Ka­bila fam­ily’s web of wealth re­vealed

Re­port may help ex­plain why Congo pres­i­dent is re­luc­tant to step down

The Guardian Weekly - - International News - Ruth Ma­clean

The pres­i­dent cling­ing to power in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo and his fam­ily have a vast net­work of busi­nesses reach­ing into al­most every sec­tor of the econ­omy that are thought to have gen­er­ated hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in rev­enues since 2003, ac­cord­ing to a re­search re­port.

Joseph Ka­bila was sup­posed to quit last year af­ter 16 years as pres­i­dent, but has re­fused to go, say­ing his coun­try can­not af­ford to hold elec­tions.

All the Pres­i­dent’s Wealth, a re­port pub­lished last Thurs­day by a re­search group based at New York Univer­sity, may help to ex­plain why the pres­i­dent – who, polls have shown, would win 7.8% of the vote if he did al­low elec­tions – is so des­per­ate to keep his job.

Ka­bila owns 71,000 hectares of farm­land, di­rectly and through his chil­dren. His twin sis­ter holds a valu­able slice in the state tele­coms com­pany, his younger brother has busi­ness in­ter­ests rang­ing from mining and con­struc­tion to a stake in the Nando’s fast-food chain, and two fam­ily com­pa­nies have di­a­mond-mining per­mits for 450km of the south­ern bor­der. To­gether they own more than 80 com­pa­nies in the DRC and abroad, wholly or par­tially, the re­port says.

“This is the first in a se­ries of re­ports where we’re try­ing to hold the lead­ers of the coun­try ac­count­able to their own laws and their own con­sti­tu­tion, and in par­tic­u­lar to hold them ac­count­able for the eco­nomic man­age­ment of the coun­try,” said Ja­son Stearns, di­rec­tor of the Congo Re­search Group, pub­lisher of the re­port.

There are no laws pre­vent­ing Con­golese politi­cians from own­ing busi­nesses, but the re­port raises ques­tions about how the Ka­bila fam­ily has amassed such great wealth in two decades, while more than half their coun­try­men sur­vive on less than $1 a day. It al­leges the mining min­istry granted a com­pany owned by Jaynet Ka­bila, the pres­i­dent’s twin sis­ter, more mining per­mits than its code al­lows, while other fam­ily-owned com­pa­nies won state con­tracts and made mil­lions of dol­lars from sub­con­tracts. A sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Bloomberg claimed the pres­i­dent’s brother, Zoé Ka­bila, had brought hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to the fam­ily through a vast net­work of busi­nesses.

The re­port is based mostly on Con­golese le­gal doc­u­ments, which the re­search group ob­tained by sim­ply ask­ing the author­i­ties for them. This is one of the quirks of the DRC, Stearns said. “It’s not an au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment, it’s a gov­ern­ment that of­ten re­stricts pub­lic space and civil lib­er­ties. But it’s a state that’s very proud of be­ing a state, and so one of the bizarre things about Congo is it’s not a failed state: ev­ery­where you go in the coun­try you’ll see state of­fi­cials hunched over piles of doc­u­ments, in love with – fetishis­ing – the state.”

The leader of the DRC’s main op­po­si­tion party, Éti­enne Tshisekedi, died in Fe­bru­ary, but had failed to anoint a suc­ces­sor. His son, Félix Tshisekedi, took over, while Moïse Ka­tumbi, a wealthy busi­ness­man who used to work for Ka­bila and who in re­cent in­ter­views was at pains to point out that he had “never killed any­one”, is an­other fron­trun­ner.

More than 3,000 peo­ple have been killed and 1.4 mil­lion dis­placed in es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence in the cen­tral prov­ince of Ka­sai, where the UN has iden­ti­fied more than 80 prob­a­ble mass graves and said it had found tod­dlers with limbs chopped off and preg­nant women with bel­lies sliced open, their un­born ba­bies mu­ti­lated. The con­flict started when com­mu­ni­ties formed a mili­tia af­ter Ka­muina Ns­apu, a lo­cal leader who op­posed the gov­ern­ment, was killed last year. But ac­cord­ing to the UN, the worst atroc­i­ties have been car­ried out by Bana Mura, a new gov­ern­ment-spon­sored mili­tia sent to quash the re­bel­lion.

De­spite the con­flict and the pres­i­dent’s rock-bot­tom pop­u­lar­ity, the ev­i­dence that the Ka­bi­las have kept a large chunk of their wealth in their home coun­try seems to in­di­cate they do not in­tend to leave it any time soon. Many politi­cians stash their wealth off­shore, and the rul­ing fam­ily may also do that, but they also hold sig­nif­i­cant Con­golese in­vest­ments. “What­ever their in­vest­ments abroad, they’ve in­vested a huge amount in the Congo, in­clud­ing in things very dif­fi­cult to liq­ui­date in a short pe­riod of time, like real es­tate,” Stearns said.

“If this was a fam­ily in­ter­ested in rob­bing the coun­try and leav­ing the coun­try, this is not how they would act. Joseph Ka­bila’s gone on the record and said ‘I’m not go­ing any­where,’ and that is how he’s be­hav­ing.”

Stay­ing … Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila

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