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Interview with Laurent Kabila, President of Congo, on WBAI radio, November, 1998
Interviewers: Elombe Brath and Samori Marksman
Elombe Brath: Mr. President, we want you to be able to talk directly to the people here, to tell them of the situation in the Congo as it is today.
President Laurent Kabila: The situation in Congo is a war situation. The Congo has been aggressed in the north by Uganda and Rwanda as well as Burundi. As of October 30, there were 15,000 Ugandan and 19,000 Rwandan troops on Congo soil. They are disrupting our democratization process. They are killing and looting everywhere, particularly in the mining areas such as Kisangani and Kivu. All production is at a standstill.
The people of Congo, who are the victims, are mobilizing against this open aggression. The aggressors have benefited by the complicity of big powers who have decided not to tell them to pull out from the Congo so that we could begin again the reconstruction of that area, so that peace could be brought back to the area of the Great Lakes region.
Samori Marksman: President Kabila, could you discuss the nature of the forces from outside the Congo, besides Rwanda and Uganda, which are directly involved in the Congo itself?
Kabila: When Uganda and Rwanda started the invasion, no rebellion existed inside the Congo. The real position here is that after the 2nd of August attempted coup in Kinshasa was defeated, they came up with the story of a revolt. Three weeks after they realized that they were not going to defeat the popular government in Kinshasa, they came up with this story of rebels. Of course, they have got accomplices from the Congo itself. But in the course of the conflict we saw the so-called rebels getting people from European cities; from the former Mobutu army. They also got refugees from Tanzania, Uganda, and elsewhere. So these critics, who call themselves "democratic forces," are supported by Uganda and Rwanda. They wanted to impose on the Congo a group of leaders which was not elected by the people. Uganda and Rwanda leadership, especially Mr. Museveni and Mr. Kagame, think that the Congo is not mature enough to be the master of its own destiny and that the Congolese should be given to the puppets of those two countries. This is a key question. They want the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to accept and negotiate with their puppets and discuss internal matters on behalf of these invaders.
The forces we requested have come in to stop aggression against the Democratic Republic of Congo, these are the legitimate governments of these countries (Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, etc.). They are not concerned about pulling out, because they were called in to stop aggression. We will ask our friends and our allies to leave the country when the situation in the Congo has been normalized. But this cannot be taken as one of the conditions for peace, as has been called for by the European governments.
Our allies and friends are here to assist and preserve the sovereignty and independence of the Congo. They should not be asked to go at the same time as the aggressors, who do not have the right to be here in the Congo in the first place, stay. This is the situation.
Brath: The western press has been trying to link the Army of the Democratic Republic of Congo with the Interahambe [the militias of Rwandan origins that participated in the genocide against fellow Rwandans in Rwanda]. Those who have now invaded the Congo said that they came into the country to try to cleanse that area of armed groups. I recall that when I was in the Congo in 1997, we noticed that you had worked to integrate the Banyamulenge and even Rwandans into the government, including the then Foreign Minister Kahara. Please explain the situation with the Interahambe, and also, why you felt that the people whom you had helped turned against you.
Kabila: The first point is the Interahambe. Additionally, a huge percentage of the population fled from Rwanda into the Congo.
One of the things that was agreed between me and Kagame just before the overthrow of Mobutu was that the revolutionary people of the Congo would split up and expel from power the Mobutu regime and also deny any base of activities by which the Interahambe might attack Rwanda. On the other hand, Rwanda had agreed to give free passage to the Congolese Liberation Movement for our activities in our own country to overthrow the Mobutu regime. That is what we did.
So it was an interesting agreement on both sides to keep alive the Kigali regime of Kagame. And we did benefit from the free passage. We were working together. We were solving this problem called Banyamulenge, that is, the Tutsi immigrants that were living in the same part of Zaire (now Congo), especially in Kivu in the south and in the north. We had integrated those young men, who had been discriminated against before we came into power. And after we took power, we even gave to some of them key positions in the government for the first time in the history of this country. That Kahara is a traitor, absolutely. He was a member of my cabinet, as well as many other Tutsis, and even some Rwandans were officers of our Army, controlling the general staff of the Army, all the brigades and the area where Interahambe and the former Rwandan Army was most active.
So we did what we had agreed with those gentlemen leaders from Rwanda and Uganda. And what they have since come up with is that the leaders of Rwanda, and especially Uganda, keep sending signals as if the Congo is a small colony, they feel that they have to do what it is necessary for my country. We started disagreeing when they killed thousands of Hutus in the western part of our country, in the equatorial region.
That was the certain point of disagreement between us, because we said we could not continue supporting the massacre of the Hutu people on our own soil, and we decided Rwanda would have to pull out. That is what we did. They are not satisfied to wait, and then the coup attempt came in August 1998 followed by the invasion, which is still going on now.
Marksman: This chronology is very important.
When did the massacre of the Hutus occur, how close was it to the
attempted coup of August?
Kabila: The massacre of Hutus occurred in 1997 in the Kisangani area, and the areas of what we call here the equatorial region. This was carried out by Rwandan troops based there because it was the area we had given them as a military area.
Several months after they carried out the massacre, the traditional Congolese chief, who witnessed it, and who even participated in transporting bodies, putting the bodies into sacks, came to my office and informed me. That was in July 1998. I was apprised of what they had done without the knowledge of the Congolese government. And we were still on friendly terms at that time. So I did protest it. And, I said its not possible, we cant accept that kind of thing on our soil. Many of the traditional chiefs came into the delegation here bringing in more proof. We sent people from my office of the Justice Minister; the Interior Minister was sent to the site of the massacre, and proof was there. We expressed our dislike for this kind of tradition of violence and blood. We see that all the time and we put a stop right here in the Congo. So that this was the beginning of the accusation by Kagame and Museveni of Kabila being a dictator and that Kabila did not like Tutsis. Those are false accusations.
Those people were pulled out on the 28th of July, the coup started on the 2nd of August of this year. So it was due to the situation that they feared, that they were no longer controlling our government. And so thats why they resorted to that coup.
Brath: Theres another critical point, President Kabila, in the chronology. Many Latin American papers reported that you went to Cuba on July 23rd. And, it was after you returned to the Congo that you told James Kabally that you wanted him to leave, but you told the rest of the Rwandan troops that you wanted them to go back to their country. You had already started to talk to Zimbabwe about retraining the Congolese Army. And many of us here who study the way the U.S. works, because were well aware of the connection between both Rwanda and Uganda with the United States military forces, we feel that it was because they saw you as coming together with Fidel Castro and Cuba for support, that they were given the signal to move against you. Do you agree with this assessment?
Kabila: Yes, this is true. It is admitted also by some that this is one of the reasons. I know that when I was in Cuba, I was told of the tremendous tension inside the Congolese Army during my absence. They called me at my office, saying that something was very wrong. Thats why I came back; it was to take control of the situation. Had we not arrived on time, the situation would have been very complicated on the 2nd, when the coup detat was attempted. We sent our ministers and security officers to Kagame [Paul kagame is the President of Rwanda; a Tutsi leader, an ally of the U.S.] to tell them that everybody had to go. And that we must have an open agreement. We all hoped that the new program would show them what they should and should not do. They had been doing everything which the Congolese could judge wrong: killing people to steal cars; killing people just to occupy villas; killing people just to steal from the bank and other institutions; killing and raping women.
So many things were very wrong, and the population was completely opposed to the presence of Tutsis because of their behavior. And I could not continue to put my own people under the pressure of the occupation of so-called friends. I decided they had to go. Thats what we did. And, Kagame himself said that yes, he accepts that those people should go back home. Many of the Tutsis whom we even included in our government were only interested in seeking control over the Congo. As you know, this Congo has over 50 million people, and the Tutsis are less than 200,000 less than 200,000 and theyre mostly illegal. So, they wanted to control the entire government despite what they have been getting from us. We are very, very important compared to their own population. So I think all those factors came together when the Rwandans and the Ugandans claimed that theyre losing control of the Congo. Absolutely, we dont understand why the United States of America was still supporting those gentlemen, training the military; and even now the U.S. is still in Uganda and Rwanda. You are the ones who know. You are policing Africa by you, I mean the policies of your government, not you as individuals.
Those three countries, Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi, are not democratic ones. They are minority rulers, repressing the majority of their countries. They are seeking to get rid of every Hutu. This is wrong.
Brath: President Kabila, one thing that is of great interest is your governments push for elections in your country. It is not getting much attention here, even when people like Nelson Mandela said you were doing a good job there. But Thabo Mbeki, the Deputy President of South Africa, also said that you are not quite ready for an electionbecause the electoral infrastructure simply does not exist, and that pushing ahead this early could be detrimental. How do you see this? Why do the western media critics continue to attack you over the holding of elections?
Kabila: The democratization program of our government is very clear. We were organizing what we call here the Constituent Assembly. And, then it was intended that the people from the territory, 300 of them from all over the country would constitute the Constituent Assembly, after being elected from the best there. And the Constituent Assembly would have been the transition Parliament after the election. All of our program was to satisfy the people of the Congo. I believe that these three countries were afraid that the Congo would really become an authentically democratic countrywith a large territory and vast resourcesand would be very strong. They are Rwandans; theyre Burundians and Ugandans, which are not democratic countries. So, this should be taken as a key point of their consensus for the aggression against the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Those people who knew that this is what we were doing at that time come up with the war against us. You should know that the aggressors have prepared their propaganda for over several months before they started war against us. You may remember that we called a solidarity and development conference in the area. We called many African leaders of international organizations as one of the ways of finding a solution to the tension in the Great Lakes region. They sabotaged this solidarity conference. The aggressors didnt want those things to happen.
But although Mbeki and Mandela made those remarks, they were misled basically by the propaganda of Museveni about what had been planned. And, he [Museveni] has a way of presenting himself as a master of the region. What they say is they know what Kabila will do and all the other leaders of the country.
Marksman: There is much discussion now about whether or not Angola will continue to support the Democratic Republic of Congo, whether Zimbabwe will continue to support the Congo, or whether pressure would be brought by the U.N. or the U.S. How do you view these questions?
Kabila: In Angola, UNITA has been the factor of destabilization of Angola and other countries in this area for a quarter of a century. It is known worldwide that Savimbi was getting support from the beginning until now from the United States of America, against the will of the people of the country. It is Savimbi who was defeated in Angola in the democratic elections in 1994. That is known. [UNITA is a group created and backed by the South African and US intelligence to overthrtow the Angolan government.]
And the results are known. They tried to destroy the legal government elected by the people of Angola. Now UNITA is fully in complicity with the Rwandan troops that are in northeastern Congo. There are plenty of UNITA people in the local hotels, in the same way as the military personnel from the United States. You go over there and then come up to Ugamba, you will see that there are plenty of UNITAs people in that area with their English-speaking friends.
And even today in Kisangani with Ugandan troops, everything is being called by the United States.
When they say that Angola will withdraw from the Congo, that is propaganda. I think the government of Angola is very clear. What some of those spreading the rumors of Angola wanting to pull out of the Congo dont know is that Angola is very well committed to the friendship and brotherhood with the people of Congo. And they know that the Congo is the victim of aggression. They cant pull out under these circumstances.
Why should they do so, even with many pressures from those big countries, especially the United States going around asking them to pull out, instead of condemning the invasion. There are U.S. embassies in the aggressor nations. Why doesnt the United States tell the aggressors who have violated the Charter of the United Nations to pull out? But the wealth that is in the Congo explains why they keep occupying our country. They have to go.
So, Angola is resolved. And what they are saying about Angola is that the absolute pressure is being used to force Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to pull out so that the aggressors can get a chance to overthrow the government of the Congolese Democratic Republic. Thats what it is. Angola with the Democratic Republic of Congo and others, they should strive together. We are on the same frontiers and there is no way of regulating the one to fool the other. Our friendship is very strong. And so is the imagination of our brothers running Angola.
Brath: President Kabila, what would you like to see the people of the United States do to help the people of the Congo?
Kabila: I think the people of Congo would like to see the United States of America, which is a big country, a big power, to be a country protecting a weak one against the injustice of those who seek to present themselves as strong militarists bent on occupying other countries.
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