7 January 2014

Congo-Kinshasa: Congo After M23 - the Prophet Mukungubila and the Death of Colonel Mamadou

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Whilst an important part of Congolese and international public opinion believes that Numbi was responsible for Chebeya's death, the Katangan General has never been accused and even less tried. Numbi, until his suspension, was one of the key personalities of the regime and was hoping for official rehabilitation.

The Katanga track

For many years, tension has been palpable within the Katangan circles that surround President Kabila. The cement holding the group together is fundamentally economic and based on common interests.

Katanga is not only the economic heart of Congo - producing the bulk of the central government's tax revenue - it is also the stronghold of the Kabila regime.

The government that Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo (himself from Maniema) has lead since April 2012, consists of 2 deputy prime ministers, 25 ministers and 11 vice-ministers.

One deputy prime minister and eight ministers come from Katanga. We should remember that Congo has been waiting for a government reshuffle since the end of the national consultations in September 2012.

It is important to see the actions of a Katangan prophet and his followers in the context of a powerful Katanga, worried about losing space and influence in Congo.

This is especially the case after the disappearance of its two key leaders: Numbi's suspension in 2010 was followed by the death in a plane crash by Augustin Katumba Mwanke in February 2012. The prophet's march was not a coup attempt but rather a sign that the Katangan pillar of power in Congo is not reassured that Kabila is serving their interests well.

The death of Colonel Mamadou

Three days after the incident with Mukungubila's followers, on January 2nd Colonel Mamadou Ndala was killed in an ambush near Beni. The colonel was in charge of military operations in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and had played a crucial role in the military victory against M23. For an important part of the population, the Colonel represented the new found efficiency and discipline which had allowed the Congolese army to defeat M23. The reactions were emotional all over Congo, but in particular in North Kivu.

Less than a week after his death it is difficult to have a clear view on who killed Colonel Ndala. Several different scenarios circulate:

He was in Beni to lead an FARDC operation against ADF-Nalu. The initial hypothesis therefore being that they are responsible for his death.

However, many people believe that his death is the result of jealousy and tensions between different parts of the army.

Despite recent progress in the FARDC's performance, the Congolese army remains the product of a disappointing and slow integration process of a heterogeneous, undisciplined, badly trained amalgam of different militias whose leadership sometimes has different political affinities, competing ambitions or conflicting business interests.

Colonel Mamadou achieved (in a very short time) a degree of popularity within the community previously unheard of. It can of course not be excluded that his rising star thwarted someone else's plans and interests.

Some have suggested that he was killed by FARDC officers with an ex-CNDP profile whose loyalty has never entirely been with the national army of the DRC.

One can of course not exclude a hypothesis of a hit & run action carried out by M23. The rebellion was defeated some months ago, but their leaders didn't see their defeat as if they lost a war.

For them they have simply lost a battle. They have no confidence in the GoDRC's will and capacity to materialize a real reform programme. Colonel Mamadou as the icon of their defeat would be an obvious target of a low profile military strategy.

Some in Goma believe that Colonel Mamadou could have been killed by high-placed politicians who fear that his and the army's rising popularity could become a threat for them.

What now?

What will be the consequences of Colonel Mamadou's death be for the peace momentum created by the military victory?

The improvement in the army's behavior and performance was of course not the work of one man alone. And a Congolese army that can carry out successful operations is an important development, but a successful reform of the security sector is something else entirely.

The challenge will be to consolidate it in North Kivu and to extend it to the rest of the country.

It was great fun travelling in North Kivu in November and December. Of course I knew how fragile it all was, but you could feel the difference.

Change starts in the heads of the people who believe that it is possible. The final phase of the M23 crisis had brought the people and the army closer together. And Colonel Mamadou Ndala represented that.

I am not sure what Mamadou's death will mean for the relationship between community and army. It is qute likely that it will increase the distrust and hostility between different sections of the army.

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