GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — President Joseph Kabila arrived here on Tuesday afternoon, straight from Kigali where he attended the swearing-in of President Paul Kagame in neighboring Rwanda. Yesterday, he held a meeting with local officials and community leaders. After a speech by the North Kivu governor, who described a grave security situation but also praised the president for his commitment to bring peace, representatives of civil society were allowed to express their concerns.
The toughest criticism came from the Jason Luneno, the president North Kivu civil society. Luneno voiced many concerns on behalf of the group, including widespread insecurity throughout the province, protracted activities by foreign and local armed groups in Walikale, Masisi, and Beni, and the inability of both the Congolese army and U.N. peacekeepers to protect civilians – on full display in recent weeks here – widespread displacement throughout the province, and a host of inappropriate activities by the Congolese soldiers and officers. Among the abuses perpetrated by the army, Luneno cited efforts to muzzle freedom of speech, involvement in mining and the mineral trade, general indiscipline, and, perhaps most blatantly, pillaging and serious human rights crimes carried out against communities in the region.
In response, President Kabila announced a series of decisions ranging from reshuffling of the 8th military region, a particularly notorious segment of the Congolese army, to halting exploitation of all Walikale minerals.
“The FARDC is a republican army and its main mission is to defend the territory integrity and its people,” the president said at the meeting. “However, no officer should disobey deployment orders under the pretext that he’s staying in his village to protect his family members, cattle, or farming land. No one can be part of the FARDC and get involved in any kind of business whatever, or they should disarm and demobilize,” he said.
Kabila noted that mines in Walikale in particular are a source of poverty and insecurity. “Allowing continuation of their exploitation is treachery against the Walikale people. Those mines are neither benefiting Walikale natives nor the North Kivu province,” he said.
In light of this view of the trade in Walikale, Kabila announced that the provincial mining department would carry out an assessment of the mining industry there. It’s widely known – and the Pole Institute has documented in detail – that the export of minerals in Walikale is fraught with excessive fraud and insecurity, especially since the corner of this mining area attracts armed men of various affiliations. In addition, Congolese soldiers and militiamen are engaged in illegal logging in the region.
While the insecurity and fraud associated with mining in Walikale is common knowledge, Kabila’s call for an end to exploitation of the minerals trade there presents a tall order. Walikale/Bisie mines alone represent almost 80 percent of the cassiterite exported from the province of North Kivu, accounting for more than two-thirds of income in North Kivu province, or, in other words, the livelihoods of almost 13,000 people (miners, artisans, sellers of beer, owners of restaurants, prostitutes, etc.). Does Kabila’s decision take those livelihoods into account?
Kabila also announced that he will “reshuffle” the 8th military region, meaning that certain commanders would be deployed to other parts of the country.
A bit of background on the 8th military region illustrates why the current structure is problematic – and why Kabila’s proposal will be challenging to implement. The 8th military region is a structure that runs military activities in the province. But Congolese army commanders Dieudonne Amuli and Bosco Ntaganda did not report to that military chain of command. Neither do their troops. Ex-CNDP also refuse to be deployed else where if it’s not in the Kivus under the pretext that they must be close to their families to protect them.
Kabila’s visit to North Kivu, and his particular interest in meeting with representatives of civil society, was a powerful public relations move that sought to convey to communities that, even from Kinshasa, his government is concerned about insecurity and hardships faced by people in the eastern region. But people here are used to having officials – both Congolese and international – swoop in and make big plans. The follow-through, if it happens, will be the real news-worthy part of the story.
Photo: President Kabila meetings with civil society groups in North Kivu (Radio Okapi)