Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How the Congolese army perceives itself

During the recent military escalation in the Kivus, the Congolese army fared far better than in the past, defeating a weakened M23. While the army leadership made an effort to streamline the chain of command and to ensure adequate supplies, army reform will have to be far more deep-rooted.

It is interesting to see how Congolese officers themselves see the challenge. In February of this year, the army high command invited around 120 senior officers to Kinshasa for a seminar on army reform––it was an excuse to remove them from the field, where they were clogging up the military hierarchy and, in the case of some, embezzling funds. But many of them are highly qualified officers, and when they were asked to produce an analysis of the army's defeat to the M23 in Goma in November 2012, they came up with a telling and damning document.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's left to save in Kampala?

On Monday, the peace talks in Kampala seemed to (again) be on the verge of success. The M23 and the Congolese government delegations were on their way to State House, and international envoys said both sides had agreed on the eleven articles of the agreement. At the last minute, however, the deal fell apart––over the simple issue of a title.

The Congolese refuse to sign an "agreement" (accord) and merely want to issue a "declaration" to conclude the talks. The M23 and the Ugandan mediation, meanwhile, are pushing for a formal, binding agreement.

The Congolese––who have been blamed by the Ugandan mediation for the failure, and who in their turn blame Museveni––don't see why they should sign a binding agreement with an organization that no longer exists. "No country in history has signed an agreement with a movement that has declared its own dissolution," said the Congolese information minister. The Congolese delegation is under pressure from a Congolese public that never liked the Kampala talks and is all the more opposed now that the M23 has been militarily defeated. Meanwhile, the M23 leadership, who have little to gain personally by signing a deal, as they are unlikely to receive any high-ranking positions, don't want to hand the Congolese a diplomatic victory on top of the military one. 

They seemed to be backed in this position by the Ugandan facilitation, who, after all, has most of their military leaders in custody. The Ugandans immediately blamed the Congolese, saying they had been given a long time to study the agreement and refused even to enter the room with the M23. The Ugandans later made a semi-veiled threat, saying the M23 "can still regroup," something that would only be possible with Ugandan complicity, as the M23 rebels are now largely in the custody of their army. 

Why is a deal still important? For several reasons. First, there could be over 2,500 M23 soldiers still at large––390 have turned themselves over to the Congolese army, around 150 surrendered to the UN mission, over 600 are in Rwanda since Bosco Ntaganda's defection last April, and the Ugandans claim (although it begs credulity) that there are 1,700 on their soil. The peace deal would have given amnesty for crimes of insurrection and could have paved the way for the rank-and-file, at least, to come back home and enter demobilization or army integration. Now they are sitting around, an accident waiting to happen. This was the argument that Martin Kobler, the head of the UN mission, made yesterday.

Secondly, a peace deal would clearly state that there will be no amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity, at least theoretically preventing the Congolese from striking any deals with commanders with blood on their hands (although those deals are fairly unlikely now).

Finally, a peace deal would allow for the diplomatic process to continue. It would allow President Museveni's role––as controversial as it was––to be officially recognized, and bring the Kampala talks to a close. It would allow for Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda to put the M23 behind them and move forward on substantive issues of regional integration and dealing with other armed groups, such as the FDLR and ADF-Nalu. And it would marginalize the top M23 leadership, like Sultani Makenga and Innocent Kaina. 

For now, however, a peace deal seems a long way off. The international envoys have left Kampala, a war of blame has started between Kampala and Kinshasa, and only a small skeleton crew remains at the negotiation table. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Kabila's choice: reforms or survival?

Following the national concertations in Kinshasa in early October, President Kabila gave a speech in which he announced, in the interest of national unity, the formation of a "government of national cohesion." Now, a month later, there are signs that Kabila will move soon to set up this government. When he does so, he will have a difficult choice: keep the current prime minister and maintain course on state reforms; or bring in someone who can help him rally the political elite around him.

Prime Minister Matata Ponyo, who has been in office since April 2012, has been able to make modest progress on improving governance, especially with regards to the economy and state finances. He is particularly popular with the donor community, who think that he has been able to name some competent technocrats to various ministries and has inspired a new élan in government. Many soldiers and state officials are now paid directly through bank accounts and through mobile cash transfers; ministers are more transparent in their interactions with journalists; and inflation has remained negligible. (Although the cours des comptes recently released a damning audit of state finances.) If Kabila wants someone who can keep up this progress, then Matata and his team might be the best bet.

But is this Kabila's priority? The president is about the plunge into a difficult period in the run-up to the end of his term in 2016. Due to constitutional term limits, he will then have to hand over the reins to someone else or change the constitutional term limits––which is explicitly forbidden by Article 220 of the 2006 constitution. A third option is also increasingly being floated: just deferring elections, much like Gbagbo did in the Ivory Coast, for several years, using the national census and funding problems as a pretext.

As the president enters into this turbulence, it may be more important to have a prime minister who can rally the fractious political elite around him, so they can back whatever delays or legal changes he wants to push through. The current prime minister is a competent technocrat, but (in part, precisely because he comes from a technical background) he does not have much of a political base or the ability to mobilize key power-brokers. What's more, he has angered many bigwigs by clamping down on some of the corruption rackets they were running, and by insisting that heads of political parties are now allowed to participate in the government themselves. In other words, he has made a lot of enemies who are now clamoring for his departure, and the president may be looking for a different skill set in his next PM.