During a luncheon with the international media on September 19, Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), gave a speech describing the political relationships his nation has had with Europeans, the United States, and now China.
Tshisekedi had been invited by Djibril Diallo, president and CEO of the African Renaissance and Diaspora Network (ARDN), to deliver his talk at Manhattan’s 5th Avenue Peninsula Hotel.
The theme of the talk was “Strengthening of the Relationship between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the United States.”
But initially, Tshisekedi looked back at how, when the Congo Free State was created in 1885, it had been gifted to King Leopold II of Belgium: Instead of being carved out during the infamous 1884 Berlin Conference that partitioned Africa among European nations, Congo was given to a single person, Belgium’s King Leopold.
The Belgian king enriched himself by enslaving the Congolese and forcing them to mine natural resources, like rubber and ivory. “There were atrocities committed under the oversight of King Leopold,” Tshisekedi said through an interpreter, “There was literally a genocide. A genocide that historians have calculated led to 10 million deaths.”
In the 20th century, even more deaths could be connected to the DRC’s resources: The uranium that was used to create the U.S.’s atomic bomb also came from the DRC. “It’s sad to say, but the Second World War ended through the bombing of two Japanese cities––of Hiroshima and Nagasaki…The uranium that was used to make the bomb…came from the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Tshisekedi noted. “Therefore, the United States of America and the DRC are both, together, at the birth of the onset of the atomic age.”
But Tshisekedi said that while the DRC acknowledges its past, it’s now in a new phase, one that he sees as beginning with the elections that took place in 2018. These were the elections that brought him and the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (the party his father, opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi, helped to create) to power. “For the first time in the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo, there was a peaceful and democratic change of power, without bloodshed,” Tshisekedi said. And the United States of America was the first country to recognize those elections as being valid. By doing so, the U.S. helped tamper any suggestions that there had been voting fraud or that there would be a post-election controversy. The U.S. basically gave the elections a stamp of approval.
Tshisekedi said he’s left behind any controversy about the elections and is ready to carry the mantle of presiding over a nation of 245,000 square kilometers (approximately 905,568 square miles). The DRC’s citizens have numerous basic needs and still suffer from extreme violence in the eastern part of the nation. Tshisekedi said he’s made it a point to pay personal visits to the DRC’s nine neighboring countries in East and Central Africa because he wants to try to create new modes of cooperation with his fellow nations.
Tshisekedi’s administration has also made a concerted effort to renegotiate the mining contracts it inherited with foreign nations. The DRC is the world’s largest producer of cobalt, the metal used to make rechargeable batteries and which is vital for electric vehicle (EV) batteries. The nation also has gold, diamonds, bauxite, and oil reserves. The DRC’s excess of natural resources has led to violence in the nation for years.
“We have never been happy,” Tshisekedi confessed, or been able to enjoy the natural resources of the DRC. “On the contrary, some countries and some companies have benefited from the riches of the DRC, but the people of the DRC themselves have not benefited; they have been almost victims of this richness of the country.”
Of the future, Tshisekedi said: “It’s a big challenge, but the people are seeing what we are confronted with. And, at the same time, based on our background, based on what we learned from our leader Étienne Tshisekedi, we have the strength to carry forward.”
The next round of presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is expected to take place on December 20, 2023.