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No Popular Support for Laurent Nkunda in Congo

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Congo News Agency - October 31, 2008

Displaced in North Kivu
Laurent Nkunda’s new argument for continuing his unpopular war is that he wants “to liberate the entire country”. This assertion would be laughable if it didn’t have such tragic consequences.

The vast majority of Congolese do not support his rebellion. Congolese have never supported, and will never support, a rebellion backed by Rwanda. The rebels have lots of guns, and support in Rwanda, but they lack popular support in Congo.

One of the reasons why people have fled the rebels’ advance in North Kivu is that they do not want to live under what they consider to be a foreign occupation. Laurent Nkunda knows that if elections were held today, he would likely receive less than 1% of the votes nationwide.

Politicians who are seen as backing the rebellion have fared very poorly in elections. The only way that Rwanda-backed political parties like the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) can get a grip on power in Kinshasa is by forcing the democratically elected government to strike a deal with them.

Congolese have always been against rebels backed by Rwanda. When Laurent Desire Kabila realized he would never be able to govern the Congo as long as he was seen as a puppet of Paul Kagame, he began asking for the Rwandan troops that helped him seize power to leave the Congo. Paul Kagame then launched a new rebellion against his former ally but the rebels were only able to occupy part of eastern Congo.

The rebels lacked popular support in the areas that they occupied. The population held demonstrations and act of disobedience against the rebels. The Catholic clergy used sermons to ask the population to resist the occupation. Militias like the Mai-Mai were formed in the occupied areas and were able to disrupt the rebels’ operations because they could count on the support of the population.

In 2002 a peace deal was signed between the government and the two main rebel groups. Azarias Ruberwa, from the Rwanda-backed RCD rebel group became one of four vice-presidents under the deal. In 2006 he received less than 1 % of the votes cast nationwide during the first round of the presidential elections. His main liability is that his party is seen as a political front in Kinshasa for Laurent Nkunda Rwandan-backed rebellion in eastern Congo.

One of the reasons why Jean-Pierre Bemba fared so poorly in eastern Congo during the 2006 presidential elections is that he was seen as a former foreign-backed rebel leader. Joseph Kabila got 90% of the votes in eastern Congo because he was seen as the candidate most likely to end the rebellion. Joseph Kabila knows that any deal he strikes with Rwanda to get rid of Laurent Nkunda may cost him politically if it is seen as a capitulation. The next presidential elections are due to be held in 2011.


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