DR Congo neighbors hope for peace from Kabila win

Neighboring nations welcomed President Joseph Kabila’s victory in presidential elections of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), hoping the democratic mandate he won will bring stability and prosperity to volatile central Africa.

DRC’s first free elections in more than 40 years crown a peace process following a 1998-2003 war in which half a dozen nearby countries sent in armies, looting Congo’s mineral riches and creating a humanitarian catastrophe.

With help from Angola and Zimbabwe, Kabila was installed as president in 2001 after the assassination of his father, President Laurent Kabila. His election victory, announced on November 15 by the electoral commission but rejected by his rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba, drew nods of approval even from former enemies in the region.

Regional players and international investors are queueing up for a slice of Congo, which has huge reserves of copper, cobalt, and diamonds as well as timber and other natural riches.

Prospective backers of Inga hydro complex await security

However, international donors and financiers have said plans for the 3,500-MW Inga 3 hydropower project on the Congo River will stay on the drawing board until DRC’s new government has brought peace and security.

Inga 3 is seen as the first step in a 40,000-MW Inga complex that would anchor a grid delivering power and prosperity throughout Africa.

In October, the African Development Bank announced it would plug a US$200 million shortfall in funding to repair the existing 1,774-MW Inga 1 and 2 hydroelectric complex. (HNN 10/25/06) At the same time, prospective donors told an international roundtable in South Africa that the DRC must secure peace before it can woo funding to expand Inga. (HNN 10/9/06)

“Without peace and security there’s no way the project can be done,” Firmino Mucavele, chief executive of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), said at that time. “The main challenge is to have the DRC with a government that is democratically elected and accepted, clear rules on how foreign investors can come in and secure their stake in the project, and to have a national policy on electricity in Congo.”

The elections themselves are no guarantee that will happen. Roving militias murder, rape, and pillage in parts of eastern Congo and humanitarian workers say some 1,200 people still die every day from hunger, disease, and violence.

In an encouraging note, Kabila’s election challenger, former rebel warlord Bemba, disputed the results, but said he would challenge them �by all legal means.� A western diplomat said Bemba told the United Nations and DRC’s army he would not attempt military action.

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