tells the West, “Promise me Peace, not Money, Hypocrisy
and Lip Service"
by Charles Cobb Jr. and Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
International Herald Tribune, Philadelphia, November 1, 2001
Kabila was installed as president of the Democratic Republic of
Congo earlier this year, to replace his father, Laurent Desire
Kabila, who was assassinated in January 2001. Since then, the
younger Kabila has been credited for tackling, head-on, the problems
of his country that has been embroiled in a three-year long rebellion.
In mid-October, the Congolese government, opposition, armed groups
and civil society finally gathered in the Ethiopian capital, Addis
Ababa, for the start of the much-heralded Inter-Congolese dialogue
which was shortlived. Kabila and the Kinshasa authorities pulled
out, complaining that the process was not truly representative.
The talks have been rescheduled to continue in South Africa, though
no date has yet been set.
Kabila is the special guest in Philadelphia, USA, this week at
the US-Africa Business Summit organized by the Corporate Council
for Africa. He gave a keynote address at a luncheon attended by
hundreds of African and American business leaders on Tuesday.
The Congolese President was interviewed in-depth by allAfrica.com
as well as the International Herald Tribune. He discussed relations
with the West, peace, conflict and the hopes and prospects for
his divided nation of 50 million citizens.
Kabila, you said today, "We have decided to restructure our
political landscape to make it easier for our country, and the
region, to be integrated into the global economy". Please
world is what most people term as the free world, a world that
is always in motion, a world where the word democracy is becoming
like another verb. It has turned into a verb. I also mentioned
that, in the last 40 years, we have been a turbulent nation.
So, we are trying to change, to move from a very unstable nation
-- unstable as far as the institutions are concerned, unstable
as far as the economy and policies are concerned into a world
which is proving to be much more stable, with nations like this
one, the United States, nations like South Africa, nations like
Tanzania and Nigeria.
We are changing from the dictatorship that we’ve known over
the last 36 years. So, basically it is that kind of transition
that I’m talking of and that I talked about.
the short-circuited (Inter-Congolese Dialogue) peace talks in
Addis (Ababa, Ethiopia) a step backwards in these terms?
very fact that we are talking is a positive step in itself. It’s
a step forward. You know, when you’re discussing, there
are always bound to be contradictions and points you won’t
agree on. It’s normal. What happened in Addis Ababa, I knew
something like that would happen, because the talks were not very
But I believe the facilitator (former Botswana president, Sir
Ketumile Masire) is taking the time to prepare the talks, so that
in South Africa we don’t leave again with the contradictions
of Addis Ababa. So, all in all, for me it was a positive meeting.
Kabila, who do you consider at fault for the failure of the Addis
Ababa talks? These were meant to include all Congolese groups
the government, the armed groups, rebels, civil society. You say
the Inter-Congolese dialogue wasn’t well organized, but
it’s not that there hasn’t been enough time to prepare.
Who would you say is to blame?
say that we are all at fault: the rebels, the facilitator and,
being objective, maybe as the government we didn’t push
everybody hard enough to do things. But I would like to state
that, before we went to Addis Ababa, I saw the facilitator and
he told me that the meeting that he had called in Addis Ababa
could rather be a meeting to review the problems that still existed;
technical problems that we would have to study and find solutions.
So, there was rather a miscomprehension. People didn’t comprehend
exactly what the meeting was. We had one comprehension of the
meeting in Addis Ababa, the rebels had their own comprehension
and the facilitator of course (had his own). So the blame should
really fall on each and every one. But what’s more important
is to look to the future and make things much more possible.
every opportunity these days, you mention elections and the fact
that you want to hold elections in Congo. What time frame do you
envisage and will you be standing as a presidential candidate
of your country?
do you think? (SMILES) Should I stand?
do YOU think? Do you think you should stand?
I’ll ask advice from very many people before I decide what
that mean you are considering it?
you know in life, for me life does not really mean, I mean my
life does not hang between being a president and not being a president
and that’s the end of life. No, I see life continuing, either
being in the presidency or not.
But if, at all, I am given the chance to serve my country, like
I’m doing right now, I’ll do it with all my heart
and with a lot of love.
When I talk of elections, it is not a wish, it is not just a wish.
This is a commitment, a commitment that stems from 1997 when the
revolution triumphed. We promised free and fair elections two
years from 1997. Too bad the war broke out one year later, so
we didn’t have the time. So this is a commitment that we
made and we want to see the country, or rather we want to see
elections being held in the country.
Today it is very difficult to talk about a time frame. If at all
the country was united, if there was no war and there was total
peace, I could say why can we not hold elections in one year’s
time or 18 months’ time?
But there are prerequisites to holding free and fair and truly
democratic elections: 1, the country must be united, the administration
must be one. There should be transparency in order to allow for
each and every political party or candidate to do whatever campaigning
they want to do.
That’s not the case today. Today, the country is sub-divided
into two areas, the area under occupation which is also sub-divided
into three other areas, under Ugandan, control, Rwandese control
and another splinter rebel movements. So it’s quite difficult
to say that we can hold elections tomorrow or the day after that.
But, if and when the country is reunified within one year or 18
months, I believe with the assistance of the whole world, the
international community, we will be able to hold elections within
that time frame.
about the international community, many observers say that your
late father, Laurent Kabila, squandered the international goodwill
that he had when he arrived in Kinshasa in May 1997 and that,
Kabila the younger, YOU, have also got international support and
goodwill on your side. You are being feted all over the world,
especially in the west. What do you think that western governments
see in you that they didn’t see in your father that is positive?
western governments would be in a better position to answer that.
But, when we talk of the goodwill of the international community
in 1997, I don’t know. I don’t really know if there
was enough goodwill.
When we arrived in 1997, what we could have wanted to see back
then was true support, true support in all that we were doing
and what we were trying to achieve. But what happened was the
massacres of the refugees. That is one of the elements which dominated
the whole scene in the 1997 period up to 1998 when the war broke
So, even today when we talk of goodwill, the goodwill of the international
community, what’s good will? I mean, the goodwill that I
would really like to see from the international community is really
bringing an end to the war. Because we cannot talk of goodwill
when the country, for the last three years, is and has been under
We have lost three million of our compatriots, directly or indirectly
because of this war. Our resources are being looted and we talk
For me, I just say that is pure hypocrisy.
We talk of the goodwill. Today, we’ve got in place an economic
programme that we are trying to run, to really try to put the
economy back on its feet. And what do we get? It’s just
lip service: alot of talk and nothing happening.
I’ll give you an example, and that’s the European
Union. When I met them in March, there were also lots of promises.
"We’ll do this, we’ll do that if and when the
dialogue starts, we’ll do this and that.
Well, I told them whether you do it or not, that won’t stop
us from going ahead with our programme, with the dialogue. We
will continue with the dialogue, because we want to solve our
When they came to see me in Kinshasa, they repeated the same thing.
"We’ll do this, we’ll do that. We’ve got
120m Euros that we’ll give if at all the dialogue stats".
Well, I told them, "Gentlemen after all, this is your money.
It’s not as if it’s a debt. (LAUGHS). I mean, don’t
have any guilty feelings. If you have your money and you don’t
want to give it, just say we don’t want to give the money,
but don’t hang it over my head, or over the heads of millions
of Congolese. That is not acceptable.
And I said, what the Congo really needs from the international
community is not millions or billions of US dollars. What do we
do with the money in a divided country? What we need is the same
international community, first of all, to make sure that international
laws are respected and this I made reference to, and I’m
making reference again to, the war of aggression. We’ve
got the UN charter, which is very clear on this. We’ve also
got the OAU charter which is very clear on aggression.
And, instead of promising me money, promise me peace. Make it
happen. And I can tell you with peace in the Congo, we might not
need all the money in the world.
I detect a trace of bitterness or skepticism at the seriousness
of purpose of the western nations?
really bitterness. But, when a nation loses nearly 3 million people
and there seems not to be the concern that should be shown by
each and every body, I don’t know, I’m not a very
emotional person, but there I can really get emotional (LAUGHS).
When you lose three million people, or whatever the number, I
believe people must take up their responsibilities and do what
they should have done three years ago.
not bitterness, what about skepticism?
not even skeptical, because I really count on our own efforts,
we ourselves the Congolese people. I could be skeptical if everything
else depended on the same international community, but not at
all. A lot depends on ourselves as the people of the Congo. But
there is also a very big role for the international community
to play: a role that it hasn’t being playing.
If at all it has been playing that role, it is in the negative
sense. That’s why not only me, but also the Congolese people,
might be very bitter about that.
you directly appealed to the international community to step in
and help you try to end this war? And have the events of 11 September
maybe hampered some of the attention that should be given to Congo?
We’ve appealed since the 2nd of August (1998), when the
first shot was fired. We cried and said "This is an aggression,
gentlemen or whoever is concerned. Do something". So, each
and every day that goes by, we are appealing to the international
community. It’s not something new.
As for the events of 11th September, I sincerely hope that these
events won’t put the Congo in the shadows, because we risk
then leaving the country, or a part of the country, unstable.
I’m talking about the east of the country. And this will
be fertile ground for anybody, or for those who carried out the
September 11th attack, to use that part, because it’s no-man’s-land,
or rather a land whether it’s the law of the jungle.
So, I sincerely believe that the events of September 11th will
raise the awareness of each and everybody, that terrorism, when
and if it reached America, WE have been living with it for the
last three years. So, more efforts must be made for us to solve
the problem once and for all.
in the US business community have expressed an interest in looking
at opportunities available in the Congo. They have talked about
potentially investing or looking at working more closely with
thegovernment. How is the DRC government trying to approach the
international financial community, the business community to try
to attract foreign companies to do business in the Congo. Have
you started an investment centre programme or tried to develop
this in any way?
got a minimum programme of the government which really deals with
the problems that we have right now, the economic problems that
we have right now. We’ve got an investment centre in the
pipeline. I talked about the mining code and the investment code.
These are the two codes which are also in the pipeline. They are
going to be adopted by parliament in November. So, all of these
are measures that we are trying to put in place to make it easier
for investors to come back to the Congo.
You might also know that we did have American investments in the
Congo in the 1960s and 70s, but then contradictions and, of course,
the negative attitude of the dictatorship really confiscated most
of the investments then. Most of these investors left. So, it’s
not really like it’s a terrain that they don’t know.
They know the ground. We are telling them that things are changed
and we are welcoming them to come and see what those changes are
and what it is possible to do.
But, as far as the groundwork is concerned, I should say that
the base is already set and prepared.
investors come into a country, peace is the most important factor.
Do you feel that peace must be re-established before investors
can come and do business in the DRC?
like to say that, the way I see it, peace and investment are like
twins. I am a twin myself, I have got my twin sister. So, it is
just like twins. At the same time, if these twins go to school,
you won’t block one from advancing because the other is
not able to keep up. So, I believe there are two things that should
move parallel or one should precede the other.
This time it’s true that we need peace in order for investors
to be confident and feel secure when they come to the Congo. On
the other side, when you create wealth and create jobs, you are
trying to make it almost difficult for anybody with thoughts of
war to recruit the jobless and whomever. So, these are two things
that go hand in hand.
So, as far as the peace process is concerned, I myself am very
much confident that we are moving in the right direction. People
want us to move very fast, too fast. But, this is a situation
that has been there for the last 40-41 years. You can’t
solve it in 30-40 days. It’s a process that we’ve
The most important thing is not to backtrack, not to go back on
of what you need, it seems, is a pretty healthy dose of finance
or capital, money. Companies like Chevron and the oil companies
that extract oil from Congo, they have been pretty flat in terms
of their investment in Congo. Are you specifically approaching
them to ask them to increase their investment and output in Congo?
For a decade it has remained pretty much at the same level.
Congo the investments have remained rather at the same level.
In fact, sometimes it has even gone down. We have had quite a
number of discussions with these companies, Chevron especially.
And in the programme that they have, I believe in the year 2002,
they’ve got plans to readjust and to increase their investments
by, I believe, 25 or 50 million from what they told me. Of course,
this is still nothing compared with the capacity of our natural
resources, but it is altogether the beginning.
But I wouldn’t only want us to stop there and talk of Chevron
and other companies. There’s also the private sector. We’ve
got people who’ve invested in Lubumbashi, in the mining
sector, Americans. And I believe we have very many more of them
moving into the Congo to invest.
So, we are trying to tell them that they need to readjust in the
what are they saying to you?
are saying they are ready to do that, because they feel and believe
that the changes are there to last.
do you see Congo in 5 years’ time, politically, economically
and socially if you could have your wish?
for me is quite far. Let’s say in 2-3 years’ time,
I’d like to see, politically, the Congo on a very stable,
democratic footing. In 3 years’ time I believe we should,
or we would, have held elections. We will have elected leaders
of government at all levels and, with that of course, there would
be changes in the way things are run.
People will be able to participate fully in all aspects of the
economy, the political life and of course the social aspect of
So, in 5 years’ time for me, I see a Congo that is very
different and a Congo that will really be the impulse for development
in the central African region.
are surrounded by 9 nations, some of whom are quite ambitious
in terms of how they would like to use the Congo. The blunt question
is how are you going to fend off your neighbours?
am I going to fend off the neighbours, or how are we going to
fend off the neighbours? I believe, if I could be very pragmatic,
I should say that we need to be very, very strong militarily.
But, talking of being positive, I think we should bring everybody
together. All these 9 countries, they should and must understand
that the resources in the Congo can and will benefit all these
9 countries, of course starting with the Congolese themselves.
But in order for that to happen, there must be peace: peace not
only in the Congo, but also peace in the whole region. Today,
the war that is in the east of the Congo does not only affect
our population. It affects the countries of Tanzania and Zambia.
Angola is also affected and Congo-Brazzaville. So, almost five
or six countries are affected by this war. And it’s in their
interest to see a very, very strong nation and a very stable one
that will also give them the chance to come and invest in it.
We are talking, for example, of the South Africans. I said South
Africa has a GDP of US$ 162bn, I believe. With peace in the Congo
they can really come and invest their money and help the Congolese
people create more wealth. The answer to that is integration of
the whole region and all the 9 countries, on a very equal basis:
not of a Congo that is being used as a carpet for each and every
nation that wishes to do so.
Kabila, who is Joseph Kabila? At the time that you took over,
when your late father was assassinated, you were described as
a dark horse, an unknown quantity, even your young age was an
issue. You were a former major general in your father’s
rebel army that seized control of Congo in 1997, but what personally
do you bring to the peace process in Congo and to what might be
the end of the conflict?
what do I bring? I bring the pragmatic overview, or rather the
pragmatic thinking that is very much needed. We’ve got a
problem in the Congo. It doesn’t matter who or what age
of whoever is supposed to solve that problem. What matters is
how do you view the problem, how do you see the problem in order
to find objective and proper solutions to that problem? I believe
that has been my approach.
Well, of course, there have been quite a lot of critics and criticism
about what Mr Kabila could or could not do. But I hope, and I
always pray to God, that I will prove everybody wrong one day.
In order to do that, we have to bring peace to the Congo and I
will say "Ladies and Gentlemen I proved you wrong".
So, it’s rather being on the pragmatic side and looking
at things, or the reality, straight in the face.
pragmatic are you and how pragmatic are you prepared to be and
with whom, pragmatic with the rebels and their supporters? And
to what degree?
in fact, with everybody. You might know that the problem in the
Congo is not a homegrown problem. The problem in the Congo, we
have stated, is a problem of a war of aggression: a war of aggression
that has gone on for the past three years.
When I talk of being pragmatic, it does not only mean that I am
the only one who should be pragmatic. All the other people, the
adversaries must also be pragmatic. Here I’m talking of
Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. They must understand that making war
won’t and is not the solution. Everybody is crying for peace
and you don’t make peace by making war at the same time.
So, if we all come to view that reality as a fact, then I believe
that’s where the pragmatism itself starts. I have already
realized that it’s peace that we need. It’s up to
the other side to realize that it’s peace that the Congolese
people need and, of course, everybody else in the region.
Kabila, we see you often at international and continental summits
and conferences. You always look very serious. Occasionally, rarely,
you break into a smile. (LAUGHS). What do you do to relax, what
makes you laugh? Is there anything that makes you laugh since
you’re so busy trying to end the conflict in Congo? Are
you sporty, do you read, do you listen to music?
how do I look? Like a very sporty man? (LAUGHS). Yah. I used to
be, but now I’m growing older. I believe I’ll even
start to grow grey hair before even the time comes (SMILES). But,
what makes me laugh? Well, what makes me laugh is just, it’s
really, there are not very many things that might make me laugh,
especially with the situation that we have.
But on the horizon I can say there is hope and that hope might
just make me smile. To make me laugh, we’d really have to
go over that horizon and find the true peace that we’re
looking for and to restore the dignity of our people.
Then, there, I might stand aside and say, well, we’ve done
something for this great nation, which is not the case today.