Eye on Africa: Mobutu's son discusses Congo

Posted in Africa | 24-Jan-05 | Author: Mvemba Dizolele

Jean-Pierre Bemba, head of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), speaks to reporters in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa where he threatened to pull out of the country's power sharing government, January 12, 2005.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Six months before the country's first multiparty elections in 45 years, Congo still struggles to find its way to peace -- and to the polls.

The lack of a healthy political culture remains the biggest obstacle to a successful democratic transition. The political process drowns in mismanagement, corruption and party alliances that exceed national interest.

As a result of the 2002 peace accord negotiated in Pretoria, South Africa, Congo has a 1+4 power-sharing government. Four vice-presidents representing different political and rebel factions are to assist President Joseph Kabila in establishing a state of law and order in Congo.

The factions agreed to split all public institutions in four as part of the accord. They called it "partage vertical," a vertical dissection of the country's power structures.

They split the leadership in politics, state enterprises and the armed forces. For the past few months, they have been fighting over ambassadorships, each wanting a portfolio of embassies. Consequently, Congo's diplomacy is incoherent and disjointed, unable to rally the international community around the country's apocalyptic crisis.

In a country where more than 3.8 million have died because of conflict, the leaders in Kinshasha have been ineffective because of their tendency to place national responsibility secondary to party allegiance.

"Every Congolese institution includes representatives of these factions. The problem is that the leaders are too suspicious of each other to work together," says Nzanga Mobutu, son of the late Maréchal Mobutu Sese Seko and former deputy secretary-general for the Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution (he resigned in 2002). "They hold the state hostage. Congo has no state."

After a year and a half in power, these factions have been incapable of converting into viable political parties. Their leaders have failed to transform into statesmen, relying on their militias to resolve the slightest disagreement among them.

In August, Azarias Ruberwa, a Tutsi who leads the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) and is the vice-president in charge of defense and security, temporarily withdrew from the power-sharing government when the Forces for National Liberation, a Burundian Hutu rebel group, killed 152 Congolese and wounded another 106 in a refugee camp in Burundi. Congolese Tutsis were among the victims.

It is Ruberwa's responsibility to protect all Congolese, regardless of ethnic origin. However, during the crisis he failed to emerge as the guarantor of peace and security for his fellow Congolese. Instead, he espoused a rhetoric anchored in ethnic division. For several days, he threatened to pull the RCD out of the transition.

Earlier this month, Jean-Pierre Bemba, another vice-president and leader of the Mouvement pour la Libération du Congo (MLC), retreated to his stronghold of Gemena in northern Congo and threatened to withdraw his faction from the transitional government by Jan. 31. The MLC is asking for more top military and civilian posts for its supporters.

Like vultures fighting over a lion's carcass, some transitional leaders see their short time holding the reins of the country as an opportunity to replenish their parties and personal accounts. They exert little effort ensure the 2005 elections are held on time.

Insecurity is arguably the greatest obstacle to the democratic transition.

"In light of all that has happened in eastern Congo with Rwanda crossing the border, we realize that a non-integrated army is a problem for us. Without a strong military, how can we react to Rwanda's incursions?" Mobutu asks.

The Rwandan army has invaded eastern Congo twice in pursuit of the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. The Interahamwe militia is the most infamous, posing a threat to both Rwandan government and Congolese civilians.

Unfortunately, Rwanda's involvement has only worsened the situation in Congo, but has yielded no security for Rwanda. In addition, allegations of militia support by some agents of the Congolese government have also contributed to insecurity. A proliferation of armed militias has made the area more dangerous than ever.

"Nobody seems to know where the Interahamwe militiamen are. But, Rwanda alleges they receive weapons from the Congolese," says Mobutu. "Where does the government stand in all of that?"

"Officially, the government talks of stopping these negative forces. But it seems there is some kind of dangerous game going on."

Congo needs a well-trained, unified army and police to ensure security and preserve territorial integrity. However, the partage vertical has made it impossible to integrate security and law enforcement institutions.

Because of deep mistrust among the leaders, only a few senior rebel commanders have been integrated into the armed forces. These militia groups still claim various parts of the country and terrorize the population. Each faction in the government is determined to maintain control of its forces. Their commanders allege President Kabila lacks the political will necessary for an effective integration and cannot guarantee their safety.

Furthermore, thousands of officers trained in the world's best academies under the Mobutu regime are unemployed and struggle for daily survival. Congo's military would benefit from their experience and leadership. Yet, the government regards them with suspicion.

As a result, international donors have been reluctant to fully fund the integration project. It is impossible to hold elections in this climate of insecurity.

The political class lacks the determination to restore the state of law and order needed for the democratic transition. The leaders are disconnected from the popular masses that continue to demand the elections be held as agreed.

"The biggest challenge for this government is to be able to organize the elections. Right now, we have different factions in the so-called inclusive government with so many hidden agendas that no one understands," says Mobutu.

Six months before the promised elections, the government has yet to publish an electoral calendar or a census program.

The outlook is not good for the Congolese.

"The elections may not take place in June as agreed. But, they have to be held in 2005. Otherwise, there will be more problems. The situation may just blow up," he warns.

Aware of his father's legacy and the challenges Congo faces at this critical juncture, Mobutu echoes what I have heard from his countrymen.

"Only an elected government can effectively deal with these issues, especially after everything that has happened in our country."

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