Joseph Kabila and his relatives have built a network of businesses that reaches into every corner of Congo’s economy. Is that why he won’t step down?
In his only public speech this year, Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was defiant about his refusal to hand over power when his final term ends on Dec. 19. “I cannot allow the republic to be taken hostage by a fringe of the political class,” he told parliament last month as members cheered.
His presidency had brought peace and economic growth to Congo, the 45-year-old said, outlining reforms he’d made in telecommunications, mining, energy and banking. What he didn’t say is how some of his own family members are among the biggest beneficiaries of those changes—including his sister Jaynet and brother Zoe, who both listened from the front row as elected members of parliament.
Together the Kabilas have built a network of businesses that reaches into every corner of Congo’s economy and has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to the family, a Bloomberg News investigation has found.
The sprawling network may help explain why the president is ignoring pleas by the U.S., the European Union and a majority of the Congolese people to hand over power next week, though his advisers dispute this.
Kabila’s refusal to step down threatens to thrust his country back into the kind of chaos that cost millions of lives after his father took power nearly two decades ago. It could also destroy the tenuous stability that attracted international investment—mainly from mining giants like Freeport-McMoRan Inc. and Glencore Plc—and turned Congo into Africa’s biggest producer of copper, tin and cobalt.
In February, S&P Global Ratings lowered Congo’s investment outlook to negative amid rising political tensions. It affirmed that view in August. The last civil war destroyed the country’s copper industry, cutting production more than 96 percent by the time the conflict ended in 2003.
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