Never waste a crisis

Africa: agriculture and environment

Climate change will hit Africa hard, but it also offers the continent an opportunity to build resilience and diversify livelihoods

A young man stands among stationary boats at the dried inland Lake Chilwa in Zomba District, eastern Malawi, October, 2018. Lake Chilwa is the second-largest lake in Malawi after Lake Malawi. The dying lake is having an adverse effect on the livelihoods of communities.
Photo: Amos Gumulira / AFP

The changes ahead for Africa’s environment, which form the foundation of the continent’s societies and economies, will be challenging, but bright spots abound. Africa is a continent of contrasting environments absent a singular definition. A mosaic of terrains, the continent weaves together tropical forests, grasslands, savannahs, deserts and mangroves, ice-capped mountains, rivers, lakes and coasts across 55 countries, 1.2 billion people and 30 million square kilometres of land. This enormous landmass contains a quarter of global biodiversity, supports the world’s most prodigious gatherings of large mammals, and its diverse animal, plant and marine ecosystems drive economies and shape societies, cultures and development.

Human actions have played a central role in changing the African environment and its landscape over a long and complex history. African indigenous knowledge and practices include shared cropping systems and zai rain-fed irrigation methods that have mitigated droughts and famine for centuries. Yet, much of the more recent environmental history of Africa is dominated not by stories of Africans managing a challenging environment in harmony with ecosystems, but rather of foreign-driven exploitation of its people and resources, including minerals, fossil fuels, farm and forest produce for export.

Africa today is no less dependent on its environment than in the past. This is especially true in rural areas. Approximately 57% of Africa’s population, or 740 million people, live in rural areas. Agriculture is the continent’s biggest employer, supporting the livelihoods of 51% of the population. The majority of the population working in agriculture is engaged in smallholder agriculture that is undertaken in harsh environmental conditions with limited and highly variable natural rainfall. The high dependence on agriculture and the environment has significant and far-reaching consequences, not just for the 740 million rural people of Africa, but for the continent as a whole.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reports that nearly a quarter of the population, or 224 million people, in sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished, with 31% experiencing food insecurity. Food shortages and malnutrition result in stunted growth and permanent damage that has long-term impacts. On a continental level, Africa is not feeding itself. According to the African Development Bank, net food imports to Africa are costing on average $35-$42 billion per year and are predicted to reach $110 billion by 2025. As stated by Akinwumi Adesina, the bank’s president, in 2017, “Africa’s annual food import bill weakens African economies, decimates its agriculture and exports jobs from the continent.” This food bill does not represent investment – these are sunk costs.

The consequence of this heavy reliance on challenging and unpredictable environmental conditions by such a large proportion of the population is a significant downward pressure on human and economic development. With two thirds of every country’s human capital beholden to the environment, and more specifically unpredictable rainfall to provide livelihoods, the opportunities for entry into skilled employment such as teaching, business, the health profession and trading are curtailed.
Climate change is making these challenges worse. The facts and figures on global climate change are startling. Prior to 1800, the global level of atmospheric CO2 was 280 parts per million (ppm).

Data drawn from ice cores show that CO2 varied within a relatively narrow range, roughly between 180 and 280 ppm, over the past 800,000 years – never moving above 300 ppm. Currently, CO2 is above 416 ppm. Over this same 800,000 years, methane has never been higher than 750 parts per billion (ppb), but now this gas, which is 22 times more powerful than CO2, is 1,873 ppb. The unprecedented speed and scale of these greenhouse gas emissions brings us into a new era of uncertainty with regards to their impact on the environment and our planet. According to the UN, Africa is the continent that will be hardest hit by climate change.

The key word, however, when attempting to understand climate change in Africa, is uncertainty. One of the challenges in predicting the impact of climate change on the continent is the extremely complex, yet poorly understood, large-scale weather systems that interact across the landscape. While rainfall patterns have been exceptionally difficult to predict, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that temperatures have risen by about 0.5°C over most of the African continent during the past 50-100 years. While this increase in temperature may seem insignificant, it is accelerating and will have a widespread impact on agriculture.

Many staple crops such as wheat, maize, millet and sorghum are especially susceptible to changes in temperature. Scientists predict that by 2050 the agricultural production of millet and sorghum in West Africa will potentially decrease by 13% in Burkina Faso, 25.9% in Mali and 44.7% in Senegal. Even if a quarter of these decreases in production are actualised, they will amplify shocks and stresses in those countries that today face food insecurity that will have an impact on up to five million people, according to the World Food Programme. Higher temperatures will also likely cause desert areas to encroach further south, also limiting agricultural options.

This may have unexpected consequences on migration and food insecurity, forcing people into conflict and causing an increase in bush meat consumption that may encourage new zoonotic diseases to emerge. Climate change will further impact biodiversity. An assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services for Africa, published by the independent Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), estimates that by 2100 climate change could have caused the loss of over half of Africa’s bird and mammal species and a significant loss of plant species.

That will have a substantial impact on livelihoods, water and food supply and reduce people’s resilience to shocks and stresses because these ecosystems are the foundation of healthy societies and economies. Another area of clear impact occurring along coasts due to rising sea levels and warming. Sea levels have risen between 13-20 cm over the past 100   years and this is accelerating. Rising sea levels are caused by warming seas that expand as they increase in temperature and melting land-based ice flows into the ocean. Africa has just over 30,000 km of coastline that is undergoing increasing population growth and urbanisation.

These urban areas will be susceptible to more flooding due to storm surges. But warming sea levels are also impacting the environment in other, unpredictable ways. The devastating locust swarms currently destroying crops and livelihoods across East Africa may be linked to climate change. The warming Indian Ocean has contributed to 2019 being one of the wettest October-December rainy seasons in five decades. This drove eight cyclones across the region in 2019 – the most since records began – and enabled desert locusts to leapfrog into East Africa where they have now laid eggs and are hatching in their trillions.

David Hughes of the UN’s FAO, told the BBC in May that they “threaten the food of 23 million people. It is the number one food security issue in East Africa at the moment.” Climate change is not the only factor leading to this uncertain future, however. Many scientists posit that we have now entered the Anthropocene, a new geological age in which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. The African environment, for example, has suffered significantly from human-led degradation that has accelerated over the past century. This includes the over-exploitation of wildlife and fisheries and natural habitat loss, especially from agricultural expansion.

The Anthropocene is characterised by an increasingly interconnected and accelerating world. These characteristics have significant implications for how we understand risks. The current Covid-19 pandemic is an example of how a zoonotic disease that emerged from wildlife to humans in a city in China is having an enormous and rapid negative impact on people and economies in Africa and around the globe. When we combine the interconnected and rapidly changing nature of the Anthropocene with the uncertain impacts of climate change in the context of Africa, the future looks challenging.

African leaders are not to blame for the impacts of climate change against which they must build resilience. Africa has 17% of the world’s population, but has only contributed 4% to global carbon emissions, and much of this has been to supply export products for higher-income countries. But regardless of where the blame for climate change lies, the reality is that the global public and private sectors have a shared responsibility to address the interconnected and uncertain risks it poses.

Domestically, African governments and the private sector need to recognise the impact of climate change and champion green growth that works with nature to build resilience and supports people, especially rural populations, to adapt through improved early warning systems, agricultural investment and diversified livelihood options. The current Covid-19 pandemic and its economic implications provide an opportunity to employ the old adage of “never waste a crisis”. As Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda stated: “We are not making a choice between environment and prosperity; but we are rather looking at how we combine both.”

This is the opportunity to invest in recovery solutions, such as job programmes that directly invest in natural capital like nature-based tourism, that will help the continent to come back stronger. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates, for example, that 3.6 million people in Africa are employed in the nature-based tourism industry, which was worth $29 billion in 2018. These programmes can also build the capacity of local communities and drive forward opportunities for women and youth.
Navigating this uncertain future will also require an improved understanding of environmental and human interactions through investing in science and education.

For Africa to thrive amidst the shocks and stresses that lie ahead, it will need leadership and cooperation from governments, the private sector and people that builds resilience to upcoming challenges by supporting growth and development that protects and works with the environment. As South African climate activist Ndivile Mokoena said: “Climate change is largely viewed as an environmental issue. However, it encompasses everything: it is a developmental issue, it is a human rights issue, it is a social issue.”

Nathanial (Nate) Matthews is a political and environmental scientist and Director of Programmes at the Global Resilience Partnership. He holds a PhD in geography, has published two books and authored over 55 scientific publications and reports. He has 16 years’ experience in international development across 30 countries. Twitter: @Nate_Matthews_

C-19: Zimbabwe and the rule of law

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a humanitarian crisis of gigantic proportions, which the UN has warned may escalate global suffering and jeopardise lives and livelihoods “for years to come”. But in Zimbabwe, senior government officials and their associates have taken advantage of the pandemic to suppress the opposition while looting public funds.

The high-level corruption, which has resulted in the arrest of Health Minister Obadiah Moyo, has also sucked in the first family and left authorities in Harare exposed to some ridicule on social media after a series of ridiculous own goals in a cover-up bid.

In Zimbabwe, senior government officials and their associates have taken advantage of the pandemic to supress the opposition while looting public funds.

A $2 million payment by the government to a two-week-old Hungarian branch of Swiss-registered Drax International in March has attracted the interest of Interpol and Hungarian officials, who have commenced money laundering investigations. Drax International – whose Zimbabwean frontman, Delish Nguwaya, is a convicted criminal and an associate of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son Collins – is at the centre of a Covid-19 procurement scandal, which has seen Moyo arrested.

Nguwaya was also arrested following unrelenting public pressure. He has been pictured with Mnangagwa, his sons Collins and Sean, as well as first lady Auxilia Mnangagwa. He is also known to have attended functions at State House despite failing a security clearance conducted by the Central Intelligence Organisation.

Collins was not arrested or questioned over the matter. In a statement released on 29 May, he denied any association with Drax. “I have no business or personal relationship with any of Drax International’s representatives, including Mr Nguwaya,” Collins said. “Legal action will follow any current and further statements made to slander my name, reputation and that of the first family.”

Zimbabweans laughed off the claim he had “no business or personal relationship” with Nguwaya, sharing more pictures on social media to prove the personal relationship. On 28 May, Drax International, through Illir Dedja, listed as the managing partner of the company, issued a statement denying any “partnership and/or association with Zimbabwe’s first family”. The company said Nguwaya was their sole representative in Zimbabwe. It also threatened to sue “all individuals propagating these falsehoods on social media”.

On 4 June, the acting spokesman of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu PF, Patrick Chinamasa, warned journalists and the public against “attacking members of the first family”. “[T]hese baseless attacks … need to stop forthwith,” he said.

The acting spokesman of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu PF, Patrick Chinamasa, warned journalists and the public against “attacking members of the first family”.

Was Drax awarded a $60 million contract to supply Covid-19 medicines and sundries in violation of the country’s procurement regulations, because of Nguwaya’s relations with the first family? Zimbabweans want an answer.

Drax was supplying medical supplies at grossly inflated figures, as revealed by official invoices. For example, the company was providing N95 face masks at $28, yet the average cost of the product is $4 in local pharmacies. A letter dated 8 May, 2020 from Finance Permanent Secretary George Guvamatanga to then Health Secretary Agnes Mahomva authorising procurement, revealed the purchasing figure.

Zimbabweans want an answer.

Curiously, however, when he received a consignment from Drax on 11 April, Mnangagwa claimed the supplies were a “donation” after he made a “personal appeal”. “I am happy that after my personal appeal to Drax, they have [given a] tremendous donation to support the mobilisation effort we are making currently,” he said at State House. “They have donated $60 million to us to procure medicines and equipment.”

To save face, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information, Nick Mangwana, later said the president had been misled into thinking he was receiving a donation. This was after Zimbabweans took to social media to demand answers on his strange statement.

In another embarrassing procurement scandal, the Zimbabwean government confused citizens by claiming it had received testing kits from Namibia. On 21 April, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Zimbabwe had received 4,499 tests kits from Namibia. Mutsvangwa’s revelations raised eyebrows: Namibia does not manufacture Covid-19 test kits. The country was also receiving donations and struggling to roll out mass testing because of a shortage of test kits.

In another embarrassing procurement scandal, the Zimbabwean government confused citizens by claiming it had received testing kits from Namibia.

Namibian Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula denied any knowledge of the donation when contacted by the Namibian Sun. Shangula asked: “Where would we get those tests from? How can we donate when we don’t have enough?”

Clearly, one of the parties here wasn’t being honest. Questions, therefore, continued to be asked in both countries, prompting Namibia’s Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation to issue a formal statement on 26 June flatly denying the donation and revealing that Zimbabwe’s authorities had apologised, saying that the “allegations” of the donation had been “unfounded and erroneous”. Senior figures in the government in Harare were left with egg on their faces.

Official government documents have exposed that the kits in question had in fact been supplied by a Namibian-registered company, Jaji Investments, linked to Mnangagwa’s aide. Jaji Investments sourced the kits in China, before supplying Zimbabwe at huge cost. Garikai Mushininga, a medical doctor based in Namibia, who said he was the managing director of Jaji Investments, confirmed to the Zimbabwe Independent that he bought the kits in China before they were flown to Zimbabwe by DHL.

Besides corruption, Zimbabwean authorities have been clamping down on the opposition since the national lockdown began on 30 March. On 10 June, UN human rights experts called on Zimbabwe to “immediately end a pattern of disappearances and torture that appear aimed at suppressing protests and dissent”.

Zimbabwean authorities have been clamping down on the opposition since the national lockdown began on 30 March.

This was after three female officials from the country’s biggest opposition party, MDC-A – Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova – were arrested at a roadblock on 13 May and detained at Harare Central Police Station. They had earlier participated in a demonstration against government’s failure to provide a social safety net for those most in need.

They were later abducted from police custody by suspected state agents, blindfolded and driven to Bindura – 86 kilometres north of Harare – where they were allegedly tortured and sexually assaulted. They were dumped at a market place 48 hours later.

They were later abducted from police custody by suspected state agents, blindfolded and driven to Bindura – 86 kilometres north of Harare – where they were allegedly tortured and sexually assaulted.

A police spokesman, Paul Nyathi, confirmed their arrest but the police later did an about-turn on this and denied arresting the trio. The MDC officials were charged with violating Covid-19 regulations on public gatherings, as well as with supposedly faking their own abduction.

The UN pointed out that “targeting peaceful dissidents, including youth leaders, in direct retaliation for the exercise of their freedom of association, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression is a serious violation of human rights law”. It noted that last year, 49 cases of abduction and torture were reported in Zimbabwe.

Last year, 49 cases of abduction and torture were reported in Zimbabwe.

The government also attracted criticism after the police and the military assisted Thokozani Khupe, leader of the MDC-T faction within the opposition party, to take over the MDC-A headquarters, in a dispute between MDC formations. During the lockdown, the police also arrested several MDC-A officials, including co-Vice Presidents Tendai Biti and Lynette Karenyi-Kore, charging them with contravening Covd-19 regulations after they tried to gain entry to their party headquarters following its seizure. They were released on ZW$1 000 bail.

Several lawyers, including Thabani Mpofu who represented MDC-A leader Nelson Chamisa when he challenged Mnangagwa’s victory in the 2018 presidential election, were arrested and charged at the beginning of June for allegedly obstructing the course of justice. Mpofu was charged with allegedly falsifying information by submitting an affidavit by “a non-existent person” (one Simbarashe Zuze) to the Constitutional Court in January 2019, challenging the appointment of Prosecutor-General Kumbirai Hodzi.

Zuze, however, recorded a video and produced his identity cards and travel documents, proving he existed. The matter is still pending in court.

Mnangagwa promised to observe human rights and fight corruption after toppling former president Robert Mugabe in a 2017 takeover that he and his supporters deny was a military coup. To the majority of Zimbabweans, however, the military helped to transfer power to another group of connected people in the ruling party, which hasn’t much changed.

Mnangagwa promised to observe human rights and fight corruption after toppling former president Robert Mugabe in a 2017 takeover that he and his supporters deny was a military coup.

Nguwaya appeared in court on 13 June charged with fraud, but the majority of Zimbabweans believe the Mnangagwa administration has no appetite for reform. They believe that Moyo and Nguwaya were arrested only because of public pressure and that no serious action will be taken.

Dr Alex Magaisa, a UK-based Zimbabwean academic and lecturer of law at the University of Kent, who offers cutting-edge analysis and critical insights into Zimbabwean law and politics through his Big Saturday Read blog, on 14 June described Nguwaya’s matter as “a case that is built to collapse”. The state has presented a weak case, and this was deliberate, he argues. “The government wants to create a false and misleading impression that it is taking action against corruption.” The saga was getting too close to the President’s family and several senior government officials, he says.

Health Minister Moyo was arrested, but the state did not oppose bail when he appeared in court, accompanied by his aides. Unlike most other political detainees, Moyo enjoyed a rare privilege and was allowed to sleep at home. Zimbabweans describe these sorts of arrests as “catch and release” antics. Senior officials are often arrested for serious crimes but not seriously prosecuted.

Senior officials are often arrested for serious crimes but not seriously prosecuted.

In November 2019, for example, Presidential Affairs Minister Joram Gumbo was arrested on charges of criminal abuse of office involving $37 million arising from his time in office as transport minister, but was not prosecuted. In July last year, the former tourism minister, Prisca Mupfumira, was arrested for allegedly looting more than $90 million in social security money when she was the public service minister. She is out on bail.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is supposed to be fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The country had recorded 567 cases and six deaths as of 28 June, but it has no capacity to fight the spread of the virus. Public health institutions are poorly equipped, while strikes among nurses and doctors over poor salaries and working conditions are also common. In April, doctors took the government to court to compel it to provide personal protective equipment and to adequately equip hospitals.

The country is still in lockdown, but Mnangagwa and his wife continue to travel and to meet people, betraying the lack of understanding of the pandemic at the very top.


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Owen Gagare is the assistant editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, a weekly newspaper, covering business, politics and investigative stories. He has previously worked for NewsDay and the Chronicle. Owen has also written for the Mail and Guardian and has a passion for investigative and in-depth stories as well as human rights and governance issues. He is based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Rivers of arms

Democratic Republic of Congo: arms flow

Despite an arms embargo, a constant flow of weapons into the DRC from around the globe ensures that peace remains elusive

A Congolese army soldier carries a rocket-propelled grenade launcher as he walks up a road leading to the frontline on the outskirts of the provincial city of Goma in November 2008.

Since the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2003, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been categorised as a “post-conflict nation”. Yet, a low-intensity war is still raging in eastern Congo and despite a UN arms embargo the flow of weapons continues unabated. In the Kivu provinces alone, over the June 2017-June 2019 period, 1,900 civilians were killed and 3,300 others were kidnapped, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the New York University-based Congo Research Group reported in August 2019. Accordingly, some 3,000 violent incidents by more than 130 armed groups were recorded during the period. Dozens of other groups are also active in the Ituri, Upper-Uele, Tanganyika and Kasai provinces.

The main armed groups are the Ugandan led Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in addition to a myriad of Congolese Mai-Mai groups, some of which are supported by the Congolese and Burundian governments, says HRW. These groups are proliferating despite the UN arms embargo. On 28 July, 2003, UN Security Council Resolution 1493 imposed an embargo covering arms supplies and military assistance to all armed groups operating in the eastern DRC. The embargo was imposed in reaction to continued violence in Ituri and North and South Kivu after the withdrawal of foreign armies from the country the year before.

In March 2008, UN Security Council Resolution 1807 lifted all restrictions on arms transfers to the DRC government but required the notification of such shipments to the Sanctions Committee, while the embargo on supplies to non-governmental forces remained in place. Such measures are currently in force. Yet, results have been limited on the ground. Despite the embargo, and after the symbolic destruction of 100,000 firearms in Kinshasa on 21 August, 2010, 300,000 small arms were still in the hands of civilians in eastern Congo, as reported at the time by the Brussels-based Information Group on Peace and Security ( GRIP).

Enforcement of the embargo is problematic because rebels from the government’s Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo/ Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) manage to buy weapons despite it, explains Jean-Jacques Wondo, an expert and analyst on DRC security issues. Criminal networks are providing ADF rebels and other groups with arms, ammunition and uniforms bought from corrupt FARDC soldiers. In 2012, according to a UN Security Council report, a network led by (FARDC) General Jean-Claude Kifwa supplied Russian-made AK-47 rifles, rocket propelled grenades and mortars as well as Belgian MAG machine guns and ammunition to the Mai Mai Morgan, in the Province Orientale.

According to Wondo, the current FARDC Deputy Army Chief of Staff, Gen Gabriel Amisi, aka Tango Four, now under EU sanctions, is also supporting some rebel groups. It would appear that the strategy of senior officers in the region includes maintaining a certain level of conflict by arming rebels. The aim is to justify additional budgets for military operations, including danger money paid to the soldiers and fuel, which are siphoned off by these officers for their own benefit, explains Wondo. In September 2018, Gen-Major Jean-Luc Ijila Yav, then in charge of logistics for the FARDC, was jailed in Kinshasa following charges of embezzling ammunition and fuel, says Wondo.

On 1 March, 2018, Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported that ammunition used by the FARDC and the rebels sometimes came from the same stockpiles. The French radio report said that since 2013 several armed groups, including the FDLR, the Nyatura Mai Mai and the Patriots Alliance for a Free and Sovereign Congo, were equipped with ammunition for the AK-47 manufactured by the China North Industries Corporation (Norinco). Curiously, the radio station reported, this ammunition came from the same stockpile as the bullets fired by a policeman that killed a demonstrator on 25 February, 2018 in Mbandaka. RFI also noted the coincidence that Chinese ammunition used during the repression of demonstrations against Kabila’s third presidential mandate in January 2018 in Kinshasa belonged to the same stockpiles as those used by the ADF rebels.

Rebels have also captured weapons from the FARDC, as in October 2008 when the Rwandan-backed National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) looted a FARDC military depot in Rumangabo (North Kivu) and seized large quantities of weapons. Armed groups also obtain weapons and ammunition from neighbouring states. James Bevan from the UK-based NGO Conflict Armament Research says that the Sudanese government has supplied ammunition to the DRC, a substantial amount of which was also acquired by M23 rebels, including Russian-made 2.7 x 108 mm cartridges used by the FARDC. According to a 2012 UN Security Council report, Rwanda violated the UN arms embargo by supplying arms and ammunition to the M23 group, which also procured 12.7 mm machine guns and ammunition for AK- 47s, RPGs and mortars from the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF).

FRPI rebels in Ituri Province also bartered gold for weapons with a UPDF officer. Weapons from all sorts of origins end up in rebel hands. On 16 October, 2006, Amnesty International, Oxfam International and the International Action Network on Small Arms found that rebels in Ituri were using sniper rifle bullets manufactured by the Federal Cartridge Company in the United States and 7.62 mm cartridges manufactured by the Pyrkal Greek Powder and Cartridge Company. The same company also exported ammunition to Sudan and Uganda, two countries that are among the sources of origin of weapons found in rebel hands. South African 5.56 mm R4 assault rifles sold to the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) before the 1994 genocide were also found in rebel hands, say UN investigators.

Serbian arms, such the 7.65 mm Zastava Model 70 self-loading pistol, were also found in Ituri in 2006, after they were delivered from Belgrade to Kigali, says Amnesty International. Prior to that, in 2004, an armed group in Bukavu were found in possession of Serbian anti-personnel mines and mortar shells, while in September 2003, the UN says, most of the weapons recovered from the UPC militia in Ituri were 3,000 Kalashnikov rifles and corresponding ammunition from China and Russia. Rebels also get supplies from other armed groups. According to the UN Security Council report of 2012, the M23 supplied weapons and ammunition to the Raia Mutomboki Mai Mai. Since the FARDC have also been accused of many human rights violations, the supply of arms to the DRC government, even if does not violate the UN embargo stricto sensu, risks stoking the fires of repression against the Congolese.

In 2016, DRC arms imports amounted to $43 million, but the amounts vary considerably from one year to another (for example, $151 million in 2010 and $2 million in 2015). According to Wondo, most of the weapons are stockpiled in the Kibomango and Mbakana camps, near Kinshasa. Only the police and the Republican Guard, which remains faithful to the former president, Joseph Kabila, have access to these weapons. The DRC has a large range of suppliers. The FARDC use Belgian-made FN FAL and FNC rifles and MAG machine guns, US-made M16s and Israeli-made Galil rifles. Russia remains one of the main suppliers with 7.62×39 mm AK-47s or the cheaper AKM-59 version, RPD light machine guns and PKM general-purpose machine guns (7.62×54 mm).

Currently, the FARDC are equipped with 20 T-54 and T-55 tanks, 48 T-62 tanks, about 100 howitzers of various calibres, 107 mm and 122 mm rocket launchers and as many mortars. Russia sold four Sukhoi SU-25 airfighters, MI-24 Hind combat helicopters and Mi-17 helicopters to the DRC as well as Zhuk patrol vessels for the Congolese navy. Besides, according to Wondo, in July 2015 the Republican Guard acquired from Russia T-80 M tanks, new-generation rocket launchers and ground-to-air S-300 missiles. According to the FARDC logistical services, in December 2017 the former chief of staff of the presidency, General François Olenga, purchased several Iliouchine 76 Candid and Antonov 124 Condor transport aircraft from Russia. These weapons were airlifted from Sebastopol in Russian Crimea to Kisangani between December 2017 and January 2018.

Other shipments were made by sea to the ports of Matadi and Boma. Moreover, on 23 May, 2018, Russia and the DRC signed a military cooperation agreement that included a weapons sales deal. According to Wondo, on several occasions weapons for the Republican Guard were supplied discreetly via the port of Banana without notifying the UN Mission for the Stabilisation of Congo (MONUSCO). Another important supplier is Ukraine, which, in addition to 25 T-64 tanks, has sold 50 T-55 tanks to the DRC in the past decade. In December 2015, a Congolese official delegation led by General Olenga travelled to Kiev to purchase more weapons. More recently, in early 2018, the Beltech Export company from Belarus supplied four L-39 C aircraft to the Congolese air force; prior to this the FARDC had procured Sukhoi-25K and Sukhoi-27 flanker C aircraft from Beltech.

Over the years, China has also become an important source of supply. The list includes Type 56 rifles, which are China’s version of the Russian AK-47 assault rifle RPGs, about 30 T-59 tanks and one Shanghai II patrol vessel for the Congolese navy. In 2018, the Chinese Technology Company supplied 10 Phantom DJI drones for the observation of Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma. Serbian-made Zastava M92 rifles are also used by FARDC troops. The Yugoimport-SDPR company supplied Premax-39 and Nestin-class river patrol vessels at the end of 2017, which were used in an assault against the Yatkutumba Mai Mai on Lake Tanganyika in November of that year. Another company called CPR Impex Doo supplied 22,000 5;56 mm M-92 assault rifles and 120 20 mm M-55 anti-aerial guns to the Republican Guard.

In 2018, the Serbian company Privi Partizan also delivered, via the ports of Banana and Matadi, about five million cartridges for various assault rifles and for machine guns. The FARDC are also equipped with 90 AML-60 French Panhard reconnaissance armoured vehicles and 60 Panhard M3 armoured personal carriers. The air force has five Mirage 5 airfighters and Puma, Cougar and SA316 Alouette III helicopters, in addition to 12 Cessna 150 and three Cessna 310 transport aircraft. The long list of suppliers to the DRC includes Spain, which sold three Piraña patrol vessels to the Congolese navy; Brazil, which sold 19 Cascavel armoured cars; and Switzerland, which has supplied 9K32 strela-2 Rapier ground-to-air missiles. Egypt has been a provider of Misr assault rifles, used by the FARDC infantry, which are a copy of the notorious Russian AK-47, and of 20 Fahd armoured person carriers, which were delivered around 1990.

Military observers have said that a large proportion of the tanks, vessels and aircraft are not operational. One of the most controversial DRC deals has been North Korea’s secret supply in 2014 of pistols to the FARDC and to the Congolese National Police. According to an official UN document seen by Reuters news agency, North Korea also sent instructors to provide training for the Presidential Guard. This deal violated the arms embargo imposed on North Korea by UN Security Council Resolution 1874 of 2009. It also violated the arms embargo on the DRC, which requires member states to notify the Security Council Sanctions Committee of arms sales or training to the Congolese army, as stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 1807.

Finally, the FARDC has also received domestic supplies from local manufacturer Afridex in Likasi (upper Lualaba Province), which produces AK-47 rifles and ammunition with the technical assistance of the Chinese company Norinco. According to Wondo, who claims to have accessed a confidential army report from the FARDC army chief of staff in 2016, some of the Afridex weapons and ammunition were diverted by military officers to supply local armed groups such as the Bakata Katanga militias.

François Misser is a Brussels-based journalist. He has covered central Africa and Rwanda since 1981 for the BBC, Afrique Asie magazine, New African, and the German daily Tageszeitung. He is the author of several books on the DRC, including Géopolitique du Congo (2006) and Le Congo de A à Z (2010).

A legacy of bloodshed and corruption

The arms industry: fuelling conflict

The world’s biggest arms fair, which turned 20 in 2019, is lauded as a ‘fantastic showcase’ by its British hosts, but critics strongly disagree

A vendor uses an Armtrac 20T robot to squash a 2015 Rugby World Cup branded rugby ball as
he demonstrates its capabilities during the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London in September, 2015.

The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), which boasts of being the world’s largest arms fair, celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. The biennial event, held in London, aims to bring together the global arms industry under one roof, showcasing more than 1,700 exhibitors and 36,000 attendants from more than 50 countries. It is supported by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence and Department for International Trade, as well as BAE Systems, the UK’s largest arms manufacturer. Political insiders defend the country’s role as an arms exporter and the DSEI’s role in generating arms sales as sources of high-tech research and jobs. “The UK defence industry is looking to recruit more engineers, scientists and developers into 200,000 jobs and up to 10,000 apprentices within UK defence companies,” according to James Gray MP, a member of the House of Commons Defence Committee, quoted in a DSEI statement. “DSEI is a fantastic showcase for defence companies where international buyers, sellers, developers, thinkers, educators and the trainers can all get together.”

Yet critics of Britain’s role in the global arms trade, and the industry as a whole, see DSEI less as a “fantastic showcase” and more as the shiny centrepiece of a globally destructive sector unrivalled by any other. The exhibition is met with protests and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has called for it to end. Arms exports are estimated to contribute as much as £12 billion to the UK economy. Andrew Feinstein, a former South African MP for the ANC and author of The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, is one such critic. “In the 20 years of its existence DSEI has, probably more than any other trade show of any sort anywhere in the world, contributed to the death and suffering of Africans,” Feinstein told Africa in Fact. “Its legacy is one of bloodshed, corruption and Britain being at the forefront of undermining good governance across the African continent.” Countries with a recent history of conflict or military suppression sent delegations to DSEI 2019, officially invited by the UK government. From Africa, they included Algeria and Nigeria, while Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara did not preclude it from an official delegation invitation.

Algeria found itself on the UK government’s list of core markets for defence and security opportunities, along with Tunisia, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Angola. Egypt was also among them – and remains a core market for UK arms exports. A delegation was officially invited by the UK government to attend DSEI last year despite appearing in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) 2018 “human rights priority countries” report. According to the UK government’s report, “the human rights situation in Egypt continued to give cause for concern”. It cited new restrictions on media and online freedoms, and a government campaign against civil society, cases of torture, enforced disappearances and extended pre-trial detention. At least 250 cases of enforced disappearances were documented by lawyers, with thousands of individuals estimated to be in pre-trial detention, often in solitary confinement for extended periods.” Andrew Smith, spokesperson for the NGO Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), explains the apparent contradiction within UK policy. “There’s always been a total hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy and UK arms exports,” he told Africa in Fact.

“The FCO might deem some of these countries a concern, but the government as a whole can still deem them very close allies.” Feinstein agrees. “By any measure, Britian sells arms to whoever it wants to. The bottom line is the UK puts sales of weapons way ahead of any consideration of human rights. It puts profits ahead of people,” he says. But the DSEI does not see this as a true characterisation of its exhibition or of how it and the UK government operate. “The presence of a delegate or visitor from any country should not be taken as a presumption that the export of equipment to that country would be permitted,” a spokesman for DSEI said. “That is a matter for the UK government and their export licensing process, which operates to the highest regulatory standards.” Feinstein dismisses these assertions: “Their [DSEI] first assumption is profoundly wrong. The second, that the UK has an ethical system that guides export arms policy, is frankly a nonsense,” he argues. That Egypt and South Africa, the respective powerhouses of north and southern Africa, have been identified as core markets is no surprise due to the relative size of their economies and the different roles they fulfil.

Egypt, due to its proximity to the Middle East, can serve as a political ally for the UK arms industry’s main market, Saudi Arabia, and the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has also called for the lifting of a UN arms embargo on neighbouring Libya. Under its former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, Libya was a key market for the UK government, especially after the former prime minister, Tony Blair, visited the country in 2004. Smith believes that the legitimacy conferred by the UK government is another driving factor behind the country’s large arms trade. “When a regime is buying weapons from the UK, they’re not just buying weapons; they’re also buying political support that goes with those weapons,” he argues. This applies equally to countries such as Libya, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The UK gets money and the buying country gets both arms and tacit political support to maintain their position. Although both the UN and European Union (EU) can, and do, implement arms embargoes, these can ultimately prove ineffective due to previous deals, Smith explains.

In Egypt, for example, arms sold to former President Hosni Mubarak in the 1990s were used against civilians during the Arab Spring, despite an embargo now in place. “After the coup [in Egypt], an arms embargo was brought in by Europe, but it was probably the single worst embargo in the history of arms embargoes, because it was [so] momentary [that] absolutely nobody followed it,” Smith says. Embargoes can prove ineffective because arms generally have a longer lifespan than the period of an embargo. Any arms deal signed the day before an embargo is put in place can still be completed. At the other end of the continent, South Africa is seen as the gateway to the African market, making it an attractive country to set up business in and to build links to the rest of Africa to sell arms. Feinstein outlines why the UK and Europe target this market particularly, and what advantages they have over the world’s largest arms exporter, the US. “South Africa has been involved in a number of very corrupt arms transactions so [it makes it attractive] for British and European arms companies who can’t compete with the Americans because the Americans have massive economies of scale over Europeans, or the Chinese who practically give away their weapons, so Europeans [are willing to] pay enormous bribes.”

Yet, after 20 years of DSEI few people, if any, celebrate the anniversary – other than global arms dealers and people in the corridors of a couple of UK government departments in Whitehall. “The best thing we can do, if we are truly concerned about the socio-economic development of Africa, would be to shut it [DSEI] down and to properly regulate our arms trade,” concludes Feinstein. For the moment, though, the UK and Europe will continue to sell weapons. DSEI will continue to bring together the global arms trade. And African citizens will continue to suffer the consequences. “Nobody is forced to sell weapons to anyone,” says Smith. “Not every country in Europe is a major arms dealer. But those that are, are doing tremendous damage around the world.”

Joe Walsh is a freelance journalist based in Johannesburg. He writes about the environment, energy and the green economy as well as politics and society for British publications, including Environmental Finance, the New Statesman and The New European.

The facts are stubborn

Rwanda: the genocide archives

Amid mounting calls for an honest investigation into the Rwandan genocide, the UN and certain governments appear to be opposing full disclosure

A group of Rwandan refugees walk past a pile of machetes and axes confiscated by the Zairean army on July 16, 1994 in the border city of Goma. (Photo by PASCAL GUYOT / AFP FILES / AFP)

“Everyday we learn to forgive,” President Paul Kagame told a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide in Kigali in April this year, “but we do not want to forget.” Yet, 25 years after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, full disclosure and recognition of responsibility for what happened, particularly as regards members of the international community, are still outstanding. The International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR), established in 1994 and dissolved 2015, dealt with the planners and the architects of the genocide. Almost two million people accused of helping to perpetrate the genocide were tried before the traditional Gacaca courts between 2001 and 2012. But questions of international responsibility remain unaddressed. Moreover, investigators, researchers and historians face obstacles in the way of establishing the truth. In June 2014, the Rwandan government established the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA).

Yet despite pledges by international leaders to fully investigate what happened, members of the public elsewhere in the world still have only limited access to evidence about the genocide. UN Security Council deliberations on Rwanda, the Clinton White House papers and French and Belgian government documents remain classified. Apparently, this applies even to international court decisions. This year, the executive secretary of Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight against Genocide, Jean-Damascène Bizimana, asked for, but was not granted, access to the ICTR archives. Olivier Nduhungirehe, to everybody, including survivors of the genocide, students and researchers,” he told Africa in Fact. What is clear is that the UN and certain governments are opposing full disclosure. During his speech earlier this year, Kagame paid a special tribute to the Czech ambassador, Karel Kovanda, who, he said, “joined colleagues from New Zealand and Nigeria to call for action to stop the genocide despite the indifference of more powerful states.”

He was probably referring to some of the five permanent members of the Security Council. While the massacres were occurring, three of the Big Five – France, the UK and the US – resisted the use of the word “genocide”, says British journalist Linda Melvern, author of the book A People Betrayed: the Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide, first published in 2000 and updated in 2009. To be sure, the UN is in a delicate position. Its inability to deal effectively with the genocide is still very much resented, and not only by Rwandans. No UN flag was flown at an homage ceremony in Kigali on 8 April, 2019 for 10 Belgian peacekeepers who were brutally beaten and shot to death by Rwandan government soldiers on 7 April, 1994. This despite the fact that the Belgian soldiers were members of the UN mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR). Their former comrades were outraged at their government’s order to the peacekeepers to surrender.

“Many of the Belgian soldiers had wanted to stay in Rwanda to prevent even greater slaughter and were humiliated by the government’s decision to withdraw them,” according to an OAU report of 7 July, 2000 by an international panel of eminent personalities. The former soldiers were also critical of the UN, which, they said, systematically underestimated the threats the Belgian blue helmets faced from Hutu extremists. “The withdrawal meant that they were viewed as cowards, and morally irresponsible ones as well,” reads the report. “It is not surprising that many of them threw down their blue berets in disgust upon their return to Belgium. Others, in full view of the television cameras, pulled out their knives and slashed the berets into ribbons.” According to Melvern, the New Zealand ambassador, Colin Keating, told her that “non-permanent members of the [Security] Council were kept in the dark about what was happening”. Cables sent to the UN secretary-general’s office by UNAMIR’s field commander, the Canadian general Roméo Dallaire, did not reach the council.

They stayed in the secretary-general’s office on the 38th floor of the UN building in New York, she says. For whatever reason, Boutros Boutros-Ghali kept those cables to himself. Yet these cables included essential information. One was a fax General Dallaire sent to his superior, General Maurice Baril, at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York, on 11 January, 1994. According to the OAU report, Dallaire warned that a militia commander who he had met “has been ordered to register all Tutsi in Kigali. He suspects it is for their extermination. Example he gave was that in 20 minutes his personnel could kill up to 1,000 Tutsis”. Despite this, Kofi Annan, then chief of peacekeeping operations, denied Dallaire permission to seize arms caches revealed by the informant. Moreover, Boutros-Ghali changed existing procedures regarding the transmission of information to the Security Council, determining that officials could brief the council only with his express permission, Linda Melvern discovered.

“All the information that went to the council came through Boutros-Ghali,” she says. In a report dated 21 April, the then secretary general did not mention mass killings, preferring to describe Rwanda as being in “a civil war”. Why did Boutros-Ghali restrict the information that went to the council? According to Melvern, it might have been because he was beholden to the French president, Francois Mitterrand, who had supported his election. To settle the question, she says that access to documents and the telephone records from Boutros- Ghali’s office will be necessary. According to Melvern, the permanent members of the UN Security Council refused for weeks to admit that a genocide was taking place. The British ambassador to the UN told the council that it would become “a laughing stock” if it described the events in Rwanda as a genocide, she says. And France also resisted the use of the word “genocide”. Some see France as bearing more responsibility for the international failure to act because of its direct involvement in the region.

Accordingly, access to the French archives has been a sensitive point for years. In 2015, the French president, François Hollande, declassified documents related to the genocide, including minutes from secret defence meetings and files of advisers to the president at the time, François Mitterrand. Researchers and historians would be granted access to the documents on request. Yet gaining access to those archives has proved extremely difficult. A former Belgian senator, Alain Destexhe, who published an essay on the genocide, told Africa in Fact that he was denied access to both Mitterrand’s archives and those of the defence ministry – supposedly because his “profile did not meet requirements”. Researchers also complain that only a fraction of the classified documents have surfaced so far. That might change. In April this year, President Emmanuel Macron appointed a commission of academics to carry out a two year investigation into the role of the French army in the genocide.

The commission will have access to presidential, diplomatic, military and intelligence archives. Kigali’s reaction was rather positive. But the problem, Alice Urusaro Karekezi, a researcher at the University of Rwanda’s Centre for Conflict Management, told the Kigali-based daily newspaper The New Times is that the commission does not include a single recognised expert on Rwanda. Moreover, access to Mitterrand’s archives was to be granted at the discretion of their custodian, Dominique Bertinotti, who told news agency Agence France-Presse in April this year that her approval is not “automatic”. Independent or inexperienced researchers will be confronted by staunch opposition from the French military establishment and officials who were in office in 1994, who deny that France holds any responsibility for the tragedy. The issue is so sensitive that it caused a controversy during the European elections campaign in May this year.

A claim by Raphaël Glucksmann – director of a documentary on the genocide and head of the Socialist Party list in the election – that Mitterrand had been an “accomplice” in the genocide triggered a letter of protest signed by 23 former ministers. Yet “the facts are stubborn”, as Kagame says. Prior to the genocide, France had been an important supporter of the Hutu regime in Kigali. According to a January 1994 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), France was one of the regime’s main arms suppliers, along with Egypt and South Africa, before and after the war began between the Hutu-dominated government and Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in October 1990. France’s contribution included mortars, artillery, armoured cars and helicopters – in addition to providing military advisors to the Rwandan Gendarmerie and armed forces, according to HRW. According to Melvern, French military training extended to the presidential guard, which is thought to have initiated the genocide.

Moreover, France did not suspend its supplies of arms to the government after the imposition of a UN embargo on 17 May, 1994. Five shipments of artillery, machine guns, assault rifles and ammunition provided by the French government were sent to government forces based in Goma (in then-Zaire) in May and June of that year, according to a May 1995 report by HRW. Meanwhile, a French military operation between June and August in 1994, codenamed “Turquoise”, nominally under the UN, is another controversial issue. France portrayed Turquoise as a humanitarian mission to hide its support of the genocidaires, claimed Captain Guillaume Ancel, a French army veteran who served in the operation, in a 2018 memoir. Any declassification of US documents would also likely result in embarrassing revelations – in particular, as regards responsibility for the downsizing of the UN force that General Dallaire outlined in his book on the genocide, Shake Hands With the Devil (2003), and its tragic consequences.

“The United States almost single-handedly blocked international action in Rwanda [for] six weeks prior to the genocide, which might have prevented the bloodbath altogether,” says the above-mentioned OAU report. The US State Department even refused to scramble the broadcast of RTLM Radio, a Hutu extremist media outlet that incited killing during the genocide, according to Melvern. Half a million lives could have been saved if UNAMIR had had sufficient air support and logistical and communication capabilities, concluded Scott Feil, a former US army career officer, in a 1998 report to the Carnegie Commission on preventing deadly conflict. In April this year, more than 300 French academics, historians and citizens signed an open letter questioning Macron’s refusal to appoint suitably qualified experts – including Hélène Dumas, the only French researcher who speaks Kinyarwanda, and Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, a prominent historian of the first world war and author of a book titled Une initiation Rwanda (2017) – to the commission that is to investigate France’s role in the genocide.

In April this year, lawyers representing relatives of victims killed at Biserero in Rwanda between 27 and 30 June, 1994 by Hutu militias after the French army abandoned them there, called for access to the French Ministry of Defence archives for the French judges who were to investigate this tragic event. During a meeting with President Macron, another group, the Ibuka association of survivors, whose name means “remember” in Kinyarwanda, also called for the declassification of official French archives concerning the genocide. Former French military members who served in Rwanda during the 1990- 1994 period are claiming that the French government of the time worked closely with the Rwandan Hutu regime. Ancel, the former French army officer mentioned earlier in this article, claims that Turquoise, a French-led UN operation supposedly aimed at ending the massacres, was in fact intended to prevent the RPF from capturing Kigali. The aim was to return control of the capital city to the government, the former officer claims in his recent book, Rwanda, la fin du silence (Rwanda: the end of silence).

In another book, General Jean Varret, who headed the French military mission in Rwanda between October 1990 and April 1993, says that both Rwanda’s president at the time, Juvénal Habyarimana, and the French embassy ignored his warnings that the Rwandan military was planning to massacre Tutsis. The commission of inquiry will find it difficult to ignore these claims. The quest for the truth about the Rwanda genocide has been long, but the pressure is mounting. Researchers of the Rwandan genocide – academics, journalists, survivors, and French activists fighting for the decolonisation of France’s relationship with Africa and with the Rwandan government – are calling for open access to the genocide archives. The full truth of what happened then has yet to be established, they say. This includes vital information concerning the accountability of members of the international community.

Reply from the Spokesman of the Secretary-General of the United Nations

The United Nations has tried to ensure that there is justice for the crimes committed in Rwanda during the genocide, and it has looked at its own actions during that period, mostly notably through the Carlsson Commission, which issued its own report on the UN’s responsibilities in 1999. The UN has followed up on those recommendations in our effort to ensure that what went wrong in Rwanda will never be repeated. The statement from the article that “investigators, researchers and historians face obstacles when attempting to establish the truth” with respect to access to the archives of the ICTR is not supported by the facts. The Arusha branch of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals manages the archives of the ICTR. Its access policy is guided by the basic principles of openness and transparency, balanced with the obligation to maintain the confidentiality of classified information, including classified judicial records. The International Residual Mechanism cannot provide members of the public with access to the confidential records of the ICTR. The Judicial Records and Archives Database is accessible through a website ( htm) containing approximately 850,000 pages of judicial records and 22,000 hours of audiovisual recordings of judicial proceedings. The physical location of the archives therefore does not impose an impediment to accessibility with respect to users in Rwanda. On average, each month, over 3,600 records are accessed, 10.5 access requests are responded to, and approximately 80 visitors are accommodated by the Archives and Records Section in Arusha. The claim in the article that access to the ICTR archives was denied to Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight against Genocide and to personnel of the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations is also unfounded. The International Residual Mechanism in Arusha has not received any request from Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight against Genocide. One request was received from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Rwanda to the United Nations, and it was responded to on the same day that it was received.

François Misser is a Brussels-based journalist. He has covered central Africa since 1981 and European-African relations since 1984 for the BBC, Afrique Asie magazine, African Energy, the Italian monthly magazine Nigrizia, and Germany’s Die Tageszeitung newspaper. He has written books on Rwanda and the DRC. His last book, on the Congo River dams, is La Saga d’Inga.