This morning, Joseph Kabila delivered his annual state of the union address. Dressed in a black tie and suit––perhaps a sign of respect for the recent victims of massacres in the eastern Congo––Kabila's speech lasted for an hour and twenty minutes, in front of both houses of parliament, most accredited ambassadors, and most governors and ministers.
The highlights were well covered in the media, but defy simple sound bites: He will ask the United Nations peacekeeping mission to scale down, but says the country still needs them to deal with armed groups; and he pledged to uphold Congolese laws and hold elections, but didn't say anything about his own personal future or the timetable of the polls. The biggest applause––and the most quotable moments of the evening––came when he castigated foreign interference in the Congo. The two quotes here are:
Provided that it done in respect of our constitution, we are always willing to receive advise, opinions, and suggestions from our partners, but never orders.
We can ask ourselves about the legitimacy of certain compatriots to systematically call foreigners to settle the differences among Congolese, as if we didn't collectively have enough wisdom and maturity to do it ourselves.But what about the rest of the 80 minutes of speech? We shouldn't fast-forward over them so quickly, as there were important, but also misleading moments. We fact-checked the main statements in the speech:
The political scene
- The country has just seen the formation of a new government that represents most of "our political currents and social forces." SORT OF: Yes, the government includes a large majority of political parties represented in parliament, including the UFC, MLC, and a dissident UDPS member. But we don't know what a majority of Congolese themselves think of this government, and the Catholic church, civil society groups, and important opposition parties have been very critical;
- Most of the recommendations of the concertations nationales are being carried out. IF MOST IS N/2+1, THEN PROBABLY NOT. The concertations produced hundreds of recommendations, including some that are being carried out, albeit slowly (e.g.: a census, holding local elections before national ones, get rid of foreign and national armed groups) but many others that are not (e.g.: a truth and reconciliation commission, universal health care, liberalize the insurance market, obligatory military service, electoral reforms to promote inclusion of women);
- There is no political crisis in the Congo. YES, BUT DEPENDS ON WHO YOU ASK. A political scientist would probably back Kabila up, as national institutions are carrying out business as usual, albeit amidst much brouhaha. Opposition members or inhabitants of Beni would probably disagree.
- More needs to be done to ensure gender parity in government. YES, BUT...President Kabila himself just presided over the formation of a new government with only 15% women, and none of his main advisers (except for his mother and sister) are women. Parliament is even worse, with less than 10% women, and every time the possibility of laws to enforce gender parity (which is required by the constitution) comes up, the political elite punts.
Administration and justice
- The government has suppressed taxes along waterways and plans on doing so elsewhere. CORRECT. The government did ban 38 illegal taxes along lakes and rivers in July. Which raises the question why national agencies––including some that have no mandate to tax, like the army and police––were collecting these taxes in the first place;
- The government will urgently accelerate the regrouping of far-flung villages so as to better provide services. WOW, REALLY? Villagization was never a great success in Ethiopia, Tanzania and, more recently, in Rwanda. And villagers might be interested in what services the government wants to provide them.
- I exhort judges to live up to the creed of their profession and to pursue justice. This is obvious neither true nor false, but is stark contrast to his speech last year in which he said he would end impunity for racketeering and corruption. Here he just asks judges to be better, while omitting the public and military prosecutors that he can influence;
- We have set up a national program in support of micro finance, which will soon be present across the country. TRUE. The program exists, although it's not clear what they have done;
- Mining has grown exponentially––copper production has increased from 7,200 tons in 2001 to 922,000 tons this year, cobalt from 1,200 tons to 76,000 tons, and gold from 12kg to 6,000 kg. TRUE. Of course, these figures are driven by the private sector, and Kabila probably can't claim all the credit, especially since his government has also overseen the fraudulent fire sale of at least $1,4 billion in mining assets;
- The government's revenues from the mining sector are still small, but will increase once mining companies begin to declare profits. ABSOLUTELY. Yes, and this is important, as this will buoy state revenues considerably.
- We are investing in agriculture, including in an agro-industrial park in Bandundu, a fertilizer factory in Bas-Congo, and in rural service roads. MORE OR LESS. The park exists and the fertilizer factory is indeed supposed to open next year––their capacity and importance are still unclear. I am pretty sure that the rural service roads mentioned here were built mostly by donor money;
- I grant particular attention to building Grand Inga and Zongo II dams, and repair the Inga I &II, Ruzizi, Tshopo, Nseke and Nzilo dams. WORDS MATTER. "Grant particular attention" does not really say much. Grand Inga is likely to take several decades to build, and little progress has been made in recent years, although Congo did recently sign a deal with South Africa. Inga I & II, Nseke and Nzilo have indeed, been repaired; I could not verify the other two;
- The airports of Kisangani, Kinshasa, Goma, and Lubumbashi are in middle of modernization. YES. They have begun work on all these airport. But they are far from finished. And, as for much of what he said about infrastructures, some of these are donor-funded;
- We have bought 38 new locomotives for our train network, 20 from our own resources, and 21 will arrive in April 2015. SEEMS TO BE TRUE. See here and here;
- Starting next year, we will have a national airline again. YES. This will be a partnership with Air France and KLM and will replace the LAC airline, which went bankrupt ten years ago;
Health and education
- We have opened the Hôpital du Cinquantenaire, the Clinique Universitaire de Kisangani, and 44 health centers. TRUE, I THINK. The Hôpital de Cinquantenaire opened in March after years of delays and controversies over funding (it cost $100 million). A caveat for the local health centers: there haven't been any audits for quality, to my knowledge;
- Our education budget has gone from 3% to 16% of the total budget in recent years, and we have built 500 of the scheduled 1,000 schools. YES. However, again, it is difficult to verify the number and quality of schools. And the proposed budget mentioned here is important, but one really has to look at what was really spent, which may be another issue;
- The war is over. The main security risks that remain are foreign armed groups. NOT SO FAST. Yes, the M23 was defeated last year, and that was a big success. But conflict has escalated in Katanga and around Beni since then. Around 2,6 million people are displaced, a million more than at the end of the official peace process in 2006. And the importance of the ADF and FDLR should not make us lose sight of Congolese armed groups, who are far more numerous in terms of troops, and often just as deadly;