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Issue 54, March 2001

Kabila Jr Means Business for Western Powers

ON 16 January, the Congolese president, Laurent Kabila, was shot dead in his presidential palace. Those responsible for the assassination appeared to be a group of 'child soldiers' who in 1997 had conquered the capital, Kinshasa, side by side with Kabila. This was confirmed by different media sources, including journalists from the French newspaper Le Monde who tried to reconstruct Kabila's final hours.

Whatever the motive for Kabila's assassination, his rule was in any case in its final stages. During the last period of Kabila's reign he had become impossible to deal with for almost every section of Congolese society. That included his closest political associates, tired of the unpredictability and violent arbitrariness of their semi-paranoid 'leader'.

The uncertainty about what was to happen next, however, was nipped in the bud as quickly as possible by Kabila's faithful. The appointment of Kabila's son, Joseph, seemed to reaffirm the regime's control of the political situation. As commander-in-chief of the land forces, Joseph Kabila was also an appropriate figure to keep the confidence of the army in those first difficult moments.

Laurent Kabila was almost thrown into power with his guerrilla movement, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), in 1997. The support of Rwanda and Uganda, concerned about the violent incursion by Hutu militias who used Zaire as their base of attack, was important. Above all, nobody could be found, not even in the army, who was prepared to come to the aid of the dictator, Sese Seko Mobutu. Kabila was brought to power on a wave of discontent with the old regime. But used to years of plotting and scheming to maintain himself as a purely military leader within the guerrilla movement, he was not equipped with socialist ideas which could lift Congo out of imperialist exploitation and achieve social reconstruction.


Under Kabila the meagre remaining tax revenue was reduced even more. Only the oil sector brought in some cash for the state. The trade in diamonds is largely run illegally. In 1998, Rwanda and Uganda broke with Kabila as he was not prepared to be used as their puppet and he had been unable to keep the Hutu and other militias away from the territory of his former allies. Rwanda and Uganda used their rebel forces to invade Congo and fight against the militias and plunder the alluring natural resources - especially gold, diamonds and copper.

Only military intervention by Angola saved Kabila's regime. In exchange for this aid, Angola's president, José Eduardo dos Santos, received assets in the Congolese petrol industry and control over future oil exploitation within its territorial waters, as well as the distribution of petrol inside Congo. Zimbabwe, which also intervened militarily in support of the Kabila regime, was entrusted with the management of the mining giant, Gécamines, and 37.5% of its assets.

The war which ravaged the country has led to the deaths of one million people in what is called the 'first African world war'. One-third of all children are malnourished. Most schools are closed. Often teachers do not receive their wages in order to finance the war. Even the agrarian survival economy is not an option for most people from the cities as the threat from wandering army units has become too great. During the last year the number of refugees has more than tripled from 750,000 to more than two million. Oxfam speaks of 'one of the most serious humanitarian situations in the world'. The United Nations (UN) says it has no categories to describe the situation in Congo.


This is the terrible price workers and peasants have had to pay for Kabila not being prepared to break decisively with imperialism. Kabila performed an impossible balancing act by trying to base himself on the interests of Western companies and of the Congolese masses at one and the same time. He made business deals with US and Belgian companies, like American Mineral Fields, Petrofina, and Union Minière, but simultaneously tried to project himself as a nationalist leader of the Congolese masses. The war with neighbouring countries was used by Kabila as an excuse to cover up the economic powerlessness inevitable on the basis of existing imperialist structures.

In the parliamant of 300 members, 60 were appointed by Kabila and 240 by his immediate entourage. Kabila appointed army officers from the Mobutu clique to positions of power. The promised presidential and parliamentary elections were suspended for an indeterminate period while Kabila concentrated all the power in his hands. He did not seem to trust anybody any more. The army was very poorly paid, sometimes not at all, and 80% of army officers did not have a military education. Ethnic divisions were promoted to strengthen Kabila's grip on power.

Above all, Kabila had become an obstacle for a peace agreement which the population of Congo and his main allies, Angola and Zimbabwe, were more and more looking for. Kabila would not talk with the armed rebels. His opposition to a UN peace force caused irritation within the camp of the Western powers.

Kabila jr, on the other hand, made it clear very quickly - with visits to the US, France, Belgium and the UN - that the new government was prepared to adjust itself to the imperialist agenda in important ways. The new government says it wants to create a stable framework within which Western companies can do business. It is not opposed to the arrival of a UN peace force. However, it is asking for financial help to rebuild the country's infrastructure.


In this way, Joseph Kabila also meets the expectations of Angola and Zimbabwe, whose troops kept order in Kinshasa during Kabila's funeral. Representatives of the 'enemies', Rwanda and Uganda, were also invited to the funeral. Through its intervention, Angola gained control of oil exploitation along 1,000 kilometres of the Atlantic coastline. Stability in Kinshasa is necessary to maximise profits and guarantee the diamond trade. A unified Congo also cuts off access to the lucrative diamond business from the Angolan Unita rebels.

Zimbabwe has its own reasons to favour an agreement. Financially, the management of Gécamines became a fiasco. Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, who tries to portray himself as a pan-Africanist (against Rwanda and Uganda who have close ties with the USA), has to deal with domestic difficulties: occupying the land of white farmers, a 50% unemployment rate, GNP which has dropped by 10%, and the IMF which has frozen a $340 million loan.

In Uganda, elections are looming for Yoweri Museveni, with public opinion disgusted at the enrichment of Ugandan officers in Congo and the bloody clashes with the Rwandan army. Paul Kagame's Rwanda will only pull its forces back if a UN peace force positions itself between the rebel armies and its own borders. A UN intervention after a peace settlement with the main parties is a possible scenario, but it will not solve any of the basic problems of the region.

Much will depend on the unity of the Congolese state apparatus. Chaos in Kinshasa could start a new escalation of the conflict. Even if the government of Joseph Kabila can temporarily stabilise itself on the basis of a peace agreement and limited financial aid from the West, it will remain a very weak regime. None of the social and economic problems will be solved. Submission to the dictates of the market will eventually lead to further social explosions.


Peter Delsing

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