The Democratic Republic of Congo is entering its third decade of armed conflict. Throughout this period corruption has been tightly linked to conflict.1 The 2006 Congolese constitution was created in the aftermath of thirty-two years of dictatorship, during which President Mobutu Sese Seko used public funds to enrich himself and his allies, and sets up safeguards to prevent the abuse of public office for personal enrichment. This report by the Congo Research Group (CRG) at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation is the first in a series of investigations by CRG into links between politics and business in Congo, aiming to promote greater accountability and to bolster the oversight enshrined in the constitution. It examines the business networks of the country’s most powerful elected official, President Joseph Kabila, and his family.
Our research over the past 20 months, supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, shows that the Kabila family either partially or wholly owns more than 80 companies and businesses in the Congo and abroad. President Kabila directly and through a company he owns with his children holds more than 71,000 hectares (175,444 acres) of farmland.2 Two companies that belong to the family own diamond permits that extend for more than 450 miles along Congo’s southern border with Angola.3 Jaynet Kabila, the president’s sister and a member of parliament, owns a stake in the country’s largest mobile phone network,4 while their brother Zoé, who is also a parliamentarian, owns companies that have been contracted to work on some of the world’s richest mineral deposits.5 The network of family companies has the following characteristics:
The businesses are invested in almost every part of the Congolese economy, including farming, mining, banking, real estate, telecommunications and airlines.
The value of their assets is difficult to determine. However, a conservative reading of public documents suggests that their companies have had hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues since 2003, and that they own assets that are easily worth many tens of millions of dollars.
Over the years, some of the businesses have benefitted from Congolese government contracts, as well as from contracts with the World Bank, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the United Nations.6
The lack of fiscal transparency in the Congo and in foreign tax havens where some of the companies are registered formed a significant obstacle to our research. While President Kabila has reportedly declared his assets to the judiciary as required by the constitution, his submissions have not been made public, rendering it impossible to verify their accuracy.7 There is no requirement in the Congo to publish property taxes or corporate taxes, making it difficult to know how much the family’s companies are worth.
This report is limited to our investigation into the Kabila family businesses and is not intended to be a complete accounting of the family’s various revenue streams. We also do not conclude that the family’s holdings are necessarily illegal or corrupt. However, some of the family’s holdings may violate Congolese law or codes, while other ventures raise serious questions of conflicts of interest:
Congo’s Ministry of Mines has granted a company controlled by the president’s sister, Jaynet Kabila, more mining permits than allowed under the country’s mining code.8
Companies belonging to Zoé Kabila have made millions of dollars from mining joint ventures and subcontracts, including at Sicomines, part of Congo’s $6.2 billion minerals-for- infrastructure deal with China.9
Some of the family’s business assets are protected or overseen by members of the Republican Guard, which is likely outside the legal mandate of the force.10
Family companies have benefitted from large state contracts, including for the issuing of drivers licenses.11
At least one family company was part of a controversial 2011 copper mining deal that led the International Monetary Fund to cancel its half-billion dollar loan program with Congo.12
The Kabila family’s investments will likely play a role in their decision-making during the current political transition. While Kabila’s second mandate ended in December 2016, under the terms of a deal signed with the opposition he will stay in power until the next elections, which are supposed to be held before the end of 2017.
While this report examines the assets of the presidential family, it is clear that members of the elite on all sides of the political divides have abused their office for personal enrichment. While most international interventions in the Congo have placed an emphasis on negotiation and political compromise, they have failed to hold elites or the corporations they work with accountable for this kind of corruption.
In addition to the report, the project includes two interactive graphics that visualize the various connections between Kabila's family and businesses around the world. One graphic allows users to see the web of connections between family members and businesses. The second graphic is an interactive map of their global business dealings.
You can explore the data and graphics on the Congo Research Group's website.