The Family Fortune Behind DR Congo’s President
A 48-page report published last week by the Congo Research Group, with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, reveals how President Joseph Kabila’s close family members have amassed a fortune since he became president of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001, while a new Global Witness report documents how hundreds of millions of dollars paid by mining companies to state bodies in the past few years have “disappeared,” never making it to the national treasury.
These findings might explain Kabila’s refusal to step down from the presidency when his constitutionally mandated two-term limit ended on December 19, 2016. They may also lend insight into why abject poverty and underdevelopment persist in a country extremely well endowed with natural resources.
Congo is Africa’s biggest copper producer and the world’s largest source of cobalt, used to produce batteries for electric cars and other forms of renewable energy. According to Global Witness, up to US$10-billion of copper and cobalt from Congo is sold each year. Despite these riches, 10 out of 100 children in Congo die before they reach the age of 5, and more than 40 percent have stunted growth due to malnutrition. While primary education should be free according to Congolese law, most parents have to pay to send their children to school. Many, especially girls, are kept home or sent to work because their parents cannot afford the fees.
The Congo Research Group report details how Kabila family members own either partially or wholly more than 80 companies and businesses in Congo and abroad. These companies have allegedly made hundreds of millions in revenues since 2003, while assets owned by the family members are “easily worth many tens of millions of dollars.” The report’s findings are based almost exclusively on publicly available documents, including land titles, incorporation documents, mining permits, and shareholder agreements.
— Jason Stearns (@jasonkstearns) July 20, 2017
The report provides the most detail on the business interests of Kabila himself, his wife, Olive Lembe, his two children, his twin sister Jaynet Kabila Kyungu, and his younger brother Zoé Kabila. Jaynet and Zoé are also members of parliament. Their interests allegedly extend to almost every part of Congo and include farms, banks, telecommunications companies, airlines, hotels, and companies that mine for diamonds, gold, copper, and cobalt. The report states that President Kabila directly and through a company he owns with his children holds more than 71,000 hectares of farmland in Congo. Two companies that belong to the family own diamond permits that extend for more than 700 kilometers along Congo’s border with Angola. Jaynet Kabila owns a stake in the country’s largest mobile phone network. Beyond Congo, the report documents Kabila family real estate holdings in South Africa and Tanzania, and some of the companies the family allegedly owns use addresses abroad, such as in Panama, Niue, and Luxembourg.
The report finds that Kabila family businesses have benefited from large government contracts, such as one for issuing drivers licenses, as well as contracts with the World Bank, the United States Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and the United Nations. The report questions whether foreign donors and corporations were “sufficiently scrupulous” when they partnered with or supported these companies.
According to the report, some of the family’s business dealings appear to violate Congolese law or codes, while others raise serious questions of conflict of interest. The ministry of mines has granted Jaynet Kabila more mining permits than allowed under the country’s mining code, the report says. Tax payments for many of the mining permits linked to the family have been suspended due to force majeure, with no clear explanation for what “unforeseen events” would have triggered this special status. The report found that some of the family’s business assets are protected by the Republican Guard, the elite presidential security detail, in what appears to be outside the legal mandate of the force.
Last week, Bloomberg news also examined the sprawling business empire of Zoé Kabila, the president’s younger brother. His companies have built roads, sold diamonds, developed a copper project, and done business with a Canadian-based mining company and with Sicomines, the US$3.2 billion copper partnership between Congo and China. This series of reporting follows Bloomberg’s reporting on the family’s fortune last December.
Earlier this month, the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa, working together with journalists from Le Monde and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Congolese whistleblower and banker Jean-Jacques Lumumba, alleged that two people close to President Kabila and their companies acquired and refurbished a 72-meter luxury yacht, named the Enigma XK, which is equipped with a helipad and can be chartered for €275,000 a week. The group reported that vessels owned by the same individuals have carried frozen fish and wild animals purchased in Namibia – including giraffes, wildebeests, and zebras – to Congo’s Ferme Espoir, a company owned by Kabila.
The Global Witness report published last Friday alleges that Congo’s national treasury lost more than US$750 million in mining revenues paid to the state-owned mining company Gécamines and national tax agencies between 2013 and 2015. The figure rises to US$1.5 billion when company payments to other government bodies and a former provincial tax agency are included. While it is unclear where most of the money went, the report says that “at least some went to corrupt networks linked to Kabila.” The report documents the role played by Gécamines chairman Albert Yuma, who also heads Congo’s Central Bank’s audit committee and the Congolese business federation (FEC), and who, according to a senior Gécamines executive interviewed by Global Witness, reportedly “only answers to the president.”
Kabila family members and the government have responded critically, if not convincingly, to the various reports. In response to the Bloomberg report, Zoé Kabila wrote on Twitter that, “with a view of harming” Joseph Kabila, “hopeless detractors publish known information while adding lies.” The government’s spokesperson, Lambert Mende, told Radio France Internationale that Zoé and Jaynet Kabila had the right to do business, adding that they only work six months per year as members of parliament. He asked Global Witness and the Congo Research Group to share all their information with the justice system and to the General Inspectorate of Finance. He also said that the government is looking for money in light of the country’s economic crisis, and that it had taken urgent measures since January, including to fight against misappropriations. Congo’s minister for mines, Martin Kabwelulu, said in a press conference that Global Witness had “voluntarily” misinterpreted data published by ITIE-RDC (Initiative pour la transparence des industries extractives) and others. He said the Bloomberg investigation was “a provocation, and false, because all contracts are published on the ministry of mines’ website.”
Family and government claims notwithstanding, these new reports provide important information on where Congo’s natural resource wealth is going, and highlight the need for national policies that would ensure greater transparency and accountability. Congo’s international partners should make sure their investments, loans, or other payments to the government are not inadvertently funding President Kabila’s campaign of repression and violence. Institutions like the World Bank that are mandated to reduce poverty should take additional measures to ensure that projects they fund actually benefit those living in poverty by carrying out rigorous, independent monitoring. The United States and European Union should expand targeted sanctions to Kabila’s family members and close associates who have been misusing funds and abusing power to undermine the democratic process in the country.