Congo Still A Sensitive Subject


While the Texan ranger, George W. Bush and his loyal companion, Tony Blair were on their murderous mission in Iraq, the Congo war that has been going on for four years, and is reported to have killed more than 3-million people in that country, came to an official end. Dubbed “inter-Congolese dialogue”, the negotiations that brought the government and the rebels to a give and take communication table, lasted for 14 months, resulting on 02 April 2003 in a “final peace agreement”.

However, two of the heavyweights in the talks failed to turn up for the proceedings on the day of signing the final peace agreement. It’s the same leaders who brought the first round of talks last year to a stop by signing an exclusive agreement: President Joseph Kabila and leader of the Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), Jean-Pierre Bemba. That exclusive agreement was meant to make Bemba a prime minister; however, the deal went sour and now Kabila sees Bemba as his main threat. It is reported that after Kabila heard that Bemba was not going to make it for the signing of the final peace agreement, he cancelled – fearing a coup.

Bene M’Poko, Congolose ambassador to South Africa, explains the absence of Kabila as a trivial issue. “The president did not need to be there, for it was just a closing ceremony. Everything that was of importance had been agreed on in his presence,” he said.

The main points of the final peace agreement are that the four-year-old war must come to an end, and that the Ugandan and Rwandan troops must leave the DRC. When the war broke out in August 1998, Rwanda and Uganda sent troops to back the rebels who were seeking to oust the late Laurent Kabila. They claimed Laurent Kabila was backing insurgents who were threatening their national security. Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia sent troops to back Kabila – splitting the country into rebel and government-held areas.

Further, the final peace agreement demands that Joseph Kabila, with a “follow-up committee” for the inter-Congolose dialogue, pave the way for the transformation process that will last two years. At the end of that two years, it is hoped that the first democratic elections in 40 years will take place in that country.

Also, the final peace agreement demands that four deputy presidents be nominated who will be working closely with the president through the two-year transition to elections. As one of his deputies, Kabila has nominated Yerodia Abdoulaye Ndombasi, a former foreign minister once sought by a Belgian court for inciting genocide. From the Rassemblement Congolaise pour la democratic (RCD-Goma rebel movement), Joseph Mudumbi has made it clear that “it will be a real problem for all Congolose who want national reconciliation to work with someone who called for the massacre of one section of the Congolose people.”

The three vice-presidents are Jean-Pierre Bemba, the leader of the MLC, Arthur Z’Ahidi Ngoma, from the unarmed political opposition and Azarias Ruberwa Manywa, a founder of the Rwandan-backed Rassemblement Congolais pour la democratic (RCD-Goma rebel movement), an advocate for the recognition of the Banyamulenge, Congolose of Rwandan origin, as Congolose citizens. At one stage, in 1981, the notorious – to say the least — Mobutu Sese Seko, the Congolose president at the time, stripped the Banyamulenye of their citizenship, rendering them stateless, and thus preventing them from running for national political office. Their citizenship has since been restored, according to M’Poko.

The four vice-presidents are due to take the oath of office on 28 May in the DRC capital, Kinshasa. Also, on the same day, the installation of the government comprising “all parties” will take place. The parties referred to are the two main rebel groups: the MLC and the RCD-Goma, and, also, the unarmed political opposition, plus the RCD-Kisangani / Mouvement de Liberation.

Although all the plans are being put in place, it has been reported that fighting in the northeastern part of the DRC, Bunia, is still going on. MONUC – the UN mission in the DRC — has been reported as saying it “greatly deplored” renewed hostilities in Bunia, the principal city of Ituri district in the northeastern of the country.

MONUC explains the objective of the fighting between armed factions of ethnic Hemas and Lendus as a battle to seize control of Bunia in the wake of the Ugandan People’s Defence Force pull-out.

The fighting in Ituri erupted on 03 April, the day after five African leaders, including the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, decided at a summit held in South Africa, that Uganda should withdraw its troops from the DRC by 24 April.

According to reports, “between 150 and 300 people” died on the first day of the fighting, which lasted three hours in about 15 villages.

Be that as it may, M’Poko assures us that the war is over, and what we are witnessing now is just a “skirmish”. As if this is suppose to put us at ease.

In a move to bring about peace and stability, about 800 Uruguayan UN troops have been deployed to northeastern DRC, ahead of the deployment of 2 000 Bangladeshi peacekeepers, Gen. Mountanga Diallo, the force commander of the UN operation, was reported saying.

Another stumbling block in the way of the “follow-up committee”, which has the potential of reversing the whole peace process, is the quarrelling among the parties for the post of defence minister. As has become a tradition in African politics, whoever controls the army has state power.

The mediation, which is South African, proposed that the defence minister post, including the post of command of ground forces, be granted to the RCD-Goma. However, the MLC, the RCD-Kisangani / Mouvement de Liberation and the government do not agree that the RCD-Goma should hold the two posts.

As the rebel forces are going to be united with the national military, the military issues remain the sensitive ones.

Although it should come as no surprise, the Kabila government has already secured itself the post of chief of staff of the military.

As if this is some sort of a chess game, South Africa’s leading newspaper, Mail and Guardian, reported that if the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, and his team succeed with an internal settlement in the DRC, “it will arguably be South Africa’s finest diplomatic achievement to date.” One would be compelled to conclude that even the parties involved in the peace process entertain the same idea. After the Cape Town summit on 08 April, which Mbeki masterminded, at the post-summit press conference, one of the journalists asked how relations were between Uganda and Rwanda. The Ugandan president, Museveni, declined to comment; instead he asked Mbeki to do so.

While these “no I do not want to speak, you speak” games are being played, it’s a matter of life and death for the 50-million people in Congo.

As the civil war is officially over, yet another war awaits the Congolose – the economic war. At the beginning of July last year, the World Bank promised to loan Kabila $420-million if he continues with his “economic reforms”. The reforms of course are none other than privatisation, creating an environment where everything is commodified, and exploitation made legal. Need I say more?!

There is a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Kabila, only 30 years old, no political experience, not much education, but an extensive military background. He spent most of his youth in exile – in Tanzania and Uganda, where he received military training. As a young officer, it is reported that he had a reputation for brutality. When he came into power in January 2001, after his father’s death, he was a commander-in-chief of the land forces.

However, with education or not, political experience or not, on 07 April, Kabila took the oath of office as head of a transitional government that aims to bring peace and liberty in that country. Under the new constitution drawn up by delegates from the government, rebel movements, militias, civil society and the political opposition, Kabila enjoys all the prerogatives of head of state.

For that reason only, the hopes and eyes of the young and old in Congo rest on him. The hopes and eyes of the world not only rest on Kabila, but on Uganda and Rwanda.

Be that as it may, I say the same of Joseph Kabila as Che Guevara said of his father: “Nothing leads me to believe he is the man of the hour.”

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