23/06/2021

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Exclusive Interview: DRC President and African Union chief Felix Tshisekedi

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For the first time in 25 years, African economies entered a recession, as they were badly shaken up by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The IMF estimates that $300 billion is needed for the African continent to get out of this difficult situation.

The migrant crisis, terrorist threats, good governance and vaccine scepticsm are other challenges facing the continent. In an exclusive interview, Africanews’ Francois Chignac spoke to Democratic Republic of Congo President and current President of the African Union, Félix Tshisekedi.

You can watch the full interview in the video player above.

François Chignac, Africanews: Mr. President, my first question will be very straightforward. 19, 20 African heads of state, and international delegations were in Paris, after President Emmanuel Macron invited them. Are the conclusions of this summit, in a way, the first jab that was needed for African economies to bounce back?

Félix Tshisekedi, DRC and AU President: First of all, I would like to thank French President Emmanuel Macron for this courageous and unprecedented initiative. Why unprecedented? Because, at last, it has been able to involve Africans in the reflection on their future. Because until now, decisions were taken in the absence of Africans and were then sent down to us. Here, we are piloting this process together. I like the term that President Macron used: the New Deal.

I know that this will be hard. But I am confident because the European Council President, Charles Michel, who is also a committed Africanist, attended the conference. We have set ourselves a number of targets, until the first half of 2022, during the French Presidential Elections, where we will look at what the situation is during a European Union-African Union summit. Then, we will perhaps be able to tell you whether what was done in Paris was headed in the right direction.

François Chignac: Mr. President, the conclusions of the Paris Summit were focused on health. Where are we at really in terms of bailing out African economies?

Félix Tshisekedi: The big news is the decision on the special drawing rights, which are valued at $650 billion. We were a bit disappointed at the Paris Summit, because we only got 33 billion to be allocated to Africa at this stage, which is a very small amount for 54 countries.

And so, the objective of this conference was, among other things, to go and raise up to 100 billion. And after our discussions, we saw that it was possible and that we could even go beyond that. The other news is that the lever by which these drawing rights will be used is the African Development Bank, which knows African countries and the challenges they face very well. And this would be a considerable contribution to wipe out a part of the debts these African countries have. This would enable them to start up on the basis of their own efforts.

We are not going to confine all Africans in Africa’

François Chignac: Let us come back to the health crisis if you would. What is your opinion on the conclusions of this summit?

Félix Tshisekedi: It’s true that we are not going to confine all Africans in Africa. They will be forced to move around, to interact with others, and they could contract another variant of the virus that might be much more deadly, and make vaccination useless. So I believe that we have to vaccinate the largest amount of people possible. And so a call has been made to those who own the rights to these vaccines. And that will also have a positive impact on our people that have been heavily manipulated.

François Chignac: If you allow me, Mr President, people did not trust vaccines.

Félix Tshisekedi: Exactly. But the fact that Africans have developed this resistance to the virus has led many to believe that the virus was affecting others and not us. But this is a mistake because the virus mutates. So we have to protect ourselves.

François Chignac: People have often said there is a lack of communication on the African continent.

Félix Tshisekedi: It’s easy to say, but before that, there were some mistakes. I’m thinking of the decision by eleven European countries to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has given a boost to those who hold the view that this vaccine is dangerous for Africans. You see, it’s very difficult to deal with this kind of thing.

François Chignac: After the health and economic crisis, Let’s talk about the migrant crisis. A lot of migrants have arrived on Spanish territory recently. Are you, as the current president of the African Union, in touch with the European Union in order to stop these waves of migrants coming to Spain?

Félix Tshisekedi: Not yet, unfortunately. Not yet. Because Europe’s response is radical. They close their doors. But I believe that Europe’s response should be to talk to Africans, and most important, to see from which countries the majority of these migrants come from and to look at how we can, by working together, prevent these migrations, hold back these young people who are leaving. Because the real reason for all of this is despair. The youth believes that Europe is an Eldorado. And that by leaving their country, they can find happiness in Europe. But Europe also has its problems. It is very difficult for these young Africans to find a place over there.

We have, on the one hand, to explain this to them, but on the other hand, we have to provide them with solutions to their daily problems. Youth entrepreneurship is something that could be effective, and that’s why, as the current president of the African Union and the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I have offered to organize the first meeting of the Alliance for Youth Entrepreneurship.

We have to stick together, because these young people are the future of our country, and we must be able to supervise them, manage them, train them, and educate them.

‘What is going on in Mozambique really attracts our attention’

François Chignac: Let’s talk about Mozambique, where there is a serious jihadist threat. The SADC has intervened and you want your country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, to really act among these southern African countries. How do you deal with the jihadist threat in Mozambique?

Félix Tshisekedi: The problem in Mozambique is similar to that in the east of my country. These are Islamist terrorist groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic Stateand this is not a problem that affects one country. And the risk is that this cancer, this problem, spreads to the whole region, the whole continent.

So we must fight it now. We cannot wait. What is going on in Mozambique really attracts our attention because it is exactly the same phenomenon that we are experiencing here.

Because these regions are potentially rich in mineral and other resource, what we have to do is cut them off from that supply, because that is what’s going to fuel their activities. So we have to work quickly, efficiently and together, because together we will succeed.

François Chigna_c: So Mr. President it is a regional problem!_

Félix Tshisekedi: That is why the presence of the SADC Executive Secretary Professor Faustin Luanga will be useful in raising the voice of the DRC in this matter and in many other areas.

I also stress on the integration of Africa because that is how Africa will succeed in getting back on its feet. We will start with regional economic communities, the SADC being one of them, and within these regional economic communities we will give an impulse that will bring us together to form this African continental free trade area.

François Chignac: You are talking of a regional response. What do you have to say to your Rwandan counterpart, regarding the acts of violence that took place in your country a few years ago?

Félix Tshisekedi: Well first of all I am not here to comment on this. He is a person with whom I have a good relationship, and there are other ways to get our message across.

I would say that the Mapping Exercise Report is something that was written by UN experts. It was not done by the Congolese. The Congolese are not accusing anyone. The people who wrote this report are unbiased.

And then I would also say that justice must be served for all the victims, all those who died and whose lives were taken away in Congo and elsewhere in the region.

So, for me, it would be a positive thing for President Kagame to collaborate in this, because at this stage, there is still no conviction. So, we must serve justice. I want to bring back peace and security in my country because I want to move on from this dark period in Africa’s history. I want peace for my people, but also for the neighbouring people, so that our countries turn to their development rather than to an unnecessary war.

François Chignac: You mentionned instability. Let’s talk about your country. Should states of emergency be introduced in transitional periods, as you have done?

Félix Tshisekedi: Of course. You know, this situation has now been going on for the past twenty years, and we still haven’t found a solution. The military administration that we now have is here because I wished it. Because the governor is a representative of the President of the Republic in the province he runs. They are my eyes and ears.

And in that regard, the military governor is the one who can provide the best answers, and the best remarks and observations about this situation. So it’s very important for us to move to this model of governance through the military and to have a military officer in charge of these provinces.

François Chignac: A few months ago, the international community and the Congo suffered a heavy loss with the death of the Italian ambassador. What is the status of the investigations surrounding his death?

Félix Tshisekedi: Investigations are ongoing. At some point, we had a few suspects who had been apprehended. I think they are being questioned,because beyond these suspects, there is a whole organisation. They are bandits, organised in gangs and who for sure have mentors. So, I think that’s what we have to try to trace back.

We have the collaboration of the Italian services and we are working hard on it. I would really like to say that it was very sad because I knew the ambassador personally. It is terrible. I was really saddened by his death and it motivates me even more to look for the suspects and especially to put an end to these pockets of violence in the east of my country.

François Chignac: As the current chairman of the African Union, you said a few days ago, regarding Chad, that this transition really had to be settled in this way in order to maintain stability in the country.

Félix Tshisekedi: I fear that I may not have been understood. With President Déby, we knew how he ran this country and therefore the sudden disappearance of such a pillar, could lead the country into total instability.

And so the solution that was found, that didn’t come from us, but from the Chadians themselves, was a military solution. So for me, if that brings stability…I was in N’Djaména for the funeral of President Deby, I saw that the country was stable. People were calm.

From the moment that there is stability, then good. But then, we are not giving them a blank check. We say that because, they themselves said that there will be elections in 18 months, and we wish for this transition to be as inclusive as possible, to remove any possibility for someone to say “I was excluded, so I will settle my fate by taking arms”.

So if everyone is involved, if everyone accompanies this transition, we will have free, democratic and transparent elections. In any case, we hope so, and at that point, the country will return to a definitive stability.

François Chignac: Mr. President, the Congo is hoping to be represented at the UN Security Council…

Félix Tshisekedi: Yes of course, we hope to carry out the Congo’s voice on the international level and I think that now is a good time for us to have a relay at the UN as we take the presidency of the African Union

Of course, it is an ambition to carry the voice, obviously, of the Congo in the concert of nations and I believe that it is an opportunity now that we also have the African Union to have a relay at the United Nations.

Fabrice Marimootoo and Tancrède Chambraud contributed to this piece.