ANGOLA-CONGOLESE President Joseph Kabila flew into the Angolan capital Luanda this week hoping to convince a summit of regional leaders to back his decision to prolong his stay in power until at least April 2018.
Kabila has told his country of 67.5 million people that he intends to stay past the expiry of his final term this December in order to facilitate a voter registration exercise in preparation for the next elections.
The DRC has been rocked by protests leading to the death of dozens of people. Opposition groups say Kabila’s plan is to stay in power beyond the two-term limit imposed by the constitution.
When the DRC’s eastern neighbours took advantage of an outbreak of political turmoil there to invade in 1998, President Laurent Kabila turned to regional powerhouse Angola for help.
Angola’s jets pounded Rwandan and Ugandan positions inside the DRC and its troops patrolled the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, fearing the installation of a hostile government sympathetic to its own separatists.
That history is why, Joseph, the son, headed to Luanda in search of a helping hand.
Kabila made his pitch at the Talatona Convention Centre on Wednesday where regional power, Angola, is seeking a solution to the fast developing crisis.
It was the 7th Meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism for Peace, Security and Cooperation Agreement in his country and in the Great Lakes region.
African Union chairman and Chad President Idriss Déby, Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, the special envoy of the UN Secretary General for the Great Lakes region, Said Djinith, the first vice President of Burundi, Gaston Sindimwo and the facilitator of the AU for Policy Dialogue in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Edem Kodjo, were among those attending the crisis summit.
The meeting was an Angolan initiative, which chairs the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), in cooperation with the AU, SADC – which sent foreign ministers – and UN.
The ICGLR groups Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia.
Analysts say this time Kabila cannot count on unalloyed support from Angola and other allies, especially if its leaders start to see him as the problem, rather than the solution to difficulties in the central African giant. But they would also be reluctant to force his abrupt exit, which could leave a power vacuum and plunge the DRC into war.
“Angola prefers a Congo that is weak but stable,” said Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University.
“If the country becomes seriously unstable, Angola might begin to make its criticism of Kabila more public.”
The goal of Kabila’s trip to Luanda was to win support for a deal under which a power-sharing government is to be named leading to elections in 2018, his top diplomatic adviser, Barnabe Kikaya bin Karubi, said.
The main opposition bloc has denounced Kabila’s accord with small opposition groups as a pretext to allow him to cling to power and manoeuvre to change the constitution – charges the government denies.
The government hopes regional recognition of the accord can help stem growing pressure from the United States and Europe on Kabila to stand down.
Even with that vote of confidence, further turmoil would damage Kabila’s image as a guarantor of stability, one diplomat said. The United Nations fears large-scale violence could become “all but inevitable”.
With direct Rwandan or Ugandan intervention in Congo now considered unlikely, Angola’s main fear is an influx of refugees across its 2,600km border if the political situation gets out of hand.
Millions died in the 1998-2003 war that sucked in more than a half-dozen armies, including Zimbabwe and Namibia, which backed Laurent Kabila and then Joseph after his father’s murder in 2001.
Since then, a series of foreign-backed insurrections has caused havoc in the east but without threatening Kabila’s overall authority.
Kikaya said Kinshasa was not worried about weakening support from its allies but recent visits to Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania suggest Kabila is working hard to shore up regional support.
“He still sees regional alliances as essential in his strategy to extend his time in office – but also possibly to secure personal guarantees in case he is forced out of power,” said Vincent Rouget, Congo analyst at Control Risks.
Economic factors could also complicate Kabila’s strategy. Relations between the DRC and Angola have soured since 2013 due to a dispute over access to offshore oil concessions.
Likewise, South Africa could conclude that Kabila is no longer the best bet to protect its substantial economic interests in Congo. South African President Jacob Zuma was in Luanda this week for meetings with President Eduardo dos Santos, and the situation in the DRC would have featured prominently. – Staff Reporter/Reuters