Congo: Returning To The Evil Past

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June 5, 2017: President Kabila openly denies promising he would allow elections to go ahead by the end of 2017 and blames lack of resources and other obstacles beyond his control. In the meantime he insists he must remain in power. Most Congolese disagree with this assessment and want Kabila and his crooked cronies gone. By law the president can only serve two terms, which he already has done and now he insists he no longer wants to change the constitution to allow him to rule longer (as in as long as he wants).

Kabila has been running the country for 17 years, having taken over from his assassinated (by one of his bodyguards) father. Congo has been in chaos since the 1990s when the senior Kabila took power during a civil war. It took over a decade of foreign aid and peacekeeping reach the point where it was possible to hold national elections and the current president won what was seen as a rigged vote. The 2006 constitution deliberately had the president limited to ten years in power (two five year terms). The idea was to prevent a return to a “strong man” dictatorship like the multi-decade tyrants so common in Africa colonial rule ended in the 1960s.

After the 2006 elections (the first in 40 years), accusations of cheating (which were later proven) caused angry members of losing political parties to openly protest and increasingly do it in large numbers. So did the party militias, except the militias showed up in public with lots of weapons. Not every political party has a militia but the big ones did. The militias look and act a lot like tribal militias. That is because Congolese political parties align fairly well with tribes or tribal groups. This is why keeping crowds from getting too boisterous is important. If fighting erupts and bloodletting starts, a tribal war could be a brick bashing or knife wound away. A tribal clash that can be kept low key and local is business as usual in the Congo. If it spreads, however, everyone fears a renewed civil war. For eleven years the UN peacekeepers managed, at great expense (over a billion dollars a year) to prevent the unrest from turning into a civil war.

Meanwhile more proof emerged that Kabila and his main supporters had stolen billions of dollars’ worth of foreign aid plus making even more from illegal mining and exporting operations. The government also imposed special taxes and fees on legitimate foreign firms and stole most of the money collected. The current government has become so corrupt that foreign aid donors are halting their contributions or insisting on more controls. The government resists more financial oversight and calls it foreign interference.

Meanwhile the growing number of political opponents forced to flee the country have learned to collect and take evidence of government corruption with them and use the foreign media to pressure foreign governments (that tolerate local firms that buy the illegal exports and bribe Congolese officials) to prosecute or at least put to shame. This makes it easier to pressure the UN into declaring Kabila a war criminal and removing him by force. That sort of thing never had a lot of support in the UN, where too many world leaders see themselves as vulnerable to similar treatment.

June 1, 2017: Apparently southwest Congo (Kasai) is Africa’s next hotspot. Over 600 people had died there because of tribal feuds, criminal gangs and trigger happy security forces since the end of 2016. This included 39 soldiers and 85 police officers and over 300 rebels. This figure doesn’t include the estimated 400 civilians slain in Fall 2016. The government claims the rebel Kamuina Nsapu militia killed the civilians while the rebels blame the government. In early April the government declared the region to be a military zone. The conflict erupted in August 2016 when government forces killed a traditional local chief, Jean-Pierre Mpandi, who objected to government interference and called on locals to resist it. The government had appointed individuals (supporters of Kabila) from outside the region to local government posts. The locals complained that those posts were for local leaders. That’s why the Kamuina Nsapu militia accused Kabila and his government of seeking “unjust political domination” in the Kasai region. The fighting has displaced an estimated 1.3 million people. Many of the displaced still refuse to return to their homes and for good reason. In February the Kamuina Nsapu militia ambushed and beheaded 42 police officers outside the city of Kananga (Kasai-Central province). In late March at least 75 civilians were killed and but some investigators believe they were killed by the army. (Austin Bay)

The U.S. imposed sanctions on another Congolese official. This time it was Francois Olenga, the senior military advisor to the president who commands the Republican Guard (a well-paid military unit that does whatever needs to be done). Olenga is also involved with making illegal deals with military commanders and local warlords to keep Kabila in power. Olenga is a rich man who got that way via illegal payments for illegal services. Plus he supervised a lot of political violence (and murder). This comes as part of an international effort to sanction individuals in corrupt governments guilty of illegal acts. In Africa this is relatively easy to do because most of the corruption involves stealing money and getting it out of the Africa to “safe havens” in the West. The havens are often turning into prosecution and confiscation traps for the unwary and sanctioned.

May 30, 2017: President Nkurunziza of Burundi kicked 23 officers out of the army. The officers were studying for advanced degrees in three countries, Belgium, Canada and France. The officers were supposed to return in 2013 but have failed to do so.

May 29, 2017: Some 20,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) have fled into Congo to escape renewed fighting and ended up in Congo’s Bas Uele and Ubangi provinces (which border the CAR). The fighting has displaced another 70,000 people within the CAR.

Many communities in northeast Uganda are objecting to the army’s decision to withdraw 2,700 soldiers from the Karamoja region and be redeployed in Somalia. The residents are worried that Karimojong tribal cattle raiders will return. In 2001 the government deployed 10,000 soldiers to the region to provide local security and disarm Karimojong raiders. The raiders were stealing cattle, committing other thefts and occasionally ambushing vehicles. . The army collected over 43,000 weapons, many of them AK-47 rifles.

May 28, 2017: In Salamabila (eastern Congo) officials announced that a French citizen and three Congolese men kidnapped in March have now been released. They had been working at a local mine.

May 25, 2017: The Congolese government said it is opposed to an independent international criminal investigation of the March murder of two UN investigators in the Kasai region. One of the investigators were looking into reports that former government minister Clement Kanku had been involved in inciting the violence in the region.

Since early May Ugandan police have arrested 100 criminals in the capital, Kampala, who have committed crimes using machetes. The police also seized one AK-47 during the operation.

May 22, 2017: In Congo the government is once again playing the “threat of violence” card to justify delaying national elections. The president of Congo’s national election commission (CENI) said that sectarian violence may force the commission to postpone elections.

May 21, 2017: The army claimed it killed 47 rebel fighters in Kasai-Central province.

May 20, 2016: In the CAR heavy fighting has erupted between Christian and Moslem militias in the town of Bria. The fighting has so far killed 22 people. 17 of the dead were civilians not associated with the militias. An estimated 10,000 people have fled the immediate region.

May 18, 2017: In Congo (the capital Kinshasa) officials claimed that security forces have recaptured 179 criminals who escaped from the capital’s Makala prison on May 17. Police in Kinshasa are asking citizens to provide them with information on escaped prisoners. Meanwhile, media are reporting 3,000 prisoners escaped.

May 17, 2017: Members of the Bundu Dia Mayala (BDM) movement attacked Kinshasa's Makala prison and freed their movement’s leader, Ne Muanda Nsemi. The government claimed that one policemen and five BDM attackers died in the assault. However, other sources report over 100 casualties in the incident. The government claimed another 50 prisoners also escaped in the attack. However, one escapee claimed 2,000 prisoners fled the facility. The BDM was formerly called the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK). The movement seeks the independence of the Bas-Congo region (western Congo) from the rest of Congo Its adherents have to renounce western and eastern religions. It also wants to revive the pre-colonial Kongo Kingdom.

May 16, 2017: UN peacekeepers in the CAR warned that a new wave of violence threatens the country. The capital, Bangui, is calm. However, on the night of May 13, a Christian anti-Balaka militia armed with heavy weapons attacked the peacekeeper base in the town of Bangassou. The same group also attacked a Moslem neighborhood in the town and killed 30 civilians. Local clinics treated 24 people wounded in the attack. On May 14 the militia once again attacked the peacekeeper base. Since March 1, 2017, six peacekeepers have been killed in the CAR. An estimated 150 to 170 civilians have been killed in sectarian violence.

May 12, 2017: There has been another Ebola virus outbreak in the Congo. So far there have only been nine confirmed cases and three confirmed deaths. The hot spot is Congo’s Bas-Uele province (northern Congo). Over 11,000 people died during the last major sub-Saharan Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015. Most of the deaths were in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

May 11, 2017: Uganda has asked for $2 billion to provide aid for South Sudanese refugees living in camps within Uganda, which currently has 1.2 million refugees. Some 800,000 are from South Sudan. Uganda can provide security for the refugees and some assistance. However, it does not have sufficient food and medicine. The food shortage is already acute. Part of the $2 billion would improve and expand the physical facilities housing the refugees.

May 10, 2017: Angola said that it now has 20,000 Congolese refugees in its Lunda Norte province (northern Angola). This is 10,000 more than were present in early April. The refugees are fleeing fighting in Congo’s Kasai region. Angola intends to move some of the refugees to a refugee camp located in the town of Lovua.

May 9, 2017: President Kabila, in complete violation of Congo’s December Accord, named a new transitional government. Talks to implement the agreement ended in March. The opposition was supposed to name key members of the transitional government. Well, it didn’t get to do it. Kabila’s transitional government displays very little transition. Some 60 members of the new government are in Kabila’s current government. Kabila’s supporters still control the key ministries (foreign ministry, interior security) and the defense forces. In the December Accord, reached on December 31, 2016, the Kabila government ostensibly agreed to a timetable where Joseph Kabila would share power then eventually cede power. New elections by December 2017 were a key element in the December Accord. The agreement also specified that Kabila would not to alter the constitution and his government would free all political prisoners.

May 8, 2017: In the CAR an anti-Balaka militia attacked a UN convoy 470 kilometers east of Bangui, the CAR’s capital and killed four peacekeepers and wounded eight while another one remains missing. On May 6 four aid agencies announced they would temporarily suspend operations in the northern CAR due to attacks by militias.

May 6, 2017: Burundian security officials report unidentified armed men have conducted over the last two weeks in Bujumbura’s Kamenge neighborhood. The attackers have killed two people and wounded a dozen. Five of the wounded were injured in a grenade attack.

May 5, 2017: A criminal group in eastern Congo murdered a Congolese park ranger when his convoy was ambushed. The gang briefly kidnapped two foreign aid workers traveling in the convoy while another was seriously injured. One of the kidnapped workers was a French citizen. The attack occurred in South Kivu province’s Itombwe Reserve. The gang demanded a ransom for the French citizen. After negotiations, the Frenchman was released (on May 8). There was no statement made about paying the ransom. Over the last two years kidnappings for ransom in eastern Congo have increased dramatically. It is estimated that since 2016 175 people in eastern Congo have been kidnapped for ransom.

May 4, 2017: Congo’s Catholic bishops have appealed to President Kabila and asked him to allowed opposition leader Moise Katumbi to return to the country. Katumbi was once a Kabila ally, but in 2015 he resigned from Kabila’s party. In 2016 he announced he would oppose Kabila in the next presidential election. Kabila couldn’t accept that. He accused Katumbi of illegally taking property and hiring mercenaries (to topple the government). The bishops were among those who mediated negotiations that led to the December Accord.

 

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