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article imageHigh stakes for friends and foes as DRC heads to polls

By Fran├žois AUSSEILL (AFP)     Dec 18, 2018 in World

From the countries who share the Democratic Republic of Congo's vast border -- some of which stirred its devastating conflicts -- to international powers invested in peace efforts, the impact of upcoming elections looks set to reverberate far and wide.

Here are some of the implications of the DR Congo's crucial December 23 vote to replace President Joseph Kabila, for nations in the intertwined region and the international community working in the resource-rich country.

- Ashes from a regional fire -

It has been over a decade since Kinshasa's neighbours fought Africa's "Great War" on its soil, but from across its borders they still jealously guard their interests in the troubled nation.

In the years since the conflict ended and Rwanda pulled troops out of the country  the DRC has maint...
In the years since the conflict ended and Rwanda pulled troops out of the country, the DRC has maintained complex ties with its neighbours
PEDRO UGARTE, AFP/File

The current regime in the DRC is the direct result of its neighbours' interventions in two conflicts between 1996 and 2003 that drew in troops from up to seven African countries and left millions dead.

The regional fire was lit by the 1994 Rwandan genocide, as some two million mostly Hutu refugees including those who led the massacres, flooded into eastern Congo.

Rebels used their camps as a new base from which to stage attacks in Rwanda, prompting Kigali to invade the DRC.

Rwanda also, with the help of Uganda, backed a Congolese rebellion which led to the overthrow of strongman Mobutu Sese Seko and saw Laurent-Desire Kabila become president in 1997.

Barely a year later a second conflict began.

Kabila turned his back on his Rwandan and Ugandan allies who then invaded the country again and fought Congolese troops backed by troops from Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Chad. Burundi also carried out limited operations, while Libya and Sudan offered support to Kinshasa.

The United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is one of...
The United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is one of the world's biggest peacekeeping missions
JOHN WESSELS, AFP/File

Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and his son Joseph Kabila became president.

In the years since, the DRC has maintained complex ties with its neighbours, marked by mistrust and the plundering of its considerable natural resources.

"The development of mineral riches, controlled by powerful Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan interests, is growing and thriving" in the restive east of the country, said Andre Guichaoua, a professor at the Paris-Sorbonne university.

- 'Co-managed destabilisation' -

While the resource extraction continues, those involved have increasingly begun to work side by side.

Mining is the source of most of the country's exports
Mining is the source of most of the country's exports
LIONEL HEALING, AFP/File

"Over the course of time, in the eastern Congo, the different networks plundering resources who were rivals, realised that they could all get along without fighting to the death," said Thierry Vircoulon, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

He said the disappearance of clearly "Rwanda-backed" rebel groups believed to have been deployed to protect these mineral interests -- such as CNDP in the 2000s or M23 in the early 2010s -- is evidence of this cohabitation.

Guichaoua described the situation in the east as a "co-managed destabilisation".

- Gold, diamonds and oil -

In its June 2018 report, the UN Security Council's group of experts on the DRC said that "a large part of the gold sold by Uganda and Rwanda was illegally extracted from neighbouring countries, including the DRC".

In Angola, the government of President Joao Lourenco has pushed for the holding of elections, and for Kabila not to be a candidate.

Luanda is keen protect its offshore oil interests -- which Kinshasa argues are in its waters -- and resume control of diamond mining in the north.

Some 400,000 Congolese miners were recently expelled or fled Angola after a massive operation against diamond smuggling.

- Firming friendships -

Further to the south, Burundi and Tanzania have better relations with Kinshasa, based on similar ideological views and other common interests.

The country will vote this month to replace President Joseph Kabila  after 17 years in power
The country will vote this month to replace President Joseph Kabila, after 17 years in power
JOHN WESSELS, AFP/File

Kinshasa and Bujumbura signed a cooperation deal to fight the Burundian opposition which sought refuge in South-Kivu after a political crisis broke out in the country in 2015.

And in Tanzania, where the Kabila clan lived in exile before taking power and still has financial interests, President John Magufuli's African nationalist views echo those of his counterpart in Kinshasa.

- International community snubbed -

The United Nations has been present in DRC for 20 years, and its MONUSCO peacekeeping force is one of the biggest in the world.

However in the name of "national sovereignty" Kinshasa has refused any logistical or financial assistance from the international community, as well as the presence of any western observers.

Kinshasa has even refused the assistance of MONUSCO aviation in transporting electoral material across the country of 2.3 million square kilometres (890,000 square miles), which has only 3,400 kilometres of paved roads.

"We are not a country of beggars," said President Joseph Kabila.

Only 200 African observers are being allowed to observe voting in 80,000 polling stations available to the 40 million registered voters.

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