The unexpected occupation of Lubumbashi, the second largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), by 440 Mai-Mai fighters last month is another sign of the central government’s lack of capacity to govern, ensure security or pursue reform. The occupation, which resulted in 35 dead and 53 wounded, serves as a reminder that the country’s crisis is not limited to North Kivu in eastern Congo, or to warlords.
By raising the flag of the state of Katanga (independent from 1960-1963) on Moïse Tshombe Square in the centre of Lubumbashi, the Mai-Mai Bakata Katanga group performed a powerful symbolic act. Katangan separatism has haunted Congolese politics since Congolese independence in June 1960. The province is the country’s economic crown jewel, as industrial mining activities are concentrated there.
But despite Katanga’s (and Lubumbashi’s) strategic importance, Mai-Mai Bakata Katanga entered the city with no resistance from the security forces and no protest from the population. The provincial and national governments were taken by surprise.
Since President Joseph Kabila’s controversial election victory in November 2011, government control over DRC territory has been in drastic decline. Beyond the fall of Goma to the M23 rebellion, Kinshasa has failed to repel the activities of various other armed groups: the Mai-Mai Morgan in Province Orientale, the Ituri Resistance Patriotic Front (FRPI) and the Mai-Mai Yakutumba in South Kivu, Rayia Mutomboki in North and South Kivu, as well as the Mai-Mai Gédéon in Katanga. (On the eastern Congo armed groups, see the October 2012 briefing Eastern Congo: Why Stabilisation Failed. On the Katanga armed groups, see the report Katanga: The Congo’s Forgotten Crisis.)
Despite acts of violence and the displacement of 100,000 civilians since November 2011, the Congolese government neglected the Mai-Mai threat in central Katanga for months, revealing its indifference towards protecting its population. The government has also been surprisingly cavalier in not protecting a crucial source of its own revenue, even as it announced, in March 2012, a revision of its mining code aiming at increasing tax income.
These events also illustrate the difficulty of reform, particularly decentralisation (see Congo: A Stalled Democratic Agenda). The Mai-Mai Bakata Katanga secessionist claims (in Kiswahili, their name literally means “dividers of Katanga”) are in part a consequence of the government’s failure to implement a constitutional provision to divide the country into 24 provinces and to share tax revenues between the central government (60%) and the provinces (40%).
Now that the president has decided, at the beginning of this year, to implement decentralisation using Katanga as a test case, the province is supposed to be divided in four smaller provinces. The losers and winners of such partition follow a north-south division between poor Katanga (north) and rich Katanga (south, where all the mining industry is located). While some southern politicians favour decentralisation, northerners, particularly the Balubakat community and the extremely popular provincial governor, Moïse Katumbi, are opposed. The attack on Lubumbashi happening just as the president decides to re-launch decentralisation is probably not a coincidence; local politicians often manipulate Mai-Mai fighters to pressure the central government. While it is not apparent which political faction is behind this latest incursion, it is clear that, in Katanga, decentralisation is a divisive issue that could turn a poorly controlled province into a hotspot.
Events in Lubumbashi also demonstrate that President Kabila is losing his grip over his last stronghold. He was elected in 2006 with votes mostly from the eastern provinces, but in 2011 lost support in the Kivus due to the integration of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) militia into the army, making his Katanga support decisive. His announcement of decentralisation there has alienated part of the provincial political elite, a very strategic constituency in a context where struggles between Katanga’s big men already sound like pre-electoral campaigning.
Since the death of Katumba Mwanke, Kabila’s special adviser and former Katanga governor, in February 2012, the presidential political clan has been torn apart by internal conflicts. Federalists like Jean-Claude Mayembo, the president of Congolese Solidarity for the Democracy (SCODE) and Gabriel Kyunguwa Kumwanza, the president of the National Union of Federalists of Congo (UNFAC) and chairman of the provincial assembly, accuse Kabila of favouring non-Katangese and attempting to impose his family members on the Katangese political establishment. Criticism and open division are increasing among the president’s Balubakat supporters. Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, the chairman of the electoral commission, who many observers believe helped secure Kabila’s 2011 election victory, reportedly accused him in front of Katanga’s provincial assembly of being an ingrate. In addition, civil society groups have even accused some former and current figures in Kabila’s government of complicity in the takeover of Lubumbashi.
The Katanga governor and the UN mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) managed the Lubumbashi crisis, persuading the Mai-Mai Bakata fighters to surrender. Once again, the UN and local authorities filled the vacuum, bringing stability in the absence of the central government, which for its part only subsequently initiated a parliamentary investigation of the “Lubumbashi event” and suspended the general in charge of security in the province.
President Kabila appears to be losing more and more control over DRC territory: the combination of a security vacuum, his loss of influence over Katangese politicians and a set of high-risk policy decisions is a dangerous mix. He relies on actors outside his government to provide security, the latest example being the deployment of troops from Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries to accomplish the mission the Congolese army has been unable to fulfil since 2006: neutralising Congo’s armed groups. With the vote on UN Security Council Resolution 2098 on 28 March authorising the creation of an intervention brigade, the fight against the armed groups in eastern Congo has become, now more than ever, the business of regional forces.
The decision by DRC’s partners to take a robust security role in support of the Kabila government was understandable back in 2006 when it was newly-elected at a time of great optimism. But in 2013, after seven years of its rule, institutions remain weak and the government has demonstrated a consistent lack of both interest and capability in improving the security of the Congolese population. These lost years have led to a regime completely dependent on external support and a system of ‘governance by substitution’ in the DRC. The UN now and the UN/SADC forces tomorrow provide a safety net to the regime; Western donors, NGOs and churches provide social services to the population; and China and the private sector build road infrastructure.
After refusing to reform from 2006 to 2011, President Kabila now seems to agree with decentralisation and reform of the security sector and natural resources sector. This may, however, be too little too late: because of the fraudulent 2011 elections, the de facto suspension of the provincial electoral process (local polls were meant to take place in 2007 but have been continually pushed back), and the 2012 North Kivu crisis, Kabila’s political credibility is at an all-time low. Whether his regime can now push through measures as politically sensitive as decentralisation, natural resource sector reform and security sector reform without stoking further, potentially even more violent, instability, remains to be seen.
This article was originally published here by the International Crisis Group.
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For further reading around the subject see:
|Bordering on the Dangerous: The Invisible Frontline in North Kivu||DRC: Katanga's Artisanal Miners Face Uncertain Future||DRC: Will M23 Bring About the End of President Kabila?|