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Exclusive Interview With Professor Wamba Dia Wamba Re: The Congo

In order to understand what has been taking place in the Congo today and even over the last 40 years in that country, it is necessary to speak to someone who is on the ground and interacting with the Congolese people on a daily basis. Professor Wamba Dia Wamba, Chairperson of the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), is just such a person. Prof. Wamba, active in the Congolese struggle for decades, has witnessed the rise and fall of Mobutu as well as Laurent Kabila. In an exclusive interview with, while on a visit to the United States, Prof. Wamba outlined his worldview and what he hopes to accomplish parallel to the emergence of Joseph Kabila and in a post-war Congo.

Here is the in-depth interview:

Cedric Muhammad: What can you tell us, right now, of the condition of the Congolese people in terms of their health, spirit and otherwise?

Professor Wamba: Well, the conditions, in the most part are bad, let's say. As you know, in less than three years, about 2 million have died. There aren't any good health services, in the war zone, particularly. Soldiers have been using violence on women, so you have quite a few women who are victims of HIV. Some of the diseases that have disappeared elsewhere are coming back. It is because of the lack of facilities. And so, I would say that the conditions of life are very bad and the conditions of reproduction, in terms of food, also are not good. In fact a study has said that as much as one sixth of the population has problems finding access to food.

Cedric Muhammad: What does the life and death of Patrice Lumumba mean to you?

Prof. Wamba: You know, Lumumba represented the first attempt, the first expression of the Congolese people, as a people - expressing how their needs can be attended to by eradicating colonial conditions and by diverting most of the resources to deal with their basic needs. So this is the kind of program Lumumba represented. Unfortunately, he was understood differently by many people, so that kind of content and program got lost, and they were more concerned about whether he was a Communist or not. And then of course they dismantled his regime.

Cedric Muhammad: Have you considered the involvement of the US government or European powers in his assassination?

Prof. Wamba: (Such involvement and responsibility) is accepted by themselves. Right here in the US, there was a discussion in the Congress, which said such publicly. In Belgium, also, there is now a commission in the Senate searching for (the involvement). And also there have been Belgians publicly writing on it saying that they did (assassinate Lumumba). What is important now is that conditions should be created so that the 50 million Congolese also can live in peace and have chances on having a say on who actually rules them, and also a say in how resources could be exploited and used.

Cedric Muhammad: What are your thoughts on Mobutu Sese Seko?

Prof. Wamba: He represented the opposite. After the Lumumba government was dismantled, instead of putting emphasis on the needs of the majority of the Congolese population, now, the emphasis was on the strategic interests of the foreign powers in the context of the Cold War. At the end, the state itself collapsed and right now the country is torn apart, even just roads and infrastructure have disappeared, so that is the legacy he leaves behind. It is also a lesson for us. We are lucky we had Mobutu because now we know what not to do and what to avoid. The lesson is that when you neglect the majority of the people, even the survival of the institutions in the society is not really possible. Next time it would be wise not to make what we are now noticing in Joseph Kabila. It seems now that they want to groom him again to be another Mobutu and that is going to be very bad because it is going to achieve the same result.

Cedric Muhammad: At one time did you support Laurent Kabila against Mobutu?

Prof. Wamba: What we supported was that Mobutu had to go. At that time there was not much of a choice as to who should replace him. We thought that Laurent Kabila with time, given the preparation of the democratization by the National Conference, that he was going to be attentive to that and that he was going to create the conditions to make sure that the population, this time would be having a say. But he didn't. And so, he ended up becoming another version of Mobutu.

Cedric Muhammad: What was the turning point in your relationship with Laurent Kabila?

Prof. Wamba: The turning point was when he self-proclaimed himself to be President before even getting to Kinshasa, not contacting even his own executive committee in the organization so that by the time he got to power, he just institutionalized the solitary exercise of power. It went on with no real vision, with no real policy and that is also what precipitated the war because he couldn't deal effectively in relationships with Congo's neighboring countries.

Cedric Muhammad: At what point did you establish the Rally For Congolese Democracy?

Prof. Wamba: Within the army they already had a military rebellion and even a coup attempt and some of us felt that it was important to provide some political leadership. And that is how the Rally For Congolese Democracy was created.

Cedric Muhammad: And initially you were in unity with Jean-Pierre Bemba? At what point did the two of you come together?

Prof. Wamba: Bemba is not a member of the Congolese Rally for Democracy. Bemba came later on and created his own organization called Congolese Liberation Movement.

Cedric Muhammad: Did you all ever work together with any harmony between your two organizations?

Prof. Wamba: We have had minor contacts as individuals and a little bit in the movement in the so-called of "common front" of rebellion. But it is only recently that when the Ugandan allies pushed for the creation of a united front - a merger. But we did not accept it (the idea of a merger) because it was geared to essentially resuming the war and we were saying the war should be ended and that we should implement the Lusaka accord.

Cedric Muhammad: And there was subsequent to the beginning of the organization for Congolese Rally For Democracy, A Congolese Rally For Democracy In Goma. Correct?

Prof. Wamba: Yes

Cedric Muhammad: What transpired that led to the separation?

Prof. Wamba: Well, we were created on August 12th 1998. By May 1999 we had some disagreements on three issues: First, whether or not the armed struggle was going to be a people's war or just a war conducted on their back. Some of us said it had to be a people's war. Others said no, we just go fast into Kinshasa and overthrow the regime and then democracy would follow. Second, how transparent the use of resources, even in the armed struggle should be. Some of us felt that it was important that we be accountable in the use of resources. And in fact that triggered the animosity inside the group because we asked for a financial auditing of the account. Third, what relationship should the armed forces have with the population, which, at the time, did not want the war. At that time came the issue that if there was a possibility to negotiate with the government directly, then we should put emphasis on negotiations. So, on those three there was disagreement. That's why there was a broach. And we were put down, so to speak, and another group continued on the basis of essentially, militarism. So then we created what is known as Rally Of Congolese Democracy, Kisangani.

Cedric Muhammad: At what point did you form a relationship or partnership with the country of Uganda?

Prof. Wamba: Rwanda, like the Ugandans, find themselves in the Congo on the basis of the defense and security of their borders. In fact, for Uganda there was even an agreement concerning borders at the beginning of Kabila. So they had troops inside, so we found them on the terrain. And then we had to work with them. But more importantly we have direct contact with them after the (separation of the Rally For Congolese Democracy). Because we had some convergence of views particularly on the question of what kind of regime should exist after the war. They were for a broad-based transitional regime, which we also supported.

Cedric Muhammad: Did you support the Lusaka Accord and if so, why?

Prof. Wamba: Yes, we supported the Lusaka agreement because it is in line with our notion that the resort to arms was only due to the lack of channels of communication. But once negotiations started, and we went through many stages to reach the Lusaka agreement, we supported those. And we participated actively. It contained the external element in terms of what sorts of interests of the neighboring countries and the countries of those who have troops inside the Congo. And it has an internal dynamic that there has to be an inter-Congolese dialogue. That is the only way to come to resolving the crisis and come out with a anew political dispensation. So, we support it.

Cedric Muhammad: After the assassination of Laurent Kabila, what was your reaction?

Prof. Wamba: We reacted by condemning it first. Because we don't believe that violence can solve political problems per se. So, we said that we didn't support those kinds of methods to resolving political problems. But also we said that we understood because of the way that the solitary exercise of power was being conducted. And we hoped also that people would understand, in greeting the leaders across the continent, that the more that we don't really move forward to peace, the more that kind of reaction in some people may develop and we really should avoid this and develop the peace momentum.

Cedric Muhammad: Do you have any opinion as to who may have assassinated Mr. Kabila?

Prof. Wamba: Well, there is a government commission doing the inquiry so I think that we have to just wait until they tell us who actually did it.

Cedric Muhammad: After the assassination, were there any efforts to unite the various rebel groups who were opposing the Kabila government.

Prof. Wamba: After the assassination we can say that the alignment was around reconfirmation of supporting the Lusaka agreement, supporting all of the variants like the plan for disengagement. Everybody in Lusaka, at the summit, said that they would support this. But the only attempt at merging took place before. What was ironic was that those who signed for it were signing the day Kabila was assassinated - on the 16th of January. So we can say that after that there has not really been any momentum to a merger. The merger in the name of the Congolese Liberation Front, has become just a one man show.

Cedric Muhammad: Was there any change in the dynamics of your relationship with Uganda after the assassination with Laurent Kabila?

Prof. Wamba: Yes, we stayed in Kampala until now and part of our delegation is there. And then I was allowed to go to Dar es Salaam and moved around. But substantively one wouldn't really say that we have totally broken relations. Some exchange is still going on. What we have said is that the relationship to all of the neighboring countries, the relationships with all of the allies should be on the basis of principles and we have been doing it on that basis.

Cedric Muhammad: What is your opinion of Joseph Kabila who was put into power right after the assassination of his father?

Prof. Wamba: What he has said in the beginning as far as wanting to open up for peace is very good. But we have to know who he is and where he is coming from. The Congolese people are still trying to figure him out. But they will want somebody who is accountable to the sort of needs, the sort of aspirations for security, development and to address their needs of hunger and so on. And if this is actually what he represents then we will support him.

Cedric Muhammad: Have you reached out in any way to Joseph Kabila, have you all met yet?

Prof. Wamba: We met formally at the February 15th summit in Lusaka.

Cedric Muhammad: Did you see that as a positive toward the resolution of some of the problems or as symbolic in nature?

Prof. Wamba: Well, what was said, with all of us who were reconfirming the support of Lusaka and our support of moving toward peace, he (Joseph Kabila) also said. So in that sense, we agree.

Cedric Muhammad: Have you had any similar meetings with Jean-Pierre Bemba? Have you all spoken in terms of moving towards Lusaka or having a dialogue between the two sides that you represent?

Prof. Wamba: After the death of Kabila - no.

Cedric Muhammad: Are you satisfied with the pullback of troops on both sides meaning the Zimbabweans, the Angolans, the Namibians, the Ugandans and the Rwandans thus far, since the assassination?

Prof. Wamba: Well it is a good sign of the fact that they are respecting the plan for disengagement. Of course we note that not all are doing so but for the most part the foreign troops seem to have complied in terms of following the 15 kilometers symbolic withdrawal as an indication of the political willingness to actually follow the plan of disengagement. So, yes, in that sense, one is satisfied. But on the Congolese part we are having some problems. Some have reinterpreted that to say that Congolese don't need to withdrawal and in the case of one, instead of withdrawing what is happening is that he is deploying and occupying some more territory.

Cedric Muhammad: Are you in agreement with Mr. Bemba's position that if any of his rebel troops are to be pulled back they are to be immediately replaced by UN troops.

Prof. Wamba: Now, that is just confusing the issue, in our opinion. Because it is understood there will be UN observers deployed. There is a calendar that was agreed on to withdraw with compliance with the disengagement plan. So one can say that one has to be the exception to the rule. So in that sense we don't think after having agreed and signed that one has to again bring a condition.

Cedric Muhammad: Do you find yourself with major points of agreement with Congolese political opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, on various points? He recently visited the United States and laid out a platform of sorts. Have you had a dialogue and are there major points of agreement between the two of you?

Prof. Wamba: We both were in the National Conference so, some of the ideas may have a common basis. And, he is a democrat and we have always been democrats so in that sense, yes, there may be some common concerns and common views.

Cedric Muhammad: What brings you to the United States of America?

Prof. Wamba: We feel that some of the ideas that the Congolese people are pressing on need to be expressed. So we would like to express those. But we also want to invite Americans to come and see on the terrain, things that are happening. Instead of just listening to a few ideas by newsman or by some people who come. So we want them to come and see how the population is suffering and has been suffering and how the lack of possibilities for the Congolese people to actually decide who should rule them; and the lack of conditions for health and food. All of these should be taken into account. We cannot let 50 million people waste just because a few militaries take them hostage. And we cannot also appoint leaders for them who are not accountable to their interests. So we think that this type of method was not being brought completely. So we thought that we could come and bring it here.

Cedric Muhammad: Are there specific actions that you would like the US government to take in reference to the Kabila government or the Lusaka process?

Prof. Wamba: In respect to any peace movement we think that the US should help in terms of the funding that is required by the UN because that would consolidate the deployment which is needed with the Congolese need to sit and dialogue peacefully so that they can now arrive at a political dispensation. So we think that the US can use its authority to make sure that the neighboring countries and some people in our own country should refrain from using military violence as the sole way of solving political problems. They can help create conditions for the Congolese people to sit, discuss and come out with a leader instead of creating this "strong man" in the way it was done for Mobutu. Of course like I said, Mobutu was a good experience in that we now know what not to do, and we are hoping that the US also learned that was not a very good experience and that we now need to proceed by letting the Congolese also be in a position to elect their leaders.

Cedric Muhammad: Do you see a role for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in the transition of the Congo?

Prof. Wamba: Oh Yes, of course, but we don't think that it is the only thing. We are not waiting for them to just come and do it for us but we think that certain structural changes have to be done to reorganize the economy - the national economy and that the World Bank and IMF will be complimentary to these efforts which can be undertaken by ourselves.

Cedric Muhammad: What exactly would be the steps that would be optimal, in your view, for this transition process to take us from the troop pullbacks that we are seeing now all the way, possibly to elections? How would that work in your view?

Prof. Wamba: First, we have to agree on the stages of the setting of the dialogue, itself. We think that following consistently what was in the Lusaka Agreement, that there would be a meeting on principles so that people agree on the basics like no partition of the Congo; like no more use of violence as a way of solving political problems; like the people are central at arriving at a constitution of the country. So we may agree on those so that issues of divisions like the formation of the national army - how to draw in the various militias and develop a national army - those issues will come up. And the question of the establishment of the state authority throughout the country. So once we agree on the basics like what institutions of the transitions will need to be thoroughly decentralized or not, what kind of transitional constitution are we going to need to have; what legislative body needs to follow the governmental transition. And, the program for preparation for elections and the program of writing the constitution for the elections that are going to come for the third republic. So those are the stages that we have to follow but there are certain issues of crucial importance that should feed in the program of the transitional government, like the pacification program. We must have an effort made to pacify the whole country and also the rehabilitation, because there are no road infrastructure and the people have to interact as a condition also for the preparation for elections. We also have not had a census for a while. We have to know how many we are so that the registers for voters can be prepared. Some of these crucial issues will figure in the program of the transitional authority. We are hoping that the leaders of the authority are not going to be candidates for the elections, so that there is some kind of objectivity in dealing with the administration of elections.

Cedric Muhammad: Are there any basic steps that you think are crucial to improving the economic conditions in the Congo?

Prof. Wamba: Of Yes, because prior to the new government you have to have a transitional program in terms of the economy. Here we need some help in creating it from the US to actually identify at this point, exactly what the state of the economy is. Not only in terms of the external situation but also production, structure and resources. So that we can come out with a transitional program of laying the ground for the structural changes that are needed before we can even deal with what the World Bank and IMF can help us on. And if we feel that the conditions of the management of the debt are constraining then we also feel that we have to seriously look into this and discuss them maybe with the IMF and World Bank authorities and whoever else can help

Cedric Muhammad: Is there any possibility that we may see you run for office if there was an inter-Congolese dialogue and the people had the opportunity to speak and elections were set up. Do you have any desire to seek elected office in the new Congo?

Prof. Wamba: Well, part of that will depend on the sort of reaction that the Congolese people will have to our views. We are interested really in the transition per se. Not necessarily beyond that, but of course, afterward if we are asked what is wanted then maybe we may consider it. I think that we would really like to make clear that the Congo needs peace at this point. It is exactly the same like ending apartheid as a condition for democratization of South Africa. It is the same thing for us even much worse. Without peace nothing really can be done. We just need to create conditions where the Congolese can just sit down and discuss and come out with some consensus on what kind of institutions to have, who should be running the transition and who should be elected as the rulers of the country. We need that peace very badly...

Cedric Muhammad: Do you support UN sanctions on Liberia?

Prof. Wamba: Well, I think the answer is yes, I just need to understand because it seems like there are two camps on it. One, which denies that what they are being accused of is true and the other (camp) saying that it is true. But if things really are as they look then I think that probably the UN is right.

Cedric Muhammad: Do you think that it is ever appropriate or essential that Pan -African or regional sanctions precede sanctions coming from the United States or Europe?

Prof. Wamba: You know, the whole question of sanctions, we need to be careful about it. In other words, it really has to be in a context. We would want the issues involving countries be dealt with through discussions and dialogue among the people themselves - putting emphasis on the needs of the population and not so much as ways of punishing one group or another and the result basically being that it is the population suffering. I think it is important also to understand the context before decisions of that kind are made.

Cedric Muhammad: Lastly, are you in support of the OAU's push for an African Union, "The United States Of Africa"?

Prof. Wamba: The principle itself is very, very good, although one may disagree on what sort of mechanism. But the unity of course, yes, we support. We think that the world of the future with Africa having a role with others as a partner makes unity important and necessary. There will be a lot of discussions, struggles and changes here and there to come to a decision as to what kind of unity it is going to be. But maybe one has to start somewhere so what is happening must be seen as a beginning. And it will be deepened and changes will be made while we move on.

Cedric Muhammad: Prof. Wamba thank you for your time

Prof. Wamba: Thank You very much

Tuesday, April 10, 2001

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