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February 14 2014

“Another Face of Africa”: Call for Photos, Stories

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A group of young volunteers from southern Germany, many of whom have lived in Africa, are calling for photos, essays, videos, blog posts or poems by locals of five major African cities: Lagos, Addis Ababa, Gaborone, Kigali and Kinshasa.

With a forthcoming exhibition called “Sichtwechsel,” their goal is to show another face of Africa than what typically appears in German media — modern, urban, rapidly developing societies.

See their website at in English, French and German. The deadline for submissions is March 31, 2014.

February 07 2014

When Genocide is, apparently, a Laughing Matter

French humorist Nicolas Canteloup has come under fire for a sketch making light of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda [fr]. Following the outrage,  Mr Canteloup has yet to apologize for the sketch. Audrey Kucinskas, a blogger for the Plus asks the logical question: “can anything be a laughing matter?” [fr]: 

Rire du génocide rwandais, ça me dépasse. Vous vous souvenez qu'en 1994, plus d'un million de personnes ont été torturées, violées et assassinées ? Ça vous fait rire ? 

Joking about the Rwandan genocide is beyond me. Do you remember in 1994 when more than a million people were tortured, raped and murdered? It was a riot, wasn't it ?

The president of CRAN, Louis-George Tin believes the sketch is totally unacceptable [fr]:

Quand il s'agit des Noirs, à l'évidence, on peut tout se permettre. Mais il est temps que cela cesse. Ce soi-disant humour masque mal une forme extrême de mépris et d'abjection. Devant le crime contre l'humanité, esclavage, Shoah, Rwanda, on ne rit pas, on fait silence.

When it comes to black people, it seems that again, anything goes. But it is time to put an end to that. This so-called humor barely hides an extreme form of contempt and prejudice. When it comes to crime against humanity, slavery, the Holocaust and Rwanda, we do not laugh, we just ought to stay silent.

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October 07 2013

Follow AfricaHackTrip Online

A group of developers and designers from Europe who are curious about the emerging African tech hubs are on hack trip of the continent.

Check out their blog or Tumblr and follow discussion about the trip on Twitter.

August 07 2013

Qui veut vraiment la paix au Congo ?

En visite à Kinshasa pour le sommet de l'Organisation internationale de la francophonie (OIF), le 13 octobre dernier, le président français François Hollande a ostensiblement marqué ses distances avec son homologue congolais Joseph Kabila, à qui les diplomates reprochent son incapacité à rétablir la (...) / République démocratique du Congo, France, Rwanda, Armée, Guérilla, Violence, Justice internationale, Afrique des Grands Lacs, Zaïre 1971-1997 - 2012/11

June 16 2013

Paying Tribute to Captain Mbaye Diagne, The Senegalese Hero of Rwanda

At the time of writing, June 2013, official commemoration of victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide is continuing around the world. But few people still remember Captain Mbaye Diagne. However, this young officer from the Senegalese army showed bravery at a time when the rest of the world was demonstrating cowardice. Enrico Muratore has been fighting for years to ensure that the name of this hero is not forgotten.

Capitaine Mbaye

Photo of Captain Mbaye Diange from the Facebook page of the association bearing his name, used with their permission.

Global Voices posed several questions to Enrico Muratore on the objective of his action via the Association of Captain Mbaye Diagne – Nekkinu Jàmm:

Enrico, could you introduce yourself in a few words?

Hello, I am an ex-United Nations Human Rights Officer who served during, among others, the peace-keeping missions and also worked in Rwanda, a country which I have been really interested in since the 1994 genocide. I am Italian, but I have lived in Africa for 15 years, and in Senegal for 4 years.

On May 31, you organised a ceremony to commemorate a Senegalese soldier who died during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Could you explain to us the reasons for this ceremony?

We were celebrating the memory of Captain Mbaye Diagne, who was a military observer for UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda). When the genocide started on April 7, 1994, individual unarmed rescue missions immediately started saving all those who could be saved. They started with the children of the Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingyimana – who had just been killed, after the massacre of his escort of ten Belgian paras. When the United Nations decided to withdraw nine tenths of their military presence who were already on site (and who could have opposed the genocide), 270 soldiers remained, among them the Captain, who undertook his perilous missions to save the others, until he was killed on May 31, 1994, after having saved, they say, nearly 600 people. So we celebrate the memory of this just and altruistic man who gave his life to save that of others at this time.

What are the initial objectives of the Association? Who are the members? Is it open to other members?

The Association aims to promote the memory of Captain Mbaye Diagne and to support his family’s development, because it is not fair to abandon the families of those who gave themselves for others. Of course, their sacrifice doesn’t mean to say that they didn't love their own families! Therefore, we must do something for them. The President of the Association is Mrs Yacine Diagne, the Captain’s widow; the Vice-President is Colonel Faye who was friend of the Captain and was in the UNAMIR in Rwanda with him; I personally am the General Secretary (GS) and the Captain’s children, Coumba and Cheick are the GS assistants; next, as Treasurer, we have Ras Makha Diop, philosopher, gardener and Senegalese artist, instead of the late lamented good and just Doctor Adotevi. Next, we have founding members such as Pierantonio Costa, ex-Honorary Consul of Rwanda who saved 2000 people from death during the genocide, Mark Doyle who is a principal correspondent for the BBC and previously friend of the Captain, senior civil servant Bacre Ndiaye of the United Nations High Commissioner’s Office of Human Rights, and author of a prescient report on Rwanda when he was the special reporter covering extra-judiciary executions in 1993. We also have other Senegelese and foreigners, including some who participated in one or both United Nations missions in Rwanda, people that had known him or simply appreciated his sacrifice to save the innocents. We are still accepting new members, as long as we are assured that they sincerely admire the Captain, and intend to support our Association’s goals.

He really was a hero! What did people know about him before?

There is a lot of material available on the internet, but it is true to say that the general public around the world does not know of the Captain. Yet his sacrifice has been officially recognised by the Rwandan government, by the then American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and by the Giardino dei Giusti del Mondo [it], an association to honor those who oppose genocide in Italy, among others.

What has been achieved so far?

Creating the Association in itself an achievement because that was not simple. We have a Facebook page named Association of Captain Mbaye Diagne – Nekkinu Jàmm and we are currently setting up a multilingual website; we are organising activities with the press. For example, for example, in this interview [fr] from May 31, his wife described how she was informed of his death and recalls her memories.. The Fatto Quotidiano [it] in Italy, and the past with Radio West Africa for Democracy or the Senegalese media; activities such as the Junior Football Tournament organised with the Senegalese Football Federation; May 31, the prayer vigil in the Captain's family home.

Was he married and did he have children? What became of them?

The family have quite simply been forgotten all this time, now we hope that the association with us has helped them to make themselves be better understood and to find their place while promoting the memory of their husband and father, because this could be very useful in educating youth and people in general, about these troubled and violent times.

Captain Mbaye fell on duty, didn’t he? What have the national authorities and the UN done?

We must ask his wife and Association President Mrs Yacine Diagne, but as far as I know, the United Nations have done nothing apart from pay the life insurance that the Captain had signed up for while at their service, and which paid his family a premium 19 years ago, but nothing more since. The family home is collapsing, they had to look for support from a sister of Yacine; the children have lost years of schooling, the eldest, Coumba, had many health problems, the Captain’s mother is old and sick. Only close family, and several friends, notably from the Army, have done anything; now the Association will do what it can.

As for the dead, only God can look after them. With respect to help for the family, we contacted the Association for the Office of the United Nations for West Africa, a little while ago, but they have not yet responded. We hope they will do so.

June 15 2013

Ambassadeurs sous les projecteurs

L'outil diplomatique est d'abord question de personnes. Directrice de recherche au Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Marie-Christine Kessler étudie avec minutie les ressource humaines du Quai d'Orsay et l'organisation de ses services de la IIIe République jusqu'à nos jours . (...) / Afrique, Burkina Faso, France, Rwanda, Histoire, Relations internationales, Djibouti, Diplomatie - 2013/06

January 18 2013

Gabon to Mali: History of French Military Interventions in Africa

[All links forward to french articles unless otherwise stated] 

The French military intervention in Mali, known as Operation Serval [en] started on January 11, 2013 following the advance of terrorists groups towards Bamako. Lauded by a substantial part of the Malian population [en] and many outside observers, the military intervention diverts, however, from the non-interventionist line professed by French President Hollande in Africa.

View L'intervention militaire étrangère au Mali in a larger map
Google interactive map of the Malian conflict by Jeune Afrique

Francis d'Alençon wonders why French interventions in Africa do not raise protests around the world:

Bizarre, bizarre… L’intervention française au Mali ne dérange personne alors que des actions américaines similaires soulèveraient des tempêtes de protestation… De l’avantage de ne pas être une super puissance.

This is odd… The french intervention in Mali does not bother anyone whereas similar actions by the USA would have raised a storm of protests.. There are perks to not being the world's top super power.

To illustrate his point, he quotes from the Cech newspaper Lidové noviny :

Les Français sont intervenus plus de 50 fois en Afrique depuis 1960. Ils ont combattu au Tchad, dans la guerre non déclarée avec la Libye, protégé les régimes de Djibouti et de République Centrafricaine des rebelles, empêché un coup d’état aux Comores, sont intervenus en Côte d’Ivoire. Que ce soit pour préserver des intérêts économiques, protéger les ressortissants français ou démontrer le statut de grande puissance du pays, les locataires de l’Élysée, de gauche comme de droite, ont fréquemment manifesté leur penchant pour les actions unilatérales. … Pourtant personne n’a jamais protesté. … Si les États-Unis intervenaient avec une telle véhémence, il y aurait des protestations interminables en Europe. Et les ambassades américaines verraient défiler des diplomates fâchés, à commencer par les Français.

The French have now intervened more than 50 times in Africa since 1960. They fought in Chad, in the war with Libya, protected regimes in  Djibouti and the Central African Republic from rebels, prevented a coup in the Comoros and intervened in Côte d'Ivoire. Whether to preserve economic interests, protect French nationals or showcase the still imposing power of France, the main tenants of the Palais de l'Élysée, either from the left or from the right wings, have frequently expressed their penchant for unilateral action. But … nobody has ever protested. If … the United States intervened in such a manner, there would be an endless sequence of protests in Europe. U.S. embassies would see angry diplomats coming through their doors, starting with the French ones.

Carte de la rébellion touareg au Azawad, au nord de Mali indiquant les attaques des rebelles au 5 avril 2012

Map of the Tuareg rebellion in Azawad, Northern Mali showing rebel attacks as of April 5, 2012 (CC-BY-3.0)

Below is a chronology of these interventions [There are indeed quite a few of them but contrary to what the Cech newspaper stated, there were less than 50 french interventions in Africa ]. It is based on two articles:  one is a review written by  Nestor N’Gampoula  for Oeil d'Afrique and  another one by Jean-Patrick Grumberg for Dreuz Info. Grumberg adds that most of the French interventions in Africa took place on former colonial soil :

In 1964, airborne french troops landed in Libreville, Gabon after an attempted coup against the regime back then.

From 1968 to 1972, French troops took part in the fight against the rebellion in the Tibesti region in northern Chad.

In 1978 in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), 600 French legionnaires went into the town of Kolwezi, in the south-east to help thousands of Africans and Europeans threatened by Katangan rebels. The mission was in response to a call for help made by President Mobutu Sese Seko to help his country. The operation cost the lives of five legionnaires, but allowed the evacuation of 2700 Westerners.

In 1979 in CAR, Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa is removed by French paratroopers during the Operation Barracuda.

From 1983-1984 in Chad, France undertook Operation Manta, a 3,000 men strong operation to face armed rebels supported by Libya. Two years later, another French military action, composed of mostly aerial attacks called “Operation Epervier“, was deployed after an anti-government attack.

In Comoros in 1989, after the assassination of President Ahmed Abdallah and the takeover of the country by the French mercenary Bob Denard, about 200 French soldiers arrived in the country to force them to leave the country.

In 1990, Paris sends troops to Gabon in Libreville and Port-Gentil in reinforcement of the French contingent after violent riots erupted. The operation allowed the evacuation of some 1,800 foreigners.

In 1991 in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), the Belgian and French troops managed to evacuate foreigners after violent riots and looting occurred in the country.

In 1991 still, French troops based in Djibouti help the Afar rebellion to disarm Ethiopian troops that had crossed the border following the overthrow of Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam.

In 1994, French and Belgian soldiers evacuate Europeans while Rwanda Hutus massacred hundreds thousands of Tutsis. Later in the year, some 2,500 French soldiers, supported by african troops, launched “Operation Turquoise“, described as a humanitarian effort, in Zaire and in eastern Rwanda.

In 1995, a thousand men involved in Operation Azalea ended another attempted coup against Comorian President  Said Mohamed Djohar by Bob Denard.

In 1996 in the Central African Republic (CAR), operation Almandin secured the safety of foreigners and the evacuation of 1,600 people after the army mutinied against President Ange-Félix Patassé. The following year in 1997, specifically after the murder of two French soldiers, a French operation against the mutineers was mandated in Bangui (Central African Republic).

The same year, 1997, some 1,200 French soldiers rescued French and African expatriates during fighting between the Congolese army and supporters of the military leader Denis Sassou Nguesso, now President of the Republic of Congo.

In 2002, French forces undertook Operation Licorne to help Westerners trapped by a military uprising that effectively divided Côte-d’Ivoire in two regions.

In 2003, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), Operation Artemis in Ituri  secured the area and put an end to ongoing massacres. This was followed by the deployment of 2,000 peacekeepers,  80% of which were French.

In 2004 in Côte-d’Ivoire, France destroyed the small Ivorian airforce after government forces bombed a French base.

In 2008 a new French intervention strengthens the regime of Chadian President Idriss Deby and evacuated foreigners while rebels from neighboring Sudan attacked.

In March 2011 in Libya had the French airforces were the first to bomb Gaddafi forces after the vote at the United Nations authorized intervention in Libya to protect civilians caught up in the rebellion against Gaddafi. NATO took command of the overall mission on March 31, a mission that helped the Libyan rebels to defeat the forces of the government and take power.

In 2011 in Côte-d’Ivoire,  French forces alongside UN forces tip the balance in favor of Ouattara during the civil war. The war broke out after the refusal of Laurent Gbagbo to resign and accept the verdict of the election that pronounced Alassane Ouattara as president.

France had decided to break with his role as “policeman of Africa” by refusing to intervene again in the Central African Republic  where François Bozizé (former army chief who came to power by overthrowing the elected president Ange-Félix Patassé on March 15, 2003) faced a rebellion uprising. Little did he know that the events in Mali would force his hands :

In 2013 in Mali,  French bombarded Islamist rebels after they tried to expand their powerbase  towards the Malian capital, Bamako. France had already warned that control of the north of Mali by the rebels posed a threat to the security of Europe.

At the same time, France has mounted a commando operation to try to save a French hostage held by al Shabaab militants in Somalia, also allied with al-Qaeda. The hostage was  killed by the militants.

December 18 2012

The Elusive Quest for Peace with the M23 in the DRC

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma (November 29, 2012) VOA via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

The current conflict in the Kivu Region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) threatens to linger on despite an international effort to broker a truce between the M23 rebellion and the Congolese government. The 2012 version of this conflict is difficult to grasp, particularly because the M23 is a shifting armed movement, both geographically and politically. Its leadership is interchangeable among commanders, and the movement is supported by foreign influences with an eye on the geological riches of the region.

The evolution of the M23 Rebellion

Who exactly are the M23 rebels? This is the question the Rift Valley Institute’s Usamala Project tries to unpack in its recent report “From CNDP to M23: The evolution of an armed movement in Eastern Congo” (PDF). While the armed branch of the rebellion is easy to define, its political leadership is more elusive. The report explains further:

The M23 political leadership was made up mostly of former CNDP [National Congress for the Defence of the People] loyalists, with Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, the CNDP’s representative in Kinshasa, as political coordinator. However, there were also some new names, allegedly appointed after pressure by Rwanda (…) Between May and August 2012 the M23 also began to beef up its political wing. It named several new local chiefs, set up a tax collection network, and established a formal liaison office for humanitarians working in the area––structures reminiscent to those of the CNDP era. They also established two websites ( and, a Facebook fan page and several Twitter accounts run by them or people close to them. On 20 October, in a move to further boost their legitimacy, they renamed their armed wing the Armée Révolutionaire du Congo (ARC, Congolese Revolutionary Army).

Indeed, while rudimentary at first, the public relations strategy of the M23 rebels has grown increasingly sophisticated in order to garner the public support. On Jeune Afrique, Trésor Kibungula illustrates the evolution of M23 on Facebook [fr], from a timid start back in July, to a media platform sufficiently controversial that Facebook eventually had to shut it down.

An interview with the M23’s Bertrand Bisimwa on the Congo Siaisa blog helps to explain the genesis of the movement and its alleged overarching goals:

The M23 is made up of armed groups that signed the March 23 agreement. We started by asking for the implementation of that deal. The government fought us, saying we didn’t have the right to demand that [..] Today, in addition to the March 23 agreement we want good governance in the country and a legitimate government. You have to realize that not all ex-CNDP joined the M23. In fact, most didn’t. It was these others, those who didn’t join, who helped rig the elections in [Jospeh] Kabila’s favor in Masisi.

General Sultani Makenga, the military leader of the M23 also gave an interview recently where he speaks about the fluid leadership of the M23 movement [fr], giving updates on the status of former CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda and arrested general Bosco Ntaganda within the movement.

Aside from its shifting leadership, Melanie Gouby in Newsweek Magazine explains that the movement does not seem to have a defined political ideology and seems mostly driven to protect the economic and political interests of neighboring nations.

Involving all players in the quest for peace

The two nations with most economic and political stakes in the conflict are Rwanda and Uganda. According to the United Nations, Rwanda has been tied to the conflict in Kivu for a long time, despite denials from President Paul Kagame’s administration. Yet, there is little uncertainty about the Rwandan support as the Usamala project report explains:

Rwandan support for M23 has now been well documented, in particular by the UN Group of Experts. Their conclusions have been confirmed by Human Rights Watch, by MONUSCO, and by at least three embassies in Kigali through internal investigations [..]

With regards to Rwanda’s role in the crisis, the U.S. policy to minimize sanctions against Kagame’s administration is perplexing to many observers.

The Ugandan government is also suspected of providing logistics support to the latest M23 offensive. In the following video, Ugandan lawmakers ask the president to explain the relation to the Congo M23 rebels:

With so many players involved in the crisis, what’s in store for the region is still very unclear. Is the Goma withdrawal definitive for the M23? Some M23 fighters seem to firmly believe they will soon be back in the city. Observers do not seem to expect much from peace talks.

Gérard Prunier, a French academic and author, argues that Congo and Rwanda are “just playing a waiting game until the situation on the ground gets sorted out.” He believes there could be an escalation of the crisis:

If tomorrow you could have the secession of Katanga (ed’s note: a Congo region rich in minerals) back on the books, I wouldn’t be surprised

Meanwhile, the local population bears the main burden of this never ending war. The World Food Programme reports that at least 80,000 people are displaced in the region:

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

Increasing Risks of Humanitarian Disaster in Masisi Territory of DR of Congo

Much suggests Masisi territory being the neuralgic point, both in terms of politico-military contest and its humanitarian consequences.Any extension of the M23 conflict farther into Masisi territory contains immense potential of escalation.

Christophe Ethuin reports that there is much reason for concerns in Masisi Territory as the conflict with M23 lingers on. Doctors without Borders, Oxfam and JRS have warned against additional potential humanitarian disasters in the upcoming weeks.

December 14 2012

A Timeline of 50 Years of Conflict in the D.R. of Congo

The current conflict between the M23 rebels and the Congolese army cannot be completely understood without recollecting the history of the genesis of conflicts in this region of great lakes. Here is a detailed chronology of the last 50 years of confrontations in this region.

On Congo Forum, Jacques Mbokani wrote [fr]:

Depuis son accession à l’indépendance la R.D.C. a toujours été en proie à des conflits de tous ordres. … L’exposé consiste essentiellement à identifier les causes des conflits en RDC. … Les causes des conflits en R.D.C. peuvent être regroupées en deux catégories majeures. … les causes externes … et d’autre part, les causes internes.

Since the DRC became independent , it has been prey to all kinds of conflicts. … … The presentation is mainly focused on identifying the causes of the conflicts in the DRC. …The causes of the conflicts in the DRC can be grouped into two main categories. …external causes … and, on the other hand, internal causes.

The Congo was declared independent on June 30, 1963, and renamed Congo-Leopoldville. Power was shared between the head of state Joseph Kasa-Vubu and the Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. On November 25, 1965, supported by governments of Belgium and the United States, General Joseph Desire Mobutu deposed President Kasa-Vubu, removing him from power and naming himself president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He would remain in power for 30 years. The country was renamed Zaire between 1971 and 1997.

This video covers the history of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba [fr]:

Another video tells of the coming to power of Mobutu, King of Zaïre, Conquest of Power [fr]:

Important economic issues at stake

Jacques Mbokani continued [fr]:

Dans le film intitulé : « Blood Diamond » (le diamant du sang) un vieil homme soupirait en ces termes : « j’espère qu’ils ne vont pas trouver du pétrole… alors nous serons réellement en danger… ». Les propos de ce vieil homme, révèlent en réalité la question des ressources naturelles comme sources des conflits.

In the film entitled “Blood Diamond”, an old man sighs in these terms: “I hope that they’re not going to find oil… then we really will be in danger…”. The words of the old man reveal the real question about natural resources as sources of conflict.

On the website Maps of the DRC [fr], we learn that :

Qualifié de scandale géologique, le sous-sol de la RD du Congo regorge de plusieurs minerais et d'énormes réserves énergétiques. Les ressources minières les plus connues sont celles des groupes de l'Etain, du Nobium et du Cuivre, auxquels on peut ajouter le manganèse, l'or et le diamant. Concernant les richesses énergétiques, on peut citer le pétrole off-shore de l'Atlantique et d'importants gisements du nord-est, lesquels aiguisent déjà, beaucoup d'appétits de tous les milieux mafieux aussi bien congolais qu'internationaux, au mépris des populations locales. De même, l'uranium dans le sud-est pays, ainsi que le gaz méthane du lac Kivu, font partie des ressources énergétiques dont le pays ne semble pas maitriser la gestion présente ou future. Ce manque d'autorité et de contrôle de ses propres richesses, se traduit par un trafic sans précédent à l'EST du pays, opéré par des bandes armées avec, malheureusement souvent, la complicité des congolais eux-mêmes au détriment de leur propre pays.

Often called a “geological scandal”, the subsoil of DRC is bursting with various minerals and enormous reserves of energy. The most well-know mining resources are those of clusters of tin, nobium and copper, to which we can also add manganese, gold and diamonds. As for energy wealth, we can point to the oil off-shore in the Atlantic, and to major deposits in the north east, which have already stimulated many appetites within the Mafia-like underworld, as much Congolese as international, to the disgust of local people. Also, uranium from the south east of the country, as well as methane gas from Lake Kivu, make up part of the energy resources that the country cannot seem to manage properly right now or in the future. This lack of authority and control of its own wealth, betrayed by unprecedented trafficking operations in the east of the country, controlled by armed gangs with, unhappily often, the complicity of the Congolese themselves to the detriment of their own country.

The causes of the internal conflicts within the DRC date from the dictatorship of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, who remained in power until 1997:

La raison du plus fort était la meilleure, … médiocrité de la classe politique, … l’effondrement et le manque d’indépendance de l’appareil judiciaire …inexistence des services publics tant administratifs que sociaux. … Le recrutement des militaires que ce soit par le processus normal ou dans le cadre du brassage ou mixage, ce recrutement se fait sans tenir compte de la citoyenneté, de l’âge, de la moralité ou du passé judiciaire

The strongest reason was the best, … mediocrity of the political class, … the collapse and the lack of independence of the judiciary …non-existence of public services, both administrative and social. … The recruitment of soldiers, be it by the standard process or within the framework of brewing or mixing, this recruitment is done without taking account of the citizens, of the times, of morality or of the judicial past

The following video shows the hold that Mobutu had over the DRC during this period: Mobutu, King of Zaïre 2, Master of the Game [fr]:

Website Konexinfo [fr] traced how several countries found themselves implicated in this conflict:

La situation actuelle en RDC, dans la région du Kivu, découle de plusieurs conflits qui ont eu lieu depuis une vingtaine d’années dans la région des grands lacs africains. Ces multiples conflits sont liés les uns aux autres. De nouveaux seigneurs de la guerre prennent la relève de ceux qui accèdent au pouvoir.

The current situation in the DRC, in the Kivu region follows from several conflicts which took place over twenty or so years in the African great lakes region. These many conflicts are all linked to one another. New warlords take over from those who have acceded to power.

Seven countries at war on Congolese soil

Meeting between Kabila, Bush, Kagame and Annan at NYC in 2002 by Eric Draper - public domain

Meeting between Kabila, Bush, Kagame and Annan at NYC in 2002 by Eric Draper - public domain

The Ugandan Yoweri Museveni recruited and organised an army of 6,000 men at the frontiers of Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda and overthrew the elected president of his country, Milton Obote in 1986.

In Rwanda between 1990 and 1993 the FPR with Paul Kagamé at its head fought against the regime of the sole party of the president, Juvénal Habyarimana.

In 1994, the genocide in Rwanda, which has a common border with the DRC, forced around 2 million people to migrate to Eastern DRC.

From Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo [fr] and to the current chaos, website la documentation francaise gave a detailed chronology [fr] of events in the DRC:

In 1996, in South Kivu, the Banyamulenge rebellion started, involving Congolese Tutsi of Rwandan origin (who had migrated to the region from 1959 to flee the violence in Rwanda), with the military support of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. With others opposing the president of Zaire, Marshall Mobutu, they regrouped as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire, ADFL, led by Laurent Desire Kabila.

After 30 years of power, President Mobutu left in exile before the rebels’ victory. Laurent Desire Kabila named himself president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the new name for Zaire. The rebels took control of capital Kinshasa on May 17, 1997.

Dismantling the camps of Rwandan refugees infiltrated by former Rwandan armed forces and extremist Hutu militia - the Interahamwe - responsible for the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda.

Kabila then broke his alliances with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

In 1998, a new Tutsi rebellion, among the Banyamulenge broke out in Kivu against Kabila’s government troops, supported by his ex-allies Rwanda and Uganda. A new political-military coalition was formed - the Congolese Assembly for Democracy (RCD) - led by Ernest Wamba dia Wamba.

Seven countries at war on Congolese soil, with Congolese rebels supported by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi….capturing Kisangani, capital of the Eastern province and the country’s third city. They would be stopped in their advance towards Kinshasa by the intervention of troops from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

This resulted in the partitioning of the country, with North and South Kivu falling under the control of the RDC and the West remaining under the control of Kabila and his allies Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Also in 1998, another rebellion, this one led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, in the province of Equator, the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), took control of the region. With the support of Uganda, they took the city of Kindu and the mining regions of Kasai and Katanga.

On May 17, 1999, Wamba’s RCD split into two movements: RCD-Goma, led by Emile Ilunga Kalambo and supported by Rwanda, and RCD-Kisangani, which remained under Wamba’s control, and was supported by Uganda. Uganda were also still supporting Bemba’s MLC.

Kabila’s government no longer controlled the western half of the country.

The Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement (Zambia), signed in July 1999, changed nothing with respect to the massacres. The Rwandan army occupied one part of the Eastern province, North and South Kivu as well as North Katanga. The Ugandan army controlled the north parts of Equator and Eastern provinces. Despite the agreements, fighting and massacres continued. Both countries disputed control of the city of Kisangani, global hub of the diamond market, leading to the death of two hundred citizens.

In 2001, following the assassination of President Laurent Desire Kabila, his son Joseph Kabila was named head of state, on January 17.


Countries directly or indirectly involved in Congolese Conflicts

Countries directly or indirectly involved in Congolese Conflicts by Jaro7788 - Public Domain


Since then, United Nations resolutions and peace agreements between aggressors and attempts at democracy have periodically punctuated the repeated massacres and rapes as a weapon of war. The cyclical conflicts have allowed foreign powers and companies to access the precious minerals [fr] so vital to mobile phones worldwide.

Jacques Mbokani concluded [fr]:

En résumé, la cause centrale réside dans la faillite de l’Etat congolais qu’il faut reconstruire. C’est parce que l’Etat n’existe plus que les Etats voisins pillent, violent et font ce qu’ils font. C’est parce que l’Etat n’existe plus qu’il y a la prolifération des seigneurs de guerre et la prolifération des armes légères.

In summary, the central cause resides in the failure of the Congolese state which must be rebuilt. It is because the state no longer exists that neighbouring states steal, rape and do whatever they want. It’s because the state no longer exists that there has been a proliferation of warlords and of heavy weapons.

December 06 2012

Mapping the Conflicts in DRC in 2012

crisis group map of fights in DRC between April-Nov 2012

The Crisis Group has created an interactive map of the conflicts in the Kivu region, DRC in 2012 [fr].

December 04 2012

Have M23 Rebels Really Left Goma, DRC?

Recurrent violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent decades has eroded the political, social and economic foundations of society. The Eastern region is even more weakened by the periodic fighting between armed rebels and the Congolese army that has flaired up again in 2012.

The conflict in the Kivus region this year is a continuation of a war between M23 rebels, essentially composed of mutineer Tutsi soldiers against the majority-Hutu Congolese army. Backed by the Rwandan government, the M23 rebels seized control of the city of Goma in the Kivu region, near the Rwandan border.

Despite reports that the rebellion have agreed to pull out of Goma, it seems that there is still a great deal of uncertainty over when they will effectively do so, and whether they might return. Melanie Gouby of the Associated Press reports on the extremely fluid timeline for the withdrawal:

The delay raises the possibility that the M23 rebels don't intend to leave the city they seized last week, giving credence to a U.N. expert report that says neighboring Rwanda is using the rebels as a proxy to annex territory in mineral-rich eastern Congo. An M23 spokesman said Friday morning that for “logistical reasons” the rebels needed 48 more hours to complete their withdrawal, promising that the fighters would leave Goma by Sunday.

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma, after they captured it in November 2012

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma, after they captured it (November 29, 2012) Voice of America via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

A follow-up report states that the rebels have begun to pull out and that the retreat is near completion:

Ugandan Brig. Jeffrey Muheesi, who is part of a mission sent by regional leaders to oversee the rebel retreat, said the rebels' pullout from Goma was complete. ”They have pulled out of Sake and Goma, and now Congolese government policemen are controlling the central bank, the governor's office and the border post,” he said from the outskirts of Goma.

Eyewitnesses say that while in Goma, M23 rebels looted the city, entering homes and shops and stealing cars, cell phones and cash. Radio Okapi reports [fr]:

Les rebelles du M23 ont pillé plusieurs habitations et bâtiments de Goma le jeudi 29 novembre dans la journée. Ce butin aurait été acheminé vers Kibumba, futur quartier général du M23, à près de 30 Km de Goma. Ce sont notamment les quartiers Katindo, Katoyi et Keshero qui ont été pillés par ces hommes en uniforme. La plupart des édifices publics, par contre, ont été épargnés puisque gardés par les forces de la Mission des Nations unies en RDC (Monusco) à Goma.

The M23 rebels broke into several homes and buildings in Goma on Thursday, November 29. Their loot was transported to Kibumba, their next HQ, 30km from Goma. The looting was carried out by men in uniform mostly in the borough of Katindo, Katoyi and Keshero. The administrative offices were left alone mostly because the UN MONUSCO forces were protecting them.

A sustainable solution to the conflict is evidently wanting. For now, the International Crisis Group recommends the following measures including these initiatives:

  • the reactivation of an effective and permanent joint verification mechanism for the DRC and Rwandan border, as envisaged by the ICGLR, which should be provided with the necessary technical and human resources;
  • the addition of the individuals and entities that supported the M23 and other armed groups to the UN sanctions list and the consideration of an embargo on weapons sales to Rwanda
  • the launch of local peace initiatives in Walikale, Masisi, Shabunda and Kalehe areas where ethnic tension is high by MONUSCO and the government

Given the Rwandan support of M23 and despite the UN recommendation that M23 pulls out of Goma, it is unclear whether M23 will ever fully withdraw from the city.

Meanwhile, the M23 were evicted from Facebook last week. Before then Gabriella Mulligan on Humanipo wondered how long a rebel group would be allowed to recruit and tease the Congolese government on the social network, and Trésor Kibungula on Jeune Afrique illustrated their social media evolution [fr].

November 19 2012

September 25 2012

Africa: Mountain Gorilla Conservation Data

Over 5,000 days of Mountain Gorilla conservation data in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo:

Fifteen years ago, ranger-based monitoring (or RBM for short) was initiated as a tool in the conservation of mountain gorillas. Whether patrolling the park for law enforcement or tracking mountain gorillas for health assessments or to facilitate visits by tourists or researchers, data is being collected and recorded on data sheets. Every day. That’s over 5,000 days of valuable data collected.

September 24 2012

DR of Congo: Rwanda is Helping the Rebellion, says Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch wrote [fr]:

In addition to deploying reinforcements and recruits to support military operations, Rwandan military officials have been providing important military support to the M23 rebels, including weapons, ammunition, and training, Human Rights Watch said. This makes Rwanda a party to the conflict.”

September 03 2012

Africa: Children Film Education and Jobs

Our Africa is a project which lets children across Africa film education and jobs in their countries the way they see them.

August 07 2012

D. R. of Congo: M23 Rebels Take Their Offensive Online

Rebel military group the M23 movement has made headlines by entering into open conflict with the Congolese army, but it is not stopping at armed conflicts on the ground; the rebels have also gone on the offensive on the Internet and social networks.

They have created a website and a Facebook page where they publish numerous pieces of information on the security situation in the province of North Kivu and about their goals. In this video uploaded to YouTube by CompleteWorldNews, an M23 leader speaks about the Movement’s strategy:

Communication strategy

The website, M23 Congo RDC, explains the cause that M23 is defending [fr]:

M23 is demanding complete application of these agreements and began to go underground in April. But the conflict is more complex than that. The spark that ignited the cause was lit by Kinshasa when he decided, under pressure by the international community, to arrest Bosco Ntaganda, an ex-CNDP [National Congress for the Defence of the People militia] and a member of the regular army who had been made a general at the 2009 peace accords.

One of the most recent posts published on the site is entitled, ‘General Munene says Kabila is the sole obstacle to peace‘ [fr]:

According to Faustin Munene, who has been opposed to Joseph Kabila since 2010, the Congolese president is the main party responsible for the renewed violence in North Kivu. In an interview with Afrikarabia, the head of the ARP [French initials for Popular Resistance Army] also confirmed that alliances were being formed on the ground between the various armed groups in the eastern part of the country.

Munene adds:

The one person responsible for this explosion in the east is named Joseph Kabila. [There are] several reasons for that: his poor governing and the establishment of a dictatorial regime with no social justice. This is a regime that has taken all institutions hostage. He is entering into secret agreements that commit the republic, he is making decisions on his own, no one knows what he is doing.

Photo of Congolese army soldiers published on M23's Facebook page.

Photo of Congolese army soldiers published on M23's Facebook page.

Reactions on M23’s Facebook page

M23’s Facebook page [fr] currently has 754 members and many of them have reacted to the rebel group's media offensive. Many show how disappointed they are with the war currently going on in the eastern part of the DRC; Ayache Andre tells us:

The Congolese are victims of their hospitality. We should chase out the M23 terrorists with their accomplices. It’s a matter of life and death.

Patient Enzo Kadima writes:

Since when do we have Congolese Tutsis? Go back home to Rwanda we don’t want you here

Decker Malela responds to an M23 statement:

‎@Cokotracy Mirindi: you bloodthirsty people always use the same talk. Self-defense, self-defense….A pretext for revenge and killing the Bantus. As if only you Tutsis should defend yourselves.

The international community continues to pressure Rwanda to stop supporting M23. Another topic of discussion online is the decision of the United States to suspend aid to Rwanda [fr] following their support of M23:

The US government has decided to suspend its military aid to Rwanda due to the African country’s support of an armed uprising in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) next door. This aid, a sum of US$200,000 (164,000 euros) was intended to sponsor a Rwandan military academy for noncommissioned officers. “The United States government is gravely concerned by the evidence that Rwanda is involved in providing support to Congolese rebels, including M23,” stated Darby Holladay, a spokesperson for the State Department.

Army’s motivation questioned

Several villages and neighborhoods in North Kivu are under M23 control. However, heavy fighting continues between the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo) military and M23 mutineers to stop the M23 from taking control of Goma, the province’s capital.

M23 suggests on Facebook that the FARDC military is showing a clear lack of motivation, and that this could have a major impact on their battlefield performance:

Imagine a country where the soldiers at the front are on their own for survival, funds intended for supplies often vanish before reaching the troops, inevitably encouraging the soldiers to steal or pillage. These poor boys are left to their own sad devices…. We have learned that this herd of failed soldiers dress as civilians after they’ve stolen goods from the people they meet on the way to seeking shelter.

This notion is widely debated by Facebook users. Actually, the pay for a general in FARDC is US$ 100 and US$ 45 for an ordinary soldier. Rations are US$ 5 for soldiers at barracks, US$ 10 for those at the front.

One of the 86 comments on this post is from Jerry Smartkiss [fr]:

All I can see are a bunch of Rwandans in all these comments… And all the M23 soldiers are just Rwandans, why are they declaring themselves Congolese when they aren’t?

Fiston Bafaluma agrees [fr]:

dear compatriots, the time has come to join forces as one people, let’s kick these Rwandans who call themselves Congolese out of the country.

Georges Loop adds philosophically [fr]:

Too bad we’re not paid for the time we spend trying to understand Africa, and the brain cells used, we could make a career out of it.

Colonel Olivier Hamuli, FARDC spokesman in Goma, summarily dismissed [fr] arguments about a lack of motivation:

When M23 talks about unpaid soldiers, they are the ones who were commanders of major units in the region, explains Col. Hamuli. They were responsible for the soldiers’ pay that they were embezzling, as well as the munitions. They embezzled everything, and gave reasons that don’t hold water. And blaming all of that on the Congolese government today is absurd and laughable. The real reasons for their mutiny lie elsewhere.

July 31 2012

Democratic Republic of Congo: Rwanda Accused in North Kivu Violence

Since April 2012, North Kivu province in the eastern Congo has been destabilised by the March 23 movement (M23), comprised of fighters from the Tutsi-led National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). Within the framework of the March 23, 2009 Kinshasa peace treaty after which they take their name, M23 started to include members of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) in its ranks. Bosco Ntaganda was also promoted to Army General within FARDC, while the CNDP became a political party as a result of this agreement.

Although they have occupied key FARDC posts since the treaty, most soldiers defected from the Congolese National Army in March 2012, unhappy with the lack of respect shown to the agreement by the Congolese government. It is believed that there was more to this defection than met the eye, and that there was also a desire to divide the country. At the time of writing, July 2012, the M23 continues to cause enormous loss of life and massive displacement of people.

M23 Rebels used with permission via on FlickR

Demands of the M23:

M23 spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Vianney Kazarama stated [fr]:

Nous demandons au gouvernement de la République Démocratique du Congo de fournir des efforts pour l’éradication des forces négatives à l’Est, notamment les FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, une rébellion constituée d’hutu rwandais, ndlr) Nous demandons le retour de tous les Congolais réfugiés, vivant à l’extérieur du pays, en exil ; la reconnaissance des grades formels de tous les officiers des groupes armés et ceux du CNDP en particulier, l’intégration politique des membres du CNDP au sein du gouvernement central.

We demand that the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo pushes for efforts to eradicate the negative forces from the East, notably the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a collection of rebels consisting of Rwandan Hutus, NDLR). We demand the return from exile of all Congolese refugees living outside the country; the recognition of the formal grades of officers from the grouped armies, in particular those of the CNDP, the political integration of the CNDP members to the heart of central government.

Serious consequences for the civilian population

The start of this rebellion has unleashed a new war in North Kivu causing loss of life and massive displacement of people. During the past few weeks, the M23 has increased from one thousand to two thousand fighters and taken control of several towns in the province. This increase in violence has displaced more than 200,000 and made more than 30,000 seek refuge in Rwanda and Uganda.
The following video by Amnesty International illustrates the plight of the population in North Kivu [fr] :

The controversial role of Rwanda

Several regional experts think that the Rwandan government will be implicated in supporting the M23. Reports from the United Nations (UN) and Human Rights Watch denounce the country's indirect participation in this conflict. It is believed Rwanda provided arms to the M23 and sent troops to fight alongside the rebels.

An annex of the Annual Report of the UN Sanctions Committee on the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), made public [fr] at the start of July 2012, stated that the Rwandan armed forces:

« fournissent du matériel militaire, des armes, des munitions et des fournitures diverses aux rebelles du M23 » et octroient soutien et protection au général rebelle Bosco Ntaganda, recherché par la Cour pénale internationale (CPI) pour crimes de guerre.

“provide military equipment, arms, ammunition and various materials to the M23 rebels” as well as granting support and protection to the rebel General Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes.

The accusations of the UN experts are based on the anonymous testimonies of eighty rebel deserters, including thirty one Rwandans from the M23.

It is believed that the UN experts have proof [fr] that several high ranking Rwandans, including Defence Minister James Kabarebe, are in permanent contact with the M23:

Aujourd’hui les Nations-Unies disposent de preuves que la guerre à l’Est de la RDC est traitée au Rwanda comme une affaire d’Etat, puisque ce sont les hauts dignitaires du régime de Kigali qui se chargent de ce dossier.

Today the UN has proof that the war in the eastern Congo is treated like an affair of state, while it is the high dignitaries of the Kigali regime who have the responsibility for this case.

Controversy over rebel deserters

On July 24, at the frontier at Goma, capital of North Kivu province in the eastern Congo, Rwanda refused [fr] to take back twenty four presumed Rwandan rebels from the M23. The rebels were supposed to be handed over to Rwanda by the UN, where they had surrendered after deserting the rebel group:

Les 24 mutins s'étaient rendus en mai à la Mission de l'ONU en RDC (Monusco) après avoir quitté les rangs du M23 dans la province du Nord-Kivu. Ils avaient déclaré à la Monusco être des citoyens rwandais, qu'ils avaient été recrutés au Rwanda avant d'être envoyés en RDC pour rejoindre le M23. La Monusco les a ramenés samedi à la frontière pour les remettre aux autorités rwandaises, mais celles-ci ont refusé de les récupérer en expliquant qu'elles “ne pouvaient pas prendre des gens du M23″, a déclaré à l'AFP un porte-parole de la Monusco à Goma.

In May, the twenty four rebels surrendered to the UN Mission in the DRC (Monusco), after leaving the M23 in North Kivu province. They had declared to Monusco that they were Rwandan citizens, that they had been recruited in Rwanda before being sent to the DRC to join the M23. Monusco took them to the frontier on Saturday to hand them to the Rwandan authorities, but they refused to take them back, explaining that they “could not take people from the M23”, stated a Monusco spokesperson in Goma to the AFP.

While the UN and Human Rights Watch have proof that Rwanda is implicated in the destabilisation of the DRC, the Information Minister of the Congolese government confirmed [fr] these allegations:

C'est avec colère que le ministre des médias, relations avec le parlement, initiation à la nouvelle citoyenneté et porte-parole du gouvernement, Lambert Mende Omalanga s'est adressé aux journalistes à Goma samedi 09 juin. Au cours d'un point presse, Lambert Mende a communiqué le rapport du gouvernement concernant la situation sécuritaire au Kivu. Il n'a pas mâché les mots au sujet des relations entre Kinshasa et Kigali : ” Une chose est indéniable : le territoire rwandais a servi à la préparation d'une conspiration qui, après avoir commencé comme une simple mutinerie, évolue dangereusement vers un schéma de rupture de la paix entre deux pays de la région des Grands Lacs.

The Minister of Media, Public Relations, Citizenship as well as government spokesperson, Lambert Mendé Omalanga addressed journalists angrily in Goma on Saturday June 9. During a press briefing Lambert Mendé communicated the government report on the Kivu security situation. He didn't mince his words on the subject of relations between Kinshas and Kigali: “One thing is undeniable: the Rwandan territory has been used in preparing a conspiracy which, after having started like a simple revolt, evolved dangerously towards a plan of rupture of the peace between two countries in the Great Lakes region”

Despite significant proof showing Rwanda to be implicated in the support of these rebels, Rwanda continues to deny all the assertions, which they consider baseless.

During a June 19 press conference in the Rwandan capital Kigali, Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda affirmed that:

«le Rwanda n’est pas la cause des problèmes du Congo [..] », indiquant que les problèmes congolais doivent être réglé par les congolais eux même.

“Rwanda is not the cause of the problems in the Congo [..] ”, indicating that the Congolese problems should be resolved by the Congolese themselves.

The situation in North Kivu province remains extremely tense, as the number of displaced people is constantly growing. Young people of Goma deplore the Rwandan support of the M23 rebels. To show their anger, they demanded arms [fr] to fight the rebels:

La journée du lundi 9 juillet 2012 a été caractérisée par des actes d'une barbarie sans nom. En effet, les jeunes de la ville de Goma, essentiellement les conducteurs des taxis motos communément appelés motards dans cette ville, ont manifesté dans les villes de la région. Certains ont pris le contrôle des ronds-points de la ville (Signers, TMK et Birere, Corniche) ; d'autres ont occupé une partie de la frontière entre le Rwanda et la RDC; d'autres enfin se sont dirigés vers les centres du pouvoir (Gouvernorat et Région militaire).

The day of Monday July 9, 2012 was characterised by acts of unspeakable barbarism. So the young people of Goma, mainly motorbike taxi drivers known here as bikers, demonstrated in towns throughout the region. Some took control of town roundabouts (Signers, TMK and Birere, Corniche); others occupied a portion of the frontier between Rwanda and the DRC; others went towards the centres of power (Governorate and Military Region).

These young people are frustrated by the setbacks at the front suffered by the FARDC militaries, as well as by the fact that several towns were already in the hands of the M23.

June 08 2012

The Evolution of African Social Welfare Systems

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development.

Considering the debate generated by healthcare reform in the United States and the gradual withdrawal of the French state from public-funded social action, one might think that social protection is an endangered idea. On the contrary, the right to security is an integral component of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 22) and an important part of the Millenium Development Goals (MDG), as conceived by the United Nations.

For the majority of African countries, social welfare systems are still evolving. Each African government has chosen a system specific to its culture, with varying degrees of success, but all recognize the necessity of protecting at a minimum the most vulnerable populations.

An insufficient social protection system 

Assane Fall-Diop summarizes the struggles that are still needed to achieve a real social welfare system in Africa [fr]:

La protection sociale est devenue un thème obligé des débats électoraux en Afrique. En Côte d’Ivoire et en République démocratique du Congo, la Constitution ou la loi font même de l’assurance-maladie un objectif prioritaire. Cependant, l’essor de l’économie informelle et la faiblesse politique et financière des Etats handicapent les réalisations concrètes [..] En Afrique, « seulement 5 % à 10 % de la population active bénéficie d’une couverture sociale », selon l’Organisation internationale du travail (OIT), qui note une dégradation de la situation au cours des vingt dernières années. L’organisation souligne que « près de 80 % de la population n’a pas accès aux soins de santé de base ».

Social protection became a necessary theme of the electoral debates in Africa. In Cote d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo, either the Constitution or the law make health insurance a priority goal. However, the booming informal economy and the financial and political weaknesses of African states make it difficult to achieve real progress. In Africa, “only 5-10% of the workforce receives social security coverage,” according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), which notes that the situation has deteriorated over the last 20 years. The organization emphasizes that “close to 80% of the population does not have access to basic healthcare.”


End of the month pension queues. Clermont Township, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa by HelpAge on Flickr (CC-license-BY).

End of the month pension queues. Clermont Township, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa by HelpAge on Flickr (CC-license-BY).

Lambert Gbossa, deputy director of the International Labour Organization's Regional Office for Africa, explains why he thinks that social welfare is in decline all over the continent. The force of informal economy is, in his opinion, one of the principal causes [fr]:

d’abord, une poussée démographique galopante qui produisit chaque année des cohortes de primo-demandeurs d’emplois; ensuite, une crise économique grave proche de la récession qui a réduit à néant les capacités d’absorption du secteur moderne; enfin, la poussée de l’exode rural obligeant bon nombre d’individus à venir «bricoler» dans les villes. Ainsi, la population active atteint plus de 40 pour cent dans l’ensemble des pays, avec un taux d’accroissement de plus de 4,5 pour cent, légèrement supérieur à celui de la croissance démographique. Au rythme actuel d’évolution des données sur la population active et sur la population salariée, le taux d’occupation des travailleurs salariés pourrait n’être plus que 2 à 3 pour cent au maximum dans les 25 prochaines années. Comme cette population est la seule à bénéficier d’un système organisé de sécurité sociale, il y a ainsi une dégradation prévisible de la rentabilité sociale du système de couverture.

First, a runaway population boom that produces each year a cohort of first-time jobseekers; next, a severe economic crisis, verging on recession, that wiped out the modern sector’s absorptive capacity; finally, a mass rural exodus forcing many to come “mess about” in the cities. In this way, the workforce rose to over 40 percent in all countries, with a growth rate above 4.5 percent, which is slightly higher than the growth rate of the general population. At the current rate, the occupancy rate of employed workers could be more than 2 to 3 percent in the next 25 years. Since this population would be the one to benefit from an organized social security system, there is a predictable drop-off in the social benefits of such a system.

Unequal progress across the continent

Steps have been taken to mitigate this lag in the development of a social welfare system for Africa. The Africa Platform for Social Protection (APSP) wants to see concrete measures to elevate and reinforce the social contract between states and their citizens. The APSP recommends [fr]:

tout programme doit être conçu à partir des structures existantes, y compris les systèmes classiques de protection sociale. En parallèle, la Plateforme insiste sur le fait que les défis de l’intégration régionale et notamment ceux liés à la portabilité des droits sociaux ne pourront être surmontés qu’à la condition que l’évaluation des réalités et opinions locales et nationales s’accompagne d’approches régionales et continentales

For the APSP, programme design must build on existing structures, including traditional social protection systems. At the same time, the Platform highlights that this attention to national and local situations and perceptions has to go hand in hand with the development of regional and continental approaches.

However, Lambert Gbossa is concerned about the danger represented by the willingness to provide a standard welfare system without considering the specificities of each region and without a participatory dialogue [fr]: question de la réforme de la protection sociale dans les pays d'Afrique se pose avec acuité, elle s’est cantonnée à l'intérieur du système actuel et a rarement essayé de s'intégrer dans une politique globale. Le résultat de ce cantonnement est non seulement une marginalisation de l'immense majorité de la population mais surtout, la perpétuation d’un modèle extraverti et parfois incompris qui a fait de la protection sociale au profit du secteur formel l’essentiel et non le complément d’une problématique plus conforme aux identités. Les schémas très techniques et parfois très formels sont conçus en dehors des populations et n’ont pas été conformes au plan national de développement intégré..

…the question of reforming the social welfare system in the African countries is a good one. This question is confined within the current system and has rarely tried to insert itself into a comprehensive policy. The result of this confinement is not only the marginalization of a great majority of the population, but more importantly the perpetuation of an often misunderstood model that prioritized social protection for the formal sector over the problems in line with identities. The very technical and often extremely formal systems were conceived outside of these populations and were not part of a national plan for integrated development…

Some successful implementations   

Before Mali was shaken by the current political crisis, the country had made considerable progress with regard to social protection and healthcare coverage. This video of a project to improve the treatment of diabetes in Mali by the NGO Santé Diabète Mali, shows an example of social action with a strong impact on healthcare coverage:

Mandatory health insurance was established in Mali in 2010. This program enabled better protection for poor and marginalized populations, but did not reinforce the two other pillars of social welfare in Mali: the development of production infrastructure and the consolidation of structural adjustments. Funding remains one of the major obstacles affecting the sustainability of these social programs.

The foundation for social welfare in Burkina Faso meanwhile is currently being built. The basic principle of a social protection system rests on two essential tools: services and transfers. Olivier Louis dit Guérin defines these tools [fr]:

- Accès géographique et financier aux services essentiels : eau, assainissement, santé, alimentation, éducation, logement, épargne, assurance
- Transfert sociaux versés aux enfants, personnes âgées et personnes actives disposant d'un revenu insuffisant pour les services essentiels mentionnés précédemment.

- Services: Geographic and financial access to essential services, such as water, decontamination, health, diet, education, housing, savings, insurance
- Transfers: Welfare payments to children, seniors and working individuals who earn less than what is needed to have the essential services identified above.

In a study comparing the social welfare systems of Rwanda and Burundi, Solidarité Mondiale offers the following conclusions on social welfare in these two neighboring countries [fr]:

L’étude comparative des systèmes de protection sociale du Rwanda et du Burundi a clairement montré que le Rwanda a déjà réalisé des pas importants dans ce secteur clé qui sont aujourd’hui portés par une forte volonté politique et bénéficient d’un encadrement soutenu de la Cellule Technique d’Appui aux Mutuelles de santé au sein du Ministère de la Santé. La complémentarité fortement encouragée par les pouvoirs publics entre le système étatique de protection sociale, actuellement en pleines réformes, et les systèmes communautaires des mutuelles de santé extrêmement avancés au Rwanda, constituent un atout très important du processus de renforcement et d’extension des systèmes de protection sociale [..] Le Burundi, à la suite d’une guerre prolongée, n’a pas pu renforcer les systèmes existants de protection sociale en vue de leur extension au secteur informel et rural. Néanmoins, à certains égards, certaines initiatives privées ont fait des avancées remarquables dans ce domaine. le Burundi devraient l’inciter à privilégier des systèmes de protection sociale à forte participation populaire, s’il veut en garantir l’appropriation et la durabilité. En effet, la tentation peut être très grande de mettre rapidement en place un système de couverture universelle largement soutenue par les bailleurs de fonds externes.Le retrait de tels bailleurs peut rapidement conduire à la catastrophe comme cela a déjà été le cas pour certaines provinces du pays.

The study comparing the social protection systems of Rwanda and Burundi clearly shows that Rwanda has already made significant strides in this key sector that are today bolstered by a strong political will and that benefit from the support of the staff of the technical support unit (CTAMS—la Cellule Technique d’Appui aux Mutuelles de Santé) within the Ministry of Health. The government strongly encourages extremely sophisticated collaboration among the state system of social protection, current reforms, and the system of community-based health insurance. This collaboration is a very important trump card in the process of strengthening and extending the social protection systems […] Burundi, following a lengthy war, could not support the existing systems in order to extend them to the informal and rural sectors. Nevertheless, certain private initiatives have made remarkable advances in this field. If it wants to ensure ownership and sustainability, Burundi should encourage the prioritization of social protection systems through strong popular participation. It may be tempting to put in place a system of universal coverage, largely supported by external donors. The withdrawal of funds by such donors could quickly lead to a disaster, as has already been the case for some provinces in the country.

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development.

Featured and thumbnail image shows examination close-up in a hospital for women and children, Cote d'Ivoire, by Flickr user World Bank Photo Collection (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

May 02 2012

Africa: Calls for Transparency Over Marked Increase in Land Deals

The UK Guardian newspaper's Global Development blog reports that an international coalition of researchers and NGOs has released the world's largest public database of international land deals. This marks an important milestone in highlighting a developmental issue that has received little attention in the international news cycle.

The report states that almost 5% of Africa's agricultural land has been bought or leased by investors since 2000, and emphasizes the fact that this is not a new issue, yet points out that the number of such land deals has increased tremendously in the past five years.

Many observers are increasingly worried that these land deals usually take place in the world's poorest countries and that they impact its most vulnerable population, the farmers. The benefits seldom go to the general population, partially because of a lack of transparency in the proceedings of the transactions.

An additional report by Global Witness, entitled Dealing with Disclosure, emphasizes the dire need for transparency in the making of land deals.

World's poorest nations targeted 

The Global Witness report lists that 754 land deals have been identified, involving the majority of African countries for about 56.2 million hectares.

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

The nations targeted are usually some of the poorest in the world. The countries with the most deals in place are Mozambique (92 deals), Ethiopia (83), Tanzania (58) and Madagascar (39). Some of those deals have made headlines because they were conducted to ensure control over food imports, when the targeted regions faced major food crises.

The NGO GRAIN has already explained in detail the gist of their concerns in an extensive report released in 2008:

Today’s food and financial crises have, in tandem, triggered a new global land grab. On the one hand, “food insecure” governments that rely on imports to feed their people are snatching up vast areas of farmland abroad for their own offshore food production. On the other hand, food corporations and private investors, hungry for profits in the midst of the deepening financial crisis, see investment in foreign farmland as an important new source of revenue. As a result, fertile agricultural land is becoming increasingly privatised and concentrated. If left unchecked, this global land grab could spell the end of small-scale farming, and rural livelihoods, in numerous places around the world.

In Malawi, land deals have grown increasingly prevalent to the detriment of the local farmers. A report from Bangula explains the challenges faced by Malawian farmers, Dorothy Dyton and her family:

Like most smallholder farmers in Malawi, they did not have a title deed for the land Dyton was born on, and in 2009 she and about 2,000 other subsistence farmers from the area were informed by their local chief that the land had been sold and they could no longer cultivate there. […] Since that time, said Dyton, “life has been very hard on us.” With a game reserve on one side of the community and the Shire river and Mozambique border on the other, there is no other available land for them to farm and the family now ekes out a living selling firewood they gather from the nearby forest.

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Farmers in Madagascar share similar concerns because they do not own the rights to the land they farm and an effective land reform is yet to be implemented. The Malagasy association Terres Malgaches has been at the forefront of land protection for the local population. They report that [fr]:

 Les familles malgaches ne possèdent pas de document foncier pour sécuriser leurs terres contre les accaparements de toutes sortes. En effet, depuis la colonisation, l’obtention de titres fonciers auprès de l’un des 33 services des domaines d’un pays de 589 000 km2 nécessite 24 étapes, 6 ans en moyenne et jusqu’à 500 dollars US. (..) .  Face aux convoitises et accaparements dont les terres malgaches font l’objet actuellement, seule la possession d’un titre ou d’un certificat foncier, seuls documents juridiques reconnus, permet d’entreprendre des actions en justice en cas de conflit.

Malagasy families do not usually own an estate property document that enable them to secure their lands against land grab. In fact, since colonial times, one has needed about 24 steps, 6 years and up to 500 US dollars to get such documents. There are merely around 33 agencies in the country that deliver such documents for a country that is 589,000 kilometres square […] In the face of the increasing land grabs that Malagasy land is currently at risk of, this certificate is the only document that can trigger legal action in case of conflict.

The association also reports on the practices of a mining company Sheritt, in Ambatovy, which have created a buzz in the local blogosphere because of environmental concerns for the local population and business malpractices (via MiningWatch Canada):

Sherritt International’s Ambatovy project in eastern Madagascar – costing $5.5 billion to build and scheduled to begin full production this month – will comprise a number of open pit mines (..) it will close in 29 years. There are already many concerns about the mine from the thousands of local people near the facilities. They say that their fields are destroyed ; the water is dirty ; the fish in the river are dead and there have been landslides near their village. During testing of the new plant, there have been at least four separate leaks of sulphur dioxide from the hydro-metallurgical facility which villagers say have killed at least two adults and two babies and sickened at least 50 more people. In January, laid-off construction workers from Ambatovy began a wildcat strike, arguing that the jobs they were promised when construction ended have not materialized. The people in nearby cities like Moramanga say that their daughters are increasingly engaged in prostitution.

Video of a worker's testimony in Ambatovy.

Solutions for the local population? 

The plight of Madagascar's farmers' plight may be slowly changing though. Land reform discussions are in progress, according to this report:

 According to a paper presented at the 2011 International Conference on Global Land Grabbing, about 50 agribusiness projects were announced between 2005 and 2010, about 30 of which are still active, covering a total land area of about 150,000 ha. Projects include plantations to produce sugar cane, cassava and jatropha-based biofuel.
To prevent the negative impacts of land grabbing, (The NGO) EFA has set up social models for investors, with funding from the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The goal is to help investors negotiate with the people in the area where they want to implement projects, as a way to prevent future problems.

Joachim Von Braun, formerly  of the International Food Policy Insitute (IFPRI), wrote the following regarding land deals:

 It is in the long-run interest of investors, host governments, and the local people involved to ensure that these arrangements are properly negotiated, practices are sustainable, and benefits are shared. Because of the transnational nature of such arrangements, no single institutional mechanism will ensure this outcome. Rather, a combination of international law, government policies, and the involvement of civil society, the media, and local communities is needed to minimize the threats and realize the benefits.

The need for transparency in land deals is further emphasized by  Megan MacInnes, Senior Land Campaigner at Global Witness:

Far too many people are being kept in the dark about massive land deals that could destroy their homes and livelihoods. That this needs to change is well understood, but how to change it is not. For the first time, this report (Dealing with Disclosure)  sets out in detail what tools governments, companies and citizens can harness to remove the shroud of secrecy that surrounds land acquisition. It takes lessons from efforts to improve transparency in other sectors and looks at what is likely to work for land. Companies should have to prove they are doing no harm, rather than communities with little information or power having to prove that a land deal is negatively affecting them.


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