Congo: Congo Coming Apart Again

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November 2, 2016: The date of the national election continues to slip as the country slides toward violent political confrontation. It looks like President Joseph Kabila will remain president past December 19, the day he is supposed to step down and turn the office over to a duly elected successor. One opposition group agreed to let the election slip to April 2016. However, some of Kabila’s supporters are now insisting on a November 2018 date. One national election officials has mentioned December 2018. The UN, African Union (AU) and donor countries are encouraging Kabila’s government and the political opposition “to continue to pursue inclusive political dialogue.” That’s diplo-speak for keep talking instead of fighting. The government put down the September demonstrations in the capital, Kinshasa, but sporadic demonstrations and strikes continue. The demonstration of September 19 did turn violent. That’s the day Congo’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) failed to initiate the presidential election process required by the constitution. Alas, CENI wasn’t independent. The UN now estimates that 53 people were killed and over 100 wounded on September 19. The Congolese political opposition is a hodge-podge and anything but united, but that reflects the Congo. It is a fractured country. The political opposition begins with the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) which has always opposed Kabila. It now includes several former Kabila supporters in the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) and the G7 (group of seven) small parties that left Kabila’s party in 2015. Despite the opposition’s divisions, many Congolese are angry with Kabila’s complete disregard of the constitution. Militants in the political parties are demanding action. All of the big parties have “militant wings” that could quickly become militias. In fact, some of them were armed militias in the Great Congo War (1998-2003).

More signs of popular disenchantment are appearing. They include the "yebela" rally cry. The word translates as “know it” (meaning Kabila knows his term is about to end). It is being shouted at soccer (football) matches. It has generated a popular social media hashtag. So has “telema,” which roughly translates as “stand up (for your rights).” What is the UN and its peacekeepers going to do? The army relies heavily on the peacekeepers for logistical support, intelligence and training. A withdrawal of the peacekeepers would seriously weaken the already weak army. However, Kabila wants the peacekeepers to leave. He would like to have a strong army, but when it comes to protecting his power base he relies on his loyal Presidential Guard (GR). The GR is the best trained and best armed army unit. It’s really a division, with around 12,000 personnel. The peacekeepers, however, shows no signs of leaving. The peacekeepers are by far the most powerful armed force in Congo. Everyone, including Kabila, knows this. The peacekeeper’s presence hasn’t stopped him from attempting to subvert the constitution and remain in power. However, Kabila’s actions are undermining the entire peacekeeping effort and the UN is not pleased with him. The displeasure in personal. UN administrators and diplomats from a dozen major nations are expressing that displeasure, in ever harsher terms. (Austin Bay)

October 31, 2016: The government confirmed that Congolese security forces in North Kivu province have arrested Colonel Habyarimana Mucebo Sofuni, a senior commander in the FDLR Rwandan guerrilla group.

October 30, 2016: The Ugandan government is considering ceasing military operations against the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) outside of the country. That would mean the Ugandan Army would no longer conduct anti-LRA operations in the Central African Republic (CAR), Congo and South Sudan. It would all but end Ugandan participation in the African Union Regional Task Force (AURTF) that is pursuing LRA remnants throughout central Africa. AURTF has been called “the hunt for Joseph Kony” the LRA’s senior commander and under indictment for numerous war crimes. Around 100 U.S. special operations soldiers still train and advise the AURTF. The U.S. also provides intelligence, logistics support and air support to the AURTF. The Americans have worked very closely with the Ugandan military and Ugandan “hunter patrols” have conducted most of the combat patrols. Ugandan withdrawal might put the entire AURTF operation in jeopardy. Why is Ugandan thinking about ending its participation in AURTF? AURTF now estimates that the LRA has fewer than 100 fighters who are divided into five or six “bands” (sub-groups) that move among sanctuaries in Congo, Sudan, South Sudan and the CAR. One band, led by a man with the nom de guerre Achaye Doctor, is really a splinter group and no longer takes orders from Kony. The Ugandans believe that less than half of the 100 fighters in the “remnant LRA” are Ugandans. Moreover, Kony no longer has a base of support in northern Uganda. He is a political has been and a pariah. Add it all up and at least some senior members of the Ugandan government are making the case the LRA is no longer a Ugandan rebel group. Is that fight against the LRA over? Not really. Kony hasn’t been captured, and that is still an AURTF goal. Since 2013 the rumor mill says his band operates from hideouts in the CAR, in Sudan’s South Darfur state and the Kafia Kingi enclave (and area claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan). The remnant LRA remains a threat to rural communities in the CAR and Congo. In the first three months of 2016 the LRA was involved in some 300 abductions. The majority of LRA abductions are short term. When an LRA band attacks and plunders a village, it will force some of the inhabitants to carry the loot. However there is some evidence that LRA the bands have kidnapped some young men with the goal of turning them into recruits. (Austin Bay)

October 29, 2016: UN peacekeepers in Central African Republic (CAR) reported at least 25 people were killed during the past week in battles between Muslim Seleka rebels and Christian anti-balaka militiamen. The worst clash took place October 27 when 15 people were slain in the town of Bambari. Six police officers were killed in an ambush on October 28. The 25 killed figure is an estimate. More may have died in Bambari.

October 24, 2016: Four people were killed and 14 wounded during anti-UN protests held in the CAR capital. Peacekeepers may have caused the majority of the casualties because a large group of protestors tried to swarm the UN headquarters compound. Peacekeepers had to fire on the protestors and use tear gas in order to defend their compound. The peacekeepers succeeded but five peacekeepers were injured in the process.

October 20, 2016: The UN is beefing up its military presence in Congo’s capital. Several hundred peacekeepers currently deployed in eastern Congo are being moved west to the Kinshasa area. UN officials are concerned that violence may increase as disenchantment with postponement of the presidential election spreads. At least 300 more soldiers and police will reinforce the MONUSCO peacekeeping contingent that is stationed inside the city. Around 11 million people live in Kinshasa.

October 19, 2016: Opposition leaders are calling for more strikes throughout the Congo. The strikes will protest the deaths of 53 protestors killed in the September 19 demonstration in Kinshasa as well as President Kabila’s refusal to leave office.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has convicted former Congo Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba of bribing witnesses. He has already been convicted of war crimes and is serving a sentence of 18 years in prison.

Burundi has withdrawn from the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is the first state to do so since it was established in 2002 (the Rome Statute agreement). Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza does not care for the ICC mainly because it criticizes him.

October 18, 2016: A minor opposition group and the government have signed an agreement that calls for holding the presidential election in April 2018.

Pygmies (Batwa tribe) and members of the Luba tribe are once again fighting in Katanga province’s south-eastern region and 16 have died so far. Batwa tribesmen accused Luba of extortion after the Luba attempted to levy an illegal tax on Batwa vendors. The Batwa were selling caterpillars, which Congolese consider a food delicacy. In the past violence has flared over land rights

October 17, 2016: UN administrators serving with CAR peacekeeping operation condemned assaults on peacekeepers by rebels and protestors. The UN has said that the attackers will be punished. The attacks have occurred in various parts of the country. On October 16 a Pakistani unit was attacked in the northern CAR. The Pakistani soldiers quickly defeated the attack. On October 14 a Mauritanian contingent was attacked on a road near Bambari and five peacekeepers were wounded.

October 14, 2016: The EU (European Union) has decided to increase pressure on the Congolese government because of President Kabila’s abrogation of the constitution by postponing elections and remaining in power beyond the end of his term. One senior EU minister said that the EU will penalize Kabila’s government for “stoking violence” in the country in order to justify remaining in power.

October 12, 2016: The governor of Katanga province announced that Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga, a rogue militia leader who escaped prison in 2011, has surrendered about 70 kilometers from Katanga’s capital, Lubumbashi. Also taken were a hundred of his Mai-Mai Kata Katanga militiamen. Katangan authorities had been negotiating with “Commander Gedeon” for weeks. The militiamen will be allowed to join the Congo’s demobilization program. Mutanga will still face criminal charges. Mutanga styles himself as a Katangan separatist leader. “Kata Katanga” translates as “Secede Katanga” (Swahili). However, he has a long record for committing murder and plundering villages.

October 11, 2016: UN officials said that President Kabila’s decision to remain in office has put the country at "extreme risk" for violence and instability. The UN continues to demand that elections be held in 2016.

October 10, 2016: In Congo at least eight civilians died in a battle between the army and ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) Islamist rebels. The ADF rebels attacked the town of Beni (North Kivu province). In the resulting firefight, one ADF rebel, one Congolese soldier and eight civilians were killed when caught in the crossfire.

October 7, 2016: In Congo the government was accused of failing to protect civilians in the Beni area of North Kivu province.

October 6, 2016: In Kinshasa a group of pro-Kabila protestors confronted an American diplomat and told him that Congo no longer needs U.S. support. It’s fair to presume they really meant that the Kabila government doesn’t want the UN, the U.S. and other donor nations to impose personal sanctions on Kabila and his supporters as penalties for violating Congo’s constitution. UN and American diplomats have accused Kabila of violating a fundamental law and putting the country at risk of renewed civil war.

October 5, 2016: It’s a sign of the political friction between Rwanda and Burundi. In July, Burundi banned food exports to Rwanda. Rwanda is a major market for Burundian fruit. Now fruit prices in Rwanda have spiked. Fruit from Uganda and Tanzania is more expensive to import.

October 4, 2016: The UN announced that it will airlift several hundred South Sudanese fighters from Congo. The South Sudanese are supporters of the South Sudan rebel leader who is now in Sudan. Presumably his fighters will be flown to Sudan.

October 2, 2016: Opposition groups announced they will launch strikes and conduct nation-wide demonstrations if the elections are delayed. The opposition party statements followed an announcement

The president of Congo’s election commission (CENI) said that the next presidential election will most likely occur in December 2018.

October 1, 2016: The ninja war is flickering once again in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). Four Congolese soldiers died in the Pool region when “former ninja fighters” attacked the Kimbedi military base. Two other soldiers were killed in an attack on September 28.

 

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