DRC president talks war, peace, minerals and investment
Félix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, tells the FT Africa summit about 'our will to change things' and why global investors should not 'wait for us to be perfect'. FT editor Roula Khalaf also asks him about his contested election, tensions with neighbouring Rwanda, and his ties with Moscow
You can enable subtitles (captions) in the video player
I'd like to talk about a few questions on the economic potential. But in order to start, we're going to talk a little bit about politics, OK? My first question is not surprising because I think that the FT has already asked you a few times before. But I would like to repeat it again.
In January 2019, the FT created a document that was widely published, which was saying that you didn't win the election. But you negotiated the victory with the Joseph Kabila, the president before you. You negotiated an agreement. I know that you disagree with that statement, with this document. But is this, OK, [INAUDIBLE] weighs on your presidency, or did it prevent you to govern? Did it have an effect on it?
No, not at all, not at all, not at all. In any case, what is very clear is that if we were in agreement, like you say, the majority would not have shifted through the action that I had on this theme. So there were elections, and for the first time, the most specific elections ever done in the DRC because since the Inter-Congolese Dialogue was made, and the transition that we had called in Congo, [INAUDIBLE], 1 plus 4, all the election dates ended up with bloodbath.
We talk about the 2006 events that happened in July and March 2007, after the election in Kinshasa. It was a bloodbath. In that case, we were able to see no bloodbath, no manifestation whatsoever that led to a bloodbath. On the contrary, we could see a lot of demonstration, manifestation, demonstration, that were done by the population. So this is very clear because there is an adherence about that.
And then further to that, as I've said it before, we had this agreement because it was very normal not to have the majority in Parliament. We had to composed with the opposing party in order to have a common project to go together. But it is when we realise that, after two years of joint work, that this coalition that we had made had nothing about a political coalition.
But it was more - it served a purpose to our allies in order to avoid that because we were able to take the lead and to offer a majority, and [INAUDIBLE] to follow us for what we say this holy union of the nation, in order to save our country and to put it on the way to develop because we had, effectively, not at all the impression, as you were saying before, a negative impact due to this electoral problem because we are legitimate. And we are supported by the nation.
You call several times, the international community, to help to solve the conflict in the east of the country. And you repeated it again this morning. In an interview that was done with the FT in July, last July, you talked about the risk of war with Rwanda. What is the current situation at the moment? And what do you want the international community to do to help you? What is possible?
First, what I would like, that the international community does, is to recognise the truth of the situation at the moment in the east of the DRC. The same international community which, in '94, asked the Zaire Republic from [INAUDIBLE] to [? Maréchal ?] to receive the flux of refugees that was living the Rwanda genocide. And since this area, this time, my country is pulling the devil by the tail because we have misery. We're going from misery to misery.
We all understood the genocides from our brothers in Rwanda that happened in '94, that did about 800,000 to 1 million people dead. But today in the DRC, and it's not me telling it, it's agencies from the right of man and all the rules, there are more than 6 million of people dead since 2014. Innocent people were killed who didn't ask to have that type of violence.
There is, at the moment, a lot of women who are raped every day in the DRC. I'm not going to give you something new about it. But today, we are one of the countries in the world that has the most displaced people, displaced population internally, within the DRC. And their situation is even worse when they go abroad because here, at least we didn't have, we're not ready. We didn't have any infrastructure to welcome the displaced population which came brutally from one area to another. And we need to face it.
But what can the international community do, realistically speaking?
From a realistically point of view, because we're talking about the situation of today, is to ask from Rwanda to cease to support the armed conflict because it's hiding the real intention of Rwanda, which is to invade the DRC. So the international community needs to start with that because within the DRC, we have to face the armed conflicts, local and international, in the east of the country.
We launched the programme for the disarmament and reinsertion of the army personnel, and with it, with the local communities. And that is in order to get all our nationals who were in the conflict to come back to civilian activities. But besides that, there are armed groups, foreign armed groups that are within our country that are fighting against the Rwanda power or against the DRC power.
And during the Nairobi summit, to which we participated within the local region of south-east Africa, we decided to set up in place a programme in order to exit the crisis by putting a new regional force, and to give a hand to all the local armed groups for them to stop their armed conflict. So that is the point. That's what we've been doing so far. And that's what we are asking the international community to support us in this respect.
Are you tempted to use the Wagner Group, like some other nations are using in order to secure yourself?
I don't even know where they are. So how can I find them?
But you smiled. You smiled about it. You smiled about it.
I smiled, of course, but because I know it belongs to what is in fashion at the moment, whether it is in Africa or in Europe. No, we haven't recourse to the Wagner Group. We are an independent country. We are very respectful at the international conventions, agreements. And we are not going to use a militia in order to support our actions. We have a lot of partners, Great Britain.
But you need to reinforce to consolidate security.
Yes, of course. But we're going to reinforce consolidate our security by increasing our capacity, a self-sustained capacity to defend ourselves. And it is where our partners, our no more traditional partners can help us, in order to form, to train, our own capacity to consolidate, to increase intelligence service. And that's the way we're going to be able to face the adversity. It's not by hiring militia from outside that we are going to be able to do that. It will be basically to address and [INAUDIBLE] dress as Saint Peter, for example.
Well said, well said. But effectively, your minister, your defence minister, was in Moscow recently.
Yes, of course.
Well, it is within the international cooperation. We haven't got any breakdown with relations with Russia.
But you condemn the invasions of Ukraine by Russia.
Yes, but that's the way we're going to do it when we have friends. That's what you need to do. It's not worth destroying the relationship because we can see today, Europe through French president Macron and the German Chancellor. They keep contact with Russia. And they have sometimes, contacts with Vladimir Putin himself.
So I don't think it is necessary to break down fully the relationship. But it's by keeping a contact that we can get some messages through, even hard messages, because I've done it before, by refusing to do so, convoked, for example, the ambassador of Russia. And we decided to say, we are also an aggressed nation. And we cannot accept that this type of behaviour is done towards other countries which are friend.
Does it bother you through the negotiations, does it bother you that there are some countries that abstain, and more generally speaking, that there is a certain group growing influence of Russia in Africa?
No, no, no, not at all. I'm not bothered about it because I think each and every one of us has their own history with Russia. And each and every one of us has contacts with Russia. It's not up to me to judge. And Russia, it's not only Vladimir Putin. But it's also the whole Russian population.
Russia is also part of the future. Putin is not going to be eternal. One day or another, he's going to die. So I don't believe that the situation is going to be as such. I'm very sad for the Ukrainian people. And I talked a few weeks about it. I had talks with Zelensky.
But I think it's certainly a difficult passage at the moment, as we know, because we've been knowing that for 20 years in the DRC. But I remain optimism about it because I've been talking about the assets of our country. And I think that we have a lot of assets. And one of the big assets is our youth. We have a young population which is extraordinary, which is capable, if well-trained and to have a good framework to do miracles.
Let's talk about these assets. 70 per cent of the combats in the world comes from the DRC. But only 3 per cent of the added value is made to it. Do you have credible policies to bring more added value to the products of your country?
Yes, of course. Since I arrived to power at the head of my country, I've changed the way of the methodology of doing it. I don't want our country to be simply a no extracting farm, basically. I want to do transformation processing in our country. It's going to create rich wealth and employment because we have to face the energy transition. We have a lot of deficit in this respect. But we are currently investing a lot for the energy transition.
We have a lot of partnerships, for example, with some investors who really would like to come and consolidate our capacities. So of course, evidently, there is the legislation that we are currently putting up to date in order to promote more and more this type of initiative. And also recently, I was in Zambia. I saw my equivalent, Hakainde Hichilema, with whom we signed a few co-operation agreement, a joined agreement, in order to produce together cobalt, and to be able to transform it, to process it within our own countries, in order to add value, for example, for car batteries, for example, for the manufacturing of car batteries, and to benefit more our respective countries.
This morning, of course, you talk about the obstacles. And I imagine that you would like to have some foreign investments to come to the DRC. Do you think that your country at the moment has the necessary infrastructure, the necessary governance, in order to seduce the big investors?
It is always the first people who come who are the first to be served. If you really want to judge us on our current situation, and you wait for us to become perfect, like you are maybe here, today.
I'm not sure we are perfect here in the UK.
I don't know. But if you wait for us to become perfect in order to approach us, I do not know that day is going to come. But I believe that you need to observe what is happening in the DRC. And there is a strong signal of the new will to change things. We still have a few defects and a few weaknesses.
But our will is to change, to rectify the situation. This should encourage you to invest in Africa, in the DRC. Like it was, it's constitutive to what happened before, to quite a few events that happened before and this instability that was imported to us through the east of the country. But we are fighting to get out of it.
I would like to clarify your position on the oil exploration near the National Reserve, Natural Reserve. The US envoy, John Kerry, called to have some restraint about the oil exploration near the National Reserves, Natural Reservation.
Yes, yes, yes. But don't take it just like that because it's not necessarily, yes, we are going forward. But in fact, we have 33 blocks of oil, of which 6 blocks are gas production units, that of which 33 total, of which 6 gas, and the rest oil production side. And 6 or 7 are within protected areas.
So we wanted to know. I would like to know and to reinforce the point here. The DRC has assets, as I said, with the environment. And these assets makes the DRC a solution path for the energy transition. But we are not going to put them in jeopardy for whatever reason in order to have some economic benefits. But besides that, the DRC, as we've said it before, it's a country that is facing a lot of difficulties.
And it's a country that needs to have some development, to develop the potential of its population, to develop the education of the population and the health of the population. These resources can help us to achieve it. But it doesn't mean that we are going to do it at any cost, at the risk of putting the planet, the entire planet, in danger. We are not going to do it. But we have taken the examples from some country like Gabon, for example, who are doing offshore exploration, in the deep forest in the Gabon area. And I'm talking about Norway.
They're doing as well, exploration, within sites that are quite protected as well. But today, we have new technologies that allow us to do this type of exploration without having a negative impact on the flora and fauna. But we are saying that if our partners, the ones that are going to come tomorrow beside us, in order to explore these assets, they can show to us and to reassure us that the exploration will be done in a safe way, without any eco-impact, environmental impact. We're going to do it if it's the case. But besides that, there are about 20 others who are not even concerned by that. So that's what we've set up in value.
We would say to John Kerry that you have listened to him.
Of course I've listened to John Kerry. But not on the fact because at one time, he said that if you want any help from us, first of all, you need to renounce that. That's a brutal way of saying it. And I think that it didn't have the right approach because we have never said that we're going to put the planet in danger. We are a solution country. And we would like to keep that role and function.
But at the same time, we would like to keep the right to do so, to explore. And there is no international convention that prescribes it. We can put it in value, our natural resources, in order to promote the well-being of our people.
And I'm talking about the barrage, the Dam of Inga, Inga Dam, which is important within the assets of the DRC. Nothing happened about the dam. Are the projects going to start during your presidency?
I hope. I hope so. The Inga Dam remains a big question for us because it is effectively a site that is extraordinary, that would be able to produce a lot of energy for the DRC, and also for other countries in Africa. But I do not understand why, despite all the financial set-up that has been done, all the promotion that we have done regarding this dam project, I don't understand why there is no will of people to invest more into it. And I'm not going to name the people who are part of it.
You can name them. You can name them.
We had, for example, the group Fortescue, and Andrew Forrest. There was, I forget the name. That's why I didn't want to name them because I've forgotten all their names. I need to dig up in my memory. It's a former from the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, Jim Kim, who came. At one time there was also a consortium that came between the Chinese and Spanish people who came to see us. But all that...
Why did it work, why didn't it work?
I can't understand it. According to some experts, we would need to engage with the USA and Europe. And maybe it would work.
So that's politics.
Yes, I agree with that. I think it's a little bit linked to politics. And that's why we are trying to work on it.
So Fortescue, for example, mining when they had it too in the country, and there was some discussion about the hydroelectric project, for example.
Yes, of course, and the green hydrogen.
And the great hydrogen.
And that, as well, led to nothing. But if we talk about the hydroelectric project, we need to do it first before doing the green hydrogen. But Fortescue showed a lot of interest in this project. And I met them, Andrew Forrest, quite a few times, a very lovely man. But I think there are some problems on the international level because [INAUDIBLE] nobody wanted him to go learn to the DRC and to do something about it. But where are the other people who are going to be part of it with him? So they're not coming. And in the meantime, we have needs, needs for development. And I hope it's going to lead to something.
You have 60 per cent of the tropical forests in the Congo River Basin. And it's an asset in the world and the region that takes about 4 per cent of the CO2 emissions. How do you ensure us, and to ensure to the international community that it's not going to be destroyed by people who are trying to look for root and coal, for example, because we think that 500,000 hectares of forest are disappearing every year.
I cannot assure you that because there is a hypocrisy that I'm currently denouncing at the moment because at the moment, when we are talking, there are armed groups which are active in the Congo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And they are living by destroying parts of the forest. And they are living by destroying the flora and the fauna in situ. And nobody is doing any effort to stop it.
When we are talking about exploiting these resources, these assets, in order to have means and solutions, for example, safety within our parks, alternative solutions in order to avoid destroying the roots by a local population, for example, nobody is helping us. And each time, they are criticising us for it. But we are trying to find these new means, the new means that the international community engaged to give us. And they haven't done it since the COP21.
So effectively, I think that we need to have an awakening, an international awakening. Everybody needs to understand that the forests are the ones that are part of the DRC. We have 60 per cent of the whole basin. But it is an asset, a world asset today. And it is up to the world to preserve it, to help us to preserve it, and today because effectively, we have the destruction of the forest in [INAUDIBLE], in the Amazon River Basin.
So today, the Congo River is a number one. But do you believe that the behaviour of the international community is going to that way? I don't believe so. So I believe that we need to have a common interest all together to mobilise. It's just money that is going to be given to Felix, the president of the DRC. It's money that is going to be given to allow us to have means to preserve our world ecosystem, the planet. So it's something to do with everybody.
We haven't got any further time, but one last question, if I may do so. Your government is accused at the moment to have made the big companies pay tax, like in the telecommunication sector, which discourage investment. Is it going to carry on?
That's not true.
That's not true? But we have written a document in the FT.
But I don't think you have the right information, I'm afraid. So we have a big problem in the FT because you are talking about the telecom and operators, in that respect. And I would like, and I hope that the Financial Times is going to be present when we are going to show a report that is made impartially, not during my service, but by foreign departments and agency, that is going to say that it's billions of dollars that are disappearing, that have been disappearing for several years because there has been fraud, in that respect, for the telecom communication companies.
The problem at the moment is we had bad habits that took root within the DRC. And unfortunately, all these bad habits of these multinational firms have taken bad habit. And when I arrived to power at the head of my country, I decided that this needs to stop. We need to recover. We need to address this problem.
And it's the same case, for example. And you're going to see it in the mining sector and in other sectors we have today. Thanks to our new instrument, financial control instrument, we've done more in that respect, in the DRC. And I'm not the only one to say we are losing billions of dollars in that, in complicity sometimes, with some managers and authorities. So effectively today, I decided to put a stop to that.
So it's taxation in order to correct the situation?
Yes, of course, tax and fines in order to correct. And I'm telling you, it's billions of dollars.
Mr. President, thank you so much. Thank you.