Why Joseph Kabila’s ambition endangers Congo (The Economist – June 3, 2017)


Congo’s president clings to power even as the hinterland erupts

“LET’S march on the president’s palace and drive him out,” howled the speaker, and a couple of hundred supporters, packed into a sweaty courtyard at the headquarters of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s main opposition party, yelled their agreement. Outside, a contingent of police, heavily outnumbered, waited nervously.

The march never happened. It would not have got anywhere near the president, and no one, for the moment, wants to risk a repeat of the violence last September, when police opened fire on crowds and a hundred or so people died. But the economy is tanking, civil war is raging again in the centre of the country, and patience is wearing thin with Congo’s dictatorial president, Joseph Kabila, whose final term in office expired five months ago.

Mr Kabila has misruled Congo for the past 17 years, after he took over from his father, who was shot by a bodyguard. The past few months have been particularly desperate. Congo depends on copper and cobalt, and to a lesser extent diamonds, for hard currency. Nearly all manufactured goods are imported.

Despite a mighty river and abundant rainfall, its broken-down infrastructure means it imports much of its food, too. At the Momo supermarket in the capital, Kinshasa, a ramshackle city of 12m people, you will find tin pans from Pakistan, toilet paper from Turkey, sandals from Thailand and glass tumblers from Brazil: but virtually nothing from Congo itself apart from some of the chicken and beer.

The world copper price halved between 2011 and 2016. Cobalt is still well down, too, after a crash in 2008. The two commodities have recovered a bit this year, but this has not prevented the collapse of the Congolese franc, as the central bank printed more money in response to falling receipts: it has lost 50% of its value since November.

Chantal Ngoyi, a trader at the big Victoire market, sells clothes (none of them made in Congo) out of big bundles of Western hand-me-downs she buys for $250 from importers. The bundle used to cost 1.8m francs; it now costs her 3.6m, so she has to pass the increase on to her customers.

“Now no one can afford to buy from me,” she complains. John Mbala, who runs a liquor shop nearby, says demand for his imported booze has simply vanished. Even the cheap local hooch, like his eye-watering Boss Whisky, is not selling, because everyone is broke.

For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21722852-congos-president-clings-power-even-hinterland-erupts-why-joseph-kabilas