Congo: My Way Or The Highway To Hell

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January 7, 2019: The government says only about half the votes cast in the December 30 presidential election have been counted so far. The presidential election results were supposed to have been announced today but there have been, as the government puts it, unexpected delays. President Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, was supposed to have been replaced by a new president in 2016 but Kabila and his cronies delayed elections and Kabila remained in power despite growing pressure to allow the elections to take place. That finally happened and there are fears that the candidate Kabila backed, despite being the least popular (and most hated) of the three main candidates will somehow win.

The official vote results are now due in mid-January but sources inside CENI (Congo’s Independent National Electoral Commission) have apparently told Catholic Church leaders that actual voting results agree with what CENCO (Congo’s Catholic Bishops Conference) and other election observers estimate. Currently Martin Fayulu is the likely winner and Felix Tshisekedi second, but apparently not by very much. In a distant third place is the Kabila crony Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. The overall vote is, as all earlier polls indicated, a rejection of Kabila. Fayulu is an oil company exec, smart, knows how to run an honest business and is very anti-Kabila. Tshisekedi hates Kabila, wants to be president but he doesn’t want to ignite another Congo war. Kabila appears to be arranging a surprise victory for his favourite Shadary and is under growing local and international pressure to not do that. It is more and more likely that a surprise Shadary victory would trigger widespread violence and more years of civil war. Kabila seems to consider chaos acceptable to allowing an honest vote count and massive defeat for his candidate. The U.S. has sent 80 military personnel to nearby Gabon in case rapid intervention is needed to provide more security for American diplomats in Congo.

January 5, 2019: CENCO (the Catholic bishops) demanded that CENI (the electoral commission) must release presidential election results and not delay them. CENCO observers have seen vote tallies that indicate one candidate is in the lead for president. Later another CENCO official confirmed that. No one would reveal which candidate had won, but the strong implication is it was one of the two opposition candidates (Tshisekedi or Fayulu). President Joseph Kabila’s handpicked and preferred successor is Shadary, a former interior minister who worked for Kabila but was much less popular than the opposition candidates.

CENCO’s demands have political power in Congo. The Catholic Church is Congo’s most trusted nation-wide institution, the only national institution that is not regarded as corrupt and/or controlled by Congo’s wealthy families and elite politicians. CENCO mediated the 2016 December Accord which ultimately led to the December 30, 2018 election.

However, following CENCO’s demand, CENI failed to publish election results on January 3, claiming that vote counting centers had yet to receive 80 percent of the votes cast. Ballots were still in transit. Opposition political parties responded to that failure by accusing the Kabila government of manipulating vote totals.

CENCO is confident it has evidence of who won the election. If CENCO doesn’t have precise vote tabulations it very likely has highly granular post-vote polling data indicating voter choices (observers asking voters for whom they voted). A Western NGO ran a nationwide opinion poll in early December and found Fayulu was supported by 47 percent of voters, Tshisekedi 33 percent and Shadary 20 percent. By the end of December there were indications Fayulu and Tshisekedi both had 40 percent in early returns while Shadary had 16 percent

CENCO and other election monitoring groups put a lot of shoes on the ground. CENCO has over 40,000 election observers throughout the country. SYMOCEL, another citizens’ election monitoring group, had 20,000 observers. However, by Election Day the government had accredited only 15,000. Still, SYMOCEL claims it was able to monitor about a third of Congo’s polling stations. Do the math, at least 55,000 Congolese election monitors were deployed. They were in position to detect major trends. (Austin Bay)

January 4, 2019: Grounds for a disputed election are emerging. Any disputed outcome will quickly produce post-election violence. That happened in 2006 and 2011. If the violence spreads, the possibility of another Congo-wide civil war cannot be dismissed. As it is, the election was supposed to have occurred in late 2016 but President Joseph Kabila managed to stall elections and remain in power another two years. The constitution required he cede power but he did not. That is a major source of opposition political anger, the kind that can explode if triggered. Unfortunately, the election has produced many “triggering” circumstances.

Let’s start with the Ebola virus and the epidemic in eastern Congo. That had election consequences that benefited the Kabila candidate. The government did not allow an estimated 1.2 million people in Ebola-stricken areas to vote until March 2019. The government said the epidemic made it too dangerous for people in these areas to vote on schedule. The “prohibited areas” are Beni and Butembo in North Kivu province and Yumbi in Maindombe province. Yumbi only has 60,000 voters but Beni and Butembo are major population centers and were battlegrounds during the Great Congo War that put Kabila in power. All three cities and their immediate regions are opposition political strongholds. The final election results are supposed to be announced in mid-January so voters in the “prohibited areas” are disenfranchised. This has already triggered voters in Beni and Butembo. Local leaders called CENI’s decision “unjustified.” Citizens in both cities reportedly opened their own polling places on December 30 and voted. They are already demanding their votes be counted. CENI’s decision is already a national issue. Congo has 40 million registered voters and 1.2 million votes could make a difference in the election.

Other voting irregularities occurred nation-wide that could easily affect the results. SYMOCEL monitors reported that in several places around the country where voting did take place the polls often opened late. In 24 percent of the polling places it monitored the polls closed early and voters waiting in line were not allowed to vote. In Congo that is illegal. Also, in 18 percent of the polling place monitored by SYMOCEL, the voting machines either failed to operate or malfunctioned –validating another opposition political claim that the machines were unreliable (and subject to vote-rigging). On the other hand, election monitors from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) reported the election “went relatively well” despite the problems reported by SYMOCEL. The SADC, however, did not deploy 55,000 observers, which CENCO and SYMOCEL did.

January 3, 2019: Opposition political parties continued to criticize the shutdown of Internet service that began late on the night of December 30. The shutdown has continued through today. The government now claims it shut down the Internet to prevent the dissemination of “fake news”. President Kabila’s political party, FCC, claimed the shutdown was needed “to prevent disorder.” In response, several foreign NGOs demanded that internet and mobile messaging services be restored and accused the government of denying press freedom and blocking communications channels.

January 1, 2019: The government cut off the signal of Radio France Internationale (RFI) which is a popular station in Congo. RFI reported that on the evening of December 31 its signal was being jammed. Transmissions by the TV station Canal Congo have also been disrupted. Canal Congo is owned by opposition politician Jean-Pierre Bemba. At one time Bemba commanded a large rebel militia group. He was recently acquitted of war crimes charges.

Meanwhile, Congo’s internet shutdown continues. Western donor nations demanded that the Kabila controlled government restore internet access. Internet and some other communications services were cut on late on the evening of December 30. The donor nations and several NGOs also insisted Congo’s election monitoring organizations have access to vote counting centers. CENCO and SYMOCEL both reported their personnel were being denied access.

Uganda reported that more Congolese who feared post-election violence had fled Congo and entered Uganda. The exodus began at the end of December and continues.

December 31, 2018: A French court has handed over CAR (Central Africa Republic) militia leader Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona to the Hague war crimes tribunal for trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was arrested in France on December 12. Ngaissona was a senior commander in anti-balaka militia attacks in 2013-2014.

Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu has fired the Zambian Army commander and deputy commander. The reasons for the firing were vague, but Lungu insisted that the military must “respect the hierarchy of power,” which presumably means respecting presidential authority. Lungu was recently accused of repressing opposition political leaders and opposition political speech. He was elected in 2016.

December 30, 2018: In Congo, the long-awaited national election has begun. By late evening both the government and opposition candidates claimed victory.

December 29, 2018: Media in Rwanda and Congo reported that 40,000 Congolese citizens living in Rwanda will not be able to cast votes because the Congolese government has closed the border. Opposition parties immediately cited this as another blatant example of election interference committed by the increasingly unpopular Kabila government. The government also confirmed that it will not let EU (European Union) election observers monitor the election. A similar request by US-based election monitoring organization the Carter Center (named for former U.S. president Jimmy Carter) has also been denied.

December 28, 2018: Burundi’s president Pierre Nkurunziza asked East African Community (EAC) leaders to hold an emergency summit to address the latest disagreements between Burundi and Rwanda, to include discussing the armed incidents on their borders that have occurred in the last three years. Nkurunziza claims Rwanda is “meddling” in Burundi’s domestic affairs. The Rwandan government claims Burundi is provoking Rwanda and calling for a summit is just a way for Nkurunziza to distract attention from Burundi’s internal problems.

December 27, 2018: Several SADC (Southern African Development Community) leaders are meeting in The Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) to discuss how to deal with possible “spillover” conflict from Congo if the post-election violence erupts. Zambia, Angola, Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa all sent senior representatives.

The Congo government condemned new economic and political sanctions imposed by the EU and expelled the EU ambassador to Congo. In October Congo accused the EU of interfering in the upcoming election.

December 26, 2018: Burundi announced it will move its capital from Bujumbura to Gitega. Bujumbura is located in western Burundi on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Gitega is in the central highlands (about 100 kilometers east of Bujumbura). The move will likely occur in 2019. In 2007 President Pierre Nkurunziza promised to move the capital to Gitgea because it has a more central location.

December 25, 2018: Uganda reported at least 50 more people have fled Congo and apparently a lot more are on the way to Uganda. The refugees fear election-related violence.

December 22, 2018: The AU has told Burundi to reduce the troops it has on peacekeeping duty in Somalia. Burundi will need to reduce their contingent by 1,000 soldiers by the end of February 2019. This is part of what the AU calls a “progressive” pullout from Somalia.

December 20, 2018: Congo announced the December 23 election will be delayed by at least a week. CENI reported that it had not distributed voting materials to many of the 75,000 polling stations polling stations.

December 17, 2018: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), two soldiers died in a firefight with the FDLR rebels. The firefight erupted after Congolese security forces arrested two FDLR leaders northeast of the city of Goma and near the Rwandan border. FDLR was founded by Rwandan Hutus who took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, were unable to seize power and have been on the run ever since. FDLR survives as successful bandits and generally stays out of nearby Rwanda.

December 16, 2018: In Congo, at least one person was killed and 80 injured as a result of pre-election violence. For example, brawls between supporters of rival candidates erupted in the southwest Kasai region.

December 14, 2018: In CAR, Catholic Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga asked for an international investigation of the November 15 attack on the CAR town of Alindao. A cathedral was burned and over 60 people slain in the attack. The cardinal believes many more were killed “in the bush.” The cardinal believes there is evidence the UN peacekeepers in the area did not attempt to intervene in what became a massacre. The UPC rebels, a splinter faction of the old Moslem Seleka rebel movement, is believed to have committed the atrocity.

December 13, 2018: In the Congo capital (Kinshasa), a fire in a warehouse destroyed several thousand voting machines and ballot boxes. A CENI spokesman said at least 8,000 voting machines were destroyed. This could delay the December 23 election. Opposition politicians accused pro-Kabila security forces of committing arson. One critic pointed out that Kabila’s presidential guard was supposedly protecting the warehouse.

The UN has extended the presence of its CAR peacekeeper force to November 15, 2019. The CAR peacekeeper force is authorized 11,650 military and 2,080 police personnel. Currently, Rwanda and Pakistan provide the largest troop contingents (1,371 from Rwanda followed by Pakistan with 1,243). Egypt, Bangladesh and Zambia round out the top five with around 1,000 soldiers each.

December 12, 2018: In Eastern Congo (North Kivu province), now has more than 500 confirmed Ebola virus cases. At least 289 deaths have occurred.

December 11, 2018: In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), ADF rebels apparently killed nine civilians in an attack on the town of Oicha.

France has given CAR government security forces 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and three amphibious vehicles. The UN exempted the French from arms embargo restrictions. CAR’s small army of 7,000 soldiers lacks weapons and equipment. French officials said the AK-47s were from a shipment seized in Somalia during 2016.

December 10, 2018: The EU imposed new individual economic and political sanctions on 14 Congolese leaders. The sanctions include freezing assets and banning travel. They will remain in effect until December 12, 2019.

December 9, 2018: Rwanda reported that at least two Rwandan soldiers have died in an attack blamed on FLDR fighters who had entered Rwanda from eastern Congo.

December 7, 2018: In Congo, an Army colonel (Jean de Dieu Mambweni) has been arrested on charges related to the murder of two UN workers (Zaida Catalan and Michael Sharp) in March 2017. The two victims were murdered while investigating reports of atrocities committed in the southwest Kasai region. The government initially blamed the rebel Kamuina Nsapu militia. Later the government acknowledged government security forces could have been involved. It appears they were. Prosecutors have an audio recording of the colonel speaking with the two UN investigators two days before their murder. Mambweni apparently contacted a translator who may have been in contact with the rebels. From that point, it gets murkier, but both the government and the rebels may have had a hand in the investigators’ murders. Meanwhile, Mambweni’s defense counsel sought to have Congo’s interior minister at the time and pro-Kabila presidential candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary to give testimony regarding the negotiations he led with Kamuina Nsapu leaders. Apparently, Shadary did not appear in court. This arrest does not help Shadary in the upcoming presidential election.

December 6, 2018: In Uganda, it was revealed that the since mid-2018 army had apparently detained six policemen and a soldier who are supporters of former Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura. The seven security officers have been held since June 2018 without trial and their alleged crimes have not been announced. In August Kayihura was also arrested and charged with aiding the kidnap and repatriation of Rwandan nationals living in Uganda. He was also charged with failing to protect military property.

In Rwanda, the High Court acquitted Diane Rwigara on charges of fraud and inciting insurrection. Rwigara is an outspoken Rwandan social and political reformer with presidential aspirations. Her mother, Adeline, was also acquitted of several charges, including inciting insurrection.

In Burundi, the government has ordered UN investigators (of political repression and violence against government opponents) to leave the country within two months. Burundi’s government objects to UN reports documenting political repression and physical violence against its political opponents.

December 5, 2018: Congo’s neighbours are worried that the election scheduled for December 23 could lead to violence. So are many Congolese. Non-Congolese militias and rebels with bases in Congo could use Congo’s violence as a cover for launching raids into their home countries. Or neighbouring countries could strike at the rebel camps. Examples abound. Recently Burundian security forces attacked a Burundi rebel camp in Congo. (Austin Bay)

December 4, 2018: In CAR, a church in the town of Ippy was attacked by the same rebel group that burned the cathedral in Alindao on November 15. In the Alindao, an attack by UPC militiamen murdered over 60 people.

December 3, 2018: In Congo, the U.S. embassy reopened after being closed since November 26 due to terrorist threats. So far the explicit threat has not been named but diplomats in the capital (Kinshasa) believe the threat was tied to the arrest of two members of the Ugandan Islamist ADF militia.

 

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