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By Fernanda Munhoz
On 27th of January, the Henry Jackson Society hosted Bernard Katompa, candidate for the Presidency of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As co-founder and President of the Génération Déterminée Movement, he spoke about his future aspirations for democracy and a ‘new order’ in the DRC.
Mr Katompa began his speech by taking the audience through his simple roots growing up in the DRC. He talked about the first time he tried chewing gum at the age of 12, his ambition as a young boy to become ‘the first black Pope’, his academic pursuit of Economics and career in the mining industry. An extremely charismatic speaker, Mr Katompa said that after years he has finally decided to dedicate his life to the DRC and its people, stating that ‘greatness in the life of a person is when that person takes a responsibility to help the life of others’. There are 24 trillion dollars of proven reserves in the DRC, however this is inaccessible to the population and therefore doesn’t benefit the country. In Mr Katompa’s view, the future would no longer be wasted on ineffective economic decisions, but would profit from easier foreign investment, placing money back into the DRC and the region.
According to Mr Katompa the DRC is not yet a democracy. As president he would seek to reform and awaken the political bloc of the country. He claims that in this way economics, investment, security, and social wellbeing will follow. To do this, he greatly believes in the inclusion of women and youth in the development towards democracy, stating that ‘to educate men is to education individuals, but to educate women is to educate a nation’.
Dr Alan Mendoza, chair, began the round of questions by asking Mr Katompa about the prospects for elections in the DRC in November 2016. Mr Katompa reiterated his support for democracy and free elections, and that the constitution should be upheld against President Kabila’s call for a census that could cancel these elections. He believes that if this goes forward, the population of the DRC will rise and protest, as they already have in the past.
He was asked by an audience member how safe he felt being in his position, to which he responded he is very aware of the dangers he faces. He is prepared to die for the Congolese people to have a better life. Yet, he remains positive, quoting his mentor Nelson Mandela; ‘the only thing I can fear is fear itself’. He believes the people of the DRC are with him. Speaking on the role of the international community, Mr Katompa urges the U.S and Europe to keep supporting the road to democracy in the DRC and to call for constitutional respect from President Kabila to hold elections later this year. He fears there will be violence if elections are suspended because the DRC population wants change.
Another audience member asked about presidential immunity; did he believe this could be used to appease past leaders or does he think those who brought misery to the country should be prosecuted? He replied, as a responsible person he wants to focus on peace, reconciliation and forgiveness, these being necessary for the DRC to have a prosperous future. He spoke confidently about working with countries in the region, including the DRC’s nine neighbours. He would like to see a round table discussion with fellow African leaders, the UN, and refugee agencies, to develop a solution that will be a win-win for the region. On the topic of the Lord’s Resistance Army, he believes that this ‘artificial creation’ can be defeated with discipline and organised regional solutions. Finally, he vowed to increase foreign investment and make the country’s borders more accessible for business and tourism.
Concluding his talk, he addressed an environmental question by promising to invest in hydropower stations, clean power energy, and rainforest tourism, bringing good value extraction for the DRC and the world. Perhaps even opening Africa’s first Disneyworld. Our chair thanked Mr Katompa for his talk and for his forward thinking vision which is something that we in Britain share.