Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Will Congo’s ruthless president finally step aside?

In the 1990s, the Democratic Republic
of Congo (DRC) was the scene of
unspeakable horrors, a conflagration –
“Africa’s World War”, some call it – in
which more than five million died. Are
we about to see the same thing happen
all over again, asked Le Monde (Paris).
Throughout 2016, President Joseph
Kabila made it clear that he would not
step down when his second term of
office (the constitution forbids a third)
expired on 20 December. In May he
even got the constitutional court to
declare he could stay in office without
being re-elected. And when the
opposition staged demonstrations in
protest, 100 demonstrators were killed in the streets of the
capital, Kinshasa. Another 40 were slaughtered the week before
Christmas. But then, one has to wonder, can anyone bring
stable government to this vast country – almost two-thirds the
size of Western Europe – of around 80 million people?
Kabila himself came to power in a “strange monarchical
succession”, said Marie-France Cros in La Libre (Brussels). He
was sworn in ten days after his father, president Laurent Kabila,
was assassinated in 2001. Ministers thought they could control
the taciturn young man, but “with the patience of an angler”,
he picked them off one by one. He won a credible election in
2006, but the next, in 2011, was “massively” fraudulent. Since
2012 he has devoted his energies to staying in power, bribing
some opponents and jailing others. His
people have gained nothing from his
rule, said Laurent Larcher in La Croix
(Paris): nine out of ten live on the
equivalent of $1.25 a day; only half
have access to pure drinking water; and
the current life expectancy is just 59.
DRC has huge reserves of copper,
diamonds and other minerals, but while
this brings fabulous wealth to local big
shots (not least Kabila’s own family),
and foreign investors, most of the
population remain in deep poverty.
The worry is that political unrest could
be a signal for the return of marauding
foreign militias, said New Vision (Kampala). A flash point is the
North Kivu province where, on Christmas Day, 22 people were
hacked to death with machetes – just the latest to die at the
hands of Ugandan rebels trying to take over the region. But now
hopes have been raised by an apparent breakthrough in negotiations,
with Kabila agreeing to stand down after elections at
the end of 2017 and to appoint an opposition member as PM in
the interim. Let’s hope that deal sticks, said Robbie Gramer in
Foreign Policy (Washington). Until now, it looked as if Kabila
and his cronies were intent on staying in power no matter what
– an impasse that could have reignited the civil war. So it’s vital
that the international community punish any backsliding with
sanctions that hit him in the pocket, turning the screw until he
realises it’s in his own interest to take Congo back from the edge.

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