The Crowning Of Joseph Kabila
The orchestrated effort to make Joseph Kabila the duly elected leader of the Congo continues, apparently without a hitch. The informal "campaign" to have the younger Kabila assume power - after the assassination of his father in January - has run incredibly smooth, from his surprise trip to the capitals of United States and Europe - only days after the murder of his father - to his wooing of rebel leaders as part of a movement back to the Lusaka accords, the young leader has demonstrated a masterful grasp of political chess-playing, or at least that his steps are being guided by the best of political advisers.
The momentum to finalize the effort to make Kabila the democratically elected president of the Congo picks up a tremendous amount of speed this week as meetings between the government of Democratic Republic of Congo, rebel groups and other members of Congo's civil society begin today in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The meeting and Kabila's moves have rebel leaders backpedaling and on a slippery slope that promises to have them all neutralized, or at best, future cabinet members in a Kabila administration.
The October 15th meeting begins the long-awaited inter-Congolese dialogue that previously had been the trump card of Congolese rebel groups backed by Uganda and Rwanda. For years, rebel leaders have consistently called for the Kabila administrations (father and son) to immediately return to the Lusaka Accords and move forward to the "inter-Congolese" dialogue which rebel leaders felt would have given them the advantage over Kabila, in the court of public opinion. The dialogue is designed in such a way that the state and all aspects of civil society come together in the efforts of discussing the past, present and future of the Congo, the years of civil war and a litany of grievances and initiatives. Because of the lack of popular support by the elder Kabila toward the end of his term and because of the perceived and expected lack of credibility of the younger Kabila, at the onset of his leadership, it was believed by many that the inter-Congolese dialogue would result in a call for the leader of the Congo to step down in order for elections to be held.
But because of Joseph Kabila's uncanny ability to style and position himself as a statesman; in conjunction with the instant embrace that he received from the United States and Europe as well as the immediate talks with the IMF and World Bank, Kabila has impressed many of his countrymen and women with his ability to "get things done", or at least caused them to pause. Simultaneously, the leading rebel and political opposition leaders Jean-Pierre Bemba, Etienne Tshisekedi and Ernest Wamba dia Wamba have all lost varying degrees of traction with significant portions of the Congolese people who had previously deferred to their leadership.
Wamba and Tshisekedi have struggled with resources, having lost the support of foreign and domestic benefactors, leaving only Bemba with an outside chance of successfully opposing Kabila in a general election, if it were held today. Bemba announced last month his intention to turn his opposition group into a political party, immediately upon the establishment of a peace agreement with the Kabila government and other rebel and opposition groups. As an example of how rapidly the political terrain in the Congo has changed, the Kabila regime had announced that they would supply $1.5 million in support for the inter-Congolese dialogue, the event that would supposedly result in Kabila's removal from power. In addition, Kabila has suprisingly been able to lay part of the blame for any delay in elections on the fact that the foreign regional powers - Uganda and Rwanda, that back the rebel groups, are still present in the Congo. Last month Kabila said that it would not be reasonable to expect for elections to be held as long as foreign countries had troops within the Congo's borders. He even reportedly referred to the Congo as " a country under occupation" as long as Rwanda and Uganda had troops inside the country. Uganda has said it would be leaving two battalions in the Congo around the Ruenzori Mountains and that such troops would stay inside the country until the Lusaka agreement is fully implemented. Rwanda has said it would remain in Congo until the threat of attacks from Congo-based militias ends. Kabila's argument for withdrawal before ballots has countered that of the rebel groups, in particular RCD-Goma, which has called for the resignation of Kabila, prior to elections.
Interestingly, though, Kabila has made little mention of the presence of foreign troops, from Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola, in the Congo, which support his government, nor has he commented on reports coming out of Zimbabwe that say that Kabila has entered into a private agreement with the ruling Zanu-PF government of Robert Mugabe to exploit enormous tracts of Congolese timber. The arrangement is said to be the largest timber logging deal in the world, allowing the Zimbabwe government and an assortment of companies to log 33 million hectares of Congolese trees as compensation for support of the older asnd younger Kabila regimes.
While some are more than impressed with the deft manner in which Kabila has styled himself neutralized rebel leaders and garnered support for his regime, many wonder at what cost have the glitz and glamour been obtained. With the IMF and World Bank tightening their grip on the Congo, and European and U.S. interests finding an open door in the Congo where one was previously shut; and with the very real possibility that Kabila has had to pay a steep price for the support of Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, there is legitimate concern that there is much more than meets the eye to the rapid and amazing rise of Joseph Kabila, even that an external guiding force is shaping events that may allow chairs to be reset on the deck, but which will not allow real change to occur in the country of 50 million people.
Time will tell as the coronation continues.
For background: here is what we wrote about the Congo shortly after Joseph Kabila's assumption of power:
Black Electorate Communications
African and Caribbean Political Economy Watch: The Congo Begins To Crystallize
March 14, 2001
The current scenario, in the Congo, was created, in part, by Joseph Kabila's sudden trip to the United States last month where he scored an international public relations coup, of sorts, by meeting with President Bush and several African leaders, whose countries are involved in the Congo conflict. The younger Kabila's trip included private audiences with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, James Wolfensohn, the head of the World Bank, as well as an address to the UN Security Council.
Immediately, with a measure of success, Kabila was able to position himself, in the eyes of the international community, as the legitimate leader of the Congo - an accomplishment not to be underestimated. This is especially true in light of the fact that many Western countries maintained their doubts about the twenty-something Kabila and were uncertain about the level of support that Joseph Kabila has in the Congo. Those concerns of course, were not without merit considering his youth and the fact that the new leader of the Congo was inserted at the request of Congolese military leaders and not through an election.
Kabila's visit to the US in February and his trip this week in England have served several purposes for the Congo's "leader", not the least of which has been to garner international support for his fragile regime. While the out of town visits have left him vulnerable back home where the opposition leaders have worked to rally support for their cause(s), Kabila's visit has paid a dividend in that it has demonstrated to the Congolese citizens back home that the new leader is recognized abroad at the highest levels of the international community - politically and economically speaking.
At the center of the discussions that Kabila has had with Western powers is a return to the Lusaka accords of 1999, which provided a blueprint to a peaceful resolution of the military conflict in the Congo as well as a transition to a peaceful political process that would establish the next government of the Congo.
Eyeing an eventual return to Lusaka, Kabila has made a concession of note in meeting with and accepting Ketumile Masire as the chief moderator of the current peace process. Masire and Joseph Kabila's father were not on the best of terms. However, problems in mediation lie ahead, centering around different opinions of the official Lusaka negotiator, Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, who some associate with genocide in Rwanda.
This week Kabila continues an outwardly diplomatic posture, meeting with EU Commission President Romano Prodi in Brussels, Belgium. And while Lusaka will be highly placed on the agenda for discussion, Kabila will also discuss bilateral trade between the Congo and Europe, continuing his clever strategy of opening a parallel track of trade and economic talks alongside those pertaining to ending the military conflict.
While Kabila holds meetings across the globe, most observers are focused on troop movements inside of the Congo. In what many have called Africa's First World War, the Congo conflict involves a host of African nations with Rwanda and Uganda militarily opposing Kabila, both directly and through their support of several rebel movements inside of the Congo, and with Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola supporting both Kabila regimes.
Headlines were made in February when a disengagement agreement was reached by all of the African nations. The agreement involved troop withdrawals from the Congo by all sides. A UN Security Council resolution was even made, which outlines the process of disengagement. The Feb. 22, 2001 resolution is available at:
The disengagement agreement mandates that a certain level of withdrawal be performed by March 15th and that by May 15th a plan be in place, agreed to by all parties, for the complete withdrawal of all foreign troops operating in the Congo.
Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Congolese Liberation Front (CLF), which is backed by Uganda, was among the first to move troops in the wake of the assassination, and Uganda and Rwanda have also moved troops away from combat zones, however, to different degrees, depending upon whom one talks to. As an important side note, in his meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, Kabila asked Britain to pressure Uganda and Rwanda to completely remove their troops from the Congo. He is expected to reiterate the request on Friday, in his meetings with EU Commission President Prodi.
And just today we received reports that Zimbabwe will begin to withdraw its 11,000 Congo troops tomorrow, from frontline positions.
We expect to see some nit-picking and semantics from both sides regarding who has really moved their troops and from where but we expect all African nations to comply with the disengagement agreement in a satisfactory manner, setting the stage for an eventual return to the Lusaka agreement.
Once the foreign troops are out of the Congo the center of attention becomes compliance with Lusaka, with special attention to how rapidly the country of over 50 million moves toward elections. At present Kabila has spoken in very vague terms regarding his intentions in this regard. He most recently stated that destiny called him to become leader of the Congo but that he does intend to move the country toward an open political process; however, he has failed to offer a timetable by which this would be accomplished.
But opposition leaders within the Congo are not waiting for Kabila to independently articulate his political vision, and in fact have embarked on plans to follow Kabila overseas in order to drum up support for their movements and the establishment of a peaceful political forum in their country.
At the head of the pack, in this regard, is political opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who just visited the United States last week arguing that Kabila has not lifted the ban on political activity for opposition groups in the Congo and has continued to arrest journalists. Tshisekedi also has called for the US to release funds for UN peacekeeping in the Congo. And at the top of his list were requests that the US back the Inter-Congolese dialogue - a centerpiece of the Lusaka accords - that many believe would lead directly to democratic elections and the formulation of a new Congo government.
Next on the list of opposition leaders headed to the US is Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, President of the Congolese Rally For Democracy Liberation Movement (RCD-ML) who is scheduled to arrive on US shores at the end of this month. Wamba, whose movement received support from the Ugandans, has been very critical of both Kabilas, and has called for the immediate opening up of the political process in the Congo. Wamba, like Tshisekedi, is an ardent supporter of the Inter-Congolese dialogue and is expected to make an appeal to the international community that will largely focus on the peaceful transition toward democracy in the Congo.
What remains to be seen from Kabila, Tshisekedi, and Wamba are firm and clear positions on how the Congo's devastated economy will be built. Already there is reason for concern in this area with both Tshisekedi and Kabila, as both men have indicated that they are open to IMF and World Bank involvement in the Congo, as soon as possible.
While desperation is understandable in light of the dire conditions present in the Congo - with an economy with an annual inflation rate of over 300% eroding the value of wages and raising consumer prices - an embrace of IMF and World Bank austerity measures on the heels of a war can only spell disaster for the Congo.
Hopefully the loan shark syndrome where African leaders mortgage the future of their country and surrender their decision-making powers in exchange for an injection of short-term cash from the IMF and World Bank, will not be repeated in the Congo.
For all of the talk about an Inter -Congolese dialogue, surely the people in the Congo could use a vocal anti-IMF politician, pro-economic development/economic growth politician.
At present, with Bemba, Kabila and even Tshisekedi indicating that the Congo is "open for business" one can only hope that Professor Wamba will be able to provide a voice of reason on economic matters in the Congo as the process gradually moves from one that is military-centered, toward one that is politically-centered.
His visit to the US should reveal much, on that front.
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Monday, October 15, 2001