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DRC: IRIN interview with Foreign Minister Antoine Ghonda Mangalibi

KINSHASA , 8 January 2004 (IRIN) - Following his return from travels in Africa , Europe and North America to brief governments and investors on the current state of the peace process in his country, Antoine Ghonda Mangalibi, foreign minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo ( DRC ), spoke with IRIN on Monday in the capital, Kinshasa . He talked about his country's view of the Great Lakes regional peace and development conference, due to be held in late 2004, and his efforts to assure foreign investors that the DRC was now eager and able to welcome their efforts to help move the country forward.

QUESTION: The international conference for the Great Lakes region is scheduled for 2004. However, the Congolese government does not seem very interested in participating. Why?

ANSWER: The DRC will participate in this conference. But we want the conference to include all neighbouring countries of the DRC . We hope this conference serves as a means, an opportunity, to resolve the problems with all neighbours of the DRC .

Through this conference, we would like to avoid that only problems with Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda are resolved while ignoring, for example, Congo-Brazzaville [the Republic of Congo], with whom our relations are mercurial, or, furthermore, with Angola or the CAR [Central African Republic].

At the moment, we have good relations with Angola , but it should not be forgotten that we now have a government of national unity, which includes elements that have had difficult relations with this country [ Angola ].

Today, we are in the process of working together for the improvement of relations with neighbouring countries. Angolan envoys came to see us and said: "Listen, there is now a government of national unity, we would like to work with everybody." This seems to be the prevailing position in Angola at the moment. However, it is still early. Nothing in politics is set in stone. One never knows how things might evolve.

Q: Is the DRC government wary of taking part in this conference, under the agreed format, only to find itself isolated when faced with a united front from Burundi-Rwanda-Uganda, countries that had been allied during the war in the DRC ?

A: No, we are not afraid to be isolated when faced by Burundi , Rwanda and Uganda . I would prefer that we no longer view our relations with these countries in terms of antagonism or conflict. We must prepare for the long term. And in order to get there, it is essential that all neighbouring countries participate [in the conference].

The DRC has nine neighbouring countries. So, if a conference is to take place, it is imperative that everyone is included.

How was this conference prepared? For example, we do not agree with the selection of core countries that will participate in this conference. Not at all. We cannot ignore Angola , CAR and Congo-Brazzaville, all of whom are involved only to a second degree with this conference, because what happens here in DRC has repercussions in Angola . In past wars, Angola and Congo-Brazzaville have been involved, as has the CAR through the MLC [Mouvement de liberation du Congo, a former rebel movement now party to the DRC 's national unity government].

Furthermore, we feel that there is too much bureaucracy. We would like to facilitate the process, taking into account the efforts we are making with the different neighbouring countries: Rwanda , Uganda , Burundi , CAR , Angola and others.

What are we going to do at this conference? Is it only from the month of June [2004, when the conference was first scheduled to take place] that we are going to decide how we plan to improve our relations with neighbouring countries? Or are we going to explain during the conference the efforts we have already undertaken, and present resolutions as to where we go from there?

This is the message that we want to get across. We want to move beyond the theoretical to the practical. This is in the interest of the Congolese people.

If we go to this conference, it is with the determination to improve our relations with the neighbouring countries. But we would first like to improve our internal situation. If there are Interahamwe [Rwandan Hutu militias], ex-FAR [Rwandan former armed forces], foreign forces in the DRC , we would first like to deal with the problem internally, then present to the conference the decisions that we have taken. This is what we want to focus on currently.

Q: In this case, should the name of the Great Lakes conference be modified?

A: For the moment, it is true that one only speaks of a conference for the Great Lakes region. We feel that this is not entirely correct.

This is a conference for the Great Lakes region and for central Africa , because the DRC is at the centre, it is in both regions. It is therefore important that this be a conference for the entirety of the region.

Q: You recently returned from travel around Africa , Europe and North America . What was the objective of that tour?

A: The objective was to speak about the [transitional] process under way in the DRC with the installation of the government of national unity last June. It was important to explain to the international community the problems that the DRC had faced in the past were now in the process of being resolved. We want to show the new determination of the country to move forward and the vision we have for the future: the normalisation of relations with neighbouring countries, the encouragement of investors so that economic actors relaunch a dynamic that has been stalled for more than a decade.

Q: Did you find any interest in the DRC among investors?

A: What had prevented investments was political instability in the country. Now a government of national unity exists, and this must be explained.

People are ready to restart activities in the DRC . I was recently on mission in Greece , which will send a delegation [to the DRC ] this month. Numerous other delegations have already visited. They wanted to know in which sectors to invest, how things work with local economic actors here in Kinshasa . It was important to tell them, for example, that there is a new set of laws regarding investment, that certain taxes have been eased. Also, how the government functions, that legal security exists. All this must be explained.

It was also necessary to make known the government's economic plan for consolidating the political process. Today, a number of projects exist in the context of Nepad [New Partnership for Africa ’s Development]. There is also the matter of the Inga hydroelectric dam. In the medium term, the city of Pointe Noire in Congo-Brazzaville will need electricity, as will Cabinda , in Angola . This electricity can be provided by the Inga dam.

The Swedes have wanted to invest in this sector. Moreover, the Swedish company ABB [Asea Brown Boveri] has a project ready for improving the Inga dam, but investors must be found. They appealed to their government. Discussions needed to be held between our two states. It is for this reason that I went to Sweden to speak with the Swedish government and to help it to understand that it should support its companies that want to help develop various domains here in the DRC . I had a fairly favourable response.

The second project that was of great interest to them, and to us as well, involves fibre optics from India . A telecommunications company, Ericsson, would like to connect Moanda [on the western coast] to Katanga [in the southeast] via fibre optics. The DRC would not be the only one to benefit from this new technology: Angola , Congo-Brazzaville, CAR , Rwanda and Uganda would also benefit. A feasibility study is in the advanced stages. We will have the results within six months. It is a regional integration project that supports the political process.

Q: Will the Congolese government finance part of this project?

A: It will primarily be foreign investors who will support the project. The DRC will participate, to some 10 [percent] to 20 percent, through a private initiative.

Q: Does this mean that the DRC is entering into an era of privatisation, and that foreign enterprises who are financing the projects will reap all the benefits of these operations?

A: There are foreign enterprises, but there are also local enterprises. Obviously, I have emphasised the involvement of a foreign enterprise, Ericsson, because it is heading the project. But the fact remains that we are in the process of opening the country to privatisation, and this will be conducted in a very organised manner, taking into account national interests as well as those of foreign operators.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Other

[ENDS]

 

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