- Post 26 November 2012
- Last Updated on 28 November 2012
- By Dr Gary K. Busch
There have been several suggestions made that the precipitating issue in the current conflict in the East was as a result of Joseph Kabila (K2)'s failure to pay his generals. This is a point raised over and over again by the M23 rebels. The truth is very different Indeed K2 stopped paying the generals because they were stealing all the money so Kabila started paying all the soldiers directly through their own bank accounts. Many generals in the DRC Army were living on embezzling soldiers' pay. They weren't happy at the diversion of the soldiers' pay directly to the soldiers and felt they should throw in their lot with the M23 and hope for better takings
Kabila acted to fire Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba (aka Tango Four) as Chief of Staff of the Forces Terrestres, the army of the DRC. It was common knowledge in Kinshasa that Amisi ran his own mining operation in North Kivu through Colonel Samy Matumo, the former commander of the 85th Brigade that occupied the Bisie mine for several years.The UN issued a report produced for them by group of independent experts, which proved that Gen. Amisi established and controlled a network providing arms and ammunition to criminal groups and rebels who roam the hills and forests of Congo's resource-rich but troubled east. According to the report by the so-called Group of Experts, ammunition is bought in neighboring Congo Brazzaville, before being smuggled through the Congolese capital Kinshasa to the east by a close network of Amisi's associates, including members of his family. On November 22 Kabila finally sacked Amisi. Amis was replaced by General Francois Olenga.
Olenga, who is from the Kusu ethnic group of northern Maniema, emigrated to Europe when he was young, graduating from the University of Paris in 1972. He has been an important, if discrete player in Kinshasa since the days of Laurent Kabila. Leaving his home in Germany, where his family still lives (he speaks fluent German), he fought in the AFDL to topple Mobutu, taking advantage of his connections in eastern Europe to organize weapons shipments, which got him named as the head of logistics for the Congolese army in 1997. He kept up this role until recently, traveling often abroad to organize supplies for the Congolese army. In 2002, he was cited by a UN investigation for using money from the state MIBA diamond mining company to purchase weapons for the army.
This is not the first time Olenga has been head of the land forces. When Laurent Kabila was assassinated in January 2001, Olenga replaced Joseph Kabila as the commander in this position for two years, overseeing some of the most important operations against the Rwandan army. In this sense, Kabila is falling back on a trusted commander with experience in similar offensives. In July 2005, Olenga was named as Inspector General of the army, a job he kept until last week. But this oversight body was never functional and Olenga kept a low profile. Olenga has close ties to NATO and the Europeans. They see him as a steady hand in the struggle against Rwanda and Uganda. As he is from Maniema, and close to where the battle is raging, he has a stake in stopping the M23 and rebuilding the Army as a national force, not a pirate band.
Kabila has another difficult choices to make. For the last four years he has had to deal with an empowered Uganda and Rwanda which have become the darlings of the West as providing surrogate armies of AFRICOM in the putative hunt for Kony and the LRA. Kabila's hands were tied in how far he could resist negotiating with Museveni and Kagame as long as the US and the West were so strongly supporting them. He was always playing with a stacked deck. The DRC has always been focused on the struggle between Katanga and the rest of the Congo. The institutions of the state, both political and economic, were fixed on dealing with the relationship between Katanga and Kinshasa. In this crisis Katanga is a marginal concern. The role of the Banyamulenge Tutisis in seeking to take over the Kivus as an annex of Rwanda has been much more important. However the national army has declined into a number of rival private bands of profiteers. Olenga may be able to rebuild the army and focus its actions but only if it is clear that the West will not go on supporting Museveni and Kagame. If these two have no more money to spend the Congolese army might decide that loyalty to its oath of office might be relevant.
If it comes to actually fighting a war against Rwanda and Uganda the DRC army is not capable of wining such a war on its own. Offers of support from Angola, Tanzania and Namibia have been forthcoming. Indeed, Angola has already started deploying men in Bukavu. If Angola becomes seriously involved it has one overwhelming advantage. It has a massive modern Air Force complete with Israeli drones. The Rwandans do not have an air force at all and the Ugandans only a miniscule one. If there were a serious confrontation in aid of the stated purpose of M23 taking over the DRC an Angolan air raid on Kigali and Entebbe would wipe off the military capabilities of both countries in an afternoon. It would be a blow from which neither would recover for many years.
To make that choice Kabila would have to consider the effects on AFRICOM and the U.S.'s mercenary army. The U.S. is firmly behind Kagame and Museveni. Moreover the Uganda government has. since 2003, splashed an annual retainer of $300,000 on the Washington DC-based Whitaker Group, which is owned by the US former Assistant Trade Representative for Africa, Rosa Whitaker for lobbying in the US. Dr. Jendayi E. Frazer, former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (a successor to Susan Rice in that post) is now working as a lobbyist on behalf of the Ugandan government as part of the Whitaker Group (TWG) as a strategic advisor. The Washington D.C.-based firm has a long-standing relationship with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and is currently under a million dollar a year contract with the Ugandan government. Kabila must think hard and long before alienating this core US pressure nexus arrayed to support Museveni (and other supporting Kagame).
The other aspect of the dilemma is that Angola has not been on very friendly terms recently with the DRC and many citizens have been expelled from each country.on the issue. Since 2007, the two countries have been embroiled in disputes over border demarcation, oil extraction and the expulsion of citizens. As WikiLeaks documents elucidated, the oil dispute is probably the most contentious. The offshore Block 15 is the crown jewel of Angola's oil production - the four wells operated by Exxon Mobil pump 30% of the country's entire production, and the field contains estimated reserves of 4 billion barrels. In July 2007, according to a Kinshasa embassy cable, a joint Angolan-Congolese commission agreed to "a 50/50 share of production and revenues from new oil wells developed in an offshore Zone of Common Interest extending from the 15 km coastal zone in a 10 km strip to the 375 km (200-mile) limit." This arrangement would not affect the current wells in the area, which include Block 15 and possibly Block 14, 0 and 1. The deal also suggested that the two countries would have joint ownership over a $2 billion highway linking Luanda and Cabinda across the Congo, as well as over gas and oil pipelines.
Nonetheless, in a July 2009 Wikileaks cable, the US embassy wrote that "The prospect of the DRC becoming a major oil producer is the simplest explanation for the mounting tensions between DRC and Angola." They professed ignorance as to which maritime claim was more legitimate, but reported that Angola had gone so far as to make an offer of $600 million in arrears for the use Congolese maritime space. Thee issues have not yet been resolved and Kabila is considering the implications for the DRC oil industry if he accepts Angolan military assistance.
So Kabila, like his father, is caught between two decisions; both of which have negative consequences for the DRC. The option of doing nothing is not there as the M23 rebellion continues. Choosing the least bad solution may solve some short-term problems but the time when the citizens of the DRC can rule their own country free from pillage, rape. murder and a hopeless future is still far off.