On the occasion of her country’s National Day, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of the Congo HE Ms Marie Ndjeka Opombo discusses the past year’s developments
On behalf of HE Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the staff at the Embassy, I invite you to read the following…
Your distinguished and comforting presence by our side is a tangible display of your friendship, honouring and delighting us at the same time.
Both the UK and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have gone through a lot of change in the past year. The National Day is certainly a moment for rejoicing, but it is also an opportunity to take a retrospective look at the path taken since independence, to build on the progress made, and thereby to set the course for the future.
Allow me to take you on a journey to the DRC that will help you understand where we are coming from, and where we are heading to. Ours is a massive country in the heart of Africa, part of the Great Lakes group of countries, and the most populous Francophone country in the world (much bigger than Francein population!) In terms of land mass, we are also the second largest country in Africa after Algeria. 84 million people live in an area close to the size of western Europe. Our large size means that we are bordered by nine different countries: South Sudan, Central African Republic, Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda, Angola, Zambiaand Republic of Congo. This vast country’s geographical location symbolises the very heart of Africa.
A NEW PRESIDENT
DRC has set an example of democracy in Africa. DRC’s 2018 presidential election was a big event for us. This time last year, we were busy guessing the outcome. Would President Kabila change the Constitution to give himself a chance of a third term? We all now know the answer to that question is NO.
I was privileged to have witnessed the reality of these events on the ground and was present at the inauguration ceremony of the new President on 24 January 2019 at the National Hall in Kinshasa.
On 30 June, the DRC celebrated its 59th anniversary of Independence, but also the first peaceful and civilised handing over of power from an outgoing President to a democratically elected incoming President since Independence in 1960. This was the first ever peaceful transition of power from an incumbent holder of the highest office to a successor from the opposition. This was a historic event and we are proud of our political leaders and of the Congolese people.
The Africa Union was among the first international bodies to acknowledge the legitimacy of the new elect Congolese President. In 2021, President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo will Chair the African Union. This honour was bestowed on him by his African counterparts three weeks after his inauguration.
As a country, we are blessed with so many natural resources: timber, copper, coltan, iron, gold, tin, diamonds and of course, most interesting for today’s automobile industry, more than 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt production. So, in a sense, we have the world’s production output in the palm of our hands! God has also blessed us with more than our fair share of minerals.
Besides that, hydro is the leading source of power. The Congo River is the fifth longest in the world, with a flow that is second in the world after the Amazon. This means that in theory the Congo River could provide 13 per cent of the world’s hydro power potential. It’s clean, it’s green, and I know even the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg would approve of it.
The INGA Dam already supplies electricity over a distance of 2,000km from Kongo Central to Katanga. Once phase three is completed, the DRC will be capable of 40,000 Megawatts, the most of any hydroelectric dam in the world, and enough to light up the entire African continent.
So, if we can remain united and supportive of one another, a bright future lies ahead for all Africans. Once the DRC stands up, the entire African continent will be on the move. Don’t forget, the DRC is the very heart of Africa and like every heart we desperately need it to beat strongly.
You understand now why President Félix Tshisekedi has showed his determination to change things, and there is no doubt that change is on its way to the DRC. The new President is striving to make our country a stable, peaceful and prosperous one.
From the onset of his Presidency, he took his ‘pilgrim staff,’ visiting all neighbouring countries to seek support for building peace and stability in the new DR Congo.
The President has set up an ambitious plan for development and rehabilitation, construction of roads, water and electricity plants, health and sanitation, building schools, social housing, agriculture and transport sectors refurbishment, etc. The challenge remains to keep the prosperity, security and stability that we want to offer our people and our economic partners.
I should mention the Ebola epidemic that broke out last year. We are grateful to the WHO and medical experts from all over the world – including those from the UK – who are often putting their own life at risk to help curb the disease. We urgently need the support of all governments to fight against this epidemic disease that has ravaged a number of countries since its first appearance in 1976.
UK-DRC BILATERAL RELATIONS
Relations between Great Britain and the DRC date back to the nineteenth century when Sir Henri Morton Stanley, a British national, led an exploration of the Congo. The British authorities showed very little interest in his findings from what was then an unknown land; otherwise maybe the DRC would have been colonised by the UK instead of Belgium. They missed a golden opportunity!
At the country’s Independence in 1960, Her Majesty’s government upgraded the British Consulate General in Kinshasa to an Embassy, and Sir Ian Dixon Scott, former Governor General of the Congo, became the first ever British Ambassador to the DRC.
The DRC is a young democracy that needs to be nurtured so that it can grow and be able to stand on its own. To achieve that, we need the broad involvement of our host country. Our wish is to see our bilateral relations re-directed, strengthened and broadened for our mutual interests.
The good diplomatic relations that our countries enjoy have recently led to the exchange of visits of government officials at ministerial level. Minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, was in Kinshasa in May; this was her third visit to the country. But there is still much more to be achieved.
My wish is to see the UK government and the private sector more present in my country. This is simply because the DR Congo is now a new destination for business and investment, not only because of its size and its young population, but also because more and more British nationals are admiring its diversity of cultures.
I say the UK government and the business sector should not worry about Brexit. There is a new fertile destination called the Democratic Republic of the Congo just waiting to do business with you… As I said, we are the same size as Western Europe anyway, just a bit further south!
I was privileged to join the British Ambassador to DRC and his staff in Kinshasa to celebrate Her Majesty’s birthday on 7 June. I found the entire Embassy team, including the Ambassador, sporting a Congolese fabric uniform bearing a print of Her Majesty’s face.
I would like also to urge my fellow countrymen who have chosen the UK as their second home to join us in building our country. As a popular saying goes: “Divided we fall, united we stand.” Let’s work together, hand in hand, to support President HE Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo in building our country and consolidating our young democracy.
The article text is an excerpt of the speech Her Excellency read at the 2019 National Day Reception at the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill