Tue, Dec 18, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Congo’s Kabila could still pull strings after election

AVOIDING ‘SQUARE ONE’:An election on Sunday is being contested by the leader’s preferred successor and victory could leave Joseph Kabila with some state power

Reuters, KINSHASA

Congolese President Joseph Kabila sits in a garden on his ranch outside Kinshasa.

Photo: AFP

A month before his scheduled departure after nearly two decades as president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), Joseph Kabila received a procession of foreign reporters at his heavily guarded riverside palace for a rare series of interviews.

If the timing suggested a valedictory, the 47-year-old leader’s words indicated otherwise.

He vowed to remain in politics and, in one interview after another, left open the possibility of running again in 2023, when the clock resets on presidential term limits.

“My role will be to make sure that we don’t go back to square one, square one meaning where we found the [DR] Congo 22 years ago,” he told reporters inside an ornate reception room with high ceilings and sweeping views of the churning Congo River.

“In politics, in life, you shouldn’t rule out anything,” he said when asked about a potential return. “There are still other chapters to write.”

In the 18 years since a youthful, clean-shaven Kabila succeeded his slain father, Laurent, the now bulked-up president sporting a billowy gray beard has traced an unlikely trajectory from accidental and apparently reluctant leader to the defining Congolese figure of his time.

Whether the vote on Sunday brings down the curtain on the tumultuous Kabila era, which began when Laurent seized power in 1997, or triggers a new phase in which Joseph becomes the power behind the throne of his preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, remains unclear.

It depends in part on how the Congolese reflect on his rule.

There were early accomplishments — ending a regional war and holding the first open presidential elections — but also incessant conflict, lethal crackdowns on prodemocracy protesters and corruption that the government acknowledges siphoned off billions of dollars of potential revenue.

Foreign investment has propelled DR Congo to the status of Africa’s top copper producer and the world’s leading miner of cobalt, a crucial component of batteries for electric vehicles, but militia violence has persisted in the east.

Denis Mukwege, the Congolese doctor who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, said Kabila had a right to remain in politics, but hoped voters would remember his broken promises.

“None of the elements needed to install a real democracy have been made during his time in power,” Mukwege told reporters.

Kabila’s critics and some analysts say concerns about his personal security — his assassinated father’s mausoleum stands below the presidential palace — and the fortune reportedly amassed by his family could account for a seeming reluctance to cede power.

A report last year by a research group at New York University found that his family’s businesses are likely worth tens of millions of dollars.

Kabila has called such reports “stupidity.”

He did not specifically respond to a report by Reuters that showed nearly one-third of the purchase price of Congolese passports goes to a company in the United Arab Emirates whose owner is believed to be a close relative of the president.

Even if Shadary, a former Congolese minister of the interior who many analysts say was chosen for his loyalty and lack of an independent political base, beats his two main rivals, Kabila has reason to worry about his ability to pull the strings.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top