Rumble in the Jungle

09/06/2010 07:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In 1974, the city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- then known as Zaire -- hosted one of the greatest competitions Africa has ever seen -- the boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. In a match that everyone expected to be uninspiring and from which existing champion Foreman would inevitably emerge victorious, Ali came off the ropes to defeat an established opponent running out of time, ideas and ways to win. The match, certainly the most legendary any African nation has hosted, is still fondly remembered in the DRC. And commentators in the country are now starting to see comparisons between the outcome of that contest -- the "Rumble in the Jungle" -- and the state of our nation, and perhaps even a foretaste of how our politics may develop in the coming 12 months.

Earlier this year, the Democratic Republic of Congo celebrated 50 years of independence, but for the majority of citizens the celebrations felt bittersweet at best: The history of Africa over the last 50 years has too often been one of missed opportunities, overbearing debt burdens, and weak and venial leadership. In the case of the DRC, it is possible to add exploitation of the nation's mineral wealth by those both inside and outside the country, bypassing our citizens, failure of successive governments to support the development of a vast country of more than 70 million people, which should be one of the richest in Africa, and the military intervention of foreign powers in the scramble for control of this wealth, and of decades of civil war.

But the 50th anniversary also offered something that has been missing for too many years in DRC -- the reemergence of hope, and a new determination from many politicians and civil society groups to redouble our efforts to draw together this fractured country and place it firmly on the path of development.

Our current government under President Joseph Kabila has been in office for nine years. But in the majority of the country it has been just that -- in office, but not in power. Outside of the southwestern provinces, government control over of much of the country in anything but name is questionable. Despite the fact that the president comes from the eastern provinces -- from where he has traditionally drawn his electoral support -- this region remains lawless and dangerous, at the mercy of rebel groups who routinely steal resources and engage in the systematic rape of women, of great concern to the UN and the international community. While the government has managed at least to create some years of relative peace in the country, the simple fact that the ruling party cannot secure electoral support nationwide makes many Congolese seek a political platform that can speak for them in all regions of the country, and rally the support for and on behalf of a majority of citizens, not just a minority.

That is why, last week, there was a new "Rumble in the Jungle." Several political parties, all with elected representation in regional and national parliaments including my own, and leading political figures have united with a series of civil society organizations with the intention of contesting, and winning, the General Election of 2011 as a united and truly national political force.

L'Union Sacrée pour L'Alternance, as the new united movement is called, already the third-largest political group amongst the Congolese Opposition, presents a platform of change to the citizens of the DRC: a movement that draws strength across the entire country, meaning one region cannot dominate all the rest, and the possibility of a government that, because of its nationwide support, has the legitimacy and moral authority to negotiate with our neighbors and not ever be dependent on them for our security; an intention to implement empowerment rules will create citizen-ownership schemes for businesses on a similar model to share ownership schemes in South Africa and America, creating transparency and certainty for investors and economic development and the chance of ownership for citizens of the DRC, for too long bypassed by shady deals of the political elite. Such policies will also benefit women, empowering them through ownership and control of businesses, and help all citizens of the DRC have a stake in the active stewardship of our rich natural resources rather than being forced to passively watch them being exploited. On the basis of true national support, a new government in the DRC can start to tackle the chronic financial state and infrastructure of the country that deters so many legitimate international investors, leaving the country's finances threadbare and preventing the chance to deliver even the most basic of services considered a right in many countries including our African neighbors -- the right to clean water, sanitation, personal safety and a simple education.

The challenges for the Democratic Republic of Congo, just like the country, remain vast and complex. But the challenge faced by Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa back in 1974 was vast, and for many commentators. believed to be insurmountable. Just like Ali who surprised the world and gained the support and trust of the Congolese people, there are those of us who have the belief that the story of the Congo does not have to be written in the way that many expect it will be, and that through a strategy that unites a divided country, shares wealth and brings hope for a better outcome, we can make history once more in Kinshasa in 2011.