Clerics decry dashed dream

KINSHASA - Belgium's king and other international leaders will today mark the 50th anniversary of the Democratic Republic of Congo's independence, even though the vast mineral-rich nation has been through decades of war, corruption and poverty.

KINSHASA - Belgium's king and other international leaders will today mark the 50th anniversary of the Democratic Republic of Congo's independence, even though the vast mineral-rich nation has been through decades of war, corruption and poverty.

Sung for the first time on June 30, 1960, the Congolese anthem urged people to "rise up" and "build, in peace, a country more beautiful than before". Those hopes have been cruelly dashed.

DRC was bled dry by the kleptocratic regime of Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko, who came to power in a 1965 coup and ruled for 32 years.

Though it has vast reserves of gold, copper, cobalt and diamonds, it is one of the world's poorest nations, scarred by an eight-year war, which ended in 2003 and cost about three million lives.

Four years after the election of President Joseph Kabila brought some stability, two-thirds of DRC's 60 million inhabitants still scrape by on about R7 a day.

Congolese bishops, in a statement to mark the anniversary, wrote that the "dream of a beautiful Congo" had been "destroyed".

"The DRC has moved backwards more than forwards," they said.

King Albert II is making the first visit by a Belgian monarch in 25 years to its former colony. He will join UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and SA Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe at anniversary commemorations in Kinshasa today.

South Africa has called the celebrations "a landmark for all Africa", but also voiced concerns about Kabila's failure to deal with instability in the east, where about 20000 UN troops are deployed.

The UN this month agreed to pull out 2000, but Kinshasa wants the contingent to leave by next year.

Government spokesperson Lambert Mende admitted "there are a great many problems", but insisted that "these problems come from those who subjected us to slavery, to colonialisation, to bad government after independence".

"It is easy to throw stones at those who inherited the situation, when the problem dates from before."

Kabila is fighting off tough criticism of his record on governance, human rights and the economy.

"Power is centralised at the presidential office, checks and balances barely exist, and civil liberties are undermined," said the International Crisis Group in April. - Sapa-AFP

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