Exit Laurent Kabila, leaving Congo’s problems behind

Developing Just Leadership

Crescent International

Dhu al-Qa'dah 07, 1421 2001-02-01


by Crescent International (World, Crescent International Vol. 29, No. 23, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1421)

Laurent Desire Kabila, the assassinated president of the Congo Democratic Republic, is finally buried, and his son, Joseph, is to succeed him. But there are already signs of opposition in the capital, Kinshasa, to the establishment of dynastic rule, and the maintenance of security at Kabila’s memorial service by foreign troops suggests that the 32-year-old Joseph will be controlled by the same foreign governments to which his late father owed his brief stay in power. Given the size of the country (as big as western Europe), its enormous mineral wealth, which arouses the greed of foreign powers and of individuals, and its human diversity, it is almost impossible for any leader to hold it securely at any time.

Kabila and his rebel movement first seized power from president Mobuto Sese Seko in 1997 with the backing of Uganda and Rwanda. He was received enthusiastically when he marched into Kinshasa mainly because of Mobuto’s huge unpopularity. Having initially promised so much to his people, he ended in giving very little, and few were surprised when he was gunned down in his own office by a trusted bodyguard.

Nobody really knows who arranged his assassination. Some Congolese suspect Uganda and Rwanda, which turned against Kabila and maintain troops in eastern Congo to support rebel forces there. Others suspect Zimbabwe and Angola, which backed Kabila and also maintain troops in the country, but felt frustrated by his failure to arrange peace-deals or to impose effective control on his country. Some of Kinshasa’s inhabitants even suspect ‘whites’, whom they accuse of supporting Uganda and Rwanda. The atmosphere of suspicion is so intense that even members of the Lebanese minority in the Congo have been accused of arranging the assassination. A Kinshasa radio-station was quoted as suspecting them by the London-based al-Hayat.

In this miasma of suspicion, it came as no surprise when the country’s military were removed from Kinshasa’s streets during the memorial service for the departed president, to be replaced by troops from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia, all Kabila’s allies. Eight African heads of state (including those of the three allies) attended the service. Omar al-Bashir and Frederick Chiluba, the presidents of Sudan and Zambia respectively, were also present, as were delegations from Iran, Cuba, Libya and Belgium, the Congo’s colonial ruler. The coach carrying Louis Michel, the Belgian foreign minister, his staff and reporters was stoned by crowds shouting “You killed him; now you come to bury him”.

President Bashir had a compelling reason to be there: both the southern Sudanese rebels and the Ugandan army use eastern Congo as a strategic base: an indispensable springboard from which they launch attacks against Sudanese government positions; a safe haven where they take refuge when repulsed. This is partly why the US supports the roles of Uganda and Rwanda in the Congo conflict and their occupation of the eastern regions.

Angola, another country long in the grip of a civil war, is also vulnerable to the destabilising fall-out from the conflict in neighbouring Congo. The Angolan rebels led by Savimbi, a war-lord long supported by western governments and businessmen, are based in western Congo. The Angolan government particularly wants to prevent Savimbi from getting close to the diamond mines in the eastern and southern regions of the country.

In fact most of Angola’s neighbours will have their own stability enhanced if a durable solution to the central African country’s war is found. But stability is not what the leaders of these neighbours and their generals are seeking. Some (like president Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who keeps eleven thousand troops in the Congo, for instance) are keen to tap into the mineral resources of the crumbling ally that they say they want to save.

But it is not only African countries and businessmen that are keen to make money out of the Congo’s misery. The arms being used by both sides in the conflict are supplied by American and European businessmen and governments, while reputable companies buy the diamonds that pay for the civil wars in the entire region. So few envy Joseph Kabila for inheriting his father’s poisoned chalice, as few believe that he is equal to the task he has undertaken. The best that can be hoped for from him is a keen awareness of the need for peace and the readiness to seize any real opportunities offered for reconciliation: qualities, unfortunately, not displayed by his late father.

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