afrol.com, 18 January - While Congolese officials still are in denial about President Kabila's death, the main question arising is, who is actually ruling in Kinshasa now. Officially, Laurent Kabila's son, Joseph, holds the office of Interim President. Joseph Kabila, however, has not appeared in public yet, nourishing the initial rumours that he too had been killed in the Tuesday shooting.
The long delay in announcing Laurent Kabila's death and the appointment of maybe-dead 31-year-old Joseph Kabila, give room for speculations that there is an ongoing power struggle in Kinshasa in defining the new leadership of the war ridden nation. Few see the upcoming Congolese President in Joseph Kabila.
Although the time of Laurent Kabila's death is getting increasingly clearer, Congolese officials still claim he is alive, addressing the Congolese people. Meanwhile, Congolese diplomat Henry Ntswana told the BBC that "Laurent Kabila died yesterday [Wednesday] at 5pm in Harare," confirming the reports coming from the Zimbabwean capital. Ntswana further said he had "been instructed" to make this statement.
Those in charge in Kinshasa thus seem to be balancing between giving basic information to the international community, while trying to keep the secret from their own population. The Congolese population is, however, aware of the assassination of Laurent Kabila through the report coming from abroad.
As the attack on President Kabila was announced on Congolese media by Information Minister Dominique Sakombi, Joseph Kabila was presented as the interim leader. "The Government of public salvation met in a special session ... and decided to entrust the running of the Government and military command to Major-General Joseph Kabila," Sakombi said on state radio. A TV report showed pictures of Joseph Kabila.
First reports for the shooting in the President Palace in Kinshasa indicated that both Laurent and Joseph Kabila had been shot dead by a presidential lifeguard. Rumours of the two, father and son, having been killed, persisted also after the pictures were shown on TV. Claims were made that the pictures were archive clippings, shown earlier on state TV and the question asked more and more frequently has been why the "new President" has not made an announcement on state media on his own in such a precarious situation. Joseph Kabila still has not addressed the Congolese people, more than 24 hours after he supposedly assumed office.
The strongest indication of Joseph Kabila being alive is a statement made by the normally well-informed Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Ministry spokesman Koen Vervaeke told reporters from the UN media IRIN that President Laurent Kabila's son was "alive and well", and that Belgium had had "constructive contacts" with the current authorities in Kinshasa. "The situation in Kinshasa is very calm and there is no animosity towards Belgians," he added.
Even if Joseph Kabila should be alive and hold the office as interim President, doubts are widespread that he would be able to maintain this post. According to the BBC, observers say the Congolese population at large will not be happy with the idea of a Kabila family succession in the presidential palace.
Joseph Kabila is being described "a quiet and shy soldier". He accompanied his father as he led his rebel army towards Kinshasa in 1997, and had since then remained in the Congolese army. He has headed the Congolese campaign against the rebels, with little success in the battlefield. Three of his top generals were dismissed last week, in a development often connected to assassination of his father. Discontent is spreading in the army after the recent setbacks suffered in the war, and Joseph Kabila is the target of much of this discontent.
The question, who is ruling in Kinshasa right now, remains unanswered. It might be Joseph Kabila, it might be the "Government of Public Salvation" named by Laurent Kabila, or there might be a power struggle between conflicting interests going on, where the outcome is totally open. The powerful men in Kinshasa now are most Laurent Kabila's friends and family, and it is probably them deciding now who will be the nest leader in Congo Kinshasa - a leader that should be able to unite the Congolese people and handle the civil war situation. Joseph Kabila is not believed to have these qualities.
International expectations to Laurent Kabila's heir however are big, especially from the country's backing the Congolese rebels, Rwanda and Uganda. "It is our hope that whoever replaces Kabila will not be as intransigent as he has been," James Wapakhabulo, Uganda's national political commissar who is involved in shaping policy on the Congo, told the Ugandan newspaper New Vision. Ugandan officials, however, earlier have emphasized on their opposition to any assassination of a head of state.
Sources: Based on news
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