President Kabila takes stock of his efforts for reconstruction in the DRC
Dr Paul Komba
Cambridge Consultation Group for the Congo
In May 2009, President Kabila gave a landmark interview, which can be read from the blog run by the Belgian Journalist, Colette Braeckman. This paper is an English rendition of the underlying message conveyed during the course of that interview.
First and foremost, the western countries may be forgiven for thinking that the mining agreements between China and the DRC are reversible. However the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo , Joseph Kabila, has confirmed that works by Chinese entrepreneurs are already underway in places such as Bas-Congo (south-western DRC) and the capital, Kinshasa .
The President described this as the realisation of ‘our efforts'. However, he admitted to the journey to travel being still a long way away. The crucial thing, he added, was to make a first step, and by the end of 2009 he believes real change will be felt across the country.
The DRC has faced one of the major conflicts in the Great Lake regions, especially in the eastern part ravaged by war. The conflict goes back to several years since former President Kabila Sr took office after toppling the veteran dictator Mobutu. Until recently, lack of a durable solution and adequate financial resources has prevented the DRC democratic government functioning properly. The conflict has cost the government a lot both in terms of human lives and resources and energy.
The President acknowledged that all DRC citizens do not want to see their country splintered. Despite the weight of conspiracy theories, there is no chance of the country being divided or balkanised. He is optimistic as to the future of the DRC as a whole but cautiously adds that ‘we have not yet reached a point of no-return'.
Part of the success of his government is due to the move to rebuild diplomatic relations with Rwanda , a country which was hitherto regarded as the key architect of the DRC conflict. The DRC has appointed an ambassador in Kigali ( Rwanda ), a move that the President was forced to account for.
The resumption of diplomatic ties with Rwanda is due to the realisation that neither the DRC nor Rwanda was going to win the war in the Great Lakes region and that both countries needed to work together to bring peace and stability in the region. The president had seen for himself the sheer scale of devastation and human suffering whilst touring the worst affected regions. He re-assured that things were returning to normalcy, even though there are still some renegade forces operating in the East, causing panic and vowing to disrupt the peace process. These forces are, however, in the minority and lack a substantial local and international support. That gives ground for the Mr Kabila to believe that they will once day be defeated, if not annihilated.
The President denounced what he called the West's failure to support his effort to restore peace in the East of the DRC. He said that the West has remained rather cautious if not indifferent throughout. Despite efforts by the West to support the UN Mission in the Congo (known as MONUC) as well as frantic visits from leaders of the UK and EU, the West has displayed a rather callous attitude towards the DRC. Mr Kabila explained that the West may have their own motives, one of which is perhaps concerns about the economic and financial crisis. That might explain why the West has forgotten ‘our region'. However what matters most to the President and his people is that he did not fail in his efforts to generate stability in the eastern part of the DRC.
The President played down criticisms at home and abroad regarding his move to invite Rwandan troops alongside DRC soldiers to fight rebels in Eastern Congo . The mission costs the President of the National Assembly, his seat. However, the President says there are always people out there who are slow in understanding events. ‘In a movement among the peers, whenever strategic options are raised, it may take time for others to understand, whereas others act in bad faith to disrupt joint efforts'. This makes the President huffy, although it says that must be something one must live with. The bottom-line is that the Rwandan and Congolese joint operation proved successful. During this crisis, the President urges calm in order to better tackle poverty as he believes that poverty is the major engine to war.
The President mandate is coming to an end in 2011, after which time elections will have to take place. He was on record as saying that he had very few reliable aides. Asked whether this is attributable to him making the wrong choice, he insisted that nobody actually knew anyone until they had worked together. He averred that he could not change his advisers from now and then and that he needed time to get to know the real people. Since 2001, there have been many changes around the President. He insists that to transform a country like the Congo , one should not count on a thousand people where ten or fifteen would do.
The fight against corruption has been one of the President's top priorities. He says he wanted to ensure change in attitudes.
Clearly, since 2001, and indeed since the 2006 elections, fraud has not been properly addressed in the DRC and the President has launched an anti-corruption initiative, financed by the so-called friends of the DRC, including the World Bank and the IMF. The President, however, feels that he has not been receiving enough support from these ‘friends' and suggested that he will appoint a special adviser in charge of good governance and fight against corruption. Such an appointment will be part of the cabinet reshuffle that he wants to carry out in mid June this year. The success of this office will depend on cooperation with the judiciary in keeping with the rule of law.
The President also used his interview to address the concerns that the West have about his transitional government. Countries such as Belgium were critical of the government, accusing it of corruption. Mr Kabila hopes that the West have realised he was not as handy as most analysts thought and reiterated that he would only take orders from the DRC people.' I can execute the will of our people who want peace, reconstruction and development, stability. Does that conflict with western interests, I hope not', he added. But his policy may be well run counter to those who still harbour the thought that they could come and loot ‘our resources' unchallenged.
The President was thus alluding to the notorious move to renegotiate mining contracts between the West and the DRC. He did not care whether he lost friends in the West over the renegotiation dossier and nourished the thought that he could carry on and make new friends along the way—whilst struggling to keep old ones.
He was adamant that those who loved the DRC needed to understand that rebuilding the country was the single most important challenge. Since 2001 the President has made several tours throughout the country, and observed that rebuilding 100,000 km of roads was no small matter. Another issue was the creation of employment and restore confidence in all people whose lives have been affected by the war.
The President does not care about winning a second term in office. His only concern, he says, was to continue working and to get everyone to work. ‘It is with my 65 million compatriots that we will transform this country.
Let's talk a bit about the "international community" whose definition is quite confused ... Recently, the World Bank, the IMF gave us $ 300 million to deal with the crisis. At the same time, I learned that Romania had on its own received $ 12 billion ... while we have 65 million inhabitants!'
In fact, the President believes that the West has abandoned not only the DRC, but also the rest of African countries who are forced to fend for themselves. He explains that such a situation left the DRC with no option but to forge alliances with the Chinese and other countries willing to support the country's reconstruction efforts. He believes that the partnerships between the DRC and China have produced a win-win situation. Reverting to the issue of international community, president Kabila has banned ministers to publicise the number of promises they have been receiving from western donors, for fear that people might start asking about the delivery of these promises.
Dr Paul Komba
Cambridge Consultation Group for the Congo
Copyright © 2009 Congo Vision