Moïse Katumbi takes on President Joseph Kabila
May 14th 2016 Ecoomist
President Joseph Kabila is doing everything to have a third term in office (the constitution only allows two terms). He refuses to fund the election board and demands a census, a delay tactic. The courts have ruled that if elections don’t take place in November, Kabila could stay in power until they do so. And few think they will occur until mid-2017. Protest over delaying resulted in 40 dead in January 2015. Another outbreak of violence could be just the kind of disruption Kabila needs to postpone elections indefinitely.
His main rival, Moise Katumbi, had a warrant issued for his arrest on allegations of wanting to stage a coup. He escaped to South Africa on the guise of a medical emergency. Outrage occurred.
At the Palais de Justice in Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s second biggest city, an impressive piece of political theatre is about to unfold. Hundreds of cops in navy-blue uniforms form a cordon, clutching riot shields and smoke grenades. They are waiting for the arrival of Moïse Katumbi Chapwe, a former governor of Katanga, the region of which Lubumbashi is the capital, whom the government has accused of hiring mercenaries and plotting a coup.
When Mr Katumbi arrives, he does so in a black minivan surrounded by a huge crowd of people who fill the square, singing and waving signs that read “Je Suis Moïse”. Dressed all in white, with a Congolese flag around his neck, he clambers out and pushes through the crowd, ascends the steps and goes inside. The moment the doors of the Belgian-built 1920s Art Deco building close, the cops rush the crowd, firing tear gas and waving tasers. In less than a minute, the square is devoid of anyone not wearing a blue uniform.
Over the past year, Mr Katumbi has become Congo’s most influential opposition leader. Few believe the accusation about mercenaries: despite raiding Mr Katumbi’s homes, the Congolese government has arrested only a few unarmed security guards. The American embassy has dismissed the claim. But even without armed men, Mr Katumbi may be the biggest threat to Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila.
Under the constitution, adopted in 2006 at the end of a war that killed anywhere between half a million and 5m people (nobody is sure), Mr Kabila should stand down at the end of his second term in December. But the former guerrilla, who took over as president when his country of perhaps 90m people four times the size of France, which outside its fragile eastern regions has been relatively stable for the past decade, may be plunged back into chaos.
Mr Katumbi formally entered the race on May 4th, the same day that the accusations about mercenaries emerged. His plans were hardly secret, however. In September he split from Mr Kabila’s party together with a number of other influential Congolese politicians, declaring that he no longer believed the president would respect the constitution. Ever since, he has been courting the press and nurturing allies among Congo’s disparate opposition.
More than anyone else, Mr Katumbi has the chance to build a coalition able to force Mr Kabila to step down. In Katanga, where he was born—the son of a Greek Jew and his Congolese wife—he is enormously popular. Having made a fortune in servicing mining companies, in 1997 he bought TP Mazembe, Lubumbashi’s football team, and turned it into Africa’s most successful. Katanga, by far Congo’s wealthiest region, is also its most functional. Some of this is thanks to Mr Katumbi’s work as governor, at a time when international mining companies moved back to Katanga having all but abandoned it.
The president, by contrast, is deeply unpopular in most of the country. He won elections in 2006 and 2011, but against a divided opposition, and amid widespread irregularities. In both cases, he relied heavily on support from Katanga, and in turn on Mr Katumbi, who was one of his closest allies in government. That support is now almost all gone. “We do not want another Mobutu,” says a smartly dressed man who gives his name as Constantine, outside a pharmacy in Lubumbashi (Mobutu was the dictator of the then Zaire from 1965 to 1997). “I was not a supporter of Moïse Katumbi, but today I am,” he says.
The question is whether Mr Kabila can gather enough support to stay in power despite the constitution, following the example set by the presidents of Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. So far the indications are that he is weaker than his peers. At the end of 2014 he sought to change the constitution. Some 40 protesters were shot by the police on the streets of Kinshasa. But the gambit failed.
Since then, he has followed a strategy of glissement, or slippage. He split Congo’s 11 regions into 26, in the process ejecting many of his opponents from their positions. He has starved the election commission of funds and has claimed an election is impossible to organise. That, the Supreme Court has just ruled, would allow him to stay on past December. Most recently, he has started a “national dialogue” to try to convince opposition leaders to support a way for him to stay in power.
But he has also embarked on a policy of repression. Whereas soldiers fighting rebels in the east do so with ancient weapons, the police in opposition strongholds such as Lubumbashi are smartly equipped with brand new equipment, such as the tasers. Protests have been put down by force. Hundreds of people—opposition politicians, activists and journalists—have been arrested across the country.
This has not made Mr Kabila more popular. And too-blatant repression is threatening to undo him. Diplomats from donor countries are talking about imposing targeted sanctions if Mr Kabila does not leave office. More importantly, the economy is slowing because of lower commodity prices. In Katanga some mines have closed and many Western investors are pulling out. On May 9th Freeport, a large American firm, announced that it planned to sell its copper mine to a Chinese firm for $2.65 billion. The government is running through its reserves fast and, being unable to borrow, is printing money.
What happens next is anyone’s guess; the government is plainly nervous about the local reaction if it tries to cart Mr Katumbi off to Kinshasa for trial. A day before he was taken to court, Mr Katumbi explained his strategy at the tennis courts behind his house in Lubumbashi, a mansion festooned with football memorabilia. “He can’t bribe all of the population and he can’t kill all of the population.” Mr Katumbi proposes to lead demonstrations against the government until it gives up—and if he is arrested, or worse, killed, then to become a martyr. “My fight is a pitiful fight. I have no gun. But if I die, it will be for a cause,” he says, somewhat grandiloquently for a man dressed in whites and clutching a racquet. He thinks that Mr Kabila should step down gracefully.
Yet others are fearful of nastier consequences. Not everyone in Congo will embrace a president from the south, like Mr Katumbi. In the east, in particular, as many as 70 armed groups still run rackets and fight localised wars with the government and each other. Many are hostile to the entire Congolese state, not just to Mr Kabila. Even if he does not step down, Mr Kabila may struggle to stay in control of much of the country. And Congo’s history shows that when the president struggles, bloodshed quickly follows.
UN PEACEKEEPING in CONGO
Never-ending mission – a long and costly operation can do little to bring peace—but cannot end either
May 21st 2016 Economist
At a UN outpost about 20 miles north of Beni, a scrubby city in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, South African soldiers live in a veritable fort. Surrounded by barbed wire and equipped with armoured cars, they are a picture of military efficiency. A suave French general, Jean Baillaud, talks to the troops and to Congolese officers about the state of defences and patrols. A South African captain goes through the incidents of the past few months.
This corner of Congo has seen brutal violence in the past decade. For the past two years armed men have been coming out of the forest to hack up villagers with machetes, hoes and knives. The latest incident, on May 3rd, a few days before General Baillaud visited, left 17 people dead, including three pregnant women.
The UN’s blue-helmeted troops are supposed to be working with the Congolese army to stop the bloodshed. MONUSCO, the French acronym by which the mission is known, is the longest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the organisation’s history. Almost 19,000 soldiers and 800 civilians have a mandate to protect the population, neutralise armed groups and stabilise the state. The aim is to help Congo recover from a war that killed anywhere from 500,000 to 5m people. The mission has succeeded, in that Congo is no longer a gaping hole in Africa for its neighbours to fight over. But as the violence in Beni shows, it has not brought peace either. Congo is a study in the UN’s failures, and the way the organisation is hamstrung by politics.
The base in Beni houses soldiers from the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), who make up about 3,000 of the 19,000 peacekeepers in Congo. They are active combat troops whose role is to attack the 30-60 armed groups (again, nobody is sure) that plague the east of the country. The FIB was created in 2013, after events that humiliated the UN and the Congolese army. In April 2012 a group of defectors, most of them Tutsi, formed an armed group, M23. This seized Goma, a city of 1m on the Rwandan border that is home to most of the UN’s operations in Congo. Without firing a shot, Congolese soldiers fled to nearby towns, where they raped and pillaged. UN soldiers stood by, and when, days afterwards, M23 agreed to leave, the UN’s headquarters were stoned and many of its vehicles torched.
Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, who took power in 2001 after his father was murdered, called for regional support to defeat the group. The prospect of armed men from across the continent flooding back into Congo led the UN to say they could come—but under its own command. Most of the peacekeepers in Congo are from South Asia, but the FIB’s troops are from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania. In 2013, together with Congolese forces, they quickly defeated the rebels and pushed them into Rwanda, which was widely thought to have sponsored them.
The defeat of M23 was a fine moment for the UN. But it has not led to further progress. UN generals had hoped that the FIB could take on another group of Rwandan rebels, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, many of whom are remnants of the Hutu army that fled Rwanda after committing genocide there in 1994. But before the operation began, Congo said its forces would be led by two generals suspected of human-rights abuses. The UN objected; Congo refused to shift; and the operation was cancelled. The fact was that Mr Kabila did not particularly want to fight the FDLR, says Jason Stearns of the Congo Research Group at New York University.
Since then, Congo’s government and the UN forces have all but stopped co-operating. Beni is a case in point. Most of the killers are thought to be from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group originating in Uganda whose founders fled into Congo in the 1980s. According to the Congolese army, they are Islamist ideologues who murder in revenge for attacks on their bases. “Their humanity exists no longer, they just want to exterminate the whole world,” said Leon Mushale, a Congolese general, after the massacre.
Yet most observers say that, far from being a foreign Islamist insurgency, the ADF is now an entrenched criminal group that funds itself by illegal gold-mining and logging. Allies in the Congolese army warn the ADF of attacks, sell it weapons and uniforms, and refuse to intervene when it kills civilians. According to a leaked document from the UN Group of Experts, in one case Congolese forces may even have taken part in an ADF ambush on the UN that led to two Tanzanian soldiers’ deaths.
Emily Paddon Rhoads, who studies peacekeeping in Congo, says the mission against M23 succeeded only because the government wanted to defeat Rwanda-backed rebels—and regional allies were willing to send troops. For most other armed groups, neither of these holds true. And since Mr Kabila won elections in 2006, the UN’s default position, she says, has been to support the government.
Congo is one of the world’s poorest countries, but conditions for its soldiers are still shocking. They live in wooden huts covered in tarpaulin dug into trenches. When it rains the ground becomes a bog. Rations—and pay—arrive infrequently. Many soldiers are former rebels who have been integrated, sometimes unwillingly, into the army. They are terrified of ambush from men who come and go from the bush “like the wind”. Few seem keen to fight.
In private, some UN officials say that all this mistreatment is not incompetence but strategy. Mr Kabila, says one, keeps the army weak and divided so that it does not seek to depose him. Money goes instead to the presidential guard and the police, who are more loyal. Far from Kinshasa, generals operate relatively freely—and, as the M23 rebellion showed, can quickly switch sides. To keep them happy, corrupt businesses, such as logging or mining, are tolerated. There are even suggestions that soldiers are paid late to discourage desertion, which would mean abandoning back pay.
The UN is in a bind. If Mr Kabila is unwilling to strengthen and reform the army, rebel groups will never be defeated. Worse, now that the president is nearing the end of his second term, the biggest threat to Congo’s security is in fact his own government. According to the constitution, which was drawn up in 2006 with the help of the UN, he ought to step down in December, after elections. Instead, he seems determined to stay, and is suppressing opposition. He has also been trying to get the UN to cut its forces, which it has refused to do. Both Western governments and Mr Kabila himself seem to think it will be harder for him to stay if 19,000 troops are watching.
Yet whether UN troops would be willing, if things turn nastier, to put themselves between civilians and gunfire is far from clear. When asked, General Baillaud dodged the question. In January 2015 some 40 people protesting against an attempt by Mr Kabila to change the constitution were killed by police. Well-armed Congolese soldiers have marched through Lubumbashi, an opposition stronghold in the south-east. But most UN forces remain in eastern Congo, where protests are less frequent. Troops from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan interpret their mandate to protect civilians extremely narrowly.
At the margin, the UN’s presence in Congo is probably helpful. It brings not just troops, but monitoring staff who can raise the alarm about political murders and repression. Without it, there would be fewer aid agencies. And there might well be more fighting. Many UN troops, though, are far from saints. Tanzanian peacekeepers have repeatedly been accused of rape. UN bases are plastered with posters warning against molesting children and smuggling.
Until Congo gets a government able and willing to protect its people, rather than prey on them, the UN will be needed. Yet its presence seems sure to prop up a government that is one of the main causes of its people’s misery. And so the mission goes on, endlessly.