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DR Congo’s President Joseph Kabila: The Poster Child of Africa’s Misrule

Kinshasa, DR Congo – The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, has ended his two-terms as president of his country and was due to step down last Monday, December 19, 2016, but he has refused to do so. Now, thousand of citizens wants him out with street protests in which over 50 people have been killed by security forces.

Instead, he postponed the holding of presidential elections, appointed one of the leading opposition figures as prime minister and began bribing others to shutting them down while keeping the masses in poverty.

Joseph Kabila with spouse

Although Kabila is not the only Africa leader with such power greed and abuse of the fundamentals of democracy, his actions set the DR Congo on a path of renewed wars and human suffering.

In the Gambia, another dictator President Yahya Jammeh was defeated in the country’s most recent elections held on December 3, 2016.  After conceding, he backtracked and refused to step down.

While Jammeh and Kabila may have a similar greed for power, the circumstances and realities in their respective nations are not the same.

Jammeh needs to and will eventually be forced to step down. Kabila on the other hand is experiencing street protests and violence from his people, warning him to step down.

The case of Kabila is more worrisome because his country is divided among various rebel factions, with some operating under their own laws.

Per sources, anti-Kabila’s protest in the country led to the death of more than 20 people and more injuries.

Laurent Desire Kabila

To understand the next Africa leader who’s taking his country down the hole of self-destruction, Globe Afrique Media presents a background of the dictator.

Joseph Kabila Kabange was born on 4 June 1971, along with his twin sister Jaynet Kabila. Per official accounts, the twins were born at Hewabora, a small village in the Fizi territory of the South Kivu province, in eastern Congo.

Rumors have abounded that Kabila was born in Tanzania, which would make him a citizen of that country. He is the son of long time rebel, former AFDL leader and president of the Congo Laurent Desire Kabila and Sifa Mahanya.

Joseph Kabila (center) during his resistance days

Kabila’s childhood coincided with the low point of his father’s political and military career, and was raised in relative remoteness, with few records of his early days. Kabila did attend a primary school organized by his father’s rebel forces, before moving to Tanzania where he completed primary and secondary school. Due to his father’s status as an enemy of Zairean strongman Mobuto Sese Seko, Kabila posed as a Tanzanian in his school years to avoid detection by Zairean intelligence agents.

Following high school, Joseph Kabila followed a military curriculum in Tanzania, then at Makerere University in Uganda.  In October 1996, Laurent-Désiré Kabila launched the campaign in Zaire to oust the Mobuto regime with his newly formed army, the Alliance for Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL).

Young Joseph Kabila became the commander of an AFDL unit that included “Kadogos” (child soldiers) and likely played a key role in major battles on the road to Kinshasa, but his exact whereabouts during the war have been difficult to establish.

 Joseph Kabila appears to have been present at the liberation of Kisangani where media reports identified him as commander of the rebel force that took the city after four days of intense fighting.

Following the AFDL’s victory, and Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s rise to the presidency, Joseph Kabila went on to get further training at the PLA National Defense University, in Beijing, China.

Kabila addresses the UN

When he returned from China, Kabila was awarded the rank of Major-General, and appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 1998.

He was later, in 2000, appointed Chief of Staff of the Land Forces, a position he held until the elder President Kabila’s assassination in January 2001. As chief of staff, he was one of the main military leaders in charge of Government troops during the time of the second Congo War (1998–2003).  

Unconfirmed report suggests he was a mastermind in his father’s assassination so that he could become the president.

Joseph Kabila rose to the Presidency on 26 January 2001 after the assassination of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, becoming the world’s first head of government born in the 1970s.

 Aged 29, he was considered young and inexperienced. He subsequently attempted to end the ongoing civil war by negotiating peace agreements with rebel groups who were backed by Rwanda and Uganda, the same regional armies who brought Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s rebel group to power three years before.

Joseph Kabila (right) and his wife

The 2002 peace agreement signed at the Inter-Congolese Dialogue in Sun City, South Africa, which nominally ended the Second Congo War, maintained Joseph Kabila as President and head of state of the Congo.

Late President Mobuto Sese Seko

An interim administration was set up under him, including the leaders of the country’s two main rebel groups as vice presidents (two other vice-presidents were representatives of the civilian opposition and government supporters respectively). On 28 March 2004, an apparent coup attempt or mutiny around the capital Kinshasa, allegedly on the part of members of the former guard of former president Mobutu Sese Seko (who had been ousted by Kabila’s father in 1997 and died in the same year), failed.  On 11 June 2004, coup plotters led by Major Eric Lenge allegedly attempted to take power and announced on state radio that the transitional government was suspended, but were defeated by loyalist troops.

In December 2005, a partial referendum approved a new constitution, and a presidential election was held on 30 July 2006 (having been delayed from an earlier date in June). The new constitution lowered the minimum age of presidential candidates from 35 to 30; Kabila turned 35 shortly before the election. In March 2006, he registered as a candidate.  Although Kabila registered as an independent, he is the “initiator” of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), which chose him as their candidate to the election.

Even though the new constitution stipulates that a debate be held between the two remaining candidates for the presidency, no debates took place. Hence, this declared by many as unconstitutional.

President Joseph Kabila’s term of office expires but he refuses to leave office

Per widely disputed provisional results announced on 20 August, Kabila won 45% of the vote; his main opponent, vice-president, and former rebel leader Jean -Pierre Bemba, won 20%. The irregularities surrounding the elections results prompted a run-off vote between Kabila and Bemba which was held on 29 October.

 On 15 November, the electoral commission announced the official results and Kabila was declared the winner, with 58.05% of the vote. These results were confirmed by the Supreme Court on 27 November 2006, and Kabila was inaugurated on 6 December 2006 as the country’s newly elected President.  He named Antoine Gizenga, who placed third in the first round of the presidential election (and then backed Kabila in the second round) as prime minister on 30 December.

In December 2011, Kabila was re-elected for a second term as president. After the results were announced on 9 December, there was violent unrest in Kinshasa and Mbuji-Mayi, where official tallies showed that a strong majority had voted for the opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi.

Official observers from the Carter Center reported that returns from almost 2,000 polling stations in areas where support for Tshisekedi was strong had been lost and not included in the official results. They described the election as lacking credibility.

 On 20 December, Kabila was sworn in for a second term, promising to invest in infrastructure and public services. However, Tshisekedi maintained that the result of the election was illegitimate and said that he intended also to “swear himself in” as president.

In January 2012, Catholic Bishops in DR Congo also condemned the elections, complaining of “treachery, lies and terror”, and calling on the election commission to correct “serious errors”.

On 17 January 2015, Congo’s parliament passed an electoral law requiring a census before the next elections. On 19 January protests led by students at the University of Kinshasa broke out. The protests began following the announcement of a proposed law that would allow Kabila to remain in power until a national census can be conducted (elections had been planned for 2016. By Wednesday 21 January clashes between police and protesters had claimed at least 42 lives (although the government claimed only 15 people had been killed).

The Senate responded to protests by striking the census requirement from its law. Moise Katumbi announced in October 2015 that he would leave the ruling party due to disagreements over the scheduled election.

Jaynet Kabila, the sister of Joseph Kabila, was named in the Panama Papers. Document leaks in 2016 revealed that she is a part-owner of a major Congolese telecom company Digital Congo TV through offshore subsidiaries.

Kabila is vastly unpopular, partly because of the conflicts in the Congo, but also because of the widespread belief that he has enriched himself and his family while ignoring the millions of poor Congolese. There have been protests his attempts to change term limits and extend his rule. Harsh demonstrations erupted on 20 April 2016 in Lubumbashi, one of Congo’s biggest cities.

When Moise Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo and now an opposition figure, announced that he is running for president in an election that is supposed to be held by the end of 2016. Instead, security forces surrounded his home to arrest him.

Although Kabila’s forces have scored an important victory against one large rebel group, the M23, in 2013, many other armed groups have splintered into dangerous movements. And by 2016 new ones have recently risen, like the militias in the Nyunzu area that have killed hundreds of people.

Per the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, President Kabila should not be allowed to serve more than two terms. On 19 September 2016, massive protests calling for him to step down as legally mandated rocked Kinshasa, and killed 17 people.  

Elections to determine a successor to Kabila were originally scheduled to be held on 27 November 2016. However, on 29 September 2016, the nation’s electoral authority announced that the election would not be held until early 2018.

Police and streets in DR Congo

Per the electoral commission’s vice president, the commission “hasn’t called elections in 2016 because the number of voters isn’t known.” However, the opposition alleges that Kabila had intentionally delayed the election to remain in power.

Partially in response to the delayed election, the United States issued insufficient sanctions against two members of Kabila’s inner circle, John Numbi and Gabriel Amisi Kumba on 28 September. These were seen as a warning to President Kabila to respect his country’s constitution.

More demonstrations are planned to mark the passing of the end of the presidential mandate. Opposition groups claim that the outcome of late elections would be civil war.

Maman Sidikou, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for DR Congo and head of MONUSCO, said that a tipping point into uncontrollable violence could come about very quickly if the political situation is not normalized.

Joseph Kabila’s second term as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo was due to end on 20 December 2016. A statement issued by the Congolese government on 19 December 2016, stated that Joseph Kabila would remain in post until a new President is elected in elections that will not take place until at least early 2018.  Kabila subsequently installed a new cabinet led by Prime Minister Samy Badibanga.

In 2006, Kabila responded to evidence of widespread sex crimes committed by the Congolese military by describing the acts as “simply unforgivable”. He pointed out that 300 soldiers had been convicted of sex crimes, although he added that this was not enough.

Kabila married Olive Lembe di Sita, on 1 June 2006. The wedding ceremonies took place on 17 June 2006.  Kabila and his spouse have a daughter, born in 2001, named Sifa, after Kabila’s mother.

As president Kabila is Protestant and Ms. Lembe di Sita is Catholic, the wedding ceremonies were ecumenical; they were officiated by both the Catholic Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Frederic Etsou Bamungwabi, and Pierre Marini Bodho – presiding bishop of the Church of Christ in Congo, the umbrella church for most denominations in the Congo, known within the country simply as “The Protestant Church”.

Still relatively young after 16 years leading the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila is a secretive president.

Living in a mansion along the Congo River, with a collection of expensive watches, expensive motorcycles and a chimpanzee in a cage, Joseph Kabila, the president of this vast and troubled country known as DR Congo, should be packing up but he refuses to do so as his security forces shot dead at least 26 protesters who had gathered in the streets of Kinshasa and other cities of Democratic Republic of Congo to exercise their political rights.

And of course, the African Union which leads the conspiracy theory that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is only going after Africans remain mute. 

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Ben Mabande

Ben Mabande is a researcher and senior contributing reporter with Globe Afrique Media.
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