Post link 16 December 2016, 13:21
The Democratic Republic of Congo is at a critical juncture: With the deadline fast approaching for when President Joseph Kabila is due to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, the authorities have deliberately stalled plans for the organization of elections, President Kabila has repeatedly refused to declare publicly whether he will step down, and those loyal to him have systematically sought to silence, repress, and intimidate the growing coalition of voices calling for the constitution to be respected.

Human Rights Watch’s Congo team will be using this blog to provide real-time updates, reports from the field, and other analysis and commentary to help inform the public about the ongoing crisis and to urge policymakers to act now to help prevent an escalation of violence and abuse in Congo – with potentially volatile repercussions across the region.

In a groundbreaking investigation published on Thursday by Bloomberg News, journalists for the first time map out the sprawling business network President Joseph Kabila and his family have amassed in the Democratic Republic of Congo and beyond.

DRC: Family Fortune. Why Kabila May Be Clinging to Power Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila

Over the past year, journalists Michael Kavanagh, Thomas Wilson, and Franz Wild, with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Congo Research Group, analyzed thousands of company documents and court filings and interviewed dozens of stakeholders. They found that the Kabila family – including the president, his wife, two children, and eight of his siblings – is involved in at least 70 companies that have brought hundreds of millions of dollars to the family. Two of the family businesses own diamond permits running along 450 miles of the country’s southwestern border with Angola.

“Together the Kabilas have built a network of businesses that reaches into every corner of Congo’s economy,” the report said. “The sprawling network may help explain why the president is ignoring pleas by the U.S., the European Union and a majority of the Congolese people to hand over power next week, though his advisers dispute this.” Kabila’s term of office ends December 19, as mandated by Congo’s constitution.

According to Francis Kalombo, one of Kabila’s close allies until he joined the opposition last year, Kabila says in private that he’s staying put. “He’s not going to do all that he’s doing, make all this effort, for one more year,” Kalombo told the journalists. “For him, it’s for life.”

The study also found how the family has relied on the Republican Guard – an elite force of some 12,000 soldiers whose primary responsibility is to protect the president – to secure their business interests and landholdings, often through intimidation and fear. In one of the diamond concessions owned by the family, the Bloomberg journalists described how they saw diamond diggers hand over “buckets of potentially gem-filled gravel as an informal tax” when the Republican Guard soldiers came by. In a cobalt deposit known as Wisky, where diggers say they “worked for the presidential family under the supervision of Republican Guard soldiers,” more than 100 diggers died in cave-ins during a six-week period in late 2015, according to a report by the Belgian magazine Moustique. A digger interviewed by Bloomberg said the total number killed was significantly higher.

The Bloomberg report also documented how Republican Guard soldiers accompanied the president’s wife, Olive Lembe, after she bought a cattle farm in Kilolirwe, North Kivu and demanded that farmers “remove their makeshift homes or watch soldiers destroy them.”

Human Rights Watch has also documented how the first lady relied on the Republican Guard to force families out of their homes after she acquired the land they were living on. More than 20 witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Republican Guard soldiers burned several dozen homes in Kilolirwe in July 2014, telling inhabitants “to leave, go away.” The previous month the village chief had told the population to leave: “Olive Lembe asked me to tell you that she has already bought the land.” The first lady appeared at a later public gathering, ordering the population to leave or face expulsion.

The Bloomberg report ends with a reflection from the former head of credit at a bank in Congo dominated by the president’s family: Those who are “really keeping Kabila in power,” he says, are “the network of people running the private businesses of the family. …If you want Kabila to pay attention, you have to target the financiers."

DECEMBER 15, 2016 3:37 PM EST Ida Sawyer Director, Central Africa
Topic edited 1 times, last edit by RouTe, 11 January 2017, 15:56  

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