Update on the Congo


Update on the Congo
By David Barouski.

Author's note: This was composed prior to the elections in the event this isn't published until after the elections. Composed 21 Jul 2006. All noted photos used in this article are the sole property of the author. It is forbidden to reproduce or distribute any of the photos without the permission of the author. The article was originally published in Zmagazine.

Elections.

The most obvious story is the historic elections in Congo, the first since the elections held after independence that saw Patrice Lumumba win the Prime Minister position. Kinshasa itself is now a city covered in banners and election signs. People walk the streets with tee-shirts of the many different candidates. Trucks packed with people shouting political slogans drive through the streets and, in cities like Bukavu, recorded messages can be heard blaring out from the distance, sometimes playing all night.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) manages the elections. The election is funded by donations to the APEC fund controlled by the UNDP or by donating directly to the Congolese government. As of this writing, the European Commission is the largest donor to APEC with Belgium (135 million Euros) and the Netherlands (12 million Euros) donating the most. The biggest donors directly to the Congolese government are the United States and France1.

In my conversations with the Congolese about the elections, several things became apparent. One is that many people, all across the Congo, have no idea who many of the candidates are. One experience I remember well occurred in Kinshasa shortly after I arrived, before the official campaigning began on July 1st. The World Cup matches were being played and there were small scorecards being passed out around the city. On the back of these scorecards was the likeness of presidential candidate Dr. Oscar Kashala. When I asked people about Kashala, many of them knew him only as, “The American.” It is true that Kashala was trained as a medical doctor at Harvard. He is also known for the arrest of several of his bodyguards who where accused of plotting a coup. Kashala had employed bodyguards from the South African firm Omega Security and also from the Florida- based AQMI. Some people working for the Congolese press, as well as one worker for the Independent Electoral Commission that I spoke to; believe the idea of the coup plot was made up by the Congolese government in an attempt to discredit Kashala. The same source working for the Independent Electoral Commission also told me that Kashala is very organized and has already chosen his cabinet.

It is feasible that the current Congolese government does not want an American influenced politician in power. One well-informed source told me that President Kabila has begun withdrawing politically from the United States and has begun reestablishing political ties with Belgium, China and France. This is reminiscent of the political moves his father Laurent Kabila made in 1997 when the United States and Britain refused to pressure Rwanda to withdraw its troops from Congo. Kabila visited China and lauded their socialist economic model. He began revoking mining concessions he had allocated to American firms like American Mineral Fields Inc. (now Adastra) and the Canadian company Banro that he had given out before he even began his march to Kinshasa in 1996 as a way to generate funds for the war. He then turned many of the concessions over to Zimbabwe in exchange for military help defending against the Rwandans and Ugandans when the 2nd war broke out in 1998. It was the beginning of a series of decisions that led, in part, to his murder in 2001.

Another thing apparent to me is the hostility towards presidential candidates Azarias Ruberwa and Jean-Pierre Bemba. Both are seen by the Congolese as proxies for the neighboring nations of Rwanda and Uganda respectively. According to the newly ratified Congolese Constitution, Ruberwa is running illegally because he is not a naturally born Congolese citizen. He is a Rwandan refugee who fled to Lubumbashi to start a new life. He enrolled in the University of Lubumbashi and became a lawyer. He is currently the Vice President in charge of the security portfolio.

When dissident former FARDC soldier, Manyamulenge, and wanted war criminal (by the ICC) Laurent Nkundabatware illegally seized the city of Bukavu in 2004 and his soldiers committed innumerable rapes and murders, he told MONUC he would only stop his assault if Ruberwa ordered him to. After, FARDC General Mbuza Mabe planned an assault that would capture or kill Nkundabatware and his men. Ruberwa then called for the removal of Gen. Mabe, which was eventually granted.

Ruberwa is allied with North Kivu's governor Eugene Serofuli of the Rwandan created Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) party (of which Ruberwa is the head) and Bizima Karaha, another Rwandan refugee who is the current Minster of Foreign Affairs. This triad of politicians is seen by the Congolese as consolidating Rwandan control over the Congo for their own purposes.

Jean-Pierre Bemba is also a Vice President and he's in charge of the finance and economic portfolio. Editor Antoine Roger Lokongo of the Congo Panorama made a keen observation when he wrote that it is peculiar how Bemba managed to have $22 million for his campaign, yet can't manage to pay the demobilized FARDC soldiers2, which has lead them to take up looting and extortion in the east of the country and in Katanga province, leading to rampant human rights abuses which were chronicled in a recent report released by MONUC3. He seems aware of his impending defeat. During recent rallies in the Congo, Bemba has openly said he will wage war if there is any evidence of election fraud.

Bemba himself is a demobilized soldier. He was the leader of the Movment for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) rebel group that was active in the Ituri region and around the town of Beni during the war of 1998. Bemba is accused of war crimes for ordering the MLC's infamous operation, “Effaceur le Tableau,” which is French for, “Erase the Board,” where he ordered the genocide of pygmies in the Beni area. The MLC stands accused of cannibalism and other heinous acts during this operation. The MLC itself is closely aligned and armed by Uganda. This isn't surprising because Congolese sources state that Bemba is Museveni's godson.

Bemba and his father are from the Equateur province. In particular, Bemba has support in the Gbadolite area where arms caches belonging to Bemba were recently discovered in the church of Reverend Kuthino Fernando. Bemba's father is the head of the ENRA logging company located in Ituri. He received numerous business breaks from Mobutu during his reign over Zaire. Bemba has used this to illegally log the forests of Ituri and transport the logs to Uganda via the highway running through Ariwara and Aru.4

The Frontrunner.
One certain thing is that Joseph Kabila will win the presidency. Everywhere I traveled in Congo, most people supported him. The Congolese genuinely want him as the man to lead them into the future. It will be his decisions immediately after taking oath that will define the future of the Congo. When Bemba and Ruberwa are voted out, their respective backers will pressure Kabila to appoint them to cabinet positions in exchange for prevention of all-out war in the east of Congo. As I will demonstrate later in this article, the mechanisms for creating a full-scale war are already in place and can be activated at virtually any time. If Kabila does appoint them, the Congolese people will recognize it as a sell-out and he will lose popular support. It may also trigger a preemptive attack on Rwandans and Banyamulenge in Congo, which would itself trigger all-out war with the reprisal killings that would follow.

Dissident.
The Union for Democratic and Social Progress (UPDS) and its long time leader Etienne Tshisekedi have boycotted the elections. They conducted marches in Kinshasa that have been destructive to property, but generally haven't led to violence against soldiers or police. The situation in the east is more dangerous. There have been reports of greater political oppression of demonstrations there, and earlier the week of this writing, 2 people were killed in protests near Rutshuru in North Kivu. FARDC soldiers in the southern Katanga province were reported by a Congolese source to have engaged in the beatings of RCD supporters.

Security Situation in Ituri.
The Front for Nationalist Integration (FNI), who fought with the FARDC for control of the gold-mining areas around Mongbwalu and Watsa for most of last year, has finally given up. This group, led by Peter Karim, was responsible for the murder of Nepalese MONUC soldier Adhikari Cyan Bahadur on May 28th of this year.

MONUC's Nepalese and Moroccan battalions, along with the FARDC, spent the end of 2005 up to now systematically pushing the FNI eastward. They used gunships to force them out of Tchei and fought them up the road towards Fataki and Mahagi. A MONUC military official stated that Karim's main arms supply was being shipped from Uganda across Lake Albert. After pushing the FNI into the woods around Fataki, the arms supply was cut off and MONUC established regular boat patrols on the lake with the FARDC.

Just a few days ago, cut off from their arms supply with their backs against the Ugandan border, Karim and a large number of his men agreed to demobilize and surrender. Karim will become a colonel in the FARDC through MONUC's demobilization program (DDRRR). This decision has angered many Congolese who want him prosecuted for his crimes against civilians.

Along with the end of the FNI leadership, MONUC's DDRRR demobilization program and the civilian government program CONADER located in Bunia have been reported to be quite a success. The removal of the majority of the rebels from the main road that runs parallel to Lake Albert has helped secure the main towns in Ituri for elections. Operations against the Congo Resistance Movement (MRC) and the Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF/NALU) in Ituri and the area just north of Beni around the Virunga National forest crippled the capabilities of these militias to envoke terror against the population.

All is not as it seems in Ituri though. The area north of the main road from Bunia to Fataki is insecure. MONUC seems only concerned about securing the main cities like Bunia and Aru at this point. There is also logistical difficulty in securing the area because of how remote and forested it is.

When the FNI left the area, Bemba's MLC milita moved in to take their place. There are still 2,000 MLC in Ituri that are armed and refuse to demobilize. They are in control of the gold centers of Mongbwalu and Watsa, which serves to facilitate Uganda's continued plunder of gold from the Congo. The MLC stand accused of rapes, beatings, and extortion on the road from Isiro to Watsa5 One MONUC worker in the area stated that elements of the FARDC, led by General Songol, and the MLC are constantly fighting for control over these areas and civilians are caught in the crossfire.

MONUC and the FARDC do currently have a presence in Mongbwalu, and MONUC has even established flights to Mongbwalu. Anglo-Gold Ashanti, which is mining gold in and around the city, also flies its workers to the site daily. North of Mongbwalu though, MONUC has no established presence.

Farther north, from Ariwara along the Sudanese boarder to Garamba National Park, a mass of rebel activity goes unaddressed by MONUC and the FARDC. In January of this year, when reports of Lord's Resistance Army fighters entering Garamba were common, MONUC sent a team of Guatemalan soldiers to investigate, which led to the death of 8 of them. Following that incident, MONUC called off the Garamba operation and has left the place virtually alone since.

Former Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) fighters are all over the area in the woods near Ariwara and in Garamba. A source inside MONUC told me how the former SPLA fighters are known to tax, loot, and rape the locals. There are also Ugandan People's Defense Force (UPDF) soldiers in the area to deliver arms to the MLC soldiers and also guard the trucks transporting timber along the roads near Garamba down through Ariwara and Aru to Mahagi port for shipping. In April of this year, the FARDC engaged in a firefight with UPDF soldiers in Aba, while chief spokesperson for MONUC Kemal Saiki stated that reports of the UPDF presence were credible6 A Congolese source also explained that Rwandan soldiers who are working in South Sudan for the African Union (AU) as part of its Darfur peacekeeping mission have been entering Congo from Sudan to exploit the land. This is especially troubling when United States Ambassador Michael Arietti stated that the US was providing training and transport for the RPA troops in Sudan7. Sources stated Rwandan, Ugandan, and Sudanese fighters constantly fight in the area over control of the resources. To make things even more difficult, the last members of the FNI, ADF/NALU, Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), MRC, and other small militia groups have put aside their grievances and joined together to create a single army to attack MONUC8, but there are questions about the leadership capabilities of the remaining milita.

Ituri has seen perhaps the worst of the violence of the war because it is so rich in natural resources. Anglo-Gold Ashanti is still actively mining in Mongbwalu. North of Mongbwalu, where it is less stable, many companies don't actively mine, but they do come and check on their concessions every few months. A source in Aru told me that “white executives” from Barrick Gold, an international mining company that once had George H.W. Bush on its International Advisory Board, were seen at their Watsa concessions 5 months ago.

Along Lake Albert, Heritage Oil is actively prospecting for oil. On the board of directors is Tony Buckingham, a former Special Services officer in Britain. In the Congo, he is best known for lobbying the Executive Outcomes mercenary company to unstable governments during the 1990s before the firm closed. Buckingham's good friend and fellow SAS soldier, Simon Mann, who was arrested in Zimbabwe for organizing a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, is a close friend of Executive Outcomes' founder Eeben Barlow9. In 1996, during Laurent Kabila's ADFL and the Rwandan Patriotic Army's (RPA) rush to Kinshasa to unseat Mobutu, Executive Outcomes was hired to provide air support for the soldiers. One Congolese source recalled their gunships stationed on the hills behind the Mugunga camps as well as over Lake Kivu. They would shell the camps at night in an attempt to kill Hutu refugees who had run away from Rwanda following the genocide and clear the way for advancing troops.

A source in Congo told me that Heritage currently hires UPDF, RPA, and MLC soldiers to protect their concessions from rebels and dissident FARDC soldiers. Another source who works in the oil industry told me that Heritage has very poor drilling techniques and are lucky if they strike oil. Sources in Congo have also said that, in years past, Heritage has influenced much of the fighting in Ituri.

Security Situation in North Kivu.
Whenever I talked about elections in the east with the Congolese, one subject always came up: security. When asked about the biggest security threat to Congo, the decision is unanimous by the Congolese and the MONUC workers I spoke to. Laurent Nkundabatware and his dissident group of former FARDC and RDC soldiers from the 8th battalion are the greatest threat. Ever since he fled Bukavu in 2004 after defecting from the FARDC, he has been allowed to stay in Congo unmolested. When President Kabila visited Goma for his campaign the last week of June, the people of the city begged Kabila to remove Nkundabatware's men from the area.

Currently, Nkundabatware is living in the city of Masisi, just down the road from Sake and Goma. The village of Masisi is currently inhabited by Banyamulenge and Tutsis who moved from Rwanda to farm on this fertile land. Many of the Congolese living in the village have been forced out by the Rwandans to take their land. Nkundabatware and 1,000 men are in the area to provide security for the people. Nkundabatware himself moves freely around a small area in the vicinity, often traveling to visit his children in the nearby village of Katshungu10.

The situation in the area is very grave. One MONUC source told me they purposely don't report publicly what is going on in that region of Congo for security reasons. Several MONUC workers and soldiers I spoke to all said that it is more than lootings and an occasional rape on the road to Masisi. Many of these “lesser” crimes can be attributed to unpaid FARDC soldiers in the area. However, killing civilians isn't uncommon, and Nkundabatware's men are reportedly responsible. One source even told me that, very recently, a bus with about 21 people on board carrying an unknown number of foreign nationals was stopped at gunpoint on the road to Masisi and all the passengers were taken hostage by his men. As of this writing, no sign of them has been seen or heard. At the same time, one informed source with MONUC denied knowledge of the report.

A source in Congo also stated Nkundabatware has his own militias that operate in the area independent of his command. There are also reports of Governor Serofuli's Local Defense Forces operating to destabilize the area around Goma as well. Couple that with allegations from the Congolese that Serofuli's Non-Governmental Organization “All for Development” has been arming these groups and MONUC and the FARDC have a difficult situation to control11.

MONUC has a MILOPS intelligence team living in the village with him. They watch his every move and report back to the headquarters. They know everything he has done. MONUC also set up some mobile bases in nearby Sake in June.

MONUC has a Chapter 6 mandate and could legally intervene to stop his troops when they kill or loot but they don't. When I asked MONUC officials and one MONUC soldier who is stationed in Masisi about this, they replied there were several reasons. One reason is because it could start an all out war before the elections. As MONUC restricts Nkundabatware and his men, his soldiers simply leave their uniforms and blend in with civilians and vanish, making it nearly impossible to stop his army completely. They then would begin recruiting new forces and would return. MONUC continually stressed that this would make elections impossible as no one in the area could vote because of the violence. MONUC officials have emphatically told me that the UN won't do anything that could jeopardize the elections. This effectively makes all the civilian lives Nkundabatware's men take between now and the elections expendable as the price of having enough stability to hold the elections on July 30th.

Conducting operations against Nkundabatware would also create a massive influx of internally displaced people that the UN is unprepared to deal with as well as reprisal killings. This represents another set of problems. As one Congolese man told me, “If Nkunda attacks Congo; the Congolese will kill all the Tutsis and Banyamulenge in Congo.”12

Another reason given by MONUC is that it is the FARDC's responsibility to disarm them and it is certainly true that the FARDC has made no move to do so. This is problematic because, in the past when MONUC has conducted large scale operations to uproot a specific rebel group, they have been joint operations between MONUC and the FARDC. In fact, the FARDC does the brunt of the ground work and MONUC provides support when the FARDC asks for it or they are in imminent danger.

Another other problem occurs when such an operation is proposed. MONUC must first draw up a proposal for the operation, including all costs. Then members of the Security Council must supply the funds for the operation voluntarily. In the case of Nkundabatware and his former RCD soldiers, it is noteworthy that they represent the interests of Rwanda, and a source in MONUC confirmed to me that Rwanda directly aids Nkundabatware. So if the Security Council members don't want to impede the interests of Rwanda, they won't fund any proposed operations against Nkundabatware. A MONUC worker told me that the United States, a staunch Rwandan supporter, has always been MONUC's largest donor. The United States will never fund action against him. In fact, the United States is building a new embassy in Kigali. It will be the largest embassy in Africa and will include a signal intelligence interception station that will reach all the way to Saudi Arabia and the old embassy complex will permanently house United States Marines in the region.13 It is also important to note that MONUC's Operation Falcon Sweep was designed to uproot the anti-Rwandan FDLR group while the MRC and ADF/NALU, who were targeted earlier this year, are both anti-Ugandan. Both of these countries are supported by the United States, who funded the operations against their opposing milita.

Nkundabatware and his men have an ambitious plan in place to set up and execute a new war to consolidate Rwanda's power in the region. Currently, his men and members of the RPA are infiltrating the 5th, 8th, 9th, and 11th brigade of the FARDC to join sympathizers already undercover who will mutiny and join Nkundabatware on his order. The 2nd brigade already has a large number of demobilized ex-RCD soldiers loyal to him. Once infiltration is completed, the commanders of the brigades will limit the amount of arms shipped to all the brigades except for the 2nd so the FARDC is unequipped to provide defense in the event of an attack. Nkundabatware has also been busy recruiting child soldiers in the Masisi area since the end of 2005, as well as recruiting FARDC soldiers to bolster his numbers of troops. The 83rd brigade was actively recruiting children by force for Nkundabatware14. Sources also state that there are about 1,000 dissident soldiers of the 10th FARDC brigade under the command of a Tutsi named Mr. Rugayi from Rutshuru that are waiting Nkundabatware's orders. These soldiers are based in Mobambiro.

Sources in the Congo have stated arms caches for Nkundabatware are already well established. Sources say he has received a shipment of arms and hi-tech satellite communications equipment from Rwanda that was sent through Gisenyi and Kibumba. A MONUC official also confirmed that arms for Nkundabatware are being shipped through Uvira via Bujumbura airport in Burundi. Sources also state that in May, RPA soldiers in FARDC uniforms crossed into Congo through Kibumba to join a battalion of RCD-G soldiers led by Major Eshima. Another source states that RPA officials were seen handing arms to RCD soldiers in Fizi and Minembwe in January and May of this year.

General Laurent Nkundabatware.

Security Situation in South Kivu.
The focus of the security situation in South Kivu remains the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), the last remnants of the so-called genocidares: Hutus who fled Rwanda that committed genocide (aka Interhammwe).

Last year, MONUC and the FARDC conducted Operation Falcon Sweep to try to stop the FDLR soldiers and the remaining Mai-Mai combatants who where hiding out in the Kahuzi-Biega National Forest. These groups would come out of the forests to loot and rape the surrounding villages when their supplies ran out. Several sources living in the area state the operation was a failure because all it did was push the majority of the soldiers deeper into the forest and didn't actually demobilize many of them. One of those sources stated there are still 5,000 to 8,000 FDLR left in South Kivu, along with Mai-Mai who refused to demobilize. The Congolese are currently lobbying MONUC and the FARDC to push the FDLR back into Rwanda.

The remaining FDLR members are mostly the offspring of the Interhammwe who fled Rwanda in 1994. They are an extremely violent group because they have grown up in the bush and don't know anything but conflict. They continue to be a menace to the villages near Kahuzi-Biega. They are notorious for rapes. One center for rape victims in Bukavu that I visited had a group of rape victims of the FDLR the day I was there. There were about 12 women and most of them were under 18 years old with the youngest about 12 years old.

The hidden story in South Kivu is the story of the so-called Rastas. This is another Hutu milita that is rarely reported by MONUC. It is said publicly to be a splinter group of the FDLR and has the same agenda. The Rastas committed particularly gristly acts in June and July of 2004, when they killed, maimed and raped dozens of civilians in the Walungu area. They currently are located in the Kahuzi-Biega National Forest and in Ndinja, and commit most of their crimes in Kaniola, where they kidnapped 2 people recently.

A secret is the real identity of the Rastas. Sources living in the area state that the Rastas were created when Rwandan President Paul Kagame released Hutu prisoners from Kigali on the condition that they act as proxy Interhammwe in 2001. The purpose was two-fold. First, the murder of civilians by the Hutus gave Kagame a pretext to send RPA soldiers into Congo in order to neutralize the “genocidares.” Second, it allows Rwanda to illegally mine the land after the villagers flee the carnage. Witnesses in Congo say when the RPA entered Congo to search for the Rastas, instead of looking in the forests, they looked in the mines. The Rastas also have been reported to have helped mine the area for Rwanda as well. The village of Walikale has diamonds and casserite. The village of Tubimbi has recently become a gold hotspot. The village of Numbi, where sources say Rwanda had a crematorium to burn the bodies of Hutu refugees they killed in 2001, also has casserite and niobium mines. Kagame reportedly uses the money from selling the imported minerals to pay his army and upgrade their equipment. It is also important to note the proximity of these cities to the area General Nkundabatware fled to following his occupation of Bukavu in 2004. One MONUC soldier stationed in Bukavu during the siege told me outright that Nkundabatware took Bukavu to loot the casserite in the area.

Security in Katanga Province.
Katanga has made progress in providing security. It was just last year that MONUC decided to first deploy a force to aid the FARDC in Katanga. They have launched operations against the Mai-Mai in the province, which were terrorizing the population. Recently, Mai-Mai leader Gideon and most of his soldiers laid down arms and joined the demobilization process. Like with Peter Karim, many Congolese are angered by MONUC because they want Gideon to be held accountable for his crimes, not promoted and given a post in the FARDC.

The FARDC in the area, however, continue to have a notorious reputation for human rights abuses. Reports by human rights groups, and MONUC itself, chronicle these abuses15.

One of the greatest security threats are the uranium mines near the Zambian border. A MONUC soldier told me that there are several U.S. firms expressing interest in the right to mine the area. The same source said that MONUC has soldiers guarding the area, but the number is kept deliberately small in order to reduce the possibility of any wayward MONUC soldiers from selling some on the black market. Recently, there has been evidence of some artesian miners extracting uranium ore16.

Meanwhile, the mining business in Katanga continues to boom. Anvil Mining and First Quantum Minerals, who just bought out Adastra for a copper concession, are actively mining in the area. Other active firms are South Africa's Metorex, U.S. based Om Group, George Forrest Group, Tenke, the American firm Phelps Dodge, and BHP Billiton.

If you found this information useful, please consider donating via Paypal to Baroud@hush.com. All donations will be used to fund further trips to Africa to conduct more research. Without your support, works like this aren't possible. Thank you. Please also direct all comments and further information to Baroud@hush.com.