Op-Ed: Is the Congolese opposition ready to govern?


    So far, the opposition’s fight has been to replace
    Kabila. When Kabila is gone, which must happen as soon as
    possible, what hope do opposition parties give to Congolese
    that the future will be different? In Africa, generally the
    problem is not only with the ruling parties, it is also with
    the opposition. In many instances, when an opposition party
    takes over power it repeats the mistakes of the previous

    In the DRC, opposition parties and political
    formations lack clear ideologies on which they base their
    actions. It is this lack of strong ideology that allows
    President Kabila to play the opposition against each other and
    to co-opt them at will.

    Nelson Mandala once said: “Any man who changes his
    principles depending on whom he is dealing with, is not a man
    who can lead a nation.” The opposition cannot just want to
    access power for the sake of it, it must demonstrate that it is
    serious and has the capacity to change the DRC

    There are reasons for my considerable doubt. There
    is a strong disposition among Congolese leadership at all
    levels of society to act outside the rule of law or revert to
    undemocratic behaviour—nepotism, corruption, ethnicity. So far,
    there has not been a clear indication that the opposition
    intends to change the picture of a dysfunctional, incompetent,
    corrupt and ineffective state. Equally, the different
    opposition formations have not articulated clearly how they
    intend to stop the crisis of legitimacy.

    Elections alone are not sufficient to restore
    legitimacy in a poverty striking post-conflict and dictatorship
    society. Since its post-colonial attempts in building the
    nation and the state, legitimacy has been low and volatile in
    the DRC. The opposition needs to answer the question, what
    would constitute proper political legitimacy in the emerging
    democratic process in which they are engaged in?

    What are the values and type of leadership that the
    country needs for the emergence of a more stable, peaceful and
    people-centred state? The opposition must answer and reflect on
    these questions.

    Congolese politicians’ predisposition to seek
    political protection and support from outside forces rather
    from the Congolese people have been a hindrance to efforts to
    build a state. External support always comes in exchange for a
    country’s sovereignty.

    Both Mobutu and Kabila Sr took power with strong
    foreign backing. Mobutu and Laurent Kabila exchanged the
    countries’ resources for political power: Mobutu in a coup
    initiated and supported by Western powers with the
    promise that he would protect their control and access to
    mineral resources; Laurent Kabila took power through a war
    engineered by Rwanda and Uganda with the support of the United
    States. Laurent Kabila signed dubious mining contracts with
    companies that provided him with military support as he marched
    to Kinshasa to overthrow Mobutu.

    In 1998, after taking power in Kinshasa, President
    Laurent Kabila’s attempt to renegotiate the mining contracts
    was violently opposed by mining companies. It was one of the
    causes of the second war in 1998 led again by Rwanda and
    Uganda. The control and access to mineral resources are among
    factors that contribute to fuelling instability in the DRC.
    Conflict minerals and bad resource governance are factors that
    hinder peace and democracy in the DRC. How does the opposition
    intend to stop the pillage of the DRC’s mineral

    When Joseph Kabila took power in 2001, there was an
    expectation that he would work to discontinue what journalist
    John Dludlu referred to as an old tradition, begun with Belgian
    rulers of keeping the state weak enough to allow outsiders the
    chance to plunder its minerals. This tradition was followed by
    Mobutu and repeated by the Kampala and Kigali axis that
    propelled his father to power. Joseph Kabila has failed

    Under President Joseph Kabila, the continued and
    sustained application of exemptions facilitated by secret
    mining contract negotiations has deprived the state of
    substantial revenues. Secret and discretionary tax deals have
    been part of the DRC mining tax regime. In addition, some
    mining rights have been sold to friends below the market price,
    which have robbed the country of billions of dollars in

    Under President Kabila’s rule minerals like gold
    and coltan in the east of the country are illegally exploited
    and freely exported through neighbouring countries. Is the
    Congolese opposition, as it seeks power, aware of the
    consequences of relying on external forces to access political
    power in exchange for mineral resources? The question of how
    they intend to manage the country’s abundant and strategic
    mineral resources is critical for the opposition to engage and
    provide policy directions.

    In addition, the opposition has not shown any
    capacity to conceptualise a progressive developmental agenda
    that can respond effectively to the country’s socio-economic,
    security and political challenges. They have not articulated
    clearly how they intend to do things differently from Joseph
    Kabila. Equally, they have not spoken as to how they intend to
    establish a permanent peace in a country that has not known
    peace for the past two decades. How are they going to ensure
    that the super imposition of peace building by external
    interventions is reduced and stopped? How are they going to
    alleviate fear from neighbouring countries of powerful and
    stable DRC? There is no doubt that peace building will have to
    be located within a continuum of state building as an organic

    Congolese people want to hear how the opposition
    once in power would achieve this. Equally important is how the
    opposition will promote social cohesion in a country where
    corruption, regionalism and ethnicity guide decisions and
    actions in government, parastatal and civil society? How does
    it intend to re-establish trust between state and

    The opposition, as it works to push Kabila out of
    power, must also demonstrate that it is prepared, it is
    serious, it is aware of the enormous challenges ahead and it
    has the capacity. It is one thing to have power, it is another
    to manage and use it effectively.

    Claude Kabemba is director of Southern
    Africa Resource Watch.

    Photo: A file photograph showing
    Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo,
    arriving at the Southern Africa Development Community
    extraordinary summit held in Maputo on 8 February 2013. Photo:
    Antonio Silva (EPA)