Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More information about the violence in Congo. For more info Watch Anderson Cooper 360

Media Fanning Election Violence

The East African (Nairobi) ANALYSIS

September 26, 2006 Posted to the web September 26, 2006 Nairobi

AS CONGO WAITS FOR the final leg of its presidential elections, new lessons have been learnt about how a partisan press can be detrimental to peaceful electioneering.
Indeed, the Congo elections have given new insight into what happens in an environment where most of the media outlets are owned by players in the same elections.
The Congolese press has been a major contributing factor to the tense security situation in the country, particularly Kinshasa.
Despite various agreements the candidates signed before the campaigns to ensure peaceful elections, many of the media resorted to personal attacks against other candidates and at times resorted to ethnically-slanted hate commentary.
Observers now say that if no intervention is made to introduce new standards to contain crass partisanship in the media - especially the electronic media - violence might erupt after the final results are announced in November 2006.
There are a 119 radio stations, 52 television stations, and 176 newspapers and magazines in the country, most of them operating in Kinshasa and owned by the major politicians or their close associates.
President Joseph Kabila has strong influence over Digitalcongo, Radio Television Groupe l'Avenir and the national television company, while Vice-President and presidential hopeful Jean-Pierre Bemba owns Canal Kin TV, Canal Congo TV and Radio Liberte.
Most of the news is, therefore, presented with a strong bias in favour of a political party or a candidate. The presidential elections held in June attracted a total of 32 candidates.
Even the national radio and TV station, which has the widest reach, is subject to influence mainly because under the terms of the transitional government, its management was divided among the various political factions.
For example, the station's director was named by Kabila and the station's political bias was evident during the first round of elections.
The media have been used extensively to rally support often with ethnically-tinged invective or insults.
For example, Bemba's official campaign slogan is 100% Congolese, and he often brands Kabila as a Tanzanian or Rwandese national, depending on what is expedient.
Under the peace deal that ushered in the transition, a media watchdog was set up to ensure the press does not resort to hate commentary and promote conflict.
The watchdog is supposed to implement the various press laws, including the 1996 Press Law and a code of conduct for media during the elections.
But during the six months before the first round of elections, the media watchdog sanctioned several media companies many times, suspending them for short periods for inappropriate programming and hate speech.
It also called repeatedly for broadcast media to provide equal time to presidential candidates and for the state-run media to eschew bias in its programming.
Despite the sanctions against various media, however, the media watchdog was often unable to prevent politicians from manipulating the press.
The watchdog does not have the power to shut down broadcasting signals and has to rely on the good faith of the media to voluntarily shut down their operations for the designated period.
Where the media refuses to obey, the watchdog has to resort to drawn-out judicial proceedings that bear fruit long after the infraction took place.
WHILE THE MEDIA have played an essential role in the electioneering process - providing information to the public and allowing candidates to engage in constructive debate about their political platforms - it has also shown that it can instigate unrest if not used properly.
In late August, 40 broadcast and print media in Kinshasa signed an agreement to abstain from defamation and hate speech during the second round of the elections.
Whether this will work this time around remains to be seen because they had signed a similar agreement during the first round of elections.
Congo faces a crucial time in its history. If the final part of the elections ends peacefully, it will have far-reaching implications for democracy and peace in the region.
But for now, the situation remains dicey.
On August 20, several hours before the electoral commission was due to announce the results of the presidential elections, fighting broke out around Bemba's Canal Kina TV station in Kinshasa.
The station had been broadcasting programmes critical of President Kabila, at times attacking him personally and accusing him of having rigged the elections.
Canal Congo Television (CCTV), another station belonging to Bemba, announced that there would be a run-off between Bemba and Kabila even before the official results had come out.
As it turned out, these broadcasts prompted units of the integrated police Ð which is close to Kabila - to deploy around the two TV stations, which were protected by about a dozen of Bemba's soldiers.
Around six o'clock in the evening, an altercation between the police units and Bemba's guard degenerated into a shootout that left two dead.
Shortly afterwards, the Office of the Presidency ordered a reinforcement of the police units by the presidential guard, who arrived on the scene heavily armed.
Bemba reacted by deploying more troops to protect his stations.
Heavy fighting then ensued, leaving at least another four dead, but the presidential guard was unable to enter or significantly damage the offices of the television stations.
After the fighting had calmed down, some of Bemba's troops reportedly attacked some traffic policemen and beat them up without any provocation.
Troops from the UN Mission in Congo (Monuc) had to be deployed to secure the nearby Electoral Commission offices and escort its president, Abbee Malu-Malu, to the national television station to announce the results.
Soon afterwards, and after diplomatic pressure on Bemba and Kabila, both sides backed down and the fighting ended.
Kabila, whose close advisers had been sure of a first-round victory, fell short of an absolute majority - with around 45 per cent of the vote - while Bemba won 20 per cent. Malu-Malu announced that there would be a run-off election between the two on October 29.
The battle over the airwaves then intensified. The following day, Bemba and Kabila's respective media continued to trade blame about the events of the day before, with each accusing the other of initiating the fighting.
In the afternoon, Kabila gave instructions to his security service to shut down the broadcasting signal of Bemba's two TV stations in Kinshasa's suburbs. Shortly thereafter, troops from the presidential guard moved to attack Bemba's two residences as well as his office.
According to eyewitnesses, several hundred troops deployed, along with tanks, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
Their attack coincided with a visit to Bemba by 14 ambassadors along with the head of Monuc. The diplomats were stuck in Bemba's residence for over six hours. Soon after the fighting began on Monday, the European Union Force (Eufor) and Monuc troops deployed in town and escorted the diplomats out of Bemba's beleaguered residence.
The presidential guard destroyed Bemba's personal helicopter, with the fighting lasting into the night and sporadic shooting continuing until noon the following day.
According to the official tally, 23 civilians and soldiers were killed and 43 wounded.
Various international figures, including South African President Thabo Mbeki and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, intervened by calling Kabila and Bemba on August 21, urging them to end the fighting.
Two days later, delegates from both sides met at Monuc headquarters in Kinshasa to discuss the way forward. They decided on garrisoning the troops that had been deployed during the fighting and set up two joint commissions - one to investigate the events of the past few days and the second to decide on how to proceed with the second round of presidential elections.
In addition, joint patrols with officers from both sides were set up by Monuc and Eufor to investigate allegations of troop deployment and rearming.
During the week following the fighting, most of the additional troops that Kabila and Bemba had called on as reinforcements had returned to the barracks along with the tanks and heavy weaponry.
The situation, therefore, returned to the status quo before the violence.
In September, Mbeki and EU Foreign Minister Javier Solana visited Kinshasa. These visits, along with pressure by other leaders, led to a meeting between Kabila and Bemba under the auspices of the Defence Council on 13 September.
However, despite promises made by both candidates to abstain from violence during the second round of elections, no mechanism has been put in place to prevent the troops redeploying from the barracks during another escalation.
What caused the fighting? Opinion is still divided but the manner in which troops have been deployed is clearly a major factor.
Indeed, one of the major reasons for the rapid escalation of violence in Kinshasa are the security arrangements in town.
In retrospect, the peace deal signed by the parties in South Africa did not conclusively solve the problem of how the security of the capital city would be maintained and managed during the transition.
Under the arrangement, the vice-presidents - including the main rebel leaders Azarias Ruberwa of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) and Jean-Pierre Bemba of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) - were allowed up to 35 bodyguards .
But the agreement did not place a limit on the size of the presidential guard. It was only later that the transitional parliament in 2004 passed a law limiting the guard to 4,500 troops.
Thus, Kabila was allowed to command over a hundred times the number of troops that his former enemies on the battlefield had.
According to the agreement, Monuc was supposed to act as a stabilising force in the capital, assuring the safety of all leaders of the former warring factions.
As soon as the international community had trained a professional and neutral police force, they were supposed to take over the protection of the vice-presidents and all other state institutions.
As it turned out, none of these promises were kept, giving Kabila a military advantage.
According to most estimates, Kabila's presidential guard still numbers around 14,000 throughout the country - which is why the vice-presidents and leaders of the former rebel groups have been reluctant to scale down the sizes of their own bodyguards.
Bemba has around 2,000 troops at his two residences and office, while Ruberwa has around 1,500.
Under the South Africa peace deal, these personal protection forces and militias were supposed to be sent to army integration camps.
BUT THEIR LEADERS HAVE said that they will wait until after the elections to disband them.
Only around 800 soldiers from the various personal bodyguards have been sent to the Kibomango integration camp in Kinshasa.
A quick look at the geography of downtown Kinshasa shows how volatile the situation is.
Bemba's residences are within a kilometre of both Kabila's residence as well as his office. Presidential guards are deployed within 500 metres of Bemba's troops.
In the build-up to the elections, the international community accelerated the training of the police in Kinshasa in the hope that they would take over the job of protecting leaders such as Bemba and Ruberwa.
French, South African, Angolan and European Union officers trained Congolese police for this purpose.
But the plans did not work out, mainly because the vice presidents did did not trust the police to protect them.
In fact, the police units were simply added on to the bodyguards of Bemba and Ruberwa.
The events of August 20, when an integrated police patrol appears to have been dispatched to confront Bemba's guard at his TV station, confirmed that some police units are still beholden to political interests.
According to international security experts, the integrated police trained by Angola - whose government was an ally of Kabila during the civil war - may be aligned to the president.
During the unrest of June 30, 2005, members of the Angolan-trained units were guilty of killing several members of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, which opposed the postponement of elections.
A further problem has been the procurement of weapons and ammunition for the national army.
According to the current arrangement, the Congolese government cannot procure arms without notifying Monuc in line with an arms embargo on the country, that has been in force for the past two years.
Only demobilised and integrated brigades can receive these supplies. There are currently 12 integrated brigades in the country, while an estimated 30,000 soldiers are still in the same formations they were in during the war.
Last August, a delivery of 21 tanks and several tonnes of ammunition arrived at the port of Matadi.
Although Monuc later confirmed that it had been notified, other sources say the Congolese government had not followed the right procurement procedures.
At the end of August, some of the material was brought to Kinshasa, ostensibly to equip one of the two integrated brigades based there.
However, Monuc has not been able to confirm the destination of this equipment, and there have been reports of the presidential guard benefiting from these supplies.
The skirmishes which erupted after the elections also served to demonstrate the weaknesses of Eufor and Monuc forces in the country.
Although there are both Monuc and Eufor troops deployed in Kinshasa, neither was able to stop the escalation of violence.
After the fighting at the television station on August 20, international troops should have moved to deter further fighting, in particular by creating a buffer between Bemba's and Kabila's forces.
Monuc troops in Kinshasa comprised South African, Uruguayan and Tunisian battalions.
These troops are committed to protecting UN installations and personnel, according to the memorandum of understanding their countries signed with the UN. They are, therefore, and unlike the Monuc forces deployed in the east of the country, not equipped to engage in combat situations.
This was one of the reasons the UN sought EU troops during the election period.
Eufor deployed troops in Kinshasa in the run-up to the elections to boost Monuc's capacity to deal with violence in the west of the country.
Before the violence broke out, they had 1,200 troops in the capital, with a reserve of 1,200 based in Gabon and another group based in Germany.
However, of the troops in Kinshasa, there are only two companies of combat troops of around 130 soldiers each - a Spanish special forces unit and Polish military police. The latter protect EU installations. This means there are only 130 Spanish troops available for forcible intervention in case of violence.
When fighting broke out in Kinshasa, Eufor called on reinforcements from Gabon. A task force of around 220 soldiers arrived after most of the fighting had already ceased, to help with patrolling. The bulk of the combat troops were left in Gabon.
International forces in the Congo have had a hard time intervening once fighting has broken out because such intervention requires the use of force against one or the other sides, a step the UN is often hesitant to take given the possible political repercussions.
THE MOST EFFICIENT USE OF peacekeeping troops has proved to be as a deterrent, deploying troops in such a way as to prevent an escalation.
Although it was difficult to predict the large-scale attack on Bemba's installations on August 21, the events of the previous day should have led to a more robust UN deployment in the area around the presidential and vice-presidential residences.
Still, the motives of the attacks on Bemba's house remain unclear.
While slander in the media and a tense security situation provided the backdrop to the fighting, Congolese leaders are responsible for the escalation of violence after the elections.
In particular, Kabila's order to launch a large-scale attack against Bemba was entirely disproportionate to the threat his rival posed.
It is difficult to establish who initiated the fighting at the TV station on August 20. Nonetheless, at that point talks between the two sides could have calmed tensions.
As it turned out, Kabila's order to attack Bemba's various compounds in town led to a dramatic escalation of the violence and pushed the electoral process to the brink of collapse.
As results from the west came in, Kabila slipped in the polls, and the returns from Kinshasa - where he got only a small percentage of the vote - pushed the incumbent below the 50 per cent he needed for an outright win.
"This made it seem like Bemba's smear campaign was responsible for Kabila's poor showing in the west, said one diplomat.
When the attack was launched on Bemba's residence, Kabila claimed he was not aware of the offensive.
But he later stated that he had ordered the presidential guard to launch an operation to free their captured colleagues.
Although some diplomats in Kinshasa believe Kabila does not entirely control his guard, military experts and advisers to the president alike said it is impossible that such an important operation could have been launched without his approval.
The biggest challenge facing Congo now is how to secure the second round of the presidential election.
Observers in the country have made several suggestions on the shape of a possible political agreement between Bemba and Kabila on the deployment of forces:
(a) The number of bodyguards deployed in their immediate vicinity must be kept to a proportional minimum, with troops that do not belong to personal bodyguards, including troops of the national army, being confined to military barracks until the announcement of the elections results;
(b) The locations where troops and weapons belonging to Kabila and Bemba, including heavy weapons and ammunition stockpiles, are located, must be clearly designated;
(c) Eufor and Monuc must be given unconditional access to all military facilities, including those of the presidential guard;
(d) The protagonists must abstain from personal attacks in the media during the second round of elections, with sanctions such as a ban from appearing in the press for individuals who break this agreement;
(e) Eufor troops in Kinshasa should be reinforced with troops from Gabon in order to have at least 1,000 combat troops in the city;
(f) Eufor and Monuc troops must be allowed to use force to create buffer zones in Kinshasa between the two sides;
(g) Eufor's mandate should be extended to cover the entire election cycle, including the formation of a new government, effectively to the end of January 2007;
(h) The media watchdog must be ampowered be able to take swift action against media who violate the code of conduct. In particular, Kinshasa courts should give the watchdog preferential treatment and grant swift injunctions to suspend media when provided with proof of indiscretion by the watchdog; and,
(i) There must be a guarantee of equal access to presidential candidates on state-run media.
Copyright © 2006 The East African. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

2 comentarios:

ivy said...

christiane-- thnks's for posting this. What a mess! It's a sad situation but it invoked a sarcastic smile a few time -) some of it is plain pathetic. like candidats' offices being so close to each other and the way UN and Euro forces mandated to control the capital. It would be nearly impossible to form police that would be independent in that situation, they'll always be on somebody's side. It's unrealistic. With the level of corruption it's not hard to imagine that those without political agenda will be on the side of who'll pay more -)
very informative article and gives good perspectie on the situation there. Actually it made me appreciate Anderson's reporting yesterday more, he was pretty accurate in description of what's going on.

Christiane said...

Thank you for your comments, it really encourages us to keep bringing this information to the open.


Don't think for me. Don't assume what I want to hear or read. Give me facts. Give me reasons. But not yours. Bring me debate. Enlighten me. Today, accountability is masked behind anonymity; bylines are hidden by zeros and ones. Everyone publishes; everyone is "in the know." Ethics are non-existent. Speculation is king. The truth is masked and a hostage. Empowered by our minds, WE ARE THE FREAKSPEAKERS!


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