Around 3 percent of DR Congo's 40 million eligible voters will have to wait until March 2019 to cast their ballots, long after the successor to President Joseph Kabila has been decided. The rest of the country will finally go to the polls on Sunday after more than two years of delays and a last-minute postponement of one week after a fire in the capital Kinshasa destroyed a large amount of voting materials. Saleh Mwanamilongo, a correspondent for DW's Kiswahili Service, spoke to Kabila about some of the difficulties surrounding the general elections.
DW: The elections have been postponed in the cities of Beni, Butembo and Yumbi but today [Thursday] there is chaos as a result. The opposition, together with residents in those areas, have said the postponement is a result of political reasons and not due to Ebola. What is your comment on the postponement of the elections?
Joseph Kabila: I think the answer is that the electoral commission CENI has come up with an answer which has been made clear to all of us. And the answer from CENI is that the elections have been postponed until the Ebola disease has been brought under control. They have announced the elections will be held in March next year with the hope the disease will have been brought under control by then.
The second issue is the security of the people themselves. You know, and it is known everywhere, that we have been having problems with killings taking place, especially of residents, particularly in Beni, where we have lost so many people. And it is not only citizens, we have also lost soldiers in our fight against the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) rebels. Soldiers of the United Nations peacekeeping force have also been lost. So those are the two big reasons that CENI talked about.
Another area is Yumbi. There, we have had problems, including fighting between two tribes, that have forced many people to run away. You cannot organize elections in areas where people have been dispersed or displaced. Elections will be held in March in those areas, according to CENI. So, it is an election that has been postponed, not an election that has been cancelled.
But people have been saying: There were election campaigns that took place, there were people going to church, people going to the market place, and there was no problem at all. Why should such a decision be taken for just one day of the election?
As you know, and as everyone knows, in this year's election we shall use machines. That means every person who votes for his presidential candidate and members of parliament will use the same machine. The problem now is, if there is only one person or two who have Ebola, if they use the machine 500 or 600 other people and more will be infected. If you go to church there is no such machine that people use, or if you go to the market. That is the difference.
How did you receive the news of the postponement of the election that was to be held on December 23 and now will be held on December 30? What was your reaction?
I feel reasons were given which are understandable. CENI could not organize elections in all parts of the country outside Kinshasa because of machines that were destroyed in a fire. They needed that time of one week to ensure those machines are installed and reprogrammed so that the election can take place. I received that information and I understood after being given those explanations.
Do you think elections this time around will take place on December 30?
Of course. There is no other reason whatsoever that will stop us having elections on Sunday.
There were offers of technical support, for example from the United Nations. Offers also came from individual countries such as South Africa, and other members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). That help was not accepted, and now we have this situation. Do you think it was a mistake not to accept help from outside?
It was not a mistake. The 2011 election was organized by ourselves. We paid the bill of the 2011 election. There was probably assistance of only about 10 percent from, I think, the United Nations or the European Union. We wanted to organize this election ourselves because we have the capacity to organize this election. And because there is no other country that is asking or being given assistance to organize elections. Why should only Congo do so? I have said before that Congo is not a begging nation. We are not going to beg anyone for help to organize an election that belongs to us. We ourselves will organize this election that will determine the future of Congo today, tomorrow and the days to come.
A recent meeting of regional leaders in Brazzaville was not attended by any official from DR Congo. Presidents from SADC member countries have said Congo has a responsibility to ensure the whole region remains peaceful. What message have your colleagues sent to you?
I feel the message is like the one you have heard in the final joint communiqué they issued. There is no other difference. The same way we are saying, this is our election, we are not talking to those who want to involve themselves in this election. We are also telling all our neighbors: "This is an election for the Congolese. Let the Congolese do their election." I have told them that our election will take place. And it will happen in an orderly manner. So they should not worry.
The situation in Kivu in eastern DRC has for many years been chaotic and problematic. What is causing this violence to continue?
Congo is a big country and Congo has had very many problems, not only in Kivu. We have had problems in Equateur Province, we have had problems in Kasai, we have had problems in Katanga, we had problems in Ituri. In all these areas we have ensured we solve those problems. As I talk to you now, some of these areas do not have problems. And when you talk about Kivu, there is South Kivu, and North Kivu. In this country we have 26 provinces. And there are two provinces where we have problems. We have talked about these problems. Terrorism problems caused by the ADF rebels, especially in North Kivu, whom we have been fighting all these years and we shall continue to fight them. Why has it been so difficult? It is because the ADF rebel group recruits from many countries. We have arrested and imprisoned people from Uganda, from Sudan, Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya, South Africa. We have told all these countries we have to work together so as to bring this war to an end. We have to continue the war against this group until we win.
Uganda has always said it will be ready, if requested, to help Congo fight the ADF. Have you thought about that? Can there be a joint operation between the Congolese and Ugandan armies?
That possibility is there. Right now we are working very well with the Ugandan side, especially regarding the exchange of information about the enemy. We have been talking about army operations inside Congo, though we told our partners in Uganda that what we want them to do is to ensure enemies that come from Uganda, who do their recruitment in Uganda, they bring that to an end. But it is not only Uganda, but all other countries. So that cooperation is there, not only with Uganda, but also with other countries.
An election is to be held in a few days' time, and many Congolese are worried violence could erupt. What have you done to ensure peace will still prevail after the election?
Peace will be there. What we have done is to ensure the police are preparing. What we have done is to ensure our people are told the truth that an election is not the end of life but the beginning of a new step for our nation, and I am sure the election will take place and we shall have peace. Acts of violence in two, three, four areas will be there but the important thing is the whole country will have peace.
The candidate you support, Ramazani Shadary, has done his campaigning in other provinces but opposition candidates have complained they were blocked from campaigning in those provinces. They claim you were aware of that. Do you think this situation could affect whether there is calm after the election?
I am not aware of candidates being blocked from campaigning. The problem is that when campaigns were officially opened, our campaigns here take one month, not two or three, and the country is huge. Campaigns were opened and the candidate you mentioned, Shadary, had already started his campaign. 10 days later is when the opposition decided to start campaigning. So definitely it was difficult for them to go to all 26 provinces in this big country.
What type of legacy will you leave for the Congolese people after leading this country for 17 years?
In 2001 Congo was just a name. It was a country that had collapsed. The Congo of 2001 was four, five or six countries. The biggest legacy is that we brought Congo to be one country, from 2003 until today, and it will continue to be one country. We have ensured our economy is stable since that period. We still continue, especially the big work of developing the nation.
What advice would you give the president who will succeed you?
The biggest advice is that he should just follow the voice of the Congolese people. He should not follow the voice that comes from Europe, the US or anywhere else.
The interview was conducted in Kiswahili by Saleh Mwanamilongo / DW