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L’or noir au Congo : risque d’instabilité ou opportunité de développement ?
L’or noir au Congo : risque d’instabilité ou opportunité de développement ?
De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes
De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes
Report 188 / Africa

L’or noir au Congo : risque d’instabilité ou opportunité de développement ?

L’intérêt renouvelé pour le pétrole en République démocratique du Congo (DRC) risque de nourrir les ressentiments communautaires, exacerber les dynamiques de conflit et fragiliser la cohésion nationale.

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Synthèse

Au lieu d’être une opportunité de développement, l’inté­rêt renouvelé pour le pétrole au Congo représente une réelle menace pour la stabilité d’un pays post-conflit toujours fragile. Les prospections pétrolières en cours et à venir alimentent déjà les ressentiments de la population locale et les tensions frontalières. La confirmation des réserves de pétrole dans l’Est exacerberait la dynamique de conflits à l’œuvre aux Kivus. La reprise des combats au début de l’année 2012, notamment l’apparition d’une nouvelle rébellion au Nord Kivu et la reprise de l’expansion territoriale des groupes armés, remet en question la stabilisation de l’Est du pays qui concentre l’intérêt des compagnies pétrolières. La découverte de gisements pourrait aussi créer de nouveaux centres de pouvoirs et remettre en cause la prépondérance politique du centre économique historique qu’est la province du Katanga. Des actions préventives doivent être menées afin de transformer la menace réelle d’instabilité en une véritable opportunité de développement.

Des réserves potentielles de pétrole chevauchant les frontières du pays avec l’Ouganda, l’Angola et éventuellement d’autres voisins pourraient raviver d’anciennes querelles frontalières une fois les explorations entamées. Dans un contexte général de ruée vers l’or noir en Afrique centrale et orientale, l’absence de frontières clairement délimitées constitue un sérieux péril pour la stabilité régionale.

Les affrontements ayant opposé les armées ougandaise et congolaise en 2007 ont été suivis de la signature des accords de Ngurdoto qui établissaient un système de gestion du gisement transfrontalier dans le district de l’Ituri. Cependant, la réticence de Kinshasa à appliquer les termes de l’accord et l’échec du dialogue ougando-congolais sont de mauvais augure pour les relations entre les deux pays. Par ailleurs, l’incapacité à trouver une solution à l’amiable au problème du pétrole au large de la côte ouest a envenimé les relations entre l’Angola et la RDC et a conduit à l’expulsion violente des ressortissants congolais du territoire angolais. Au lieu de chercher à résoudre les conflits de frontières avec ses voisins avant d’autoriser les prospections pétrolières, le gouvernement congolais ignore le problème, refuse le dialogue avec l’Ouganda et revendique une extension de ses frontières maritimes aux dépens de l’Angola.

L’enlèvement d’un sous-traitant d’une compagnie pétrolière dans le parc des Virunga dans les Kivus en 2011 rappelle que l’exploration a lieu dans des zones où l’insécu­rité prévaut. Dans ces territoires toujours contestés, les groupes ethniques se livrent à une lutte pour le contrôle territorial tandis que l’armée et des groupes rebelles sont engagés depuis des années dans l’exploitation illégale des ressources naturelles. Étant donné que les Kivus sont des zones à haut risque, la découverte du pétrole y aggraverait le conflit. Par ailleurs, la confirmation de réserves de pétrole dans l’Est et la Cuvette centrale pourrait alimenter les tendances sécessionnistes dans un contexte de décentralisation ratée et de querelle fiscale persistante entre les provinces et le pouvoir central.

La mauvaise gouvernance a marqué le secteur pétrolier depuis la reprise des prospections dans l’Est et l’Ouest du pays. Avec une seule société en production, le pétrole est déjà la principale source de revenus du gouvernement congolais. Pour autant, malgré le développement des explorations, la réforme du secteur pétrolier progresse très lentement. Au lieu de mettre en place des procédures claires, un cadre légal transparent et des institutions solides, les précédents gouvernements ont agi comme des spéculateurs, une attitude qui rappelle la gestion du secteur minier. Dans un climat des affaires très dégradé, ils ont attribué et réattribué les permis à des compagnies, au mépris des besoins de la population locale ou des engagements internationaux, notamment en matière de protection environnementale.

La délimitation officielle des blocs comprend des parcs naturels, dont certains sont classés au patrimoine mondial de l’humanité par l’Organisation des Nations unies pour l’éducation, la science et la culture (Unesco), et menace les ressources des populations locales. Les initiatives pour la transparence financière et contractuelle sont incomplètes et contredites par l’opacité de la réallocation des permis. L’échec de l’Etat à réguler les intérêts divergents et potentiellement conflictuels des compagnies et des communautés démunies nourrit clairement des ressentiments susceptibles de provoquer des conflits locaux qui pourraient facilement être instrumentalisés.

Dans un contexte de pauvreté généralisée, de fragilité de l’Etat, de mauvaise gouvernance et d’insécurité régionale, une ruée vers le pétrole aura des effets déstabilisateurs si le gouvernement n’adopte pas des mesures préventives tant à l’échelle régionale que nationale. Régionalement, le gouvernement doit concevoir, avec le soutien de l’Union africaine (UA) et du Groupe de la Banque mondiale, un cadre de gestion des réserves transfrontalières et délimiter ses frontières avec le concours de ses voisins. Sur le plan national, il doit mettre en place une réforme du secteur pétrolier, déclarer un moratoire sur l’exploration dans les zones dangereuses, en particulier à l’Est où la situation se dégrade de nouveau, jusqu’à ce qu’elles soient de nouveau stables. Il doit aussi associer les provinces dans les principales décisions concernant le pétrole.

Kinshasa/Nairobi/Bruxelles, 11 juillet 2012

Commentary / Africa

De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes

President Tshisekedi’s plans for joint operations with DR Congo’s belligerent eastern neighbours against its rebels risks regional proxy warfare. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to encourage diplomatic efforts in the region and Tshisekedi to shelve his plan for the joint operations.

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2020.

Since assuming office in early 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) president, Félix Tshisekedi, has stressed his determination to dismantle the dozens of Congolese and foreign armed groups blighting the troubled east of the country. He has also prioritised repairing ties with neighbouring states, which have historically both backed and fought against rebels in the eastern DRC over various cycles of war in the last two decades. Today, tensions are again mounting among the DRC’s neighbours – between Burundi and Uganda, on one hand, and Rwanda, on the other – potentially compounding the country’s security challenges. Alongside Tshisekedi’s diplomatic efforts to calm tensions, he has floated plans to invite these three neighbours to deploy their armed forces into the DRC to conduct joint operations with Congolese forces against rebels. Yet insofar as tensions among those countries remain high, such operations could pave the way for them to step up support to allied groups even while fighting rivals, and thus fuel proxy warfare. Civilians in the eastern DRC are likely to suffer most.

In line with its December Foreign Affairs Council conclusions that lay out the EU’s plans for re-engagement with the DRC, and to help President Tshisekedi de-escalate regional tensions, the EU and its member states should:

  • Reinforce the International Contact Group for the Great Lakes region, an informal gathering comprising the UN (including both the UN’s special envoy to the Great Lakes and the head of its mission in the DRC, MONUSCO), the U.S., the African Union and South Africa, as well as the EU and several European states that are important donors in the region, such as Belgium, the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Sweden. The EU and European governments could designate senior EU and other European ministerial appointees to fill the group, over and above the working-level desk officers who normally tend to participate.
  • Use the increased clout this would bring to push for a mechanism whereby each of the three neighbours airs allegations against states they believe are backing armed groups in the DRC and supports the charges with evidence. Allegations can then be investigated by the UN Group of Experts and the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (the ICGLR comprises regional states and is a guarantor of a 2013 regional peace agreement; its joint verification mechanism and the UN expert group already have mandates to investigate claims of support to armed groups). Their findings could inform diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions among neighbours and end their backing of insurgents in the DRC.
  • At the same time, encourage President Tshisekedi to shelve, at least for now, his plan for joint operations with neighbours’ security forces.
  • Offer financial and technical support for the national disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process, to ensure that Congolese militias linked to foreign rebels operating in the eastern DRC have a safe pathway to giving up their fight.

Security Challenges

In recent months, eastern DRC-based foreign insurgencies have escalated attacks on both the Congolese army as well as soldiers and civilians in neighbouring countries. The Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan presidents are all rattling their sabres in response, accusing one another of proxy warfare.

On 4 October, DRC-based fighters killed fourteen people in Kinigi village in Rwanda’s Musanze district. Rwandan authorities blame the Forces démocratiques de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) rebels. They say the FDLR is working with another DRC-based rebel group, the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), which they allege is run by one of President Paul Kagame’s former generals. They also say both the FDLR and the RNC enjoy Burundian and Ugandan support. In a speech, Kagame vowed to retaliate against anyone seeking to attack Rwanda.

After the Kinigi killings, fighters crossed into Burundi from the DRC to launch two separate deadly attacks. Burundian RED-Tabara rebels, whom Burundian officials say are backed by Rwanda, claimed the first attack. No one claimed the second, but Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, recalling Kigali’s support for mutineers in a 2015 coup attempt, blamed Rwanda for both attacks, alleging that Kigali supports RED-Tabara. Ugandan officials, for their part, assert that Rwanda is collaborating with the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel movement with roots in Uganda that is implicated in dozens of massacres in the Beni area of North Kivu since 2014.

Rwandan and Ugandan officials continue to trade accusations that each is plotting to destabilise the other.

Rwandan and Ugandan officials continue to trade accusations that each is plotting to destabilise the other. Both governments have purged their security services of suspected traitors. Rwanda has now also closed a main border crossing into Uganda, suffocating trade between the two countries. Meanwhile, Burundi and Rwanda have dispatched troops to their mutual border while Uganda has deployed troops to its western frontier facing North Kivu. Should these tensions heighten, they could fuel more proxy fighting in the eastern DRC, further threatening regional stability.

Recognising the dangers, Tshisekedi invited Rwanda and Uganda for talks in July and August hosted by Angolan President João Lourenço in the Angolan capital Luanda. They culminated in a memorandum of understanding, signed on 21 August, in which both countries promised to halt “actions conducive to destabilisation or subversion in the territory of the other party and neighbouring countries”. In addition to these diplomatic efforts, the DRC president floated plans that would involve the armed forces of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda conducting joint military operations with Congolese forces against insurgents in the eastern DRC. Absent political de-escalation among the neighbour governments, such operations could pave the way for all three to ratchet up support to proxies opposing their respective rivals. The eastern DRC could again become the arena for a multi-sided melee.

Calming Regional Tensions

In its latest Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on the DRC in December 2019, the EU asserted its readiness to redefine its relationship with the country. This comes after relations between Brussels and Kinshasa cooled at the tail end of Kabila’s presidency, when the EU sanctioned some of his top henchmen in late 2018. President Tshisekedi has expressed an increasing willingness to work with Brussels even as the EU renewed sanctions in December 2019 against twelve of the fourteen Kabila-era officials. In particular, the EU could help de-escalate regional tensions and lessen neighbours’ support to foreign armed groups while contributing to pathways to surrender for Congolese fighters allied to such groups.

The immediate priority is to encourage President Tshisekedi to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to calm tensions among DRC’s neighbours.

The immediate priority is to encourage President Tshisekedi to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to calm tensions among DRC’s neighbours while putting aside, at least for now, plans for those neighbours to conduct military operations in the eastern DRC. The EU’s best bet for pressing for an approach along these lines would be to increase its influence in the International Contact Group for the Great Lakes, the informal group to which it and a number of European states belong. Brussels and other European capitals should commit more senior officials both to the contact group itself and to liaising with the group and with regional governments. Together with the UN special envoy to the Great Lakes, Xia Huang, who has recently been instrumental in bringing together the Burundian, Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan intelligence chiefs to discuss their deteriorating relations, the EU should use its weight in the group to prioritise the need for a political solution to tackling foreign armed groups in the eastern DRC.

Such a solution could entail Xia encouraging the three states to lay out their allegations and evidence of support by their rivals to armed groups in the DRC. He could share all information received with the UN Group of Experts and the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region. The evidence provided by regional states, and investigations conducted by the expert group and joint verification mechanism, could collectively inform diplomatic efforts to halt or diminish support to DRC-based insurgents.

By financially and technically supporting the national DDR process, the EU can also back Tshisekedi’s priority of tackling the plague of Congolese armed groups. Congolese insurgents, many of whom are sucked into alliances with more powerful foreign armed groups, often lack an alternative in the absence of a fully funded DDR program. Under Kabila, the Congolese authorities gave only limited resources to DDR. Several donors pulled out, frustrated by Kinshasa’s lack of commitment to funding a national program. Despite the uptick in attacks in the east, there are signs that some fighters are placing greater hope in Tshisekedi’s presidency and expressing greater desire to surrender. MONUSCO’s new mandate, adopted at the end of December 2019, encourages the DRC’s government to appoint a senior coordinator to lead the DDR effort. The EU could consider supplying this person with the necessary funding and expertise to carry out the mandate.