Mugabe reportedly insulted Kabila during a meeting at State House but the alleged incident was not made public.
Kabila was in Harare for talks aimed at saving the fragile unity government.
Kabila, then chair of the Southern Africa Development Community, rushed to Harare in November 2009 to diffuse a dispute that was threatening the existence of the inclusive government in Zimbabwe.
This was after the MDC-T had partially pulled out of the shaky government protesting against Mugabe’s refusal to obey certain sections of the Global Political Agreement, which brought about the inclusive arrangement.
Kabila met both Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai during his visit. He appeared with Mugabe at State House posing at cameras but they were no signs of acrimony between the men.
But the DRC ambassador to Harare Mawapanga Mwana Nanga in diplomatic discussions with the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray, said the DRC leader was insulted by Mugabe but he remained calm.
In discussions with Ray, the DRC envoy acknowledged that Mugabe had insulted Kabila when he visited Harare but did not disclose further details.
Mawapanga however, said unlike his father, Laurent, who was known for his short temper, the young Kabila did not hit back.
In a diplomatic cable dispatched from Harare by the US embassy after the deliberations with the DRC envoy, Ray said: “Mawapanga also acknowledged that Mugabe had insulted DRC President Kabila when he visited Harare, but the young Kabila, unlike his father, does not believe in answering insult with insult.”
Mawapanga is reported to once have told a Western ambassador that he was sent to Harare to defend Mugabe against Western-initiated regime change.
But Ray said since Kabila’s visit to Harare, Mawapanga’s attitude and demeanor had changed significantly and he wanted to lobby to return home as soon as Kabila was no longer chair of the Sadc bloc.
“He has been in Harare for eight years, with his family remaining in the DRC, and he says that as soon as Kabila is no longer President of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) he plans to lobby to return home,” Ray said.
The US top diplomat in Harare said this was probably the first time Mawapanga had been so critical of Zanu PF in discussions with a Western official.
Ray said Mawapanga, who served as DRC Finance Minister before Laurent Kabila’s assassination and was thought to have a role in designing the financial aspects of Zimbabwe’s then-military support for the DRC, has been a thorn in the side of many of the Western ambassadors in Harare, most notably the U.S. and UK, who have often been accused of trying to overthrow the Mugabe regime.
“Surprisingly, during our meeting he was friendly and in his criticism of Mugabe and Zanu PF, uncharacteristically candid and blunt. He said, for instance, that while he is against sanctions because he believes they don’t really work, Zanu PF needs to quit using them as an excuse not to govern the country properly,” Ray said.
“As an example, he said he finds it strange that Zanu PF will complain of the crippling effect of sanctions on the one hand, then spend millions on a large delegation going on a trip, or claim to have US$10 million for agricultural inputs.
Despite the alleged insult incident, Mugabe’s relations with Kabila appear to be warm especially after the youthful leader won a controversial presidential vote in his country.
Mugabe, the only head of state at Kabila’s inauguration last December, said Kabila’s victory should not be questioned as the election had been democratic.
He said “any attempt to undermine that democratic government will be resisted by Africa, [the Southern African Development Community] and Zimbabwe, which has been a partner to the Congolese people.”
Mugabe assured Kabila that Zimbabwe would help him fight off any interference by presumably Western outsiders.
Mugabe’s statement was interpreted to mean Zimbabwe could again intervene militarily in the central African country as it did in 1997 when it helped Kabila’s father Laurent quash a massive armed rebellion threatening his errant regime.
Mugabe deployed thousands of troops backed by heavy artillery and fighter jets in 1997 to save the regime of Kabila’s father which was on the verge of being routed out by rebels supported by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.
But after helping secure the Kinshasa regime, the Zimbabwe government did not exploit vast mineral resources of the DRC, a move that could have incensed powerful figures in Harare.
Western mining companies reportedly partook to the mineral resources much to the chagrin of Mugabe and his Zanu PF party who were apparently elbowed following a damning United Nations report revealed top Zanu PF officials were looting the DRC resources for personal gain.