Congo Siasa

Policy recommendations for an election year

I was in Washington this past week to participate in a brainstorming session on the Congo at the State Dept. I was asked to give a 5 minute presentation on what US policy should be – here it is, in an expanded version. Feedback is, as always welcome.

The overwhelming issue this year will be elections. This election will be in many ways more difficult and challenging than the 2006 election. Then, the incumbent was likely to win (and he did), the business and political establishment just wanted stability and the biggest rebel threat (RCD) had been marginalized.
This time, although there has been no reliable polling and grassroots proclivities are hard to intuit, Kabila would be likely to lose a free and fair vote, given that he is probably no more popular in the West and his popularity has frayed in the war-torn East. His main strategy has been to marginalize or suppress any viable alternative. It appears ever more likely that there is a popular alternative in the form of a Kamerhe-Tshisekedi-Bemba coalition, although there are substantial tensions among these figures.
Even if Kabila succeeds in changing the constitution to a one-round plurality vote (which he may well do), he could lose even then. This will prompt him first to try to repress the opposition, leading to abuses, assassinations and silencing of the media. A indication of this was provided when Vital Kamerhe visited the Kivus a few weeks ago – the crowd that had come to welcome him was shot upon, killing one and injuring many others; his rallies were broken up. Flawed elections could lead to anything from a Nigerian 2007 situation – where rigging led largely to shoulder shrugging – to a Kenya 2007 or Ivory Coast 2010, with much more dire consequences. But I think we can all agree that rigging would be a bad thing.
It is imperative that the US strengthen its engagement during this election year. That means several things. First and foremost, we need to fund the elections. Only then will donors be able to have a say if abuses arise. At the moment, my understanding is that the US in particular has not contributed much to the electoral process – the Congolese have asked for $350 million, we have only offered around $5 million so far, in contrast to the EU’s’ $70 million. We should remember that lack of funding is Kabila’s excuse to change the constitution in favor of a one-round election. In addition to funding, we need to make sure that everything is in place to ensure election transparency: a strong civil society monitoring group, a thorough review of the electoral roll, public counting of ballots at polling stations, a better media monitoring body, and so on. If we remember back to the 2006 elections, these safeguards were already being set up a year before the polls.
Secondly, we need a coordinated way of engaging with the Congolese government if problems arise, as they surely will. In 2006, the CIAT played an important role, with SRSG Bill Swing particularly actively before and after the elections in resolving disputes. We want to avoid calling anything CIAT this time around, as we are dealing with a sovereign, democratically elected government, but donors should create a formal or informal working group that is willing to engage with Kabila publicly on these issues as they arise. In addition, the African Union could be very valuable in the electoral process (cf. Ivory Coast) by already now appointing an envoy, a position that the US could help fund.
Now to the East. Things have been relatively calm in recent months, but looks should not deceive. While I do not think that there will be another crisis in the nest few months or possibly year (one never knows), the current daily levels of pillage, rape and extortion are unacceptable. Solving this will largely be a question of security sector reform, but there are also regional political imperatives.
The CNDP integration has been a human right failure but a relative political success. While they maintain parallel chains of command throughout the Kivus and in particular in the Masisi highlands, these chains of command are confused and often linked to immediate financial gain; there is no overall commander of the troops, even within the pro-Nkunda faction. There was a real chance of escalation in October/November, when CNDP officers were upset about their lack of official ranks within the Congolese army and in particular about the possibility that they would be asked to leave the Kivus, possibly by the Rwandan army. There was a spate of serious recruitment of over 1,200 soldiers, including of many children. However, since then the CNDP has officially joined the AMP ruling coalition, the threat of removing them from the Kivus has been benched, and the ranks of some (not many) officers were confirmed this week. Almost as important, the Rwandan government is afraid enough of an alliance between RPF dissidents and the FDLR in the Kivus that they will do their best to prevent the CNDP from starting a new rebellion that they couldn’t control.
As for the FDLR – they are weakened and increasingly seeking coalitions with Mai-Mai and other militia. They have lost many of their officers, as well as their international spokesmen and some reports put their strength as low as 3,000. They have sought out a coalition with the FNL, which is reconstituting itself in the Rukoko plain on the Burundi/Congo border. Some reports – although we need to treat these with great caution, as Kigali may be trying to discredits its rivals – suggest that Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa has contacted various armed groups in the East. This is very worrying – I doubt they would plan to launch a conventional attack on Rwanda, but they could try to destabilize the country in order to further fragment the RPF regime and promote a palace coup. As I have said many times before, much more can be done in terms of brokering individual deals with FDLR commanders to return to Rwanda. MONUSCO has recently begun this kind of work, but the Rwandan government is the key party in this, as they can provide security assurances, ranks in their army and other incentives for commanders to leave the bush. And, with their fear that Gen. Kayumba is reaching out to the FDLR (whether this is true or not), Kigali may be more receptive to a more proactive stance on bringing the FDLR home.
Overall, the humanitarian situation in the Kivus remains precarious. IDP levels rose sharply in South Kivu in 2010, although falling slightly in North Kivu. There were more attacks against NGOs and UN staff in the last year than in either of the preceding ones.  There are still over 1,3 million people displaced in these two provinces. Reports of pillage and rape continue on a daily basis for anyone reading MONUSCO reports.
This state of affairs will only change by getting rid of non-governmental militia and reforming the security sector, including the judiciary. This is a long, political process. On the one hand the government will be more interested than ever in beginning these reforms now, as Kabila wants to improve his stature before the elections. But there will also be opposition – he will not want to create any more enemies – especially in his military and police, or in Kigali – in the run-up to a volatile period.
Little has happened on SSR in the past years, despite consistent promises by donors that this will be a priority. Donors have acted bilaterally, training individual battalions that then often disintegrate once they are deployed. The US has provided welcome training to one battalion and to military justice staff. But the problem is not just a lack of training – although that is a problem – but above all a problem of political will and institutional capacity. We should remember that Mobutu’s officers were trained at Saint Cyr (France), Fort Bragg (USA), Sandhurst (UK) and Nanjing (China).
For meaningful reform, we need a comprehensive plan for SSR rather than donors working in a piecemeal approach as they currently are. Donors need to sit together with the government and legislature to draft a major SSR plan that will build barracks and training schools, computerize their record keeping and inventory, support parliamentary oversight and a functional auditing system and create a strong and professional military justice system. While this may seem unrealistic in an era of fiscal crunch – we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade – this is the only way of really tackling impunity and the grinding abuse that affects millions of Congolese.
If you decide that such central and rooted reform is impossible, the next best option is to work on reforming the army in the Kivus. Such an approach would also require a large investment and a comprehensive plan with the government, but would focus on short term capacity building projects in military justice reform, barrack building and a streamlining of the very confused and corrupt chain of command in North and South Kivu. This is political, as it would deprive many units of their corrupt cash flows – in particular the ex-CNDP units – and would need serious political engagement with the governments of both Kigali and Kinshasa.
Any approach would have to put a premium on tackling impunity. First and foremost, we should work with the Congolese government to arrest some of the major abusers – Gen. Bosco, Col. Zimurinda, Col. Gwigwi to name just a few. One could draw on the profiling work currently being done by MONUSCO for a more thorough-going, yet improvised vetting operation in the Kivus. Such arrests – or, in some cases, just administrative sanctions and suspension – would require serious engagement with Kigali and Kinshasa, as Kigali in particular as a vested stake in the Bosco wing in particular, a stake that has increased since they have become more fearful of Gen. Kayumba’s influence in the East. But it must be done.
The other action that can have an immediate impact on improving the lives of civilians is cantoning soldiers. We have upwards of 40,000 soldiers in the Kivus, many of whom live off the backs of the local population. While both STAREC and ISSS were trying to build barracks, these projects have faltered due both to lack of donor engagement and government inertia. We need to jumpstart this – especially with the polls coming up, we don’t need tens of thousands of soldiers intimidating voters.
This is probably the right point to mention conditionality. Sustainable solutions will only come from the Congolese people and their leaders, but the international community, which has at times been part of the problem, should provide support for these solutions. For this, the US government and other donors need leverage. And yet, we have been reluctant to use our financial power as leverage. Donors contribute to roughly half of the Congo’s $6,5 billion budget; around 1/3 of that is from the Chinese now, but 2/3 is still mostly from the IMF, World Bank and bilateral donors. Around $700 million of that is budgetary aid. There was a good attempt to create such conditionality through the governance compact in 2006, but even though that was adopted by the national assembly, there was almost no follow up. Since then, we have squandered much of our leverage by giving away debt relief and providing billions in funding without conditionality that goes beyond narrow fiscal responsibility. If we are serious about political reform, about combating sexual violence, about promoting a stable and equitable society, then we should use our financial leverage in both the Congo and neighboring countries to do this.
Lastly, a brief mention of conflict minerals, as this is an area where the US has taken the lead and deserves praise. Despite my admiration for these efforts, however, I doubt that the due diligence efforts of the OECD, the US administration or the ICGLR will have much impact if there is not better information coming from the field. In other words, if the entire due diligence system is premised on knowing which minerals are linked to human rights abuses, if we do not have this information in the field, all efforts will be in vain. Auditors from Price Waterhouse Coopers or other companies will go to Goma and Bukavu, only to be utterly confused by the complexity and opacity of the minerals trade there. And it is very difficult to know exactly which companies are buying from where, and a lot of vested interests in keeping that information secret. The US government can perform a very valuable function by investing in an oversight mechanism that would work with the Congolese government to provide information that can be used by prosecutors, auditors and companies.