Big Man in Congo

A Conversation With Joseph Kabila

Joseph Kabila

  • Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Title: President

Never in its history has the Democratic Republic of the Congo experienced a peaceful transfer of power. Patrice Lumumba, the country’s first prime minister after independence from Belgium in 1960, was ousted in a coup and assassinated. The military dictator responsible, Mobutu Sese Seko, ruled for more than three decades before being overthrown in 1997. The rebel leader who accomplished that, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was assassinated in 2001, in the midst of a five-year war that ranks as the world’s deadliest since World War II. Kabila’s son Joseph succeeded him: at 29 years old, he was then the youngest head of state in the world.

Kabila fils has presided over the end of Congo’s war and the fivefold growth of its economy. But other problems still beset the country’s 80 million people: armed violence, human rights abuses, corruption, poverty. Kabila won an election in 2006 that was generally seen as fair and one in 2011 that was not. Congo’s constitution required that the next election be held in 2016, but Kabila delayed it, inviting speculation that he would seek an illegal third term. Congolese took to the streets in protest, and Kabila’s security forces cracked down hard, killing scores. The United States and the European Union responded by banning visas and freezing assets of some of the officials deemed responsible.

This past August, Kabila made the surprise announcement that he was stepping down and also endorsed a successor, who is running in presidential elections scheduled for December 23. On December 10, Kabila, now 47, spoke with Foreign Affairs’ managing editor Stuart Reid at the president’s ranch outside Kinshasa. 

What are your biggest accomplishments in office?

The fact that you are here talking to me in a country that is reunified. Otherwise, we were going to go through the same situation as Sudan, with Juba and Khartoum. The fact that two weeks from now we are organizing elections for the third time. The fact that 20 years ago the country had an inflation rate of beyond 10,000

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