TOPICS > Politics

Congo’s Future

January 23, 2001 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Leaders of several African nations flew into the capital of Congo today to bid farewell to Laurent Kabila who promised “an African renaissance,” but instead became known for broken promises and human rights atrocities. President Laurent Kabila was shot and killed last Tuesday by a bodyguard. The government of Congo denied its leader was dead until Thursday. Why Kabila was assassinated remains a mystery. At the people’s palace, Kabila’s son, 31-year-old Joseph Kabila, laid a wreath on his father’s casket. The late president leaves behind a legacy of civil war and economic catastrophe in one of Africa’s largest, most mineral-rich countries. His son, a major general, will inherit those problems as the nation’s new president. But the appointment of Joseph Kabila by his father’s cabinet was quickly rejected by anti- Kabila rebels, who demand a voice in the government.

ALBERT M’PETI: (speaking through interpreter) What we do not want is that from today, they continue to map out the Congolese people’s future alone. They have no legitimate right to do this. That’s why we say we must gather around a table together so that we can find the right people.

RAY SUAREZ: Laurent Kabila, a career rebel, took power in 1997, six months after he began fighting his way across the country. His supporters — which included Uganda, Rwanda and the United States — hailed him as a savior. That’s because the coup toppled Mobutu Sese Seko, a dictator who ruled the country for 32 years. Mobutu stashed much of his country’s wealth in European banks, giving rise to the term kleptocracy, the rule of thieves. The self-appointed president promised to rebuild his country, saying, “now is the time to harvest.” He spoke on the NewsHour a year ago.

LAURENT KABILA (Jan. 2000): We hoped in 1997 that we must have a democratic society, because the autocratic regime has destroyed everything morally, economically. The country was totally destroyed.

RAY SUAREZ: Kabila changed his country’s name from Zaire back to Congo and added the words “Democratic Republic,” but the elections he promised never came. In fact, he banned all other political parties. Last year, Kabila promised democratic reforms would get on track eventually.

LAURENT KABILA: In our case, casting votes is a matter of priorities for our society. You can remember that since 1960 with the coup d’etat, with the order of the other democratically elected governments, it was the end of democratic rule in our country, and it is a very, very long time. I don’t know if you have… but I think 40 years of a dictatorship in the country is too much. And in the case of Congo, we hope that we can have in short time the elections, the democratic process established again.

RAY SUAREZ: Kabila and his forces are also blamed by human rights groups for killing thousands of Hutus as the army marched through eastern Congo seeking power. The Hutu refugees had fled the civil war in Rwanda. Any hopes of democratic progress in Congo were dashed in 1998, when disenchanted rebels expanded their territory and took on Kabila’s army. The civil war spread to regional countries, and became known as Africa’s world war. Kabila’s former allies, Uganda and Rwanda, turned on him, accusing Kabila of backing Hutu militias in Rwanda in 1994. The president, meanwhile, solicited support from Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia. Today, control of the Congo is effectively split in half.

The civil war displaced a million-and-a-half Congolese, many of whom had fled to Uganda. The U.N. and aid agencies had charged Kabila with deliberate killings, torture and other human rights abuses, all of which he denied. Meanwhile, the economy is in ruins. Agricultural production has been severely reduced by war. Citizens face staggering poverty, unemployment, and inflation, which stood at 9,000 percent in 1994. Congo’s neighbors have tried with no success to end the war. In 1999, African leaders met in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. They agreed to a ceasefire and to establish a U.N. peacekeeping force, but the Lusaka Accords were never implemented.