DRC: What is Joseph Kabila’s legacy after 18 years in power?
As the country heads to the much-delayed election, questions over the 47-year-old leader’s long rule cast a shadow.
Kinshasa, DRC – Not long after the Democratic Republic of the Congo‘s (DRC) electoral commission announced that elections scheduled for December 23 had been delayed by a week, a group of unemployed men outside a restaurant in capital Kinshasa had a look of disappointment etched across their faces.
“All we want to do is vote and decide our future. We want to choose someone who can improve our situation, but it seems the electoral commission is doing everything to keep the president in power,” Kambayi Ibrahim, a 35-year-old father of three, told Al Jazeera.
Last week, while extending the already-delayed elections, the electoral commission said it had no choice since the ballot materials were destroyed in a fire in its warehouse in the capital, Kinshasa.
But opposition supporters criticised the delay, saying it was a ploy to keep President Joseph Kabila in power.
Sitting next to Ibrahim was Jonas Mutala.
“Twice I voted for President Kabila. But you can see it was a big mistake. I regret voting for him,” said 59-year-old Mutala, the anger palpable in his deep voice.
Kabila has ruled the vast, mineral-rich country for nearly 18 years. The 47-year-old is the country’s second-longest serving president who took power after the assassination of his father by one of his bodyguards in 2001.
Kabila’s second and final term in the office ended two years ago, but he continued using a clause in the DRC’s constitution that allowed his government to remain as a caretaker.
He is not competing in the December 30 election. But what sort of legacy is he leaving behind in the DRC?
Security a concern
Kabila was the number two man in a weak and poorly-trained army when he came to power. The DRC – sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country five times the size of France – was trying to put down a rebellion that involved 25 armed groups and armies from at least eight African countries.
The bloody conflict, billed as “Africa’s World War” which started in 1998 and formally ended in 2003, left more than two million dead and millions of others displaced.
In a peace agreement signed in South Africa, Kabila decided to share power with the main leaders of the armed opposition groups leading to most fighters putting down their weapons.
Kabila’s supporters say he has improved the security situation in much of the country.
“When President Kabila came to power, our country was divided into four. There was a huge number of armed groups. Today, there is conflict only in one territory,” Jean Pierre Kambila Kakwende, the deputy chief of staff, told Al Jazeera.
“Nobody can question Kabila’s work in terms of security. It will be seriously unfair. The country did not exist. Now, it does,” Kakwende said.
But ongoing conflicts in parts of the country like North Kivu, Ituri and Kasai provinces have uprooted hundreds of thousands.
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, the conflict displaced 1.7 million people in 2018.
An average of 5,500 people fled their homes every day in the country this year, according to a report released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
Economy, poverty, corruption
DR Congo is one of the poorest countries on the African continent. At least 63 percent of the country’s more than 80 million people live on less than two dollars a day, according to the United Nations.
Rights groups and Kabila’s opponents accuse the president of squandering the wealth of the mineral-rich country.
According to a report by the Congo Research Group (CRG) at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, Kabila’s family either partially or wholly owns more than 80 companies and businesses in the DRC and abroad.
The report claims Jaynet Kabila, the president’s sister and a member of parliament, owns a stake in Vodacom, the country’s largest mobile phone network.
Kabila’s brother Zoé, who is also a lawmaker, owns companies that have been contracted to work on some of the world’s most lucrative mineral deposits.
Last year, Global Witness, an anti-corruption charity, said “as little as six percent” of DR Congo’s annual mining exports reach the national budget.
DR Congo is Africa’s biggest copper producer and is home to more than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt. The two minerals account for 80 percent of the country’s export revenue, according to the World Bank.
Mining revenue of more than $1.3bn, double the government’s annual budget for the health and education ministry, went missing between 2013 and 2015 before it reached the country’s treasury, according to Global Witness.
Transparency International ranked the country 161 out of 180 in its 2017 corruption perceptions index.
But Kinshasa denies the corruption claims, saying it is a ploy to force the country to hand over its sovereignty and wealth to foreign powers.
“Congolese people are not stupid to not be able to understand what is going on. The fight in the Congo is between freedom and those who want to keep us in poverty so that we are not able to control our economy and wealth,” Kakwende said.
Al Kitenge, a political strategist based in Kinshasa, said corruption is endemic but it is not only the government’s job to fight it.
“Less than five percent of the working force pays taxes. And many of those don’t pay the right amount. It is a crisis. Corruption can be fixed by the people, who need to be the guardian of their resources. Unfortunately, people have been passive on that front,” he said.
The government also points to the growth the DRC’s economy has recorded since Kabila came to power.
According to the Africa Development Bank, Congo’s economy averaged 7.7 percent growth between 2010 and 2015.
Crisis with education
Under Kabila’s rule, many young people find education to be a luxury they can’t afford with education not being free.
At least 3.5 million children of primary school age did not go to any school, according to the USAID, which found that 44 percent of those who attend started late.
DR Congo has a primary and secondary school enrollment rate of 54 percent and a literacy rate of 66.8 percent (those aged 15 and over who can read and write), according to the United Nations.
To tackle the crisis – a result of both the years of conflict and underfunding in the education sector – the Congolese government extended more resources to the ministry.
In 2012, the education ministry received 7.9 percent of the country’s budget for education. That jumped to 14.7 percent in 2015.
‘Not a democracy’
Critics of Kabila accuse him of leading a repressive regime that silenced the dissenters. The government routinely blocks access to the internet during street protests.
The DRC election was repeatedly delayed in the last two years, leading to deadly clashes between opposition supporters and the security forces.
“Under Kabila, Congo has become the world capital of violence. He steals elections to remain in power. He arrests and beats opponents. That is not democracy.” Martin Fayulu of the opposition coalition, Lamuka, told Al Jazeera.
Kabila’s supporters, however, disagree, pointing to the fact that he is after all stepping down after serving two terms in office.
But Jonas Mutala says he has had enough of Kabila.
“It is time for him and his people to go and leave us alone. Eighteen years are enough. We need to move on and give others a chance,” he said.