Kongo Insider

Was the wait for Kabila’s speech whorth its while?

On 23 October 2013, DRC President Kabila made an hour-long speech to both houses of Parliament, diplomats and anyone who is someone. The much-awaited speech came following a national dialogue held a month ago and meant to make recommendations to, as it were, reboot the country.

Main changes

Amongst key changes announced by Kabila is the impending formation of a new government termed “national cohesion executive”. It will incorporate members of the opposition and the civil society into what was until now the preserve of the regime.

Further, a committee tasked with following up the implementation of the 674 recommendations stemming from the dialogue is also expected to be put in place. The body will start off with a one-year term of office which is likely to be extended, depending on how rapidly it operationalises these recommendations.

Other salient points include the repatriation of former Mobutu’s remains from the dictator’s Moroccan grave and those of independence-time dissident Prime Minister Moise Tshombe from Algiers.

Reference was also made to Congolese citizens standing trial at ICC with thinly-veiled allusion to Jean-Pierre Bemba. Kabila tasked the yet-to-be-formed executive to follow up their cases. Does that mean a genuine interest from Kabila to see Bemba released or is this merely a bone he threw to MLC, Bemba’s political party?

Hours before the speech was delivered, Kabila signed a decree granting presidential pardon a certain number of political and military inmates. These measures, he said, would help cement national cohesion.

To restore credibility to elections and ensure democracy is further entrenched, Kabila stressed that a population census (last held in the country in 1984) would have to be conducted and left-over local and as would municipal elections from previous electoral cycle.

On the M23 crisis prevailing in eastern DRC, Kabila lamented the lack of tangible progress of the Kampala talks and warned that failure of a political settlement will leave the DRC no choice but the military avenue. He nevertheless said he remained open to any constructive negotiations that could give peace a chance, as long as these did not rewarded gross human-rights abusers in M23 with amnesty and impunity.

What’s next?

It seems as though every time Kabila makes a makes speech, more questions are raised; innumerable grey areas are painted than are expected answers.

What does a government of national cohesion mean? An executive led by a political figure from the opposition or sharing significant number of ministerial seats with the opposition while maintaining the premiership? Would that mean that the parliament majority (which constitutionally should dictate the choice of a prime minister) revisited?  How? How in that case would the classical democratic rules apply? How does the civil society fit into the executive, a political body of the highest order? And which civil society is this about, in a country with a level of civil society politicisation seldom seen elsewhere?

What about the military option to end the M23 crisis while it is an open secret that DRC has yet to endow itself with a professional, well paid and equipped military? And how does this bellicose narrative sit with the rationale behind the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework agreement which advocated for a non-military settlement of the crisis?

These questions lead to another more pressing one. What becomes of Kabila when second and LAST term of office lapses in 2016?

Answers to most of these questions would require one to square the circle.

But the knowns of the equation at the moment are few in numbers. The national cohesion government Kabila has heralded could only be interpreted as a power-sharing dispensation that de facto ushers in a new transitional political order. The aim of that political order would be twofold: (i) lastingly disrupt the democratic process that started entrenching in the country at all levels, replacing by a consensual mode of governance  which would (ii) sail Kabila past 2016 as still president of the DRC.

This can be substantiated by the fact that holding the census, completing the remaining local elections, and militarily overcoming M23 are, each, tasks that can hardly be achieved by 2016.

In other words, the national dialogue, the resulting recommendations and the implications of today’s speech all converge to one target: no prospects for a better managed, peaceful and prosperous DRC.

National dialogue: will the quest for new political order in the DRC be successful?

A quick roundup of all that is being is said and/or done around the national dialogue in the Congolese political class inevitably leads pundits to highlight two facts.

On the one hand, the dialogue is a proof enough that 2011 presidential elections failed  to usher in a legitimate dispensation. Rather than materialise voters resolve for change, it is believed by most Congolese and was underscored by various electoral observation missions fielded to the DRC that polls results were not reflective of the people’s choice. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any need for the forum. On the other hand, the dialogue seems to be a belated (retrospective?) panacea proposed by the international community to reboot the DRC, as it were. This idea formed part of the recommendations made in the Addis Ababa Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework  agreement signed on 24 February 2013.

But previous attempts to bring the regime, the opposition, and the civil society together in a forum to deliberate on the future of the DRC have often yielded, at best, power-sharing governments or, at worst, an even more fractious society. In the early 1990s, the National Sovereign Conference was a national dialogue meant to help DRC transition from dictatorship to democratic rule. All it succeeded in achieving was pit the opposition against the regime, and politicise the civil society more in the process.

Many years of instability ensued, leading yet to another dialogue i.e. the Sun City Inter-Congolese Dialogue which, unlike the National Sovereign Conference, culminated in a power-sharing Global Agreement. This agreement ushered in a zero-sum dispensation whereby the nuisance capacity of each component, far more than concensus, maintained the whole superstructure in place.

This lasted until first general polls in 2006 which created an East-West split in the country, pitting the Swahili-speaking (East) part of the DRC which massively voted for Kabila, against the country’s Lingala-speaking part (West), which voted for Jean-Pierre Bemba.

And then came 2011….with an election that left the country and international observers uncertain, if not skeptical, of the outcomes.

Does all that mean that the DRC desperately needs a new political order, the foundation of which should be genuine dialogue in an unconstrained forum? If so, what should be the rules of the game, and above all, how can a level playing field be guaranteed?

In response to this question, the regime decreed the sanctity of the institutional order from 2011 polls. So, Kabila has recently signed a decree setting the rules of the game and defining what appears to be a very unlevel playing field. The opposition reacts by questioning the regime’s initiative to steer the process and wants everything to be debated….including the institutional order, and international oversight.

The process seems headed to a deadlock. It hasn’t stalled yet though.

Unlike past iterations of the dialogue, this time round the opposition apparently is not interested in a power sharing government. They want assurances that democracy is entrenched in the country. At least so it seems.

Whether the foundations of a new political order will be laid or stem from the dialogue remains to be seen. If the dialogue were held….that is.

Nothing venture…

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Life is worth the living when lived riskily. Remaining confined in your comfort zone  will never   yield you amazing benefits. Breaking out, trying new things and succeeding at such trials….or failing, for that matter, is what spices life.

CARRYING MULTIPLE PHONES: EXTRAVAGANCE VS. PRACTICALITY

Why is it that several people in DRC tend to carry two, three or even five different telephones? The reason is simple and complex at the same time.

From the simple perspective, carrying several phones has its full meaning and practicality in a environment where mobile telecommunications networks are not always that reliable. That means each phone serves as a backup to the others, should there be no reception or should you receive the the-subscriber-you-are-calling-is-currently-unavailable response. And God knows how despondent you can feel when that life-saving call isn’t just going through.

Yet, it often turns out that you either reach the person when changing networks i.e. using another phone or by calling them on their other mobile. That explains why, from a practical vantage point, having two or three phones tries and keeps you seamlessly connected.

From a complex perspective, however, there are other people who carry two-thousand US dollar’s worth of phones. While these phones definitely serve the purpose of communication practicality, it is quite hard to explain why they have to be the most expensive and the latest available. But a closer analysis of the situation seems to indicate that, much like an expensive watch or designer clothes are an expression of status, phones have also become tools of extravagance. They are a whole mode of expression, a deliberate external message aimed at signposting others to one’s wealth and social status.

I have several times met with Congolese political officials and other business people that carry the latest BlackBerry not because they wanted an instant access to their emails, but because it was one of the most ostentatious manners to express their social status.

There are also people who never like carrying several phones, but ended up having two after their employer gave them an official one.

Incidentally, I myself am no exception to the rule. I carry three phones….one official from my employer and two private ones.

With Chinese selling affordable, multiple-SIM, phones; it seems more and more people have switched to such devices.

So, the culture of multiple phones is either a matter of practicality or showiness. Or both.

Anyway, there is a saying in Lingala, a lingua franca spoken across the DRC that reads: “Mwasi, mwasi nde nzoto! Mobali, mobali nde appareil! Translated into English, the saying means “A woman is all about the curved plumpness of her shapes while a man is all about the phone he carries!

I am quite certain this culture is not specific to the DRC, but is quite widespread in Africa and maybe beyond Africa.

FRANCOPHONY: AN UNNECESSARY EVIL?

On 12-14 October 2012, Kinshasa, DRC capital, will host the 14th Summit of Francophony. It will arguably be the single biggest event of Kabila’s second term of office and the largest gathering held in DRC since long ago. More than 25 million dollars have already been spent by the government in the preparations of the event. Whether this will yield any benefit for the country remains to be seen. But the majority of the Congolese people, living under poverty line, see all the expenses and efforts being invested in this summit as an unnecessary evil.

So what is Francophony?

Better known as the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) or the International Organisation of Francophony, Francophony is an institution created on 20 March 1970 in Niamey, Niger, with a view to uniting countries having the French language in common.  Far beyond this linguistic commonality, Francophony is also a set of values upheld by these countries inter alia democracy, good governance, solidarity, human rights, cultural diversity and access to education.
The organisation comprises 75 member states representing over one-third of UN member states and accounting for a population of over 890 million people, including 220 million French speakers. It is headquartered in Paris with representations at the United Nations and the African Union.
It is currently led by former Senegal President Abdou Diouf.
DRC is, after France, the second largest French-speaking country, with an estimated 24 million speakers.
A dream come true for the DRC: Is Kinshasa ready?
DRC has always dreamt of hosting the Francophony summit. Last time it was scheduled to take place in Kinshasa was in 1991. That was the fourth summit. However, due to Mobutu’s violent crack-down on students’ protests at Lubumbashi University in May 1990, the summit was eventually moved to Paris.
Unlike in 1991, the fourteenth summit will be held in Kinshasa. An estimated 3,000 participants are expected to attend.
The Gombe ambassadorial neighbourhood and other areas of the city are therefore bustling with preparations. The former Congo International Trade Centre, after decades of dereliction, has been transformed into l’Hôtel du Fleuve, a flashy 5-star hotel. Hundreds of ad hoc street-sweepers have been hurriedly recruited by the government to maintain the roads around main venues tidy.  However, works to transform the road connecting the airport to central Kinshasa into a high-way are moving rather slowly, with the summit only three weeks away now.  
Francophony and DRC flags are visibly waving along Boulevard du 30 juin, Kinshasa Main Boulevard, and other avenues.
Kinshasa seems to be poised for the event.
Highly politicised fourteenth summit
Kinshasa hosting the summit is of critical political significance to Kabila, in particular, and the regime, in general. As mentioned above, it will arguably be the single biggest event of Kabila’s second term. It will help him partly regain international credibility after a disputed re-election in 2011 smeared with massive irregularities according to most observers’ missions. This is the reason why the attendance of French President François Hollande, confirmed only recently, was such a decisive factor to the regime.
Of equal political significance to DRC opposition was relocating the summit from Kinshasa to another country. Opposition heavyweights have fought tooth and nail to impress upon Francophony “not to condone Kabila’s irregular re-election by allowing Kinshasa to host the summit”. Hollande’s attendance or boycott was therefore a matter of life or death to the opposition.
However, French President has officially announced on 27 August 2012 he would attend, contingent upon concrete actions towards democracy and human rights to be taken by Kinshasa. The regime seems to have heeded Hollande’s demands, conducting a restructuring of the Electoral Commission and accepting that a movie on the assassination of prominent human rights defender, Floribert Chebeya, be aired. The movie was previously banned in the DRC and its producer denied entry into the DRC.
Overall, the population in Kinshasa and other major cities in the country think that the summit plays into the hands of Kabila, whose inauguration last year was boycotted by most heads of state; with only Zimbabwe’s Mugabe attending.
Many also think that fear of losing the second largest Francophony member to “Anglophony” is the only reason why France and Francophony are keen to have the summit held in Kinshasa, despite the regime not being fully compliant with the organisation’s values.
Francophony vs. Commonwealth
Events in DRC history since 1997, with former Francophone President Mobutu being toppled by a rebellion with thinly-veiled Anglophone ramifications seem to have set the stage for a competition between English and French.
This competition goes far deeper than language territorial occupancy. To some it translates the ambition by Commonwealth to take over what was previously regarded as Francophony or France reserve in Africa, known as the Françafrique. To others it appears that the Commonwealth, though promoting values quite similar to those of Francophony, offers greater economic benefits and should eventually co-exist with Francophony in the country.
Either way, the Anglicisation of the DRC is now an irreversible process. DRC has over the past two decades witnessed a significant interest in and use of English by its population. English is increasingly being promoted as a language of education on par with French.
Whether this will culminate in the country joining Commonwealth remains to be seen.

FIRST POST OF MY LIFE

Though the concept has been around for years now, it is only now that I have decided to effectively start sharing views through blogging.
This is hence my first post ever. But certainly a trail-blazer to many more I will be writing. My aim is to reflect on issues affecting me, my country and broadly life in general. I will mostly be blogging in English, which is unfortunately not the language of my education. But then, the audience I am targeting is mainly English-speaking.
Some posts will also be coming in French, but rather infrequently. 
I therefore thought it a good idea to introduce myself to my future audience. I don’t have any now. In a nutshell, I am from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Rumble-in-the-Jungle country, for those of you old enough to remember. Or the world rape capital, sadly, as it has recently come to be known.
DRC is a country that seems absent from the growing interactions on the web….if not from most worthwhile interactions. Hope I will try and bring a modicum of change to that.
So being and blogging from my country is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is this puts me in a unique position, without any fierce, domestic competition. Geographical comparative advantage one would call it. This comes with responsibilities in terms of accuracy and building trust. The disadvantage is, strangely, the very same fact I am from a country seldom seen interacting online. Hence, chances are my blog will be seen only by those really keen on digging out stuffs about the DRC. How many of those are there?
I am ludicrously open-minded, pleasant to talk to and insatiable in the search for knowledge.
Being from DRC, I will endeavour to inform my audience, descriptively and analytically, on major developement unfolding in and around my country. But also of the minor things that often go unnoticed by news cameras.
If you are not too bored and are not one of the social media rebels, please follow me on Facebook and on Twitter

Next post will follow soon…