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D.R. of Congo: Furor Over Kabila's New York Times Interview

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, D.R. of Congo, Governance, Media & Journalism

The Congolese blogosphere had harsh criticism for Congolese president Joseph Kabila [1]‘s recent interview in The New York Times [2].  In it, Kabila talks about Rwanda, AFRICOM, Chinese investment, and his passion for motorcycles.

He also talked about how good help is hard to find; many bloggers have blasted him for it.  Kabila blames corruption on Mobutu [3]‘s legacy and the ineptitude of his own officials, rather than taking responsibility for his government's problems:

Q: Do you have the right people to help you?

A: (Long pause) Mobutu led this country for over 37 years. He created a political class and he created a mentality and we haven't done away with that. The old ways are bad – corruption, misrule, mismanagement and all that. Our biggest mistake is that we have not found enough time to train and form our own cadres. You don't need a thousand people to transform a country. No, you need 3,4, 10, 15 people with the necessary convictions, determined and resolute. Do I have those 15 people? Probably 5, 6, 7, not yet 15.

On Forum Réalisance [4] [Fr] Musengeshi Katata writes that Joseph Kabila he has injured every Congolese who had read the interview:

Tous les professeurs d´université, les officiers d´armée, les instituteurs, les techniciens, les ingénieurs, les médecins, les banquiers, les ouvriers qualifiés, de parents éduquant leurs enfants, de ministres, d´avocats, de députés…etc qui travaillent chaque jour à bâtir l´avenir une nation ; tous ces gens se réduisaient à une équipe de 15 initiés ? Renversant. Est-ce bien un chef d´état qui parlait ou n´était-ce rien d´autre qu´un mauvais entraîneur d´une équipe de rugby ou de football ?

Apparemment ce président en mal de résultat positif veut faire passer, et cela plait beaucoup aux occidentaux en ces moments incertains de crise, son peuple comme un ramassis de crétins et d´incapables.

All the university professors, army officers, teachers, technicians, engineers, doctors, bankers, skilled workers, parents educating their children, ministers, lawyers, deputies…etc who work each day to build the future of a nation; all of these people reduced to a team of 15 insiders? Flipping it around, is this really a head of state talking or nothing other than a bad coach of a football or rugby team?

Apparently, this president, having no positive results, wants to make his people out to be–and this pleases a lot of Westerners in these uncertain moments of crisis–a bunch of idiots and incompetents.

C´est à se demander : dans ce cas, que fait-il encore au pouvoir, que diable, si personne ne lui fait confiance et qu´apparemment il ne sait pas choisir les hommes qu´il faut pour obtenir des résultats satisfaisants à sa politique?

This begs the question: in this case, what is he still doing in power, the devil, if he can't trust anybody and if apparently he doesn't know how to choose the people he needs for his policies to get results?
Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2002

Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2002 (Wikipedia)

Congoliberte [5] thinks that if Kabila really believes there are only seven people in his government worth their salt, it's time to clean house:

Apparemment, il est obligé de ne s’appuyer que sur 6 à 7 personnes, c’est-à-dire moins de 10, dans un pays qui revendique déjà 70 millions d’habitants, pour faire bouger les choses. C’est grave…

…Congolaises et Congolais cherchent à savoir la raison d’être d’un cabinet présidentiel composé de plusieurs dizaines de conseillers, d’un gouvernement de près de 60 membres, d’un Parlement de 500 députés et 120 sénateurs…

…Des talents et patriotes cachés, qui se comptent certainement par milliers, rongent leurs freins à l’ombre de ceux qui ont pris le pays en otage. Les Congolaises et Congolais attendent de lui un travail urgent de nettoyage des « écuries »…Pourquoi n’innoverait-il pas à mettant en place un cabinet présidentiel de moins de 10 conseillers et un gouvernement de moins de 15 ministres ?…C’est maintenant ou jamais, que le choix de l’excellence s’impose à lui.

Apparently, he can only rely on only 6 to 7 people, less than 10, in a country the comprises more than 70 million inhabitants, to make things happen. This is serious…

…The Congolese are looking for the justification for a presidential cabinet composed of several dozen advisers, a government of almost 60 members, a parliament of 500 deputies and 120 senators…

…Hidden talents and patriots, who certainly number in the thousands, are chomping at the bit in the shadow of those who have taken the country hostage.  Congolese men and women are waiting for [Kabila] to clean out the “pigstys”…Why shouldn't he innovate, putting something in place a presidential cabinet of less than 10 advisors and a government of less than 15 ministers?…Now or never, it's time to make the right choice.

Mouvement Libération du Congo – Diaspora [6] thinks Kabila's statements about the dearth of competent officials rings colonial:

Pour ceux et celles d'entre nous qui savent que « les crimes organisés en Afrique centrale » ont bénéficié des services anglo-saxons, il est possible que Joseph soit en train d'envoyer un signal fort à ses « parrains » pour expliquer sa méthode de travail.

A la lecture de la réponse de Joseph Kabila à New York Times, on se croirait en présence d'un Karel De Gucht, Ministre des affaires étrangères Belge, affirmant qu'il n'a pas trouvé au Congo, autour de Kabila, des hommes politiques dignes de ce nom. Quand on connaît toutes les misères que les propos de De Gucht ont suscité et qu'on entend le même discours de la bouche du « raïs », on se dit: « ça sent mauvais ». Face à l'échec patent d'une politique fondée sur l'exclusion, la violence, la corruption et le mensonge, Joseph trouve vite des boucs émissaires: Mobutu, les mobutistes et la mentalité mobutiste. Cette interview aurait été convaincante si Joseph pouvait citer trois ou quatre mesures phares prises pendant ses 7 ans de règne pour un bonheur congolais partagé. Il n'y a en pas eues.

For those among us who know that “organized crime in central Africa” has benefited from the services of Anglo-Saxons, it is possible that Joseph is sending a strong signal to his “godfathers” to explain his methods.

Reading Joseph Kabila's response to the New York Times was like being in the presence of Karel De Gucht, Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, claiming that in Congo he did not find, around Kabila, politicians worthy of that title.  If you're familiar with all the miseries that De Gucht's remarks caused and to hear the same discourse come from the mouth of the “raïs” (i.e., Kabila), you have to say to your self “this feels bad”.  Faced with the patent failure of policies founded on exclusion, violence, corruption, and lies, Joseph quickly finds scapegoats: Mobutu, mobutists, the mobutist mentality.  This interview would have been convincing if Joseph could have cited three or four measures in his 7 years of rule taken for the common Congolese good.  There aren't any to be had.

Some bloggers also debated statements Kabila made about Rwanda, with which relations have been tense.  Among other things, Rwanda has so far refused to extradite Laurent Nkunda [7], former head of a pro-Tutsi rebel group which operated in eastern Congo.  Kabila told the New York Times reporter:

“What are Rwanda's interests in the Congo? I like to believe that they are the same. But if there is a hidden agenda, and Rwanda's interest is more or less controlling the mining concessions and all that, illegally, and if they have a hand in each and everything that goes on in North and South Kivu, then we're still a long way from trust. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt, once again, probably for the last time”

The Mushaki Pager [8] wonders what made Kabila take such a strong stance:

Très peu diplomatique. Veut-il fâcher les autorités rwandaises ? A-t-il fait un deal avec la France lui permettant d’utiliser un langage aussi provocateur envers ses alliés rwandais dont le président disait encore tout récemment que l’amitié avec Kinshasa était solide ?

Not very diplomatic.  Does he want to make the Rwandan authorities angry?  Did he make a deal with France allowing him to huge such provocative language toward Rwandan allies, whom the president very recently said enjoyed a solid friendship with Kinshasa?

Afrique des Grands Lacs [9] posts a French translation of the interview and writes:

Mr. Kabila a encore affirme que le Rwanda va extrader Laurent Nkunda et que celui-ci fera face a la justice congolaise. Cependant, on peut se demander de quelle marge de manoeuvre dispose Kabila pour obtenir de Kagame l’extradition de Nkunda…

Mr. Kabila confirmed again that Rwanda will extradite Laurent Nkunda [7] and that he will be brought to justice in the DRC.  However, this begs the question what leeway does Kabila have at his disposal to secure Kagame's extradition of Nkunda…

Je suis ebahi que Kabila declare qu’il n’y a pas de mandat d’arret a l’encontre de Nkunda. Cette grave contradiction dans une meme interview est un signe clair que Kabila ne travaille pas pour l’extradition de Nkunda. Si le Chef de l’Etat lui-meme “oublie” un mandat d’arret international lance par la justice de son pays, comment voulez-vous que ce mandat ait un effet?

I am dumbfounded that Kabila declared that there was no arrest warrant for Nkunda.  This serious contradiction in the same interview is a clear sign that Kabila is no longer working for Nkunda's extradition.  If the Head of State himself “forgets” an international arrest warrant issued by his country's own justice system, how can you expect that warrant to have an effect?

On Forum Réalisance [4] [Fr], Katata criticizes the general merit of the interview, in particular what he thinks is Kabila's lack of substance.  He blames Western media bias:

Il est tout de même surprenant qu´un président élu puisse avoir si peu de substance dans son interview dans un journal aussi important que le New York Times.

It is all the same surprising that an elected president can show such little substance in an interview in a newspaper as important as The New York Times.

Beaucoup diront : cela a à voir avec les questions qui lui ont été posées et ce que poursuivait le journaliste dans cette Interview. Et ici je reconnaîtrai que c´est plausible : il s´agissait plus de faire une quelconque publicité à un président africain dont on voulait se rallier la sympathie, qu´à éprouver sa maturité logique ou sa compétence politique. Après tout, les américains se font une idée précise de l´Afrique : celle d´un continent de pauvres, de défaillants et d´incapables dont on avait besoin pour se sentir encore plus fort dans sa richesse et sa puissante politique, militaire et économique. Un grand continent de mendiants auxquels on octroyait périodiquement une aide surfaite, dont on résolvait tant bien que mal les problèmes qu´il ne savait résoudre lui-même.

Many will say: this has to do with the questions he was asked and what the journalist was after in the interview.  I recognize that's plausible: it was more about making some sort of advertisement for an African president for whom they want to rally sympathy than about testing the maturity of his logic or political competence.  After all, the Americans have a precise idea of Africa: a continent of the poor, the weak, the incapable which [America] needs in order to feel even stronger in its political, military and economic power.  A grand continent of beggars to which one periodically grants an excessive amount of aid, which is used to solve, somehow or another, the problems that it did not know how to solve itself.