By Ajong Mbapndah L
As international and domestic pressure mounts on President Joseph Kabila to leave power, Information Minister Lambert Mende Omalanga says the embattled leader deserves credit for making the D.R.Congo a country.
Interviewed in Washington, DC, after meetings with Congressional leaders, State Department Officials, and human rights groups, Omalanga said the country that Joseph Kabila inherited in 2001, and what the D.R.Congo looks like today are like day and night. Unifying the D.R.Congo has been no easy feat, and critics should take that into consideration when tearing into President Kabila, Omalanga charged.
With a definite date now in place, continuous political agitations in the D.R.Congo today are uncalled for, said Omalanga. The elections will take place on December 23, 2018. The elections have been budgeted for, and there is an independent electoral commission in place to make sure the polls is credible.
Will President Kabila run in the 2018 elections? People will have to wait till June to find out Minister Omalanga said, though he conceded that after serving his two terms, only a referendum could amend the constitution for him to stand.
Responding to recent criticisms from civil society actors like Cardinal Monsengwo, Omalanga said the Catholic Church was over stepping its role. The date of the elections was done in consultation with church leaders, and their current criticisms of Kabila are baffling, he said.
Minister Omalanga also had harsh words for former colonial Belgium for ingerence in the internal affairs of the D.R.Congo. Belgium must understand that the D.R.Congo is an independent country capable of making its own decisions ,Omalanga said.
Mr Lambert Mende Omalanga, good afternoon sir
You are the minister of information for the Democratic Republic of Congo…
…and currently visiting in Washington DC. Welcome to Washington.
What brings you to Washington this time?
Well, I came for a visit in IOWA state University where I was invited. And before going back I was told by my President to bypass in Washington to speak with our friends in State Department as well in Open Society, who paid a visit to Congo recently ,and I had that meeting there in State Department yesterday and today at the Open Society. So, we spoke about current affairs in Congo, mostly about elections that is on the agenda now in our country.
Talking about elections, we’ll talk about that a lot , but your arrival in Washington DC coincided with a letter from a group of Senators to President Kabila trying to express interest to see him show more commitment towards elections. What is your response to that letter?
We are much surprised by this initiative of pushing a door that is opened already. We are having our already scheduled elections where everybody know that elections will take place on the 23rd of December, we have finalised the census of electors, that is the first stage . We are now going on preparing the polls as such, and I don’t know why they feel so impatient to ask our president to tell them what?
We are just on the planification, we are acting now, going straight to the elections, there is nothing that will prevent the elections from taking place. We have had some security problems, to that note some delays, security problems in Kasai, security problems in the eastern part of the country where we are facing terrorist offensive. We won those terrorist offensive, we had budget problems, and we won them thanks to the fact that our products like cobalt and copper got higher. Now we are surprised, we are more comfortable with budgets. So there is nothing that can prevent elections from taking place.
So Mr.Lambert Mende Omalanga you are reassuring everybody that elections in Congo will take place on the 23 December 2018?
That is our will, I am not here to assure or reassure anybody because we are not organising the elections for American people, we are organising elections for Congolese people. It is in our constitutional provision to organise elections every five years. So, we overpassed five years because of these problems we met, but now we won the problems.
It is only a matter of informing them that things have been now in a right better way, that the elections will be held on the 23rd of December. So somebody should believe, this habit of thinking that we are here to justify before them or what. We are organising elections for Congolese only and it will be organised because it is our will, it is our commitment, and it is our interest as a people.
And with the day now certain, why are Congolese people taking to the streets?They were in the street a few weeks back, and if I could bring up this reaction from Cardinal Monsengwo, he said “leave Congo, it’s becoming like a prison” in reaction to the crackdown that took place during the recent march. Why is all of these going on in Congo?
We think that as a democratic country people are free to express themselves, you know people can feel impatient and then we know that some members of the opposition feel impatient about the elections because we have passed two years before when the election had to be organised.what is surprising for us is that Catholic Church that should be more neutral in the politics, some members of the clergy of the Catholic Churches are mixing themselves in these political disputes. That’s the problem we are having, not all Catholic Church is against the government, it’s a part of Catholic Church, and you cited Cardinal Mosengwo, and not all Bishops are against the way things took place, we went on discussions and the facilitation’s with the Catholic bishops, and we came out with the schedule that postponed the elections to 23 of December, so we are happy with this.
Agreement that is 23 rd, the agreement that is been now implemented, so maybe Bishop Mosengwo has his own friends among us politicians. So, I think maybe politicians, that’s his problem, I can’t criticise him, but I can’t I fall off this idea of him bringing ill comments like that.
Mr Minister, you said Congolese are free to express themselves democratically. Now when they go to the street to protest, why was the response from the military so violent? Because from the response that we got, a number of people were killed. Why were people killed when they were trying to express their democratic rights?
Let me explain to you what happened. We had two protests, two demonstrations, one happened on the 31st of December last year, the second one 21st Of January this year. And in the first demonstration, we didn’t have even a single dead person linked to the demonstration, we had a policeman killed after the demonstration due to a confrontation between the police and a gang of people operating, this was out of the demonstration. We had two people who tried to take advantage of the demonstration to loot a commercial estate where they found death when they were fighting with the security personnel of the estate. And we had also a guy who died while the terrorist group attacked the Kananga airport, this is at 2,000 kilometres from Kinshasa. That amounts to five people, no one linked to the protest. So it is a lie if someone tells you that during the 31st of December protest last year somebody died. But they are saying so because opposition needs to say things that can hamper the government, they can say things that can compromise our chance to have a good image towards our people. I hear them saying so. The second protest that we have had in the country occurred around 21st Of January this year and we had two people dying, one was shot by a policeman who claimed self-defence. We launched an investigation team which said the policeman was saying a lie, we called the martial team, he is now facing his judge. The second one, inquiries are still going on because the medical personnel of the hospital called Kitambo hospital saw people bringing a lady wounded, and when they asked people who brought that lady who they are, and what happened, those people escaped and the lady died after all. So, how can we say it is the police who killed her, so we don’t know exactly what happened with that lady, so we do acknowledge a single wrongdoing with our police, and this policeman was notified, is court martialed and we are awaiting the justice to take a decision about him, that is the rule of law in any state.
Prior to your arrival in Washington, in what shape did you leave Congo? How is Congo doing economically? How is Congo doing politically, besides this protest how is Congo doing politically as a country?
Politically, I can tell you that people are really now totally devoted to wait and prepare for the third election since we have adopted the new constitution. That is the third election we are going to handle and people are of course excited about it. And mostly those who are interested in running for presidency, for parliamentship, for local parliamentship, so that is it. Economically we are doing well, we had what we can say a short budget last year due to the lack of means due to the bad prices of the products we had to sell in the international market, like copper, like cobalt. But lucky enough, we have witnessed the amelioration of these prices, that helped us to finance ourselves, our elections. And those people around the world who promised a lot and didn’t bring anything, we were able to finance our elections by ourselves due to this amelioration of our budget so we are doing great economically.
And your country is so rich when it comes to resources.
How is the investment climate like? Because, when people talk about Congo, the image they have e is still one of instability. What can you tell International investors? Is your country open and ready for investment? And does it have the right climate for these companies to come in and invest?
Well you know that it is not enough to have resources to be developed, you need a framework of security, you need a framework of peace, that is what we need really restored in our country. And you know that since 60’s, since we have gotten independence from Belgium, we have been the target of some new colonial policies mostly from western countries- mostly from Europe, mostly from Belgium. They killed Lumumba three months after independence because he wanted us to enjoy fully our independence, and so they are continuing with our leaders now, they killed Laurent Kabila, they are trying now to threaten Joseph Kabila. The one who will come and let’s say will decide to give them our wealth will be their target also. So we have to fight to maintain our freedom as a people, to maintain our right, our wealth, that is the main challenge we are facing, but we are also fighting to make investment to be more easy- possible. And we have a written code of investment that tries to give confidence to investors and those who are confiding us by coming, because not all the counties need security. We have security in north kivu province, maybe two counties, we have security in Kasai province, maybe two counties out of 150 countries. So the remaining, there is peace, there is calm. And the people who want to come can be aware that there is peace and they will enjoy facilities, the roles of investment provides for them.
Let’s go back to elections, what is it that the government of President Kabila is doing to ensure make sure that this elections are free, fair and with results that all the Congolese people will be able to accept.
The thing is that Congolese have decided to make elections to be organised by an independent body. You know in most countries, you find that elections are being organised by the government- by internal affair ministries, but in our country, we have decided to build up an independent electoral commission that is comprised of opposition members, majority members, civil society, and this commission is headed by a civil society member. So, this is a way we found to neutralise politically the electoral body, and this commission is independent towards the government, towards foreign interest, and towards anybody, be it the Catholic Church or what. Everybody who has private interest cannot give instruction to that commission, that is the first decision, our people took, not the government, it is in the constitution of our country. Secondly, we have decided that now we have to make a schedule, to make a calendar and the calendar was published this year, that is why I can say that we are sure now that on the 23rd of December, we shall have the elections, presidential one, legislative one national and local on the same day that was decided when we discussed majority, opposition and the civil society. In December 2016 we decided so and it is going to happen. That is what I can say and since the schedule are being published and we are following the schedule, and we decide that we have to start by revising the electoral list, and we have finished revising that list. And I think that is a signal that things are following their way to help bring us to elections exactly on a date that is convenient for everybody- on the 23rd of December this year.
There seems to be a lot of mistrust from the opposition when it comes to President Kabila, they both think that he has not been sincere to some of his promises in the past. And when I spoke to one of them about a week ago, his fear was that President Kabila might run again whereas he is not supposed to, he is your president, you are his minister, is he, would he be part of this presidential election, is he going to run?
My dear let me tell, you that if there’s no mistrust between the opposition and the president then there would not be opposition, they would all be for the government. So, it’s because there is mistrust that there is opposition, they don’t trust us, and so doing we don’t trust them. We think they have sold to foreign interest, we are accusing them, that they have sold to this new colonial. Is it true?, it is not true, but it is our conviction, like its their conviction that we might do some tricks to have President Kabila changing the constitution, but how will he do such without referendum, and there is no referendum ready on the agenda. So, he must wait , we are waiting for polls to take place, from June we shall start having the candidates, they will see if Kabila will be candidate, but I know that the constitution forbids anybody who have had two terms like President Kabila to run again. So, since we have not yet seen Kabila saying that he will run, nobody can say that he is trying to change that, I can say that maybe you’re trying to kill me this evening when you are not trying to kill me. This is what we call in French “proces d’intention” ‘(speaks French) -(witch hunt)I don’t know what you say in English, you think to judge me by intention by what you think I could think, so it is difficult, you better wait. if I do any wrongdoing then you judge me, but you cannot just say that I will do wrong and convince yourself and convince everybody that I will do something wrong, nothing wrong have been done till now, and there is no referendum, no change of constitution and Kabila will not run because you cannot run with this constitution, and you can’t change the constitution without a referendum, that’s all.
One of the leading opposition candidates Moise katumbi, he has been in exile now for a while and he says he is fearful for his life. So, is there anyway that the democratic space can be open in a way that people like him can come in to contest if they want, so that the election can have more credibility
That’s bogus, because one should ask how Mr Katumbi came out of the country, how did he get out, Mr.Katumbi was already a candidate, he announced himself that he was a candidate for the presidency, but Mr Katumbi has problems with the judiciary, he has problems with other Congolese, they know he stole property of other people and they brought him to court, and he was asked to appear before the court, then he said that he is sick and he needs to come abroad for treatment, and the prosecutor said to the government this man is saying he’s sick, I think I’m going to allow him go for treatment. If the government really wanted to kill Mr.Katumbi will the government have allowed Mr.Katumbi to come abroad?
No, we said okay if he is sick, let him go, but nobody is preventing him to come back, it is a lie, he is here because the government accepted the proposal from the prosecutor to send him abroad and he was supposed to come for treatment, and then come back, finalise with the justice and do whatever he wants, so nobody is preventing him. He is using only the fact that he is abroad to make his propaganda out of the tide, that’s wrong, nobody prevented him to leave the country, nobody will prevent him to come back, but nobody will interfere in the course of justice, because this is a problem between him, those who have grievance against him and the justice, not the government because there is a strict separation of power, we are executive, the judiciary is a power that is independent so Katumbi has to finalise his problem with the judiciary, he should leave the executive alone, he has a problem with the judiciary, and we have some people in Nigèr, we have people in Senegal who while having problems with the judiciary they ran for elections. Until the day you are condemned you can run for elections, nobody preventsatumbi to run for elections, this is a lie totally.
Opposition leaders again said that President Kabila has really done nothing of substance to improve Congo or to improve the lives of the Congolese people. Now you have been in power since 2001 and you have served in these government in different capacities for a very long time too, What has his government achieved for the Congolese people since he took over power in 2001
Only someone who was not in Congo in 2001 can say so, only someone who does not know Congo can say so, in which state Kabila found Congo, Congo was divided in three countries, there was a program to balkanise Congo, to separate Congo. We had a Congo that was belonging to Uganda, we had a Congo that was belonging to Rwanda, and that was the exact Congo which the government and Kabila managed to reunite, that’s a big achievement, to make Congo remain United that’s something people of Congo are very grateful to President Kabila for, you don’t really think that a country like Congo in 2001 when Kabila the senior was killed, nobody was thinking that Congo will remain Congo as it is today, but Kabila managed, made his effort to maintain the unity of this country, that is, our first strength to have this country developed, you have to be a country before you can be developed, that’s what he did, that’s the answer I can give. Maybe they found problems of security he built an army, we didn’t have an army by them, now we are 10th along the 54 armies in Africa, it is he who did it. Our first problem was a security problem and he solved it, so you can’t make miracles on every ways, maybe the others will solve other problems but at least he maintained the reunification of Congo, he maintained that Congo United, one should be grateful to him for that. That’s the reality.
With regards to the international community, a lot interest is shown when it come to Congo, what message do you have for them, how do you think they can be of greater help to your country, as you go through this up coming electoral process.
Well, a lot has been promised by our partners of international community, we shall do so, we shall help for the electoral process, so and so, but we didn’t see a single coin given to Congo, lucky enough we have resources we allocated for our elections.
We are the owners of the country, we are the ones to budget, we are the ones to finance, we made sacrifices and we found money. So, if they want to finance let it be, it can help us maybe to take some other money to send for development. If they don’t have money let Congolese alone solve their problems that is our problem. But we are seeing mostly from Europe, exceptionally from Belgium the former colonial power, they are the one who are trying to create problems among Congolese, to oppose Congolese against each another, in order to dissolve the unity of the country, and to try to exploit it for their own benefits, so leave Congolese alone, we are not a paradise maybe, but if we are left alone solving our own problems, following our own will, we are sure that we will solve the problems of development in Congo.
So, the problem is this interference from Western countries, from Belgium, and we are landing now in a very hot dispute with Belgium as we are talking. We do not have an Ambassador from Belgium in Kinshasa, we do not have an Ambassador of Congo in Brussels, we thought that when they killed Lumumba it was enough, that we have paid the cost by the blood of Lumumba, it seems like it is not enough, and for us we feel baffled.
Mr minister, can you shed more light on the problem that Congo has with Belgium, we will like to know a little more of what is the issue?
You have to hear in Belgium a coalition in power who wants to bring us in the Situation we were before independence that Congo should belong to Belgium, we can’t belong to Belgium it’s impossible, we are independent, and we feel really independent, and we are proud of our independence, and we think the death Lumumba paid for our independence, and nobody can take us again as slaves, as a colonised country, that this Belgium they are trying to colonise us again, and we do refuse, and they are helping people like Mr Katumbi and others to bring us back to that situation of 60s, that’s the only problem we are having with them in summary.
A quick question again on the security situation in Congo. How is it, is the country actually secured? are the borders secured? is the military actually in control of all the Congolese country?
We are in full control of all territory except two territory, two counties. I told you that out of 160 in the border of Uganda where we are experiencing very hard offensive of terrorists we call ADF, those are Ugandans rebels they are fighting their own government of Uganda, they went on alliance with al-Shabab from Somalia and they are using these two territories of our country North kivu to fight their government and they are killing our people also, killing our soldiers, killing even the peace keepers of United Nations mostly Tanzanians, South Africans and from Malawi who came to help to secure that part of the country we are having this problem. We had problems last year with a terror offensive that happened in Kasai that’s in the central region, but this we dealt with it ourselves, our own army maintained this, we arrested the terrorist, they are now brought to court, they are responding now to the judges who are judging them, and they are going to be sentenced, but our law is sane and for the rest of the country living in peace and waiting for elections.
So, are there any prospect that your country The DR Congo can work with Uganda to try to resolve the security problems with these two regions that you are talking about ?
No, only one because the other one is in the central we can’t work with any neighbouring countries, but near Uganda we do work with Uganda, but Uganda is not allowed to send in troops because we had bad experience when they came with Rwanda last year to invade our country, so we accepted only exchange of information, exchange of intelligence materials so it is what is been done, and it works we send them some information, they send our military some information and anybody in his territory can cope with his bandit, that’s what we are doing.
I know you are tired, you’ve had a long day, but we will soon wrap this up. When you read human right reports about Congo, from Amnesty International, from Human Rights Watch and from other groups, you see all these stories about rape, you see stories people been arrested. What’s your reaction to that?
I told them when I met them today, and I told them look; it is not good to try to live off other people’s problems. You are trying to make your food on the problems of Congolese, we have problems with two NGOs Human right watch and Fédération Nationale des ligues des droits de l’homme, a French human right group. let me give you two cases Human Rights Watch went on saying that we met security problems some days ago in Goma, Kinshasa or else where, we went to recruit former rebels of M23, those are some of our compatriots, some of them are Tutsi, some are Hutu, because they are the same people in Kivu province and in Rwanda, so they wrote that we went to hire those people, the Tutsi among them to come and help our army to kill other Congolese in Goma, and in Kinshasa. When we have an army of 160,000 military personnel, why should we go and hire 200 poor people who are on exile, we defeated them, they ran away so we go to take them to come and crush our people. But, what happened, those people in Kivu said ooh, look human right have said that you went to hire Tutsi against us, it brought inter ethnic battle between Tutsi, Congolese and other tribes in Congo. So, we said human right watch you are responsible for this renewing of inter ethnic clashes in Congo, this is not good, you can’t do so because you need to have budget, to have so and so you have to say something. It is stupidity .
Secondly, in the Kasai the (French name) said that, the government went on recruiting non Luba people to crush Luba people, and they start fighting in the kasai, those people who were living with good intelligence between them started clashing between them because of this report of NGO from Paris, imagine, and it was false, it was a fake report. Why are you trying to make your food on the suffering of poor Congolese people, that’s the problem we are having with these NGOs, it’s too injurious .
You are visiting in the United States, and when you see the way politics is done here, a few weeks ago there was this reaction from President Trump that created a lot of misinterpretation, how did you people in the Congo Interpret the statement from Donald Trump referring to African countries in a certain way?
I’m not aware that he was referring to African countries, I read a letter he wrote to our heads of states that are gathering in Addis Ababa, it is a good letter, and I’m sure that USA has no colonial experience, it has no colonial past, so we don’t have a problem with the United States till now, when we have a problem we shall say, nobody will prevent us from speaking, until now we leave them in peace
Mr Lambert Mende Omalanga thank you very much. Any last words?
You are welcome, thank you