Congo: The Fix Is In

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: Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)

May 10, 2011: Congolese opposition parties are complaining that the government’s national election plans are inadequate. The parties are extremely critical of the Congo's National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) decision to hold elections on November 28, arguing that is way too soon. Some opposition politicians already maintain that the way president Joseph Kabila intends to run the elections is unconstitutional and the elections will be riddled with fraud. What’s unconstitutional? For starters, Kabila’s term ends December 6. The new president (assuming Kabila is not re-elected) would not be sworn in until December 20. As for fraud? Voter registration has been very slow. Opposition politicians claim their supporters have faced intimidation tactics from Congolese security forces (police and military). The presidential election will not have a run-off, so all Kabila has to do is finish first in the first round, which means he could be elected president with a bare plurality of the votes.

May 5, 2011: The UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) peacekeepers and police advisers will help train Congolese police battalions to provide security for the November 2011 national elections. MONUSCO peacekeepers will train six battalions. France will train two battalions and the Congolese government will train two more – for a total of ten battalions.

May 4, 2011: Germany is trying two Rwandan Hutu rebel militia leaders for war crimes. Both men, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, were senior leaders in the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia. Both men were living in exile in Germany and were finally arrested in 2009.

May 1, 2011: The UN reported that the FDLR and some of its allied Mai-Mai militias have increased their offensive activity in North Kivu province (eastern Congo). The FDLT and Mai Mai attacked and looted the town of Kanyabayonga (Lubero area, north of the city of Goma).

April 27, 2011: Burundi and Rwanda have agreed to increase intelligence sharing with the Congo. Burundi and Rwanda have a common interest in destroying the FDLR, which is a radical Hutu tribal organization. For the past two years Rwanda and the Congo have cooperated against the FDLR and have discussed running a joint intelligence center. The FDLR and other radical Hutu organizations often use Burundi as a transit corridor when moving from the Congo to Rwanda or Rwanda to the Congo.

April 20, 2011: MONUSCO is trying to provide some structure to the Congo’s mining industry. One initiative involves creating trading centers (centres de negoce). MONUSCO plans to build five trading centers in North and South Kivu provinces. One will be located near the Bisie mining area. The idea is to slowly establish civilian control over the mines and ore shipment business, and remove the militias, gangs, and yes, Congolese Army soldiers who now control the mines. Eventually the civilian government would get control of all ore shipments, at least that’s the concept. Actually doing it is something else entirely. The Kivus are only one part of the problem. Itruria region (north of North Kivu) and the city of Bunia are notorious world-wide for their wildcat gold operations and gold smuggling.

April 15, 2011: Mineralogists and mining companies have estimated that the Congo has over $24 trillion worth of precious minerals, including gold, tin, tantalum, tungsten, and cobalt.

April 10, 2011: Recent international actions to limit the smuggling of Congolese minerals and to force companies to trace the origin of minerals they buy (traceability requirements) have sparked some interesting debate among human rights groups, NGOs, and developmental aid agencies. Everyone seems to agree that trading in illegal minerals (conflict minerals) is not a good thing to do, but stopping smuggling and illegal mining won’t solve the Congo’s real problems. The country’s biggest problem remains security, and just about every other MONUSCO press release emphasizes that. The embedded and endless corruption is another problem of immense significance. The corruption charge of course implicates the elites who rule (misrule, actually) the country. People with a lot of experience throughout central Africa know that militias like the Mai-Mai don’t need guns and ammo to commit crimes. In fact, several Mai-Mai militias started out being primarily armed with spears and machetes, with a few AK-47s in the mix. A phrase has cropped up in discussion among aid groups and NGOs that is blunt, poignant, and unfortunately accurate: stopping the trade in Congolese conflict minerals will not stop the conflict in the Congo.

 

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