Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi is striking the right chords with Africa’s business and political elite.
From fronting DRC as the answer to Africa’s energy and water problems to rooting for sub-regional groupings to play an increased role in mediating conflicts, Mr Tshisekedi sounds is passionate.
“Basically countries will always be neighbours and we are all passing actors. Small wars and disputes are useless and a waste of time. That time would be better spent in addressing the aspirations of our people,” Mr Tshisekedi said when asked how he hoped the conflicts in the Great Lakes region, which all touch on DRC, would be solved.
Starting with the armed groups in his country which he has vowed to neutralise, Mr Tshisekedi, said their motives were more commercial than ideological.
“The militias are petty business people and illegal peddlers of natural resources like minerals and timber. They are getting followers out of social realities like lack of jobs. We want to integrate these people into the society through the co-operation of other countries involved,” he told delegates at the Africa CEO Forum held in Kigali, Rwanda on Tuesday.
He said he would look to move the country forward with progressive policies such as those pursued by President Paul Kagame in raising Rwanda from the ashes of the Genocide Against the Tutsi to one of the world’s business and political success showcases in a short 25 years.
He said the Great Lakes countries should concentrate on common interests such as exploitation of methane gas at Lake Kivu, which is on the Rwandan side close to the DRC border, and hydroelectric power at River Rusisi to help the countries diversify their economies. “These should be co-ordinated for development and peace,” he said.
He said DRC was ready to offer its resources and opportunities to other African countries, pointing out that Congo River, in particular, could alleviate disputes on the River Nile, such as that pitting Ethiopia and Egypt over the construction of the Grand Renaissance dam.
Congo River, through the Inga dam, plans to bring through 44,000 megawatts of power in eight phases the first of which has started.
There are 100 other sites in DRC that can generate another 16,000 megawatts. “If developed, this energy can be distributed across Africa, helping address the energy deficit that hinders industrialisation and resolve water wars such as that over the Nile,” he said.
From River Congo, Mr Tshisekedi said water would be pumped to replenish Lake Chad through the Transaqua Project, whose basin supports more than 20 million people.
Since becoming President, Mr Tshisekedi has visited regional countries including Kenya, Uganda and now Rwanda at a time when the latter two are trying to resolve a dispute over movement of goods across their borders en-route to Mombasa port in Kenya.
“I have discussed with Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame on the matter but I will not go into detail. What I can report is that the dispute will not escalate into a war. We are builders of bridges not wars,” Mr Tshisekedi said.
On reconciliation, Mr Tshisekedi said conflicts - be they trade or political in nature - cannot be solved from Addis Ababa where the African Union is based.
“Sub-regional groups helped avert post-poll conflict in DRC even after we knocked on doors of international friends. Ecowas did the same in Burkina Faso in 2014, SADC recently in Zimbabwe and IGAD in South Sudan.”
To safeguard stability that is key for the success of integration under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Mr Tshisekedi called for a convergence criteria to eliminate conflict.
During his visit to Rwanda, Mr Tshisekedi and Mr Kagame opened a new era in Rwanda-DRC relations by focusing on regional integration and stability which are key to unlocking the potential in the Great Lake’s region.