Ka­bila: leader for life in the Congo?

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

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.

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