Julien Paluku Kahongya, Governor of DRC’s North Kivu Province, details the great lengths the government and other determined parties have gone to to establish peace in DRC, and how his province is gradually resuming its role as the breadbasket of the DRC. He also highlights North Kivu’s key role in potentially making the DRC the ‘next Colombia’ for cocoa production, as well as assuring “in the next five to 10 years, the province of North Kivu will be a large-scale mining space of global scale.”
What do you think is the international perception of the country and more precisely the North Kivu, and how could it affect potential investments in this region?
The international perception of our country is unfortunately intrinsically connected to its history. The Democratic Republic of the Congo lived an atrocious situation under the regime of the very controversial Marshal Mobutu and it naturally had undeniable impacts on the Great Lakes region. Following this dictatorship of 32 years, our region lived through successive wars, some quite more tragic and complicated than others: the first war of liberation of the AFDL, via the tensions caused by Laurent Nkunda's CNDP, then recently conflicts caused and operated by M23. These conflicts do not convey a positive image of the country outside our borders; yet it is essential to recall that only a tiny part of the North Kivu Province had to undergo such difficulties.
Being governor of the North Kivu, for almost 10 years now, I have never had to capitulate in my province. Quite the opposite: supported by the government and armed forces, my team and myself restored – in record time – the order that should have always been in place in these areas.
The humanitarian organizations, which came to help the displaced populations, largely harmed the image of our province, and did not present an objective image of North Kivu. Their goal was naturally to alarm, and to communicate exclusively on the complicated situations, by omitting certain realities. Indeed, I think that it is necessary to recall that our province has more than 7 million inhabitants. The populations affected by the various conflicts were of 500 000, a number that is too high, but still shows that the fights were not at all part of the everyday life of the total population of North Kivu.
We hope that this image will be rectified, because the Congolese are fundamentally peaceful and the unstable situations that we knew in past are comparable to other events that occurred in other continents.
What is your assessment of the security situation in the province and what is the strategy to strengthen peace and national reconciliation?
Under the direct authority of the President of the Republic, we introduced a number of actions to fight against insecurity within the province. Indeed, certain situations required the intervention of armed forces; for a large number of operations their know-how is unbeatable.
Let us remember that since 1997, we have had an army in reality made up of a multitude of brigades. In the name of peace, the President of the Republic decided to unite all of these groups under the same banner, to make a common army: one of the undeniable consequences of this mixture was that within the same regiment, there were untrained recruits alongside over-trained men. The current effort thus concerns the training of all these servicemen stemming from various armed groups to establish a real reliable – and, especially, sovereign – army.
This process takes time and brings forth real logistic challenges for resolutions of the tensions in North Kivu; to reform our army is a worthy workload; it is done little by little, within our means.
Today, and contrary to what was practiced in the not so distant past, to join our national defense, following a new regulation, candidates have to fill a number of strict criteria. And our efforts are paying off; proof lies in the last war setting us against M23 in 2013. M23 benefited from a quasi-official support of certain nearby countries; but our armed forces quickly ended it with M23. Our forces were no longer a disrupted and non-formed army, but rather a much better equipped body, endowed with a capacity of fast reactions and with logistics allowing it to face any enemy.
Conflicts emanated from sociological complications because each war ensued from ethnic tensions, and left the impression that certain ethnic groups wished to quench their thirst of domination of the others. We thus saw the appearance of the phenomenon of militias, members of local strengths separating from the group of which they were initially members, to fight opposite ethnic groups. This was explained by the fact that in every confrontation, when one ethnic group was in position of dominance, the other communities united to defend themselves. We can cite the example of the Maï-maï, which regrouped a number of young people of different ethnic groups around them, to counter the dominant ethnic group. This situation made that for a while, we counted more than 23 armed gangs in the North Kivu, and as many rival communities.
We thus set up various campaigns to stop the generalization of these communities; each was convinced that the opposite communities were bad. It was thus necessary to explain and to demonstrate that a group in general could not be considered as criminal, but that within these groups criminals can be found; a bad individual cannot be necessarily linked to in his clan of origin.
We had difficulty in reuniting spirits; thus it was our duty to be the example. This is how, in an educational approach, we established our provincial government by distributing positions in a way that all the ethnic groups were fairly represented. Even if the power is political, we took into account sociological, territorial and ethnic data so that by giving an office to a political party, the chosen person also had to fulfill tribal or ethnic criteria. Our main objective here was to reduce this social fracture.
When our government was put into place, taking into account the previously mentioned factors, spirits were apparently calmed. For us, this meant a first beautiful campaign of reconciliation. In parallel, we created in North Kivu a technical unit of support for pacification, which was in charge of going through all the territories to convey a message of peace and peaceful cohabitation to allow people to abandon this war mindset.
Finally, we resuscitated an organ called "intercommunity BARZA". It is an organization regrouping all the ethnic communities of North Kivu, within which it is possible to freely ask any questions of ethnic, political order, etc. The BARZA plays the role of a village forum, where everything is settled through dialogue, around the tree, in keeping with African culture.
In this case, what role did organizations and international institutions, in particular the MONUSCO, play, and how you would define the present relations?
The MONUSCO played a key role; at first the United Nations had sent a body of mediation to DRC, the MONUC (Mission of Observation of the United Nations in Congo), meant to appease the relations between the 5 divisions that unfortunately existed at the time. The Republic was then managed from Kinshasa by the government in position, while the small Republic governed Goma, South-Kivu and Maniema. The DRC/KML led Béni, Lubéro and Iturie; the faction led by Roger Lumbala administered Isiro and Bafasende; and Jean-Pierre Mbemba controlled the province of Ecuador. The situation was thus critical.
By arriving on location, the MONUC wished to reassure all these former belligerent parties and show them that they could work together. A mutual distrust prevented them from meeting each other. The MONUC played the interlocutor's role and brought these historic enemies around a table to show them the importance of reconciliation and how the country could still be reconstituted.
The international community allowed our country, divided at that time, to reunite from 2001 under the authority of President Joseph Kabila, who was in favor of dialogue. In 2002 this orientation resulted in the signature of an inclusive and global agreement.
We remain convinced that the MONUC played a leading role in this stage of our history; the same organization continued to accompany the country during difficult times following the signing of this agreement.
After the reunification in 2003, certain senior officials were scared to have their security provided by elements of the regular army. The United Nations’ know-how being obvious, they assisted us on the security and governmental plans as well as on various projects of public infrastructure.
One year later, in 2004, when John Butebusi and Laurent Nkunda attacked the city of Bukavu in the east of the country, thanks to the support of United Nations, rebels in the province of North Kivu, in which Laurent Nkunda had repeatedly tried to take control of the city of Goma, folded. Goma being the second headquarters of the MONUC after Kinshasa, it was strictly impossible for the dissident strengths to seize this city.
The dissuasive effect of the MONUC was of great importance; this also showed when M23 tried the same thing in Goma. The mobilization of the international community forced the rebels to leave the city hastily. After only 11 days of occupation, that is from November 20th till December 1st, 2013, rebels turned back. In the middle the existing tensions, I was forced to temporarily move my government of Goma to Béni to keep the province alive.
The United Nations, through the MONUC together with the government of the President of the Republic, played a very important role to end the armed conflicts. We surrendered in various cities in order to negotiate a lasting peace. It was in particular the case in Kampala during the CIRGL (International Conference of the Countries of the Great Lakes Region), managed by President Museveni at the time. Many meetings had followed one another for M23 to leave the city of Goma.
However, part of the population did not completely understand the role played by the MONUC. It is true that to see an armed group armed with tanks, helicopters and other heavy weapons occupying a space, without the possible intervention of the MONUC, can be surprising. That's why there were tensions between the population and the MONUC. For that reason, on March 28th, 2013 the Security Council of the United Nations voted for Resolution 2098 to create a brigade of intervention within the MONUC; and the name of MONUC (Mission of Observation of the United Nations in Congo) thus became MONUSCO (Mission of Observation of United Nations for the Security in Congo) – a force of rapid reaction that did not have to wait for orders from New York in order to act. The Security Council had understood that for the MONUSCO to be armed, but neither intervening directly nor prevailing the rights of the population, was quite contradictory.
Since the beginning of 2016, brigades essentially composed of Tanzanians appeared; they were key in the neutralization of M23, even going as far as destroying the big bastions of this rebel movement supported by the Rwandans in the north of Goma. The mission of the MONUSCO thus appears more understandable; a new trust of the population in the government and in the United Nations was born.
Together, we protect the Congolese of all threats.
What was your strategy for the economic revival of the province and what were the biggest challenges you faced to bring it about?
The biggest challenge up to here was, above all, these successive wars. Unfortunately the image conveyed by the repeated conflicts in North Kivu had great repercussions throughout the country. Our province is historically anchored in the agro-pastoral industry, and as you can imagine, the critical context slowed down the economic development of our territories. Years ago, North Kivu fed almost the whole republic. Indeed, fertilizers are useless given of the natural fertility of these lands, and the livestock consisted of about 1,000,000 head of cattle.
However the armed conflicts largely affected our cattle, because all in all more than 800,000 animals disappeared. Nevertheless, thanks to the supplied efforts, our province is gradually resuming its role as the breadbasket of the DRC, and the distribution of the produce of North Kivu is made mainly by waterway or by air.
The province I am governing has two main areas of production of cocoa, in the territories of the Bléni and Walicali. Several international experts came over and announced that there would be a deficiency of more than 30 million tons of cocoa in the world in the next 30 years. In other words DRC is getting ready to become the next Columbia, a blessing for our country. We are therefore developing the culture of cocoa extensively in these two cities, because tomorrow they will be the real reservoirs of the world for production of cocoa.
In parallel to the development of the agricultural industry, we discovered, in Walikale and Masisi, important mineral deposits such as coltan, the cassiterite and even gold. Today international groups such as the American company Alphamine settle in North Kivu in order to abundantly invest there in the next five years. A reminder: mineral deposits today are exploited in an artisanal way, sometimes at the risk of workers’ lives.
I can assert that in the next five to 10 years, the province of North Kivu will be a large-scale mining space of global scale. And what is more, the Lake Kivu contains a gigantic amount of 50 billion cubic meters of gas methane, according to recent studies, which represents an exploitable electric potential of about 100 MW. It could fill our energy deficiencies and facilitate the revitalization of the agro-industrial sector of the province.
Besides all this, we are also looking to revitalize the tourist sector. The Park of Virunga, the first African park, created in 1935, is filled with mountain gorillas, hippopotamuses, lions and rare species that exist nowhere else. Following the decision of the President of the Republic, a team of international experts must be entrusted with the management of this park, and today the Belgian expert Mr. Emerald co-manages the Park with the National Institute for the Preservation of the Nature, which will undoubtedly reassure tourists.
In 2010, I participated in a workshop in Rwanda; and I have to highlight the fact that that country has a fraction of the tourist potential found in the DRC; however that resource in Rwanda represented more than $400 million to the first quarter of the same year. This is why the Head of State Joseph Kabila is firmly determined to develop the tourist sector.
As for the remaining challenges, foreign intervention on our ground raises a real problem. In 1994, the leaders at the time had seen it fit to welcome on the Congolese ground Rwandan people persecuted in their country of origin. Regrettably, over the years, these became enemies of the DRC; they established armed factions, the FDLR, which are in both North and South Kivu. They are responsible for existing tensions between Rwanda and the DRC and for exactions committed on the Congolese territory. That's why our Head of State is the first to want to find a long-lasting solution in this situation.
Rwanda supported the first war in 1998, then it stayed in Congo until 2003. Instead of ending this situation of conflict with the FDLR, Rwanda took advantage of this unofficial partner to illegally exploit the minerals in our province. This is the reason why we are convinced that the question of the FDLR for Rwanda is a false debate. Rwanda wants our mines, and do not want help us fight an enemy that is they can actually benefit from.
Siding with the members of the FDLR, there is in the north in the territory of Béni, another armed group of external origin, the ADF NALU. In place since 1986, after the fall of Idi Amin and the Museveni takeover, they took refuge in the massifs of Rwenzori and developed relations with the local populations there. We wish to reaffirm our authority over these zones, and these groups make our task complicated. On top of these two major problems are other armed groups, undeniably delaying the re-launch of the province.
Thus we are making great efforts under the leadership of the President of the Republic to make of North Kivu a haven of peace where each can come to settle down and invest. I consider that North Kivu is the ideal place for the foreign investors, where their simple presence would give certain inertia in the securing of the region.
How do you plan to concretize your potential and to transform your comparative advantages into competitive advantages of major added value?
It is therefore most important to establish a real diagnosis to identify the potential vectors of growth. The indispensable condition is to measure the positive repercussions of the possible solutions. In this case it is necessary to take into account leverages in terms of economic development. In North Kivu, we are revitalizing agriculture and cattle breeding, because we are persuaded that it will have an impact on domestic consumption. Our trade balance has a deficit DRC; the internal production of products stemming from the agro-industry is unfortunately much lower than the demand from local consumers (the monthly consumption averages at $1 billion). The idea would be to re-inject funds in the local economy focusing on Congolese farmers.
For the same reason, it is essential to concentrate on the medium and long-term agricultural re-launch. This will allow the RDC to naturally boost the economy of the country, to strengthen food self-sufficiency, but also to establish a continuous incoming flow of foreign currencies, which will contribute to the stabilization of our money.
It is essential to restore the value of agriculture in Congo. Certainly, we have mining resources, but they, contrary to the culture of grounds, are not inexhaustible. Over 80 million hectares of arable land, only 10% is correctly exploited. Thus the North Kivu represents an undeniable potential.
What is the role of the private sector in this revitalization and how can capital-intensive projects benefit from the plan of public-private partnerships (PPP)?
It is true that the role of the private investors in our program of revitalization is essential. Our province is traditionally autonomous, which makes it intrinsically dynamic, and this dynamism is enough to attract foreign as well as national investors.
In North Kivu, public-private partnerships are welcome because of favorable ground and because of an undoubtedly favorable human capital. The difficulty emanates more from the absence of administrative structures in the province. When these frames will be correctly set up, the arrival of the private sector will be all the more facilitated.
For example, today I am covering the roads in North Kivu in asphalt thanks to plan of the PPP. We were able to gather the private operators to show them how important their implication is. With a very concrete demonstration, I showed them the constraints represented by the regular changing of shock absorbers and tires but also the difficulties of traffic on the roads. Convinced of the relevance of a project of renovation of our road network, we met and came to propose the following plan. At first it was necessary to create a tax on fuel at the level of 20 Fc/liter, to collect least $50 000. This sum served as an initial contribution, and made it easier to apply for credit. We then obtained a loan of one million dollars, needed for the total financing of the project. The province even considered it adequate to let the private partners themselves manage the allocation of the tax on fuel.
This system was so fruitful that today the asphalting of roads is only feasible through the PPP. It was recently done in Goma, and we are gradually rising in the direction of Butembo where 15km were already asphalted for a $15 million sum, entirely in the hands of the PPP.
Thanks to these different efforts, you will notice that the city of Goma, which was not long ago decimated by the volcanic eruption of 2002, has been completely rebuilt, so well that it will be difficult to you to find signs of the eruption. An all-out mobilization had allowed the rebuilding of the city, without the State even needing to intervene.
What is your philosophy of leadership for the development of the province?
I remain persuaded that good leadership is based on the notion of hardship. If many governors fail, it is firstly because their leadership is built on the idea of easy and immediate gain. When governance is based on a "short-term" vision, it is complicated to build a nation or a province. That's why we try hard to develop our province with a long-term vision, because the country has come a long way and it is impossible to solve all the difficulties of the country in one day.
Regarding education for example, I set up the 20/20 perspective, aiming to produce 20 doctors with thesis before 2020. The average age of our professors being of 60 years, it is urgent to prepare the future, to guarantee a university quality frame for future generations.
At the same time, we are multiplying our efforts to grant scholarships to students. Today we are proud to announce that we have our first Doctor with thesis, we have seven students in Masters’ degrees preparing their theses, and 44 graduates in pre-Masters’ degrees. For many, this seemed like a disproportionate ambition when we proposed it.
We try hard to give everybody a chance, without ethnic considerations, the only criteria being success. We sent nine students to South Korea so that they could specialize in electronics, in civil engineering, in aerospace, and in many other fields. Samsung in Seoul has just hired one of them. We took this opportunity to negotiate a counterpart of two scholarships, which will benefit other Congolese people.
With all of this in mind, I remain persuaded that leadership is, above all, having a well-defined long-term vision.