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vonDominic Johnson 03.02.2015

Kongo-Echo

Überraschendes und Unterschwelliges aus dem Herzen Afrikas – von taz-Afrikaredakteur Dominic Johnson.

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Political scientist Théodore Trefon has made a name for himself with his research on Kinshasa’s informal economy and society and the effects of international aid in so-called „post-conflict“ DRC. Here he talks to TAZ’s Francois Misser on the „Telema“ protests of Jan 19-22 against a possible postponement of the 2016 elections. After the riots which forced the DRC parliament to withdraw a paragraph in the new electoral law that would postpone the presidential and legislative elections until after a national census which might take several years, some Congolese opposition politicians claimed victory over President Kabila. But Professor Theodore Trefon, political scientist from the Royal Museum of Central Africa, African Museum in Belgium and author of the book “Congo masquerade” published by Zed books in London in 2011, disagrees. An abbreviated German version of this interview appears in TAZ on 4 February 2015.
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Kabila did not manage to obtain a licence for the postponement of the presidential election from the parliament. The opposition calls this a victory. Do you agree ?
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I think that if you want to call it a victory, it is an extremely small victory because President Kabila is not about to walk away from power. He is testing the waters now with the use of the democratic institutions that exist theoretically in the country. But he still has two years before the elections, and he will have many different techniques at his availability to stall. The electoral calendar has not been defined by the CENI (National Independent Electoral Commission). The Senate is not legitimate. That an antiquated senate that dates from the 2006-2007 elections. We are talking about weak institutions. The Western notion of democratic institutions is something that does not make much sense in the very Democratic Republic of Congo, because these institutions can be very easily manipulated. During these past few days, the institutions did take some action. But they do not have the same type of power as a dictator has. We are talking about institutions that have very little comparative advantages against the brute force and the money that Kabila has.
Kabila has become very rich in part because of the way of the World Bank strategy of privatising the state-owned mining companies took place. Kabila has friends like Dan Gertler who owns the Fleurette Group who is very close to Kabila. When you look at the report of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, there are companies that are listed, have mining activities but we do not know who owns them. And there is a lot of speculation that Kabila and his friends are the main shareholders in these very juicy companies. So, Kabila has the money, and he has the power of political repression, at his availability. He is in control of the Republican Guard which is trained by international partners and is accused to have killed 42 people during the last demonstrations. Kabila has the power to shut down internet and SMS transmissions. That is something that not only did he do just now after this series of events in Kinshasa but also at the time of the results of the presidential election in 2011, fearing some type of Arab spring in Congo.
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This time, internet and SMS transmissions were shut down from the beginning of the demonstrations. Nevertheless, the demonstrations lasted four days and stopped only because the Senate voted a text that took in consideration these protests. It can be considered as a defeat for Kabila!
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I would say, he is testing the waters. He could have continued with the repression if he wanted to. I think he wanted to placate the Senate and the National Assembly. This is more a tactical retreat than a defeat. But his strategy remains intact. You know the Congolese expression “reculer pour pouvoir mieux sauter”.
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In a recent interview with Radio France Internationale, you said that Mister Kabila would be more likely to be assassinated than leave power voluntarily. Why did you say that?
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Certainly I do not advocate that solution. It seems to me more likely that Joseph Kabila will be assassinated or ousted by a coup than walk away from power voluntarily. I do not recommend it obviously. That would be a tragedy for the Congolese people. However, when you look at the determination that President Kabila has demonstrated in holding on to power at all costs, it seems to me extremely unlikely that he will relinquish power voluntarily. We also have unfortunate circumstances in Congo, where assassination is a mean of political transition. The first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated by Belgians with American complicity. Laurent Désiré Kabila, Joseph Kabila’s father was assassinated probably with Angolan complicity. There have been also attempts on Joseph Kabila’s life several years ago emanating from Brazzaville. It seems to me that the power networks in Congo are so machiavelic and so complex that you don’t walk away from fortune and power. And who’s in control ? Is this something that Joseph Kabila can decide by himself ? Probably not ! He is controlled by powerful networks. Up till recently, he’s been controlled by Katangese networks. Now, there is major shift in Congolese politics in the past few months. Because it seems that Kabila is loosing the support of the Katangese.
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What are these networks beside the Katangese?
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I would say that certainly the Katangese networks are very important. But there are a lot of divisions among the Congolese security forces and the army that have vested interests in maintaining themselves in power. The military are very present in the illegal exploitation of minerals in eastern Congo for example, this is a network. You have other networks that seem to have gone recently underground but are likely to emerge and I am thinking of Jean-Pierre Bemba (The leader of the Movement of liberation of Congo). He is likely to be released from prison in The Hague and could re-emerge in Congolese politics.
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But Bemba is not Kabila’s friend!
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He’s not. On the contrary! He was at one point a very serious rival to Kabila. After the 2006 elections, there were these clashes in Kinshasa between Bemba’s militia and Kabila’s Republican Guard.
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But during the recent events, there has been unity on the opposition side. You don’t seem to take that into consideration, as a factor of change!
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I would say it’s cosmetic for the moment. I cannot see that any of the major political figures would endorse any of the others at present. That seems to me unlikely. I don’t think that Vital Kamerhe (the head of the Union de la nation congolaise, one of the main opposition parties) is going to endorse Bemba. I don’t think Bemba is going to endorse Kamerhe. Forget about Tshisekedi ! (The most popular opposition figure according to the results of the 2011 elections) Now, going back to the networks there is something we cannot underestimate like the Angolans, the South Africans, the Rwandans, the Ugandans. Kabila’s political destiny does not only depend on the Congolese political situation but also on his relations with these neighbours who are not always in very good terms with him. There are major disputes between Kabila and Dos Santos about oil exploitation for example. There are major problems between Kabila and Uganda. South Africa is playing a very dubious role we don’t really understand what their objectives are. There is their participation in the International Brigade. Why were they supportive of that ? Probably, because they were interested in bringing about some kind of peace in the East because it is good for business. Same with Tanzania. So, Kabila’s survival does not only depend on Congolese politics but on regional politics.
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What do you make of the fact that despite of UDPS’s low profile, we had riots in several cities across the country but also in many neighbourhoods of Kinshasa. Students were involved in the protests. Isn’t it something new developing there ? New networks or civil society movements?
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That is something to track. But I don’t have too much faith in the students’ movements because after interviews were conducted with the students that were demonstrating, many reports indicate that they didn’t even know why they were demonstrating and it also turned into pillaging. For example, (the popular singer) Kofi Olomide’s house was looted during these past few days as well. You can get people to the streets perhaps but transforming this type of spontaneous mobilisation into a political message with a political programme, this seems to be something else.
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Do you mean that there were opportunists who took advantage of the situation to loot someone else’s property?
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Or to demonstrate against Kabila. That’s true. The Kinois don’t like Kabila. They never liked him. Of course, there are opportunists that joined the Kabila bandwagon but Kinshasa doesn’t like Kabila. So, the fact that people could demonstrate for a few days is interesting to track but is this going to turn into a sustained movement with a political objective, with a leadership that can capitalize on this. At this stage, it does not seem to make any sense because were are talking about elections two years from now.
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But that is not so far off! If this opposition lacks structures, it is difficult to build up a rational force. Would you agree with Mgr Monsengwo who was complaining that there were not enough vertebrates in Congolese politics?
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There weren’t people with sufficient backbone, to take risks and to speak out. I fully agree with this. There is no real long term political vision. I don’t know any parties that do. This all has to do with the nature of the economy. Power comes from extraction of natural resources. It does not come from services or business or trade. It comes from what you mine from the country’s subsoil. And so this influences how politicians behave.
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People both inside the DRC and outside say that the international community should intervene to put back the democratic process on track.
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Congo’s Western partners have very little to say about how he should carry on. Kabila doesn’t need Belgium or the US or the World Bank. He has the resources that the world needs and he has other partners who are China, South Africa, India, South- Korea. He has other partners that would be willing to invest and provide support if need be. So, the voice of the like-minded Western democracy doesn’t seem to have much of a place on the very cut-throat political landscape of the DRC.

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https://blogs.taz.de/kongo-echo/2015/02/03/theodore-trefon-on-the-telema-protests/

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