Analysis of internal workings of Congo’s Kabila regime wins African Argument of the year

Guenther von Billerbeck’s piece ‘Congo: crisis in East deflects attention from need for reforms from Kinshasa’ was voted (in a publicly accessible online poll), the best piece to appear on African Arguments in 2012.

You can read Guenther’s piece in full below. Second was Abdi Aynte’s ‘Somali Presidential Elections: six ways to win power’ and third was Michael Deibert’s ‘North Kivu’s False Peace.’

Congolese Presidente Joseph Kabila has retreeted from many policy decisions since the death of key advisor Katumba Mwanke.

Congo: crisis in East deflects attention from need for reforms from Kinshasa

The current crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) North and South Kivu provinces is yet another episode in the epic conflict that has engulfed the region since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The Kivu crisis has not only dominated analysis and news reporting on the country since the early months of 2012; it has also absorbed the attention of the President, Joseph Kabila, and proves a distraction from policy matters that are equally important to the country’s future. Kabila and his entourage have not provided effective leadership on a number of essential issues, namely, the revision of the electoral commission, the revision of the mining code, the holding of provincial elections and the implementation of long-awaited projects to improve electricity supply in the country.

The Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23) – a Tutsi-led rebel group, allegedly supported by Congo’s neighbour Rwanda – has started where Laurent Nkunda’s Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple left off in January 2009. It has successfully engaged the ineffective Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in North Kivu’s Rutshuru and Masisi Territories – defections, notoriously bad leadership and military assaults by the M23 having weakened the national army considerably. The crisis has also caused massive displacement of the local population and sparked debates about Rwanda’s purported role in rebellions in Eastern Congo.

This crisis shares many similarities with that which I witnessed when in the Congo between 2006 and 2009. In this regard, it has raised the usual questions and doubts about the international community’s strategy for the vast Central African country. Such questions include:

Is the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) fit and willing to protect the local population?

Has the international community done enough to foster security sector reform and thereby bolster the FARDC and state authority in the unstable East?

Should the international community support a regime in Kinshasa that lost legitimacy after the 2011 elections, which were widely regarded as fraudulent?

Should the international community turn a blind eye to Kigali’s alleged support of an armed rebellion in a neighbouring country?

However, these questions, whilst important, are not the only ones which require answers as the Congolese leadership attempts to steer the country away from its generally ascribed role as a failed state.

Some 2000 kilometers further west, in the capital Kinshasa, the crisis seems far away and appears to play only a small role in the daily lives of the people. Kinshasa is currently bustling with preparations for the conference of Francophone countries – scheduled to take place from 12th to 14th October. The government has cleaned up a city often described as Kin La Poubelle. Now, Congolese and other Francophone flags are flying all over the Boulevard du 30 Juin, hotels have been refurbished, and parts of the road to N’Djili airport have been rehabilitated.

Besides engagement with other members of La Francophonie, there are other issues that could change the country significantly, but which have been sidelined by the crisis in the east. The revision of the electoral commission could ensure that future elections are not mismanaged. The revision of the mining code from 2002, if managed properly, could make the county’s mining industry a catalyst of modernisation and renewal. The holding of the long delayed provincial and local elections would improve democratic governance and strengthen Kabila’s legitimacy.

Yet along the corridors of the presidential residence and in the backrooms of the houses of Kabila’s closest advisors these issues are not given priority. Around the presidency, the military crisis and the souring of relations with Rwanda are the most important, if not the only, issues that are being discussed. Ironically, the almost exclusive focus on security matters may be just as threatening to the DRC’s stability as the ever-recurring Kivu crisis.

It’s well known that for Kabila, and many of his advisors, the crisis is a personal matter. It is said that the president feels betrayed by the Rwandans and mourns the deterioration of relations with Kigali that had been on the mend since a backdoor agreement in January 2009. He believes that he should have known better, and now feels that he is being left out in the rain by people he once thought his friends, such as the Rwandan Defence Minister James Kabarebe.

Many in Kinshasa also say that Kabila’s close supervision of security matters has raised eyebrows among senior generals. It has left him vulnerable to accusations of weak leadership and mismanagement should the situation not improve or should the M23 hand a decisive military defeat to the FARDC. In such a situation, it is possible that powerful people in the country’s security machinery and military hierarchy push responsibility on to Kabila. The President’s almost exclusive focus on these issues would make it easy for him to become a scapegoat, should a scapegoat be required.

Equally serious is the dangerous mixture of trust and disconnect between the presidency and the government of Prime Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon caused by Kabila’s preoccupation with security matters. The President trusts his Prime Minister with the day-to-day management of politics and leaves issues that are not related to security, mining and oil entirely to Matata. Reportedly, Kabila does not want to hear about macroeconomics, decentralisation or budgetary issues; matters unrelated to security are perceived to be an unnecessary burden.

Kabila trusts and supports Matata – much more than he trusted the Prime Minister’s predecessors Adolphe Muzito or Antoine Gizenga. This may be due to Matata’s friendship with Augustin Katumba Mwanke, the eminence grise of Congolese politics and business, and Kabila’s closest confidant prior to his death in a plane crash this February. The Prime Minister was on the plane with Katumba when it crashed, but survived with nothing more than a few bruises.

Matata has used the President’s confidence in him to go ahead with reform processes that are again threatening the vested interests of people around Kabila. For the first time in the country’s history, civil servants and members of the FARDC will be paid electronically, directly into bank accounts. While movements away from the cash-based economy will curb corruption, senior civil servants and officers, who were previously in charge of handing out cash to their subordinates, will lose out.

Matata’s concentration on macroeconomic reforms and his efforts to streamline government and instill more discipline into his cabinet has made him popular with the international community. At the same time, he has stepped on the toes of many, especially the advisors surrounding the presidency. His appointment to the position of Prime Minister caught many by surprise. Evariste Boshab, president of the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD), and Pierre Lumbi, president of the Social Movement for Renewal (MSR) and Kabila’s chief advisor on security matters, had eyed the position for themselves. Matata is relatively new to Kinshasa’s political intrigues, and as a native of Maniema Province is not part of the powerful Katangan clique dominating the presidency. His reform efforts, which may undermine the privileges of the old political elite, may come back to haunt him.

Matata has little political backing in Kinshasa besides that of Kabila. While he is ambitious and without doubt would like remain part of the country’s political leadership, he seems isolated from those who matter in the country, like Boshab and Lumbi as well as those in control of the intelligence and security machinery. It is well known that they are just waiting for a political mistake in order to attack Matata. Even a small error may cause him to lose Kabila’s support and spell the end of his political rise

On the face of it, Kabila remains politically strong. However, his position has been weakened by his poor showing in the last elections and by the death of Katumba Mwanke. Katumba was many things: Kabila’s financial advisor, a commercial heavyweight with control over many industries, and a political powerbroker who managed to win majorities for the president. But most importantly for Kabila, he was a friend and a shock absorber who mastered the complex politics around the president, where divergent interests permanently fight for influence and access.

Without Katumba Mwanke, Kabila is more exposed to these political games, and he is not equipped with Katumba’s political acumen to manage them. The President also appears to be sickened by the constant bickering within his family and his political entourage, withdrawing from these issues as much as possible. He now spends the majority of his time on his farm outside Kinshasa. The crisis in the east and the death of Katumba weigh on him heavily and Kabila has hardly been seen in public between Katumba’s death in February and the UN General Assembly in September. He has also not issued public statements on the state of affairs for months. The 2011 elections cast a shadow on Kabila’s legitimacy at home and abroad, but not talking to his people seems a strange way to rebuild it.

The Kivu crisis matters, but neither the president nor the international community should mistake its resolution as being the only issue in building a better future for the Congolese people. Reforms that ensure employment and provide basic services to the population, attract international investment and ultimately create jobs for the masses are badly needed. A prime minister without political backing may not be enough to bring change, and the international community should not make the mistake of placing its hopes solely on Matata. Kabila needs to step up, wherever he may be.

Günther v. Billerbeck is a Director in G3’s Africa Practice and a former Political Affairs Officer with the peacekeeping mission in DRC.

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3 thoughts on “Analysis of internal workings of Congo’s Kabila regime wins African Argument of the year

  1. The New Paradigm in Good Governance Nation Building

    President] Kabila of the DRC has lost all [moral] ‘de jure’ claim to executive administrative leadership in his pre-eminent role and director function as President. Kabila’s lack of prescriptive leadership is evidenced primarily by his absolute failure in providing sound administrative leadership as Kabila has thus far in this east Congo internal imbroglio has either actively or passively condoned the increasing evolution of violence against the people living under threat in the Eastern Congo, many who are only children. As President of The DRC, he is obliged as ‘Chief Executive’ of the DRC to ensure protection for all Congolese Citizens. Recent actions seem to indicate a gross failure in his conduct as President.
    The sovereign states who are an integral element of the UN Security Council must/ought be held to [strict] account for their non prescriptive diplomatic actions in allowing or passively encouraging [President] Kabila to persevere as CEO of the Congo in allowing the continued Congo ‘status quo’ in not being forthright in their suasive condemnation of the excessive internal violence against the Congolese people living in the roiled strife ridden east Congo.
    This writer would like to state with absolute firm conviction that under these circumstances ‘wrong is wrong’ and ‘right is right’—there exists no middle ground. Within the realm of International Diplomacy involving sovereignty, the issue[s] and problem[s] are nuanced and obscured invoving both tradition and history which must be considered if an effective long term solution is to be sustained effectively. The International Community of all Nations does have a fundamental ordinal responsibility to act beyond mere words. The standard word prose being advanced by diplomats over these past 5 months resulting in only continued internal strife and death of the most vulnerable has illustrated in a manner most manifest that time for ‘extraordinary’ measures is now!
    The United Nations has learned some lessons I hope from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and even Srebrenica. And in several cases [has] even applied them.
 Lakhdar Brahimi, Algerian Ambassador to the UN was appointed by then Secretary General Kofi Annan to lead a panel of peacekeeping experts to examine-analyze-prescribe the UN’s future role in conflict [peacekeeping] zones.
    The Brahimi report which was released in summer 2000 recommended a series of revolutionary innovations, which are now practiced by DPKO. Innovations, which include strategy and planning; as well as logistics and public information entailing an active media relations entity attached to each Field Mission. According to the Brahimi Report, the Security Council should leave all resolutions authorizing missions with sizable troop levels in draft form until the Secretary General receives firm commitments of troops and necessary support from member states. The whole peacekeeping operation needs to be speeded up, with traditional consent-based peacekeeping operations dispatched within thirty days, more complex ones within ninety days.
    The Brahimi Report called for the relationship between the Secretariat and the Security Council to be strengthened and clarified: “The Secretariat must tell the Security Council what it needs to know, not what it wants to hear”, when formulating or changing mission mandates.
    The Brahimi report’s most important recommendation was a crucial psychological-emotive shift. UN troops must no longer stand by while civilians are being massacred [around them], if they can intervene. “United Nations peacekeepers—troops—police—who witness violence against civilians should be presumed to stop it, within their means, in support of basic United Nations principles.” The report argued that while consent of the local parties, impartiality, and the use of force only in self-defense must remain the three pillars of peacekeeping operations; these concepts are fungible and open to interpretation. No failure did more to damage the standing and credibility of the United Nations peacekeeping in the 1990’s than the UN’s reluctance to distinguish victim from aggressor.
    
In January 1994, UN Force Commander Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire had written on his fax to the DPKO: “Peux ce que veux”—Where there is a will there is a way. Kofi Annan, the UN Special Envoy to matters Syrian ought to pay particular attention the statement by Dallaire. When the Rwandan extreme horror occurred, Kofi Annan was head of UN/DPKO and in my opinion failed to exercise moral prescriptive leadership. The result over 800,000 men, women and children slaughtered.
    The World Community of Nations does have an ontological fundamental responsibility to protect [the vulnerable] and in failing to act only reinforces the ‘status quo’ existing in petty despotic nation states whose Leadership still believe that absolute internal national sovereignty regardless of tyranny and violence is an absolute right not to be subject to external involvement.
    The International Criminal Court I suspect may have a role and responsibility in indicting Kabila which raises human right coupled with civil freedom of association issues of a normative nature which to be agreed the ICC has had marginal prescriptive effect [thus far] and which in no manner ought to denigrate the future potential existent in this Court of final resort in determining how power, authority and leadership are/were exercised in a civil state manner. The opinion has been advanced that the ICC is not the most efficient effective instrument of retributive normative justice. However, the ICC must at least be prepared to acknowledge that many egregious wrongs were constructed by ‘de facto’ heads of state and government which in no manner was of positive benefit to any one save the select elect elite few who were/are closely associated with the leader.
    The essential matter for discussion should be that of the ICC at least being an instrument attempting to bring resolution concerning specific international grievances. I agree the ICC needs to be cognizant in respect that these gross administrative court inefficiencies do not bring credit to this tribunal whose potential has yet to be actualized in the advancement of prescriptive right.
    In conclusion, the De-Legitimizing of Kabila as President and Head of Government of the DRC must commence now!
    Kabila in sanctioning gross excessive internal strife resulting in extensive harm to the people he was entrusted to protect as the Congo’s Chief Executive has in my opinion lost all status relating to ‘governance legitimacy’. He must be compelled to vacate the Office of President if the Congo as an autonomous nation state is ever able to transfigure prescriptively to the next stage of political public operational status as a nation state bound by the rule of law capable of protecting all Congolese Citizens from molestation and fear from molestation.
    The way forward is dependant on normative moral prescriptive rectitude—-whereby the leadership of the United Nations along with the leadership of The Community of Nations does understand, does appreciate and does agree that internal sovereignty is indeed most fungible and is subordinate to normative prescriptive rule of law grounded in Immanuel Kant’s “Categorical Imperative” [fully explained in his seminal book Critique of Practical Reason] which is the will to do good and in treating others as an end not as a means—-in a manner by which you would like to be treated—-The Golden Rule.
    Socrates most eloquently opined; “it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong” which for me is further buttressed in Immanuel Kant’s pithy aphorism–”If justice perishes, human life on Earth has lost its meaning”. Never again–never again–never again and yet we of the Western Nation Alliance continue to offer non-assistance bromides merely assuaging those in conflict strife, failing in doing what we ought to do—-that which is morally right.
    My significant good governance development experience has made me acutely aware that Civil Capacity Good Governance Development is indeed a laborious lengthy frustrating process fraught with setbacks requiring extensive financial and human resource support [national and international] with no absolute guarantee as to what the eventual outcome might entail. Hope requires faith and faith requires hope in that the civil capacity process, which allows and supports personal freedom of action and thought is worth the intense effort expended.

  2. Good analysis, however, since the elections, Kabila is doomed! Those elections were his best way to get out of the trap where he has put himself, he could have negotiated a clever departure; now, matters like the assassination of the human rights’ leader Floribert Chebaya or the arrest of the felon Ntanganda have become a bone stuck in his throat. He won’t be able to get rid of it (bone). His rejection among the population is patent and he is not equipped with any noticeable talent to turn the waves around; intimidation and violence only work for a while; the while is over…

  3. Pingback: From Congo to Mali, peacekeeping in Africa must start at community level | David Leonard | Wikisis

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