Earlier this week, I did a bleak video for the CFR on the consequences of Congo’s just-concluded elections. If I were to do it today, it would be even bleaker. Both incumbent Joseph Kabila and chief rival Etienne Tshisekedi continue to claim to have won the November 2011 presidential elections, and neither shows any sign of backing down. Today in Kinshasa Tshisekedi’s party called for mass protests to “protect” his claimed victory, though there were no specifics as to time or venue. But, if and when it happens, there is likely to be considerable bloodshed. Outside the capital, it looks like Kabila’s faction is stepping up the repression. In the eastern cities of Bukavu and Goma, police stopped the opposition from marching and mayors banned all protests. In Lubumbashi, the presidential guard dispersion of a peaceful protest left many injured.
There is a related good news/bad news story that recently came to my attention from a recent debate on the Wronging Rights blog. A UK-based NGO, Mines Advisory Group, oversees the destruction of weapons turned in to the Congo government and the UN as part of the disarmament process in the eastern part of the country. The scrap metal is then recycled locally. Some funding for the Mines Advisory Group comes from Fonderie 47. They incorporate materials from similar weapons confiscated from poachers by the Virunga National Park Service and make jewelry and then use the profits from the jewelry to make grants to NGOs involved in weapon destruction programs. The intent, of course, is to reduce the number of weapons in circulation in eastern Congo. Even if the scale is small, this is an imaginative program that appears to cost little and actually has an impact. It is reminiscent of the “Hero Rats,” a program sponsored by another European NGO that trains giant pouched rats to sniff out unexploded ordinance in Mozambique and elsewhere that I have previously written about. That is the good news.
The bad news is that Fonderie 47 has determined the market price for AK-47s in Africa. They cost about one-quarter of those in the rest of the world, their quality is low, and they have a service life in the range of twenty to forty years. Most of them arrived in Africa during and after the Cold War. I take their current low price as an indication that they are abundantly available, even if the quality is low. However, their low price means that sellers of such weapons cannot cover the price of a new, replacement weapon on a one-for-one basis. That’s good news – of a sort.