It is 20 years since Mobutu Sese Seko, the tyrant who ruled from 1965 to 1997, was overthrown by Rwandan-backed rebels who installed Mr Kabila’s father. Congo then plunged into a horrific civil war. The next few months will show whether the country can manage a peaceful transition of power this time or endure another lurch back towards chaos”.
Last September police opened fire on crowds and a hundred or so people died. The economy is tanking, civil war is raging again in the centre of the country, and patience is wearing thin with Congo’s dictatorial President, Joseph Kabila, whose final term in office expired five months ago. He has misruled Congo for the past 17 years, after he took over from his father, who was shot by a bodyguard. The past few months have been particularly desperate. Congo depends on copper and cobalt, and to a lesser extent diamonds, for hard currency. Nearly all manufactured goods are imported. Despite a mighty river and abundant rainfall, its broken-down infrastructure means it imports much of its food, too. At the Momo supermarket in the capital, Kinshasa, a ramshackle city of 12m people, you will find tin pans from Pakistan, toilet paper from Turkey, sandals from Thailand and glass tumblers from Brazil: but virtually nothing from Congo itself apart from some of the chicken and beer. The world copper price halved between 2011 and 2016. Cobalt is still well down, too, after a crash in 2008. The collapse of the Congolese franc ensued, as the central bank printed more money in response to falling receipts: it has lost 50% of its value since November. In central Congo, in August, in murky circumstances, a tribal chief and militia leader nicknamed Kamuina Nsapu (“Black Ant”) was killed by the security services in the province of Kasai Central after protests following the national Government’s refusal to endorse him as the next “customary chief” in his area. His militia hit back. The Government retaliated: 500 to 3,000 may have died. More than 1.2 million people have been displaced by the fighting in the Kasai provinces. Congo now has more displaced people than any other country in Africa, and probably more than any in the world bar Syria.