The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been keeping busy under its crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. He has virtually become one of the most powerful ... leaders of the Arab world, especially in the fight for influence in East Africa against its former foe Qatar. Is it any wonder that Riyadh is now making a foray into the arts to also highlight a more tolerant and open country?
This is a bit of a personal showcase for Moïse Katumbi. Nestled on the banks of the Luapula River, not far from Lake Moero, which separates Upper Katanga from neighbouring Zambia, is the town of Kashobwe, home to his father Nissim Soriano’s first shop. In the 1930s, this Jewish man from the island of Rhodes fled Europe, which was on the brink of war. Almost a century later, the family home is still there as are a multitude of souvenirs, like the wreck of a truck, the very first one that the businessman-turned-political actor acquired.
Kashobwe is a place where Katanga’s former governor, now head of Ensemble pour la République, can go to think. It is here, 2,000km from Kinshasa and 300km from Lubumbashi, that the chairman – as his supporters call him – agreed to meet with us in the middle of August.
This is the first time since his party joined the Union Sacrée and entered the government that the former oppositionist, who returned from exile two years ago, has agreed to give an interview. He knows that he is being scrutinised from all sides and has weighed the pros and cons at length. The former governor knows that the blows could also come from this vast heterogenous majority, which has been affected by contrary winds since its creation.
Katumbi nevertheless agreed to answer our questions about the debate centred around the Tshiani law, the painful negotiations taking place within the electoral commission, his relationship with President Tshisekedi and his own ambitions for 2023.
More than 100 days have passed since Sama Lukonde Kyenge’s government was unveiled, would you say that the Union Sacrée is headed in the right direction?
Moïse Katumbi: I personally don’t think there’s any point in discussing the first 100 days. It is essentially a media concept. The DRC is a country on its knees, which needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. We must give this government time. We will take stock after one or two years.
As far as the Union Sacrée itself is concerned, for the moment, we lack a framework for collective consultation. Moreover, we have not had any meeting that would have allowed us to gauge our policies’ effectiveness.
Would you say, as some do, that the state of siege decreed last May in the eastern part of the country has been a failure?
We have to take note of what has been done well and what has not worked. Every day or so, there have been deaths. So the problem persists, which means that we must talk about it among ourselves, even if it bothers some people.
On the judicial level, several people close to former President Joseph Kabila are now being prosecuted or are in exile. Do you think the rule of law is on the right track?
Justice must be independent and not exploited, especially for political purposes. This is what we and the UDPS [Félix Tshisekedi’s Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social] denounced when we were both members of the opposition. Justice cannot be selective; the witchhunt must end.
Is that what you think? That this is a “witch hunt”?
Let’s be clear: it is important to pass judgement on the misdeeds that have been committed. However, if we must condemn, we must also know how to forgive. The Congolese belong in the Congo. They should not be exiled, no matter what they have done. This applies to Kikaya Bin Karubi, John Numbi, Kalev Mutond and others.
We must not forget that some of those who are in trouble today have contributed a lot to our country. These include Pastor Ngoy Mulunda, a man of God who strived for peace; Vital Kamerhe, who in recent years has become extremely active in political life; and Augustin Matata Ponyo, who was a valiant prime minister.
One of President Tshisekedi’s stated top priorities is fighting corruption. How would you assess him in this area?
Yesterday’s practices still persist. The head of state’s Cabinet has acknowledged this by condemning certain advisors to the presidency who have exploited institutions. I say this because being a member of the Union Sacrée does not mean remaining silent or turning a blind eye to what is happening and to reprehensible acts.
Do you feel that your party, Ensemble pour la République, is well represented in government with its five ministers?
We should have had a minimum of 12 ministers and vice-ministers. However, I felt that despite the majority of my government members’ advice, it was our duty to not further delay the establishment of the government. I was offered the post of prime minister, which I declined.
Why did you refuse this position?
I am not in the habit of disclosing the content of my conversations with the president.
Do you regret accepting to take part in the consultations that Tshisekedi launched after his break with Kabila?
I don’t regret what I did. It was necessary to give the Union Sacrée a chance, without prejudging the future.
What do you say to those who accuse you of playing both sides of the field, by keeping one foot in the opposition and the other in the majority?
I am a free man. When I was with President Kabila, I was his most powerful governor. This did not prevent me, when I no longer agreed with him, from telling him so. I am not a hypocrite. When I defended our Constitution, it was from Place de la Poste in Lubumbashi. I never hide my intentions. We did not join the majority simply to applaud. We must have the courage to say out loud what is not working.
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Is your return to the majority and Kabila’s passage into the opposition a form of revenge?
I am a Christian, I am not seeking revenge. I leave that to God. However, even when you are in the majority, you must never forget that power is temporary and that one day the situation may be reversed.
Have you forgiven the former president for sentencing you to four years in exile?
There was never a problem between Kabila and me. In fact, things got complicated with his entourage. The same thing is happening within the Union Sacrée. There are people who think that you only get close to someone so that you can take their job. I am not trying to take anyone’s job.
Have you talked to Kabila recently?
We have not spoken since I left the majority in 2015; but if I ever need to, I will look up his number and call him.
For several weeks, the Tshiani law – which seeks to ban Congolese citizens who are born to a foreign parent from holding the presidential office – has been the subject of controversy. Do you believe, as do some of your collaborators, that this a direct attempt by the government to prevent certain candidates from running in 2023?
I cannot blame the government in power, but I can – with part of the Union Sacrée – because this bill has been proposed by one of its members. The DRC of 2021 does not need a law like those passed in South Africa in the 1940s. It would be disgraceful if our country were the only one in the world that adopted a racist, segregationist and unconstitutional text.
Do you feel personally targeted?
There are millions of Moïse Katumbis in the DRC! What family here does not have a parent, cousin, son or daughter, niece or nephew who is not of Congolese origin? We share borders with nine neighbouring countries, which is a unique case in Africa. Every year, thousands of mixed marriages take place.
In concrete terms, if such a law were to be introduced tomorrow, then it would mean that young Congolese would no longer be able to aspire to the highest positions, even if they are competent and deserving. This is racism, pure and simple.
Would you leave the Union Sacrée if this law were adopted?
Yes, this is clearly a red line. Even if it were only scheduled for debate in parliament, we would leave the majority.
Are you waiting for the head of state to take a position on the issue?
I think he told the senators that he did not agree with this bill, but the public debate continues. We need to [put a stop] to it.
What was your reaction when the president convicted your party’s youth league leader, Jacky Ndala, who had criticised the Tshiani law?
This conviction is inadmissible and unjust. Firstly, because a politician who is not criticised is a dead politician. Furthermore, there are others who have made far more dangerous statements and are still at large. They are even often invited to appear on television.
By refusing to send your delegates to the Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante [Ceni], aren’t you contributing to delaying the electoral process?
It is not us who are delaying things but rather those who are manoeuvring to ensure that this election is neither fair, transparent, nor inclusive. I spoke earlier of a red line. Appointing the president and other members of the Ceni is another. Their nomination must be consensual and in accordance with the law. This means letting the religious denominations work without pressure, threats, intimidation or manipulation, and taking into account each partner’s weight within the majority.
Does the new electoral law sufficiently depoliticise the Ceni?
No, and I remember very well the president’s speech, in which he said that he was going to do this to avoid the mistakes of the past. I was encouraged by that, but we are moving away [from that]. Remember 2006, 2011 and 2018? The same causes will produce the same effects in 2023. We want – should President Tshisekedi win the next elections fairly – everyone to acknowledge and applaud him; and if someone else wins, we will congratulate that person.
Will the elections be held in 2023?
It is not an option but rather an obligation, and it is up to the institutions to comply with the electoral calendar rather than trying to adapt the Constitution to some political agenda.
Some members of the Union Sacrée have questioned your loyalty to the head of state…
The two of us have a very frank relationship. When I have something to say to him, I am very direct and open.
Several leading members of the majority – such as Modeste Bahati Lukwebo, the Senate’s president – have already expressed their support for Tshisekedi’s candidacy in 2023. However, you have not. Why is that?
Bahati Lukwebo and Jean-Pierre Bemba [president of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo, MLC] are both free to speak on their parties’ behalf, as am I. That is democracy. Saying that I lack loyalty simply because I have not yet spoken on this issue is a political con job.
Are you planning to run in the upcoming election?
If I had already decided to run in 2023, I would have openly said so. I have not yet made a decision either way.
Today, I am the head of Ensemble. We have bodies, including a steering committee and a political bureau. Therefore, the decision can only be made at the end of our congress and in a collective manner.
When you were a member of the opposition, you believed that the president would be solely responsible for his or her own performance. Do you still feel the same way, now that you are part of the majority?
As a member of the Union Sacrée, we will claim our fair share of responsibility, but only that. Let’s face it: in the eyes of the Congolese people, the number one person responsible will be Tshisekedi.
Given the current political dynamics, is it possible that Ensemble and the FCC will become closer?
I will not rule out a coalition with anyone. When we were members of the opposition, who would have thought that Bemba and I would end up as part of the majority? When I negotiate, I always do so in the open. If I ever feel that the Union Sacrée no longer has the population’s best interests at heart, I will say so.
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