Why South Africa must get piece of DRC at whatever cost

Why South Africa must get piece of DRC at whatever cost

Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of South Africa’s President Zuma, joined the dance floor during a birth day party of one of the President’s wives. Khulubuse has used his uncles power to get massive business concessions in DRC

As the international intervention brigade is deployed into Goma, it is thanks to Pretoria, which managed to convince the UN. South Africa has emerged as precious ally of Kinshasa – which remains isolated on the diplomatic scene.

There are moments when you feel pretty lonely. When representatives of President Kabila sat at the negotiating table last December in Kampala, they enumerated their supporters. And seemingly disturbed by Rwanda, accused of supporting the M23 rebels who, some weeks earlier, had taken Goma (Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC). But that was before an ally of weight discreetly entered into the game: the South African President, Jacob Zuma.

Heard by the French Parliament on 12 June, France’s permanent representative at the UN, Gérard Araud, revealed that it is Pretoria that had “requested the Security Council to create an intervention brigade, with the mission to combat groups such as the M23”. After the fall of Goma in November 2012, a diplomatic source in New York adds, “the Security Council was divided on which actions to take. South Africa wanted to act with a robust force to carry out the work”.

The French intervention in Mali in January, has added up to the South African determination. “Zuma and his entourage found it chocking that Africans needed to call upon Paris for help”, says another source in Pretoria. “That’s why they wanted to get to grips with the problem”.

Bene M’Poko, the Congolese ambassador to South Africa, says the latter (South Africa) “has not done all the work”, but admits that it (South Africa) “has estimated that there had to be new regional God fathers”.

And Zuma’s activism has paid off. A 3,000 plus-strong intervention brigade has been set up. South Africans make up its backbone, with their Tanzanian and Malawian regional allies, and a combat mandate has been given to them to disarm the rebel groups which have, since then, left Goma.

This episode illustrates the growing importance of the axis Pretoria-Kinshasa, which has never before been this precious for Joseph Kabila. “One cannot deny that he (Kabila) has a tendency to isolate himself diplomatically”, regrets a close source to the Congolese government. If one sets aside Tanzania, which has been at odds with Rwanda, Kinshasa no longer has a neighbour upon whom to rely: it (Kinshasa) sees Kigali and Kampala as opponents and Bujumbura weighs little under its eyes. Kabila expects nothing from Denis Sassou Nguesso, in Brazzaville, and his relation with the Angolan José Eduardo Dos Santos has deteriorated a lot, largely because of oil disputes.

A long-standing agreement

The good rapport between DRC and South Africa is not new. Elected in 1994, slightly before the first war of Congo, Nelson Mandela had involved himself in the resolution of the crisis, officiating as a mediator between former President Mobutu and Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who was still a rebel chief. Thabo Mbeki, successor to Madiba (Nelson Mandela), continued in the same direction. As for Jacob Zuma, welcoming and less concerned with democratic criteria, he regularly meets up with Joseph Kabila.

The incumbent South African President already knew DR Congo, for having been one of the Sun City Accords’ main mediators, in 2003. “At the time”, recalls Bene M’Poko, “he was in charge of bilateral negotiations between DR Congo and Rwanda”. His reading of the situation by then, characterized by the rivalry between Kinshasa and Kigali, has undoubtedly played a role in his subsequent decisions. “In June 2010, the attempted assassination of Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, a Rwandan General exiled in South Africa, has tipped over Zuma into the Kinshasa camp”, says Paul-Simon Handy, Director of Research at the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria. “The South African government has made it clear that Kigali was responsible”.

The following year, Pretoria comes in with help for Kinshasa, where the Presidential election was badly held. “His support was decisive”, concedes Bene M’Poko. “Donors were refusing to finance the election, so we turned ourselves to South Africa”. The latter accepts to cater for the logistics and takes charge of the transport of the electoral equipment. In the meantime, Kinshasa gives to Robert Gumede, a businessman close to African National Congress (ANC, the ruling party), the contract to print out ballot papers. After the election, the European Union observation mission denounced “several irregularities and vote rigging (frauds)”, but Pretoria congratulated Kabila upon his re-election.

South Africa knows, of course, where its interest lies. It is the first supplier good for DR Congo (with 21.6 percent of its imports in 2012). Its mobile telephone company, Vodacom, leads on the Congolese market; many of its mineral experts work in Katanga and part of the copper from this province (Katanga) transits via South Africa, from where it is exported. As far as the project on “Grand Inga” hydro power plants (built around the two already existing power plants, Inga I and Inga II) is concerned, it very particularly interests Pretoria, faced with an important energy deficit. On 7 March, South Africa obtained confirmation of acquiring over 50 percent of the electricity that would be produced by the upcoming Inga III power plant. “The South Africans’ support makes us credible and would facilitate the acquisition of funds from donors”, admits an advisor to the Congolese Prime Minister. “The only problem”, regrets Claude Ibalanky, the founder of the agency Invest in Congo, “is that there is disequilibrium in these relations. South Africans continue to put up a lot of barriers for entry to their own market”.

A bad organization of South Africa in Bangui

There are also some more off-the-record links between Pretoria and Kinshasa. According to Bloomberg news agency, the nephew to Jacob Zuma, Khulubuse, has received oil concessions in 2010 on the Lake Albert, at the border with Uganda. The two companies having received their licenses, Caprikat and Foxwhelp, had been recorded at the British Isles three months before the transaction, deemed unfavorable with interests of the Congolese government by the British NGO, Platform. Apart from lawyer Michael Hulley, who had assisted Khulubuse and has since become the legal advisor of the South African Presidency, the Israeli businessman, Dan Gertler, very close to Kabila, has also been cited as a possible beneficiary of that operation.

Up until recently, one could also find the African Rainbow Minerals, a company owned by the billionaire Patrice Motsepe, and SacOil, a group partly owned by the family of Dikgang Moseneke, Vice President of the South African Constitutional Court. The company Dig Oil has, in turn, participations in oil concessions in Eastern DR Congo. Run by Andrea Brown, a businesswoman close to ANC, it had already made itself known (it had already drawn people’s attention) through (mineral) exploration in Central African Republic, at the time when François Bozizé was still in power. In January, as the Central African Republic President grew unsteady faced with the rebellion that was going to oust him, Pretoria hadn’t hesitated to send over a 400-strong reinforcement contingent.

Does the South Africans’ fiasco in Bangui mean that the intervention brigade in DR Congo will have harder times to protect Goma? “The configuration (pattern) doesn’t have anything to do with the one for the operation in Central African Republic, which had been precipitated and badly prepared”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa Director for International Crisis Group. “In DR Congo, South Africans have been there for over a decade. They have expertise”.

Kinshasa will, nonetheless, with difficulty, find the best rampart.

This is an English translation of the original article published by Jeune Afrique magazine.

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