“The nation has not experienced a peaceful transfer of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. Unfortunately, that record looks unlikely to be changed”.
In 1997, Laurent Kabila successfully led a rebellion against President Mobutu Sese Soko and named himself President of the vast country then called Zaire. In 2001, when Kabila was assassinated, his son Joseph came to power. He has dominated what is now officially named the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the past fifteen years, but has never established effective control, let alone presided over significant economic and social development. Virtually limitless water from the world’s second-largest river, a moderate climate, and rich soil grant the DRC excellent agricultural potential. Abundant deposits of copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, uranium, coltan, and oil should make it one of the world’s richest countries. But annual per capita GDP is only about $450. Furthermore, Kabila’s rule has been marked by almost continual conflict, especially in the Eastern region, which a small UN peacekeeping force first deployed in 1999 has failed to contain. Millions have died, either as a direct result of conflict or after disruptions to normal life and basic services. Rival militias, often supported by neighboring African states, local groups unwilling to accept Kabila’s legitimacy, and intertribal struggles over land have all contributed to the chaos. Private mining corporations from around the world have taken advantage of this state of affairs to exploit the DRC’s rich mineral deposits. Protected by private security companies and mercenaries, these multinationals effectively exist beyond the reach of Government regulation or taxation. For the past two years, the political opposition has struggled against Kabila, worried that he will try to extend his term by any means necessary. In early April, the Catholic bishops who had been mediating talks between Government and opposition announced that they were done: neither side, they claimed, was willing to compromise. While Kabila’s willingness to negotiate with the opposition last December seemed to offer hope that the nation would soon elect a new President, he has proven himself to be a wily and resilient strategist.