Nigeria’s former president Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, who is widely credited with helping end the war in eastern Congo in 2009, thought President Joseph Kabila didn’t have the skills to manage such a big country.
According to US diplomatic cables that were leaked to the whistleblower site WikiLeaks, Obasanjo reportedly said he wished Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame were the man running Democratic Republic of Congo, because he had the leadership skills to manage the complex Central African nation.
Then, the DRC was Africa’s third largest country (it is now second largest after the formal break-up of the Sudan in July 2011).
According to the cables, in a November 10, 2009 closed-door meeting with the US ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Susan Rice, Obasanjo said that though Kabila meant well, “he (Obasanjo) thought at one point that Kabila was overwhelmed by his presidency.”
Obasanjo worked on the Congo conflict as the UN Security Council’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes, with Tanzania’s former President Benjamin Mkapa as his co-facilitator. It is the voluble and controversial Obasanjo, though, who is cited in the cables.
Obasanjo allegedly said, “Kabila was not so forthcoming as Rwandan President Kagame,” and that he wished Kagame were in the DRC and Kabila in Rwanda, due to their respective leadership attributes.
He commented that Kabila was very sensitive and needed to develop self-confidence, but that would be difficult to do because he was not well-served by the people around him.”
In the past Rwanda has intervened in the DRC, which is 27 times bigger than it, several times to attack what it says are remnants of the forces Kigali accuses of having carried out the genocide in 1994 in which nearly one million people were slaughtered.
Rwanda has also backed several rebel groups in the east of the country, especially in the period when the government in Kinshasa was also being accused of supporting anti-Uganda and anti-Rwanda dissidents.
Political critics and human-rights groups, however, accused Rwanda for invading the mineral-rich DRC to plunder its wealth, and said it had direct and indirect responsibility for the deaths of millions of people in the east of the country in recent years.
Kabila took power in 2001 after his father, President Laurent Kabila, was assassinated. It would be typical of Obasanjo to make such remarks. Both in and out of power, he has continued to be in the headlines, sometimes for the worst reasons.
Obasanjo knows Kabila and Kagame well, and at the height of the DRC war in 2001, brought the two presidents together dramatically in his swashbuckling style.
Kabila was not picking up Kagame and Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s calls, because the two had troops in the east of the country who were backing anti-Kinshasa rebel groups.
According to a Kagame aide, former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi organised a meeting in the Libyan town of Sirte to help end the DRC war. Kabila and Kagame, not surprisingly, were staying as far away from each other as possible.
One morning before the formal meeting started, Obasanjo was walking around the conference venue, in his voluminous robes, when he spotted Kagame approaching. He stopped him and hugged him. Holding his hand firmly, Obasanjo walked about shouting for Kabila to be brought to him. The youthful Kabila was found and presented to Obasanjo.
Obasanjo grabbed him, and walked off, with a president in each hand, to a meeting room. Inside, Obasanjo allegedly said, “Let us solve this problem among us as men, man to man, in the African way”. When they emerged from the room, they were laughing and Kabila and Kagame were arranging a coffee date. It would seem Kabila never made a big impression on the veteran Nigerian politician.