Kabila, Kagame, and The Congo

“King Leopold established government as a system of organized plunder which continued after him by the Belgian Colonial Government, and it is still continued today”

The looting of Kinshasa’s treasury and the indigent state of its people is not a recent phenomenon. This looting goes at least as far back as Mubuto Sese Soko, and likely has its roots in the practices of the Belgian overlords in the 19th century. Where the wealth at that time came from rubber, it now comes from rich ore deposits such as cobalt and copper, and Coltan, short for columbite-tantalite, a metallic ore found mainly in the eastern Congo. Coltan is a key component in modern technological devices, from cell phones and computer chips, to the technology that is ever more present in global communications, transportation and defense. Seventy-three percent of the world’s reserves are in the Congo. Congo is also the world’s largest source of cobalt, a key component in jet turbines and in gas turbine generators, is also, along with some of the world’s richest copper deposits, found and exploited in great abundance in DRC.

Congo Players
Congo Players Respectively: Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza, DR Congo President Joseph Kabila, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame

Rwanda has profited from its neighbor’s instability to pilfer its wealth. Estimates of Congolese mineral production smuggled out of the country range from 30 to 80 percent, with an estimated 50 percent of the coltan that Rwanda exported for years as its own coming from the Congolese sources. The “Comptoirs of Goma”, which straddle the Rwandan border, orchestrate the flow of both officially declared and smuggled cargos. The UN has documented European and Asian countries purchasing the illicit Coltan and other illicit Congolese minerals. But, Rwanda’s shadowy use of the stolen minerals is far from the greatest contribution of instability in Congo-Kinshasa. Paul Kagame sent soldiers into the refugee camps in the Congo to clear out Hutu fighters, and in the process exported the Rwandan genocide to Eastern Congo. It was also Kagame who led the effort to recruit Laurent-Désiré Kabila to leave exile in Tanzania and lead a rebel alliance that would eventually lead to the fall of Mobuto. Once in power, the senior Kabila would use the dilapidated mining industry to bring in personal incomes of a minimum of $4 million each week for the dual purpose of bolstering his personal finances, as well as fending off his former Rwandan backers, with whom he had cut ties by enlisting Hutu génocidaires to help defend against what he perceived as a Tutsi threat to his rule. This continues today as Joseph Kabila continues to support FDLR troops, comprised of Hutu fighters, to counter the influence Paul Kagame has in the Eastern Congo via the Tutsi-led CNDP.

Opposition and Future Options

Etienne Tshisekedi
Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS)

Etienne Tshisekedi, long an opponent of the Kabila regimes, can perhaps hope to rally the people to his cause, but has been convalescing since mid August in Brussels, and may find himself marginalized in the event of a constitutional coup by Kabilia. In January he stated his intent to return to Kinshassa to participate in the promised dialogue. He called on the Congolese to remain firm in the face of repressive acts of intimidation from various groups loyal to Kabila including government forces, according to many accounts.

In early May of this year, Former Katanga governor Moise Katumbi, announced his intent to oppose Kabila in an upcoming election. Almost simultaneously, he was arrested and indicted for his alleged use of foreign mercenaries. His supporters claim that the charges are merely an attempt to sideline Katumbi in the upcoming elections. His supporters also claim that the constitution is not a temporary compromise between the warring parties of the 1998-2002 war, as many Kabila supporters claim, but that it is rooted in the historical battle between respect for the rule of law and the establishment of dictatorial personal rule.

Moïse Katumbi
Congolese politician and businessman, and former Governor of the Katanga Province.


In Latin America, there is a pertinent phrase: “Esto nos regalaron los Españoles”- this was given to us by the Spanish, that is used to excuse laziness, corruption, and nepotism. This may well be the case, and in the history of Zaire/Congo/DRC, Belgium and King Leopold certainly carry some blame. At some point, however, liberated colonies must take responsibility for their own identity and their own future. Unfortunately for The DRC, and for much of the developing world, there is always a lazy patron waiting in the wings to exploit a country’s resources. Traditionally, Europe and the United States have been to blame. However, more and more, China as well as front companies for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah have been especially willing to fill that role. As long as profits are to be made, patron will continue to find the leader that best serves their interests, and will turn a blind eye to coffer-stuffing and corruption. Often, these patrons will augment the coffers, which go unabated by the public. The future in the DRC, at least immediately, portends a continuation of the status quo. Joseph Kabila’s motives for staying in power seem clear on the surface, but in reality, they may be multifaceted. Surely, as one of the only reasonably effective counterbalances against Paul Kagame’s rapacious theft of the Congo’s wealth, there is a hint of altruism in Kabila’s desire to remain in power. There is also a large possibility that he seeks to stay in power in order to avoid prosecution for the theft of wealth in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Forbes estimates that Joseph Kabila has accumulated over 15 billion in wealth since taking power, compared to a mere 4 billion looted over the course of 32 years by Mobutu. This stuffing of coffers may also have the express purpose of riding out what may be a long and possibly permanent stay in exile, as he is not popular in Western Congo, due in part to his poor grasp of either French or Lingala, as he prefers to use Swahili, the language learned in his youth spent in Tanzania with his father. In the end, the struggle is not really about Katumbi against Kabila, or against any political opponent. It is a question of respecting the rule of law and establishing a precedent that can lead the Congolese state out of the long nightmare that started with the arrival of King Leopold’s colonial agents. Certainly, Kabila is taking advantage of the lack of democracy in the region to justify his stance. Paul Kagame has effectively become president for life in neighboring Rwanda, and international forces have assembled in a collective effort to end the conflict that has arisen from the Kagame-esque efforts of Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza’s effort to remain in power.

Joseph Kabila has rebuffed efforts to be labeled as DRC’s “father of democracy,” a title he feels should be reserved for the country’s first democratically elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, who would later be assassinated by the CIA and Mobutist forces. In reality, Joseph Kabila holds in his hands the power to change the Democratic Republic of The Congo by initiating its first peaceful, democratic transition of power. Whatever the factors that prevent him from catalyzing this change, it would appear that he is, for the time being, committed to remaining in power by delaying elections through an inventive array of institutional and political mechanisms, a practice known colloquially as “slippage” or “glissement,” which refers to administrative measures whose ultimate aim is to postpone the elections.

-John Doe, GreyCell Editorial Staff