Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
There can be few places, including even other failed states, as unfortunate as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Its 70 million people, living in the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa, have seen little but chaos and warfare since independence from Belgium 56 years ago.
Joseph Kabila, the current leader, has been in office for 15 years since taking power when his father was assassinated. He won tainted elections in 2006 and 2011 but is barred by the country’s constitution from seeking a third term.
However, he has shown no intention of stepping down. Like all of his predecessors, Kabila has grown wealthy while most Congolese remain desperately poor.
The next presidential election is scheduled for November and one contender is Moise Katumbi, a business tycoon and former governor of mineral-rich Katanga, in the south of the country.
Once an ally of Kabila, Katumbi broke with the president last year. But Kabila began to harass his challenger.
On May 4 Congolese officials announced that they would investigate allegations that Katumbi was using American mercenaries. Katumbi, who has made millions of dollars subcontracting for mining companies, called that a “grotesque lie.”
Thousands of Katumbi’s supporters then clashed with police in Lubumbashi, the largest city of copper-rich Katanga. Katumbi fled the country for South Africa on May 20, a day after he was charged with “threatening the internal and external security of the state.”
Meanwhile, in early June, a new opposition coalition was formed that includes the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) led by veteran opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi; the Dynamic Opposition; and the G7, which had already chosen Katumbi as its presidential candidate.
Tshisekedi came second to Kabila in the fraudulent 2011 election and has now emerged as Kabila’s main opponent following the meeting, but he is said to be ill so his future is uncertain.
Once again, the Congo, always on the verge of disintegration, is lurching toward a political abyss. With its long history of bloodshed, any serious instability could cause the country to explode.
A United Nations report issued June 17 warned that the country could descend into a cycle of electoral violence if the election is delayed.
The Congo’s last civil war, lasting from 1997 to 2003, claimed up to six million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition.
So many neighbouring states were drawn into the conflict that it was called “Africa’s World War.”
Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Chad all sent troops during the conflict.
The fighting was fuelled by the country’s vast mineral wealth, with all sides taking advantage of the anarchy to plunder natural resources.
Even today, despite one of the largest peacekeeping missions in United Nations history and substantial international attention, more than 60 armed groups are operating in the country,
particularly in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces in the eastern region of this vast and poorly governed country.
The Congo has not had a single peaceful transfer of power in its 56 years of independence.