With an eye on carbon cash, Cameroon boosts forest monitoring


Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation – Thu, 28 Aug 2014 07:30 GMT

A satellite view shows smoke from forest fires in Sumatra blown eastwards to southern Malaysia and Singapore on June 19, 2013. REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters, Cameroon (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Cameroon has set up a national system to monitor forest carbon in an effort to earn carbon cash and protect the country’s expansive but disappearing forests.

DOUALA: According to a 2013 report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Cameroon lost 4.4 million hectares (10.9 million acres), or 18 percent, of its forest cover between 1990 and 2012.

Experts blame the losses on poor governance and weak law enforcement, resulting in a failure to control logging.

Cameroon’s Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Ngole Philip Ngwesse, said at the launch of the new monitoring system this month that the satellite surveillance system will reinforce other government measures in place that aim to protect forests, improve their sustainable use and help the country earn added income.

“The forest carbon monitoring system is the hallmark of the plan of action by the government to not only protect the country’s rich forest but also reap significantly from the carbon market,” Ngwesse said.


Cameroon, which has undergone preparations to take part in REDD+, an international effort aimed at “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” could earn as much as $28 million a year from carbon markets by protecting its forests, according to Joseph Armarthe Amougou, the government’s REDD+ expert.

The country’s “REDD readiness” now “enables the country to source finances,” he said. For instance, feasibility studies suggest Cameroon could sell carbon from specific forest zones such as the 700,000 hectare (1.7 million acre) Ngoyla-Mintom forest in the South-east region.

Proceeds from the sale would be shared between the government and local communities, Amougou said.

Cameroon’s new carbon forest monitoring system will be funded by the African Development Bank and the Congo Basin Forest Fund. The trust is a multi-donor fund set up in June 2008 to take early action to protect threatened forests in the Congo Basin region.

Environment and forest experts hailed the new monitoring system, being launched in other countries of the Congo Basin as well, as a way of earning benefits from the REDD+ process to support much-needed development projects such as road, water and energy infrastructure.

“Cameroon needs to generate enough income from the REDD+ process to better empower especially forest dwellers so that they embrace a livelihood that is more sustainable and forest friendly,” said Mai Moussa Abari, country representative for FAO, at the launch.


But a recent report by WWF questions the way forward with REDD+. Over the past five years, “dozens of conferences, hundreds of papers and billions of dollars have been devoted to accelerating REDD+” but these efforts, “are not currently delivering what is required” the report said.

The report notes that potential recipient countries are struggling with the long REDD+ approval process and have no guarantee they will make any money from REDD+, while richer countries have been slow to begin handing over REDD+ money.

Abari, the FAO representative, said the new forest monitoring system will help Cameroon better see and understand how human activity is affecting land use change in the country.

The system uses satellites to keep an eye on deforestation. It will work hand-in-hand with the national forest inventory unit of the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, Ngwesse said.

The system will allow better monitoring and verification of forest protection – key to proving that forest is still standing and allowing Cameroon to win carbon cash. So-called “avoided deforestation” – the amount of greenhouse gases not emitted as a result of deforestation and forest degradation – can be turned into carbon market credits, Joseph Armathe, who also works on Clean Development Mechanism projects for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told Thomson Reuters.

The method is being applied by countries of the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) as part of a recently drafted framework on monitoring and verifying forests for the Congo Basin zone, he said.

“Data collected will also assist national policy makers in reaching informed decisions on the REDD + process,” Armathe said.

According to Achille Momo, a national expert on the monitoring and verification project under the UN-REDD Programme, the forest monitoring system should start by the end of 2014.

The Central African Forest Commission was established in 2005 to act as a regional forum for the conservation and sustainable joint management of forest ecosystems in Central Africa. Country members include Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Chad, Burundi, Sao Tomé and Rwanda.

The new system will join other forest monitoring system earlier put in place by the Cameroon government.

In 2012 Cameroon joined the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo and Central African Republic in an agreement with the French government and geo-information provider Astrium Services to better protect the fast disappearing Congo Basin Forest using another satellite monitoring system.


But Teodyl Nkuintchua of the Centre for Environment and Development, a Cameroon-based non-governmental organisation, said the government also clearly needs to improve on the laws governing forest exploitation in the country.

“Cameroon needs to seriously reinforce its forestry laws to curb wanton destruction and protect the rights of forest communities. The failure to control abuses will not yield any better results, no matter the good intentions behind reforms already taken,” Teodyl warned.

The FAO, however, says that monitoring is one of the most effective methods of preventing forest crime.

According to an FAO report, close monitoring has drastically slowed forest deforestation in countries like Brazil.

The report says remote monitoring can be used to direct limited number of inspectors on the ground to areas where they need to verify the reliability of reporting by loggers.

As well, “inspections must be allowed on a routine basis, not just when a crime is suspected,” the report stated.

Elias Ntungwe Ngalame is a Cameroon-based freelance writer with an interest in climate change, environmental and governance issues.  AlertNet

Ethiopia looks to sugar as a source of energy


Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

An irrigation system showers a sugarcane field with water at the Kuraz sugar project in southern Ethiopia. Photo: Ethiopian Sugar Corporation

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Eating and drinking in Ethiopia involves a lot of sugar, from the quintessentially Ethiopian buna (coffee) ceremony to the fare in pastry shops. But it’s expensive to import.

Now the government has embarked on an ambitious project to grow more sugar to meet that demand – but also to boost electricity production and to create sugar-based ethanol that could help reduce car emissions and cut down on fossil fuel imports.

Ethiopia currently produces about 300,000 tonnes of sugar a year from three factories, at Wonchi, Metehera and Finchaa. The factories also generate 62 megawatts (MW) of electricity, half of which is used by the sugar plants themselves, with the rest sent to the national electric grid.

Gossaye Mengiste, an official at the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy, says Ethiopia has the potential to produce 600 MW of energy from sugar when 13 additional factories now being built start production – a considerable boost to the country’s national electricity output.


Altogether, Ethiopia aims to generate up to 8,000 MW of additional energy by the end of the next year, more than quadrupling its current 2,200 MW. Most of the energy will come from hydropower and wind – but waste energy, geothermal and co-generation from sugar plants are all part of the strategy.

The government, facing a shortage of at least 200,000 tonnes of sugar a year, as well as persistent electricity cuts and rising pollution from its busy streets, sees growth in sugar as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly answer.

Ethiopia is working to build a climate-resilient green economy and aiming for a net carbon output of zero by 2025. Reducing emissions from cars, a big source of greenhouse gases, is a key part of that, Mengiste said.

Another economic goal is to become a middle-income country by 2025, which depends on the government keeping the economy growing at what it claims has been an annual growth rate of 10 percent a year over the past decade.

The government has focused on increasing use of ethanol, a byproduct of sugar, as a source of electricity because it’s relatively cheap and doesn’t require a dedicated factory, so it can act as a supplementary energy source when needed.


Sugar plantations, however, need large tracts of lands. The question of land availability in lowland areas – most of which are occupied by pastoralists who occupy 60 percent of the country’s land but account for only 11 percent of its population – may be a difficult one.

Zemdekun Tekle, corporate communications director at the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation, the state entity that handles all sugar projects, says the current projects benefit both local people and the country as a whole.

Planting sugar has created employment for local people and pushed pastoralists into settling, he said. He pointed to the Omo Valley where local people produce maize and have been provided with health clinics, schools and saw mills.

In the area, “graduates are learning practical skills with the sugar industry, becoming a skilled workforce and eventually becoming innovators themselves,” Tekle said.

Another benefit from the sugar project is that it produces high-quality cattle feed as a byproduct, helping the country’s large livestock sector which had previously been hampered by lack of good cattle feed, the Sugar Corporation noted.

But critics aren’t convinced of the merits of the scheme, saying efforts to expand sugar production are based on a condescending plan drawn up mainly by people living in highland areas but affecting the lowland population.

Groups like Survival International and other minority rights bodies have urged potential donors to shy away from such projects, which they allege destroy pastoralist populations. Tekle admitted that such lobbying has reduced the range of Ethiopia’s funding partners.


But emerging economies such as India and China have already opened their wallets, he said, noting that the visit of Chinese Premier Li  Keqianq in May coincided with a $500 million loan funding agreement for one such project – the Welkayit sugar factory.

In highland Addis Ababa, a bustling metropolis of more than three million people, however, business people and residents alike are more concerned with finding sugar for their daily needs at an affordable price.

One such person is Tsehay Gebremeskel, who has owned and run a small café in the capital for more than 20 years.

“I use sugar for the tea, coffee, milk, pastry and juices I serve to my customers, but I’m having difficulty finding sugar regularly from the government shop for a price of 1550 birr ($78) per quintal,” she said. The cost of sugar is eating into her profits, from which she pays her employees and bills for the café and covers her home expenses.

The government plans to meet the sugar shortage by opening seven new sugar-processing plants by the end of next year, which will raise the country’s production capacity from 300,000 tonnes to 1.2 million tones a year. The plants will require 348,000 hectares of land, the government says.

The government estimates national sugar demand at about 650,000 tonnes a year, with current shortfalls made up by imports from Thailand and Dubai. But with added sugar-growing capacity in place by 2015, Ethiopia aims to export some 550,000 tonnes, giving it earnings projected at $300 million by the end of next year.

E.G. Woldegebriel is a journalist based in Addis Ababa with an interest in environmental issues.  AlertNet

West Africa – US health expert says ebola epidemic will get worse


The current outbreak is the deadliest since Ebola was discovered in 1976

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is going to get worse before it gets better, according to the top US public health official.

Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, said the epidemic would need an “unprecedented” response to bring it under control.

Health ministers from across West Africa are due to meet in Ghana to discuss the growing crisis.

The World Health Organization says the outbreak has killed 1,427 people.

The health body says it is the largest ever Ebola epidemic and has infected an estimated 2,615 people.

Liberia has been hardest-hit of the affected countries, with 624 deaths and 1,082 cases since the start of the year.

Health workers take off their protective suits after finishing disinfecting areas at a hospital in Pita, Guinea - 25 August 2014There have been more than 2,600 confirmed cases of Ebola, with around half of those being deadly

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)

  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% – but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus’s natural host

Mr Frieden met Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to discuss ways to fight the disease.

“The cases are increasing. I wish I did not have to say this, but it is going to get worse before it gets better,” he admitted.

“The world has never seen an outbreak of Ebola like this. Consequently, not only are the numbers large, but we know there are many more cases than has been diagnosed and reported,” he added.

He said there was a need for “urgent action” and called on Liberians “to come together” to stop misconceptions that have helped the outbreak spread.

Despite rumours to the contrary, the virus is not airborne and is spread by humans coming into contact with bodily fluids, such as sweat and blood, from those infected with virus.

Health ministers from the Economic Community of West African States will meet in Ghana’s capital Accra on Thursday to discuss the regional response to the crisis.

The extraordinary meeting comes after the African Development Bank warned that the outbreak is causing enormous economic damage to West Africa as foreign businesses quit the region.

Meanwhile, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has branded the international response “entirely inadequate”.

Brice de la Vigne, MSF operations director, said efforts to bring the outbreak under control had been far too chaotic.

“It is simply unacceptable that serious discussions are only starting now about international leadership and coordination,” he said.

“Self-protection is occupying the entire focus of states that have the expertise and resources to make a dramatic difference.”  BBC

Nigeria – four army officers interrogated after northern mutiny


Mutiny: Four military officers quizzed

Nigerian Soldiers

Strong indications emerged on Wednesday that the military high command had started taking decisive steps against security personnel involved in acts inimical to the military tradition.

It was gathered on Wednesday that four army officers were arrested for allegedly encouraging some soldiers, who disobeyed a directive on posting to Bama, one of the areas where Nigerian troops are fighting   Boko Haram insurgents.

Mutiny is defined as a situation, in which a group of people such as sailors or soldiers refuse to obey orders and try to take control away from their superiors.

The posting was said to have affected mainly the 21 Armoured Brigade Garrison, Maiduguri in Borno State whose men were said to be on standby for redeployment to Bama.

It was learnt on Wednesday that the posting did not go down well with the men of the unit, who were of the view that the garrison should have been a rear party (support unit) rather than being posted to the area of operation.

Investigations further revealed that the soldiers felt that they were being moved out for the men of the division to take over Maiduguri metropolis.

The soldiers in the units were also said to have complained that they were involved in three operations such as the multinational Joint Task Force, the Joint Task Force in Damaturu, Yobe State and the task force in Mubi, Adamawa State. They believed that they should have been addressed collectively before any such deployment.

A source, who confided in one of our correspondents, said the military authorities became alarmed when some of the soldiers decided not to honour the posting. This made the   military high command to   order the arrest of four of the officers of the formation.

It was learnt the commanders of the 21 Armoured Brigade Garrison in Maiduguri, comprising a Lieutenant Colonel , a Captain and two lieutenants, were arrested two weeks ago .

However, after a thorough process of investigation, the military authorities released the four officers after finding them not guilty of the suspicion that they   had a hand in the reluctance of the troops to leave Maiduguri   for Bama.

It was gathered that the Lieutenant Colonel had been posted   to another unit while the other three officers had been deployed to Bama.

Investigations further revealed that the military leadership had arrested several soldiers, who dropped their guns to desert from the Army.

Although, the source did not give a figure, the soldiers were said to have been moved to Abuja to face interrogation.

The source said the arrested soldiers came from different battalions.

It was, however, gathered that the military authorities were also investigating some soldiers of 195 Batalion, Agenebode, Edo State over the attack on Danboa

The Agenebode battalion which is in charge of Danboa is said to be affected by the issue of desertion in the Army.

A security source said that the military authorities were serious about taking decisive steps against misdemeanours in the ongoing efforts to prevent the troops from being discouraged by deserters.

The source stated that the military leadership was determined to ensure that disobedience and cowardice were not condoned because of their grave implications on the success of the counter-terrorist operation.

One of our correspondents made repeated efforts to speak with the Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen Chris Olukolade, without success.

As of 8.37pm on Wednesday, he had not responded to an SMS sent to him.

Cameroonian troops kill 27 B’Haram insurgents

Cameroonian soldiers have   killed 27 members of the Islamist group, Boko Haram, near a border town with Nigeria.

Reuters quoted Cameroon’s state radio on Wednesday, saying the insurgents   crossed the border into Cameroon earlier this week, after attacking a military base and police station in Gamboru Ngala in Borno State.

“Cameroon soldiers have killed 27 Boko Haram elements during an attack in a locality near Fotokol in the far-north,” the state radio, CRTV said,.

It added   that the deaths occurred on Monday and Tuesday. There was no word on any Cameroonian casualties.

A Cameroonian soldier in the region said the militants had been pushed back into Nigeria, with calm returning to the area on Wednesday.

In recent weeks, Boko Haram, which is seeking to carve out a de facto Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has stepped up attacks in Cameroon, leading the central African country to increase deployments along its border with Nigeria..

President Paul Biya dismissed two senior army officers last month following attacks in which at least seven people were killed and the wife of the vice prime minister was kidnapped

Insurgents attempt to blow Nigeria-Cameroon bridge

Meanwhile, the insurgents have attempted blowing up a bridge on the Nigerian border with Cameroon after overrunning a town and sending residents as well as soldiers fleeing.

A Cameroonian police officer stationed in   Fotokol told the Agence France Presse that the militants tried on Tuesday to destroy the bridge, which leads to Gamboru Ngala in Borno State.

Three children were reportedly injured by flying shrapnel when explosives were detonated, possibly by firing from the Cameroonian side of the border on Monday.

Copyright PUNCH.

Malawi – president Mutharika rejects ministers’ demand for pay increase

Mail and Guardian

President Peter Mutharika has shot down Cabinet ministers’ request for a 600% salary hike to cover the higher cost of living.

Malawi President Peter Mutharika. (AFP)

Malawian President Peter Mutharika has shot down a proposal to hike Cabinet ministers’ pay to almost triple his own salary, a spokesperson said on Tuesday, amid austerity measures following foreign aid flight.

The Cabinet secretary asked for a six-fold increase of the 20 ministers’ salaries to $8 800 a month to cover the higher cost of living, according to presidential spokesperson Frederick Ndala.

But Mutharika “finds it unethical to raise ministers’ salaries when the cost of living is not only high for them, but for every Malawian”, Ndala told Agence France-Presse. Mutharika, who came to power after beating Joyce Banda in May elections, will prioritise “the improvement of living standards of civil servants,” his spokesperson said.

Besides roughly $1 500 in pay, ministers receive benefits such as $2 000 in monthly fuel subsidies. In contrast, the southern African nation’s 170 000 public servants earn $100 a month on average.

Donor withdrawal taking a toll
Malawi is weathering an economic storm after donors, which contribute 40% to the state budget, last year withdrew aid worth $150-million over a massive government corruption scandal.

Officials looted $30-million in state funds in less than six months last year. Ndala said Mutharika has appealed to the ministers to be “good leaders and lead by example and forego the salary review as the president has no intention of raising his salary any time soon”.

The president’s salary of $3 000 has been unchanged since 2009 when Mutharika’s brother Bingu wa Mutharika was in power. He died in office in 2012 following a sudden heart attack.


Nigeria closes schools to prevent spread of ebola


Ebola outbreak: Nigeria closes all schools until October

Children at a school in Maiduguri, Nigeria - May 2014Children in Nigeria will be away from school for a further six weeks

All schools in Nigeria have been ordered to remain shut until 13 October as part of measures to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

The new academic year was due to start on Monday.

But the education minister ordered the closures to allow staff to be trained on how to handle suspected Ebola cases.

Five people have died of Ebola in Nigeria. The West Africa outbreak has centred on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing more than 1,400 people.

It is the largest ever outbreak and has infected an estimated 2,615 people. About half of those infected have died.

There are many other diseases right now not being attended to because Ebola has overstretched the capacity of the health sector”  Donald Kaberuka AFDB president

It spread to Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country – in July, when a man infected with Ebola flew from Liberia to Lagos.

The head of the African Development Bank (AFDB), Donald Kaberuka, has called on airline companies to restart their services to the worst-affected countries.

Several African countries and airlines have banned flights to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone despite World Health Organization (WHO) advice that travel bans do not work.

Air France has now announced it is suspending flights to Sierra Leone from Thursday, following a request by the French government.

The virus is not airborne and is spread between humans through direct contact with infected bodily fluids.

“It is very important that as you combat Ebola, we also continue to ensure that ordinary economic activity is not disputed,” Mr Kaberuka told BBC Africa on a visit to Sierra Leone.


The Nigerian government says it hopes its efforts to contain the virus are working, as there is only one confirmed case of Ebola remaining.

Nurses wearing protective suits escort a man infected with the Ebola virus to a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia - 25 August 2014The outbreak has overwhelmed struggling health systems in some of the world’s poorest countries
A convoy of rescue vehicles passes the main entrance of the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany, 27 August 2014 A Senegalese epidemiologist has been flown to Hamburg from Sierra Leone for treatment

“All state ministries of education are to immediately organise and ensure that at least two staff in each school, both private and public, are trained by appropriate health workers,” said Education Minister Ibrahim Shekarau.

Mr Kaberuka said the AFDB had signed an agreement with the WHO to quickly release $60m (£36m) of funds to help with the immediate fight against Ebola.

He described the situation as “cataclysmic” as many health workers were being infected with Ebola.

“It is decimating the health sector,” he said.

“There are many other diseases right now not being attended to because Ebola has overstretched the capacity of the health sector.”

The current outbreak is the deadliest since Ebola was discovered in 1976

On Tuesday, the WHO said the “unprecedented” number of doctors and nurses infected was due to a shortage of protective equipment and staff.

Only one or two doctors are available for 100,000 patients in some of the affected countries.

The bank chief said after the Ebola emergency was over, it was important that these countries health systems were strengthened, which the AFDB could do through budget support.

Meanwhile, a WHO epidemiologist from Senegal who contracted Ebola while working in Sierra Leone has been flown to Hamburg in Germany for treatment.

He had been working at an Ebola testing centre in Kailahun, one of the worst-affected districts in eastern Sierra Leone which is currently under blockade.

The WHO says the laboratory in Kailahun has been temporarily closed.

There have been 392 Ebola deaths in Sierra Leone, according to the latest UN figures released on 22 August.


Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)

A fruit bat is pictured in 2010 at the Amneville zoo in France. Fruit bats are believed to be a major carrier of the Ebola virus but do not show symptoms
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% – but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus’s natural host


Dr Congo – Kabila aiming for lifetime presidency

African Arguments

DRC: Kabila eyes lifetime presidency and must be given a way out – By Theophile Costeur


Current events in the elite politics of the DRC should be of great concern for those who follow developments in the country. Systematic efforts are being made by the Presidency and sections of the Presidential Majority to modify the 2006 constitution or, more likely, to have a new constitution passed by referendum. This would enable the incumbent President to abolish the current two-term limit to his presidential mandate. This new constitution would open the door for a lifetime presidency, leaving President Kabila in power until he dies or until he goes into exile. The extensive efforts made since 1998 to turn the bullet into the ballot risk being wasted. However, if concerted action is taken then the lifetime presidency can be prevented before it’s too late.

A first effort from the President to remain in power occurred during the 2013 National Dialogue which regrouped the major part of the political elite, majority and opposition.  President Kabila tried to turn the Dialogue into a forum on the modification of the constitution. This effort met with an almost total refusal from its participants and the final report included a statement of refusal to modify the constitution’s art. 220 (which limits the President’s mandate to two terms.) Unfortunately, this statement was eliminated from the list of one hundred priority recommendations drafted by the Dialogue’s follow up committee in December 2013.

Another scenario imagined by the Presidential Majority was the inclusion of the opposition in a government of national cohesion. As its members would very likely prefer to remain in power beyond the 2016 election deadline, this was a way to postpone the next elections and to buy time.  A variant of this idea was to put Senate President Kengo Wa Dondo in power as President of the Republic, to prepare for a return for Kabila after the completion of his term.

Until the end of June, it seemed likely that this would happen, until for reasons that remain unclear, Kabila put a halt to the idea and decided to force a solution. During the 30 June Independence Day parade, he displayed his Republican Guard in full force and sent a message that he remains in charge and controls important military means. During his speech he underlined that he would apply the recommendations from the National Dialogue, but without any haste…

From about mid-July however, the President’s PPRD party and some members of his Presidential Majority started a campaign in favour of the modification of the constitution. PPRD President Boshab and Presidential Advisor Kambila introduced the argument that the 2006 constitution was drafted by warring parties without any legitimacy, and that it was not adapted to the current situation which is oriented to the launching of the DRC as an ‘emergent’ country.

It is too easily forgotten that this same constitution was massively approved by referendum in December 2005 and that President Kabila himself, in his 18 February 2006 speech, declared that the vote was a victory for the Congolese people and not of one party over another; the constitution inaugurated a new era of institutional stability and a departure from the period of ‘transition’. Kabila explicitly referred to art. 220. Still, the head of the ‘Maison Civile’ of the President, Pastor Théodore Mugalu, called in an interview for a new constitution “that respects God” because the current constitution excludes God…

Indeed, why the sudden need to discard or modify the 2006 constitution? The more general argument against recurrent revisions is that institutions take time to take root, and that a constitutional modification with each new election (as happened in 2011 and is now scheduled for 2016) is not really conducive to constitutional stability. The current constitution was meant to inaugurate a new republic and to prevent a return to dictatorship. Does the country really need a new constitution adapted to the ‘new’ project of transforming the DRC into an ‘emergent’ country?

There is not a single element in the current constitution that would impede the DRC from taking this path, except of course if – and this is the real argument – one equates the person of Kabila with stability. But haven’t we heard this before under the Mobutu regime? A modification or the introduction of a new constitution very probably will lead exactly to the contrary: an economy to enrich the incumbents – who will no longer have to fear electoral sanction – and the likelihood sooner or later of a new rebellion or armed conflict. Monopolization of power in the DRC inevitably means that one needs military action to have access to power.

Obviously, nobody can object to a sovereign people voting in a new or modified constitution – provided this vote is transparent, free and fair. But it is hard to see how a constitutional referendum could be won by the incumbent President without the massive use of fraud: there seems to be a general rejection of Kabila’s rule all over the country. This is most explicit in his home province of Katanga – a result of his rule by and in favour of the private interests of the presidential family, with little concern for the population.

Another possibility would be the forced vote by the United Chambers of Parliament, as occurred in January 2011 – but this would give much less legitimacy to the operation than a (possibly rigged) referendum. The whole operation entails significant risks for the current regime. A key element in the setup is the ANR security service, which has been engaging in a campaign of intimidation of the opposition and the general population. This was shown by the arrest of the Secretary General of the UNC Party Jean Bertrand Ewanga and the previously unheard of short arrest of CENI President Malu Malu, respectively a Member of Parliament and an official with the rank of Minister!

If the entire project is implemented, and if it succeeds because of fear from the population or lack of an alternative, the consequences will be very serious. President Kabila will have eliminated all limits to the exercise of his power, and will remain until he dies or is forced into exile. His current rule in favour of his family will of course be intensified. The politics in favour of the enrichment of small elite will continue. Development will be limited to a series of symbolic and high prestige projects. A group of opportunistic and very mediocre managers will overtake all levels of power, in the image of the current ANR Director General. And most importantly: Official Lies will once again become the Official Truth, with all the devastating consequences this has on the country’s social fabric.

Where have we heard this before? Yes, under Mobutu, and previous Mobutu stalwarts such as Minister Kin Kiey Mulumba again occupy key positions.  A change of constitution will gradually imply a return to the point of departure in 1990: Mobutu.  Does this mean that fifteen years of endless suffering for the Congolese population will have been totally useless? Does this mean that twenty three years of struggle for a regime change will have been pointless? Does this mean that the international community since 1999 has wasted its time and money? This scenario should at all cost be avoided.

It is still possible to give President Kabila an honourable way out. He undeniably has his merits, most notably in putting an end to the 1998-2002 war, reuniting the country and in giving the country a new and forward looking constitution (yet to be fully implemented.) But all these positive points now risk being jeopardized, and the scenario set for a new war. What motivates Kabila is probably fear of what will happen if he steps down. It is possible (and crucial) to give him guarantees for his personal safety and the safety of his family.

But international pressure must also be discreetly stepped up and it must be made publicly clear that no international support exists for the return to a personal rule through the adoption of a new constitution. Pressure could potentially be exerted through selected neighbouring countries. It should also be made clear that the same rule of limits to presidential mandates will be applied to other African countries, such as Rwanda or Uganda.

Some say that it is ‘African’ to remain in power for a lifetime. It would be more correct to say that this era is gone and many African countries have witnessed a growing respect for the constitution, institutionalisation of a regime rather than a person and the end of personal rule.  Ultimately however, in the DRC, everything will depend on the emergence of a politically realistic and competent alternative to the current presidency. There are many, but they must have the courage to stand up.

Theophile Costeur, Brussels, 14 08 2014