Congo: Seeking A Cure For The Election Disease


August 4, 2017: In Congo President Joseph Kabila remains in power and continues to ignore the December 31 2016 agreement he signed in which he promised to allow elections and comply with the constitution and not proceed with his plans to remain president-for-life. This crises began when Kabila refused to step down at the end of his second elected term in December 2016. The constitution limits him to two terms. He won the elections in 2006 and 2011, but he claims his first term really didn't count so he can run again. National elections to replace him were supposed to be held in November 2016 but Kabila's government intentionally delayed preparing for the election until it was too late.

He negotiated this deal with the Catholic bishops of Congo because the Roman Catholic Church is the most trusted institution in the country. Kabila signed this agreement to avoid a popular uprising and international sanctions. The December Accord, as it came to be known, created a process detailing how the president would eventually cede power. It called for establishing a transitional government and holding new national elections by December 2017. However, there is no transitional government and preparations for a new election are haphazard.

The December Accord was a political effort to avoid civil war. But less than a month after signing the December Accord, Kabila’s supporters started coming up with excuses to delay elections until 2018 (or later). By March the Catholic bishops ended direct negotiations with the government. Anti-Kabila protests continue despite Kabila's attempts to intimidate his opposition using the police and street gangs loyal to his political party. On July 23 the opposition umbrella group, Rassemblement, announced it will conduct a series of strikes throughout the country and encourage civil disobedience. These are protests, not an armed anti-Kabila rebellion.

However, in the southwest (Kasai province) the Kamuina Nsapu rebellion has an anti-Kabila dimension. So far the government has failed to end that rebellion in large part because of popular opposition to Kabila. In the east (primarily North and South Kivu provinces) the government confronts armed militias, most with a tribal connection though some are simply criminal gangs. UN peacekeepers are particularly active in eastern Congo. Kabila has the political power to control of the state bureaucracy as well as loyal military and police units to physically control the capital (Kinshasa) and other major cities. He has managed to buy-off several opposition leaders but he has not been able to compromise all of them. For example, he cannot buy off Moise Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga province and one of the wealthiest men in Congo. Katumbi owns part of Congo's most successful soccer club, which gives him added prestige in Congo and notoriety throughout Africa. Kabila fears him. In 2016 Kabila got a court to sentence Katumbi in absentia to 36 months in prison for illegally selling a property. Most Congolese know the charges are a sham. Nonetheless, Katumbi lives in exile in Belgium.

The UN peacekeepers are the most powerful military force in Congo, and Kabila must take that into consideration as he continues his quest to retain power. Many peacekeeper contingents are very professional, especially those serving with the elite Intervention Brigade (IBDE) and rapid reaction units. The overall UN peacekeeping effort in Congo (especially since 2003) rates as a partial success. Even though the UN is not supposed to take sides, if Kabila undermines the success the peacekeepers have achieved he risks making the peacekeeping force an adversary if not an enemy. Kabila is also vulnerable to financial pressure exerted by donor nations. The UN, western donor nations and African nations bordering Congo are concerned that another great Congolese civil war (1996-2003) will erupt if Kabila clings to power. They want to avoid that disaster in which three to five million people died. The high death toll includes people killed in the fighting and "excess mortality" related to the fighting, such as displaced people dying of exposure. A key part of the political settlement ending it was limiting the president to two terms in office. The fighting didn't completely stop in 2003. Bitter fighting continued, much of it ethnic-related. However, UN peacekeepers prevented another outright civil war. An estimated 200,000 more people died in the post-civil war combat and chaos that continued for over a decade (2003-2013). Again, that figure includes "excess mortality." The post-war death toll is debatable, but in 2013 there were still over two million internally displaced people in eastern Congo. (Austin Bay)

July 31, 2017: In Congo police arrested over a hundred protesters in cities all over the country. The demonstrations were held to support efforts to hold presidential elections by the end of the year. The current government does not seem eager to hold presidential elections.

July 29, 2017: Rwandan president Paul Kagame declared that he will win re-election in the election scheduled for August 4. His announcement was met with accusations that the vote is rigged. Perhaps the election won't be fair and square. Kagame has intimidated his opponents with physical threats and jail terms. However, he is unquestionably the most popular leader in Rwanda. Even his many critics admit he is modernizing Rwanda's economy and attacking corruption. Only five percent of Rwanda's GDP and 17 percent of the government budget comes from aid and other donations. Kagame is not term limited. He pulled the "change the constitution" trick in 2015 when he held a referendum to change to constitution so he could run for a third term. Under the new post-referendum system he could remain in power until 2034. Kagame became president in 2000, but he has basically been in charge of the country since his Rwandan Patriotic Front took power after the 1994 Hutu-Tutsi genocide. (Austin Bay)

July 28, 2017: In eastern Congo (South Kivu province) 20 inmates escaped in another prison break. At least one person died in the breakout which began when someone tossed a grenade inside the prison. Guards wounded four people trying to prevent the escape. This is the sixth major prison break in Congo in the last three months. In May 4,000 prisoners escaped from a prison in the capital (Kinshasa). In June over 900 escaped from a prison in the east (North Kivu province).

July 27, 2017: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province) a militia attacked the town of Mabuo and killed one soldier while taking around 100 civilians hostage.

July 26, 2017: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province) a local militia leader wanted on war crimes charges surrendered to peacekeepers. Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka was indicted in 2011 on charges of crimes against humanity, to include mass rape. Sheka's fighters also mutilated the bodies of the people killed. He was the founder and senior commander of Nduma Defense of Congo militia group (also known as the Mai-Mai Sheka.)

July 25, 2017: In southwest Congo (Kasai province) UN investigators concluded that soldiers and a pro-government militia (the Bana Mura) are responsible for digging at least 42 mass graves in Kasai. The UN investigators accused Congolese forces of "brutal and disproportionate repression against the Kamuina Nsapu" rebel militia. Local Catholic Church officials estimated that more than 3,300 people have been killed in fighting in the Kasai region since soldiers killed the militia’s traditional chief in August 2016. That figure may be low. So far investigators have identified 80 grave sites. The fighting in Kasai has forced over 1.4 million people to flee their homes.

July 23, 2017: In southeastern Central African Republic (CAR) two Moroccan peacekeepers were killed and another wounded when anti-Balaka fighters ambushed a convoy of water trucks. Two more peacekeepers suffered injuries in the ambush. So far this year nine UN peacekeepers in CAR have been killed.

In Congolese the political opposition announced it will conduct "rolling" strikes and acts of civil disobedience with the goal of eventually forcing President Joseph Kabila from power. A two-day long general strike throughout the country is planned for August 8. The opposition also wants citizens to stop paying taxes to the government and to quit paying their bills to government's water and electricity monopolies.

July 21, 2017: The Angolan parliament has passed a law that denies future presidents the ability to fire the directors of Angola's intelligence, military and police agencies. The ruling MPLA party forced the legislation through parliament over the stiff objections of opposition parties, especially UNITA. In February 2017 Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos announced he will leave office before the August 23, 2017 election. He has ruled Angola since 1979 and his health is deteriorating. The opposition parties say the new legislation curtailing future presidential power means dos Santos and his protégés will continue running the country no matter who wins the election. Recently the parliament passed another bill that gave dos Santos the lifelong title of President Emeritus. The title grans his lifetime immunity and protection from prosecution.

July 17, 2017: In northeastern Congo the Ugandan rebel LRA (Lords Resistance Army) has again demonstrated that it has not completely disappeared. Although no longer a political threat, it remains a menace. Apparently LRA is now targeting several villages in and around Congo's Garamba National Park. In May and June an LRA band launched at least 14 attacks on villages near Garamba. The band is believed to be led by two senior LRA commanders Okot Owila (“Marisako”) and Otto Ladere and may have retreated to Congo from the CAR earlier this year. Both Owila and Ladere hold the rank of major in the LRA. Owila knows the area because at one time he led an LRA group the smuggled poached elephant tusks from Congo to the Central African Republic. From there the illegal ivory was shipped to Sudan. (Austin Bay)

July 16, 2017: In northeast Congo (Ituri province, near the South Sudan border) five park rangers have died in firefights with a Mai-Mai militia in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Two rangers will killed when the militia on July 14 when the militia abducted four people (an American journalist and three park rangers). Three Congolese park rangers were killed in a joint operation with the army to free the abductees, who were rescued unharmed. Park authorities said the militiamen were illegally mining gold inside the wildlife reserve.

Elsewhere in the area (North Kivu province) a Mai-Mai militia killed a park ranger in Virunga National Park near Lake Edward.

July 14, 2017: The Ugandan government announced that it intends to remove the age limit for presidential candidates. The current age limit is 75. The change means the current president, Yoweri Museveni, will be able to run for re-election in 2021. Museveni has been president since 1986 and is now in his fifth presidential term.

July 12, 2017: In southwest Congo (Kasai province) UN peacekeepers report that violence in the area "has reached very disturbing levels." Ironically, the Kabila government, which arguably ignited the violence, is now using the violence as a reason to delay the next presidential election. The national election agency said that it is just too dangerous to register voters in Kasai and Kasai Central provinces.

In Rwanda the government is accused of executing petty criminals without trial -- in other words, summary executions. The claim is that from July 2016 to March 2017 Rwanda executed 37 petty criminals. Some of the executed had committed minor theft. It is believed the government killed the criminals was to intimidate the entire population. The Rwandan government denied the accusation.

July 11, 2017: The U.S. is threatening to impose new individual sanctions on anyone who helps delay preparation for the election to replace President Kabila. The U.S. will block financials assets in the U.S. and bars American citizens from conducting financial transactions with sanctioned individuals.

July 10, 2017: In Burundi (Kayanza province) a grenade attack in a rural village killed eight people and wounded at least 50 more. Local police called it a terrorist attack, but the government uses that description to describe all of the armed opposition groups that oppose President Pierre Nkurunziza. An estimated 1,200 people have been killed in political violence in Burundi since April 2015 when Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term in office.

July 9, 2017: Uganda announced that its military will acquire five upgraded UH-1 Huey II helicopters. This is Uganda's biggest weapons acquisition since 2012 when it bought six Russian Su-30MK jets for $180 million.

July 7, 2017: The head of Congo's electoral commission does not think an election can be held in 2017 to replace President Kabila. Opposition leaders immediately called Nangaa's statement a declaration of "war" that clearly violates the December Accord.

July 6, 2017: In Congo low commodity prices and financial mismanagement have forced the government to ask international donors for more money. The government is asking for help with the balance of payments and budget in general. The request has been delivered to several nations and agencies, including the UN, the African Union and the European Union. Congo is talking with the IMF. The request does not state a figure, but analysts think Congo needs at least $550 million. Obviously, many donors balk at helping Kabila and Congo's weak financial situation is political leverage.

In eastern Congo (South Kivu province) a Mai-Mai militia freed 24 truck drivers it kidnapped this week. The drivers worked for a Canadian mining company.

July 4, 2017: In Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza is accused of "ethnically purging" the army by firing ethnic Tutsi officers. Since November 2016 Tutsis who are former army officers have been subjected to violent attacks, arbitrary arrest and abduction. There is apparently evidence of at least 120 incidents. The government denies the accusations.

July 3, 3017: Uganda revealed that it was investigating reports that on June 17 a group of at least two-dozen armed men crossed the border from South Sudan and attacked the village of Gbari and stole 108 cattle. A second attack occurred on June 20 and two South Sudanese refugees were kidnapped. Some observers said the attackers wore South Sudanese army uniforms. South Sudan denied that its forces had entered Uganda. In the last two months there have been several raids where cattle were stolen.

July 1, 2017: Burundi accused Rwandan soldiers of killing a Burundian citizen and abducting two others. The alleged incident occurred in the town of Rutorero (Cibitoke province, on the Rwanda-Burundi border). There have been several incidents in the area since January 2017. So far this year Rwanda acknowledges killing six Burundian citizens its soldiers said were attempting to illegally enter Rwanda.

June 30, 2017: Senior UN officials once again accused the Congolese government of arming the pro-government Bana Mura militia in the Kasai region. There is evidence that the Bana Mura militia is basically a government paramilitary organization used to fight the Kamuina Nsapu rebellion. The Bana Mura militia tends to attack civilians from the Lulua and Luba tribes.




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