Friday, 30 October 2015

POLAND: Beata Szydlo & Law and Justice Party

Poland's parliamentary elections in late October swept the right-wing Law and Justice party into power. Its current popularity is partly due to leading candidate Beata Szydlo, who has helped tone down its strident, nationalistic image.

Poland's conservative Law and Justice party won an absolute majority in both chambers of parliament in elections last Sunday, marking the first time in 26 years of democratic rule that one party will form a government. Law and Justice, also known by its acronym PiS, broke through that glass ceiling with more than 37 percent of votes. It won the plurality of votes in all categories of the electorate, by reaching out to better-educated urban voters and making advances in the western provinces of the country for the first time.

After being in opposition for eight years, Law and Justice will now occupy 235 out 460 seats in the lower chamber of parliament and 61 out 100 in the Senate. The 2015 parliamentary elections were in stark contrast to those held in 2011, when the governing party, the center-right Civic Platform led by then Prime Minister Donald Tusk, won easily.

That election was also a milestone: It was the first time since Poland's post-communist transition to democracy that governing coalition parties held on to power for another four-year term. In 2015, however, Civic Platform scored just 24 percent of the vote, winning only 138 seats in parliament's lower chamber and 34 in the Senate.

For the first time since his twin brother Lech died in the Smolensk plane crash in 2010, Jaroslaw Kaczynski chose not to run for election and to endorse a woman as the party's leading candidate. For the conservative, Catholic PiS, this amounted to the dawning of a new era, one that first shimmered on the horizon in the spring of 2015, when the party leadership named the little-known member of the European Parliament Andrzej Duda as its presidential candidate. He was handpicked by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who singlehandedly decides who gets on the ticket.

Unexpectedly, Duda, a 43-year-old lawyer from Krakow, went on to defeat the centrist incumbent in a stunning victory. Five months later, Beata Szydlo repeated his success. But she has a reputation for being well-adjusted, hard-working and resilient. But also a little dull. Since it was founded in 2001, PiS has dominated Poland's political right. It only once triumphed over the rival Civic Platform. Between 2005 and 2007, Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski were respectively prime minister and president of Poland, constituting a power-sharing team never seen before, notable not only because the twin brothers were so hard to tell apart.

Civic Platform, whose top dog Donald Tusk went to Brussels last year to take over as president of the European Council, the powerful body that represents the EU member states, is struggling to rise to the challenge. In the past, it was enough to deride the PiS as a party of nationalist nutcases. But as the presidential election demonstrated, this no longer flies. When incumbent President Bronislaw Komorowski refused to participate in a televised debate with his opponent Andrzej Duda, seriously underestimating his popularity, the voters saw it as an expression of arrogance and held it against him.

Recent weeks have seen his party colleague, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, conduct an uninspired campaign that has resolutely refused to catch fire. Kopacz is seen as an unimaginative technocrat; her party as a bunch of power-mad, arrogant liberals.

The party was also damaged by what has been dubbed the "taping scandal." Eighteen months ago, the press came across recordings of conversations that took place among senior Civic Platform politicians over boiled octopus in exclusive Warsaw restaurants. Not only did they seem decadent, they also seemed a little coarse.  It also emerged that a member of parliament with the Civic Platform had omitted to mention a wristwatch worth over €5,000 when he declared his assets, and that Education Minister Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, accountable for the dilapidated condition of many elementary schools, was sending her children to private schools.

The Kaczynskis ushered in a difficult era for Poland, then a freshly minted EU member. At home, the brothers launched political witch hunts against old Communist networks, while on the foreign policy front they ramped up the rhetoric against Germany, which they accused of playing down its World War II guilt. Poland assumed the role of Europe's troublemaker.

When its coalition government with two unreliable smaller parties collapsed, PiS was defeated in snap elections. The Polish people were tired of constant domestic turmoil and polarization. Donald Tusk's liberal Civic Platform came to power in 2007, and in 2010, incumbent President Lech Kaczynski and his entourage were killed when a government jet crashed while attempting to land near Smolensk, Russia.

Shortly thereafter, Jaroslaw announced he would replace his brother and spearhead the PiS alone. He suffered a string of defeats. His strident tone and nationalist pathos seemed obsolete at a time when the country was enjoying an economic upswing and evolving into a respected European partner.
It was time for fresh, friendly faces. Politicians like Duda and Szydlo, with realistic demands and moderate voices. For the first time in years, the party looked as though it could break out of its core supporters' 20 percent ghetto and attract voters in the political center.

Expensive wristwatches and gourmet restaurants don't feature in the world of Beata Szydlo. She doesn't have to pretend to be down-to-earth -- she just is. She served seven years as mayor of her home-town of Brzeszcze, a city of 12,000 inhabitants in southern Poland -- the most senior political office she's held so far.

She hasn't been afraid to get her hands dirty during her campaign. In the small town of Pcim she knuckled down with locals renovating the school, which lost its roof in a storm. In Brzeszcze she mingled with miners protesting against the threatened closure of their pit. Her campaign slogan is "Damy rade" -- "We Can Do It."

Today's Poland is not the same country as the one once ruled by the Kaczynski twins. Despite the global financial crisis, its economy has grown steadily. Unemployment is low. The country doesn't need to go begging. Thanks to agricultural subsidies and billions worth of aid for infrastructure projects, the EU remains highly popular. The Polish people wouldn't forgive Kaczynski and his party were their country to be turned back into an outsider.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Expert

DRC: Kabila v the Constitution

The second and final five-year term of DRC's president Joseph Kabila is supposed to end in 2016. But most people think he will try to extend his stay, just as Mr Compaoré, ex Burkina-Faso president did.

On Sept, 27, street demonstrations in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) drew significant if not overwhelming large crows. The target of the protesters' ire was President Joseph Kabila, whose loyalists had spent a busy summer testing public opinion on a controversial issue: amending or even replacing the country's constitution to remove presidential term limits.

The subject is of more than academic interest to Kabila, who is fast approaching the end of his final term in office, having assumed the presidency upon the murder of his foster father in 2001 before winning fraudulently  elections in 2006 and 2011. On the question of constitutional change, however, the national mood was unequivocal: a loud rejection of the idea, from civil society, opposition politicians and even some members of the ruling coalition, the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy(PPRD). Undeterred by this discouraging response, the president's advisers have pushed on regardless.

Ever more convoluted semantics have been deployed to chip away at Article 220 of the Congolese constitution, which states that presidents can only serve a maximum of two five-year terms and for added protection, prohibits any reversal of this clause. The president's cheerleaders acknowledge this inconvenience but argue with a straight face that there is nothing to stop 220 Article or even the constitution itself from being changed or revoke.

Sources in DRC confirm loudly that Joseph Kabila and his cheerleaders have moving toward their secret plan: A Constitutional referendum, to forge through Kabila's third term. Kabila is exploring many political avenues to cling on power beyond this second-term.

According to the same sources, Kabila had first proposed to Moise Katumbi, what would be a new position of vice president and the possibility to run for presidency after Kabila's departure, in exchange of his support for a constitutional reform to guarantee Kabila's third term. Katumbi knowingly what happened to four previous vice presidents, refused and resigned from Kabila's political family, the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD). Then, drawing inspiration from Denis Sassou Nguesso(Congo), Paul Kagamé(Rwanda) and Pierre Nkurunziza(Burundi), Kabila and his cheerleaders are romancing the notion of a constitutional referendum to materialize Kabila's third term ambitions.

To understand why Kabila would consider a constitutional referendum to cling to power, you have to understand DRC politics and society first-and why Kabila could find himself  inadvertently caught in his own traps.

Politics of polarization

One of the issues is that the politics of exclusion being practiced by Kabila tends to polarize the country, dividing the population and antagonist into conflict with one another, his bad associations with some members of M23, his elements police, human rights abuses, extra judicial killings, especially at the hands of those in government and allegations of corruption.

These going-on provide lots of fodder for International Criminal Court. If today Kabila stood down the ICC would probably be swamped with charges against him. It is misleading to suggest that Kabila would just step down at the end of his second-term. Fearing for his safety after leaving the office is one of the incentives for Kabila to cling on to power.

A strangle-hold on the military:

Armies have traditionally belonged to the man in power in DRC, and very lopsided in their composition. In many cases Kabila has used the army to repress the people, especially during protests and campaigns. Kabila has been manipulating the insecurity in eastern-DRC as a leverage to maneuver and control the reigns of power. it would not be surprising, as it has been the case in the past, to witness the rebirth of M23, prior to the elections and use this scenario to postpone or force a constitutional referendum.

Far from reassuring people of his intention to leave, Kabila has taken drastic measure suggesting the opposite. He has reorganised the army, putting his most loyal men in key positions. He is counting of the army to suppress any protests, as it happened in Congo-Brazzaville during constitutional referendum. Yes, Kabila is banking on the armies to repress protests in any event that his secret plan of constitutional referendum is greeted with clashes on the streets.

The Money bags:

Just like it is with the military, in DRC the president owns the money.When Kabila needs to finance his schemes, it is not unheard of for him to have money printed by the central bank to finance these activities.When it comes time to campaign against the opposition Kabila can use this money to gain an unfair advantage, as by bribing the votes. Sources confirm that Parliamentarians, Senators and some parts of the population have been given money to sign a petition that would trigger a constitutional referendum, early next year in DRC.

A poor peasant's vote in DRC goes to the highest bidder. the Majority of the voting population is illiterate and easy to manipulate with token presents, threats and misinformation. Even without rigging the vote it is possible for an ill-intentioned incumbent president to buy the vote and win with a landslide.

An International community that has become weary of DRC's problems:

The international community, it goes without saying, is tired of DRC's problems. If we are tired as Congolese, who blame them? this situation however is exactly what the politically corrupt in DRC want. For any smart and ruthless politician in DRC who wants to rule for life nothing is going to stand in his way, barring the intervention of s super power such as the USA and possibly bad luck.

Kabila even has the luxury to learn from the mistakes of others presidents but also draw inspiration. What happened in Burkina-Faso, where the presidents got deposed for trying to amend the constitution to give himself a third term; the same style of revolution could not be repeated in Burundi, all under very similar circumstances. Furthermore, Rwanda's president and Congo's president have respectively managed to amend the constitution, clearing a way for a third term in the office, despite the protests of the populations.

Mindful of rising doubts about him in the west, Kabila may seek friends elsewhere. Dozens of contracts for oil, hydropower, farming and mining projects worth billions of dollars are in the offing. A Kabila's confidant is in charge of an unaudited minerals-for infrastructure deal with China that includes $12 billion to provide power from the Congo river. Angola wants an agreement over oil off the coastline it shares with DRC. Such things may win friends and give Kabila and his economy some respite, in case of sanctions but they may not bolster DRC's fragile democracy.

Logistical/financial conundrum

Meeting the electoral timetable has become an increasingly unrealistic endeavor, as the necessary legal, logistical, and financial measures are not yet in place. For example, the gubernatorial elections for 16 newly created provinces slated for August 31 were postponed by the electoral commission for an indefinite period due to the failure of provincial assemblies to adopt the necessary political and legal measures.

Moreover, western donors have expressed criticism of the election preparations thus far and remain reluctant to provide financial backing to the government. In the context of rising anti-Kabila sentiment, the announcement of further delays to the electoral timeline will continue to trigger similar backlash. Uncertainty over the feasibility of the electoral process is fuelling wider disquiet and threaten the stability and prosperity of the country.

With Mobutu in mind, DRC's constitution of 2006 was meant to heal the wounds of war and prevent the return of dictatorship. The number and length of the mandates of the president cannot be the object of any constitutional revision or constitutional referendum. But Kabila seems loth to say unequivocally that he will step down. Some of his most senior advisers and the president of Senate have come out against any constitutional change. So has the Catholic church. The American special envoy to the region, Russ Feingold, has told Kabila to move on, while discussing guarantees for his future security.

It would be a sign of political narrow mindedness to envisage that Joseph Kabila is to step down at the end of his second term without trying. It would be a miracle if he does. Kabila is banking on the military, his key faithful cheerleaders, his money and any delay in the electoral process to postpone or push a constitutional referendum to consolidate his grip on the power.

The imperative to preserve the national unity, security in eastern-DRC, stabilizing the economy would be cited as the pretext by Kabila and his cheerleaders to advocate the notion of constitutional referendum that would trigger Kabila's third term. If that happens, there would have equally baleful consequences. Kabila and his clan do not have to look far: Burkina Faso.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Researcher and Writer
African Affairs Expert

IVORY COAST: Beyond Ouattara's luckluster victory

Alassane Ouattara has been re-elected to a second term as the president of Ivory Coast, in the first peaceful presidential election in the country in more than two decades. The provisional results of the Sunday election, announced by the Independent Electoral Commission on Wednesday, declared Mr Ouattara the winner, with 83.7 percent of the 3.1. Million votes counted.

Mr Ouattara's closest challenger, Mr Pascal Affi N'Guessan got 9%. He is an ally of Mr Gbabgo who faces trial at the International criminal Court. Several candidates withdrew from the poll, saying it was not free and fair. However, US and EU election observers claimed that the election was credible.

Mr Ouattara, 73, an American-trained economist and a former top official at the International Monetary Fund, has managed to guide an economic recovery growth rates surpassing 8 percent. His challenge now is to sustain such growth and spread it evenly across all regions, as he tries to reconcile this still divided nation.

Starting in 2000, civil war and violence tore Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, into two factions, culminating in bloody clashes that left 3,000 people dead in 2011, after former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down to let Mr Ouattara succeed him. It took an international military intervention to remove Mr Gbagbo, who faces trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges relating to the 2011 violence.

The economy is booming, with growth rates consistently above 8 percent, and in a region scarred by crises, from the ravages of Ebola to Islamic extremism in the Maghreb and around Lake Chad, Code d'Ivoire, under Ouattara, stands out as an attractive proposition from investors. Abidjan has bounced back from the dark days of post-election violence in 2010 and 2011, with life returning even to the poor neighbourhoods that saw the worst of the fighting. Mr Ouattara, a smooth, bilingual technocrat, has maintained good external relations. The future seems bright.

It also seems a resounding vindication for Ouattara's allies, chief among them France, which intervened decisively against former president Laurent Gbagbo, the loser in 2010. The precise role played by external forces in the fighting, particularly the destruction of Gbagbo's fortified residence in April 2011, will probably never be known, but it is likely to have been pivotal in securing Ouattara's triumph. Gbagbo is now in The Hague, standing trial at the International Criminal Court alongside his key lieutenant, Charles Blé Goude. Earlier this year, a court in Cote d'Ivoire sentenced Gbagbo's wife, Simone, to 20 years in prison for her role in the crisis.

As victories go, this one seems crushingly complete. Of course, winners get to write the histories. The dominant narrative of the 2010-2011 crisis casts Gbagbo as an aging demagogue, clinging to power through the deployment of increasingly rabid ethno-nationalism, finally unseated by a principled coalition acting in defense of a democratically elected president. West Africa stood form against Gbagbo, and the international allies put their money and troops where their mouth was to support Ouattara. It is not by any means a wholly inaccurate view. Security has largely returned across the country. And the headline Ivorian economy has bounced back strongly, with Ouattara's international allies following up their military support with substantial debt relief and external investors pouring in.

The final toll from the violence that broke out from November 2010 to June 2011 was some 3,000 dead, not on the scale many feared, but still an appalling number.

And the narrative of Gbagbo as self-interested spoiler elides the fact that he received nearly half of the votes in the last election. Deep grievances remain in the huge geographical and ethnic constituencies that voted for him, communities far from the bustle of Abidjan's construction sites that are now at risk of being increasingly marginalized. Allegations of harassment and abuse against Gbagbo supporters continue, and periodic spikes of violence are reported in his western bastions of support.

There have been some efforts to tackle Cote d'Ivoire's post-conflict challenges. A disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program was put in place, and a truth and reconciliation commission set up. Officials agreed on a national plan for restructuring of the security sector and established a permanent mechanism for political dialogue between the government and opposition.

But these have largely been technical exercises, skating over rather than addressing Cote d'Ivoire's fundamental challenges. The DDR program missed a significant number of those who had fought for Gbagbo during the civil war, many whom remain in hiding or in exile. Some weapons were handed in and destroyed, but many more remain in circulation. The reconciliation process heard testimony from more than 60,000 individuals, but has not lanced the boil of ethnic grievances, let alone healed it. Military reform has left commanders of the old Forces Nouvelles (FN) - the group that held the North during the country's civil war and fought for Ouattara during 2010-2011 crisis-outside formal command strictures. Some are alleged to be deeply involved in racketeering, criminality and abuse.

There also remains a widespread perception that, just as with history, justice in Cote d'Ivoire remains the preserve of the victors. Nearly all those investigated and prosecuted for abuses carried out after the 2010 election have been associated with the Gbagbo's regime, including most recently first lady, Simone Gbagbo's chief bodyguard, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. 

Yet serious abuses were carried out during the crisis by both sides, including by the very FN commanders now getting fat on the post-war settlement. In fact, those responsible for the single most serious incident-the 2011 massacre of some 700 Gbagbo supporters at Douekoue, a western market town, have not yet been formally identified, let alone prosecuted. A new Special Investigations Unit is reportedly underfunded and so far ineffective. Two senior FN commanders were put under investigation in July 2015, thought it remains to be seem if they will ultimately face trial.

So post-war Cote d'Ivoire remains fundamentally bipolar, with an outward-looking, confident surface masking deep reservoir of resentment. It falls to Ouattata, above all, to reconcile these two personas. His ability to govern is heavily dependent on his external appeal, which is founded on his reputation as champion of the democratic process. He has promised, for instance, not to stand for a third term. Going back on this promise seems extremely unlikely. So he and his allies have a complex web to untangle and not much time to do it.

To date, his fractions and heterogeneous coalition has left him a little room to maneuver. He is succeeding, so far, in holding his power base together, most importantly securing the support of the Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire, or PDCI, of former president Henri Konan Bedié, which commanded the pivotal swing vote from the center of the country. The opposition, most importantly Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front, or FPI, is still fractured and incoherent-an FPI faction stood against Ouattata in Sunday's election, while others boycotted. A relatively peaceful victory was then the clear outcome.

But Ouattara now faces significant political turbulence. Many key PDCI figures are unhappy about ceding the presidency for another term. Guillaume Soro, former political leader of the Forces Nouvelles and current head of the National Assembly, remains a key powerbroker and rival, and may resist investigations of FN abuses. Ouattara's electoral legitimacy is undermined by the FPI's partial boycott.

There have been direct talks with FPI, which has long resisted involvement in the formal dialogue mechanism. Some important prisoners tied to Gbagbo have been released, as noted, two FN commanders placed under investigation. But these are tentative steps. Real security sector reform and equitable justice remain absent. Moreover, external investment must be translated into domestic economic diversification and sustainable employment, and the spoils shared out beyond Abidjan.

It is not impossible to reintegrate once warring factions into Cote d'Ivoire's society, but doing so will require brave leadership from the top. Ouattara has yet to show that, even if he won another presidential term.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Researcher & Writer
African Affairs Expert

Thursday, 8 October 2015

EUROPE: Migrants Crisis--A Comprehensive Plan

The European Union needs to accept responsibility for the lack of common asylum policy, which has transformed this year's growing influx of refugees from a manageable problem into yet another political crisis. Each member state has selfishly focused on its own interest, often acting against the interests of others. This precipitated panic among asylum seekers, the general public, and the authorities responsible for law and order.Asylum Seekers have been the main victims.

Yesterday, France's President, Francois Hollande and Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel delivered passionate pleas for greater European Unity in tackling the continent's many challenges on Wednesday in a landmark joint addresses to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Speaking in turns, Hollande and Merkel delivered a strong defence of the Franco-German partnership and its role in driving EU integration and tackling the many challenges the continent faces today. They singled out Europe's migrant crisis, the Ukraine conflict and Greece's debt woes as examples of the two countries'ability to overcome disagreements for the benefit of the 28-member bloc.

Striking an ominous tone, Hollande warned against nationalist reactions on refugees, the euro and other crises, arguing that failure to find a united response would spell ''the end of Europe. He stressed that it would be ''tragic error'' to call into question Europe's open borders. Instead, he advocated the need for member states to come up with a coherent asylum policy. I could not agree more with him.

Merkel, whose governmentt has pledged to take in up to 800,000 refugees this year, urged EU members to reform the bloc's obsolete rules on asylum. ''In the refugee crisis, we must not succumb to the temptation of falling back into national action'', said the German Chancellor, who has struggled to persuade her EU partners to share the burden of hosting refugees.

The EU needs a comprehensive plan to respond to the crisis, one that reasserts effective governance over the flows of asylum seekers so that they take place in a safe, orderly way, and at a pace that reflects Europe's capacity to absorb them.

To be comprehensive, the plan, has to extend beyond the borders of Europe, less disruptive and much less expensive to maintain potential asylum-seekers in or close to their present location. As the origin of the current crisis is Syria, the fate of the Syrian population has to be the first priority. But other asylum-seekers and migrants must not be forgotten.

Similarly, a European plan must be accompanied by a global response, under the authority of the United Nations and involving its member states. This would distribute the burden of the Syrian crisis over a large number states, while also establishing global standards for dealing with the problem of forced migration more generally.

A comprehensive plan should have these components:

First, the EU has to accept at least a million of asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future. And, to do that, it must share the burden fairly; Germany should not be left with all the burden of asylum-seekers. This principle was clearly established in Hollande and Merkel robust interventions at European parliament, yesterday.

Adequate financing is critical. The EU should provide €15.000 per asylum-seeker fro each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs- and to make accepting refugees more appealing to member states. It can raise these funds by issuing long-term bonds using its largest untapped AAA borrowing capacity, which will have the added benefit of providing a justified fiscal stimulus to the European economy.

It is equally important to allow both states and asylum seekers to express their preferences, using the least possible coercion. Placing refugees where they want to go-and where they are wanted is a ''Sine qua non'' of success.

Second, the EU must lead the global effort to provide adequate funding to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey to support the four million refugees currently living in those countries. Thus far, only a fraction of the funding needed for even basic care has been raised. If education, training, and other essential needs are included, the annual costs are at least €5,000 per refugee, or €20 billion. EU aid today to Turkey, though doubled last week, still amounts to just €1 billion.

In addition, the EU also should help create special economic zones with preferred trade status in the region, including in Tunisia, Morocco, to attract investment and generate jobs for both local and refugees. The EU would need to make an annual commitment to frontline countries of at least €8-10 billion, with the balance coming from the United States and the rest of the world. This could be added to the amount of long term bonds issued to support asylum-seekers in Europe.

Third, the EU must immediately start building a single EU asylum and Migration Agency and eventually a single EU Border Guard, The current patchwork of 28 separate asylum systems does not work. It is expensive, inefficient, and produces wildly inconsistent results in determining who qualifies for asylum.

The new agency would gradually streamline procedures, establish common rules for employment and entrepreneurship, as well as consistent benefits and develop an effective rights-respecting return policy for migrants who do not qualify for asylum.

Fourth, safe channels must be established for asylum-seekers, starting with getting them from Greece and Italy to their destinations countries. This is very urgent in order to calm the panic.The next logical step is to extend safe avenues to the frontline region, thereby reducing the number of migrants who make dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

If asylum-seekers have a reasonable chance of ultimately reaching Europe, they are far more likely to stay where they are. This will require negotiating with frontline countries, in cooperation with UN-Refugee Agency, to establish processing centers there-

The operational and financial arrangements developed by the EU should be used to establish global standards for the treatment of asylum-seekers and migrants. This is the fifth piece of the comprehensive plan.

Finally, to absorb and integrate more than a million asylum seekers and migrants a year, the EU meeds to mobilize the private sector-NGOs, Church groups, and businesses-to act as sponsors. This will require not only sufficient funding, but also the human and IT capacity to match migrants and sponsors.

The exodus from war-torn Syria should never have become a crisis. It was long in the making, easy to foresee, and eminently manageable by Europe and the international community. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán has now also produced a six-point plan to address the crisis. But his plan, which subordinates human rights of asylum-seekers and migrants to the security of borders, threatens to divide and destroy the EU by renouncing the values on which it was built and violating the laws that are supposed to govern it.

The EU must respond with a genuinely European asylum policy that will put an end to the panic and the unnecessary human suffering.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs/Political Expert

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Dr-CONGO: Kabila's suicidal strategy

President Joseph Kabila has promised that presidential election in Dr-Congo will take place as scheduled in November 2016. If he decides to delay or maneuver for a third term, as seems likely, prospects for the country are ominous and instability will spill over into neighboring countries.

If Kabila chooses to abide by the constitution, he would be the first Congolese president to step down voluntarily for another elected president--arguably making him the ''father of democracy'' in Dr-Congo. That would be a major step forward for a nation that suffered brutal colonial rule under King Leopold II of Belgium, decades of post-colonial dictatorship under Mobutu Sese Seko, and then years of deadly war in which a constellation of rebel groups and armies from nine African states battled on Congolese soil.

Yet, if Kabila chooses to hang on to power, his reputation will be tarnished, not only by the failure to respect the un-amendable constitutional two term limit, but also the likelihood of a violent and abusive chain reaction. To envision how downward spiral of protest and violent repression might unfold in Congo over a disputed extended presidential term, one need to look no further than neighboring Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza's insistence on a constitutionally questionable third term has yielded the deadly suppression of mass protests.

The stakes of Dr-Congo's  upcoming elections are high. The country's constitution bars Kabila, who has ruled the country since 2001, from running for a third five year term. An the Congolese are bracing themselves for more unrest, as Kabila's onetime allies break with him and the streets of Kinshasa and other major urban areas grow increasingly restless. Whether or not full-on turmoil breaks our rests largely on the president's decision about his own political future. And so far, Kabila seems eager to extend that future, indefinitely.

As a prerequisite for the November 2016 presidential election, Kabila's government has insisted on first holding local elections to select mayors, local councilors, and administrators. But these elections, slated for October 25, will be the most complex the country has ever attempted, with 8.000 seats up for grabs. Election officials agree, in private, that it will be impossible to hold the polls this year due to their logistical complexity, cost-up to $1.1 billion- and a basic lack of resources. 

Kabila, however, seems intent on forging ahead. On August 26, he signed a law allocating seats for the upcoming local elections, meaning that government is determined to proceed with risky polls that have a high likelihood of failure. If they do fail, presidential elections will likely be delayed.

On September 14, seven political parties, all members of the ruling coalition, wrote to the president, denouncing his ''un-stated intention not to respect the constitution'' and suggesting that this was ''a suicidal strategy''. The same day, all the seven signatories, including the national security advisor, the minister of planning, and the vice president of the national assembly, where promptly fired.

According to officials close to this Group of Seven, as these dissidents are now known, they are backed by Moise Katumbi, governor of the mining-rich southern province of Katanga. Katumbi, who has been employing a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C, to promote his presidential ambitions, has deep pocket and is well-connected among the foreign business community. On September 29, Katumbi officially resigned from Kabila's party PPRD, a probable precursor to launching his own campaign.

Kabila is preparing himself for the storm to come. In an effort to divide his opponents and placate the streets, he has courted the main opposition party, UDPS (Union for Democracy and Social Progress), led by octogenarian Etienne Tshisekedi. Representatives form both sides held secretive talks in Venice and Ibiza in recent months, discussing the contours of a potential national dialogue to resolve the dispute over the sequence of elections. On September 13, however, the UDPS representatives announced that talks had broken down. Its leaders claimed that the government was attempting to co-opt the UDPS into a national unity government in order to postpone the presidential election indefinitely.

Kabila also finds his international support waning. U.S. criticism of Kabila has grown increasingly strident. During his tenure as the Obama's administration's special envoy for Africa's Great Lakes region, Sen Russ Feingold called for Kabila to step down at the end of his term on several occasions. His Belgian, French, and British counterparts support this stance but have been less outspoken.

But Kabila may be able to pivot away from Western support. Donor contributions to Dr-Congo have declined in recent years, going from 42 percent of the country's budget in 2010 to 19 percent in 2015, as mineral production has increased dramatically. As of last year, Dr-Congo is now Africa's largest Copper and Cobalt producer, though the recent commodity slump has dampened its ambitions somewhat.

As Dr-Congo has tried to wean itself off foreign donors, Kabila has asked for scaling down of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, claiming that violence has decreased and the state security forces have improved, and is looking increasingly toward China for support. While the $6 billion infrastructure for mineral deal concluded between the countries in 2007 has been slow to reap dividends for both sides, Kabila's trip to Beijing in August and the recent sale of lucrative mining concessions in Katanga to two Chinese companies-Zijin Mining Group and Huayou Cobalt-confirm this eastward turn.

In the end, Kabila's plans are still unclear. He may still try to launch a frontal attack on the constitution to change term limits, and on September 22 members of his coalition submitted a law preparing for a constitutional referendum.

Playing for time, however, is a risky strategy, and Kabila has often spoken, in public and private, about not wanting to end up like two of hos heroes-his adoptive father Laurent Kabila, and Dr-Congo's first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, both of whom were assassinated in office. The Current view form the presidential palace cannot be comforting: The Congolese security forces are riven with internal divisions and patronage networks while the combination of a divided elite, an incensed population and foreign opprobrium signals troubled waters ahead.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist/Writer
Political Analyst/African Affairs Expert

Thursday, 1 October 2015

D-RC-U.S: Challenge to "Conflict Minerals" Court ruling

On August 18, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued the latest in a series of decisions on the case National Association of Manufacturers, et al. v. SEC, upholding a previous decision that one part of the rule violates companies' First Amendment rights, but keeping the majority of companies' disclosure requirements intact. The deadline for parties to file for a review of the case by the court en banc is this Friday, October 2.

In 2012, the SEC promulgated the Conflict Minerals Rule based on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act's Section 1502. A group of industry associations challenged the rule in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals based on the Administrative Procedure Act and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The recent ruling that the descriptor requirement violates companies' free speech rights and agrees with the dissenting opinion that "DRC Conflict Free" is a factual and uncontroversial statement. Whether certain minerals in a supply chain are linked to the funding of an armed group is a matter of investigation, not a matter of opinion. It is not always an easy fact to determine, but it is a fact nonetheless.

Some misleading media reporting has said that the most recent ruling "threw out the rule" or "gutted" the rule. In fact, the only portion of the rule that industry associations are challenging in court is the requirement for companies to use "descriptors" in their reporting, that is, to report whether or not their products are "DRC Conflict Free" or "Not Been Found to be 'DRC Conflict Free.'" The remainder of the reporting requirements are still in place. Thus, companies are legally bound to continue reporting on their minerals' origins and their due diligence practices.

While it is only a limited win for the industry associations, the decision to strike the descriptor requirement is detrimental for the transparency and humanitarian goals of the Conflict Minerals Rule. In the absence of the descriptor requirement, three major problems arise:

First, the audit requirement for companies will likely disappear. The audit requirement represents an important accountability mechanism to make sure companies' reports are truthful and accurate. Without audits, companies could make statements about their supply chains, and the public would have no way of knowing whether they were being truthful, as no independent third party would have verified them.

Second, companies' Conflict Minerals Reports will become less accessible to the public and investors. Companies' due diligence reporting can be complex and dense, whereas the descriptor provides a clear summary statement of the outcome of a company's due diligence. This is critical for giving consumers and investors the information they need to both choose which companies to support and pressure companies to improve their practices.

Finally, the descriptor requirement exerts internal pressure for companies to understand and summarize their own supply chains and due diligence practices by requiring they reach a clear conclusion. As we have seen in the first two years of companies reporting to the SEC on conflict minerals, many companies are falling far short of robust due diligence reporting.

Many companies are starting to simply claim that they looked a bit into their supply chains and did not find anything troublesome but give almost no information about what due diligence they actually conducted. The descriptor can act as a lever to push companies to do more thorough investigations and reporting in service of reaching a clear, truthful summary conclusion.

The decision, as it stands, is one result of a larger strategy by certain corporate actors using the First Amendment to avoid regulation and public accountability. In this case, that effort is particularly harmful: it aims to protect companies' right to remain blind to their potential financial support of deadly armed groups. The growing number of investors and consumers who care about corporate responsibility, along with the people in central Africa affected by U.S. companies' sourcing practices, deserve better.

This next phase of appeal is essential, both for the sake of corporate transparency and for efforts to build sustainable peace in Congo. The court's latest decision, calling the constitutionality of the rule's descriptor component into question, is on very shaky ground. Moreover, if the requirement for companies to conclusively describe their products is struck down permanently, the significant positive momentum that Dodd-Frank 1502 has helped trigger in Congo could be disrupted.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Expert

D-RC: Katumbi's resignation

After a long silence, Moïse Katumbi has finally spoken out. On 29 September, the celebrated governor of the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Katanga province announced his resignation from the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), the country's main ruling party led by President Joseph Kabila.

In a declaration posted on his Twitter account, Katumbi, seen by many as a potential candidate for the presidency, said he had decided to resign over what he said was the national government's attempts defy the constitution and delay elections. "At the moment when we, the Congolese people, are in the final straightaway of the President of the Republic's constitutional mandate, the facts indicate that ... everything is being done to not respect the Constitution," he wrote.

Hailing from Katanga, the heart of Kabila's political power base, Katumbi had long been considered among the president's staunchest supporters and a natural successor. However, Katumbi has publicly distanced himself from Kabila over the past year. He is not the first of Kabila's allies to break with the president. Members of seven parties were expelled from the ruling coalition earlier this month for signing a letter demanding that Kabila relinquish power when his term expires, and three government ministers also quit the cabinet.

The DRC is in the middle of a complex electoral process where the key question is whether Kabila will leave office in 2016. Kabila has been in power for 14 years, and according to the constitution, he will not be eligible to run for elections once his two terms as elected president come to a close next year. However, that has not stopped him trying to circumvent these provisions.

Indeed, in Katumbi's declaration, the governor strongly condemns recent attempts by the regime to change the constitution or delay elections to prolong Kabila's reign. He also criticises the arbitrary arrests of pro-democracy activists as well as increased intimidation and repression. And he calls on the Congolese people, political parties, and civil society to fight against fatalism and to help save the DRC's young democracy.

Although Katanga is Kabila's home province, the president witnessed as public opinion in the region increasingly moved away from him. By the end of the year, Katumbi, who has been governor of the province since 2007, was distancing himself from Kabila too.

In December 2014, coming back from a long absence abroad, Katumbi indicated in some of his speeches that he was against Kabila presenting himself for a third mandate. The governor raised expectations in his public speeches in December 2014 and early 2015, but remains quiet about any presidential ambitions he may have.

At the end of February, Katumbi met with Kabila and they talked for more than two hours in private. Following this, different versions of what was said emerged, but what the various accounts have in common is that: 1) Kabila proposed something concrete to Katumbi (though what this was depends on which version of events you trust); 2) Katumbi refused; and 3) both leaders agreed not to air their disputes in public.

Katumbi, for instance, has not openly criticised découpage, the policy of splitting up of the DRC's 11 provinces in 26. Although this idea was mandated in the 2006 constitution, Kabila's recent drive to implement the move has been widely interpreted as a way to disempower Katumbi by breaking up the huge, copper-rich Katanga province and his authority over it.

As governor of Katanga, Katumbi has been responsible for positive changes and new dynamics in the province. He has a good reputation as businessman and manager, and is seen to be generous. He also has the money and looks for a great campaign. He is charismatic and has cleverly used his success in football and development to feed into his political ambitions. In fact, Katumbi is currently seen as one of the few - if not the only - politician who might be able to mobilise a considerable electorate in most of the country's 26 provinces.

However, Katumbi also has a many elements playing against him. There are some dark shadows hanging over his business past, he might not have the strength of personality to be a leader, he is not considered to be a sophisticated intellectual or visionary, and he has a lot of adversaries in Katanga.

The business community of the province complains that he uses his political mandate to reinforce his economic empire and acquire as many commercial monopolies as possible. And the fact that his father is Jewish is also likely be used against him in some way.

The question now is of how Katumbi will position himself on the political chessboard. He will certainly need strong alliances if he wants to present himself as the leader of a credible and sustainable process of change.

Whatever happens next, Katumbi's declaration ends a turbulent September for President Kabila. Earlier last month, the opposition UDPS party broke off negotiations with the government over conditions for a national dialogue regarding the electoral process. The combined effect of these events is nothing less than an earthquake which could redraw the vast DRC's political landscape.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/ Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Expert