Opting for the jungles. In his first ever interview since quitting Parliament to join a rebel group, former Congolese opposition MP Roger Lumbala tells the Sunday Monitor about the difficult decision he made to walk from the DR Congo’s capital, Kinshasha to the jungles in the east of the country to join M23 rebels, before becoming its deputy head of delegation at the Kampala talks. Mr Lumbala says he left a $15,000 (about Shs39m) parliamentary salary. He spoke to Sunday Monitor’s Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi on why he joined M23.
1. Until recently you were a Member of Parliament in Kinshasa, how did you cross over to join the rebels’ negotiating team in Kampala?
I joined on the invitation of the M23, who wanted me to be part of their negotiating team. Before leaving Kinshasa, I had a long discussion with them about the economic, political and social situation of our country and agreed that I could be part of them. I appreciated their analysis of the situation which the country is facing, that is why I decided to help and be part of the team.
2. You had been a rebel before you became an MP for an opposition party, why choose to go back to the bush instead of pushing your case through Parliament?
I will fight against any regime which is destroying the lives of the Congolese. I am a man of permanent revolution because I know that Congo has to change and because I have had the chance to stay in different parts of the world, like Europe, the US and many countries in Africa, I know that we need to make Congo better. I take the example of people like your President, Yoweri Museveni, and his country. He has transformed the country since he took over in 1986. We also want water for our people, good roads, electricity and better health. There is total corruption, ethnic discrimination. Even President [Joseph] Kabila rigged his way to power in the last election. We want to change that. That is why you see me here again in a revolution. I was with Mzee Laurent Desire Kabila in the fight against Mobutu, then I fought against Mzee Kabila now I am fighting against Joseph Kabila. That is why I call this a permanent revolution. For as long as we don’t have a responsible government in Congo, I will fight against them. We can see in all countries they have the opposition but they can do things for their people. We want a president like Museveni for Congo, who can change things.
3. DR Congo has been independent for more than 50 years now, what explains the recurrent conflicts?
It is because of its wealth. The wealth of the DRC is a major handicap for our country. Every external super power wants to be involved in the political, social and economic situation of our country.
4. How long are you going to blame external forces? When will you, as Congolese, put your act together and forge a future for your country?
The DRC is not like other countries in the world. You can see even the implications at the UN level. The instability is because of the country’s resources. In Congo we have all minerals that exist in the world. That is why we must continue fighting until we take charge of our destiny. That is the mission of the M23. I think this will be the last revolution that I will be involved in and it will be the last revolution that will liberate Congo.
5. M23 is not the first revolution as you have rightly said, why should the world believe you when you say it will be the last? What can prevent your leaders to do exactly what the others before you have done?
The M23 is different, according to the discussion I have heard with the top leadership of the Movement they have the objective of giving responsibility to the Congolese people to say no to any dictator. To take responsibility on security, social development, to give the spirit of independence to the Congolese, that is the spirit (that drives) the M23 revolution.
6. Why leave a well-paying job as an MP to join a group whose chances of taking over power you can’t guarantee?
As an MP I earned $12,000 and as vice-president of Parliament I had an extra $3,000 that is a total of $15,000 per month but you can’t be comfortable being paid well when other people are suffering. That is the reason that pushed me to join the revolution with other Congolese. Me, I have $15,000, yet every month a Colonel in the military earns $15, a teacher and other professionals earn $50 per month! That gap is criminal. We have asked the government to give at least $200 per month as basic salary for workers but President Kabila does not accept that. He prefers the poverty of our people so that they cannot make political demands, so that they can keep begging him for food; that is why I chose to come and join these talks on the side of the rebels.
7. You were a rebel, what then had convinced you to join Parliament in the first place?
Before going to Parliament I had served as a minister for external trade during the period of transition (after the overthrow of Mobutu), after that I contested as a presidential candidate at the same time I was national president for the opposition group. I was elected as MP. When we went to the elections in 2011, I was campaign director for Étienne Tshisekedi, we campaigned across the country I put Tishekedi’s campaign on my radio and my TV stations, Kabila destroyed them. Then after, Tshisekedi won the election but Kabila took over power by force, violating Article 64 of our Constitution (we had no option) but to fight him.
The people have never failed. The M23 war is a war of the Congolese people. You can stop people from fighting against you today but because we don’t have leadership in our country, because the state does not exist, finally the people will defeat you.
Our ultimate aim is to see Kabila out of power.