KINSHASA Dec 1 Democratic Republic of Congo is
seeking political stability, battling economic woes and stubborn
rebel insurgencies as it gears up for elections due next year.
The polls for the presidency and parliament, due to start in
November 2011, will be the second since the official end to the
1998-2003 war, which drew in six foreign armies and resulted in
the deaths of 5 million. Here are some factors to watch.
President Joseph Kabila came to power when his father was
assassinated in 2001, winning presidential elections in 2006.
But he still relies on the support of other parties such as
PALU, a veteran opposition party, for a parliamentary majority.
Factions within the coalition have complained about Prime
Minister Adolphe Muzito, from PALU, while opposition parties in
parliament have repeatedly tried to topple the government.
Rather than pushing through steps towards decentralisation
set out in the constitution, analysts say Kabila's rule has seen
a concentration of power and rising political oppression.
This perception was exacerbated in June when leading human
rights activist Floribert Chebeya was found dead in mysterious
circumstances, prompting the suspension and questioning of
police chief John Numbi, previously considered a Kabila ally. A
military trial of eight police officers, three of whom are on
the run, is due in December. Numbi is called only as a witness.
What to watch:
-- Growing political instability. With politicians looking
to 2011 elections, factions within and outside the coalition
have already started jockeying for position. Vital Kamerhe, a
key Kabila ally in 2006 and a popular leader of the lower house
of parliament, has spoken of the need to change the old order.
Etienne Tshisekedi, based in Belgium and head of the UDPS
opposition party, has already said he will run.
--Jean-Pierre Bemba's trial. Former vice president and
leader of opposition MLC party is being tried before the
International Criminal Court in The Hague accused of war crimes
in the Central African Republic. Many in Congo believe he would
be a strong presidential contender were he acquitted in time,
and any verdict could be incendiary on the streets of Kinshasa.
-- Provinces seek more power. Congo missed a May 15 deadline
for decentralisation, which would see its 11 provinces divided
into 26 and receive more local funding. The failure to do so has
led some districts like oil-rich Ituri to declare as provinces.
-- Political crackdown. Should the coalition waver or face
serious internal opposition, it could trigger unrest given the
the government's track record of cracking down on dissent.
Congo secured debt relief from most lenders this year,
despite concerns over governance, including $7.53 billion from
the Paris Club in November, leaving a total stock of $2.9
billion. It has taken measures to stabilise its economy and keep
in step with conditions for a three-year $550 million IMF loan.
Interest rates have come down to 22 percent, from 42 percent
at the start of July. Congo's inflation is running at an
annualised rate of 8.35 percent, down from 69 percent in January
and beating a 15 percent target. The Congolese franc has
stabilised against the dollar, hovering at 910 Congolese francs
to the dollar after falling 40 percent in 2009, although Congo
forecasts it will depreciate to an average 962 in 2011.
Sustained economic growth is vital to a country where 80
percent of a population of 67 million live on less than $2 a day
and the country struggles with a budget of $5.69 billion. Congo
forecasts growth of 5.4 percent in 2010 and 6.83 percent in
2011, while the IMF forecasts 5.4 percent and 7 percent.
What to watch:
-- Impact of debt relief. Congo says from 2011, $520 million
a year intended for debt service will be freed up as a result,
but the IMF warns against taking on more expensive debt.
-- Macroeconomic policy. A looming election year may prompt
a hike in spending over the next 12 months.
Congo moved up four places in the World Bank's 2011 doing
business rankings to 175 of 183 countries, short of a 20-place
hike targeted by the president. Investors still complain of high
risks and several are pursuing international arbitration.
Model contracts in accordance with the new mining and oil
codes have been drafted, but are yet to be decreed by
What to watch:
-- First Quantum case. The Canadian firm is seeking
international arbitration after its $750 million KMT project was
closed and rights handed to mining group ENRC ENRC.L, after
the Kazakh company said it would pay $175 million for five Congo
projects acquired through listed and offshore entities. On Oct.
26, First Quantum said an international court had failed to give
its assets protection during the dispute. First Quantum has also
been ejected from two other sites, over rights. [ID:nLDE68E05M]
-- Mining ban. Congo banned mining in three eastern
provinces in September in an effort to clean up the trade, but
officials and U.N. experts say elements of the military are
involved, as well as armed groups. Several schemes aim to
improve traceability, and U.S. legislation kicks in in April.
-- Congo's nascent oil sector. Congo awarded two oil blocks
on the Uganda border to surprise new offshore entrants, claimed
by the South Africa president's nephew Khulubuse Zuma.
London-listed Tullow Oil (TLW.L) says it holds the rights to the
blocks, but lost its interim injunction to halt rivals'
activities at a Carribbean court. After buying into a block in
the west, Italian major Eni (ENI.MI) would also like oil blocks
in the east.
Intervention by Rwanda in 2009 helped end fighting by
Rwandan Tutsi-led CNDP rebels, whose leader Laurent Nkunda was
arrested and is awaiting trial in Kigali.
CNDP have since officially been integrated into the army,
but rights groups and the U.N. say they maintain control of
swathes of land, extract taxes and mine cassiterite and coltan.
Congo's army continues to try to oust Rwandan Hutu FDLR
rebels, whose numbers have reduced to 3,500 according to U.N.
experts, and several other rebel groups throughout the east.
Former government militias, known as the Mai Mai, have
splintered and mount random attacks. Attacks from Uganda's
separate rebel LRA in the north underscore wider instability.
While backing an army that sometimes commits human rights
abuses, U.N. peacekeeping bases have twice been attacked in the
past four months, leaving three blue helmets dead.
Mass rapes of civilians carried out by predominantly Mai Mai
and FDLR rebels between July 30-Aug. 3 in North Kivu province
underlined Congo's precarious security and raised questions over
the effectiveness of Congolese and U.N. forces. [ID:nN07254542]
What to watch:
-- U.N. peacekeepers. The U.N. acquiesced to Congolese
demands and withdrew 1,494 troops in June, leaving 17,625 in
country. The U.N. says further withdrawals will depend on the
security threat, but Kabila wants them gone by end-2011.
-- Crackdown on the army. Pressure on the army is rising as
more human rights abuses and illegal mining come to light, and
Congo may seek to launch investigations into criminal networks.
-- CNDP ex-rebels. Current leader General Bosco Ntaganda is
wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, but
says he is second-in-command of U.N.-backed army operations, and
the fragile alliance with the army is under strain.
-- Land and ethnicity. These two issues remain at the heart
of Congo's simmering conflicts, especially in the east.
-- ADF-NALU rebels. U.N. experts say they are funded from
London, and around 600 well-trained rebels who want an Islamic
state in Uganda remain despite a Congolese army operation
against them that prompted more than 90,000 people to flee.
-- FNL rebels. U.N. experts say Burundi rebel leader Agathon
Rwasa is amassing hundreds of fighters in South Kivu. The army
continues a U.N. special forces operation to clear armed groups.
-- Intervention from neighbours. Relations with neighbouring
Uganda and Rwanda have warmed but both countries face a testing
year and trouble in either country could have repercussions.