Congo: Second Chances

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March 1, 2021: President Felix Tshisekedi of Congo continues to remove supporters of former president and dictator Joseph Kabila from senior positions. Tshisekedi began this process in mid-2020 when he let it be known he was interested in withdrawing from his “co-habitation” government with Kabila. This was a bold move because Kabila’s party controlled parliament, and he had agreed to that co-habitation arrangement to limit Tshisekedi’s power and prevent Tshisekedi and other reformers from threatening Kabila’s corruption machine. In November 2020 Tshisekedi began discussing coalition government possibilities with opposition political leaders Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi. In early December the cohabitation government collapsed. Tshisekedi called for new “Sacred Union” coalition to elect a new prime minister. Since the December collapse Kabila’s cronies have been slowly nudged from power or marginalized by peaceful political maneuvers. In January Congo’s National Assembly (lower house of parliament) forced the resignation of Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, a Kabila supporter. On February 4 the Congolese parliament elected a new speaker. On February 5 earlier Congo’s state mining company Gecamines removed several Kabila operatives from senior positions. On February 15, Tshisekedi appointed a new prime minister. International support from the UN, especially the UN Peacekeeping force, and donor nations aided Tshisekedi’s efforts. (Austin Bay)

February 25, 2021: Foreign aid groups estimate that during 2021 in the Central African Republic (CAR) 55 percent of the population (2.8 million people) will need food and medical assistance. Donor nations will meet the need if it appears that the aid will get through to those who need it. In too many disaster areas delivery is a major problem and CAR is becoming more chaotic as rebel and bandit group see foreign aid as lucrative targets.

February 23, 2021: Azerbaijan is accused violating the arms embargo on Congo since 2015. The deliveries have not been large but since 2015 a hundred tons or more of weapons were flown in for the Republican Guard Force. Also known as the Presidential Guard, it is a separate division (about 12,000 troops) size force that reports directly to the president. It has existed on one form or another for decades. It is a well-paid military unit that does whatever the president decides needs to be done. Because of that the guard is responsible for a lot of the atrocities committed in the Congo since the 1990s. The current force is largely composed of men from Katanga, the home province of former president Kabila.

February 22, 2022: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province) the Italian ambassador (Luca Attanasio0) died after being wounded in an attack on a UN convoy. Two other people died in the ambush, an Italian Carabinieri police officer and the ambassador’s Congolese driver. The attack occurred near Congo’s Virunga National Park. Authorities called the attack an attempted kidnapping. Virunga National Park is a notorious hideout for all sorts of criminal groups.

February 20, 2021: Burundi and Tanzania announced they intend to raise $1.9 billion to build a 190-kilometer railway linking the Burundian city of Musongati to the port of Isaka, Tanzania. Burundi believes the rail line will be an economic boon to the country.

February 19, 2021: In northeast Congo (Ituri province) Congolese health officials believe that over the past three months at least 31 have died from a bubonic plague outbreak. Over 520 cases have been confirmed. Most of the cases are bubonic plague, though a handful (less than ten) of pneumonic and septicemic Bubonic plague variant cases have also been reported. Bubonic plague is usually spread via infected insects biting humans. Rodents and other small mammals also get infected and their fleas carry the plague as well. The two variants are pneumonic (spread via air from a plague victim or has the plague in their lungs) and septicemic (catching plague from exposure to the blood of a plague patient). Before the mid-20th century Bubonic plague was still a major killer, but was one of the many diseases treatable with antibiotics, developed in Britain just before World War II.

February 18, 2021: Uganda announced it will discipline seven soldiers involved in an attack on journalists and opposition politicians. The journalists were covering an event held by opposition leader Bobi Wine.

February 15, 2021: In northeast Congo (Ituri province) ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) Ugandan Islamist terrorists killed three soldiers and 13 civilians during an attack on a rural village. The attackers also burned down a church, a favorite target for Islamic terrorists everywhere.

February 14, 2021: In eastern Congo, North Kivu province reported its fourth case of Ebola virus since February 3.

In the southern Congo (Katanga province) rebels killed four members of the security forces and one civilian. The rebels attacked two towns near Lubumbashi (provincial capital). Both towns have police and soldiers providing security. Six rebels were killed in the attacks. The rebel attackers are believed to belong to the separatist Bakata-Katanga militia.

February 10, 2014: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province) health experts are tracing people who came in contact with a woman who died from Ebola virus in Butembo, a “mining town” that is the second largest city in North Kivu.

February 8, 2021: In CAR (Central African Republic) a key highway near the Cameroon borders is blocked by rebels. This has disrupted distribution of foreign aid throughout the country. About 1,500 trucks are halted at the Cameroon border. The blockading rebels are demanding that president Faustin-Archange Touadera resign. The CDC was formed in late 2020 when six of the largest rebels groups, including the Moslem ones, united to oppose the Christian president, Currently CDC forces control over half of CAR but have been unable to take and hold major cities. Most (80 percent) of the five million people in CAR are Christian and the ten percent who are Moslem live in the north. There has always been some religion-based fighting but the most common cause of violence is caused by tribal rivalries. The rebel groups are largely tribe-based.

February 7, 2021: In Congo medical officials confirmed a new Ebola outbreak has erupted in the northeast (North Kivu province). On February 3 a person died from Ebola in the North Kivu town of Butembo. ADF Islamic terrorists killed at least 12 people in attacks in North Kivu province.

February 6: In the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), across the Congo River from the larger Congo Republic, Catholic bishops announced they were deeply concerned about the presidential elections scheduled for March 21. The bishops think government-imposed coronavirus restrictions will restrict voting. They are also wary of vote fraud. Incumbent president Denis Sassou Nguesso is seeking a fourth term.

February 5, 2021: In Burundi a court has sentenced 34 people to life in prison. They were convicted of an alleged coup attempt against former President Pierre Nkurunziza, who is now dead. There’s a catch here. All of the convicted are in exile. The 34 convicted include journalists, reformers and a former Burundian Army senior general.

Gecamines, Congo’s government-run mining company, fired its secretary general and several other senior officers. All of the individuals removed had political ties to former president Joseph Kabila. President Tshisekedi intends to replace the fired individuals with qualified technical experts. Gecamines basically controls Congo’s mining sector. It has significant minority shares in all major mining Congo operations.

February 4, 2021: The International Criminal Court convicted former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Most of Ongwen’s victims were murdered in Uganda.

Congo’s parliament elected Christophe Mboso as speaker. Diplomatic sources said Mboso’s election gives President Felix Tshisekedi’s coalition control of the legislative chamber. Mboso formerly supported Kabila, but in December 2020 he switched his support to Tshisekedi.

In Angola reform groups are asking the government to investigate the deaths of ten unarmed protestors on January 30. The reformers allege the protestors were slain by Angolan security forces in the town of Cafunfu (Lunda Norte province). Angola’s government contends it is confronting a rebellion by the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement.

February 2, 2021: Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with President Tshisekedi to discuss Egypt’s position on Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). It was Tshisekedi’s first trip to Cairo.

The UN reports that since January 1 over 200,000 people have fled violence in the CAR. 100,000 of the refugees have fled to the Congo.

January 30, 2021: Ugandan security forces have released opposition political leader Bobi Wine. He was the opposition’s major political candidate in the recent election. He had been under arrest since the January 14th election.

January 29, 2021: The UN extended the existence of the Congo peacekeeper force until December 20, 2021. The extension included the FIB (Force Intervention Brigade). Also known as the IBDE, FIB was authorized to conduct offensive operations. This is a rare exception to standard peacekeeper “defense only” tactics. The Congo peacekeepers will maintain 14,000 troops, 660 military observers, 591 police and 1,050 policemen in paramilitary police units. This latest extension indicates the depth of international support for President Tshisekedi. In light of events during the month of February, the extension of the FIB becomes more important. Former President Kabila is widely believed to have loyal officers in Congo’s national police force and the elite Presidential Guard force is personally loyal to him. Many feared the police and military would launch a coup against Tshisekedi is he took action against Kabila. Tshisekedi has taken action – and so far, not a peep from the security forces. The UN Congo peacekeeping force is by far the strongest military outfit in central Africa. The FIB is by far the deadliest combat unit in Congo. South Africa and Tanzania both provide crack infantry battalions. The third battalion, provided by Malawi, rates as a veteran light infantry battalion. South Africa provides an artillery battery and attack helicopters. The UN peacekeepers have a mandate to protect legitimate authority in Congo. If the Presidential Guard launched a coup to restore Kabila would the FIB react? Kabila can’t be certain it wouldn’t. Yes, this is a scenario. (Austin Bay)

 

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