Wednesday, December 06, 2006

President Joseph Kabila is Sworn in as Elected Leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo

DR Congo's president is sworn in

Joseph Kabila has been sworn in as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo in front of excited crowds and heads of state in the capital.

He is DR Congo's first freely elected leader in 40 years having defeated Jean-Pierre Bemba in a tense run-off presidential election in October.

The 35-year-old took power in 2001 after his father was assassinated.

He headed a transitional government during the past three years after a peace deal to end a five-year war.

Thousands of guests were in the garden of State House just near the huge and powerful Congo river.

Many people were shading themselves under umbrellas in the national colours of blue, red and yellow.

Several African leaders are attending the event including South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki and the Angolan leader, Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

But Mr Bemba did not attend the swearing-in ceremony. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is also not attending - despite being a close ally of Joseph Kabila's father, Laurent.

Last month, the Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge by Mr Bemba, who claimed the run-off vote was rigged.

The poll was intended to bring a new era of stability after years of war and its successful conclusion was hailed as a miracle.

About four million people died during the conflict in the east of the country that pitted government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda.


Policemen are parading near the ceremony to cheers from the crowd.

Many Congolese hope the inauguration of Mr Kabila will mark a new beginning for the war-ravaged nation.

But despite a peace deal in 2002 and the formation of a transitional government a year later, the challenges facing President Kabila remain huge.

1998 - 2002
4m dead
Armies from several countries and many rebel groups
2003: Rebels join unity government
East remains unstable
17,000 UN peacekeepers

Violence has continued involving small militia groups in the east who do not accept control from Kinshasa, the capital, which lies some 1,500 km to the west away across vast tracts of forest.

On Tuesday, Ugandan military officials said at least 12,000 people from eastern DR Congo had crossed into the country to flee fighting between the Congolese army and forces loyal to dissident general Laurent Nkunda.

Ugandan officials say the fighting has now stopped near the border and national army is now back in control of the border posts.

Mr Nkunda left the army and launched his own low-level rebellion following the 2002 ceasefire, saying the country's transition to democracy was flawed and excluded the minority Tutsi community.

'Unfounded claims'

Mr Kabila, 35, has been the country's head of state since January 2001, following the assassination of his father.
Kabila: 58.05%
Bemba 41.9%
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the complaints of election fraud filed by Mr Bemba's Movement for the Liberation of Congo party were "unfounded".

It confirmed the provisional results of the Independent Electoral Commission, with Mr Kabila winning 58.05% of the vote compared to Mr Bemba's 41.9%.

US election observer group the Carter Center said there was evidence of vote tampering on both sides. But it said neither candidate benefited significantly over the other.

The results showed a regional divide, with Mr Bemba gaining most votes in the Lingala-speaking west, including Kinshasa, while Mr Kabila won by a landslide in the Swahili-speaking east.

The polls were organised under the terms of a 2002 peace deal that drew in the armies of nine other African countries.

Under the deal, former rebels were supposed to be integrated into the army, but progress has been slow and the three former rebel leaders who are vice-presidents have retained large personal security forces.

The world's biggest peacekeeping force - about 17,000 strong - is in DR Congo to prevent unrest.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/12/06 12:13:06 GMT

Profile: Joseph Kabila

At the tender age of 35, Joseph Kabila is taking on one of the most difficult jobs in the world - running the vast, chaotic, war-shattered country that is the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He has already been doing the job for almost six years on an interim basis after inheriting the post following the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila.

But after winning DR Congo's first democratic elections in more than 40 years, he now has the legitimacy to stamp his authority on the country and move out of his father's shadow.

When he was named as president at the height of a messy conflict involving numerous rebel groups and foreign armies, many observers thought he would not last long.

But he has managed to steer the country through the end of the conflict and also the potential hazards of the elections, which many feared could reignite the war.

Mr Kabila cannot take sole credit for these achievements - intense diplomatic pressure on him and leaders of the other armed factions also played a key role, backed up by the world's largest peacekeeping force.

But in eastern DR Congo, which bore the brunt of the fighting and where Mr Kabila won by a landside, the first reason many people gave for backing him was: "Kabila has brought peace to Congo".


In the west, however, he has a long way to gain the confidence of the population.

There, many people see Mr Kabila as a foreigner, working for foreign interests and they voted for former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, who played the nationalist card during the campaign to good effect.

The BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in Kinshasa says that Mr Kabila was born in the Hewa Bora rebel camp in the mountain forests of eastern DR Congo, where his father was based as he led the struggle against former strongman Mobutu Sese Seko.

In order to avoid the attentions of Mobutu's intelligence service, he was sent over the border to Tanzania, where he grew up, pretending to be a member of Tanzania's Fipa ethnic group, our reporter says.

As a result, he speaks English better than DR Congo's official language, French and he speaks East Africa's lingua franca, Swahili, better than the Lingala spoken in western DR Congo.

Some say Mr Kabila's mother was Rwandan - an inflammatory accusation in DR Congo, which has twice been invaded by Rwanda in the past decade.

He denies this and uses his father's nationwide popularity to burnish his Congolese credentials.


Before election campaigning began, Mr Kabila had only given two news conferences in Kinshasa and has made very few speeches, despite being president for more than five years.

"Kabila is not shy, he is reserved. This is part of his Swahili cultural background," explains his personal secretary, Kikaya Bin Karubi.

This reservation is in sharp contrast to the usual Congolese effusiveness.

Mr Bin Karubi adds that if Mr Kabila is not well known to the Congolese, it is mainly because he spends all week working hard in the office and some of his weekends cropping and doing motocross on his farm, Kingakati, on the outskirts of the capital.

Just before the elections, Mr Kabila opened the door to his private life a little, by marrying his long-time girlfriend Olive Lembe di Sita.

The couple have a daughter, born in 2001, named Sifa after Mr Kabila's mother.

Military man

His schoolmates at the Zanaji secondary school in Dar es Salaam nicknamed him "War bus" because of his enjoyment of war films and martial arts.

Still, they were all surprised when they saw the first pictures of him and his father fighting a real war, which ended when they seized power in DR Congo (then Zaire) and overthrew Mobutu in May 1997.

"We didn't even know he was Congolese," recalls one of them, who did not want to be named.

With his father installed as DR Congo's leader, Joseph Kabila was sent to China for military training and became army chief of staff before inheriting the presidency.

His experience as a general in the Congolese army helps him to keep direct control over a 7,000-strong army unit known as the Republican Guard, which allegedly includes a few Zimbabwean commanders.

The ground beneath DR Congo is fantastically rich and to retain support Mr Kabila needs to ensure that this wealth is also enjoyed by those living in its cities, towns and villages.


DR Congo holds more than half of the world's cobalt, 30% of all diamonds, 70% of coltan - a vital ingredient in mobile phones - as well as huge deposits of gold, copper and various other minerals.

Mr Kabila's detractors say he has sold off the rights to exploit some of these minerals too cheaply, to western and South African companies, in return for the political support of those countries.

His allies deny those claims and point to the economic boom being enjoyed in the mining capital, Lubumbashi, part of Swahili-speaking DR Congo, which backed Mr Kabila.

DR Congo's war led to shady business deals, but Mr Kabila has not been directly implicated in any.

The same cannot be said of "the Kabila boys", his close circle of advisors.

One of them, Katumba Mwanke, a minister at the presidency, was forced to resign because of accusations in a 2002 United Nations report that he was profiteering from the war through deals made with Zimbabwean officials.

Yet, he remains close to the centre of power, acting as one of Mr Kabila's top advisors.

If he is to gain support in the hostile west and maintain his backing in the east, Mr Kabila must ensure that he tackles DR Congo's twin vices of corruption and poverty.

But in a country two-thirds the size of western Europe with just 300 miles of paved roads and where the state all but disintegrated under Mobutu and during the war, one of the hardest things will be deciding where to start.

To achieve anything, he must first ensure that his biggest achievement to date - peace - is maintained.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/12/06 09:25:29 GMT

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