Joseph Kabila, Congo Strongman, Will Step Down After 17 Years in Power

Joseph Kabila, Congo Strongman, Will Step Down After 17 Years in Power

Protests urging Mr. Kabila to relinquish power have periodically rocked major cities like Kinshasa, the capital; Lubumbashi; and Kisangani. Several people died in protests at the start of this year.

Congo, a vast and ethnically diverse nation, has never had a peaceful transition of power. Independence in 1960 was immediately followed by conflicts among various factions, backed by different sides in the Cold War.

The country’s first prime minister, the nationalist and socialist Patrice Lumumba, was removed in a 1961 coup and subsequently executed. In 1965, a former Army commander, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, seized power in a coup and ruled the country, which he renamed Zaire, for three decades.

Mr. Kabila’s father, Laurent Kabila, took power in 1997 when Mobutu Sese Seko — as the strongman had styled himself — fled the country and died in exile months later. Four years later, Laurent Kabila was felled by a bullet fired by a bodyguard, leaving his son in power.

Congo is one of the world’s most resource-rich countries, but its people are among the world’s poorest. Millions of Congolese died in two successive wars, from 1996 to 1997 and from 1998 to 2003, that drew in neighboring countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Chad and Zimbabwe.

Mr. Kabila, while standing aside, announced his support for an ally, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, 57, a former interior minister and vice president, to run for president in the Dec. 23 elections.

Other candidates who might seek to participate in the elections include the opposition leader Moïse Katumbi, who has been living in exile and was blocked last weekend from returning home; Félix Tshisekedi, son of a veteran opposition leader, Étienne Tshisekedi, who died early last year; and a former vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba.

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