Congo: The Exception Is The Cure


November 3, 2017: So much of central Africa has been a mess for so long (longer that written records) there are still some nations that manage to avoid the corruption, civil disorder and general chaos that is so common. Currently the most glaring exception is Rwanda, which is literally right in the middle of it all. International surveys find that Rwanda is one of the safest nations in Africa and the only two ranked safer are Algeria and Morocco on the Mediterranean coast. In Rwanda GDP is grow 5-7 percent a year. Only five percent of Rwanda's GDP and 17 percent of the government budget comes from aid and other donations. Many attribute all this success to president Paul Kagame, who is unquestionably the most popular leader in Rwanda. But that is misleading. Kagame is accused of intimidating his opponents with physical threats and jail terms. Despite this even his many critics admit he ihas taken the lead in modernizing Rwanda's economy and attacking corruption. Kagame plans to stick around and 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. While leadership is important it is not the key factor. The key in Africa and throughout the world, is a population where enough people are willing to avoid corruption and violence and basically get on with your life. So simple yet so rare. Kagame may yet wreck the country by refusing to leave office when he can no longer win fair elections. That is common, especially in Africa. But the exceptions to the centuries old chaos and misery that led Central Africa to be dubbed “the heart of darkness” in the 18th century are signs that it does not always have to be that way.

Meanwhile west of Rwanda Congo is drifting towards another civil war because the current president, Joseph Kabila, has organized an effort (so far successful) to become president-for-life. This sort of thing is unpopular with most Congolese but it is a common situation in Congo and throughout Africa. There is no easy solution to this problem and Kabila is taking advantage of that to permanently avoid holding national elections while he and his equally corrupt associates loot the country. No wonder donor nations are losing enthusiasm for spending over a billion dollars a year trying to get Congo to calm down and handle its own affairs peaceably. That works better as a concept than an achievable reality in many parts of the world. The Kabila issue is at the center of an increase in unrest throughout Congo this year. So far in 2017 there are 1.5 million new internal refugees in Congo, compared to 922,000 for all of 2016.

Another side effect of Kabila concentrating on looting rather than administering Congo is that all sorts of troublesome groups can sneak in. In eastern Congo (North Kivu) there are at least 400 South Sudan rebels taking refuge from the civil war next door in South Sudan.

November 1, 2017: In northern CAR (Central African Republic) fighting between Moslem Seleka rebels and a Christian "anti-balaka" militias during the last week has left at least 16 dead. This has been going on for several years, often in and around the town of Batangafo. In the last five months about 80,000 civilians have fled the fighting in this area. The civil war in CAR has been going on since 2013 and so far in 2017 over a thousand people, most of them civilians, have died because of it. The CAR violence had subsided in 2016 but throughout 2017 it is getting worse. CAR has been suffering from political violence since 1993 and in the late 1990s UN peacekeepers got involved. That force has grown to about 10,000 personnel but has been unable to end the violence.

October 31, 2017: In Congo the opposition parties are willing to accept new elections in June 2018 only if president Kabila resigns by the end of 2017 and is replaced by a provisional government. Kabila is under heavy pressure from major aid donors (especially the U.S.) to obey the law or be abandoned and probably declared an international outlaw.

October 30, 2017: In eastern Congo (North Kivu) anti-Kabila protests were met by police violence that left at least five protesters dead. Over the next two days nearly fifty protesters were arrested.

October 27, 2017: Burundi completed the process of withdrawing from the ICC (International Criminal Court). It is the first state to do so since the ICC was established in 2002 (the Rome Statute agreement). Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza does not care for the ICC mainly because it criticizes him. Withdrawing from the ICC has become common in Africa, although most nations later change their minds. In 2014 Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni summed up the attitude pretty clearly when he declared that African nations need to withdraw from the ICC. Museveni claimed that the ICC is now used as a tool for oppressing Africans. The African Union had recently asked the ICC to refrain from prosecuting an African head of state or deputy head of state while the accused remained in power. Museveni’s declaration was ironic as he sought help from the ICC in dealing with the Ugandan rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA). The ICC (backed by ample evidence) charged LRA senior commander Kony with crimes against humanity. That’s why few nations want be permanently without the ICC.

October 22, 2017: In the south, Angola expelled 422 illegal migrants from Congo who had found work in oil-rich Cabinda Province. Refugees are one thing, taking jobs like these away from Angolans is another.

October 19, 2017: In southeast CAR (Central African Republic) several days of fighting between Christian and Moslem militias left at least 26 dead and many more wounded. This includes civilian bystanders. Two of the wounded were peacekeepers.

October 11, 2017: In east Congo (North Kivu province) Rwandan FDLR rebels attacked a village for supplies and killed six civilians and a policeman. Since 2001 the FDLR has operated largely as bandits in Congo, usually near the Rwandan border.

October 9, 2017: In east Congo (North Kivu province) two peacekeepers were killed and several wounded when their base was attacked by Ugandan ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) rebels. This follows an ADF raid two days ago that left at least 20 civilians dead. The ADF is a Moslem rebel group that is considered Islamic terrorists by Uganda and bandits in Congo. ADF has been active since the late 1990s and after a few years found it useful to operate on both sides of the border. Peak strength (over a decade ago) was nearly a thousand armed men but now is about a hundred. ADF is believed responsible for over 700 deaths in this area over the last three years.

October 6, 2017: In southeast Congo (South Kivu province) tribal militiamen attacked a peacekeeper position. Three of the attackers were killed and one captured. Two peacekeepers were wounded.


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