The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is heart-breaking. A country nearly the size of the European Union, 67 million inhabitants, 80 million hectares of arable land, and over 1,100 minerals and precious metals, the DRC has the potential to become stunningly prosperous, and to lead Africa's growth. According to the World Bank Group's data, DRC is one of Africa's fastest growing economies with a growth rate of 8.5 per cent in 2013, compared to only 2.8 per cent in 2009.
DRC tripled its GDP in ten years from USD10 billion in 2003 to USD32 billion by 2013 while per capita increased from USD175 to USD484. Cumulative foreign direct investment in the same period amounted to USD14.8 billion. These achievements would ordinarily be modest but for a country that has suffered so much, these improvements represent a hopeful sign of upward mobility.
That is not all. Last year, DRC successfully negotiated a USD73 million grant from the World Bank Group to begin preparations for developing Inga-3 hydropower project. Together with USD33.4 million from the African Development Bank approved in 2013, these resources are enabling DRC to lay the ground work for developing its hydropower potential.
When completed, Grand Inga would produce 44,000 megawatts, dwarfing even China's Three Gorges Dam, currently the world's largest hydropower plant. It is estimated that Grand Inga will provide more than 500 million people with renewable energy. And with installed power of this scale, DRC would not only satisfy its own electricity needs, but also its region and across Africa.
Enter DRC's history and political baggage of external interference, autocracy, corruption and economic mismanagement which combined to make the country a living hell for Congolese people in colonial and post-independence periods. There is perhaps no better testimony of indescribable atrocities committed in contemporary DRC than the 2010 U.N. Mapping Report, a 550-page document that details horrific violations of human rights by foreign and domestic state and non-state actors between 1993-2003. The worst offender was Rwanda whose two invasions and associated horror, according to the Mapping Report, amounted to "crimes against humanity, war crimes, or even genocide."
The initial invasion from 1996 to 1997 replaced the decades-long dictator, Mobutu Sésé Seko with the rebel leader Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide, whose leading perpetrators had fled to DRC, proved to be the decisive factor that spurred internal and external actors to align against the corrupt and inept Mobutu dictatorship. The reign of the kleptocratic Mobutu had lasted 32 years in which he reportedly amassed a personal fortune of USD5 billion.
The new regime brought little change and soon fell out with its Rwandan sponsor, leading to a new round of violence and atrocities on the Congolese. Kabila senior was soon assassinated, and succeeded by his 29-year old son, Joseph Kabila, who has ruled DRC since January 2001. The younger Kabila was constitutionally elected as President in 2006 and re-elected for a second term in 2011. Both electoral victories, however, led to unrest amidst allegations of electoral fraud. When Kabila junior completes his second term in 2016, he and his father will have ruled DRC one year shy of 20 years.
But Kabila is not done -- he wants more years -- this time via a constitutional coup d'etat in form of legislation that extends his rule beyond the two mandated presidential terms. Violence has as a result erupted leading to reported 40 deaths of mostly young protesters against the extension. Evidently, Kabila learnt nothing from Burkina Faso's president, Blaise Compaoré, who last year was driven out of office by people power when he tried to prolonge his 27-year autocracy.
Sadly, DRC's parliamentary opposition parties are ineffectual -- they were unable or unwilling to squash Kabila's power grab. The new electoral law that buys him time in office has already been approved by the lower house and awaits the approval of the upper house. Meanwhile the leading DRC opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, has called on the Congolese people to force a "dying regime" from power. But Tshisekedi himself is hardly a model of modern politics. Aged 82, Tshisekedi who is in Europe recovering from an illness, has been in opposition since the 1960s, previously fighting dictator Mobutu, Kabila the father, and now Kabila the son.
The voice of reason in the current crisis is the courageous Catholic Archbishop of Kinshasa, Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, who has called on the regime to stop the violence. Archbishop Pasinya is quoted in the media robustly stating that "certain political figures, along with law enforcement agencies, are sowing despair and creating insecurity...We denounce these actions, which have caused death, and we are launching this plea - stop killing your people."
DRC is heart-breaking. Its people were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The country has been moving forward economically with high growth rates that are pushing up per capita incomes. The dream of generating energy to power DRC's own development and its continent is no longer on the drawing board. It is a reality. But, Kabila, like fellow African autocrats hell-bent to cling to power would have the world believe that only he can shape the future of his country.
By engaging in dillusional self-aggrandisement, Kabila and his cronies are on the verge of squandering a lifetime breakthrough for the Congolese and Africans at large.