Predicting signs of violence in the post November 28 elections, Charles Tannock, a British member of the European Parliament, in the African media outlet Mmegi Online, wrote:

"The presidential and parliamentary elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the end of November will likely be Africa's most daunting electoral challenge so far."

President Joseph Kabila, who rose to power after the assassination of his father, has enjoyed 10 years in power, securing another term against divided opposition. The BBC reports that the victory for Kabila will trigger a violent backlash in Congo: "International observers have cried foul, with allegations of 'ghost voters,' fake polling stations and brutal persecution of the opposition. Kabila's rivals are unlikely to take defeat quietly."

To understand the political scenario that Congo is undergoing, however, it is necessary to take a look at the country's recent history.

Laurent-Désiré Kabila

The regime of former President Mobutu Sese Seko was overthrown by Laurent-Désiré Kabila (the father of Joseph Kabila),a warlord and revolutionary who participated in Congo's guerrilla wars between 1960 and 1985. In 1965, in the midst of the Cold War, the Latin American revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara went to Congo to oust Mobutu and launch a left-wing revolution throughout the African continent[1]. It is on that occasion that the "Che" met Kabila. The Latin American leader did not have a great opinion about the future Congolese President, however; he described Kabila as prefering the comforts of the city to the rigors of the bush[2]. In those years, Kabila also got in touch with former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who gave him training and money to fight Mobutu[3].

Kabila finally ousted Mobuto in the First Congo War, that started in November 1996 and ended in May 1997, and which was supported by the governments of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. The fall of Mobutu was the result of several factors. First, the corrupt regime suffered from a "combination of internal weaknesses and the exploitation of these weaknesses by neighboring countries to get rid of a dictator that most Africans had to come to despise,"[4] The final factor, however, was the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Mobutu was accused of supporting the Hutu ethnic group while backing the Tutsi's persecution.

After a few failed peace talks, Mobutu went to exile in May 1997 and died in Morocco a few months later. Soon after Mobutu's fall, Kabila proclaimed himself president, suspended the constitution and changed the name of the country from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "As if history were repeating itself, with the advent of yet another one-man rule in the Congo," wrote Congolese academic, Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, "Laurent Kabila succeeded in establishing himself in Mobutu's image as l'homme seul."[5]

1998 War in Congo: the Deadliest since World War II

In 1998, a new war hit the country. The conflict, which officially ended in 2003, was considered the deadliest since World War II. Reports stated that Congo "had become Africa's First World War; it was a continental struggle that reached almost without interruption from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean"[6]. Once in power, actually, Kabila fell under the control of Hutu influential political group in Kinshasa. He continued Mobutu's policies, including ethno-policies against Tutsi and killing operation in Rwanda. Hence, Rwanda soon began plotting a coup against Kabila[7].

"In August 1998, war broke out against and Rwandan troops, backing Congolese Tutsi rebels, invaded eastern Congo, initiating what was termed the Second Congo War. Rwanda justified its activities by invoking its own genocide, claiming it necessary to eliminate bases of Hutu extremists on Congolese territories. Uganda, similarly, claimed that Kabila's regimes had failed to stop incursions of Hutu extremists into its territory, and occupied the Ituri[8] region [of northeastern DRC] for four years."

The Second Congo war saw as main actors, on one side Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, which once supported Kabila against Mobutu, and on the other side, Kabila's regime backed by Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad and Sudan.[9]

The Libyan Regime Tried to Act as Peacemaker, but only as a Façade:

"Gaddafi, aware of the multiplicity of interests involved in the [Second] Congolese war and its centrality on the African agenda, made concerted efforts to lead the peacemaking in the knowledge that such activity would enhance his political stature. Notwithstanding his declared support of the government of President Laurent Désiré Kabila, Gaddafi assumed the role of peace broker in the conflagration between Kabila's government, the anti-Kabila fighting opposition groups, and each side's military allies in the region. […] [However, anti-Kabila] rebels claimed that Libya, France and China were financing and arming Kabila's forces."[10]

In 1999, the government of Zimbabwe, which backed Kabila, confirmed that its military intervention in Congo was funded by France, Angola and Libya, whereas China was the main supplier of arms[11].

In 2001, Kabila was killed by one of his bodyguards. He was succeeded by his young son, Joseph Kabila, then in his early 30s.

Joseph Kabila's Reign

After Laurent Kabila's assassination, international media reported a shift in Libyan policy towards Congo. In 2002, the government of the neo-President Joseph Kabila accused Libya of flying troops and arms into northern Congo with an "eye to helping a regional rebel group launch an assault on the capital, Kinshasa." The Congo Government accused Libya of becoming the fourth country to invade its territory after Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi[12][12]. Furthermore, Congo said the Libyan troop movements were endangering the road map to come out from the war and asked the U.N. Security Council to demand Libya's immediate withdrawal from its territory[13].

Former Congolese UN envoy Nduku Booto said that the Libyan-sponsored flights were landing in the northern towns of Gbadolite and Zongo, on Congo's border with the Central African Republic, occupied by the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), a rebel group backed by Uganda and headed by Jean-Pierre Bemba. Bemba, who was arrested in 2008 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, is now facing a trial at the International Criminal Court for his involvement along with Libya in the war in the Central African Republic (CAR) that lasted from 2002 to2003.

However, the Congolese government accused Libya of helping the MLC not only in the war in neighboring CAR, but also in the conflict in Congo. UN envoy Booto said the Libya was reinforcing and supplying the anti-Kabila rebels in order to launch an attack against the government in the capital Kinshasa[14].

In July 2002, Joseph Kabila and Rwandan president Paul Kagame agreed to a peace accord, and in October, Rwandan troops pulled out of eastern Congo. Two months later, the Pretoria Accord was signed to end the conflict and establish a government of national unity. The accord stated that Joseph Kabila would remain the President of Congo until new elections that took place in 2006, which saw again him winning with the 58% of the vote. Violent clashes, killing hundreds, followed the 2006 elections.

Kabila's Tyranny

Etienne Tshisekedi, 78, veteran opposition leader and the leading Kabila's opponent, has already declared himself president --three weeks before the November 28 elections. Tshisekedi said that he is the president of DR Congo "because the Congolese people have already chosen me." Observers foresee that Kabila's victory will not be accepted by the opposition, with the risk of a widespread instability in the country.

Tshisekedi is obtaining large support, because the Congolese people are tired and discontent with Kabila's decade-long rule. Congolese people seem to want a change, despite the big disillusionment that any candidate in these elections will be able to bring better conditions to the country. Meanwhile – as reported by the Guardian - the Kabila regime is doing its best to win the election through violence and intimidation.

The AP reports, however, that Tshisekedi's comments alarmed many. Many analysts and people in Congo fear that this election might degenerate into a "spiral of violence" similar to the presidential dispute that not long ago wracked the Ivory Coast for months. On that occasion, us the AP remimds us , thousands were killed and a million people were displaced before former president Laurent Gbagbo was bombed out of his bunker and forced -- mainly by France's military intervention -- to accept the defeat. Congo is expected to follow the same fate and the West this time might even be asked to intervene.

[1] Mark Doyle, Retracing Che Guevara's Congo footsteps, BBC, November 25, 2004: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4036605.stm; Kabila: entre la fama y la oscuridad, BBC World, January 17, 2001: http://www.bbc.co.uk/spanish/news/news010117kabilaperfil.shtml
[2] Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, From Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, p. 13, Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 2004; William Galvez, Che in Africa: Che Guevara's Congo Diary, translated by Mary Todd, Ocean Press, 1999
[3] Ian Smillie, Blood on the Stone: Greed, Corruption and War in the Global Diamond Trade, p.103, Anthem Press, 2010
[4] Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, From Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, p. 13, Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 2004
[5] Ibid.
[6] Adam Jones, Genocide, A Comprehensive Introduction, p. 369, Routledge, 2006
[7] Ibid.
[8] During the war in Congo, the Ituri region was the country's "bloodiest corner". See: Ituri: Bloodiest Corner of Congo, Human Rights Watch, July 3, 2003:
http://www.hrw.org/legacy/campaigns/congo/ituri/ituri.htm
[9] Chandra Lekha Spiram, Olga Martin-Ortega and Johanna Herman, War, Conflict and Human Rights, Theory and Practice, p. 103, Routledge, 2010
[10]1 Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Middle East Contemporary Survey, p. 416, Volume XXIII: 1999, The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, The Shiloah Institute, Tel Aviv University
[11] Zimbabwe names backers in Congo War, BBC, January 7, 1999:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/250394.stm
[12] Congolese rebels deny Libyan backing, BBC, December 12, 2002: http://cdnedge.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/2568727.stm
[13] Irwin Arieff, Congo says Libyan troops, arms threaten Kinshasa, Reuters, December 15, 2002: http://www.mail-archive.com/ugandanet@kym.net/msg01784.html
[14] Ibid.

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