implementing some elements of the December 31, 2016 agreement have stalled. CENCO members warned that the church will not “mediate indefinitely without results.” That is a warning to president Kabila that if he ignores the agreement he will suffer political consequences.

January 19, 2017: Uganda revealed that it arrested 101 former M23 militiamen. The fighters were attempting to cross the border and join a group of 40 M23 fighters who had previously entered Congo. The fighters were traveling in mini-buses and were trying to pass themselves off as civilian passengers. The men had escaped from their internment camp in Uganda.

Once more the youth wing of Burundi’s ruling party, the Imbonerakure, are publicly (and in detail) accused of murdering, torturing and beating members of the political opposition as well as extorting money from Burundian citizens. The government security forces refuse to arrest or stop crimes committed by members of Imbonerakure.

January 16, 2017: An unknown number of former M23 Congolese rebels have left their demobilization camp in Uganda and entered the Congo. Initially it was believed that 200 or more M23 fighters involved. The men crossed the border at the town of Ishasha sometime on January 15 and entered Congo’s North Kivu province.

January 15, 2017: Burundi is not backing off its president’s January 1 claim that a hill on its border with Rwanda is Burundian territory. The hill is called Sabanegwa in Rwanda and Sabanerwa in Burundi. The hills is located on the border of Rwanda’s Gisgara province and Burundi’a Ngozi province. The River Akanyaru has changed course. The hill is now on the north (Rwandan) side of the river and that triggered the dispute, as things like this often do.

Congolese political opposition leader Roger Lumbala, head of the RCD-N, has returned to Congo. The government had accused Lumbala of "high treason" because of unproven accusations that he supported the M23 rebellion. Lumbala also ran for president in 2006 and accurately accused Kabila of cheating. The December 31, 2016 agreement stipulated tha Lumbala and six other exiled opposition leaders could return to the country.

January 14, 2017: Opposition groups in Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) are protesting the government’s arrest of a leading newspaper editor, who was accused of “undermining state security.”

January 13, 2017: The Rwandan National Police (RNP) have signed a training and cooperation agreement with Itay’s Carabinieri (Italy’s paramilitary gendarme forces). Rwanda said that the agreement includes counter terrorism training and operations, public order management, and aviation security.

January 11, 2017: Congo’s allied opposition parties have nominated Felix Tshisekedi to serve as prime minister until President Kabila is replaced. He is the son of Etienne Tshisekedi, head of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). This fulfills part of the December 31 agreement.

January 10, 2017: The Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) announce that police have arrested Andre Okombi Salissa, a senior political opposition leader.

In central Burundi (Mwaro province) investigators discovered a mass grave with at least 1,000 bodies. The grave apparently dates to a 1972 tribal war between Hutus and Tutsis. That spate of violence lasted three months. An estimated 200,000 people died in the violence, the majority of them ethnic Hutus.

January 5, 2017: In southeastern Congo (Tanganyika province) at least 17 people died in ethnic violence between Bantus and Pygmies. The biggest fight occurred in the village of Piana Mwanga. One source said 37 other Bantus were wounded and 65 Bantu houses were burned. Pygmies, because of their short stature, have long been persecuted and tend to live by themselves deep in the jungle. There they acquired a reputation of being experts in getting around the bush and as hunters. The wide availability of cheap firearms since the 1990s has evened the combat odds and the Pygmies are now able and inclined to shoot back when attacked. Pygmy’s short stature (150cm/under five feet for adult males) is believed to be an ancient genetic adaptation to life in the tropical rain forests of Central Africa. There are believed to be half a million Pygmies living in Congo, less than one percent of the Congo population.

January 4, 2017: The UN Security Council commended the December 31, 2016 agreement between the Kabila government and opposition political parties. The UN reiterated that its goal the first peaceful transfer of power in Congo since 1960.

 

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