Archive | January, 2013

State of the DR Congo: Part Two

14 Jan

JB Pres

Joseph Kabila, Current President ot the DR Congo ASCN

The Lusaka Peace Accord, the document that officially ended the Second War in the Congo, was signed by representatives of the warring countries on July 10, 1999. In reality, fighting among respective militias and rebel groups would continue on for years and many claim that this war has never ended and continues on into the Twenty-first century. The first country to sign the agreement was the DR Congo, the aggrieved victim in this invasion by Uganda and Rwanda. Then Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe who had helped Laurent Kabila oust the previous dictator Mobutu and rise to the Presidency of the DR Congo. Lastly, Rwanda and Uganda signed, both of whom were the aggressors in this war with help from Burundi but that country had not been required to sign the document.

It took longer for the rebel militias to make it to the table because of the number of signers (around 50 for the RCD) and the internal disputes that had to be resolved among the different factions prior to their arrival in Lusaka, Zambia. Finally the Uganda -supported rebel militia, the MLC (Movement de Liberation) signed the accord on August 1, 2009 and the Rwanda-sponsored RCD (Rally for Congolese Democracy) was the last to sign but did so, on August 31, 2009. Terms of the Accord stipulated that all military operations related to the war cease immediately, that all prisoners of war be returned to their respective armies and militias unharmed, and that a UN peacekeeping force would be assigned to the Northeastern region of the DR Congo to assure that the terms of this agreement were carried out in a timely and efficient manner.

There were other agreements that the rebels swore had been approved in the document but these would not be implemented and  would be some of the grievances raised by the M23 rebels in their recent April 2012 rebellion in Kivu District.

A year later by August of 2000, President Laurent Kabila would publically state that he had no intention of honoring the terms of the Peace Accord because he felt that the DR Congo had not been treated as a sovereign nation in the peace talks and should have been the only nation involved in negotiating with Uganda and Rwanda. Furthermore, he had gone on to implement a transitional parliament without any input from other political parties around the country causing more unrest and disenchantment with his presidency among his citizens.

 Laurent Kabila had had to mortgage his country’s resources to pay for the military and financial assistance he had received during the First and the Second War in the Congo.  As a result of their support, he had signed over licenses for copper/cobalt and diamonds in the DR Congo to Namibia and Zimbabwe and Angola was allowed to create a subsidiary oil company, Sonangol-Congo there as well. Angola’s military was also allowed to enter the DR Congo to search out and destroy UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) the rebel group that continuously threatened the current Angolan administration with revolution.

But Kabila had played both sides of the fence when using Angola. Apparently he was also receiving large sums of money from the UNITA rebels and had been doing so since his ‘March to Kinshasa’. Once he had established himself in power he charged UNITA exorbitant fees to operate a $200 million dollar (US) a year diamond exchange managed in the local markets by a family of Lebanese diamond merchants. Little did he know that his tenure as president of the DR Congo had almost come to an end.

By the evening of January 16, 2001 Laurent Desire Kabila was dead, assassinated in his presidential office by one of his personal guards – himself a child soldier who had fought with Kabila during the revolution to liberate the DR Congo. According to the official transcript, the president was speaking with his economic adviser when his bodyguard Rashidi Kasereka entered his office and bent down seemingly to talk to the president. Instead Kasereka  took out his pistol and fired several shots into Kabila’s head.  Then he tried to escape but was shot and killed dead outside of the office by either the head of palace security or another bodyguard.

A long, tedious legal trial ensued and hundreds of soldiers, administrators and women related to the supposed assassins either received the death penalty or were sentenced to life in prison. The official version read at the trial identified Kasereka as one member of a plot by kadogo (child soldiers) to assassinate Kabila because he had had their leader, Anselme Masasu executed but many other theories circulated around Kinshasa as well. Eddy Kapendi swore that Kasereka at the time of his death was carrying a card from the US embassy on him signed by the military attaché in residence there and the words: “Should there be a problem, call this number” written on the back. The presence of this card on Kasereka’s body was also confirmed by the Minister of Justice. Few people in the DR Congo believed that the men and women convicted as a result of the trial were guilty but all official attempts to have their sentences commuted have fallen on deaf ears and the late President’s son has refused to rescind any the prisoners’ harsh sentences.

Even before the funeral began several respected Congolese politicians and reporters openly accused Rwanda of masterminding the plot in which Laurent Kabila was assassinated.  The driver of the get-away car, an admitted participant in the plot, managed to escape during the night of Kabila’s death along with a Lebanese businessman. They both immediately fled to Rwanda. Once there, they were given asylum, protected by armed guards, and allowed to settle there. Eventually both of them were offered positions in politics and business arranged by officials in the Rwandan government.

And new testimonies accusing Paul Kagame have also surfaced since then.  In March 2012, in a meeting of Rwandan  political organizations in Brussels, Theogene Rudasingwa, the former Rwandan Chief of Staff for Paul Kagame, stated that Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda«  was the primary instigator of the death of Laurent Desire Kabila, President of the DR Congo. »

A month after that, Gerard Gahima, the former Prosecutor General of Rwanda andone of the  founding members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), without directly accusing Paul Kagame said, « the strongman of Rwanda wanted at any price to get rid of Kabila, a President he had put in power a year earlier. »

A young Joseph Kabila was named President of The DR Congo on January 26, 2001- one day after the murder of his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila. At thirty years of age, he  was an inexperienced leader yet it was his responsibility to negotiate a peace agreement with the same rebel groups that had helped his father overthrow the dictator in Kinshasa three years earlier. On April 19, 2002 some of the participants in the Second War in the Congo signed the final Peace Agreement at Sun City, South Africa.  Under the terms of the agreement Joseph Kabila was to remain President and head of state of the DR Congo during his 18 month interim administration but four vice presidents would help him lead the country. Two of those vice presidents would be selected from each of the country’s largest rebel militias ( Jean- Pierre Bemba from the MLC and Azarias Ruberwa from the RCD) and two other vice-presidents would represent the civilian opposition and the present government. Former members of the MLC and RCD would be assimilated into positions within the government ministries, the Congolese Army, and the police force.

The document also provided a chronology that would be used to ensure that the DR Congo established a constitution, a multi-party government, and a time schedule for conducting free elections around the country. Although the peace agreement was successful in reducing the size of the conflicts- it did not end them.

 While an elected parliament continued to revamp the constitution, the real power remained with Joseph Kabila as president of the country. The constitutional amendments describing the conditions and the calendar for presidential elections as well the decentralization of the government’s power into 27 separate administrative provinces has yet to be fullyrealized in the manner in which these were originally stipulated in the document.

The fragile government of Joseph Kabila continued to be challenged. On March 28, 2003, the army was required to subdue angry mobs in Kinshasa organized by followers of the dictator and former President of DR Congo Sese Seko Mobutu. And on June 11, 2004, a group of soldiers, supporters of the dead Mobutu’s policies and led by Major Eric Lenge, attempted a military coup and takeover of the government in Kinshasa but were defeated by regulars in the Congolese Army.

In December 2005, amendments to the new constitution were ratified and by June 2006 Joseph Kabila was required to run for re-election as stipulated in the new constitution. In March 2006, Joseph Kabila registered as a candidate for President of the DR Congo. Although Kabila registered as an independent, he was one of the founding members of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy ( PPRD) which chose him as their candidate for this election. Although the new constitution stipulated that a debate must be held between the two remaining candidates these debates never took place causing some constituents to declare that the 2006 election was unconstitutional

 Elections that included multi-party candidates took place on July 30, 2006. They were the first free elections in DR Congo since 1960. The field of presidential hopefuls was enormous, over 33 individual candidates ran on the ticket. In the first election Joseph Kabila received 44.8 % of the vote while Jean- Pierre Bemba, Leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) the very same rebel leader who fought against Kabila in the Second War in the Congo came in second place receiving 20%  of the vote. After the second election was held between the two candidates with the largest totals on October 9, 2006 Kabila received 58% and Bemba 42% of the vote. Bemba immediatelyclaimed that many votes for Kabila had been fraudulently cast and pledged that he would contest the results. Bemba was responsible for instigating several violent riots in Kinshasa and in the northeast region of the country after the post-election results had been approved by the electoral commission but Joseph Kabila had finally been officially elected President of the DR Congo. More will follow.

Kat Nickerson             Kingston.  RI                   USA



The State of the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Part One

6 Jan

 Laurent Kabila

President Laurent Kabila Inaugeration

What if a movie script was pitched to a group of Hollywood moguls about a war that never seemed to end in a country where ethnic cleansing was practiced daily on a scale infinitely larger than the 100 days of genocide in Rwanda in 1994, where 30% of all the diamond resources in the world were located, where an estimated $157 billion dollars (US) in minerals such as cobalt coltran, and copper lay under the ground, and where gold worth billions of US dollars could be had for the taking? What if the greediest players in this conflict were a band  of international arms dealers, former Russian and Israeli soldiers and intelligence agents who fueled the conflict by keeping everyone in the region armed to the teeth with an endless supply of automatic weapons and the ammunition to keep them continuously shooting back? And what if one of those Russians took control of an entire island in order to store his enormous cache of arms and ship all matter of deadly munitions to the mainland?  And what if other countries surrounding this unfortunate nation crossed its border at will in order to loot and pillage whenever possible- even maintaining illegal mining operations there for decades. What if business transactions that in no way benefited the residents of this country were conducted there on a daily basis by corporations based in some of the wealthiest nations on earth; like the United States of America, China, and Great Britain.  And lastly what if the rest of the world looked on in silence and did nothing.

Seem like too fantastical a plot for a blockbuster movie? Even James Bond might fail when charged with sorting out problems of this magnitude.  But this is the real state of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as of December 2012. In my next several blogs I shall attempt to explain each step in this highly complicated drama, piece by piece, in a logical fashion so my readers can come to understand just where the DR Congo is headed and who the major players might be.

But in order for my audience to watch this movie and have it make any sense at all, they will have to know something about the country first. I have removed less important dates so that the reader is not distracted and can concentrate on what actually occurred but all of my facts are current, accurate, and truthfully stated. The reader can Google each date by searching for specific topics. I have collected the citations and references for all of my facts and keep them with me.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is located in Central Africa. A total area of 875,520 sq miles makes it the second largest country in Africa and the eleventh largest one in the world. It is about one-fourth the size of the United States and has a varied terrain that contains many different ecosystems within its borders: The central plateau in the heart of the country is covered by dense tropical rainforests fed by large and small river systems, mountainous regions occupy the west and north west regions, expansive savannas top the south and southwest plains, a large area of grasslands fills the northlands gradually turning into the Ruwenzori Mountain Range in the east, a high, steep line of mountains shared with the bordering countries of Uganda and Rwanda.

According to International Rescue Committee, the DR Congo “is the world’s least developed country  in terms of life expectancy, education, standard of living and key health indicators, like maternal and child mortality. The government is unable to provide protection and basic services to its people, who continue to suffer from dire poverty and neglect.”

And the latest United Nations Development Index (UNDP, 2011) which rates the quality of life in 187 countries and territories around the world ranked the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the last one on their list, number 187 out of 187 countries.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) for 2012 reported that “The Democratic Republic of the Congo has recorded very little democratic or economic progress during the period under review (January 2009 – January 2011).  According to the BTI factors such as severe human rights abuses, the inability to follow constitutional law, widespread corruption within the administration, and the president’s inability to create and implement essential policies has left the government weak and barely functioning in some of the country’s more remote districts. BTI is a global assessment of transition processes in which the state of democracy and market economy as well as the quality of political management in 128 transformation and developing countries are evaluated.

 The report continues on to reveal that the country’s economy has not progressed satisfactorily  even though there was some growth in the GDP during 2009 – 2010, but this had no affect on the people of the country who live marginal lives at best. And the BTI blames the government for this, stating,“The implementation of economic policies has only been possible as a result of constant pressure from the IMF, World Bank and other international donors. The country’s leaders have not really shown the willingness or the capacity to devise appropriate policies and implementation strategies to set the country on a sustainable course for democracy and economic development.”

While the western section of the country has managed to achieve a relative level of stability, the eastern part of The DR Congo has faced constant war and destruction as a host of different militias, warlords, and the Congolese army vie for control of the vast mineral reserves located there. The UNHCR has reported that over 64,000 more villagers left their homes just in the last month of 2012 due to the most recent battles between M23 rebels and the Congolese army in Goma.  Hundreds of thousands more have been forced out of their towns and villages in the past few years and trudged down extremely treacherous roads to make it to the UN- subsidized refugee camps like Mugunga III as well other UN camps established in the countries of Rwanda and Uganda. These UN camps have had to service millions of refugees due to the unstable and violent conditions encountered in East Kivu District. According to the UNDP, it is not easy to live in the DR Congo where life expectancy is a mere 48years, the education rate for adults is 3.5 years, and the majority of the population survives on less than $1.25 US a day.

The current president of the DR Congo, Joseph Kabila, is the son of the man who liberated the country from its previous dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May of 1997. Mobutu, who was originally supported by countries such as the United States and Great Britain, squandered the wealth of his country on himself and his friends. Laurent Kabila was the first revolutionary leader in Central Africa to recruit “child soldiers” and he used thousands of them to fight his way from Katanga in the East of the country to Kinshasa, its capital city located in the west. But unable to create a trained army of professionals he also used  forces provided by  his allies, Angola and Zimbabwe to hold fortifications in the west, and on the Hutu Interhamwe  to launch attacks on Mobutu’s Congolese troops in the east.  Once Kabila secured Kinshasa he claimed the government offices, there and named himself President of the entire country. Then he changed the name of the country from Zaire to what it is today, The Democratic Republic of the Congo- not to be confused with the Republic of the Congo which is another country in Central Africa altogether. Laurent Kabila remained president for less than four years. Meanwhile the First and consecutively the Second Wars in the Congo raged on despite the Sun City Peace Agreement signed in 2002. By April 2002, more than 2.5 million people had died but the fighting had not stopped.

 In August 2007, a rebel militia leader, named Laurent Nkunda, who had once fought with Laurent Kabila in the First War in the Congo, resumed fighting in the Kivu Districts uprooting 200,000 civilians again. Nkunda who had fought in the Rwanda- supported RCD durng the Second War had been taken into the Congoloese army at the end of the Second War where he earned the rank of General. But by 2007 he with many of his former soldiers deserted to form a new version of the RCD. Nkunda who was a Tutsi, maintained that he was forced to do this to save  his fellow Tutsi from the Hutu Interhamwe living in the DR Congo. He accused Joseph Kabila of protecting the  Hutu Interhamwe , the ones responsible for the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, and claimed that Joseph’s father, the former president had  allowed the Interhamwe to live in these districts after they had fought for him during the First War in the Congo.

Nkunda was detained on January 22, 2009 by Rwandan forces after he had crossed into Rwanda to help them hunt down other Hutu  Interhamwe operating in the area. Joseph Kabila had made a deal with President Kagame of Rwanda: he would allow Rwandan soldiers into the DRC to eradicate the  Hutu Interahamwe  militants there  if Rwanda would stop Nkunda  from waging further war in the Kivu Districts.  Although there has been an international warrant issued for his arrest Nkunda has not been tried either in Brussels or in Rwanda. He is currently being held under house arrest in Gisenyi, Rwanda and has yet to be charged with any crime.

 As part of the terms of  Nkunda’s capture his Tutsi militia would be re-absorbed into the Congolese Army once more and awarded the same ranks they had held in Nkunda’s militia. Also, as part of the agreement, forces from DR Congo and Rwanda would work jointly together until all of the Hutu Interhamwe had been exterminated from the eastern region of the Congo. This mission lasted about five weeks but then the Congolese soldiers were abruptly reassigned to other duties in the area and the Rwandan forces were asked to pull out of Kivu Districts for good and return to Rwanda. Now some of the elders in the region say that the troops left as ordered and others say that many of the Rwandan soldiers were ordered to insert themselves into smaller Tutsi militias that had refused to disband and continued to hunt down the Hutu extremists. Either way, this region was much too isolated and inaccessible for anyone to know for sure.

In a report released in January 2008, The International Rescue Committee found that “despite billions in aid, the deployment of the world’s largest peacekeeping force, and successful democratic elections, some 45,000 people continued to  die each month in DR Congo, mostly from starvation and disease.” (IRC, 2008)

I will continue on with this story in my next Blog Posting: The State of the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Part Two

Kat Nickerson             Kingston, RI                   USA