Published in Aktuelt (Denmark)

January 22, 2001

Posted at



Is Congo without Kabila?




Last night a Congolese Ambassador once again asserted that President Laurent Kabila was alive, albeit badly injured

By Bjørn Willum




First he was dead. Then he was declared alive again yesterday. Then confusion arose about his faith. And last night the Democratic Republic of Congo's Ambassador in Harare, capital of the neighbouring country Zimbabwe, said the President lay badly wounded in a Zimbabwean hospital.

But if Kabila is to leave this world, his death is unlikely to have much impact on the two year long civil war in the country, a prominent central Africa expert tells Aktuelt.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is embroiled in a civil war with significant international dimensions, since Kabila's regime is fought by rebels supported by the neighbouring countries Rwanda and Uganda, while the President himself has been helped by among others Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Senior researcher at the Parisian institute CNRS, Gérard Prunier, tells Aktuelt that the faith of Kabila is unlikely to change the frozen situation on the battlefield, where rebels control half the country.

"The positions have not moved much during the last half year. The rebels have not advanced very much, because they have limited resources. They are extremely overstretched," he says, noting that the country - covering more than one million square kilometers - is hard to control.

'The rebels have less than 50.000 men. The local militias, thugs and gangster, whom they have recruited, are maybe another 50.000. But these are young people that have been given a Kalashnikov. They are poorly disciplined and not paid. Their fighting capacity is very poor," Gérard Prunier explains.

The rebels' swift occupation of the eastern and northern part of the country, Mr. Prunier says, should be attributed to the lack of control by Kabila's government.

'They could simply walk in,' he says sarcastically.

'Kabila was hit the way he ruled - in total confusion. Shot by his own bodyguard,' Prunier says, adding that Kabila's presumed death will only dissolve things a little more. 'The administration in Kinshasa has practically collapsed. It will be a big mess who ever takes over.'

Kabila unexpectedly ascended to power by the help of Rwanda and Uganda, whose armies led a seven month war against Mobutu Sese Seko, the Western-backed dictator with the famous leopard-skin hat, who plundered his mineral-rich country during 32 years in power.

In order to make the war against Mobutu look like a popular uprising instead of a foreign invasion, the Congolese Kabila - who had until then made a living as a smuggler and a kidnapper - was appointed spokesman for the rebel alliance.

But when the rebels in May 1997 seized the capital Kinshasa and Kabila was installed as President, the Rwandans continued to pull the strings behind the scenes. They even forced on him a personal Secretary, who decided whom the President could meet.

During the summer of 1998 this became too much for Kabila, who asked his Secretary and the other foreign protégés to leave the country.

This prompted Rwanda and Uganda to immediately commence a war against him under cover of the rebel movement Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD), which was hastily pieced together using the recipe from the first campaign, Prunier says: A native Congolese figurehead as official leader, who could claim to have 'invited' the foreign armies to participate in the 'liberation struggle'; this time around the enemy being Kabila instead of Mobutu.

But RCD did not last long in its original form, apparently because the members of the rebel movement could not agree on how to share the loot from among others Congo's gold and diamond mines.

Hence the RCD is today split into (at least) three separate movements, two of which Uganda with varying success has tried to control.

Rwanda has evidently been more successful in controlling the third heir to the original RCD, which has been done by installing a number of trusted associates in the movement, whose headquarters is comfortably situated in the trading town of Goma right at the Rwandan border.

An inexperienced Congolese, the former physician Adolphe Onusumba, has been appointed as head of this movement, in the same fashion as Kabila was made spokesman of the rebel alliance a few years before. As Aktuelt learnt during a recent visit to Goma, Onusumba does not give interviews to the press without the presence of a Rwandan 'councilor'.

Kabila's foreign aides are also driven by questionable motivations. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has for example personally been given mines in the southern part of the country in return for providing 12.000 combat troops to keep the Rwandan troops at the southern front at bay.

Most foreign armies have their respective treasuries paying for the costly warfare in the Congo, while a network of influential officers and politicians cream off the revenue gained from the profitable natural resource business run under cover of the war.

'They are ready to sacrifice the whole country for their own profit and power,' Prunier says and compares Congo's present war with the European Thirty Years War.

'Between 1618 and 1648 there was constant war in Germany. The only ones who did not participate were the Germans, except as mercenaries. This is exactly the same situation in the Congo. Those Congolese are fighting for foreign interests, not Congolese.'



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