Herculean tasks for Congo leader
The new leader, to be installed Friday, faces a nation in collapse, as Angola sends in more troops.
It's night in Kinshasa, the day after Laurent Kabila's funeral, and the young Congolese sit around the trendy Kiambo quarter drinking Primus beer and talking conspiracy theories. The Israeli diamond dealers gather at their favorite pizza joint to discuss Russian women and Belgian food. The well-dressed government ministers and their attentive bodyguards pace the corridors of the Intercontinental Hotel, bumping into the equally well-dressed opposition members and the scruffy Ukrainian mercenary pilots alike. Angolan soldiers race through the dark potholed streets, looking for fun.Skip to next paragraph
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This is a sample of what faces the newly chosen president one of Africa's largest, most fragmented and embattled countries. Joseph Kabila has many tasks before him. But the major one - clearly - will be to try to unify a nation so divided that one needs a passport to travel from the western to the eastern side.
Mr. Kabila's resource-rich land of 905,000 square miles is host to the militaries of at least six countries and four different rebel groups.
Bringing peace to the Congo - or even appeasing all the fighting factions - will no doubt be a Herculean task. But it may likely be the only way he can stay in power, as the well as the reason he was named head of state.
Some diplomatic sources here say that the situation under Joseph Kabila can actually improve. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, sweating profusely this week as he made a 72-hour swing through all the eight countries involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo war, said there is a chance for peace.
"We have reason to believe this is a good opportunity to begin all over again," confirms his spokesman, Olivier Alsteens.
Behind the scenes
There are a myriad of conspiracy theories swirling about over Laurent Kabila's demise. The government's official position is that a lone bodyguard shot Kabila, but that it is conducting a thorough investigation.
And it's clear here that many of the various fighting factions felt they had reasons to be rid of him. Most security sources here, however, say that the Angolans, Kabila's main backers, were most likely the masterminds behind his assassination.
Having come into the DRC at Laurent Kabila's request, the Angolans - unlike the Zimbabweans and the Namibians - are not primarily concerned with the Congo's vast natural resources. For them, the main reason to be involved in the DRC is to ensure that the government in Kinshasa does not support UNITA - the rebel group that has waged a bush war since 1975 for control of Angola's government - as happened under former dictator Mobutu Sese Seku.
Angola, according to security and diplomatic sources here, had in recent months begun to tire of the elder Kabila, believing he was not suiting their purposes anymore. Looking both at the increasing number of battles against the rebel factions that were being lost (and which were sucking in Angolan resources), and at Kabila's economic policies, which were, to put it mildly, not working at all, Angolans had begun to feel that Kabila would not be able to hold out much longer to challengers. Nervous, according to these sources, that the next leader may not be easy to manipulate or even work with, they decided to take control of the situation themselves.
Pick of the leaders
When Laurent Kabila was killed, Justice Minister Mwenze Kongolo attests, the top government advisers - military and political alike - sat down to agree upon a new leader. "Joseph," he says, "was the best man, as he is accepted by all sides."