Congolese President Joseph Kabila is facing a “trial of strength in the streets” if he stays in office beyond the constitutionally mandated deadline of this week, say critics of the two-term leader who appears to be digging in for the long term.
Popular opposition leader Moise Katumbi has called on Kabila to step down before he becomes “an illegitimate” ruler.
Meanwhile, demonstrators in the districts of Kalamu, Matete and Lingwala and at Kinshasa University blew whistles to signal to Kabila that it is time to leave.
Earlier, hundreds of anti-Kabila demonstrators defied a ban on marches as security forces faced off against groups waving red cards saying “Bye, bye Kabila.”
Presidential adviser Barnabe Kikaya downplayed the signs of discontent. “The constitution clearly states that the president remains in his position until his successor is elected by the people of the Congo, not by a loud and insistent mob,” he said dismissively.
Congo has never had a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. Observers fear the current political crisis could trigger a repeat of civil wars that killed millions of people between 1996 and 2003.
After 15 years, Kabila has become the symbol of stagnation and societal ills. The most prominent grievances are unemployment, corruption and lack of access to education, electricity, roads and transport. Rising inflation further worsens precarious living conditions.
But perhaps most shocking is a recent expose of Kabila’s personal “business networks,” including some 70 companies controlled by the president, his wife, two children and eight of his siblings.
In the expose by Bloomberg News investigators, with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, it was revealed that Kabila companies control diamond permits that stretch more than 450 miles across the country’s southern border with Angola. The Kabilas own more than 120 permits to dig gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt and other minerals.
Family members also have stakes in banks, farms, fuel distributors, airline operators, a road builder, hotels, a pharmaceutical supplier, travel agencies, boutiques and nightclubs. Another venture even tried to launch a rat into space on a rocket.
The exact value of the businesses isn’t known, but publicly accessible documents reveal investments worth more than $30 million in just two companies, the investigative reporters found. Estimated revenue for another company exceeds $350 million over four years—while nearly two-thirds of the 77 million Congolese live on less than $1.90 per day.
All in all, the Kabilas network of businesses has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to the family, which may explain why the president is ignoring pleas by the U.S., the European Union and a majority of the Congolese people to hand over power and avoid the kind of chaos that cost millions of lives after his father took power nearly two decades ago.
MULTINATIONAL STING NABS TOP ISRAELI SUSPECT IN GUINEA MINING SCANDAL
(GIN)—Israeli police this week raided the Israeli home and offices of one of the world’s wealthiest men, who is alleged to have corrupted government officials in Guinea to obtain the country’s lucrative iron ore rights. The minerals, if owned by Guinea, would have made it one of the richest countries in the world.
Beny Steinmetz, who made his fortune in the diamond trade, was arrested by Israeli authorities who released him after a bail payment of 50 million Israeli shekels (nearly $26 million) and an additional 50 million shekels in property, according to the Israeli news group Haaretz. He was ordered under house arrest and told to return to court Jan. 2.
Steinmetz, 60, and his company BSGR have been under investigation by Israeli, U.S., Swiss and Guinean law enforcement officials for almost a decade as part of an effort led by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to stem the bribing of public officials worldwide.
Last week, in a related case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, Guinea’s former minister of mines, Mahmoud Thiam, was arrested in New York and charged by the FBI’s Fraud Section with laundering bribes he received as part of a plan to help a Chinese company win “near total control” of the West African nation’s valuable mining sector.
Thiam, a U.S. citizen, was allegedly paid $8.5 million by an unidentified Chinese conglomerate, which was seeking exclusive rights to “a wide range of sectors of the Guinean economy,” in addition to control of mining in the country. Thiam was mining minister in 2009 and 2010, federal prosecutors in New York said, and while in that position, facilitated the alleged corrupt practices of BSGR.
Thiam reportedly signed an agreement with BSGR giving them partial control of Simandou at no cost but with the promise to develop the mine and build housing, infrastructure and a railroad, according to investigative journalists with 100 Reporters.
As part of the deal, the Simandou asset was stripped from its prior owner, Rio Tinto, and passed to BSGR. Steinmetz then sold half of its stake in Simandou to the Brazilian mining giant Vale SA for $2.5 billion.
The BSGR contract was finally canceled under the current Guinean president Alpha Conde after a review of all contracts entered into under previous regimes. Israeli investigators assert that Steinmetz, along with a number of other Israelis, acquired Simandou by paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes to senior public officials in Guinea.
The $20 billion Simandou project was once one of the world’s most prized mineral assets.
BSGR has denied wrongdoing and has filed an arbitration request in an attempt to win compensation from the West African nation. Other lawsuits by the Steinmetz company are pending.