These two issues dominate the airwaves in South Kivu these days: security and elections.
Let’s start with the most obvious one: We are headed toward elections, and the campaign, which cannot officially begin for several months yet, is in full swing. This past week, a PPRD delegation arrived from Kinshasa with Agriculture Minister Norbert Kantintima at its head to campaign for Kabila. (It is a mystery to me why Kantintima has taken on such a prominent role South Kivu, given that many still remember him as the deeply unpopular governor there under RCD rule). The previous week a rally was held in Bukavu by the new group with the catchy name: Network of Organizations Friends of Joseph Kabila. While the delegation had a warm welcome in Bukavu, they were greeted frostily in Uvira and Kiliba, the sugar factory in the Ruzizi plain that has not been relaunched despite promises by the government.
Kabila’s opponents have had a harder time campaigning. The main opposition to Kabila around Bukavu will come from the UNC party of Vital Kamerhe, who hails from Bukavu. But local authorities dithered on allowing the UNC to organize a rally in Uvira and the UDPS complained that the police did not show up to secure the rally they held in Bukavu. Not encouraging, but more inconveniences than repression. Other, smaller parties have complained that they do not have enough funds to campaign. These are so far the largest biases in the electoral around the country: unequal access to media and security, huge discrepancies in terms of party funding, and persistent – if not systematic – harassment by security forces.
In the meantime, MONUSCO has launched a welcome effort to hold regular meetings of the 62 parties active in South Kivu. They held a first meeting of these actors on May 3rd.
As the electoral dance gathers pace, security problems have faced setbacks across the Kivus, as the Congolese army continues its process of consolidation. For several months now, the army has been trying to reduce the number of troops in the field by consolidating units into regiments, deploying others outside of the Kivus or confining them to barracks. The consolidation is merging the many units that have far fewer troops than they are supposed to have – battalions with only 300 soldiers, brigades with 1,600 – getting rid of “ghost soldiers” who are on the payroll.
This is in general positive, as it gets rid of payroll scams and reduces the number of soldiers deployed in the region, but it has also had deleterious effects. This has been a sharp deterioration in security in some parts, as FDLR and other armed groups move in to fill the gap left by the Congolese army. I never thought I would hear Congolese crying for the army to come back, but that is just what the administrator of Shabunda territory did two weeks ago, when FDLR attacked part of his territory and occupied the Kigulube mining site, displacing 7,000 civilians. Around the same time, the deputy administrator of Fizi reported pillaging in Burembo (137 km south of Uvira) after the army shipped out. Finally, just a few days ago the population of Ninja in Kabare territory called for the Congolese army to come back, as the FDLR are now occupying their villages.
It is not just the FDLR who are taking advantage of the Congolese army’s redeployments. On the Ubware peninsula in Lake Tanganyika, Mai-Mai Yakutumba increased their activity, possibly in conjunction with the Burundian FNL rebels. Several weeks ago, the Burundian army threatened to invade Congolese territory to hunt down FNL leader Agathon Rwasa (who they liken to Osama Bin Laden and claim is hiding in South Kivu). The Congolese army then met with their Burundian counterparts and tensions seem to have died down, although there are rumors that there is a deal to allow Burundian troops into the Congo to hunt down Rwasa.
In response to this violence, the Congolese army has now deployed back to some of the areas it had left. The UN had followed suit, creating two new operational code names in a period of just a few weeks: Hakikisha Usalama (Ensure Safety) and Amani ya Kweli (True Peace – perhaps to distinguish from the previous Amani Leo, which was just Peace Today).
Finally, to top it off, there has been an increase in urban violence in recent weeks, as well. There have several high-profile murders, including those of the governor’s driver and local leader of the UNC opposition party, in Bukavu, as well as many more pedestrian thefts, burglaries and rape in Bukavu. Following protests by students and civil society, the local authorities have cracked down in criminals through increased police patrolling, promising additional police stations, and cordon-and-search operations. It appears this has had some impact.