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DRC’s Moïse Katumbi: ‘I will be a constructive but extremely vigilant opponent’
The disputed December elections, the start of Felix Tshisekedi’s presidency, the influence of Joseph Kabila, his own political future... Back home after three years in forced exile, the former governor of Katanga and leading figure of the Congolese opposition speaks his mind.
On the morning of May 20, Moïse Katumbi arrived at the Lubumbashi Airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to a packed and emotional welcome after a three-year self-imposed exile in Belgium. The exiled politician was governor of Katanga from 2007 to 2015, before breaking up with ex-president Joseph Kabila, whom he accused of wanting to extend his presidency by a third term by amending the Constitution.
All dressed in white, the “Chairman”, as his supporters call him, was greeted by a jubilant crowd as soon as he got off the private plane and was wheeled through the crowds. The DRC has changed a lot in his absence. Joseph Kabila is no longer the head of the state and Félix Tshisekedi, with whom Katumbi was very close, now occupies the Nation’s Palace.
But the ties between the two men have loosened: the businessman, anxious to respect the opposition pact sealed in Geneva, joined Martin Fayulu during the presidential elections in December 2018. Nevertheless, without Tshisekedi and his willingness to ease the political tensions that have plagued Kinshasa for many years, Katumbi would have never been able to recover his passport and return home, a return with great pomp and circumstance that would have been particularly upsetting for Kabila.
In any case, the Congolese political scene is in the process of being redrawn. Before, there was Kabila and his opponents. Now it’s more complicated. Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition which has control over the national and provincial assemblies, and Tshisekedi’s CACH coalition are governing together but with conflicting objectives: Tshisekedi needs to impose himself; Kabila does not intend to give up an ounce of power.
Tshisekedi needs to impose himself; Kabila does not intend to give up an ounce of power
The Lamuka coalition, which regroups Katumbi, Jean-Pierre Bemba, Martin Fayulu, Adolphe Muzito, Freddy Matungulu and Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi are therefore left to deal with this occasional hurdle. In apparent osmosis for the moment, even if Fayulu, who has still not digested the presidential sleight of hand which he claims would have cost him victory, seems to be isolating himself from his partners. He continues to demand the “truth of the ballot box”, even though everyone has turned the page and is preparing for the future, with the 2023 presidential election already in sight.
In a vast office decorated with the multiple trophies won by his football club, the Almighty Mazembe, at his Lubumbashi villa, Katumbi sits down with Jeune Afrique on the night of May 20 to discuss the disputed December elections, his return to the DRC, his relations with Felix Tshisekedi and Joseph Kabila, the various judicial cases that have marked his three years of absence, the role he intends to play now, his vision for the DRC, among others. One thing is certain: the son of Kashobwe, a village in Haut-Katanga near the Zambian border where he was born fifty-four years ago, a fervent Catholic, sure of his fate and a bit idealistic, hardly shows any doubts.
Jeune Afrique: You returned to Lubumbashi on 20 May after three years to the day of forced exile. What was your first feeling?
Moïse Katumbi: It is a great joy, of course, mixed with a little sadness when I see how my province has evolved since I left. As a Christian, I thank God, I know that the huge crowd that welcomed me at the airport and escorted me on foot to the Post Office Square did so because the Lord wanted his son to be honoured for the work he did in Katanga. Naturally I was very moved, I am still very moved. In our country, there is a great deal of suffering that was expressed at the polls. People voted for change, and I want to ensure that this promise is kept. I want to be a kind of sentinel and work hand in hand with the whole population so that no one, for example, dares to change the constitution.
Why did you choose to go home now? Were you given any guarantees?
I did not ask for or obtain any guarantees. But it must be acknowledged that many things have changed for the better in this country: political freedom is undeniable, and I am not the only one who has returned from exile. The new President, Felix Tshisekedi, returned my passport that had been confiscated, although I’m disappointed that my adviser, Salomon Kalonda Idi Della, was unable to recover his. Yesterday [19 May], I was afraid to return because I was well aware of the danger I would have been exposed to, even before getting on the plane. I could have been shot and my safety was not assured. I finally tried my luck in an attempt to see my people, although I knew perfectly well that no risk was not completely ruled out yet. But my best defense is the Congolese people. If anything were to happen to me, they would know who to hold accountable.
What has changed in the DRC precisely? Would you agree with Tibor Nagy, the Assistant Secretary for the US Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs, that the last election was the most democratic in the country’s history?
In 2006, 2011 and 2018, the elections were chaotic. They had been programmed to be. Thank God, by voting massively for change, the Congolese people have this time managed to keep the chaos at bay. But I will certainly not condemn Félix Tshisekedi, Martin Fayulu and all those who, in good faith, participated in these electoral masquerades. They suffered chaos, they didn’t create it! That is why our opposition platform is so insistent on the need to hold free, fair and transparent elections in the future.
Joseph Kabila is no longer at the helm of the country, you supported Fayulu in the presidential election, and it was Tshisekedi who was elected. Are you like your ally Fayulu obsessed with the last election, determined to restore what you consider to be the “truth of the ballot box”?
My brother Martin Fayulu campaigned very well, and I understand his disappointment. He filed an appeal, but the Constitutional Court validated the election of Félix Tshisekedi. The six leaders of the Lamuka coalition met in Brussels and unanimously decided to give top priority to the future of our country because, otherwise, it would be the Congolese people who would suffer. Martin and Felix are very good and very old friends. They know each other better than I do, they attend the same church and have the same pastor. As Lamuka’s coordinator, I hope that these two brothers can work together in the general interest of the nation.
At the height of challenging the presidential results, the regional heads of state had planned to travel to Kinshasa to undertake mediation efforts. They finally gave it up. Have you been disappointed by their attitude and that of the international community as a whole?
Heads of state are always very legalistic. They wanted to come to Kinshasa, but the Constitutional Court having rendered its verdict they could not place themselves above the law. So they didn’t come, but they made sure that the country wouldn’t sink. In the end, they took note of the Court’s decision, congratulated the proclaimed winner, and then chose to turn the page and move forward. And the international community, whether it is the US, France, Belgium or the other countries of the European Union, has done the same. For me, this is not a disappointment, and I thank all these Heads of state because they sincerely sought to maintain peace and spare the Congolese people from chaos.
You were once close to Felix Tshisekedi. Have you spoken to him since he was elected?
No, but you know, I consider Felix a brother. Together, we fought a great battle. We have travelled the world so that the former president cannot serve a third term and so that change can take place. Even during the Geneva talks, I never concealed, against the advice of many of my political friends, that my preferred candidate was Felix Tshisekedi. Later, he and Vital Kamerhe created their own electoral platform, and I stayed on my side, respecting the vote that had made Martin Fayulu our candidate. Today, I am in opposition, but a constructive opposition. One day, we will have to meet and talk about the future of the country and the aspirations of its people.
A hundred days have passed since he took office. What is your assessment of these first days?
I don’t like this notion of a hundred days, because it’s much too short a period to be able to take stock. But as I observe the improved political situation, the release of political prisoners, the closure of intelligence prisons, the return of exiles, the return of confiscated passports, from the point of view of justice and law, progress is clear. Now my advice to the government would be to conduct a thorough audit of the state accounts and public companies. The new government must give itself the means to pursue its policies because if finances are not better managed, the future will be difficult. It is essential to curb corruption, dismiss government officials involved in malpractice as soon as possible and replace them with trustworthy people. That’s not what’s the country is lacking anyway!
Aside the presidential election, there’s the legislative and provincial elections where Kabila’s camp won the majority. Who do you believe is the true head of the country?
Adding the results of Tshisekedi and Fayulu in the presidential election resulted in about 72% of voters. It’s still very strange that three quarters of the population would have voted against it in the legislative and provincial elections. Let’s be serious, these were not elections but appointments! However, there is no half president. Felix Tshisekedi is the guarantor of the nation and the head of the armed forces. He is the one who sets the course and implements the programme on which he was elected and it is to him that the Prime Minister, regardless of his political affiliation, must submit. Therefore, the only advice I would give to the new President is to implement his programme because eventually he is accountable to the Congolese people, and only them.
Would you advise him to dissolve the Assembly as soon as possible?
It is up to him to determine if he can work with the current parliament.
How do you envision your own future, that of your party, Together for Change (Ensemble pour le Changement) and that of the opposition coalition to which you belong (Lamuka)? The next presidential election will take place in 2023, it’s not that far away…
I believe that I will first, after consulting with my friends, make appointments within Lamuka, particularly with regard to the positions of spokesperson and secretary during the period for which I will be the coordinator. Obviously I will also keep an eye on Together for Change, my colleagues have been orphans for too long. But above all, I want to convince the Congolese people that there is a demanding and constructive opposition in this country.
Article 8 of the Constitution grants the opposition leader a certain status. It remains to be seen who the leader in question is….
Until now, there was no one. We will discuss it among opposition leaders.
There are still some parties that have more seats than others in elected assemblies. In the National Assembly, that is the case of Ensemble pour le Changement…
Yes, that’s what the law says. Since Together for Change has the largest number of seats, it is entitled to leadership status. But democracy requires us to discuss the way forward between the leaders of the coalitions: myself, Jean-Pierre Bemba, Martin Fayulu, and the others.
Yesterday [19 May], Together with Bemba, Fayulu, you agreed on the need to put an end to Kabila’s reign. Are you still on the same page now that this objective has been partially achieved?
Contrary to what you think, 2023 is still a long way off. We are discussing, but there are things we will never accept, and neither will the Congolese people. The introduction of indirect suffrage for the presidential election, is one such example. We will also continue our fight against corruption and for good governance. But let us be clear, we have no intention whatsover to form a radical opposition. We have no desire to provoke unnecessary wars. We rather want to help the Head of State succeed in his mandate, because that would mean that the country would have put an end to the terrible years we have lived through, that it would have developed and that it would have been able to come together. If things get out of hand, we’ll see. We will be vigilant and rigorous but we want the public to understand that, for once, the opposition’s sole objective is not to seek appointments.
Yes, but you will inevitably have different ambitions and, no doubt, become competitors….
Political competitors, possibly; enemies, under no circumstances.
The period between 2016 to 2019 was a particularly difficult one for you. The number of legal cases increased, your security was threatened and you went into exile. Weren’t you tempted to abandon politics?
I asked myself the question: what had I been doing in this mess? My business was flourishing, the population trusted me… But during the 2006 legislative elections, my “brother” Augustin Katumba Mwanke asked me to help his party keep the Lubumbashi headquarters. I did it and I was elected as a member of Parliament. Then, the voters wanted me to become governor. In 2007, I was the best-elected governor of the DR Congo, and no one has received so many votes since.
But you have since experienced many problems….
Yes, but I don’t regret anything. I have done good for the people of my region, I have built roads, hospitals, [and] funded the education of many young people. When I arrived in Katanga, there were 300,000 students, 13% of them girls. Today, we are at 3.8 million, 47% of whom are girls. The province’s contribution to the Consolidated Revenue Fund then was about 13%. It was very little, [given that] this region was the economic lung of the country. After six months of good governance and fighting against corruption, it has returned to first place. Before, the provincial government transferred $120m a year to Kinshasa. In just one year, I have increased that amount to about $2.5bn. If the production of Gécamines mines is what it is today, it is thanks to me and no one else. My record speaks for itself. But when it came to amending the Constitution to allow the president to run for a third term, I said no. And then the war began. I have suffered unimaginable attacks. I have been accused of anything and everything, of having robbed the owner of a house that does not belong to me, of having recruited mercenaries, of having dipped my hands into the governorate’s coffers, of having another nationality and who knows what else. In the end all these were false, as everyone knows. But there was no third term, and Kabila’s candidate did not win.
What is the latest on the judicial side of things?
My Congolese passport has been returned. My lawyer wrote to the Italian government, which replied confirming that it had no record of any naturalisation for me. Obviously it was all a setup. Today, some people still claim that I have Zambian, or Israeli, or Canadian, or American nationality… Rubbish! The history of the house is just as ridiculous. The CENCO [Conférence épiscopale nationale du Congo] submitted a report to this effect to former President Kabila. They checked on the spot, they summoned Mr. Stoupis, who was unable to say where the house he was claiming ownership of was located. He claims however to have been born in the DRC and to have lived here for sixteen years! It would have been enough to consult the land registry to establish that my older brother Raphaël Katebe Katoto has been the owner of the house in question for the past forty-one years. Another very bad setup! The mercenary case is in line. Fortunately, the Military Prosecutor’s Office and the CENCO conducted investigations and found nothing. I must be a special man: getting the United States to provide me with 612 mercenaries from the US Navy. These cases have been tried, and cannot be tried twice, so for me, it’s over.
Will you take back control of the rights of your Mining Company Katanga (MCK), sold to Necotrans, which has since gone bankrupt and has been taken over by NB Mining? The Paris Court of Appeal rendered a decision in your favour on 15 May 2018, but it has yet to be executed.
I have worked all my life for this company, which I founded in 1997. It’s my children’s heritage, and I’m certainly not going to be robbed! It is not a common little crook, whose name I will not even mention, regardless of the complicities he has enjoyed, who will succeed in making people believe that my company belongs to him and will take over its assets. It’s not his company, it’s mine, since it’s never been paid to me. The Paris Court of Appeal ruled in my favour and justice will be served, be rest assured of that.
Earlier you mentioned Augustin Katumba Mwanké, whom you and Joseph Kabila were very close to. What did you make of his death in 2012? It is often said to have had a significant impact on the former president’s growth….
If I entered politics, I owe a lot to him [Mwanké]. Katumba was for me an advisor and a brother. In 2008, I went to see Kabila to resign from my position of Governor. After a year, I didn’t see the end of the tunnel, everything was long, complicated, especially for me who was used to the speed and efficiency of the business world. It was Augustine who convinced me to stay. Unfortunately, the human nature of some of our politicians quickly became apparent. I somehow understand Joseph Kabila. Almost every day, my opponents in Katanga would go to him saying that I was preparing a coup d’état, that I was training mercenaries in Brazzaville, Angola or elsewhere. But those who know me know that I can’t hurt a fly! These people were used to rushing to my house to beg for favours. I resigned from my post as governor almost four years ago. What have they done since then, besides accusing me of all kinds of wrongdoing?
Isn’t the main problem the fact that Congolese politicians give the unfortunate impression that they are more concerned about their personal interests than that of the general public?
Under the old regime, that was the case for 90% of them. Politicians are getting too rich, and too fast. Explain to me how, with his emoluments alone, a minister manages to buy villas at the Gombe and erect buildings on all corners. It’s theft, corruption, there’s no other word for it. Yet our MPs or senators are very well paid. How much does a teacher earn? Less than $100. And a university professor? Less than $500. But who does the most useful work, the university professor or the senator? This is crazy… Now is the time to try and change things.
There’s one more question, rooted more in the realm of science fiction. Imagine one day you find yourself face to face with Joseph Kabila. What would you say to him?
We are political opponents, not enemies. In accordance with African culture, I will greet him. If he rejects my handshake, that’s his problem, but I have no hatred for him. He should be feeling hatred towards the people who misled him, who called me names and set up court cases against me from scratch. For me, I choose to rely on the Lord. He’s my only judge.
This article was first published in Jeune Afrique