What happened to Francois Soudan?

There must be something in the water these days that makes journalists prone to radical changes of opinion. After Stephen Kinzer, now it’s the turn of Francois Soudan, editor at Jeune Afrique magazine.

Jeune Afrique published an article called “Kabila: Mobutu Light” this week. The title is pretty clear. Francois Soudan’s article can be summed up thus: Kabila did a lot of good in his first years in power, but he has become corrupted and since roughly 2003 he began an authoritarian drift, accompanied with the luxurious excesses and abuses that Mobutu was known for.

Compare that with an article Soudan wrote for La Revue in August 2006: “Joseph Kabila knows how to inspire a desire of protection among his elders, to appear older than his age and, above all, to project his resolve.” (my translation) He has him leading the defense of Kinshasa in 1998 (no mention of Zimbabwean or Angolan troops), unifying the country and restoring the state’s authority.

In October 2009, Soudan was still writing on his blog that people were unfairly succumbing to “Congo-bashing.” He writes: If the country had been unified and had made peace with its neighbors it was thanks to Joseph Kabila; it was this president who had struck a lucrative deal with China and had begun to rebuild the country. “For the first time in a long time, an answer has been provided to this monumental challenge: how to reestablish state control over the whole territory?”

Journalists should criticize politicians – and President Kabila deserves serious criticism – but they should also do so in a balanced way. The fact that the same journalist within the space of a year should interpret the same facts in radically different ways raises serious questions of impartiality.