Rumble in the Jungle
Dirty Tricks and Judicial Antics in Congo

The jig is up! After months of accusations—including one lurid charge of hiring assassins to kill the sitting president—hurled at the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s leading opposition figure, a judge has come forward to reveal that what passes for justice in Africa’s second-largest country is just a sham.

Chantal Ramazani, the judge who signed off on an arrest warrant for opposition politician Moïse Katumbi, has said that the country’s intelligence agency intimidated her into convicting the popular businessman and ex-governor for illegal property selling.

As if we didn’t already have our suspicions about the sketchy charges conveniently leveled against Katumbi just as he began to look like a real threat to incumbent President Laurent Kabila, they’ve now been confirmed. The BBC:

In a letter addressed to the president and other politicians and organisations, Judge Ramazani says the facts against Mr Katumbi were never examined in tribunal.

She claims the purpose of the trial was cripple Mr Katumbi’s political future and that she was threatened with losing her job, even imprisonment, if he were not convicted.

After sending the letter, she went into hiding.

The BBC’s Maud Jullien, in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, says Mr Katumbi is seen as a favourite in the race for the presidency and is expected to return to the country before an opposition rally on Sunday.

We’ll have to stay posted to see what happens if Katumbi does return to the country for Sunday’s massive rally. But in the meantime, the judge’s revelations point to an important observation about Africa’s would-be dictatorships: The central government isn’t as powerful as it looks.

The reality is that the DRC is not at all a totalitarian state. For one, it’s barely even a state, lacking control of its borders and a monopoly on force within them. And even if the DRC became a functioning state, it would take a great deal of effort to centralize power and thoroughly smother the opposition in the way of the Castros in Cuba or the Kims in North Korea.

The government’s inability to control everything within its borders is good news for the opposition in this particular election—despite crackdowns and sham sentences, voters seeking change will still be able to organize. But it’s an enduring feature of fragile states in Africa, where weak governments unleash deadly violence as they try to assert the control they just don’t have.

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