Kabila determined to end violence

Cheered by thousands of singing, dancing, flag-waving supporters, Kabila was sworn in during a colourful but heavily guarded ceremony in Kinshasa in the gardens of the presidential palace on the banks of the Congo river.

The 35-year-old former guerrilla commander, who became the unelected leader of Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001 after his president father was assassinated, won a five-year mandate through the ballot box in a tense October 29 presidential run-off.

“A new page is opening up before us. I can see the Congo of tomorrow carrying the hopes of a renascent Africa at the dawn of this century with its great challenges,” he said in a speech.

Kabila, who took the oath before members of the Supreme Court to defend the constitution and national unity, vowed to base his rule on “the trilogy of good governance, democracy and respect for human rights”.

This promise was likely to please the international community which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain the world’s biggest United Nations peacekeeping force in Congo and organise the elections.

He also pledged to make fighting corruption a priority in a country where its mineral riches – copper, gold, cobalt, diamonds, uranium and timber – have so far brought more conflict and suffering than development to ordinary Congolese.

Joseph Kabila faces a mammoth task to satisfy popular expectations after years of war, dictatorship and chaos.

Topping his list of challenges will be reuniting a politically divided nation, disarming and re-integrating tens of thousands of gunmen and providing a semblance of social services in a huge country ravaged by conflict, corruption and neglect.

But while hopes for change are high in a strategically located Central African country that is a treasure trove of mineral riches, the problems facing it still seem overwhelming.

“Despite the progress made, this is still unfortunately one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes,” Ross Mountain, deputy head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, told Reuters.

Congo’s war sparked a humanitarian crisis in which more than four million people were killed. Aid workers say 1 200 Congolese still die every day from violence, hunger and disease.

“The international community needs to remain engaged,” Mountain said.

In Brussels, the European Commission urged European Union states to double aid for the DRC in the coming years.

“There is everything is to be done in this country which lacks infrastructure, where ministerial buildings are in a very poor state, where massive investments are needed,” EU spokesperson Amadeu Altafaj said.

Meanwhile, countries suspected of seeking nuclear arms may have exploited lax security in the Democratic Republic of Congo to get their hands on uranium from the giant central African state, diplomatic and intelligence sources say.

During World War Two when it was still a Belgian colony, Congo provided high-quality uranium for the Manhattan Project, the secret US programme that produced the two atomic weapons dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“For quite some time there have been suspicions that Iran has been trying to exploit the chaos in Congo and purchase uranium via middlemen. There is no hard proof but there are indications there may be something to the suspicion,” a European diplomat told Reuters, citing his country’s intelligence.

Several other Western security sources echoed this view.

Tehran says its nuclear programme is aimed solely at producing electricity and has denied getting uranium from Congo.

Raw uranium from Congo would have to be processed and enriched to a very high level of purity in order to be usable in weapons. Iran has its own limited uranium deposits but has made little progress in exploiting them, diplomats said.

One Western diplomat said the United Nations’ Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was planning to send a routine mission to Congo next year to look at the mine and assess the credibility of the allegations that uranium might have left Congo for places like Iran.

“Let’s suppose Iran was running a parallel (secret) uranium enrichment programme. Where would they get the resources? Congo would be an obvious choice,” said one Western diplomat.

“This is why the IAEA is interested,” he added.

When Congo was granted independence in 1960, Belgium sealed the Shinkolobwe mine by filling its shafts with concrete. At the time the mine was shut, Congo supplied 60 percent of the world’s uranium.

IOL/ Reuters/Nampa

December 2006
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