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The BBC's Arnaud Zaitman reports
"If there is a vacuum of power, the rebels could move down to Kinshasa"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 17 January, 2001, 13:04 GMT
Why Congo matters
River COngo
The Congo river runs through the heart of this huge country
By BBC News Online's Russell Smith

After the shooting of President Laurent Kabila, diplomatic efforts will be focusing on trying to stop the uncertainty in Kinshasa from spreading instability across an entire region.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, is about the size of Western Europe, stretching from the volatile Great Lakes region in the East right across to West Africa.

The country is in a precarious state after decades of rampant corruption, neglect and fighting.

Since 1998 the country has been wracked by civil war, which has drawn in a string of other African countries and entangled many more in a web of regional rivalry and vested interests.

Attempts to resolve the conflict by diplomats and political leaders have been numerous, but so far fruitless.

What happens in Kinshasa therefore matters to the whole continent.

'Africa's World War'

Rwanda and Uganda justify their presence in DR Congo in support of anti-government forces with the fact that the country was being used as a base for attacks on their own countries by exiled rebels.

Pitted against them, Zimbabwean, Namibian and Angolan forces have been propping up President Kabila's ramshackle troops. The leaders in those countries justify their involvement by voicing fears of instability, and some are seeking to profit from lucrative mineral concessions.

President Laurent Kabila
Kabila: Reportedly shot by security guards
Other neighbours such as Zambia, Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic have had to take in refugees fleeing the fighting.

The rebel groups control approximately half the country, and despite a ceasefire agreement involving all parties, fighting has continued in what has come to be called by some "Africa's World War".

When an ailing President Mobutu Sese Seko was overthrown in 1997, hopes were high that the newly installed president could improve people's lives.

But Mr Kabila managed to squander much of the goodwill he had with his dictatorial style and, after falling out with Uganda and Rwanda, the rebellion tipped the country into further chaos.

He also made enemies closer to home. Despite changing Zaire's name to Democratic Republic of Congo he showed little interest in democracy.

Regional fears

The fear now will be that a power vacuum in Kinshasa could lead to a prolonged period of chaos, inflaming internal divisions and regional divisions.

Western countries will be urging all sides to abide by the Lusaka peace agreement they signed 18 months ago.

The United Nations has already agreed that a peacekeeping force of some 5,500 members will be deployed once the fighting stops.

President Kabila was blamed by many for putting obstacles in the way of their deployment.

There will be optimism in some quarters that a change of leadership could help DR Congo break out of its current deadlock.

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