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Congo President Tshisekedi: 'I want to give peace a chance'

Wendy Bashi | Tina Gerhäusser
April 29, 2024

President Felix Tshisekedi was in Germany to meet with Chancellor Olaf Scholz. He spoke with DW exclusively about the ongoing Congo-Rwanda standoff, his country's first female prime minister and German infrastructure.

Felix Tshisekedi is seen standing behind a lectern during an earlier trip to Berlin in August 2021
Felix Tshisekedi, President of the DRC, is looking for partners in business and defenseImage: Tobias Schwarz/REUTERS

DW: Mister President, how do you intend to intensify relations between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Germany?

Felix Tshisekedi: Meetings like this one already achieve this in the first place, because shortly I'm about to meet with the Chancellor and I'll be extending an invitation for him to also come to the Democratic Republic of Congo. This would be a great first for Germany.

And the second way is by presenting the investment opportunities and the assets my country holds in answer to the questions the world is currently asking itself, for example on global warming, on energy transition. I think with this, I'm arousing sufficient interest to attract the German business world to come to the Congo.

The German government has shown itself to be in favor of the DRC benefiting more from private investment. What exactly do you envisage?

I'm thinking about a cooperation in the things we need most badly, which is infrastructure. I have a lot of admiration for what is being done in Germany. I've always said that I dreamed of making my country a kind of "Germany of Africa" and thus a driving force for African development.

And if we want to set up industries, invite the business world, private investors, we need energy and especially clean energy. But alongside that, there's education, health, there's agriculture, and digital and new technologies, which are also in high demand among our young people.

Your country has lots of wealth, including strategic minerals. Just recently, your government's lawyers accused US tech giant Apple of using illegally mined minerals in their products, minerals that were alleged to be extracted from Congolese mines, transported and then laundered mainly via Rwanda. The accusation goes further, saying that all these alleged activities finance armed groups in eastern DRC. There's even an ultimatum given. Why exactly is that?

Quite simply: So it may stop. It's been going on for 30 years, ever since the international community asked us to open our borders to the influx of refugees fleeing the genocide in Rwanda. At that point, the genocidaires also slipped in. And they entered the Congo with their weapons because the order had been given from somewhere, still within the international community, to let them in with their weapons.

A gold miner is seen carrying a bag of soil containing gold at the Luhihi gold mine in the eastern province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo in May 2023.
Congo's eastern provinces are known to be rich in minerals but reports suggest these resources go to neighboring RwandaImage: Alexis Huguet/AFP/Getty Images

And after that, Rwanda was given a right of pursuit, inviting itself into the Democratic Republic of Congo to hunt down these genocidaires. But unfortunately, Rwanda didn't make any distinction, so it also massacred Congolese and since then, the massacre hasn't ended.

Meanwhile, Rwanda discovered that there were minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and made contacts in the international community that enabled it to sell these blood minerals — minerals obtained by using violence against our populations, forcing them to leave the areas where these minerals are found. Since then, Rwanda has become the representative of these minerals for the international community, for these multinationals.

Today in Eastern Congo, we are witnessing the insurgency of the M23 movement, which according to multiple statements by your government is supported by Rwanda. Do you plan to meet Rwanda's President Paul Kagame in the days to come?

It's not just our government that has said so, but there are UN reports that attest to it and today, no one is hiding from it, apart from Kagame himself. And what's more, I wonder if he himself doesn't recognize it. So, it's clear. We're being attacked by Rwanda, which is disguising this aggression by means of M23, making it look like they are Congolese making demands, when it's not true. It's a pretext, a reason to attack and plunder the DRC, and of course, to try to mask all this with fallacious pretexts.

So to answer your question, there is currently an initiative by Angolan President Joao Lourenco, who has already put forward peace initiatives on several occasions but they have all been sabotaged by Kagame and his regime. We're really in the last bend. There is now what we believe to be a last ditch attempt, and I want to give peace a chance as much as possible. But obviously that's not because of weakness and we're not always going to be patient like this, wishing for peace.

In December, you were more incisive when you said "at the slightest skirmish, we're going to attack Rwanda..."

Absolutely. I'm not denying it. But when I raised my voice at that point, I was brought to reason. My country's partners came to see me. They proposed the very scheme I'm referring to. And of course, I was willing to give them this chance too, to give it one last try. That's what's happening right now. We'll see how it goes.

Does that mean you're still prepared, as agreed, to meet Paul Kagame?

I've always said I'd never meet the M23 because, as I said, it's an empty shell fabricated to justify the aggression against my country, the DRC. But the real aggressor is Paul Kagame. And I want to meet him, not to beg him or to negotiate anything with him. It's to ask him and tell him clearly, eye to eye, that he's a criminal, that enough is enough now that his little game is known to everyone.

It's enough what he's done to my country and my people, and it's time for him to leave the territory, the soil of my country. That's what I want to get from him. But we have to say it to his face because when you communicate through the press, sometimes it may not have the same effect.

On whom are you pinning your hopes for a process of reconciliation, a process that would lead to peace? Who do you think can be that person?

Well, whoever comes after Paul Kagame. He's not eternal. I hope that after him, there will be a head of state who can understand the meaning and merits of living in peace with your neighbors.

In Kinshasa, there have been some developments since your re-election last December. You recently appointed Judith Suminwa Tuluka as prime minister, making her the first woman to ever lead a Congolese government. There are a lot of expectations on the part of the population but the government still isn't set up.

Prime Minister Judith Tuluka Suminwa is picture next to President Felix Tshisekedi
Prime Minister Judith Suminwa Tuluka (left.) took office in early April but still has no government to work withImage: Xinhua News Agency/picture alliance

It will be set up soon. It's true that we have a system that's rather outdated or not set up well in any case, because you see, today we're a majority. So normally, the composition of a government shouldn't be long in coming. It's scheduled for the beginning of May. Now it's taken us a long time to do it. We don't even have the Senate yet.

So I think there's a problem with our constitution. We need to make reforms so that we don't waste so much time putting together a government. The elections took place at the end of December. My investiture took place on January 20, so normally we should have started work straight away but we've wasted months on all this.

The prime minister is here, she's already very active, she's received all the personalities from the sectors of national public life. So she's ready. Her program is ready. But we're waiting for everything to fall into place because her government can only be validated by the National Assembly.

The interview was conducted by Wendy Bashi and Tina Gerhäusser and was adapted from the original French by Philipp Sandner.

Edited by: Sertan Sanderson