Tag Archives: DR Congo

DR Congo – M23 rebels feared to have entered from Uganda

Reuters

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)

DR Congo – political deal to end crisis hangs by a thread

Al Jazeera


Police have been criticized for ushering in heavy-handed tactics on protesters [Reuters]

Hopes of a deal to end the Democratic Republic of Congo’s dangerous political crisis before Christmas were fast dissipating on Saturday, after fruitless all-night talks over President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to quit power.

Kabila’s second and final five-year term ended on December 20, but he has shown no intention of leaving office soon, sparking violent protests that have left at least 40 people dead this week, according to the United Nations.

The influential Catholic Church has been brokering talks between the government and opposition and hopes rose this week of an imminent deal, with a draft seen by AFP news agency outlining plans for fresh elections at the end of next year, when Kabila would step down.

But that optimism has been slipping, and negotiators from the two camps left church offices in Kinshasa just before 5:30am local time without a deal to prevent a fresh descent into a new political crisis.

“The work is practically finished – the final touches are all that is left to do before the deal is signed,” insisted Marcel Utembi, president of the Congo National Episcopal Conference (CENCO), who had pushed for a deal before Christmas.

But others indicated there was still a long way to go.

 The Catholic Church has been central to the negotiations between Kabila and opposition leaders in Kinshasa [Reuters]

“Everything is still blocked on how (public affairs) will be managed during the transition period,” said opposition delegate Francois Muamba.

Two opposition delegates said the squabbling sides could return to the table later on Saturday, but there was no confirmation from CENCO. Negotiators from Kabila’s political alliance were remaining tight-lipped.

A frustrated CENCO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, blasted Congo’s political class for “serious mediocrity” in their inability to reach a deal.

“They have called into question everything we arranged the day before,” the official said as talks stretched into the night.

Time is pressing, as the bishops overseeing the talks are due to quit the capital Saturday afternoon to return to their congregations in time for Christmas Eve mass.

Tensions are still running high, with security forces spraying live ammunition at a string of anti-Kabila protests in Kinshasa and other towns this week, killing at least 40 civilians, according to the UN.

Congolese police put the toll at 20 dead, saying they had largely been killed in “looting” or by “stray bullets”.

Other sources say somewhere between 56 and 125 people have been killed in a week of clashes, not counting the unknown toll from fighting between security forces and an anti-government militia in the central town of Kananga.

Kabila, 45, has been in power since the 2001 assassination of his father Laurent at the height of the Second Congo War.

He was confirmed as leader of the DRC in 2006 during the first free elections since independence from Belgium in 1960, and re-elected for a second term in 2011 in a vote marred by allegations of massive fraud.

More than two dozen people killed in DRC protests

Constitutionally banned from seeking a third term, he obtained a controversial court ruling in May stating that he could remain in power until a successor was chosen.

Two decades ago, the country collapsed into the deadliest conflict in modern African history.

Its two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s pulled in at least six African armies and left more than three million dead.

Source: News agencies

DR Congo – deal said to be near for Kabila to step down in 2017

Reuters

Congolese Catholic Church (CENCO) Bishops (L-R) Fidele Nsielele, Marcel Utembi, Fridolin Ambongo, and Abbe Donatien Nshole mediate talks between the opposition and the government of President Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa, December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
By Aaron Ross | KINSHASA

Political parties in Democratic Republic of Congo paused talks on Saturday, close to a deal under which President Joseph Kabila would leave power in 2017 and elections would be held the same year, participants at the talks said.

The talks between the ruling coalition and opposition parties mediated by a conference of Catholic bishops broke up at around 5.30 a.m local time (0430 GMT) after about 12 hours of nonstop negotiations and were set to reconvene at 11 a.m.

“At that time … it will be possible to propose a final document that can be signed this afternoon,” opposition delegate Francois Mwamba said, adding that some points remained outstanding.

A deal could be a breakthrough for a country that has not seen a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgian colonial rule in 1960. It would also come as a surprise following a week in which security forces killed dozens of people protesting Kabila’s tenure.

Kabila took power after his father, Laurent, was assassinated in 2001. Critics saw this week’s violence as an attempt to crush dissent and enable the extension of his constitutional mandate, which ended on Tuesday after two terms in office.

Under the deal, Kabila would stay in power for a year but the constitution could not be changed to let him run again.

A prime minister would be named from the main opposition bloc and veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi would oversee the deal’s implementation, opposition leaders Martin Fayulu and Jose Endundo told Reuters.

Congo is the fourth most populous nation in Africa and its top copper producer so a deal there could also bolster democracy in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The presidents of neighbouring Rwanda and Congo Republic changed their constitutions last year to allow themselves to stand for a third term. However, democracy activists across a continent, where some leaders have ruled for decades, say they want to see an end to this practise.

There was no immediate comment from Kabila, whose representatives participated in the talks.

A deal could mark a win for the Catholic church, which bills the talks as an attempt to stop Congo sliding back into war. Millions died during regional conflicts between 1996 and 2003 mainly from hunger and disease and Pope Francis has heaped pressure on all sides to find a peaceful solution.

The head of the U.N. human rights agency said on Friday security forces killed at least 40 and arrested 460 in protests this week.

The violence prompted several nations that provide aid to Congo to condemn Kabila for failing to stand down. A presidential election set for last month was postponed until at least April 2018 because of delays registering voters.

(Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Sam Holmes)

DR Congo protests leave more than 20 dead

BBC

More than 20 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, over President Joseph Kabila’s failure to give up power, a UN official has said.

Some of the dead were shot at close range by troops, witnesses said.

Mr Kabila’s 15-year rule was due to have ended on Monday at midnight, but has been extended to 2018.

Mr Kabila’s main rival said the refusal to give up power amounted to a coup.

DR Congo conflict explained

The electoral commission cancelled elections that were scheduled for last month, citing logistical and financial difficulties in organising them.

Mr Kabila has now formed a 74-member transitional government to lead the vast central African state until elections are held in 2018.

There were “solid” reports that 20 civilians had been killed in clashes in Kinshasa, said Jose Maria Aranaz, the UN human rights director for DR Congo.

“On the issue of deaths, it looks bad,” he was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

Protester in Kinshasa, DR Congo – 20 December 2016


DR Congo’s capital has been a flashpoint of violence

Residents chant slogans against Congolese President Joseph Kabila during demonstrations in the streets of the Democratic Republic of CongoImage copyrightREU

Protesters say Mr Kabila is ruling the country illegally

Gunfire was also heard in the second city, Lubumbashi, but it was unclear who was behind the shooting.

In a video posted on social media, main opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi called for peaceful protests to demand Mr Kabila’s resignation.

“I launch a solemn appeal to the Congolese people to not recognise the… illegal and illegitimate authority of Joseph Kabila and to peacefully resist [his] coup d’etat,” Mr Tshisekedi said.

His message was not available in DR Congo, where authorities have restricted access to social media networks, the AFP news agency reports.

DR Congo has not had a smooth transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Mr Kabila took power in 2001 following the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila.

The constitution bars him from seeking a third term in office.

DR Congo – protestors and troops on the streets as Kabila’s mandate runs out

Reuters

By Aaron Ross and Tim Cocks | KINSHASA

Protesters gathered in Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital and at least one other city on Monday amid a heavy military presence before protests due once President Joseph Kabila’s mandate runs out at midnight.

Hundreds of anti-Kabila demonstrators defied a ban on marches against the president’s plans to stay in office past the end of his term. Security forces blocked access to Kinshasa University, facing off against groups waving red cards saying “Bye, bye Kabila,” as time ticked down to midnight.

Militia fighters raided a jail in eastern Congo’s Butembo trying to free prisoners, triggering clashes that killed a South African U.N. peacekeeper and a police officer.

Seven attackers were also killed, Kabila’s chief diplomat Barnabe Kikaya told a news conference in Kinshasa.

Opposition activists have accused Kabila of trying to cling to power by letting his term run out without an election to chose the next leader of Congo, which has not witnessed a peaceful change of power since independence in 1960.

“Kabila’s mandate finishes at 1159 … Tomorrow (Tuesday) it will be chaos,” said Hugue Ilunga, 21, as dozens of soldiers deployed nearby in the capital, an opposition stronghold of 12 million people.

Shops shut in other parts of Kinshasa, where streets were largely empty.

At least 80 protesters were arrested in the eastern city of Goma, the U.N. human rights office in Congo said, mostly activists who were simply wearing red shirts, an opposition colour. Police said nine opposition demonstrators were detained.

Kabila’s elite Republican Guard also arrested prominent opposition activist Franc Diongo in Kinshasa, Kikaya said, after Diongo’s private guards beat up three of them.

“FLIRTATION WITH DISASTER”

The government and elections officials have blamed logistical and financial problems for the delay in the vote, currently scheduled for April 2018.

Some opposition leaders agreed Kabila can remain in office until then. The constitutional court has also ruled that Kabila, leader since his father was assassinated in 2001, can stay on.

But the main opposition bloc rejects the deal as a ploy, though it said it would not call protests. Talks mediated by the Roman Catholic church failed to reach a compromise.

“Joseph Kabila will remain in office tomorrow,” Kikaya said.

Authorities have blocked most social media and outlawed protests in Kinshasa, raising fears of more violence in a nation that has been plagued by war and instability for two decades since the fall of kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seko.

Diplomats fear any escalation could trigger a conflict like the 1996 to 2003 wars that killed millions, sucked in neighbouring armies and saw armed groups clash over Congo’s mineral wealth and use of mass rape as a strategic weapon.

U.S. Great Lakes envoy Tom Perriello on Thursday called Kabila’s hanging on “an entirely unnecessary flirtation with disaster” in a speech at the United States Institute of Peace.

Youth activists say they have taken inspiration from Burkina Faso in West Africa, where protests ousted Blaise Compaore in 2014 as he was trying to extend his 27-year rule.

As in Burkina, protests in Congo are in part driven by economic desperation. Congo is Africa’s biggest miner of copper and metals used in gadgets, like cobalt and coltan, but a slowdown linked to falls in commodity prices has triggered steep budget cuts and a 30-percent fall in the Congolese franc.

The country of 70 million people and more than 200 ethnic groups is fragmented, though. Previous protests achieved little.

Former colonial master Belgium advised its citizens to leave before Monday. The United States warned against non-essential travel, telling expatriates who remain to stay indoors.

Outside Congo, South African police used stun grenades to disperse anti-Kabila protesters in Cape Town.

(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley in Johannesburg and Amedee Mwarabu in Kinshasa; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

DR Congo – economic factors behind growing opposition to Kabila

African Arguments

Hungry for change: the economics underlying DR Congo’s political crisis

At the heart of disenchantment with President Kabila’s government lie deep economic woes.

Credit: Garrett Ziegler.

High taxes. Harassment by the revenue authorities. Lack of a stable exchange rate. Cheap imports from neighbouring countries. Lower demand.

All these factors and more were cited in a 4 November letter sent by the local Federation of Congolese Enterprises (FEC) to Kongo Central province officials, in western Democratic Republic of Congo. The revealing message was informing the authorities of the forthcoming closure of the Bralima brewery, a major employer in the city of Boma.

The concerns raised echo structural problems expressed by other Congo-based businesses contacted by Crisis Group during the past year in Bukavu, Lubumbashi and Kinshasa as well as by the national FEC.

As the DRC’s political crisis deepens – with the official end of President Joseph Kabila’s mandate on 19 December fast approaching – the combination of political uncertainty, predatory state institutions and low commodity prices are contributing to an increasingly toxic situation.

Recent street protests, in which dozens are estimated to have died, have focused on the constitution and delays to the electoral process. But the wish for change, usually focused on Kabila’s failure to improve the lot of ordinary people, has a strong economic sub-text.

[Africa’s least loved leader marches on]

Stagnant GDP, shrinking budget

Over the last ten years, the government has focused on macro-economic stability and investment in high-profile prestige projects such as Congo Airways, a new government building, airports, and roads in the wealthier parts of Kinshasa. This has done little to alleviate Congo’s deep inequalities. Nevertheless, riding on high mineral prices, Congo’s GDP growth averaged 7.7% from 2010 to 2015.

This year, however, the economy has hit a slump, leading official growth projections to be revised down to 4.3% for 2016, only slightly outpacing demographic growth. This stagnant outlook has seriously affected the already meagre state budget. Over the course of the year, the government lowered spending from $8 billion to $6 billion, though actual expenditure will come in even lower at around $4.5 billion. This leaves very little for new policies or to fund future elections whose cost is estimated at over $1 billion.

In January 2016, then Prime Minister Matata Ponyo announced a package of 28 measures to restructure the economy. In October, the government and parts of the opposition reached an agreement following their National Dialogue to push the presidential election due this year back to 2018. African regional powers quickly backed the deal, and soon afterwards opposition figure Samy Badibanga was appointed prime minister in accordance with the agreement.

But Badibanga will struggle to continue his predecessor’s donor-friendly reform programme at the same time as responding to various political pressures. This is especially the case since the reforms’ impacts – including desperately needed diversification of the mining-dependent economy – will only be felt in the medium-to-long term at best.

Currency troubles

The economic crisis has also caused a serious depreciation of the Congolese franc (FC). This currency was stable at 920/930 FC per $1 for about three years, but has recently dropped to 1,170 officially, though rates are even lower on the street. Confidence continues to wane amid fears of a return to undisciplined money printing and consequent spiral of inflation.

The Central Bank’s resources to support the franc are also decreasing; foreign reserves are currently estimated at below $1 billion, less than four weeks of imports. Meanwhile, the government has reverted to paying the money it owes large companies in Congolese francs, drawing the ire of the business community.

In October, the government announced measures to cushion the effects of currency depreciation, including reducing import taxes and making available hard currency to import basic foodstuffs such as sugar and palm oil. But their impact is expected to run out in March 2017, after which price evolution will become more uncertain according to businesses consulted by Crisis Group. Fuel prices cause greatest concern; they have been stable due to subsidies and the low international market price, but any rise would have knock-on effects on commodities and urban transport relied on by most city dwellers.

Corruption is also an ongoing drag on the economy. The government’s anti-corruption taskforce, led since June 2015 by a former justice minister, has had little impact, though several high-level cases have recently come to light, including one that touches on election financing.

Former PM Ponyo previously complained that he had no control over large parts of the economy, including the mammoth parastatal mining company Gecamines, and that he had to “navigate crocodile infested waters”. Large-scale corruption scandals damage the economy, though citizens and businesses suggest they are most concerned by the omnipresent, mid-level or “petty” corruption which permeates their daily lives.

Prices rise, salaries fall

With the prices of bread, rice, cornmeal and palm oil rising steadily over the past six months, poorer urban families are seeing their precarious living conditions eroded. A normal loaf of bread still costs 200 FC but now it is much smaller. Households dependent on cornmeal have seen their food expenditure increase by 12%.

Corn is particularly important in southern provinces, where a price spike earlier in 2016 added to local political tensions and led the government to send senior officials to Zambia to try to increase imports. But Congo’s southern neighbours have themselves been hit by a recent drought. In early December 2016, prices increased again.

The salaries of public servants, except for those in the security services, have declined by 30% since June, typically from the equivalent of $100 to $70. Food allowances were also cut for soldiers. In the private sector, businesswomen called maman ya zando have struggled because of the franc depreciation. Commercial banks contacted by Crisis Group said they have recently seen more small businesses defaulting on debt repayments.

Particularly vulnerable groups such as sex workers, often the sole bread winners for their households, are also feeling the pressure. The numerous, mostly young, street traders selling shoe shines or paper handkerchiefs for 250 FC barely survive in normal conditions. Even a small increase in their costs can push them and their dependents into hunger.

Financial pressure on families also puts the solidarity system within communities under stress, particularly in dealing with illness and schooling. In Ituri, primary school fees have increased dramatically from 1,500 to 5,500 FC for the 2016-2017 school year. The minimum fees in Kinshasa are around $350 per year, an ever-increasing sum in local francs. This has pushed numerous children out of school. Education, a cornerstone for social change, is a high priority for the population, but both access and quality have suffered.

The economy turns political

Economic troubles are gaining political prominence. In a defensive 15 November state of the nation address, President Kabila painted a positive picture of his 15 years in power, but also acknowledged that “the absence of jobs and the resulting idleness obscure future prospects”. He warned that such frustrations should not be used for political ends.

At the start of the school year in September, the opposition platform le Rassemblement attempted to tie the economic and political crises together through actions known as écoles mortes (school boycotts). Many children did stay away from school, partly for fear of violent incidents.

[DR Congo in crisis: Can Kabila trust his own army?]

Youth groups, in particular Lutte pour le changement (Lucha), focus on the economy and unemployment, but they too see politics and economics as two sides of the same coin. Initially campaigning for better public services in Goma, they are now focused on protecting the constitution, particularly the provision that the president can only serve two terms.

Students are easily mobilised when confronted with rising costs, such as tuition fees. In early November, a fee increase at a higher education institute in Kinshasa led to violent riots. The measure was quickly reversed and the institute’s director sacked. On 19 November, one month before the end of Kabila’s second term, Lucha in association with other youth platforms launched the new campaign “bye bye Kabila” on social media and on the street, but it was quickly repressed by authorities.

The economic slowdown is most visibly felt in the cities. Illuminating new research shows differences in the evolution of prices across the country, pointing to possible different political reactions in rural areas. This suggests that economic decline will not necessarily lead to more coherent political protest as people are driven first and foremost by survival, something the government is keenly aware of. But as the government’s resources for patronage shrink, things could unravel even in remote areas. New provinces hurriedly established through the breakup of existing provinces (decoupage) in 2015 lack resources, and the appearance of new armed groups in North Kivu and recent violence in Kasai Central province are provoking considerable stress.

Prime Minister Badibanga and his new government have to allay social unrest while funding what will be a costly election process. This may prove a near-impossible task, while the combination of political uncertainty and a major economic recession is creating a dangerous impasse.

The risk is not just an explosion of anger on 19 December when Kabila’s term was supposed to end, but a slow atrophy thereafter. A major concern is the funding of salaries and operational expenditure for the army and other security forces. If this significantly deteriorates, it is likely to cause major disorder as was the case in 1991 and 1993.

The population is hungry for change, but is frustrated by the lack of development and socio-economic opportunities, and by the complacency of the governing elite. Economic mismanagement fuelled popular anger during the slow decline of the Mobutu regime in the 1990s.

Political change through elections symbolise hope, and the government and the international community should do all they can to make them happen in the right conditions, with no further undue delay.

Hans Hoebeke is the Senior Analyst for DR Congo at International Crisis Group, the independent conflict-prevention organisation.

Philippe Kadima Cintu is the Giustra Fellow for Africa at International Crisis Group.

DR Congo – Kabila defends election delay and his retention of power until 2018

VoA/allAfrica

Photo: IRIN

President Joseph Kabila

In a rare public appearance, Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila addressed parliament Tuesday one day after his government resigned in accordance with a deal that keeps him in office until elections scheduled for 2018. But much of the opposition continues to call for Kabila to step down.

President Joseph Kabila was cheered to the platform to address the DRC’s National Assembly and Senate. His 45 minute speech was punctuated by frequent applause.

Kabila used a rare public address to defend an October 18 agreement between his political alliance and an opposition faction. The deal permits the president to remain in power beyond December 19, the final day of his second, and under the constitution final term, until the next election, which has been provisionally scheduled for April 2018.

Kabila’s prime minister resigned on Monday and the DRC is awaiting the formation of a new government of national unity to lead the country towards the election.

A larger opposition group, known as the Rassemblement, boycotted the deal and demanded the president step down on December 19. During his speech, Kabila urged the Rassemblement to sign the agreement, saying it was his “most ardent wish.”

Kabila aimed a warning at the opposition coalition, saying as the guarantor of Congolese institutions, he cannot allow the country to be taken hostage by a fringe of the political class.

Kabila said he would shortly appoint a new prime minister to lead the DRC to elections. The president indirectly addressed the widespread concerns that he plans to change the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term.

Kabila said, the constitution will be respected in all its dispositions. But for many Congolese this statement is not enough.

VOA spoke with the president of the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights, Jean-Claude Katende