President Joseph Kabila is in the seventh year of a five-year term. He is struggling to hold the country together
KINSHASA: WHEN change comes to Congo, it can come fast. The previous president, Laurent Kabila, lost power when a bodyguard shot him in 2001. The president before that, Mobutu Sese Seko, was overthrown by Rwandan-backed rebels who marched 1,600km through the rainforest in a mere six months, wearing gumboots.
Mobutu did not pay his troops. “You have guns,” he told them. “You don’t need a salary.” Faced with a serious enemy, they ran away. A tyrant who had ruled for 32 years was suddenly unemployed.
Could it be about to happen again? Congo’s ruler today, Joseph Kabila, who inherited the job from his late father, is beleaguered. Like Kabila père, he has many enemies.
Like Mobutu, he has presided over a violent kleptocracy, which few Congolese would lift a finger, let alone a rifle, to defend. His presidential guards remain loyal because they, at least, are well-paid and he maintains a large network of cronies who benefit from corruption. But he is wobbly.
President Kabila is in the seventh year of a five-year term and is constitutionally barred from standing again. He was supposed to call an election in 2016 but found excuses to delay it over and over. He has no legitimacy. His authority is disintegrating. And with it, central Africa faces once again the possibility of a slide into war.
After Mr Kabila broke a vow to hold elections by the end of last year, there were protests at Catholic services in Kinshasa, the capital, and 12 other cities. Mr Kabila cracked down hard. Police surrounded 134 churches in Kinshasa alone, beat and tear-gassed churchgoers, and shot live rounds into fleeing congregations.
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