Wednesday, January 23, 2008

To sign or not to sign?

For more than two weeks, over 1300 participants representing the government, parliament, civil society, ethnic groups and rival armed factions have been talking in Goma. The outcome of these complex, seemingly interminable negotiations is an agreement, announced on Monday but yet to be fully agreed and signed, that is said to provide for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of rebel troops from certain areas due to become a UN-patrolled buffer zone, the disarmament of Nkunda’s men and Mai Mai fighters and their integration into the national army (something that was attempted before but failed), and, in exchange, amnesty on insurrection charges (which would have carried the death penalty) for the rebels. What the rebels didn’t get – which wasn’t in the government’s power to bestow – is amnesty for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The obvious question is where this agreement leaves General Nkunda, who as far as anyone knows is still refusing to go into exile. On Monday le Soft International mentioned a secret deal whereby the government would nominate him as commander of the 8th military region, which includes North Kivu province. This would naturally piss off the Mai Mai.

The other key point on which the agreement seems to be silent is the FDLR. According to an article in the New York Times, the government and diplomats are quick to respond that the Goma peace agreement should be seen to go hand in hand with the pact signed in Nairobi between the Congolese and Rwandan governments at the end of last year, committing them to disarming and repatriating the Rwandan Hutu militias.

Today, I heard on RFI that after tweaking the agreement all night, the final sticking point was its title and whether the government should appear as a party to the agreement at the same level as Nkunda’s CNDP (CNDP position), or merely as an observer (government position). Let’s hope they come to an agreement soon; while these discussions take place villagers continue to suffer and die, in what some conference participants insisted should be declared a “disaster zone” (AFP).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Year of the dog?

We’re back in Kinshasa, after a rather lazy holiday, for our final stint here. Yes, it’s official, this is D-day minus 51. On 1 March we will be leaving and heading back to London for a bit; you know, take stock, breathe deeply, recharge the batteries…

So, as is wont to happen in these cases, I find myself noticing all the little things around me that make up this intense world we are temporarily a part of, starting with the inimitable Kinois newspaper.

Newspapers here are sold primarily by street vendors who tempt passing drivers with glimpses of the headlines. So the name of the game is to have an alluring front page. The more popular newspapers usually have a cartoon or an alluring photo, but this paper has clearly chosen to make insipid headlines seem more exciting through using exclamation points.

You may have noticed the toe-curling headline bottom left, which translates to “Kasai Occidental: Women savour dog meat.” According to the article, whilst in Kasai Oriental province only courageous men eat dog meat, in neighbouring Kasai Occidental it is the women and youth who now rush to the street stalls and scuffle for this favourite of victuals. Vendors are searching every street corner for dogs to kill and cook, and unsurprisingly these are proving increasingly rare. The fashion is also spreading to Tshangu district in Kinshasa, where thousands are reported to consume dog meat.