Political Crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is Still Far from Being Resolved

As of Friday, December 23, there were signs of a breakthrough in political negotiations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo being conducted under the mediation of the Conference of Catholic Bishops (CENCO). There were some positive developments, but the key issues are far from resolution.

These developments include some important concessions by the “Majority” representing President Joseph Kabila:

•    Moving the presidential election forward from April 2018 to the “end” of 2017.

•    There will be a neutral “Transitional Council” to ensure the transition and election will be honest.

•    Assurances that the constitution will not be amended to call for a referendum, and that the President will not seek to run for a third term, pursuant to his earlier public statements.

•    The Prime Minister will be selected from the ranks of the “opposition.”

The main opposition, known as “Le Rassamblement,” remains unsatisfied with the majority’s concessions for the following reasons:

•    The true opposition insists on selecting the Prime Minister. If the President selects the Prime Minister, he will undoubtedly continue with the recently selected Samy Badibanga, considered a bogus “opposition” who has joined President Kabila’s camp. The true opposition wants a Prime Minister who will have considerable power to make sure the transition is honest. 

•    The true opposition wants the independent electoral commission, known as CENI, to be reorganized with truly independent individuals. The “majority” wants the present CENI, which has been totally in the President’s pocket for years, to continue.

•    The true opposition wants opposition political personalities to be released without prejudice from politically motivated charges against them. The “majority” wants them to be reviewed by a commission of judges, all of whom are controlled by the President.

•    The true opposition wants presidential candidate Moise Katumbi, who has been charged with “fraud,” to be allowed to return to the Congo and campaign, with the bogus charges dropped. The majority says that Katumbi must also be reviewed by the presidentially controlled magistrates.

•    The true opposition wants President Kabila to sign the final document, as a guarantee that he will uphold the agreement. President Kabila refuses to do that.

These are major hurdles to overcome. Assuming that President Kabila has no intention of going back on his word to depart as soon as his successor is elected, it is increasingly clear from his current bargaining positions that he intends to control who will succeed him, most likely a member of his family. It is also quite clear that President Kabila is determined to block his bitter enemy, Moise Katumbi, from being a presidential candidate.

It is premature to consider the negotiations to be successful. The DRC is still in grave danger.

African Presidents Have Significant Experience with Election “Rigging”

African Presidents Have Significant Experience with Election “Rigging”

American presidential candidate Donald Trump has made several public statements accusing politicians at the federal and state levels of “rigging” the current elections. He declared that the entire system, at every level, is being manipulated to deny him the presidency. So far, as of November 6, 2016, he has not yet supplied any evidence to support his accusation.

In sub-Saharan Africa, incumbent heads of state have developed the high art of rigging elections over several decades of practical experience.

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo is in Danger of Descending Into Chaos Before The End of the Year

(from Diplomatic Courier)

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa’s largest country by area, is headed for a major internal conflagration if something isn’t done soon to bring about a negotiated internal political settlement. Let’s not forget that the Congo is part of Central Africa’s “Great Lakes Region” that has witnessed three major ethnic genocides in the past forty years: Burundi 1972; Rwanda 1994; and the Congo 1996.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila is now in the final months of his second elected term. The Congolese constitution limits nation’s heads of state to two terms. A democratic election to select Kabila’s successor should normally take place next month in November 2016. Unfortunately, Kabila’s administration has deliberately failed to provide funding for the preparation of the election. The political opposition is gearing up for major street demonstrations to take place on December 20, Kabila’s final day in office in the event he insists on remaining in power. Kabila can diffuse all of this if he steps down, paving the way for an interim regime that will hold elections within a few months.

I have written an open letter to President Kabila recommending that he take the statesmanlike option of stepping down on the final day of his mandate, thereby gaining the gratitude and esteem of the Congolese people.

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo is Becoming Quite Tense: There Could Be Trouble in the Weeks Ahead

A growing number of observers are really worried about the possibility of instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC] in the coming weeks.

The DRC, once known as the Belgian Congo and more recently for a time as Zaire, is Africa's biggest country, and one of the world's major sources of strategic minerals. During the period 1998-2002, it was the scene of the bloodiest war since World War II, with five million people killed. Today the country remains badly governed, plagued by corruption, and the focus of the largest UN peacekeeping operation in recent history.

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Post-Election Tensions in Gabon

The recent re-election of Gabonese President Ali Bongo is being hotly contested by Mr. Jean Ping, the opposing candidate, who was defeated by a narrow margin of 6,000 votes. Mr. Ping charges the Independent National Electoral Commission of fraudulently manipulating the vote count.

After the election results were announced, there was rioting in the streets of Libreville, the capital city. Police repression of the demonstrations resulted in the deaths of two demonstrators and much property damage. Opposition candidate Jean Ping’s party headquarters was heavily damaged by a police attack. 

The international community, including the United States, is advising President Bongo to order the publication of the vote count at each polling station so as to reassure the voters that the national vote count was accurate. So far, the electoral commission has refused to do this, thereby furthering suspicion that the final count was manipulated in President Bongo’s favor.

Fearing more violence, the French government is sending additional military units to Gabon in order to protect the 15,000 French citizens residing there.

Does Jean Ping have a good reason to question the vote count? I believe he does. First, Ping had observers at every polling station where the votes were counted openly. He was able to collate the reports of all of his observers and reach the conclusion that he was the real winner with 58% of the vote.

Secondly, President Ali Bongo is the son of Gabon’s second President Omar Bongo who ruled the country from 1967 to 2011. Omar Bongo had significant oil revenues during his presidency, but very little of it was used for poverty reduction among Gabon’s 1.7 million population. Ali Bongo followed in his father’s footsteps with very little benefits for the people. I am persuaded that the Gabonese people are tired of Bongo family rule. 

I know Jean Ping personally. He is a true statesman. He was a successful Secretary General of the Africa Union, and served the late Omar Bongo as Foreign Minister. I am persuaded that, at age 77, he would make an effort to lift the Gabonese people out of poverty. 

In case anyone is curious, Jean Ping had a Chinese father and a Gabonese mother. He has distinct Chinese features.

Government Owned Oil Companies: Enabling the Resource Curse in Africa

Crude oil has been flowing from African wells, both on land and beneath the oceans, since the mid 1970s. Before then, Africa’s main source of revenue was agriculture.

International oil companies have been the most important source of investment capital needed to find and produce oil in African countries. The international oil companies have also provided the technology and expertise needed to keep African crude oil flowing to international markets. At the present time (2016), African nations produce approximately six million barrels of crude oil per day.

How do African governments and the international oil companies share the wealth coming from crude oil flows and export sales?

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Hissène Habré’s Conviction for Crimes Against Humanity

Hissène Habré, the President of the Republic of Chad from 1982 to 1990, has been convicted of crimes against humanity by a special tribunal in the Republic of Senegal. He has been sentenced to life in prison. The punishment is well deserved. He could have been a hero to his fellow Africans for standing up to the bullying of dictator Moamar Gaddafi in neighboring Libya. But he was totally blood thirsty, murdering as many as 40,000 political opposition and ordinary citizens merely because they belonged to ethnic groups that he considered treasonous or dangerous. 

The trial and conviction in an African court of a former African head of state for crimes against humanity, may have set an interesting precedent for the international criminal courts system. African leaders and intellectuals have complained that the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague appears to be concentrating almost exclusively on African suspects. They appear to be ignoring criminal perpetrators who are hiding in plain sight in Latin America and Asia. The current President of Sudan is under indictment by the ICC, but he travels freely in African countries that refuse to do their international duty and extradite him to The Hague. The Hissène Habré convinction in Senegal may mark the beginning of the end of the ICC’s jurisdiction in Africa. 

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On Jean-Pierre Bemba

Jean-Pierre Bemba is the head of an important political family in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His political base is in the northwestern province of Equateur. His late father was a leading business entrepreneur during the administration of President Mobutu Sese Seko (1965-1996). He founded the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) which began as a rebel group and evolved into a major political party.

During the interim period between the end of the great civil war in 2002 and the first democratic election in 2006, Bemba was one of four transitional vice presidents responsible for governing the country under President Joseph Kabila. He was an unsuccessful candidate for president in the elections of 2006 and 2011. The 2011 election was won by incumbent President Kabila under conditions that the international community considered deeply flawed. A number of observers expressed the view that the real winner in 2011 was Jean-Pierre Bemba.

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo is Becoming Increasingly Tense and Potentially Dangerous

The political environment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is becoming increasingly tense and dangerous as the deadline for the November 2016 presidential election approaches.

The DRC constitution stipulates that a President can be elected a maximum of two times to serve two terms. The constitution also states that the two-term limit on presidential mandates cannot be amended by parliament. To change this article of the constitution, a new constitution would have to be written, and confirmed by the people in a referendum.

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Ethiopia famine: The search for alternative ports

Ethiopia's search for alternative ports for delivery of disaster relief cargoes continues.

Ethiopia is currently exploring the possibility of utilizing the port of Berbera, in the self-declared independent state of Somaliland, as an additional place for the unloading of incoming famine relief cargoes. Logistically, this is a wise option. The United States upgraded both the Berbera port and the Berbera airport prior to the 1990 "Operation Desert Storm." If an appropriate arrangement could be made, this option would help relieve the heavy congestion in the Port of Djibouti. As of very recently, the Government of the Republic of Somalia, that claims sovereignty over Somaliland, is objecting to efforts by Ethiopia to make a separate sovereign arrangement for the use of Berbera with the unrecognized Government of Somaliland. This constitutes another reason for Ethiopia to make an arrangement with Eritrea for the use of the ports of Aseb and Masawa. The longer that Addis delays, the more Ethiopians will succumb to hunger and malnutrition. Addis, wake up!

Eritrea's Ports and Ethiopia's Famine

The severe Ethiopian famine that is just over the horizon will require the use of Eritrean ports to handle the massive arrival of food relief from the international community. The sheer volume of food for 40 million people cannot be processed solely by the port of Djibouti and the railway from Djibouti to Addis Abeba.

It is important that Ethiopia and Eritrea start making arrangements immediately for the opening of the Eritrean ports of Asab and Masawa so as to receive the ships carrying the famine relief. These ports have easy access to northern Ethiopia where most of the need exists.

While they are making arrangements, I recommend that the two governments discuss how to make Ethiopian access to these two ports permanent. At the same time, cross-border trade should be resumed. 

This would be a win-win result for both countries.

Hal Saunders

I want to say a few memorial words about my Foreign Service colleague Hal Saunders, who passed away a few days ago. We specialized in different geographic regions during our respective careers. He was a Middle East specialist. I concentrated on Africa.  For that reason, we did not have lunch very often. But we knew each other and respected each other. Hal was the quintessential American diplomat. He did not make a lot of headlines, but he quietly advised Secretaries of State and US Presidents. I would say that Hal was the key policy adviser on the Middle East during the period 1980 to 1995. His advice was wise. American interests in the region were well served. The Middle East is generally a source of frustration for American diplomats. Hal lived through some of the most troubling periods. At all times, his advice to policy makers was sound and advantageous to US interests. He is a role model for generations that will follow.