President Jacob Zuma arriving at DRC State House in Kinshasa to attend the Bi-National Commission. Democratic Republic of Congo.16/10/2015. Siyabulela Duda
President Jacob Zuma arriving at DRC State House in Kinshasa to attend the Bi-National Commission. Democratic Republic of Congo.16/10/2015. Siyabulela Duda

Zuma in bid to sway Kabila

By Shannon Ebrahim, Group Foreign Editor Time of article published Oct 18, 2015

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Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma, accompanied by nine ministers, held bilateral talks with Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila on Friday amid the worst political turmoil in the country since Kabila took office in 2006.

Given the strong economic and political relations between the two countries it was an opportunity for Zuma to prevail upon Kabila not to pursue a third term in office, which is prohibited under the country’s constitution.

South Africa invested immense political and financial capital in ensuring a smooth transition to democracy following the 2002 Inter-Congolese Dialogue in Sun City, and played a key role in assisting with the holding of the 2006 democratic elections – the first to be held in the DRC after four decades.

More recently, South Africa has directly invested in the stability of the DRC by sending its soldiers to neutralise the M23 rebels which wreaked havoc in the east of the country. The defeat of the M23 rebellion, and the advent of democracy in the DRC, will be counted among Kabila’s legacies.

In terms of South Africa’s own national interests, it has enjoyed a burgeoning trade relationship with Africa’s largest state, providing 20 percent of the DRC’s imports, which amounted to R13 billion in 2014. South Africa has also co-operated with the DRC on security sector reform, infrastructure development, capacity and institution building, humanitarian and social affairs.

But South Africa’s vested economic interests in the DRC will be threatened if the country’s political stability unravels, making the coming year leading up to the November 2016 elections a critical period.

There have been noises that Kabila plans to call for a national referendum on whether there should be a constitutional amendment to allow him to stay in power for another term.

The political opposition in the country is adamant that they do not want Kabila’s mandate extended, and in September seven key politicians leading key parties in the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD) coalition were expelled after publicly urging Kabila to respect the constitution.

Notable was the resignation from the ruling party of Moïse Katumbi, who not only left the PPRD, but stepped down as governor of the mineral-rich Katanga. His condemnation of the government’s efforts to change the constitution has revealed deep fractures in the DRC’s political landscape.

The DRC ranks at the bottom of most indicators of socio-economic development, and according to the UN Development Index, the DRC scored the same value in 2013 as it did in 1980 when Mobutu Sese Seko was in power. Kabila’s PPRD has done little to improve the living conditions of the Congolese people, with only 9 percent of the country’s 70 million people having access to electricity, and only 27 percent having access to potable water.

This was Zuma’s chance to convince a fellow leader to allow democracy to take its course.

Foreign Bureau

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