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Aftershocks of Chebeya’s death

Some news on the Chebeya assassination trial.

AFP and RFI are reporting that the Congolese government will allow Dutch medical experts to help with the autopsy, although the attorney general also told the press they will not allow for international participation in the investigation, so it appears as if they have their wires a bit crossed.

Sources from within diplomatic circles in Kinshasa suggest that the Belgian government was thinking about canceling the king’s visit for the Congo’s 50th anniversary celebrations later this month. That would have been a major blow to President Kabila, as the king is (somewhat bizarrely) the guest of honor, and the government has proudly trumpeted his visit in the press (it’s even one of the main features on Kabila’s website). However, the Congolese government’s rapid reaction to Chebeya’s death seems to have calmed Belgian spirits a bit.

Why this lightening reaction by Kinshasa? It stands in marked contrast to previous crises – in January 2007, a clamp down by security forces against the Bundu dia Kongo sect resulted in 100 deaths, which elicited donor protests but no major consequences. Similarly, clashes between the army and Bemba’s bodyguards in March 2007 left hundred dead in the streets of Kinshasa. Nonetheless, the French minister of cooperation decided not to cancel her visit to Kinshasa just days afterwards. When several ambassadors protested to Kabila that their embassies had been looted by security forces, the president told them to leave the country if they didn’t like it.

These events happened just after the 2006 elections; donors were eager not to jeopardize the peace process that they had bankrolled. They decided to give Kabila another chance.

When Congolese army troops and ex-CNDP cadres carried out widespread abuses in the Kivus in 2009 during operations against the FDLR, the international community again protested, but did not seriously reconsider any of their aid to the government, which amounts to almost 50% of its budget (much of which is in terms of projects, no grants to the government). In fact, the IMF has more or less promised to wipe clean billions in Congolese debts this year, as the government reaches HIPC completion point.

Again, the political context explains some of this: Donors were generally enthusiastic about Rwanda-Congo peace deal that ended years of CNDP-FARDC fighting in the Kivus. They didn’t want to rock the boat by having MONUC arrest Bosco Taganda or pressing Kabila too hard on human rights abuses.

So has this changed with Chebeya’s murder? It’s too early to tell, but it does come at a very sensitive time, just weeks before the anniversary celebrations and just before the IMF decision on Congolese debt. Also, it may open up a rift within Kabila’s inner circle if John Numbi, the head of the police, is prosecuted for the murder.

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