The campaign phase of Congo’s presidential election race has begun. The election is scheduled to occur on December 23. Unfortunately, the opposition is in disarray. Current president Joseph Kabila and his operatives are responsible for that. Kabila and his lackeys prevented the two most powerful opposition candidates from running, Moise Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba. Katumbi has been in exile. Kabila falsely accused him of treason but succeeded in getting a compliant court to press the charges. Kabila succeeded in disqualifying Bemba on shady legal grounds, even after he was acquitted of war crimes charges in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
With Katumbi and Bemba sidelined, on November 12 several opposition parties tried to back a single (unified) candidate, anti-Kabila activist Martin Fayulu. However, that agreement quickly fell apart. Felix Tshisekedi, leader of Congo’s largest opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, announced he would run. Many of Tshisekedi’s supporters rejected Fayulu as a candidate. However, Tshisekedi’s belated campaign is poorly organized. In July polls indicated 70 percent of the electorate favored an opposition leader over anyone from Kabila’s organization. But the legal shenanigans and Kabila’s cash advantages have taken a toll.
Observers concede Kabila’s hand-picked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary (Peoples Party for Reconstruction and Democracy), is now favored to win. That’s bad news. Shadary owes everything to Kabila. The opposition contends Shadary is little more than a political mask for Kabila. Because of that the Kabila family and key supporters will continue to wield real power in Congo. Will Shadary’s election spur violent street protests and the formation of anti-Kabila militias? No one knows, but note November’s student demonstrations in Kinshasa against Kabila’s police, demonstrations spurred by the slaying of two student protestors. Even members of Kabila’s party are condemning those killings.
Kabila was supposed to leave office in December 2016. His decision to delay the 2016 national elections and in remain office violated fundamental constitutional law (“constitution of the Third Republic,” 2006). A puppet successor won’t satisfy Congolese angry at Kabila’s corruption, violence and disdain for the law. The stage is set for another civil war. If another civil war erupts, what will the 17,000 UN peacekeepers do? Again, no one knows. (Austin Bay)
December 1, 2018: In eastern Congo (North Kivu and Ituri provinces), the Ebola virus epidemic continues but so far has remained in Congo despite the fact that the infected areas border Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan. So far the two Congolese provinces have had from nearly 500 Ebola cases. Approximately 250 people have died (though some sources contend the figure is higher). In mid-November, over 160 patients in eastern Congo were treated with experimental drugs that had promising results in initial testing. The medical jargon is a bit foreboding: “investigational therapeutics under a protocol called Monitored Emergency Use of Unregistered and Investigational Interventions.” Using drugs that have not received full approval is risky. However, the epidemic is risky. Since June 2018 doctors have been allowed to treat high-risk Ebola patients in Congo with experimental therapies. A Congolese medical ethics committee approved the drugs for “compassionate use” (a “last resort” for patients at high risk of dying or patients definitely exposed to the virus). An experimental vaccine has also been tested. In May 2018 a vaccine test was conducted in the Congolese town of Mbandaka (northwest Equateur province). The vaccine had previously been tested in Guinea. Health officials believe the vaccine may have curbed an “explosive increase in cases” in Congo. In early November 2018, Uganda began vaccinating health workers in case “cross-border transmission” of the virus occurred. Stay tuned. (Austin Bay)
November 27, 2018: In Congo, the U.S. announced the terrorist threat to its embassy in the capital (Kinshasa) has not diminished and U.S. facilities in Kinshasa will remain closed. On November 24 the U.S. State Department began issuing terror alerts to Americans in Congo. The embassy was closed on November 26.
November 26, 2018: In western Congo (Kinshasa), student demonstrations continue at the University of Kinshasa. The demonstrations began November 12 when students demanded that classes re-open. Classes ceased in October when teachers went on strike for better pay. On November 12 police killed a student demonstrator; another was slain November 16. Now student demonstrators are demanding an end to police violence.
In southwest Uganda (Rukungiri), police clashed with opposition protesters. The police dispersed the demonstrators with tear gas. Protestor accused the police of also firing live ammunition. Fifteen members of the opposition FDC party were arrested. The FDC is the largest opposition party in Uganda and Rukungiri is the hometown of Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye.
November 24, 2018: In western Congo (Kinshasa), American embassy officials reported that they had "credible and specific" information of terrorist threats against U.S. facilities in Congo’s capital including the embassy.
November 22, 2018: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), Ugandan ADF Islamic terrorist rebels fired on a UN helicopter. The helicopter was hit but there were no casualties.
November 21, 2018: In Congo, opposition parties report that so far this month the government has arrested at least 44 pro-democracy activists. Several were beaten while in detention. Some remain in jail. Opposition parties estimate that since 2015 the government has arrested at least 2,000 opposition party leaders and supporters and pro-democracy activists.
In the Central African Republic (CAR), UN and foreign aid workers agree that the situation is definitely deteriorating and unless the security situation improves famine is a likely result. Famine is a very dire warning. The UN usually speaks of various levels of food insecurity (threats to food resources, food storage, food access or food distribution). In a famine, 30 percent or more of the population suffers from severe malnutrition. Another quantitative factor that defines a famine in humanitarian aid organizations: two people (or more) out of every 10,000 people in an area die each day due to malnutrition. The UN warning statement included a report of farm families abandoning their farms in areas throughout the CAR. The famine warning follows a report in early November that the CAR faced its worst food insecurity situation since 2014. (Austin Bay)
November 19, 2018: A Congolese citizen arrested for being involved in the murders of two UN sanctions monitors have denied the accusations in court. The citizen has been identified as an informant for the ANR, Congo’s intelligence agency. In March 2017 the two UN monitors, Michael Sharp (U.S. citizen) and Zaida Catalan (Swedish citizen) were slain in Congo’s Kasai region. They were investigating war crimes allegations in the Kasai region. According to international media, the ANR informant helped Sharp and Catalan plan their route on the day they were murdered. Congo’s government blames the Kamuina Nsapu militia for the murders. According to investigators, there is substantial evidence the Congolese Army was involved.
November 18, 2018: In western Uganda (Lake Albert), police claim that Congolese gunmen belonging to a Congo-based militia shot and killed seven Ugandan fishermen and wounded one other. The 160 kilometer long Lake Albert serves as part of the border between Congo and Uganda. The lake is 30 kilometers wide and fishing is a major industry on both shores of the border.
In southern CAR (Ouaka province), two army engineering units engaged in a firefight in the provincial capital (Bambari). Three soldiers died in the battle and three were wounded. The day before a peacekeeper was killed in Bambari when unidentified gunmen attacked a peacekeeper camp in the town.
In CAR, more peacekeepers are being sent to the south (Basse-Kotto province) to deal with the continued fighting in the town of Alindao. This is in response to a recent attack by Islamic terrorists that left over 60 dead and a Catholic cathedral burned.
November 17, 2018: Attacks by the rebel ADF terrorist militia have forced Congolese health officials in Beni (North Kivu province) to suspend Ebola virus epidemic operations. WHO medical personnel reported a militia attack stopped just short of an emergency clinic. At least one shell struck a clinic building. WHO has now evacuated personnel from Beni.
November 16, 2018: In southwest CAR, a peacekeeper was killed in the village of Gbambia.
November 15, 2018: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), eight peacekeepers and at least twelve soldiers died during a joint military operation against ADF rebels. The area is the center of the Ebola virus epidemic. The joint operation targeted an ADF camp in Kididiwe (about 20 kilometers from Beni city).
In southern CAR (Basse-Kotto province), rebels attacked Alindao and burned a Catholic cathedral. Alindao is northeast of the capital, Bangui. At least 60 were killed during this violence including two priests. The government is blaming UPC, a Muslim militia that was once part of the old Seleka rebel movement. UPC supporters claim the attack on Alindao is a reprisal for attacks on Muslims by Christian “anti-balaka” militias.
November 14, 2018: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), ten peacekeepers were injured during an operation against the ADF. The peacekeepers deployed attack helicopters in that operation in the Mayangose area (northeast of Beni city).
November 13, 2018: The Congolese opposition parties’ unified presidential candidate deal has collapsed. Felix Tshisekedi will run as the main opposition candidate. Apparently, a substantial majority of Tshisekedi’s supporters refused to accept the deal.
November 12, 2018: Congolese opposition parties announced they would support a “unified” presidential candidate: Martin Fayulu, a member of parliament and a long-time anti-Kabila activist. Fayulu won the “unified” nomination over Felix Tshisekedi, who announced that he had the support of Jean-Pierre Bemba, a formidable candidate that President Kabila succeeded in eliminating from the December election.
November 11, 2018: In CAR Russia is becoming increasingly active Allegedly Russia has from 170 to 200 uniformed military personnel in the country. The biggest contingent is Russian mercenaries. There are around 1,500 Russian mercenaries in the CAR. They are called employees of private military companies (PMC).
November 5, 2018. In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), rebels launched two attacks near the town of Beni. The rebels killed eight civilians and kidnapped another 15.