Congo: Corrupt Cobalt Crises


February 19, 2018: Violence perpetrated by rogue militias is increasing throughout Congo. Foreign observers blame president Joseph Kabila for the deteriorating security situation. Why? He lacks legitimacy and therefore lacks authority. As everyone knows, he refused to step down from the presidency in December 2016 when his term ended. He also ignored the December Accord (of December 31, 2016) to permit a new election in 2017. A recent opinion poll found that no more than ten to 15 percent of the Congolese electorate support Kabila. As of February 1, serious armed conflict is occurring in ten of Congo's 26 provinces. Serious means firefights involving company-sized units (80 to 100 fighters). Well-armed banditry (which could also be low level rebellion) is occurring in other provinces. Several foreign aid personnel are telling the UN that Congo is on the verge of another civil war.

But bullets aren't the only way to kill. In the Kasai region the foreign aid workers report that violence disrupts food aid distribution operations, but so do logistical (bad roads) problems. The inability to move food into the Kasai region has forced some aid groups to give limited direct cash distributions to starving people to spend in local markets. So far this has been limited to the most remote areas in Kasai. This is not a new concept but it is risky. What if the local markets don't have food? All too often they don't because the markets are targets for militias or even the army. But it is easier to bring in money than 20 kilogram sacks of cereals. According to one report, so far 38,000 people have received $15 in cash.

February 16, 2018: The UN Southern African nations to continue their support of the UN peacekeeping effort in Congo, especially the Intervention Brigade (IBDE). Three countries contribute forces to the IBDE: South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi. The UN has given the IBDE unique permission: it can conduct offensive combat operations in Congo. South Africa immediately reaffirmed its commitment to support IBDE.

February 15, 2018: Both Congo and Rwanda agree a firefight occurred between Congolese and Rwandan soldiers on February 14. Where it occurred and the number of dead and wounded remains in dispute. Congo claims at least five soldiers were killed in the incident. Congo also claims the firefight took place within Congo's Virunga National Park and lasted almost six hours. Rwanda denies Congo's accusation and claims the Congolese soldiers entered Rwandan territory. Rwanda says no Rwandan troops were killed or wounded in the confrontation.

In eastern Congo foreign aid workers report that fighting between Hema and Lendu tribespeople continues in Ituri province and that another 50,000 refugees may be fleeing to Uganda.

Police in Burundi have issued public threats to arrest anyone who may "campaign" against a new constitutional referendum proposed by president Pierre Nkurunziza. If the referendum passes it would allow Nkurunziza to remain in power until 2034. The referendum is scheduled for May 2018.

February 13, 2018: Relief agencies report that in the last seven days 22,000 refugees have fled from Congo's Ituri province and entered Uganda. Since January 1st, around 35,000 Congolese refugees have fled to Uganda to avoid another outbreak of violence between the Hema and Lendu tribes. The Hema are predominantly herders (pastoralists), the Lendu farm. The Hema and Lendu fought almost continuously from 1999 to 2003. Several thousand tribal folk have died in the conflict-- probably more Lendu than Hema but no one is certain. All told, since mid-December 2016, the tribal clashes have forced some 200,000 people to flee Ituri. Aid workers report a number of refugees have collected on the shores of Lake Albert.

February 12, 2018: In Congo the army claimed is has captured the major Ugandan rebel ADF camp and logistics base in northeast Congo some 80 kilometers from the town of Beni (Ituri province).

February 11, 2018: In the CAR (Central African Republic) two large militia groups continue to fight for control of the Eastern Haute-Kotto and central Ouaka prefectures. The UPC (a Fulani tribal group) and the FPRC (for the most part Gula and Runga tribesmen) have been doing most of the fighting.

February 10, 2018: Congo confirmed it intends to raise taxes on minerals as well as raise the royalty rate mining companies must pay the government. Parliament approved legislation to raise mining taxes as part of a new "mining code." Even freelance individual miners (the creuseurs) will have to pay the mining extraction taxes. The legislation is not yet in effect and president Kabila has yet to sign the bill into law. Most of the mining companies affected are European, North American and Chinese. Cobalt will become more expensive and so will copper. Why? In 2016 the world produced an estimated 123,000 tons of cobalt and 57 percent came from Congo. It is not just cobalt, Congo is also one of the world's top copper producers. Cobalt has many uses, but it is critical in the production of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, the type used to power mobile digital devices and electric vehicles. Congo's cobalt royalty will rise from two percent to ten percent. China has been a major buyer of Congolese cobalt so that increase will hit Chinese manufacturers particularly hard. In the first nine months of 2017 China imported an estimated $1.2 billion worth of Congolese cobalt. Where will the additional tax and royalty money go? A recently published study by a relief agency estimated the 20 percent of Congo's mining revenues are lost to corruption and mismanagement. Gecamines, the stare owned mining company, plays a key role in mismanagement and "diverting" mining revenues. Gecamines officials are beholden to the Kabila government. (Austin Bay)

February 9, 2018: In eastern Congo the army claimed that since January 21 it has killed 48 members of the Yakutumba militia in an operation in South Kivu province. The army claimed another 150 fighters were captured. The militia is led by William Amuri Yakutumba who is an opponent of President Kabila.

February 8, 2018: In east Congo the army offensive in North and South Kivu provinces, which began in January, is continuing. The offensive focuses primarily on the Ugandan Muslim rebel ADF group.

February 6, 2018: Congo ordered Belgium to close its consulate in the south (Katanga province) and reduce airline flights between Congo and Belgium. Congo also announced it will close its consulate in Antwerp, Belgium. Why? Since January 1 Belgium has cut back significantly on its aid to the Congolese government. Belgium objects to the Kabila government's savage treatment of its own citizens.

February 5, 2018: A spokesman for Congolese president Kabila said the president will not "contest elections” now scheduled for December 2018. Several opposition groups were not impressed since Kabila himself did not make the announcement. However, the spokesman claimed Kabila will hand over power after elections in 2018. The spokesman also said Kabila will name a "preferred successor" in July 2018. Stay tuned.

February 2, 2018: Burundi security forces handed over 34 Yakutumba militiamen to the Congolese Army. The rebels had fled into Burundi.

January 30, 2018: in southwest Congo (Kasai region) nine people have died in a new outbreak of violence. The government claimed the Kamuina Nsapu militia murdered four people in the village of Bata Ishama the killed another five in the village of Kakenge.

January 27, 2018: In east Congo rebels in South Kivu province killed a peacekeeper from Pakistan and left one other soldier wounded.

January 25, 2018: A recently released UN report claimed "state agents” in Congo committed 1,176 extrajudicial killings in 2016. Essentially the UN is accusing the Kabila regime of murdering 1,176 Congolese.

January 24, 2018: Congo's Senate passed legislation creating a new "mining code" for Congo.




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