Sunday, February 25, 2007
By Story and pictures by Webster Malido
Sunday February 25, 2007 [02:00]
I WAS forced by the people to join politics, says recently elected Democratic Republic of Congo's Katanga Province governor, Moses Katumbi. In an interview from his Lubumbashi residence in the DRC last Sunday, Katumbi says he is not a politician per se. "You know I didn't want to enter in politics. I will do in five years to maintain Katanga, to keep it as a big province in all Africa," says Katumbi. "And after, I will retire back in my business. I will do business, I am not a politician. I was not born a politician. I was forced by the people to enter in politics. It's different. They didn't call me by one person to stand in politics, no. All the people of Katanga." He says he was the last parliamentary candidate to file in his nomination papers because he was not ready to join politics but he gave in because of pressure from the people.
Katumbi says now that he has been elected governor of the mineral-rich Katanga Province, there is a lot of work ahead. He promises to turn things around in the next five years. "You watch Katanga in five years. It's going to be the smallest South Africa. You watch us," he stresses. "Because in Zambia there was already democracy. In Congo there had not been a free election. In Zambia you've got almost four times now free."
Katumbi says although there is a misunderstanding between him and Zambian authorities, it is important to note the close relations between Zambians and the people of the DRC. He says it is important not to create enmity between the two countries. "Because, you see, Congo and Zambia, they are sister countries. I don't want to create problems in Zambia or create problems in Congo. There is many Zambians working with me here because they are my brothers," says Katumbi.
He insists that although the Task Force on Corruption in Zambia says he has to answer some questions over some cases, he is going to come to Zambia as governor of Katanga Province. Before he left Zambia in 2002, Katumbi was well-known for his Chani Fisheries and Tamba Bashila businesses. He has been on the Task Force on Corruption's wanted list since then. Recently, he was elected governor of Katanga Province in the DRC. Below, he discusses, among many other issues, his path from business to politics, including his plans for Katanga Province.
Question: Okay, we can start the interview. Basically, maybe you can just explain to us... one thing people have been asking about is that how come you are governor now (in the DRC) when in Zambia you are considered a criminal, so to say, someone who stole...
Answer: A kabolala (thief)?
Q: Yeah, yes...
A: (Bursts into laughter). Thank you very much. You know, first to go and steal you should go and break the safe or to do something dubious. I was in Zambia, I had a contract and I was selling the maize meal. Through the media, there was some adverts, there was a contract and lucky enough there is some people which was in the same jobs, they are still alive in Zambia like Honourable Eric Silwamba, Honourable Vernon, VJ, even President Mwanawasa. The time you are doing the job you are buying the maize meal at Olympic, sorry in Zambia, even in Luanshya, in Lusaka at K32,000 and you are selling at K15,000 because of the elections because the price went up and everyone knows about that in the MMD. You know if you are Christian you should say the truth. And there is contract, there is nothing...The Zambian government owes me the money. I respect the Zambian government, I respect the people of Zambia. If I was...I had stolen in Zambia, my family was in Zambia. Why they didn't go and kill them? Because the people knew the truth. I was there helping the people. I am here today the maize meal in Congo, breakfast is K10,000. Fish, bream, I left bream in Zambia at K4,000. Today I heard it's about K15,000 or K16,000. Today the bream in Congo is K5,000. Who was helping the people?
Q: You have continued to supply fish in Congo?
A: I continued to supply. Who was helping the people? Today I am building hospitals. In Zambia I tried to help universities, I helped a lot of people. The people know the truth. If today, even if I stand in Zambia with some, that guy Task Force chairman Max Nkole from the Task Force saying...I will win beat him.
Q: You would win the elections?
A: I will win the elections. You see, I respect...I don't want people to say what they have to say...
Q: Maybe before we proceed, when you came to Zambia, what was your status? Where you a resident or...?
A: The time I came in Zambia, themselves they say I am the Congolese businessman. You answered the question. They said the fugitive, the Congolese businessman, they give me sort of, a lot of names.
Q: Were you Congolese when you came to Zambia?
A: That question you should ask the Mwata (Lunda senior chief Mwata Kazembe). The Mwata is my uncle. The Mwata Kazembe is my uncle on my mum's side. You know Luapula Province...
Q: The current Mwata?
A: Even the old Mwata. It's just the same family, the Chinyanta family. There is plenty Zambians born here, there is plenty Congolese born in Zambia. You understand? So these people want to say what arranged them. Four years remaining is nothing in government. President Chiluba had ten years, the ten years is finished. I think this time they have to work about a reconciliation with the people because time will catch those people also in four year's time. Imilandu taibola (literally, cases do not end/disappear), that's what the Bembas say.
Q: So that question of whether you were...
A: I entered first in Zambia with investment licence where I brought my cold room, everything. You understand? And I had my permit. The time I had some problems with the Congolese government. I didn't have a passport. They gave me a temporary passport in Zambia which I left after I got back my Congolese passport. And my mum declares, you can go in the Zambian consulate in Lubumbashi and from that time, the treatment they gave me I say no let me get back my Congolese nationality. Now I have got my Congolese nationality.
Q: And you are in government?
A: I am in government. I am in government ruling ten million people in Katanga.
Q: It's almost the same size with Zambia?
A: It's same size with Zambia.
Q: And it's one of the richest provinces in the DRC?
A: In the world, the richest province in the world. You should mention that. That's why I have got respect with the Zambian government, I don't have anything against the Zambian government. The problem is in court, I don't have anything to say. But I just want to say, they say, 'no, Moses is a crook'. People will know the truth. Mr Rupiah Banda say 'if he arrives in Zambia, you arrest him'. Why they are refusing me to come to Zambia if I have killed somebody, if I have stolen, they have to leave me come freely.
Q: But the Task Force says you have to answer to some of these questions.
A: (Pointing to a printed newspaper copy with some of the Task Force charges against him) Now, this is rubbish. About the Task Force, I want to... I think you've got still your newspaper. I have got the tape by the Task Force leader where they are saying they have seized emeralds worth millions of dollars. I find my emeralds in India, my emerald in India to the guy where they sold the emerald. I had emerald worth US$15 million.
They went, they broke the lock in the National Bank (Zambia National Commercial Bank). If I was a crook, I am supposed to keep the emerald in the bank? I am supposed to keep it like the others. I went to take it to court because I was not a crook. I had emerald worth US$15 million and the spokesman for the Task Force said 'we have seized emeralds worth millions of dollars'. I knew my emeralds were between US$15 million or US$20 million. What I am asking today, if the people in Parliament want to know who is saying the truth, who is a crook, they should get my emerald and create a commission by the members of parliament to do an auction sale of my emeralds worth millions of dollars because they have stolen everything, they didn't have a court order before they went to take my emerald. And I want the Parliament to keep my money until...because the matter is in court. How can you be in court...?
My lawyer, who was my lawyer, if the Task Force is working very well, Mutembo Nchito, MNB was my lawyer. He is the guy who is taking me in court today. That's what you call the law? I am not a lawyer, I didn't do law at school. Your lawyer can't take you (to court). He is supposed to declare interest. You understand? All the contracts I sign with government, all the contract was going through my lawyers. I didn't go and break coffers. I've got respect, I don't want to say anything. I just want to say we have to respect each other. And the guy for Task Force if he doesn't have any facts, he should wait for the courts.
Q: So you are saying you respect the court process?
A: I respect the court process.
Q: But then they are saying that you should avail yourself and answer these questions.
A: No, I already...who is postponing in court? Five years, the Task Force is postponing. I've got a lawyer there because I am a person not...they don't want me to go back in Zambia. Even Rupiah Banda said. Today they are saying this, in the next morning they are saying other things. I've got my lawyers there. They go to court, postpone, postpone. For six years, postponing the matter. I don't have any problem with the government. At least the money the Task Force are getting in salary where they are going in London whatever they are going they are using Zambian people's money.
They should see how much they have spent and how much they have recovered so far and they should go in court to explain 'we have recovered so much which we put in the Zambian coffers and the expenditure'. Because there is transparency. In four years, the new president who is going to come is going to say let's see. Nobody is going to hide the figure. So they should play...honestly, I can't replace the Zambian government, I can't work on the pace of the Task Force or the courts. The matter is in court. I don't have anything.
Q: You respect the court process?
A: I respect the process, not going you talk on TV. Because you see, Congo and Zambia, they are sister countries. I don't want to create problems in Zambia or create problems in Congo. There is many Zambians working with me here because they are my brothers. Maybe the driver who came to pick you up is a Zambian. I respect everyone. I will go in Zambia. They have to be very careful, you don't have to create enemies.
Q: So are you still, as governor of Katanga, going to come to Zambia?
A: I will come. I will come, I will ask the Zambian government. I don't have to ask the Task Force, it's not the Task Force leading the country.
Q: But it's the Vice-President who said you will be arrested.
A: Even if it's the Vice-President. In Zambia, there is a President. That's why there is a President who is President Mwanawasa. If President Mwanawasa told me, Moses don't come, I don't come. It's the President. The Vice-President, tomorrow Mwanawasa can nominate another Vice-President. How many vice-presidents President Mwanawasa has changed? If Mr Rupiah Banda doesn't have anything to give to the Zambian people, he just has to keep quiet.
Q: And the Minister of Foreign Affairs said something like he doesn't want to compromise the relationship between the two countries...
A: Yeah. You know somebody who's got sense is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Sikatana. His speech was very good, he is responsible. A man like him is responsible. First, he is a lawyer, he knows what he is talking about. He knows, he is a lawyer, there is a problem in court.
Q: So are you saying that this issue about you and the Task Force is much smaller than the relationship of the two countries?
A: There is even nothing. Those accusations I have to answer them in court. There is nothing. If I can tell you, there was a fight between the businessmen in Zambia and myself. If I was a crook, I was selling maize meal at K15,000, you know about it. The first election we were selling about K35,000, fish I was selling at which price? Today, after I left Zambia, the price of fish has increased by 400 percent. Because me I eat nshima, I eat fish. And maize meal is doubled. I was doing the order of the government, there is nothing. What is it that he is talking things he doesn't know about? My money for the emeralds, my investment in Zambia is worth more than what he is claiming. All those things they have stolen, they have stolen compressors for the fridge, they have stolen everything. You as Post, can you go and visit all my place, how they look today. Because the time I will come, if the court say I lose, the court is going to decide.
Q: You are not saying that you are above the law?
A: I am not above the law. Why can I be above the law? Nobody is above the law, nobody is above the law. Let's follow the matter in court, let's follow the procedure. If this guy needs some money to spend, to travel again, this Mr Nkole, he has to go and talk in the newspaper rubbish? No, the law is there. It's not above the law, the Task Force. That's why there is the Supreme Court, the High Court, there is judges in Zambia. Why President Mwanawasa himself is not saying, because he is a lawyer? He knows about it.
Q: Maybe that issue has been adequately answered. We can move to other issues. Will you just explain to us how you entered politics here and what motivated you to get into politics?
A: You know, you saw it yourself the time I came back from exile. The Congolose people, the time I was here my father was doing plenty in the social things. The house where we are staying here I got everything, you can ask about the wealth of my family, it's not today. My father was a businessman, my brother, my family is a big family in Congo. What they talking about, US$20 million what and what. What is US$10 million or US$20 million? What is it?
I am going to sell my credibility for US$1 million or US$10 million? Maybe not even for US$1 billion. So, the time I came in Congo, you saw it, I think yourself on CFI how they welcomed me, over one million people. If I was a crook, do you think these people are supposed to come and welcome me. No. And I didn't want to stand in politics, I was in business. In the three years I have done in Congo, five years in Congo, I can't lie to you, I have done huge profits. Maybe US$300 or US$400 million in profit.
Q: But again, I have heard some of your critics say that even the way you have been involved in businesses here, you have done things dubiously, especially your investments in copper.
A: Now, if I have done something dubiously, do you think the people are going to vote me as number one, in all the country? I was on the national level, on provincial level I was also number one in the country. As governor, I was number one.
Q: You are the highly elected member of parliament?
A: Yes. Then people are saying the Congolese people are foolish to go and elect a crook?
A: No, I am asking you.
Q: I am also wondering.
A: And I don't have any copper mine. I don't have any copper mine. I have got furnaces for producing copper. I don't own any mine. I buy from the artisan miners, they sell to me and I've got big contracts with big mines and I did good, good profits.
Q: You were saying you are doing profits of over US$300 million today?
A: Over US$300 million today. I was wasting my time. You know if you are not bad, God helps always the right people. If I was a bad person, God wasn't supposed to help me, he is supposed to punish me, even to punish my children. You understand? I am here, elected. Do you think people today... Sorry (Answers incoming call). So if I was a crook, in just one town I had votes for almost 25 presidential candidates, the election I had.
Q: Others would say maybe you used your wealth?
A: Which wealth?
Q: The over US$300 million or US$400 million?
A: No. How many people have got wealth in Zambia, they don't give to the people? No, I am asking you. How many people they are in Zambia? Even in Congo they don't do this. I built hospitals, I built schools. I didn't want even to stand. You can ask even anyone, people came to sleep here for three days, to ask me to stand. I refused.
Q: Which year did you join politics?
A: I joined politics last year. No. In July (2006) I didn't even know before the election. I was the last member of parliament to introduce my paper because I didn't want to go inside. I was the last one in the country to stand as member of parliament because of the pressure of the people. The last man who filled his form was me.
Q: And you got the highest votes?
A: In the whole country. First time you can say okay maybe I used my money. Second time again, third time again. I was not elected in the bush, I was elected in town. You can say he went to the bush to corrupt people, give people fertiliser. He did what and what.
Q: Which party did you stand on?
A: Lubumbashi, where you are sitting with me here.
Q: Which party?
A: The Joseph Kabila's PPRD President's party.
Q: People say you are quite close to President Kabila?
A: I have to be close to my President. If you are in the party, you have to be close to, if you are MMD your have to be close to the President. Tell me, in which country if you are in that party, presidential party, you are not close to the president. Then you are not in the party.
I think people have to look on the progress of Zambia, on the progress of Congo, the relationship, how the Zambian people you are going to make that good harmony. How Congo is going to go up, how Zambia is going to go up. I think we have to concentrate on that one.
Q: I see you are passionate about Zambia. Do you still have contact with people like former president Chiluba?
A: Yes, I talk to president Chiluba, I talk even to ministers of Mwanawasa. I talk to plenty people.
Q: You talk to people like former intelligence chief Xavier Chungu also?
A: The time Xavier was in Europe, he was calling me. I talk also to the ministers of Mwanawasa. I was talking even to the people who was in the MMD.
Q: Up to now, you still talk to them?
A: Up to now, and I don't understand why these people of the Task Force are making noise. I still have got respect for the Zambian people, the country where I lived for a long time. I don't have today to say that 'no, I am a superman'. No. Nobody is super.
Q: In terms of your ambitions, in terms of the projects that you think would help the people of Katanga...I've seen the state of the roads, it's still poor...
A: We went through elections. You watch Katanga in five years. It's going to be the smallest South Africa. You watch us. Because in Zambia there was already democracy. In Congo there had not been a free election. In Zambia you've got almost four times now free.
Q: Do you aspire for any further position in politics?
A: No. You know I didn't want to enter in politics. I will do in five years to maintain Katanga, to keep it as a big province in all Africa. And after, I will retire back in my business. I will do business, I am not a politician. I was not born a politician. I was forced by the people to enter in politics. It's different. They didn't call me by one person to stand in politics, no. All the people of Katanga.
Q: So, how are you managing your business and politics?
A: I resigned from my company because I declare all my wealth, everything, all my properties, everything has been declared. So I am going to be a governor maybe for three years, five years, until I finish my term if I am working well and after I will go back in my business. I was better in business, now since I need to change...
Q: I guess you have also resigned from your local football team TP Mazembe?
A: No, I am not resigning. There is no, no...
Q: There is no compromise?
A: There is no compromise. I remain. The (former) prime minister (of Italy), Berlusconi, he remained. That is a passion for me. It's a hobbie, TP Mazembe.
Q: And your team is still doing fine?
A: No, we are trying, we are trying our best. You see, to tell you, I don't have, I can't see any problem even have any hatred against the Zambian people. My team goes there and train. It's their country. The Zambian people can come here also. How many times you organise games with Kalusha Bwalya here? Plenty times.
The national team, these players are coming here. I was receiving them, having dinner together with them at my house. They are my brothers. And you will see the time I will come in Zambia, the woman from the market, everyone there, it's going to be total chaos.
Q: Just celebrating your comeback?
A: When I've come back, you will see.
Q: And you are saying as soon as the President gives you...
A: No, there is the two governments, they will talk. President
Mwaanwasa has got a government, President Kabila has got a government. They will talk. If President Mwanawasa says 'no, I don't want you', I will follow what the President says. He is the boss of the country.
Q: My Katumbi, I will now ask you just to briefly tell us who you are.
A: What I can tell you is at the moment I am the governor of the big province, one of the biggest provinces in Congo. It's got almost ten million people. What we need is to have good relationships with all the neighbouring countries and we are calling all the investors to come and invest in our province.
Even the Zambian people, some are selling maize to me. They are selling maize to me from Food Reserve. I am not refusing because they are Zambian, they are my brothers. I bought last week over 2,000 tonnes of maize from Zambia.
Why they didn't refuse my money? So those are political issues and I've got respect for President Mwanawasa, president Chiluba, everyone, even president Kaunda. You know, in five years, there is going to be a new president. President Mwanawasa never said something bad about me, even on TV, even in Parliament, nothing. I've got respect for him.
Q: Of course the readers would want to know if the governor of Katanga is a family man.
A: I am a family man, yes.
Q: With children and a wife?
A: With children, I am not a single man now.
Q: You are not a single man now? You are married?
A: I am married.
Q: But last time I came I think you were single.
A: No, my wife was in Europe.
Q: Now she is back?
A: Yes, she is back, yeah. What I can tell you, people in Zambia have to pray and pray for truth. You understand? Because today my lawyers are against me, next time they are going to catch them because I've got the receipts, I've got everything. I was paying them money. Today they deny me? You know how they denied Jesus Christ? It's what they are doing.
Q: Anything else that I could have left out from my questions which you wish to say?
A: No, I wish you a good new year even if it's not, it's not late. All the best for the Zambian people. God bless the Zambia, God bless the government of Zambia. God bless everyone.
Q: And you will be coming soon?
A: I will come to Zambia and the best judgement you are going to have is the best judgment from God. That's which is important. I believe in God, I am a Christian. You know some people who betrayed Chiluba, they will betray also President Mwanawasa. Life is like that. Thank you very much.
Q: Most welcome, thank you very much.