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Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 18:16 GMT
Civil war: Joseph Kabila's inheritance
Joseph Kabila on Congolese television
Joseph Kabila: Few expect him to stay in power
By Allan Little in Kinshasa

When Joseph Kabila is inaugurated as Congo's president this week, he will inherit one of the most intractable problems confronting the continent of Africa - a civil war in his own country that has drawn in at least six neighbouring states, and which is plunging all of central Africa into a downward spiral of violent disintegration and deepening poverty.

His father, Laurent Kabila, came to power in June 1997, as the leader of an armed rebellion that swept away the country's ageing military ruler, Mobutu Sese Seko.

When Laurent Kabila entered the capital Kinshasa to be inaugurated as president it heralded a brief, euphoric period of hope that Congo might at last lift itself out of the corruption and kleptocracy of its post colonial experience.

Cost of war

President Kabila also represented hope that years of instability and conflict in central Africa might at last be ending. Mobutu had fomented conflicts in Uganda, Rwanda, and Angola.

Laurent Kabila's rebellion had been backed by all three.

But he broke with Uganda and Rwanda in 1998. They, in turn, backed a new anti-Kabila rebel movement in the east.

He called on his allies - Zimbabwe, Nambia and Angola - and they sent thousands of troops to Congo to shore up the vulnerable Kabila regime.

In turn, Uganda and Rwanda sent troops into the east of the country.

The cost of fighting Congo's civil war has had a devastating effect on the economy of the entire region.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe: Congo's war is costing Zimbabwe dear
Many of President Mugabe's woes in Zimbabwe can be traced directly to his involvement here.

Zimbabwe spends an estimated $US2m a day on its deployment here.

That is money that Zimbabwe has never allowed for in its annual budgets.

The result is a massive fiscal deficit, growing government spending, rocketing interest rates, spiralling inflation, unemployment and food and fuel shortages.

It is the root of the political crisis that is threatening to end Robert Mugabe's 21-year hold on power.

Congo now has a civil war in which most of the fighting is carried out - and certainly commanded - by foreign forces on Congolese soil.

At the same time, Laurent Kabila's popularity among his own people plummeted. He had promised the introduction of democracy.

Blaming the renewed civil war, he failed to implement a detailed timetable for the introduction of a new democratic constitution leading to free and fair elections.

Laurent Kabila
Laurent Kabila had promised democracy
Lacking a power base at home, he came to depend on the troops of his foreign allies not only to defend himself against his military foes in the east - but to keep him in power and protect his regime from growing opposition at home.

This is Joseph Kabila 's tragic, impossible inheritance. Few in Congo expect him to stay in power long.

The burning question - as yet unanswered - is this: where does real power in Congo now reside? Who is really running Congo now?

And is there a power struggle, behind the scenes, for the real succession?

On the answer to these questions hangs the fate not only of Congo but of much of Africa.

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See also:

19 Jan 01 | Africa
Mugabe attends Kabila memorial
17 Jan 01 | Africa
Belgium prepares Congo evacuation
18 Jan 01 | Africa
Summit silent for Kabila
22 Jan 01 | Africa
Massacres in eastern Congo
23 Jan 01 | Africa
Kabila's last interview
24 Jan 01 | Africa
Congo focuses on new leader
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