Kabila: leader for life in the Congo?
This appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Three recent disastrous events in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, indicate it may be approaching another meltdown point.
The highly-contagious disease Ebola — an outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa in 2014 became a global concern — has reappeared, not for the first time, in northeast DRC. The area is so remote and devoid of infrastructure that even Doctors Without Borders is having a hard time getting personnel and supplies there.
The second event, potentially catastrophic in its implications, is the killing of two human rights workers, one Swedish and the other American, who were inquiring on behalf of the United Nations into reports of other killings, perhaps even by DRC soldiers. If these two killings signal a trend, the implications for delivery of health care, education and other services in the DRC will be grave.
International peacekeeping forces, numbering 22,000 at present, will not be sufficient to provide protection to these workers — their lives will be in danger, more may die, and the services may disappear.
The third disaster was the escape of perhaps as many as 4,200 prisoners from Makala prison, the main lock-up in Kinshasa, the DRC’s capital. An anti-government group attacked the prison to free its leader, Ne Muanda Nsemi, imprisoned by the government of President Joseph Kabila. Other prisoners, who included opposition figures, war criminals and assassins, escaped as well, with little likelihood of recapture.
These incidents, across a country a quarter the size of the United States and with a population of 80 million, do not necessarily spell governmental collapse. But the leaders of other African countries, supported at least tacitly by the rest of the world, concurred in Kabila’s postponing elections and extending his own rule beyond constitutional limits by a year.
Prospects for orderly, credible elections and a peaceful transition —and even peace and quiet — do not look good. Kabila may try to use this as an excuse to stay on, reaching for “President for Life” status.