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Spring in the Congo

Coen van Wyk

Posted on June 17, 2018 12:15

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Cautious optimism at possible political realignment in the Congo. Perhaps a way is opening to lead the Congo out of a political quagmire and economic stagnation.

A swallow does not make the summer. But the last week brought a few signs of change, of tectonic shifts that may foreshadow a way out of the political and economic deadlock that is the Congo.
 
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been locked in a stagnant cycle for the last ten years and more. President Joseph Kabila, son of assassinated Laurent Kabila who overthrew Marshal Mobuto, won elections based on his control of the apparatus of state, and imposed his rule on this apparently ungovernable state. He systematically neutralised political opponents. Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, erstwhile Prime Minister, lifelong opposition leader, master of the “politics of the empty chair” died last year.
 
With electoral systems in disarray due to lack of resources provided, Kabila postponed the elections, and there were fears that he would be standing again, or would delay leaving office until such time as he could be sure he would be the power behind the throne. But then, on 12 June,
Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala announced that Kabila would abide by the spirit and letter of the Constitution and abstain from the elections, now planned for 23 December 2018.

President Joseph Kabila REUTERS/Kenny Kanombe

Kabila had only one serious opponent, Jean-Pierre Bemba. Based in the Equateur province, Bemba had a strong power base in the Central African region, reaching across borders into the Republic of Congo and also the Central African Republic. He was a key figure, and Vice- President of the Transition Government, but was arrested in 2008 after militia troops loyal to him had run wild in the Central African Republic while trying to prop up President Patassé. Bemba was found guilty of failing to control his men, and also for trying to influence witnesses.
 
These convictions have now been overturned, and Bemba was freed on 13 June. It is still uncertain what political role he would play. But it is certain that the political scene in the Congo will now be different. Politicians opposed to Kabila would now have a focus, and his political network in the region could create a shift in alliances.

Bemba in court. Photo AFP

In another development, a settlement was reached between Cobalt miner Glencore and the Congolese state-owned Gécamines. This long-running dispute had been settled in court before, but politically connected opponents persisted in resuscitating the claim, threatening the stability of the world cobalt supply. This settlement might now signal a clearer playing field for mining companies, which will also benefit the Congolese economy.

Copper concentrator at Kambove. Photo REUTERS/Johnny Hogg

Disclaimer: Bemba’s father, Jeannot Bemba Saolona, once gave me a sample of the excellent coffee they produced in the Equateur.

Coen van Wyk

Posted on June 17, 2018 12:15

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Source: WashPost

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