By Henry D Gombya, Managing Editor
Just one head of state and a handful of close associates were at hand to witness the swearing-in ceremony of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s President Joseph Kabila for his second term of office.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, one of the four Great Lakes Region leaders whose forces have fought in the DRC, was the only African leader who bothered to turn up in Kinshasa as 40-year old President Kabila was sworn in after winning an election many opponents believe he stole and an election that Western observers believed to be too flawed to be credible.
Envoys representing their countries were allegedly ordered to attend the ceremony after the Kabila regime threatened those who stayed away with being declared persona non grata. President Kabila had been declared winner of the disputed election which main opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has also claimed to have won and has declared himself president. His office told journalists Tuesday that he will conduct his own swearing in ceremony this Friday.
Mr Kabila, who succeeded his father as president in 2001 after the latter had been assassinated, ordered his troops on the streets to show how powerful he is. The day had been declared a public holiday but not a single soul in the country’s capital Kinshasa seemed to be celebrating Kabila’s ‘victory’. While the city is believed to be mostly pro-Tshisekedi, election results showed that Kabila had in most areas of the city won the vote by the unbelievable figure of 100 per cent.
The DRC which is very rich in minerals but had seen neighbouring countries led by Uganda and Rwanda plunder its wealth, has hardly any usable road and infrastructures. In his speech, Mr Kabila vowed he would reverse this by reducing his country’s reliance on the mineral sector by improving self-reliance and by boosting agricultural production.
Since it was announced that Kabila had won the election, DRC citizens exiled in several Western cities took to the streets to indicate their disappointment. In London, Brussels, and Frankfurt, as well as in several US cities, DRC citizens demonstrated and many appealed to Western countries to help them remove Kabila who has now been in power for 10 years. The elections, only the second since the country emerged from a civil war in 2003, have come under growing criticism for irregularities and alleged fraud.
The Carter Center, a U.S.-based watchdog, said in a report last month that the provisional results released by the electoral commission (CENI) lacked credibility, joining a growing number of voices expressing concern over the elections. A turnout of more than 100 per cent in Kabila’s home region and the disappearance of results from more than 2,000 polling stations in the largely opposition capital suggested “serious irregularities,” the rights group said in a statement.
The African Union, many of whose leaders have changed their constitutions to engineer several ‘election victories’ described the DRC November general elections as being ‘a success’. It was not immediately clear as to why, if this was the way they believed the elections had been held, the majority chose to stay home rather than be seen with dining and wining with Kabila. In nearly all African countries, neighbours of a country whose leader has just won an election do attend the swearing-in ceremony. Early this year, several African leaders attended Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s re-election for a fourth term in office that will see him serve for 31 years. He has been president since he shot his way to power in 1986.
But being snubbed by other leaders is not limited to Kabila. In 2007, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki hastily arranged a swearing-in ceremony after declaring himself winner after an election that left thousands killed by security forces. To be fair to Kibaki, he did not bother to invite anyone outside Kenya to attend the ceremony. Many senior Kenyan politicians have since been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
Since taking office, few Congolese have endeared themselves to Mr Kabila. Many say he is not a Congolese after being brought up in Tanzania. They are also not impressed with his inability to hold a steady conversation in the DRC’s lingua franca, Lingala. Kabila’s father Laurent had been supported by Uganda and Rwanda to overthrow former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngubendu wa Zabanga. They later turned against him after he refused to be cowed by them. Circumstances surrounding Kabila senior’s assassination have never been fully explained. In 1998, both countries invade the DRC after which they were accused of plundering the country’s minerals. At the time, a UN report justified the Uganda and Rwanda invasion of the DRC (then called Zaire) to secure their borders from insurgent groups, but three years later, a UN report said the lure of the country’s natural resources had become the primary objective of the Ugandan and Rwandan troops to occupy many areas of the vast country which is two-thirds the size of Western Europe. Uganda was subsequently ordered by the UN to pay to the DRC a fine of US$10billion which is still outstanding. Tshisekedi has put up a reward for anyone who took to him Mr Kabila ‘with hands tied’.