PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s failure to attend the inauguration of Joseph Kabila as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the cleares
t evidence yet that any love there might have been between the two leaders has started to sicken and decay.
Mugabe assigned Speaker of the House John Nkomo to an event which to some extent owed its existence to Zimbabwe’s military intervention in 1998 to save Laurent Kabila’s government from overthrow.
Analysts say this is confirmation that Mugabe’s pool of friends is drying up. While most will not comment publicly, they appear to be distancing themselves from him.
The analysts say Mugabe, who used to miss no opportunity to flaunt Joseph Kabila as his close ally, is bitter that Kinshasa has shifted its loyalty to Pretoria that is more helpful economically and not as tainted as Harare.
The flourishing political and economic friendship between the DRC and South Africa makes Zimbabwe probably the biggest loser in the bloody Congo war.
As South African companies swoop on lucrative business contracts in the central African country it is becoming clear that Zimbabwe has benefited little from the billions in foreign currency it sunk and the toll in human lives incurred during the four-year expedition in the DRC named Operation Restore Sovereign Legitimacy — Osleg.
The DRC now has the first democratically elected leader in 36 years while South Africa is reaping the profits courtesy of Zimbabwe’s adventurous folly. Mugabe has been left to lick the wounds of his ruinous war.
Conservative estimates show the war was costing nearly US$10 million a week — a huge figure for a poor country like Zimbabwe. An estimated 1 000 Zimbabwean soldiers were lost in the war. Military equipment worth billions was also lost including fighter aircraft. The economy, whose decline Mugabe pushed to the edge by raiding state coffers to fund the war, is still reeling eight years on.
The frustration was apparent when the state media went into a mourning last week with stories complaining that Zimbabwe was not reaping the benefits of the peace that it brought to the DRC.
Analysts say the war in the DRC was designed to prop up Mugabe’s waning image of regional strong man, a role South Africa’s Nelson Mandela was usurping.
The DRC intervention was Mugabe’s opportunity for him to show the region who was boss. Laurent Kabila had been anointed by Mugabe by virtue of his role as chairman of the Sadc organ on defence, security and politics.
Sadc members were piling pressure on Mugabe to surrender the organ to Mandela who was the Sadc chairman.
A Swedish writer and journalist Per Wastberg who has been friends with Mugabe for 30 years, told the Zimbabwe Independent two years ago that at that time Mugabe was indeed worried about the rise of Mandela.
“I reminded him that he should have stepped down after serving at most two terms. A deeply worried Mugabe opened up and told me that he felt anxious about the rise of Mandela, particularly the status he had gained,” said Wastberg.
“He was clearly uncomfortable with the direction Mandela was taking.”
Angola and Namibia who also participated in the war had genuine security fears because they shared borders with the DRC. Mugabe’s argument of national interest is further weakened by the fact that other countries that share borders with the DRC such as Tanzania and Zambia did not participate in Osleg.
Analysts say apart from being a tactic to regain regional influence, Mugabe went head first into the DRC on the basis of his personal friendship with Kabila whom he had supported as he led Banyamulenge rebels towards Kinshasa to topple Mobutu Sese Seko.
Kabila’s fall would have greatly embarrassed Mugabe in the region.
“Fearing that his project would fail, Mugabe used his chairmanship of the Sadc organ to intervene to save Kabila’s government,” said a political lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. Perhaps the only benefits that came from the war are those that accrued to army generals who had diamond mining claims. Senior politicians are known to have benefited in the blood diamonds. Army personnel ended up working as personal security guards at the bosses’ mines while their salaries and allowances were being paid by taxpayers back home.
The disastrous impact of the war is still being felt to this day. Less than 20 months into the DRC, Zimbabwe experienced the most biting fuel shortages since Independence.
Hundreds of families are still mourning their loved ones who perished in a war whose benefits to Zimbabwe have not materialised.
The country still owes money to soldiers who took part in the operation. Government is battling to replace the equipment lost in the DRC. It is not a coincidence that the country’s foreign currency reserves started drying up in 1999 when the country was still enmeshed in the thick of things in the DRC.