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One morning last November, Congolese president Joseph Kabila’s motorcade bullied a path through Kinshasa’s traffic towards the Palais du Peuple (Palace of the People), which houses the senate and the national assembly. Kabila rarely ventures into public view, and speaks even less frequently, but he wanted to reminisce about his 16 years in power. At the Palais, Kabila told legislators that he had inherited "a country in tatters ... a nonstate" bedevilled by a "vicious circle of hyperinflation and the depreciation of the national currency". He claimed to have stopped a civil war and reestablished the unitary state, midwifed the adoption of a new constitution and the birth of democracy, and presided over years of uninterrupted economic growth. This autobiography — with the protagonist as pacifier, unifier and nation builder — was received raucously by the president’s partisans. True, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), formerly known as Zaire, was in an infernal condition in Janua...

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