Congo: Prelude To Another Nightmare



Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)


November 21, 2011: The big story in Congo is preparation for the elections, or the lack of it. The huge nation is short on police and many of the policemen it does have are either poorly trained or corrupt, or both. The Congo has a total of 110,000 policemen, at least according to the government who pays their salaries. Two months ago several international observer teams noted that police units do not have anti-riot gear, in other words, if it comes to trouble their options are limited. They can use clubs or guns. The international advisers also said there were good reasons to believe people would take to the streets and the police should be prepared for crowd control operations. After the 2006 elections (the first in 40 years), which were disputed, angry members of losing political parties came out in large numbers. So did the party militias, except the militias showed up in public with lots of weapons. Not every political party has a militia but the big ones do. The militias look and act a lot like tribal militias. There is a reason. Congolese parties align fairly well with tribes or tribal groups. This is why keeping crowds from getting too boisterous is important. If fighting erupts and bloodletting starts, a tribal war could be a brick bashing or knife wound away. A tribal clash that can be kept low key and local is business as usual in the Congo. If it spreads, however, everyone fears a renewed civil war.

At the moment there are 11 official presidential candidates. The current president, Joseph Kabila, is the overwhelming favorite. It is a given he will be accused of vote buying and vote fraud. The main opposition party is the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDSP). Its candidate is 79 year old Etienne Tshisekedf.

November 7, 2011: Tanzania arrested at least 20 Congolese Army (FARDC) soldiers who entered the country illegally on a boat. A Congolese Army spokesman said the soldiers were pursuing guerrillas.

November 6, 2011: A Congolese Army unit attacked an Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) guerrilla base near the Congo-Uganda border. Uganda has been urging the Congo and UN forces in the Congo to crackdown on the ADF. The ADF allegedly has ties to the Somalia Islamist Al Shabaab organization which claims it will launch more terror attacks in Uganda. The Congolese Army claimed it killed at least ten ADF fighters.

November 4, 2011: The Rwandan government sent the Congo a shipment of 82 tons of smuggled minerals that Rwandan police have seized in the last several months. The smuggled minerals include coltan and caasiterite.

October 8, 2011: A European Union security study estimated that some 70 percent of the mass rapes in the eastern Congo are committed by uniformed personnel. The implication is that Congolese Army units are involved. That is very likely, since many Congolese Army units are simply former rebel militias that have been integrated into the army. The result is obvious. Congolese citizens in the eastern Congo fear their own military forces. The distrust of the military is one reason the EU is trying to improve Congolese police forces. However, few expect improvement any time soon. The EU police adviser mission believes it will take 15 years to build and reform the police forces.

September 30, 2011: International advisers, several working with MONUSCO (UN stabilization and advisory mission that replaced MONUC) say Congo is not ready for elections and poorly run elections or another disputed ballot could lead to another round of country-wide instability. That is a euphemism for more anarchic war. Election teams note that the country has 62,000 polling stations and basic balloting equipment (including boxes) has not been distributed. Sure, the election is November 28, two months away, but the Congo has few good roads. It is a huge logistical task to distribute ballot boxes and ballots. Opposition candidates are already complaining that the election is rigged. The government is not letting them audit voter registration rolls.





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