Why “The Will of the People” is a Terrible Reason to Stay in Power

An interesting report on Quartz Africa on Paul Kagame’s reasoning to run for a third term as President of Rwanda:

His answer to the pointed question, “Why pursue a third term,” asked on panel by former UK prime minister Tony Blair?

Democracy.

Speaking on stage at the World Economic Forum on Africa, which Rwanda is hosting for the first time, with Blair on one side and investor/philanthropist Howard Buffett on the other, Kagame said in deciding to run for a third seven-year term in 2017 and extend his presidency, he was simply respecting the wishes of the Rwandan people.

“I didn’t ask for this thing,” he said, adding that there had been a very healthy debate within his party and with ordinary citizens about whether he should continue on as president. “I’ve told Rwandans it’s not just not what you think of for yourselves, but what others think of us.” Kagame has been president since 2000.

“I said, maybe you need to take a risk with someone else,” Kagame said, suggesting they pick someone from the ruling party RPF or elsewhere. “But they kept saying no, we want you to stay.”

There are some obvious problems with Kagame’s argumentation, if you look at the reality of Rwanda’s politics. While it is true that there was “a very healthy debate” and a referendum, Rwanda simply has no space for dissenting opinions. Opposition politicians have been murdered, an independent press is nonexistent and dissidents have even been intimidated and attacked abroad. So in the best case, Kagame doesn’t know if his renewed candidature really reflects the will of the people. In the worst case he knows it doesn’t and he has worked to actively suppress this will.

But that is beside the larger point I want to make.

“People” want a lot of things. And in many, if not most cases, politicians should respect these wants and work to fulfill them as best as possible. But the reason we even have politicians in a democracy (and don’t rely purely on direct votes) is that sometimes we want them to do something unpopular.

Accepting refugees is, for example, hugely unpopular in Europe right now, but it still remains the right and sensible thing to do. Not only for moral reasons, but also because there are very good long-term arguments to do so. “The tyranny of the majority” is a real thing and it can be created and misused against the interests of the very people that are part of it.

Kagame has been in power in Rwanda in one form or another since 1994. He is without a doubt an outstanding military commander and politician. But after more than 20 years of almost complete control over the Rwandan state, one of the highest per capita recipients of foreign aid, what does he still have to contribute except for himself?

There is simply little reason to assume that he will be able to realize any of his remaining political priorities if he hasn’t done so already over the last two decades. But that isn’t even the argument of his supporters. They say that Kagame himself is essential to the success of the Rwandan project:

“If I didn’t think president Kagame was going to be here for another seven years, we wouldn’t even consider doing some of the things we’re trying to do,” Buffett said to audience applause.

The obvious problem: Kagame is human and will inevitably die sooner or later. And more likely than not his mental and physical capacities will significantly deteriorate significantly earlier. That point may still be far into the future, maybe even more than the seven years of Kagame’s third term. But it could also be tomorrow. Or in six months.

If Kagame is the sensible and outstanding politician that his supporters have declared him to be, he would have recognized this. He would have devoted a significant share of his time and effort to establish institutions and mentor individuals that can take over from him. Maybe no single person can replace Kagame, but he had two decades to nurture a system that can.

Of course he didn’t and there is little reason to assume that he will do so over the next seven years. He has said nothing to that end in public and the question of succession hasn’t figured in the “healthy public debate” that precipitated his anointment as Rwanda’s patron saint. Kagame has certainly avoided the more ridiculous aspects of a personality cult à la Gaddafi or Idi Amin. But by clinging to power he makes the same fundamental mistake of equating his own continued leadership with the welfare of his nation.

This is of course not only a Rwandan, nor even an exclusively African problem. Angela Merkel is on her way to a fourth four year term in Germany. Russia’s Putin has proven to be a real innovator when it comes to working the system to stay in power (also citing popular demand, by the way). And one or two term limits are no guarantee for the good stewardship of a country, either.

But specifically in the case of Rwanda, Kagame’s renewed candidature is the tacit acknowledgment that he has failed at creating the stable and tolerant post-genocide society that the Rwandan government claims exist. By his own and other people’s admission, Kagame remains the lynchpin of the state. Statements like that of Warren Buffet above show that neither the Rwandan elite, nor their foreign partners have any confidence in the durability of his legacy. And until today, nobody has offered a plan to change this deplorable status quo. Least of all Kagame himself.

With One Arrest, Congo May Have Broken a Notorious Rebel Group

Format Link

In a heavy blow against one of Africa’s most notorious militias, Col. Leopold Mujyambere — chief of staff of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR — was arrested last week by Congolese intelligence officers in the town of Goma and later transferred to the capital Kinshasa, where he awaits either a trial or extradition.

Read the rest of my latest article on War is Boring!

Rich Links: Gas Revenues in Tanzania

  • “With the gas industry expected to be the largest player in Tanzania’s economy, the Tanzanian government could face substantial losses if they do not act to curb bad policies and practices.  Here are three major issues Tanzania needs to tackle in order to ensure they capitalize on upcoming gas revenues:”

  • “Mining prospectors will be able to apply for licences online and get feedback within 90 days, according to new amendments to the Mining Bill.”

  • “By the evidence of South Sudan’s budget, presented to parliament in late June, the country’s finance ministry has lost its mind.”

  • The Norwegian Ambassador to Ghana, Mrs. Hege Hertzberg, has urged the Ghana government to use the oil resource to transform the country’s economy from import dependent, to become a leading exporter on the African continent.

  • “Built by a consortium led by British company Globeleq, the 138 megawatt (MW) wind farm is one of Africa’s biggest – larger than the 120 MW Ashegoda windfarm that was unveiled by Ethiopia in October 2013, though not as big as the Tarfaya wind farm in south-western Morocco, which started producing energy in April and will eventually generate up to 300 MW of electricity.”

  • “Some neighbouring countries are less upbeat about the project. Citing two treaties, dating from 1929 and 1959, Egypt claims a historic right over the Nile. It fears that the dam will restrict the flow of water. […] “These treaties are now obsolete. We are entitled to build the dam,” says Alemayehu Tegenu, Ethiopia’s minister of water, energy and irrigation. “For a long time we derived no benefit from our river.”

  • “Unfortunately, Tullow could not repeat its African success story in Ethiopia. […] Sources told The Reporter that executives of Tullow decided to suspend drilling operation in Ethiopia. “They will pull out their drilling crew out of Ethiopia. They will take out their core staff to other projects in other countries and lay off the rest of the staff in their Ethiopia office.”

  • “Zimbabwe’s cotton industry will remain under pressure as international lint prices continue to wane with China’s imports expected to decline in the 2014/2015 season as the Asian nation shifts to domestic cotton for national reserves.”

  • “The duration of license now depends on the size and nature of mineral deposits, as well as the size of investment to be injected in a concession. This will be shown through a feasibility study conducted by the investor.”

Conflict minerals in the Congo: a look at the new GoE report

The United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo is maybe the authority on anything conflict related in the central African country. Tasked with briefing the Security Council twice a year on all developments related to the extensive sanctions against various actors in the DRC, their reports offer a wealth of information on everything from conflict financing to outside intervention. The upcoming report has now been leaked to African Arguments. This blog post explores the information it offers regarding the use of resources in the context of conflict in eastern DRC and elsewhere in the country.

Conflict minerals are important aspects of every GoE report, the current one being no exception. In the second paragraph of the executive summary, the GoE states that

Many armed groups in eastern DRC have derived funding from the production and trade of natural resources. […] The Group estimates that 98 percent of the gold produced in DRC is smuggled out of the country, and that nearly all of the gold traded in Uganda – the main transit country for Congolese gold – is illegally exported from DRC. […] While initiatives by OECD and ICGLR have advanced the validation of mining sites and improved adherence to conflict – free and child labor – free international standards, armed groups and the FARDC [Congolese army] continue to control many mining sites and to profit from mining and the minerals trade.

The limits of the concept of “Conflict Minerals”

It should be noted that the GoE never speaks of “Conflict Minerals” itself. The term is the invention of advocacy groups* and its implication that the occurence of minerals can prolong or even cause conflict and violence is contested.

A critical perspective on the concept of conflict minerals is supported in some parts of the GoE report. For example the group notes that the M23 – the most prolific armed group in eastern Congo during the year of 2013 – didn’t derive any income from direct involvement in the minerals trade (§32). Rather, the M23 concentrated on levying taxes on property and transport (which of course may have included mineral transports). The territory controlled by the M23 had no major mineral deposits, despite being the site of major violence and fighting during the eventual defeat of the M23 at the hands of the FARDC and U.N. troops.

This is not to say that resources, including minerals, are unimportant factors in the development of conflicts and violence. But their relevance clearly depends on the local context and this should be reflected in advocacy work and policy.

Dirty Gold

Coltan may be the best known conflict mineral from eastern Congo, but presently gold may be more important when it comes to the financing of armed groups. The GoE puts the sum lost in taxes due to smuggling of the precious metal and the corresponding profits for armed groups in the millions of Dollars – of the estimated 10,000 kg of gold mined in the DRC per year, only 180,76 kg is declared to government authorities (§170). Some of the most violent attacks by armed groups described in the report were targeting gold mining sites (for example §65).

For some armed groups, like the Rwandan FDLR and Raia Mutomboki, their involvement in gold mining and trade is their main mode of financing (§95, 168). The  limited traceability and high mobility of the mineral has resulted in an extended trade networks that reaches from small scale mining operations in eastern Congo to the Ugandan capital Kampala and onwards to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (§198).

Gold mining is of course also an important source of income for many artisan miners who have little choice in who is benefiting from the downstream trade. With regard to this group, the myriad ways the GoE lists that are employed by gold traders to fraud their way to a larger share of the profits are highly interesting ($177ff).

That armed groups and criminal actors are able to profit from the gold trade is attributed by the GoE mainly to the reluctance of the Ugandan and Congolese governments to engage in a effective regulation of the sector. Existing laws are not enforced and known actors are allowed to act openly in eastern Congo and Uganda alike.

The three Ts

Tin, tungsten and tantalum (which can be found in the mineral coltan) are the best known conflict resources produced in the Congo. They occur mainly in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and northern Katanga. Their production and trade is one of the most profitable sectors of the economy in eastern Congo and a large part of the production is smuggled out of the country via Rwanda (§200).

At several points in the report the GoE indicates the involvement of Rwandan authorities in the smuggling activities (for example §204). Smuggled ore from the DRC is tagged in comptoires in Rwanda, which hides it true origin and dramatically increases its selling price (§200). This should make clear that any certification mechanism based on “tagging and bagging” can not rely on measures solely controlled by the Rwandan government.

The lure of ivory

Showing that the use of resources to finance conflict is highly opportunistic, at least one armed group switched from poaching for ivory to attacks on gold mines, according to the GoE (§65).

Nonetheless, at least 310 elephants (and likely many more, §225) were poached in 2012 and 2013. Poaching is often done by locals in close cooperation with corrupt members of the security forces (§229). South Sudanese nationals are also heavily involved in poaching activities in Congo’s Garamba national park.

The main transit country for ivory from Congo is Uganda, its destination are usually markets in eastern Asia.

Oil: the new kid on Congo’s conflict block

Like many other countries straggling Africa’s enormous rift valley, the DRC is hoping that this geological formation may feature crude oil deposits. Uganda is already preparing to start production, while the DRC is still in the early stages of exploration. These activities are controversial mainly because of the environmental threat they pose, but the GoE also mentions some connections between the exploration activities and armed groups in eastern Congo.

Parts of exploration Block III, owned by French company Total, are for example in the area of operation of the FRPI, an armed group responsible for considerable displacement among the local population. The report (§59) mentions that Total has demanded from the government to resolve the security issues posed by the presence of the armed group, but the company declined to discuss how the situation has been reflected its social and environmental assessment of its exploration activities.

Recommendations

The GoE recommends that companies

Conduct due diligence in minerals purchase in the Great Lakes region, in addition to investing in traceability schemes.

This is mainly in accordance to the demands of many advocacy organisations. In addition, the various governments are asked by the GoE to strengthen their laws, the application of these laws and their cooperation to limit the smuggling of natural resources from the DR Congo.

My take on the information on resources in the context of conflict provided by the report is that activities of policy makers and advocacy organisations should focus on realising the potential associated with natural resources in the Congo. While minerals and other resources can be used to finance conflict and in some cases their presence contribute to specific acts of violence, they also provide much needed economic opportunities for many people in the DRC.

To achieve this goal, governments in the region as well as in Europe and America need to enforce stronger regulations regarding the circumstances under which these resources are produced and traded. Transparency is key here and companies should be forced to provide information about the conditions under which their raw materials were produced to consumers.

What are your thoughts on the report?

*According to google, “conflict minerals” were first mentioned online in 2009

 

Rich Links: Oil and Uranium across Africa

Quite a long list of noteworthy reading material this time around:

Falling gold prices lead to job cuts

Mining company AngloGold Ashanti Limited will lay off 400 miners in Ghana, reacting to falling prices for gold on the world market. Gold has fallen by $500 over the last months, coming down from a historic heigh point. The lay-offs in Ghana are the first signs of wider repercussions for gold miners around Africa. Mining Review

Oil – a blessing or a curse?

A series of articles from different media look at the benefits and drawbacks of petroleum exploitation for African societies. AllAfrica/This is Africa | AllAfrica/NewVision | AllAfrica/Deutsche Welle

Uncertain times for Somalia’s oil and gas business

Recent finds bring hope for new revenues for Somalia’s embattled government, but the recent attacks on a Kenyan shopping centre also put the remaining challenges for foreign investment under the spotlight. AllAfrica/Sabahi | Africa Confidential (subscription required)

Uranium mining around Africa

There is a rising interest in uranium mining across Africa. Recent articles look at projects in Tanzania and Botswana. Mining Review | African Mining Brief | AllAfrica/Tanzania Daily News

Petroleum exploitation in central Africa

The Jeune Afrique takes a look at the fortunes of the petroleum industry in central Africa. Jeune Afrique

East African states take stake in Ugandan refinery

The planned refinery project in Uganda, which will be provided with oil from the country’s nascent oil fields, has been given another boost with neighbouring states Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi agreeing to take a 40 per cent stake in the project together with the host country. The remaining 60 per cent will be financed by private companies involved in the exploitation of oil reserves. Engineering News | Africa Energy Intelligence

Benefication laws in Zambia lead to growing backlog for copper stocks

After the Zambian government has enacted laws forcing copper mining companies to process a larger part of their production in the country itself, those companies complain over limited smelting capacities. Stockpiles have been growing, according to the industry and threaten to block operations at the mines. Some observers allege that the bottleneck has been created intentionally by investors, to force the government to loosen the new regulations. Mining Review

Oil theft in Nigeria

A look at the origins and consequences of oil theft in Nigeria. Baobab | the guardian

Rich Links: Natural Gas in Tanzania, Nuclear Power in South Africa and More

As always, the best links from around the internet:

New policy on natural gas coming soon in Tanzania

The government of Tanzania is on the verge of passing a new national policy on natural gas exploitation. So far the country has no specific official policy in that sector and the new legislation wants to address specifically the issue of local content. AllAfrica/Tanzania Daily News (2)

South Africa aims for new nuclear power plants

The South African government pushes for the construction of new nuclear power plants to increase the generation of nuclear energy from 1,800 MW to 9,600 MW per year by 2030. Key financial decisions are planned to be taken this financial year. South Africa currently runs the only active nuclear power plant on the African continent and pursues a large nuclear capacity under the label of “clean” and indigenous energy. AllAfrica/SouthAfrica.info

Resources in the DR Congo

A detailed look at the trends and challenges of the natural resources sector in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ventures Africa

The dangers of the use mercury in gold mining

Mercury is used by the great majority of artisanal gold miners in Africa, numbering millions, but its use results in dramatic health problems. A new international treaty aims to reduce the amount of mercury used, but changing entrenched practices in local communities will be hard. The Economist

Search for oil kills whales off Madagascar

A sonar system, operated by Exxon Mobile to explore oil fields off the Madagascan coast, is the reason for the death of dozens of melon-headed whales. This is the finding of an independent scientific commission. Global Post

Three alternatives for South Sudanese oil

The governments of South Sudan and Kenya are currently planning the establishment of a new pipeline corridor to transfer Sudanese oil to the Indian Sea at Lamu. This article argues that the better alternatives would be to transfer the oil by either rail or road. AllAfrica/Pambazuka News

High hopes for Rwandan mining sector

The Rwandan government wants the country’s mining exports to triple by 2017. AllAfrica/Rwanda Focus