African UN troops raise stakes for Rwanda in Congo crisis
KIGALI (Reuters) - The deployment of a U.N. force of African troops in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo threatens to draw Rwanda into a damaging conflict with African powers and derail its economic "miracle" if donors again cut aid over Kigali's involvement there.
Rwanda's fortunes took a tumble last year, when donors' patience snapped and they cut back on aid that accounts for about 40 percent of the budget after U.N. experts detailed Rwandan support for the M23 - charges Kigali vigorously denies.
Now Kigali faces a new test after a flare-up last month drew in a new U.N. intervention brigade of South African, Tanzanian and Malawian peacekeepers with a robust mandate to "neutralise and disarm" armed groups.
This, combined with renewed diplomatic pressure for a negotiated peace coming from U.N., U.S. and European envoys and regional leaders meeting in Uganda this week, may give Kagame pause as he ponders his next move over his western neighbour.
"The arrival of Tanzania and South Africa on the scene ... with boots on the ground is a new aspect," Jason Stearns, a project director at regional think-tank the Rift Valley Institute, told Reuters.
"The political role that contributors to that intervention brigade play is at least as important as the military role," said Stearns. "Often peer pressure matters more than donor dollars," he added.
Rwanda threatened to send troops back over the border to protect its security after it accused Congo's army of firing shells into its territory in the confused skirmishes north of the Congolese frontier town of Goma at the end of August.
"If a diplomatic resolution means Rwanda standing by, arms crossed, waiting for its territory to be bombed and its people killed, then diplomacy is definitely off the table," Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told Reuters on August 30.
But U.N. peacekeepers said the shells that fell in Rwanda were fired from M23 positions and Congo alleged the rebels' firing was to give Rwanda a pretext to invade.
A misstep in Rwanda's diplomatic and military balancing act risks derailing its economic "miracle" if increasingly anxious donors turn off the taps again. It could also push Kigali into a damaging tussle for influence with powerful African rivals like South Africa and Tanzania whose troops are on the frontline.
"Rwanda is analysing how far they can go without losing everything," said one diplomat in the Great Lakes region. "They have a lot of allies but it's getting harder for them, especially now the Americans are putting the pressure on."
The United States, a big aid contributor, weighed in on August 25 telling "Rwanda to cease any and all support to the M23."
COUNTING THE COST
Rwanda insists its national security is at stake. Eastern Congo, it argues, still harbours the Hutu extremists behind the 1994 genocide that killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Kigali has long accused Congo's armed forces of tolerating, and even cooperating with, these Hutu FDLR insurgents.
It is a view that wins broad support in Rwanda, a land-locked nation a fraction the size of Congo that has ambitions to be a tech-savvy logistics hub mirroring Singapore in Asia.
Hungry for that vision, many Rwandans fear the cost of more military adventurism in Congo that has already involved two wars, the last ending with a peace deal in 2002. When donors cut back aid last year over the alleged support for M23, belt tightening cut percentage points off Rwanda's growth.
For now, donors have not threatened a repeat that could hurt what they see as a model for Africa. But there are rumblings.
"There is a strong perception (Rwanda is supporting M23), there seems to be some evidence for that," said U.N. special envoy to the Greak Lakes Mary Robinson before the regional summit this week in Uganda. "This is having an impact on how donor countries perceive the situation."
Often speaking in hushed tones because of Kagame's authoritarian style of rule, Rwandans worry a new intervention by their army in the western neighbour could threaten the achievements of their still genocide-scarred nation that now boasts smart roads, better schools and flourishing businesses.
"We are worried about what will happen if Rwanda decides to attack Congo," said 28-year-old Kigali shopkeeper Jean Claude, giving only his first name. "More aid money could be suspended and Rwanda's reputation will get worse."
Parliamentary elections later this month may give the government food for thought. While there is no significant opposition to challenge Kagame's ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, the vote will test the public mood and the government's mandate.
"The strategy should be to push the Rwandan government towards the more moderate members of its elite, those that privilege economic liberalism and opening to the world over security," said the Rift Valley Institute's Stearns.
But some see signs of greater caution this time in Kigali over the most recent fighting in eastern Congo.
For all the talk and witness accounts of a Rwandan military build-up on the Congo border, clashes between M23 and Congolese forces backed by the U.N. African peacekeepers of the new brigade subsided at the start of this month. M23 forces gave up strategic ground north of Goma.
Although Rwanda strenously denies any links to the group, analysts and diplomats say the influence of the M23 as a proxy force, at least for now, seems to have been eroded.
They add it could struggle to regroup and rearm without a level of Rwandan support that would have to be far more overt and carry the risk of international condemnation.
Rwanda must calculate the cost of pitching itself into a new military foray in Congo when South Africa and Tanzania have put their interests and troops in the conflict zone.
South African President Jacob Zuma this week expressed strong support for the new U.N. brigade, including more than 1,000 of his country's troops, which last month went into action for the first time against the M23 rebels.
"The job of the U.N. is to defend the people," Zuma told Reuters at a media briefing in Pretoria. He added this did not mean abandoning efforts for a negotiated end to east Congo's conflict. More than five million people have died there through violence, hunger and disease since 1998.
Residents on both sides of the porous and violence-racked border look for peace.
"We are familiar with unrest here and we will just wait and see what happens," said Rwandan teacher David Nshimimana, 42, close to Congo's border. "But of course we are afraid."
Global Witness (London)
Congo-Kinshasa: Congo's Flawed Oil Law Should Be Put On Hold to Allow Time for Debate6 September 2013
The oil bill, as currently framed, would bring in an opaque system for allocating oil rights and fail to require the publication of oil contracts or the ultimate owners of oil licences. This would increase risks of corruption in the sector. The bill also leaves open the possibility of drilling in Congo's national parks and World Heritage Sites. 
Global Witness is urging the authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo to open up the oil bill to public consultation, as it has done with the revision of the country's mining law.
The Congolese government is discussing the mining law with civil society and the private sector, while there has been no such public consultation on the oil bill. This is despite the contribution of oil revenues to the national budget, which is expected to increase dramatically in the near future after a recent deal with Angola to exploit offshore fields.
"Oil revenues contribute over $325 million to the Congolese state a year, and this is set to rise sharply,"  said Nathaniel Dyer, Global Witness Campaigner. "This new oil bill is an opportunity for Congo and its people to benefit from its fledgling oil industry but in its current state it's not fit for purpose. It's vital that safeguards are built in now to prevent corruption in the sector."
Global Witness is calling for:
an open tender process for the allocation of oil rights;
the publication of the names of the ultimate owners or beneficiaries of companies with oil rights;
the publication of oil contracts;
the deletion of a controversial article in the oil bill that would pave the way for drilling in Congo's national parks and World Heritage Sites.
British oil company Soco International has gained the rights to explore for oil in an area in northeast Congo, which includes part of the Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site.
The UK government issued a statement in September 2012 opposing oil exploration in Virunga and resolutions critical of exploration have been passed in the Belgian, German and European parliaments.  In August, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) launched a campaign to protect Virunga from oil exploration. 
"This bill threatens Africa's oldest national park, and one of the last mountain gorilla habitats in the world," continued Dyer. "The oil bill should not be pushed through parliament without any consultation. It is essential that the bill has robust environmental and anti-corruption safeguards."
In recent years Global Witness and other organisations have raised serious concerns about the management of Congo's natural resources.
The Africa Progress Panel, chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, estimates that the Congolese state lost out on at least $1.36bn between 2010 and 2012 as mining assets were sold at undervalued prices to offshore companies. This is almost double Congo's annual spending on health and education combined.
Oil deals are already being done in opaque circumstances in Congo, in more than one occasion involving the same players as the secret deals in the mining sector. All parties concerned insist that there was no wrongdoing.
Nathaniel Dyer, +44 (0)20 7492 5855 and +44 (0)77 11 006 799, firstname.lastname@example.org
Colin Robertson, +44(0)20 7492 5862 and +44 (0)7803 605 362, email@example.com
The oil bill is set to be voted on by the lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly, in its next session beginning 15 September. Due to insufficient parliamentary time, it was not discussed in plenary by the National Assembly at its last session which ended on 15 June.
Once approved by the National Assembly, there would be a joint-commission of both houses of Parliament to agree a common version and then the bill would then require the approval of the President to enter into law.
The Congo oil law is known by its full title, "Proposition de Loi Portant Régime General des Hydrocarbures". For fuller recommendations and analysis of Congo's oil law see: "Global Witness's recommendations for the Democratic Republic of Congo's new hydrocarbons code", October 2012 (http://www.globalwitness.org/sites/default/files/library/DRC-GW%20hydrocarbons%20brief%20Oct%201012%20ENG.pdf) and "Oil law before Congo parliament fails to safeguard against corruption or environmental damage - Global Witness", May 2013 (https://www.globalwitness.org/library/oil-law-congo-parliament-fails-safeguard-against-corruption-or-environmental-damage-%E2%80%93-global).
According to the most recent EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) figures, oil companies in the DRC reported payments of more than $325m to the Congolese state in 2010 or 43% of all payments from the extractive industries that year.
This is set to increase sharply in the next few years following a deal struck between the DRC and Angola in late 2012 to exploit offshore oil fields in shared waters in the Atlantic. Crispin Atama, Congolese Minister for Hydrocarbons, has reportedly said he wants Congolese oil production to increase from 25,000 to 225,000 barrels per day by 2014.
The UK government reaffirmed this position in August 2013, with a foreign office spokesman saying: "The UK continues to oppose oil exploration in the Virunga National Park, a World Heritage site", http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/10268273/SOCO-in-dispute-with-Foreign-Office-over-Britains-stance-on-controversial-DRC-drilling.html.
The Belgian Parliament's resolution was passed on 29 November 2012 and available here: http://www.lachambre.be/FLWB/pdf/53/2350/53K2350011.pdf. The European Parliament's resolution was passed on 13 November 2012 and available here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2012-0511+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN.
The German Parliament's resolution was passed on 4 June 2013 and is available here: http://savevirunga.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/german-parliament-motion-eng.pdf. See "Virunga: The real price of energy" in Energy Post on 2 August 2013 for more information: http://www.energypost.eu/index.php/virunga-the-real-price-of-energy/. All links functioning at the time of publication.
For more on WWF's Virunga Campaign see: http://www.wwf.org.uk/how_you_can_help/virunga/
Congo-Kinshasa: Rebel Leader Makes Death Threats Towards Journalist Online5 September 2013
Photo: Ph. Jonathan Lorrilarl
On 1 September 2013, Vianney Kazarama published a menacing message on Facebook, without stating the name of the targeted journalist. Here's an excerpt of the original message in Swahili: "Kuko mupasha habari moya wa Goma amesahu kazi yake anaanza pana habari za bongo. Asiwe na shaka mumasaha kidogo tutafanya kakitendo kadogo kenye katamufurahisha sana. Wandugu wa penzi katamihumisha rohoo, lakini sisi kama jeshi tunajuwa nini tunafanya... "
The message translates into the following: "There's a journalist in Goma who has forgotten how to do his job by spreading false information. But he shouldn't worry, because very soon, we will do a little something that will make him very happy. Dear beloved brothers, this will shock you, but as an army, we know what we're doing... "
According to research carried out by JED, this message was posted after Thomas Kubuya - a journalist for the private, Goma-based Virunga Business Radio (VBR) - posted information on Facebook about safety issues in eastern DRC.
Contacted by JED, Thomas Kubuya said "It was shortly after I published my post, titled 'Kibumba: Who does the truce benefit?' on Facebook, that Mr. Kazarama targeted me without explicitly naming me. Regardless of whether it is about me or another journalist, it's not up to Colonel Kazarama to shut us up; our profession requires us to publish information that is completely true and objective."
JED vehemently condemns and denounces the threats made against this media worker, who did nothing more than exercise his freedom of expression in publishing an intellectual analysis on a social network.
JED asks Mr. Vianney Kazarama of the M23 to take back his remarks, and asks all of the armed groups operating in eastern DRC to scrupulously respect freedom of the press and freedom of expression in all of the areas under their control.
JED will hold the M23 and its leaders responsible for any violent act that could put media professionals' lives in danger in eastern DRC.
DR Congo: UN Envoy Calls for End to HostilitiesTuesday, 3 September 2013, 9:44 am
Press Release: UN News
DR Congo: UN Envoy Calls for End to Hostilities, Focus On Political Process at Start of VisitNew York, Sep 2 2013 - The United Nations Special Envoy for Africa's Great Lake's region is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to start a regional tour with envoys from the African Union, European Union and the United States to bolster diplomatic efforts for peace.Mary Robinson's visit comes amid renewed intense fighting in the eastern DRC where over the past year, the M23, along with other armed groups, has clashed repeatedly with the DRC national forces (FARDC)."I urge all parties concerned to immediately stop military confrontations in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and work to rebuild trust in peace efforts," the Special Envoy saidat her arrival in the capital, Kinshasa, on Sunday."What the DRC and the region need is peace, stability and economic development. This can only be achieved by tackling the root causes of the conflict through a comprehensive political process," Mrs. Robinson stressed.The envoy is accompanied by Martin Kobler, the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC and head of the UN mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO).Prior to the start of the joint regional tour, she and Mr. Kobler are meeting with UN partners in the DRC, and travelling to Goma to "express solidarity with the civilian population and MONUSCO," according to Mrs. Robinson's office.
African mediators in Congo conflict call for talks in three daysElias Biryabarema 4 hours ago
KAMPALA (Reuters) - African leaders trying to end an 18-month-old uprising in Congo called on Thursday for stalled talks between the government and eastern rebels to restart within three days.
Democratic Republic of Congo's government and M23 rebels began Ugandan-hosted talks after the rebels briefly seized the city of Goma late last year. However, negotiations have stalled and heavy fighting has resumed in recent weeks.
Congo's army, backed by a new U.N. intervention brigade, with a tough mandate to crush armed groups, has beaten back rebels from positions in the hills overlooking Goma but it has not extended gains deep into M23 territory.
The next round of discussions should last for a maximum of 14 days "during which maximum restraint must be exercised on the ground to allow for talks to conclude," mediating heads of state from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) said in a joint statement.
The communique did not say what steps regional leaders would take if their appeal was not met.
Congo's government was not immediately available for comment but talks with the rebels are unpopular in Congo, where residents are tired of years of fighting. Kinshasa has in the past called for the rebels to disarm ahead of any talks.
The rebels have said an interim deal signed in Ethiopia last year entitled them to retake positions they occupied before being driven back by U.N.-backed government troops last week.
"If there is no solution from a dialogue then we have the right to take (Kibati) back," rebel chief Bertrand Bisimwa told Reuters, referring to a hilltop town overlooking Goma.
M23 took up arms last year accusing Kinshasa of reneging on the terms of a 2009 deal to end a previous uprising.
Tensions have been fuelled by accusations by U.N. experts that Rwanda is backing the rebels. Kigali denies supporting M23 but last week threatened to send its army into Congo after it accused its neighbour of shelling its territory.
Millions of people have died from violence, disease and hunger since the 1990s as foreign-backed ethnic rebel groups have fought for control of eastern Congo's rich deposits of gold, diamonds and tin, destabilising the Great Lakes region.
East Africa: Great Lakes Leaders Order DRC and M23 Rebels to Resume Talks5 September 2013
The leaders meeting under the auspices of the International Conference on Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) ordered that stalled talks which had been taking place in Kampala resumes in the next three days.
"The Kampala dialogue should resume within three days after this extraordinary summit and conclude within a maximum 14 days during which maximum restraint must be exercised on the ground to allow for talks to conclude", read part of a communiqué issued by the leaders.
The meeting was convened by Uganda to discuss the deteriorating security situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Uganda's Museveni is the current Chair of ICGLR.
Eastern DRC was last week the scene of fierce fighting between the M23 rebels and the DRC army supported by a UN brigade mandated to use force.
The fighting has led to displacement of thousands of refugees from eastern Congo into neighbouring Uganda.
The United Nations and the DRC government accuse Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels. Rwanda denies the charge.
The ICGLR meeting in Kampala was attended by Presidents Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Salva Kiir of South Sudan, Joseph Kabila of DR Congo and Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania.
Central Africa: Congo, Rwanda Leaders Meet in Bid to Broker Peace Talks With M23 Rebels5 September 2013
Congolese President Joseph Kabila held talks with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame on Thursday as leaders of Africa's Great Lakes region gathered in Uganda.
According to James Mugume, permanent secretary at the host nation's foreign ministry, Uganda's president called the regional summit in an attempt "to stop the fighting and get back [to] the negotiating table."
Congolese troops, backed by a special United Nations force, have since reclaimed the eastern city. A fresh offensive launched late last month saw them force the rebels from surrounding positions.
M23 declared a unilateral ceasefire last week, saying they were willing to "give peace a chance." However, government spokesperson Lambert Mende told news agency Reuters they must disarm and become a political party in order to expect cooperation with the Congolese government.
In attendance at Thursday's meeting, held at a luxury lakeside resort outside Kampala, was United Nations special envoy Mary Robinson. During a tour of areas struck by the fighting the former president of Ireland warned called on M23 fighters to bring an end to violence.
They "must cease violence [and] must disarm as the UN Security Council demanded," Robinson said on Monday.
Talks between the M23 and the DRC broke down in May. Assurances that they would resume are yet to materialize.