How Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, gets around in Me and My Motorcade, plus why Hezbollah loves a good DVD night in and a spotlight on the forthcoming Lebanese election.
At 10.3 per cent, average unemployment rates in North Africa are the highest in the world, followed by the Middle East (9.8 per cent).
Joseph Kabila became president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when he was 29 years old. It was 2001 and his father, Laurent, had been assassinated by his own guard. Until then Kabila junior had spent his free time driving quad bikes around the hills surrounding the family home or taking one of his sports cars (there’s at least one Bugatti and a Porsche) for a spin.
As president, Kabila was reluctant to give up driving – it is not uncommon for him to be behind the wheel when his motorcade rolls through the capital, Kinshasa.
Kabila’s official transport is somewhat more subdued than his earlier choice of vehicles. His usual convoy now includes Nissan Patrols and Range Rovers.
The official plane, a Boeing 707, is an essential piece of transport for the DRC president. Congo is the size of western Europe but has very few Tarmac roads. There is just a handful of small towns within driving distance of Kinshasa. If Kabila needs to visit Lubumbashi in the south, Goma in the east or Kisangani in the centre, it has to be by plane.
Kabila’s Boeing 707 is painted a two-tone chocolate colour. It’s used mainly to fly within Congo, but has also taken him to meetings in Europe. First flown in 1958, it was bought in 1998 by Kabila Sr, and its registration number, 9Q-CLK, uses his initials, LK. For security reasons his office is unwilling to confirm if he uses helicopters.
The normal convoy includes at least half a dozen Nissan Patrol Tis with tinted windows. Unlike a normal Patrol, Kabila’s version has armour plating. Given that every Congolese leader since independence has either been assassinated or ousted in a coup, it’s probably not such a bad idea. The car Kabila is most often seen driving is the Range Rover L322, partly because his security won’t let him drive his sports cars around town. Like the Patrol, its body has been reinforced with armour plating.
Kabila’s office and home are separated by a mile or so along the Congo River. He has been known to ride to work on his Harley-Davidson Sportster 883, sometimes wearing the leather bomber jacket given to him by former US president George Bush.
US think-tank Rand Corporation’s new report reveals how Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Islamic fundamentalist group, gets its funding. “At least one transfer of $3.5m was donated by known DVD pirate Assad Ahmad Barakat, who received a thank-you note from the Hezbollah leader.” This industry has higher profits than narcotics and low risks of being caught.
On 7 June, Lebanon has parliamentary elections with the two main political blocks offering drastically different visions for the country. Michel Hajji-Georgiou is an analyst at L’Orient-le Jour, a leading newspaper in the country that is pro March 14.
What’s at stake in the election?
The stakes are colossal for security, democracy and freedom in Lebanon. The March 8 movement, represented by Hezbollah and its allies, wants Lebanon to remain a base for resistance against Israel. The March 14 movement, which currently enjoys a majority in parliament, would rather follow the peace resolutions drawn out by the UN.
What do you think Lebanon needs right now?
Lebanon needs peace and stability on an internal and regional level. This is why a group of 200 members of the civil society, including myself, have signed a Call for Peace in Lebanon 2009. We need to stop being a victim of regional powers.
With these elections, what is your greatest worry for Lebanon?
If we see a victory for the March 8 movement, I fear we will lose a great deal of public freedoms. Hezbollah has never been keen on civil liberty.