Kabila family’s web of wealth revealed
Report may help explain why Congo president is reluctant to step down
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