Tag Archives: DR Congo

Dr Congo – investigation into Kasai violence to look at role of former minister


By Aaron Ross | KINSHASA

KINSHASA Congo’s attorney general said on Tuesday he had opened an investigation into a former minister over allegations he played a role in militia violence in central Congo that a U.N. employee was investigating when she was killed.

His announcement followed a report by The New York Times on Saturday that Zaida Catalan, a U.N. investigator killed in March in central Democratic Republic of Congo, had a recording of a phone call between ex-development minister Clement Kanku and a presumed militia member.

In it, the newspaper reported, Kanku is heard speaking approvingly of violence perpetrated by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, whose insurrection against government forces in the Kasai region has resulted in hundreds of deaths and displaced more than a million people since last July.

Kanku rejected all the allegations in a later news conference.

Attorney General Flory Numbi announced the government investigation to reporters in the capital Kinshasa, saying he had written to the National Assembly to request permission to conduct preliminary searches of Kanku’s property because he enjoys immunity as a member of parliament.

“If at the end of this investigation, I am convinced that the facts are established regarding the relevant charges, (Kanku) will be charged with participation in an insurrectional movement, assassination, voluntary arson, malicious destruction and association with criminals,” Numbi said.

Catalan and her American colleague Michael Sharp were investigating such acts in Kasai when they were killed in March. Their bodies were found in a shallow grave in the same month.

“I am disturbed by these allegations of implication in criminal actions which I refute completely,” Kanku, who served as development minister from last December until a reshuffle earlier this month, told reporters at his house in Kinshasa on Tuesday.

Earlier, two truck loads of police had prevented him from meeting press at a downtown restaurant, saying the news conference had not been authorised.

According to the Times story, Catalan had a recording of a phone conversation — which she had told Kanku about — in which an apparent militiaman informs Kanku that the militia has set fire to a town in Kasai-Central province.

“It’s good that we burn everything; that is good news,” Kanku is quoted as saying on the tape.

Kanku and his lawyer Aime Kilolo declined to comment on the alleged recording. Kilolo said it would be “premature” to respond as Kanku’s name is nowhere stated in the phone call.

Congolese military investigators said on Saturday that two alleged militiamen would soon face trial for Catalan and Sharp’s killings but that another 14 suspects were at large.

A U.N. board of inquiry is investigating the experts’ deaths but is not expected to assign blame. Sweden has also opened a police investigation.

(Editing by Tim Cocks)

DR Congo – Christian sect members attack prison and free leader


By Aaron Ross | KINSHASA

KINSHASA Supporters of a jailed Christian sect leader attacked the prison holding him in Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, freeing him and about 50 other inmates early on Wednesday, the government said.

Ne Muanda Nsemi – a self-styled prophet and leader of the Bundu dia Kongo movement – was arrested in March after a series of deadly clashes between his supporters and police, government spokesman Lambert Mende said.

Witnesses said they had heard gunfire near Makala prison at around 4 a.m. (0300 GMT) and saw prisoners wearing blue shirts with yellow collars in the streets.

The United Nations warned its staff to avoid unessential movement around Kinshasa, saying the situation was calm but unpredictable.

Soldiers stopped young men for questioning near Nsemi’s house in the city’s district of Ngaliema and arresting some of them, a Reuters witness said.

Justice minister Alexis Thambwe told a local radio station that, aside from Nsemi, the prison’s most prominent prisoners, including political opposition leaders and soldiers convicted in the assassination of former president Laurent Kabila, had not escaped.

The president of Bundu dia Kongo’s political wing could not be immediately reached for comment.

Nsemi has a strong following in southwestern Congo and wants to revive the Kongo kingdom, which flourished for centuries around the mouth of the Congo River.

Clashes between his followers and security forces have compounded wider tensions across Congo since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired in December, raising fears of renewed civil conflict.

At least six of Nsemi’s supporters were killed earlier this year during the two-week standoff at his Kinshasa residence that led to his capture.

(Reporting By Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by Benoit Nyemba; Editing by Andrew Heavens)


DR Congo: Bruno Tshibala appointed new prime minister


Congolese President Joseph Kabila (centre) arrives to deliver a speech to the nation in front of the upper and the lower chambers at the Palace of the People (Palais du Peuple) in Kinshasa (05 April 2017)Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Kabila (centre) was supposed to step down at the end of 2016 but the vote to replace him was not held

Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila has appointed Bruno Tshibala as the new prime minister of the power-sharing government.

Mr Tshibala will be leader until presidential elections later this year.

He was expelled from Congo’s largest opposition party, the UDPS, last month after contesting the designation of successors to veteran leader Etienne Tshisekedi who died in February.

Mr Tshibala’s appointment is likely to further divide Mr Kabila’s opponents.

Talks to negotiate his exit from power broke down last week.

A policeman walks in front of a police truck as the Congolese capital Kinshasa (19 October 2016)Image copyright AFP
Image caption A peaceful transfer of power has not taken place in Democratic Republic of Congo since independence form Belgium in 1960

Mr Kabila was supposed to step down after his second and final five-year term came to an end last year but the vote to replace him was not held.

The electoral commission cited financial and logistical difficulties.

The arrogance of power

The failure to organise the polls led to a wave of deadly demonstrations by opposition supporters, with calls from diplomats for the president to respect the constitution.

The Roman Catholic Church stepped in to broker a deal at the end of 2016 which outlined the creation of a transitional government that would oversee the elections.

But the deal collapsed because the government and the opposition were unable to agree on the power-sharing mechanism under the arrangement.

The country of 71 million people has not had a peaceful transfer of power since its independence from Belgium in 1960.

DR Congo – 40 policemen beheaded by local militia in Kasai conflict


UN vehicle in Tshimbulu, Kasai province, 20 March 2017Reuters  The UN mission in Kasai has reported 400 people killed since last August

Militia fighters in DR Congo have decapitated about 40 police officers in an ambush in the central province of Kasai, local officials say.

Fighters from the Kamwina Nsapu group attacked a police convoy.

Six policemen who spoke the local Tshiluba were freed, but the rest were killed, Kasai Assembly President Francois Kalamba said.

The unrest in Kasai began last August, when security forces killed the Kamwina Nsapu leader.

Friday’s attack targeted a police convoy travelling between Tshikapa and Kananga.

The state Governor Alexis Nkande Myopompa said an investigation had been launched into the killings.

The UN says 400 people have been killed and 200,000 displaced in the Kasai region since Jean-Pierre Pandi, the Kamwina Nsapu leader, was killed.

This came two months after Kamwina Nsapu launched a bid, in June 2016, for him to be officially recognised as a local chief and for state bodies to withdraw from the region.

Why have 10 mass graves been found in Kasai?


The UN says it has identified 10 mass graves where those killed in the unrest have been buried, as well as another seven suspected mass burial sites.

Two UN experts, an American and a Swede, were kidnapped in the area two weeks ago with four Congolese colleagues and are still missing.

DR Congo is in a state of increasing political uncertainty as President Joseph Kabila remains in power beyond the end of his mandate ,which expired last December.

Elections are now due to be held before the end of this year, but no firm date has been set.

DR Congo – Tshisekedi death could damage political deal


Upset supporters of Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi mourn his death outside his residence in the Limete in Kinshasa, DR CongoREUTERS Etienne Tshisekedi’s supporters, mourning his death, said he was an incorruptible politician

Supporters of Etienne Tshisekedi, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s veteran opposition leader, have gathered in the capital, Kinshasa, to express their shock at his death.

A prominent opponent of successive leaders, he was due to head a transitional council under a deal for President Joseph Kabila to step down.

The 84-year-old died in Belgium where he went last week for medical checks.

The information minister said he would be given a state funeral.

Mr Tshisekedi returned to Kinshasa last July to a hero’s welcome after two years in Brussels for medical treatment.

His death comes at a sensitive time for DR Congo and follows fierce clashes last year when it was announced that President Kabila would stay in power until April 2018.

Tshisekedi arrives in Kinshasa in July 2016AFP/GETTY Mr Tshisekedi (C) remained popular and could draw huge crowds

BBC Afrique’s Anne-Marie Dias Borges says Mr Tshisekedi was a hugely popular figure in Kinshasa and nicknamed the “Sphinx of Limete”, because the mythological creature reflected his long career and many political guises. Limete is his home neighbourhood in the capital.

What next for the peace deal? By Alex Duval Smith, BBC Africa

Mr Tshisekedi’s death comes as the opposition and government were negotiating the departure of President Kabila after 16 years in power.

The unfinished talks still require the creation of a transitional government and agreement on election dates. Mr Tshisekedi had been expected to chair a transition oversight committee.

He was a brave proponent of democracy. For more than half a century, a vast nation could unite behind him, against the autocracy of Mobutu Sese Seko or the Kabilas, father and son. But in that time, Mr Tshisekedi became a monument in his own right. His intransigence, at times, may have hindered democratic progress.

In the past three years of Mr Tshisekedi’s illness, his son Felix has taken an increasingly prominent role. The future of the the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party is now in the balance. Other, younger, opposition leaders may now find room for manoeuvre in transition talks that are expected to continue under the auspices of the Congolese bishops’ conference.

What has been the reaction to his death?

Witnesses say as word of his death spread in Kinshasa on Wednesday evening, clashes broke out between a small group of his supporters and police, who fired teargas.

Mourners who gathered at his son’s house in Kinshasa said they were concerned about the future.

“This man sacrificed his life, his youth for us all. This man made us open our eyes. He was our icon. This man was an icon for Africa. He was great. We lost a great man,” one woman told the BBC.

Another said his supporters saw him as incorruptible: “He was an historic opponent. [Nelson] Mandela was the best and Tshisekedi comes after.”

Didier Reynders, the foreign minister of Belgium – the former colonial power – described Mr Tshisekedi as a “remarkable political figure”.

“Belgium joins forces with the Congolese people in their grief and their desire to see his work bear fruit,” the AFP news agency quotes him as saying.

What did he achieve during 57 years in politics?

  • One of DR Congo’s first lawyers, his political career took off with independence in 1960 when he became an adviser to Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and then joined a short-lived secessionist administration of Kasai
  • Served as a minister under autocratic ruler Mobutu Sese Seko when the country was known as Zaire
Mobutu Sese SekoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMobutu Sese Seko (C) seized power in 1965 and was ousted in 1997
  • When elections were cancelled in 1980, he helped set up the UDPS, the first organised opposition platform
  • During the 1990s, when the country was in economic turmoil, Mobutu named his rival prime minister at least three times. But they frequently clashed
  • He remained in the opposition when rebel leader Laurent Kabila took power, but was arrested twice for election-related violence and then sent into internal exile to his home village in the Kasai region
  • Re-launched his political career in 2011 but was again defeated in a disputed poll won by incumbent Joseph Kabila
  • Led an opposition coalition demanding that President Kabila leave power when his mandate expired in December 2016. In a deal brokered by the Catholic Church, he was to oversaw a power-sharing deal that would see Mr Kabila leave office this year.

Lord’s Resistance Army – “you belong to Kony”

African Arguments

“You belong to Joseph Kony”: How Dominic Ongwen and others became child soldiers

Testimony from a former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army highlights the moral and human complexity of Ongwen’s case at the ICC.

The Lord's Resistance Army terrorised northern Uganda for several years. Credit: Martin Bekkelund.

Earlier this month, one of the most morally complex cases to face the International Criminal Court (ICC) resumed. In it, Dominic Ongwen stands accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed as a commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

In December 2016, Ongwen pleaded not guilty to the charges, arguing that since he was abducted by the LRA as a child, he is a victim of the rebel group.

Ongwen is the only LRA member out of the five indicted by the ICC who was abducted as a child. The other four reportedly joined voluntarily, including the still-at-large Joseph Kony, who founded the LRA in the late-1980s and is the only other surviving indictee.

The prosecution argues that Ongwen’s status as a former child abductee should not absolve him of responsibility for alleged crimes though the Chief Prosecutor conceded it might be a mitigating factor in his sentencing. The defence insist Ongwen was traumatised by the LRA and should be seen as a victim.

If accounts of other former LRA members can act as a guide, entrance into the group would certainly have had a profound effect on Ongwen. His abduction and daily existence in the LRA would have been characterised by extreme violence, both targeted at him and forcing him to target others, all in ways specifically designed to recondition him into a loyal fighter.

This is clear from the following vivid testimony of Okello, another LRA fighter who was also abducted as a child in early days of the brutal rebel group. His traumatic story reflects the experiences of many children forcibly conscripted. Without providing any answers, it highlights the complexity of the questions around responsibility and blame raised by Ongwen’s case.

It is excerpted from my 2016 book, When The Walking Defeats You: One Man’s Journey as Joseph Kony’s Bodyguard.

LRA child soldiers. Mid 2015, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo obtained by Paul Ronan.

Okello’s story

Okello started to talk about his life, as people usually did around the fire in LRA camps, following the Acholi tradition known as wang oo. Okello started his speech by lamenting the fact that he had no family of his own left, and that the LRA government was now his family, and Joseph Kony his father.

“My own father died when I was born, or that is what my mother told me. I had an older brother named Paul. People said he was crazy but Paul was not crazy, I knew him well. Paul had a sickness that made it difficult for him to understand others, but he was nice and always helped my mother and me. We lived in Minakulu, by the big road that links Gulu with Kampala.

The holies [LRA fighters] came to our village in 2003 when I was thirteen. It was early in the morning but it was still dark outside. Kidega was the commander, I know him well now. They kicked our door and grabbed us while we slept.

One of the youngus [child soldiers] held a razor blade to my neck and told me to go out. Someone grabbed mother and Paul. Paul was only sixteen, but he was tall and strong. He refused to be dragged and ran towards mother, who was being whipped by Kidega. She was too scared and confused to sit on the floor like Kidega asked her.

Kidega’s guard yelled at Paul to drop on the floor but Paul did not understand. He tried to help our mother so Kidega’s guard shot him in the stomach. Then they all beat Paul in front of us and let him bleed to death. We saw him die slowly, his blood just poured until he dried out, like a sheep being prepared for cooking. Kidega said mother was stupid for not controlling Paul, who now was dead because of her. ‘You are a bad woman,’ he said, and slit her throat.’”

Okello continued, his voice quivering when mentioning his mother.

“I was scared. When I saw Paul and my mother dead on the ground covered in blood, I could not move my hands or feet. It was like an evil spirit pinned me down. I was sure I was going to die and I wanted to. Kidega pointed his knife at my head and said, ‘You are now with the LRA, forget your family.’ The others pulled me up as I could not stand up and tied me with other children from Minakulu, also taken that night. We walked for hours until we reached the bush. I did not think I would live.

But these people here teach you to be strong. You have no choice but to obey and be strong or to die weak. The day after I was taken as we walked towards Kitgum, one kid called Olweny, whom I knew very well because we played ‘nine-stones’ together, tried to escape but they caught him and brought him back to where we stopped. Kidega then ordered all abducted children from Minakulu, thirteen of us, to pick up sticks and beat Olweny to death.

We were all in a circle around Olweny, who was really scared. He was small bodied and young, maybe eleven years old. He asked us not to kill him and started crying. Kidega made fun of him because Olweny pissed his pants. Kidega said, ‘If you don’t kill him, we will kill you.’

I picked my stick and hit him in the face, then everyone else hit him many times until he stopped moving and his brain came out of his head. I felt bad but I knew I had become a man then, a soldier.

Kidega told us to throw Olweny’s body in the bush, warning us that anyone who tried to escape would suffer the same fate. ‘You are now real soldiers of the Lord,’ Kidega said, ‘and you belong to Joseph Kony, our father.’

This is how I ended up here. This is now my family because God wanted me to be Kony’s child.”

Ledio Cakaj is the author of When The Walking Defeats You: One Man’s Journey as Joseph Kony’s Bodyguard (Zed books, 2016).

DR Congo – M23 rebels feared to have entered from Uganda


By William Clowes | KINSHASA

Armed fighters led by the military commander of former Congolese rebel group M23 have crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo from Uganda, Congolese officials said on Sunday.

The rebels had been in camps for demobilized fighters in Uganda following their defeat in 2013. Formerly, they were the largest of dozens of armed groups in the country and controlled huge swaths of the country’s mining heartland in the east.

Renewed violence would be a major challenge for President Joseph Kabila, who is trying to fend off mounting opposition over his decision to stay beyond his mandate which expired last month. Some observers fear tensions could spark a new civil war.

“They made an incursion yesterday from Uganda at Ishasha in two columns and the Congolese armed forces have dealt with them for now,” said government spokesman Lambert Mende, referring to a border crossing near Virunga National Park.

He said rebel commander Sultani Makenga was among them, leading one of the two columns.

Julien Paluku, governor of the North Kivu province, also confirmed the encroachment and condemned Uganda for allowing them to leave on U.N.-funded Radio Okapi.

In a brief telephone conversation with Reuters, he denied that there had been fighting. Officials in Uganda were not available for comment.

It was not clear where the fighters had gone. A letter from the ministry of defence sent to Reuters by a Congolese security official on Sunday requested an urgent investigation into allegations that 180 ex-M23 fighters had entered the country.

At its peak, M23 controlled North Kivu’s capital Goma but was driven out by U.N. and Congolese forces. Since then, the fighters have been scattered in camps in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda awaiting amnesties.

Many other armed groups remain active.

In the same province, armed fighters attempted to free prisoners from a facility in Beni overnight, according to a statement from local activist group The Centre of Study for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights (CEPADHO).

Reinforcements drove them away and one of the attackers was killed, the group said. It said the fighters were likely “Mai Mai” self-defence groups – militias originally created to resist Rwandan invasions.

(Reporting by William Clowes; Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Tom Heneghan)