Out of the woods. In an unprecedented move, the Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila invited nine Ugandan journalists, drawn mostly from the broadcast media, for a chat in Kinshasa. In a 36-minutes interview at the palatial River Congo-side Palais De Le Nation, overlooking Congo Brazaville, Mr Kabila rejected the notion that his government has a diminished state authority in eastern part of the DRC, and said it’s Rwanda, the region’s “bad boy”, together with Uganda stirring up things through M23 rebels. The President made no opening remarks, choosing instead to take only questions. Our Senior Reporter TABU BUTAGIRA was in Kinshasa and reproduces a slightly edited version of the interview.
The M23 rebels have dismissed the UN group of experts report (implicating Rwanda and Uganda) as compilations done by your intelligence services. How do you respond to that?
You cannot expect anything less from such a rebel movement than rejecting the report by the UN group of experts.
We believe that the report, which in fact is the conclusion of the initial report, is the truth about what is happening or has been happening over the last eight months in North Kivu; the true face of the people definitely behind what is happening; the insecurity and its disastrous consequences on the population. We have Congolese citizens displaced internally and others living as refugees in Uganda. I wasn’t expecting the M23 rebels or anybody else adversely mentioned in that report to accept it.
The rebels say they want to have a dialogue with you over the failure to implement the 2009 peace agreement, but that you don’t recognise them.
Who wants to talk to me or the Congolese government? The Congo has always been open to discussions; we have had many security-related conferences, had a transitional government but you have to reach a point and get back to the drawing table and ask: What really is happening?
So, what is the cause of this crisis and who are the principal players? Your Excellency, please mention the people involved without diplomacy.
Unfortunately, I’m a diplomat (laughs). What exactly is happening? That is exactly what we want to find out. Initially, the M23 group demanded an evaluation [of the implementation] of the agreement which was signed on March 23, 2009. This is exactly what has been happening, we are yet to receive the official report of that evaluation; Uganda, as chair of the Great Lakes region, was given that particular task and we are waiting for the final report.
Your government has always said it has evidence that Rwanda supports M23 rebels, could you tell us the actual evidence you have gathered?
You don’t really need any evidence from me, you just take a look at the report of the UN group of experts and you will find all the evidence. These are issues that are not new at all. We have put these issues to our Rwandan counterparts on many occasions, and what we would have expected from them is to say, well, we are going to look into it instead of saying this is just baseless; these are lies. Yet that has been the attitude.
How do you hope to work with Rwanda now that it has been elected to the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member?
I don’t know but we hope to work with all the members on the Security Council.
What one would expect and hope is that with Rwanda (now) being a member of UN Security Council, it [should] basically leave this tendency of being the bad boy in the region, and make peace a reality in the region, especially along the border.
The leaked report of the UN group of experts says Uganda is also offering support to the M23. Uganda, and in this case President Museveni, happens to be the chairperson of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). Do you see Uganda playing any more credible mediation role between your government and M23 rebels? Could you confirm that aspect of Uganda’s involvement indicated in the report is correct?
In fact we have not yet had time to talk directly to the Ugandan authorities; we will do that in due course. Are they involved or are they not involved? The report is out there for everybody to see. Although it is not yet the official report, it is a leaked [version of the final] report. We are definitely going to raise this issue (with Uganda) at the highest level and I expect, or we hope, that they will be forthcoming; meaning that they will work on this particular report and come back to us and say that we believe that it is true that one, two, three or four individuals have been doing one, two, three things. These are the measures that we are going to take or have taken.
Uganda is heading our organisation (ICGLR) and one would expect something better than it being mentioned [adversely] in the UN report.
Just to clarify, Uganda government through Foreign Affairs junior minister Oryem Okello has said the allegation is “rubbish” and that it has no hand whatsoever in supporting M23.
(Laughs) Well, that is what you say at a press conference. That is not the reply I’m expecting to get from the Ugandan authorities.
I believe in the coming few days, we shall have the final official version of the leaked UN report and this will allow each and everyone else to really voice their official position. But it will just be too bad if that will be Uganda’s only reply: That the allegation is rubbish and that is it. No. We expect much more from them than that.
What agreements have you reached with Rwanda on the sharing of any kind of resources on the common border?
We haven’t reached any agreement on the sharing of any kind of resources on our common border.
I don’t know whether the question is with Uganda or Rwanda, but I believe there is definitely need for proper coordination in as far as the exploitation of these resources is concerned.
Your government tried to block Rwanda but it got elected to the UN Security Council. What is your comment about that?
Now Rwanda is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. It’s true we tried to block that except the process of electing a non-permanent member to the Security Council is a lengthy one; it starts a year and beyond before.
In this case, it started long before through the East African Community and then the African Union.
Our thought and position was that with the current situation, you cannot have a non-permanent member participating in the deliberation of the UN Security Council and at the same time, directly or indirectly, participating in making it sure that there is no peace in the neighbouring country.
So, that was our position and it is still our position.
So it’s a lengthy process and a process that started a year and a half, which was before this current situation came up.
Why would Rwanda and Uganda want to fight Congo?
That is the question I would like you to put before the authorities in those two countries. We have been asking ourselves that question but don’t seem to have found the answer. We have been very open as far as Congo is concerned and with all the countries of the region in order to work for peace, and find a peaceful solution and we will continue to do that.
There is peaceful, diplomatic and or political solution and a military option will still be on the table as part of the solution in addition to those three.
What happens in the event that the peaceful options fail?
In the event that diplomacy fails, we still have other avenues; we will continue to pursue those avenues with the same objectives; peace, security and stability not only for the Congolese people but our region as a whole.
There is visible development in Kinshasa; the streets are neater, the roads themselves are eight lanes, now replacing what used to be swimming pools. Congratulations! This is a good-looking capital but what are your thoughts about other provinces?
Thank you. Our infrastructure programme does not only concern the capital, this is a programme that started in 2008; the objective is getting most of our infrastructures to a higher level through re-construction. The programme started in Kinshasa because it is the capital where you have the biggest population concentration of about 10 million people. This is a programme that is in the eleven provinces that make up the country. If you go to any of those, you will see similar road works, similar infrastructures projects although not at the same level as in Kinshasa.
You have all these huge ongoing infrastructure projects. How does your government avoid the corruption jinx?
The issue of corruption is in every country, and that is why stronger institutions become very important. We scrapped the anti-corruption commission six years ago.
We believe that the proper way of tackling corruption is by reinforcing the justice system; rendering it very secure and have individuals who will not be corrupted. That is the best way to start tackling corruption.
Aspect two is checks and balances. When you have the Executive which is in charge of most of these projects, controlled by the National Assembly and the Senate (DRC has the lower and upper houses), it renders it difficult for corruption to thrive.
It is not as if we have attained zero level of corruption in this country. But at least we ensure that funds that have been allocated to all these projects have been used for the projects in question.
There is concern that you hand-picked a Chinese company and gave it the contracts to run these projects without following public procurement procedures.
We have a procurement process established by law; it stipulates how a contract is awarded.
As for the bigger projects, we thought that we had to break the classic way of doing things: we talked to a number of countries, not only Chinese with which we have a good relation, and decided to work on our infrastructure. China does 50 per cent of our infrastructure works. We decided to open the door to investors to invest in our mining sector from which we get resources to fund the infrastructures and projects such as in agriculture.
Let’s go to the tourism sector. DRC is richly endowed and home to majority of the endangered mountain gorilla species. Is your government investing enough to promote the country’s vast tourism potential?
Unfortunately, tourists like investors are very worried about insecurity. You, the press, are not helping us, because each and every time you talk of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one sees ‘red’ yet it is not the reality on the ground.
I believe our tourism potential surpasses by far that of other countries, but in order to tap it, you need to assure and reassure the tourists that when they come, they will be safe and that there is peace and security. That is why our priority has been peace, security and stability. Not only to tap into or exploit the tourism market but also for other investments in the country.
The number of tourists we receive would be bigger had there been positive reporting in the media and if we had the peace and stability in Rutshuru (eastern DRC).
Uganda is accused of sponsoring the M23 rebels, but then we are having a problem of Congolese refugees in western Uganda. How is your country collaborating with Kampala and other partners to help these people?
The fighting in North Kivu province has affected everybody; it has affected Congo because we are losing a lot of resources in customs at Bunagana border post and surrounding areas, it has also affected the neighbouring countries because the East African Community does 50 per cent of its business with basically eastern DRC. So, all these chaps that are disrupting the peace, the economy and the economics of the region either don’t know the consequences of their actions or are doing so deliberately.
You have individuals that are benefiting from this mayhem, the state or states are not benefiting, the population is not benefiting. We have to put these individuals under lock-and-key in order for Congo to move forward and peace to be a reality. If and when the refugees move in another country, then you don’t have only the two countries working together but you have a tripartite arrangement, which means, the Congo, Uganda and the UNHCR working together. That is what has been happening. We have had a number of our officials who have gone to the two or three refugee camps and have seen our compatriots there and have stayed there until stability comes before they return home.
Your Excellency, do you believe that this proposal by your colleagues from the Great Lakes region to have a Neutral International Force of 4000 troops is the best way to solve this crisis?
There is no best way of solving a crisis, this is not just a proposal from my colleagues; this is a proposal from the region. In fact initially, this was a proposal that came from Congo. Why? Because we believe that we have a problem in a given part of the region; we believe that there is no confidence between the Rwanda and Congo governments and we needed, or we need, an international force to be posted on that particular border so that this international force gives the necessary assurance to Rwanda that any armed group or any negative force will not cross the border to attack Rwanda, just as much as we also need the same assurances that Rwanda will not be crossing the border to assist whatever armed group or negative force in the region. That is objective number one.
Objective number two, which we clearly stated as a region, is to carry out operations against the negative forces that we have identified.
The Neutral International Force (NIF) is part of the solution. There is need to build confidence, the solution is for the people to say the truth, for all of us to have basically the same vision: peace, security and development for our people.
Rwanda claims that the Interahamwe or FDLR extremists are hibernating in DRC and Uganda also alleges that the Allied Democratic Forces have a lair in eastern DRC due to alleged diminished state authority there. Do you believe those concerns are legitimate and what is your government doing to address them?
Those concerns might be legitimate concerns but how do you deal with them? That is the issue. As far as Uganda was concerned, there was not only ADF; there was Joseph Kony with his Lord Resistance Army rebels. We managed to carry out joint operations with Ugandan army against the LRA, we ourselves continued with those operations against the LRA, now there are officially no LRA elements in Congo.
We were going to carry out the same operations against the ADF had it not been for the instability, the chaos, mayhem caused by the M23 with all the backers that they have. As far as FDLR is concerned, a number of operations were carried against this group, we intended and in fact in some areas in South Kivu we are continuing with operations, North Kivu also, had it not been for the current situation which has now diverted most of our resources to combating these other negative force with minor operations now being carried out against FDLR.
So, yes, those concerns are legitimate just as are our concerns about [Rwanda and Uganda’s] support for these other negative force are legitimate.
Transcribed by Anthony Wesaka