Congo: Turning Taxes Into A Weapon

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March 26, 2018: Is a "new Congo" possible? Exiled Congolese opposition leader Moise Chapwe Katumbi claims dramatic change for the better is possible and if he is elected president in the recently scheduled December presidential election, he will work to make Congo a "war-free" and prosperous country. Note that the government is now telling everyone new elections will occur in December 2018. As March began that wasn't certain. On March 14 Congo's prime minister said they would be held in December and president Joseph Kabila would not run. However, Kabila routinely promises to hold the long-overdue election then reneges. Kabila's refusal to step down continues to exacerbate every conflict and crisis gripping the country, and there are many conflicts and crises. Current estimates are that that Congo's internal conflicts have put 13 million people at physical risk and 4.6 million children are "acutely malnourished" (on the verge of starvation). Medical relief agencies report Congo's 2018 cholera epidemic was the worst outbreak since 2003. Despite the government's claims to ending warfare in the Kasai region, new violence is occurring. The Hema versus Lendu war in Ituri province has escalated. Could Katumbi get elected and could he bring peace to Congo? He could get elected. Katumbi is not just one of Congo's most popular opposition politicians, he is one of the most popular people in Congo. He owns one of Africa's most successfully soccer teams. He also has solid anti-Kabila credentials. Bringing peace, however, is a bigger task than getting elected. As of March 15, serious armed conflict is occurring in ten of Congo's 26 provinces. Beware the Ides of March. (Austin Bay)

March 25, 2017: Congolese soldiers in Ituri province (northeast Congo, bordering Uganda) killed 13 militiamen. The army has not yet identified the militia group.

The Congolese government has given a Dubai seaport development company a $1 billion joint venture contract to build a deep water seaport on Cong's Atlantic coast (which is only 50 kilometers in length). The contract calls for greatly improving the seaport of Banana (Bas Congo province), which is located on the coastal strip about one kilometer north of the mouth of the Congo River. The city of Muanda is five kilometers inland. To say Banana currently has limited docking facilities is an understatement-- it only has one wharf and it can only handle shallow draft freighters. It does have an estuary which tankers enter and discharge oil through a pipeline. Congo has larger seaports inland on the Congo River but they also have shallow harbors -- which means they cannot handle deep draft ships like supertankers and container ships. (Austin Bay)

March 24, 2018: In southwest Congo (Kasai region) the growing conflict has destroyed 400 schools and 600 public clinics. Some of the schools and clinics were targeted by militias because they are symbols of state power. Not all of them, some schools, clinics, homes and businesses were burned in battles with government forces and in inter-communal violence. But attacking targets with ties to the national government does send a message about the hatred for the Kabila regime. Government security forces (army and police) have secured large areas in Kasai. However, sporadic fighting among militia groups and between anti-government militias and the army continues. An estimated 400,000 children in Kasai suffer from severe acute malnutrition. That's about the same number of children suffering from acute malnutrition in the much more widely publicized war in Yemen. An estimated 35,000 Congolese refugees from the Kasai region are still in Angola.

March 23, 2018: In northeast Congo (Ituri province) peacekeepers found eight decayed bodies about 75 kilometers northwest of the city of Bunia. This confirms reports of March 13 attackers murdering at least 30 in the area. The peacekeepers did not identify the victims' tribe. In early February a new round of fighting broke out between the Hema and Lendu tribes in Ituri near the Uganda border. The fighting is now escalating. This time the Hema are claiming the Lendu attacked them. An estimated 50,000 Hema have fled to refugee camps in Uganda. From 1998 through 2003 both the Lendu and Hema militias conducted genocidal attacks on one another. The Lendu are the largest tribe in the Ituri region. Since the beginning of 2018 the fighting in Ituri has forced 50,000-60,000 into Uganda. Most of the efugees at Uganda's Kyangwali (just east of Lake Albert) refugee camp are Hema. Many Lendu refugees fleeing to Uganda have crossed Lake Albert by boat.

March 21, 2018: In southwest Congo (Kasai region) soldiers and the Kamuina Nsapu militia are no longer fighting over the town of Mwene Ditu. Locals from the town claim militiamen entered Mwene Ditu last year and executed (by decapitation) individuals they believed were collaborating with government security forces. Peacekeepers accuse all sides of committing atrocities and are looking into allegations that soldiers looted several villages in Kasai in late 2017.

March 20, 2018: Peacekeepers allege that police and the soldiers killed at least 47 anti-government protestors between January 1, 2017 and January 31, 2018. Eyewitnesses said that the security forces killed the protestors with "almost full impunity" -- meaning the Kabila government sanctioned the killings. The government used Congo's national police force, the Police Nationale Congolaise, to "crush dissent." The vast majority of protestors were peaceful and did not present a public threat.

March 18, 2018: Congolese opposition groups appear to be wary of recent reports that a new election will take place in December. Many Congolese fear that Kabila still plans to remain in office. There are several scenarios being publicly discussed, including a coup led by Kabila's presidential guard unit. Another scenario has Kabila backing one of his closest supporters then insuring the supporter wins. The supporter would be a stooge for Kabila, who would call the shots. For the record, in February Kabila said he would name a preferred successor in July. As a going away present Kabila may receive a permanent office, "senator-for-life." It would be something like serving in Britain's House of Lords. (Austin Bay)

March 17, 2018: In Congo the national election commission (CENI) announced it will be able to support the parliamentary and presidential elections now scheduled for December 23. Support means verifying voter registration, preparing polling places, supplying ballots and assuring ballot security. This is a major change from what CENI said last year when it was accused of helping President Kabila stall (or cancel) future elections. Admittedly, any nation-wide operation in Congo is huge because the country is huge, comparable in size to west Europe. The Kasai region is as large as Germany. However, Kasai is like the rest of Congo -- it has few all-weather roads.

March 14, 2018: In Congo the prime minister said that presidential elections will be held in December 2018 and President Kabila will not be a candidate. It was also claimed that security forces (police and the army) had restored "peace" in the Kasai region. The security forces are now in the process of "dismantling" Kasai's various armed militias. Meanwhile, the UN urged the Kabila government to protect citizens from attack by the security forces for the “crime” of peacefully demonstrating against government misbehavior.

March 12, 2018: Congolese opposition political leader Moise Katumbi said he would return to Congo by June 2018 from his exile in South Africa. He said he will also run for president. Katumbi fled Congo in May 2016 when the Kabila government accused him of hiring mercenaries.

March 10, 2018: Congo's move to increase taxes on mining companies and increase royalty rates on extracted mineral is encountering stiff criticism by the companies. At least one large firm said the increases are so onerous that its Congo operations would no longer be profitable.

March 9, 2018: President Kabila signed the new "mining code" into law. Over the past year months, several mining companies operating in the country have warned that the code violates existing agreements and contracts. They also said it will definitely discourage future investments, including investments in transportation infrastructure. This week the government said it will consider company complaints on a case by case basis. Unfortunately, in Congo consideration usually requires bribery. The truth is, the Kabila government is using the new mining code as a diplomatic and economic weapon. The government recently announced it will declare several minerals to be "strategic minerals." Two strategic minerals just happen to be minerals the government is charging higher royalties to mine: cobalt and coltan. Both are used to make high-capacity batteries that can power a range of products, including electric vehicles. Royalties on cobalt could quadruple. On an annual basis, Congo produces about 60% of the world's cobalt production. (Austin Bay)

CENI election officials in Kinshasa invited media to see a demonstration of a voting machine that they claim will reduce vote fraud and accelerate vote counting in Congo. The South Korean-manufactured machines look something like large tablet computers. Unfortunately, during the demonstration the machine broke down.

Progress continues on the Rwanda-Tanzania railroad project. Rwanda and Tanzania have agreed to a design for a standard gauge railroad running from Isaka to Kigali, Rwanda. The modernized railroad will connect Rwanda to Tanzania's rail system and dramatically lower transportation costs between Kigali and the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam.

The Burundian government sentenced three protest leaders to ten years in prison. The three were convicted on charge of "undermining security." The three planned on conducting a workshop on how to organize public protests against government misbehavior and corruption. This is a workshop the government opposed. The three had been in jail since June 2017.

March 8, 2018: Congo is preparing to conduct a national election in December. UN officials reported some of the organizational preparations are "significant."

An International Criminal Court judicial panel in Holland rejected former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba's appeal to overturn his bribery conviction. He is serving an 18 year prison sentence for war crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR). The bribery conviction added an additional year of prison and carried a $370,000 fine. Bemba attempted to bribe witnesses who appeared in his war crimes trial.

March 7, 2018: The drop in oil prices has damaged the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville's already fragile economy. Now President Denis Sassou Nguesso appears to fear growing unrest could lead to a coup. In January he had a former general arrested and jailed. He also fired the head of the Republican Guard. Former presidential candidate Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko has been in jail since mid-2016. Since Congo-Brazzaville gained independence in 1960, the country has had six presidents. Four of them have been driven from power, either by civil war or coup.

March 3, 2018: In northeast Congo (Ituri province) foreign aid workers reported at least 49 people were murdered in a single attack yesterday. A group of Lendu tribesman attacked the Hema village of Maze (80 kilometers north of the city of Bunia). Local security forces stopped the initial attack but the Lendu received reinforcements. The next attack overwhelmed the defenders. Foreign aid workers claim well over 100 Hema have been killed since the end of December 2017.

March 1, 2018: The UN reported six aid workers were killed in Central African Republic near the town of Markounda (northwestern border area near Chad). The workers were part of a teacher training mission. The murders were committed by an unidentified armed group.

February 27, 2018: In western Congo (Equateur province) a religious group reported that security forces killed a third person on February 26. In addition to the two people slain in Kinshasa, a third protestor was killed in Mbandaka.

February 26, 2018: In western Congo UN officials and local religious groups accused security forces of attacking peaceful protestors participating in church-sponsored demonstrations in Kinshasa and Mbandaka. The security forces killed two people and injured "several dozen" others. Elsewhere in Congo, police injured 47 people participating in political protests. The security force attacks in Kisangani were described as particularly vicious.

February 23, 2018: The UN confirmed that at least 40,000 Congolese have fled to Uganda to escape violence in Ituri province.

 

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