The Democratic Republic of the Congo Has Descended to a State of Dangerous Political Anarchy. The United Nations Needs to Act

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the administration of President Kabila began the nation’s descent toward political anarchy in November 2016 by deliberately refusing to hold the presidential election required by the constitution for that month. In the absence of a presidential election, President Kabila lost his legitimacy as the head of state on December 20, 2016, when his second elected five-year term came to an end.

In an attempt to fill the political vacuum, President Kabila asked the Conference of Catholic Bishops (CENCO) to mediate between his parliamentary majority, and the opposition political forces, in order to reach agreement on how to move forward to an election and a transfer of power to a new president. The CENCO mediation began in October 2016, and continued until March 27, 2017 when it was terminated because the parties could not reach agreement on the way forward.

The failure of the CENCO mediation leaves the DRC in a state of political anarchy. None of the political institutions has legitimacy, including the Presidency, the Senate, and the National Assembly. The prospect of President Kabila remaining in power indefinitely and illegally has caused major tensions throughout the nation. Major demonstrations called for by opposition leaders for the week of April 3, 2017 could become dangerously violent in the model of Ouagadougou in 2014.

Already, there is growing instability in different regions of this vast country. A military unit in the Kasai region in central DRC has been photographed killing non-combatant civilians wantonly. In the same region, militias have retaliated and killed about forty policemen. In the far eastern regions of the two Kivu provinces and Ituri, various militias roam through villages pillaging and raping, while they and others fight over artisanal mineral deposits.

During football matches, the young people in the audience spend more time calling for “Kabila to go” than shouting in support of their teams.

The United Nations Security Council has enacted several resolutions about the DRC since the beginning of the political crisis in late 2016. Now that political anarchy has set in, what should the UN should be doing? A UN peace-keeping force, MONUSCO, has been operating in the DRC since 2005, with a mandate to protect civilians.

Perhaps now is the time for some creative thinking about the DRC by the UN Security Council. A decision to take no action at this point would only be contributing to the “legitimization” of anarchy, and to the potential breakdown of order.

There is precedent for the temporary UN takeover of sovereignty. Namibia, Cambodia and East Timor are suitable examples. It may now be relevant for the UN to look at the DRC in a similar context.

It is important to recall that the DRC had a very successful UN assistance experience from 1960 to 1967.  When the security situation deteriorated immediately after independence, President Eisenhower asked the UN Security Council to start a stabilization program with UN troops and civil servants. (There were no NATO forces allowed.) The UN operation assisted in the training of Congolese military units, helped reorganize administrative departments, and stabilized difficult regions such as Katanga and Kivu.  If this experience could be repeated immediately, then the Congo will be assured of free and fair elections in 2017, and a smooth transfer of power to a new governing team by the end of the year.  

The UN Security Council, and its most powerful member, the United States, need to think seriously about this option.

Reject Trump's Proposed Budget


As part of his quest to "put America first," President Trump is requesting a $55 billion increase in the Defense Department budget at the expense of agencies typically characterized as "non-defense": The Department of State and the Agency for International Development (USAID) face reductions of approximately 20 percent.

Trump has a misguided notion of defense. The State Department and USAID are recognized by defense leaders as irreplaceable components of our national security bulwark. Slashing the budgets of the diplomacy, aid and development agencies will create new threats to national security, diminish our international influence, harm American workers and the American economy.

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En République Démocratique Du Congo, l'Opposition Doit Se Concentrer sur la Transition Vers les Elections, et NON Sur les Conflits Personnels

La mort récente du leader vénéré de l'opposition politique congolaise, Etienne Tshisekedi, a nécessité une réorganisation de la direction du mouvement.

Les hauts responsables politiques du mouvement, connu sous le nom de «Rassemblement des Forces Politiques Acquises au Changement», se sont réunis le 2 mars 2017 pour choisir leurs nouveaux coordonnateurs principaux. Ils ont choisi Felix Tshisekedi comme Président du Mouvement et Pierre Lumbi comme Président du Conseil des Sages.

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Democratic Republic of the Congo Opposition Must Concentrate on the Transition to Elections, NOT on Personal Feuds

The recent death of the Congolese political opposition’s revered leader Etienne Tshisekedi has required a reorganization of the movement’s leadership.

The senior politicians in the movement, known as the “Reunion of Political Forces Committed to Change”, met on March 2, 2017 to select their new principal coordinators. They selected Felix Tshisekedi as President of the Movement, and Pierre Lumbi as President of the Council of Elders.

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En RDC, Les menaces de Lambert Mende Pour Emprisonner Moise Katumbi sont une Insulte à la Mémoire du Feu Tshisekedi

A la veille du retour du feu Etienne Tshisekedi au Congo pour ses funérailles d'Etat, le porte-parole du gouvernement Lambert Mende menace Moise Katumbi de prison s'il accompagnait les dépouilles du héros sur la route de Kinshasa.

La déclaration de Mende sur Katumbi est à la fois une insulte à son ami et allié, le feu Tshisekedi, et un acte illégitime. Le juge qui a trouvé Katumbi coupable de fraude, s'est ensuite enfui en Belgique où elle a dit à la presse qu'elle avait agit seulement sous la menace de mort, et qu'il n'y avait aucune base pour les accusations portées contre lui. La juge a également informé les enquêteurs de la CENCO que les accusations contre Katumbi sont totalement fausses.

M. Mende devrait avoir honte de lui-même pour avoir profané en ce moment solennel de deuil national pour Etienne Tshisekedi. Il devrait également avoir honte d'essayer de faire pression sur la CENCO qui a la responsabilité de décider du sort de M. Katumbi en ce qui concerne les accusations douteuses contre lui.

Monsieur Mende, soyez adulte. Votre Président et le peuple de la République Démocratique du Congo méritent d'être traités avec respect.

In the DRC, Lambert Mende’s Threats to Jail Moise Katumbi are an Insult to the Memory of the late Tshisekedi

On the eve of the late Etienne Tshisekedi’s return to the Congo for his state funeral, presidential spokesman Lambert Mende is threatening Moise Katumbi with prison if he accompanies the hero’s remains on route to Kinshasa.

Mende’s statement about Katumbi is both an insult to his friend and ally, the late Tshisekedi, and an illegitimate act. The judge who found Katumbi guilty of fraud later fled to Belgium, where she told the press that she acted only under the threat of death, and that there was no basis for the charges against him. The judge also informed the CENCO investigators that the accusations against Katumbi are totally false.

Mr. Mende should be ashamed of himself for profaning this solemn moment of national mourning for Etienne Tshisekedi.  He should also be ashamed of trying to put pressure on the CENCO that has responsibility for deciding Mr. Katumbi’s fate with respect to the dubious accusations against him.

Mr. Mende, be an adult. Your President and the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo deserve to be treated with respect.


Status Report on the Political Situation in the DRC as of January 20, 2017

Status Report on the Political Situation in the DRC as of January 20, 2017

The original, and most important, violation of the DRC constitution took place on November 19, 2016 when the scheduled presidential election did NOT take place. One month later on December 19, President Kabila ceased to be the elected President of the DRC. On this date, President Kabila became the Transitional President of the DRC. 

As Transitional president of the DRC, President Kabila no longer commands the majority of the Congolese people. He must, therefore, share power with the opposition until the new presidential election takes place.

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RDC: Rapport d'Etape au 20 janvier 2017 sur la Situation Politique

RDC: Rapport d'Etape au 20 janvier 2017 sur la Situation Politique

La violation initiale et la plus importante de la constitution de la RDC a eu lieu le 19 novembre 2016 lorsque l’élection présidentielle prévue n’a PAS eu lieu. Un mois plus tard, le 19 décembre 2016, le président Kabila a cessé d’être le président élu de la RDC. Aujourd’hui, le Président Kabila est devenu Président de la Transition de la RDC.

En tant que Président de la Transition de la RDC, le président Kabila ne commande plus la majorité de la population de la RDC. Il doit donc partager le pouvoir avec l’opposition jusqu’à ce que la nouvelle élection présidentielle ait lieu.

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Questions on Africa for Secretary of State Designate Rex Tillerson

Questions on Africa for Secretary of State Designate Rex Tillerson

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Rex Tillerson, the President of the Exxon Mobil Corporation, to be the next Secretary of State. On Wednesday January 11, 2017, Mr. Tillerson will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will later vote on whether or not to recommend his confirmation to the full Senate.

It is expected that the senators will concentrate at the outset on Mr. Tillerson’s close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Tillerson’s leadership, ExxonMobil has invested heavily in oil and gas fields in the Russian Arctic. The senators will want to know if Tillerson’s special and close relations with the Russian leadership could cause problems for US policy toward Russia after he becomes Secretary of State.

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Military Mutinies in Côte d’Ivoire: Instability May Persist Through 2020

Military Mutinies in Côte d’Ivoire: Instability May Persist Through 2020

Extensive and coordinated military mutinies in Côte d’Ivoire during the first week of January 2017 have been attributed to grievances about pay and housing allowances. But we should not have any illusions. This event has a political dimension that could keep Côte d’Ivoire on the edge of instability until the presidential election of 2020. 

There was high tension in several Côte d’Ivoire cities during first week of January 2017. Military units mutinied against their civilian leadership in the major cities, including Abidjan and Bouaké. The mutinous soldiers were fully armed, and in some residential neighborhoods, they frightened people by firing their weapons.

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Political Agreement in the Congo

In a two-month negotiation mediated by the DRC Conference of Catholic Bishops, CENCO, President Kabila’s parliamentary majority and their political opposition have achieved an agreement that should guarantee the president’s departure after the completion of a free and fair election toward the end of 2017. 

The opposition leaders are pleased with the agreement, and have expressed their satisfaction in public. Nevertheless, many in the opposition remain skeptical that President Kabila will actually accept to depart as the election comes closer. At the same time, all are wondering how US policy favoring constitutional good governance might change under future President Trump, and whether his administration will continue Obama’s policy of maintaining pressure on Kabila to step down immediately after the next election is completed.

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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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My Diplomatic Moment with Mohammed Ali

While many recall and some still criticize Mohammed Ali’s refusal to be drafted to fight the U.S. war in Vietnam as a conscientious objector, I remember the time when the boxer conscientiously took on a tough fight for his country.

In December 1979, the army of the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. What did this event have to do with Mohammed Ali, the American boxing champion?

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Eritrea After 25 Years of Independence

Eritrea After 25 Years of Independence

(From International Policy Digest)

Last week marked the 25th anniversary, or “Silver Jubilee,” since the East Africa nation Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in a conflict that lasted three decades. Ambassador Cohen worked closely with leaders of both nations and in 1991 brokered a peace accord that was to establish a framework for future mutual progress. International Policy Digest interviewed Amb. Cohen to learn his thoughts and insights on Eritrea’s recent history and path forward.

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