EXCLUSIVE: MAMAN SIFA SPEAKS…
Maman Sifa Maanya, President Joseph Kabila’s mother speaks for the first time ever. In an exclusive interview to Colette Braeckman of the Belgian daily Le Soir on 2.06.2006, she talks about her late husband Luarent Désiré Kabila’s maquis; about what Joseph Kabila’s childhood was like; the now youngest president in the world’s revolutionary ideals and his whole life marked by one struggle after another, which, she says, forged her son Joseph’s character.
Madame Sifa Maanya is not a woman who likes publicity. Discreet, modest but not totally effaced, she avoids journalists. Except when it is a question of highlighting her social activities within the “Mzee Laurent Désiré Kabila’s Foundation”.
She gave us this exclusive interview exceptionally, perhaps because she knew that we have met the Mzee (meaning, the “Old Wise Man” in Swahili, which is the nickname that was given to the late Congolese president, Laurent Désiré Kabila) when he used to travel to Europe in utter discretion. She accepted this interview which took place in her vast office in Gombe. There are few furniture therein, no paintings, no red carpets, no external sign of wealth. Before we start the conversation, Madame Sifa invites us to pray and asks God to bless us.
LIFE IN THE MAQUIS
Right away, this woman a native of Kabambare in Maniema province, comes to the essential:
“Beside the Mzee, I was a militant. Together we wanted to fight against injustice, fight against Mobutu who had confiscated power.”
Immediately after the assassination of Patrice Emery Lumumba on 17th January 1961, Laurent Désiré embarks himself on the struggle and it is in 1965 that he creates and sets up a maquis in the East:
“We began in the Fizi region where we set up our staff headquarters. But we had to move to the mountains, running away from Mobutu’s army attacks. There were Hewa Bora I, Hewa Bora II, Makanga… but it was at Kasingere that we founded the People’s Revolutionary Party (PRP).”
Madame Sifa does not like to describe life in the maquis as difficult:
“We were self-sufficient and lived in perfect equality. Thanks to the products of agriculture, we had enough food to eat. We used to live on the products of fisheries and of farming animals too. But we used to lack salt and cooking oil and we preferred to resort to traditional medicines. But our people, made very politically aware, did not complain.”
Already a militant, Sifa becomes a cadre of the party where she takes charge of the political formation, particularly of women.
“We explained to people why Mobutu’s dictatorship, which was crushing the peasants, had to be fought against. We educated the masses on a regular and permanent basis. Each one had to undergo a political formation but had also to learn to read and write. Political sessions as such lasted seven days, then those who had been formed were sent in other villages in order to teach the masses in their turn.”
There was neither electricity in the maquis, nor candles and matches. “To make fire, we had to chafe one stone against the other in order to unlatch the spark…”
Clothes were also rare: Sifa has one loin-cloth, may be two, but people wore clothes made out of raffia and tree barks most of the time. It was in this very egalitarian but very poor maquis hat in 1971, her first children, the twins Jaynet and Joseph were born. Then other births followed: Joséphine, Zoé, Masengo… (Photo below. from left to right: 1. Umaneo Josephine Kabila 2. Cecile Mafika Kabila 3. Zoe Kabila 4. Maman Sifa Mahanya 5. Fifi Kabila 6. Selemani Kanambe 7. Joseph Kabila Kabange 8. Jaynet Kabila Kyungu 9. Anina 10. Tetia)
“Our family constituted itself in the maquis and the children, immediately after attaining three years of age, had to attend the primary school which we had created. They were educated in the maquis for five years.”
After 1975, everybody was forced to go and live in Wimbi, in the shore of Lake Tanganyika because the attacks from Mobutu’s troops were relentless.
“They used to bomb us, chased and pursued us in the mountains. We could no longer resist. There were times when we were forced to eat grass and to feed on wild plants.”
In Wimbi, Sifa continued with her activities. “I was vice-secretary of the “Organisation of Revolutionary Women, a women’s wing of our party the PRP, which dealt with the guidance of women. Many children were orphaned and left without a family because of the war or diseases; and it was for them that the Mzee created the People’s Centre for Social Works, of which I was the main manageress. But we were rapidly dispersed by Mobutu’s armed forces.”
THE YEARS OF EXILE IN TANZANIA
Towards the year 1978 – 1979, the Mzee decided to have the twins evacuated to Kigoma in Tanzania so that they may pursue their studies. The mother followed some times later and the Mzee came afterwards, accompanied with a few rare partisans followers. (Photo below: the twins Joseph et Jeanet en Tanzanie at the home of Bienvenu Mwilambwe for their education. From left to right: Joseph Kabila, Tundja Marie, Ilunga Rose Mwilambwe, Zaïna Jolie Mwilambwe, Jaynet Kabila)
“It must be said that many were those who have betrayed the revolution and quit the maquis because Mobutu had bribed them. The few last one who remained suffered the bombings, ambushes and everything was done to capture them…”
In Tanzania, the Kabilas were welcomed and protected by Kazadi Nyembe, very well introduced in President Julius Nyerere’s close entourage. Sifa insists with gratitude:
“Kazadi protected and hid us when it was necessary, because Mobutu’s police were looking for us in order to eliminate us. If life in the maquis could seem difficult, in Tanzania it was even worse. There, we had nothing, whereas in the maquis, we helped each other, we lived in a certain equality. Our stay in Tanzania was a strategic withdrawal, because we well had the intention to return one day to Congo our country.”
It is moreover because of that, that, despite financial difficulties, Laurent Désiré Kabila did everything to enrol Jaynet and Joseph in The Dar es Salaam French School to prepare them for the day they would return in their country. How did the Kabila family cater for itself? Madame Sifa opens wide her hands, and still pensive, scrutinises them:
“I used to cultivate a small field and I used to sell my vegetables in the market, like all poor women in Africa do. Later on, I run a small boutique to be able to pay for the children’s school fees. The Mzee used not to talk politics with his family. That [political] education was left to me. I used to explain to the children why we refused to consider ourselves as refugees because we were revolutionaries.”
In Tanzania, the Zairean Embassy did not skimp on the means: “Mobutu tried everything in order to eliminate us: the poison, women, ambushes, money…”
Madame Sifa denies sotries according to which the Mzee left the maquis all the times, that all he did was to travel a lot.
“He left the maquis only twice, to go and seek help from friends in Europe because we lacked everything…”
And she remembers the support that was given to the Kabilas by Pierre Goland, then general secretary of Oxfam-Belgium. Still regarding Tanzania, Sifa evokes her husband’s proud reactions:
“There came a certain moment when he said: “STOP” and decided to refuse the proposed aid… He declared that from that time onwards, we had to be self-sustaining, self reliant, self-sufficient…”
It was at that moment that she started cultivating and selling her little production. “The Mzee was only interested in politics. It was me who used to sustain the family with my work…”
JOSEPH KABILA’S EVOLUTION
After completing the secondary school education in Dar es Salaam and after doing a year-long military service, like everybody else in Tanzania, the twins were sent to Makerere University in Uganda. Their security was not assured and Mobutu’s services were always prowling about and around. Jaynet enrolled in journalism, Joseph in law. The mother remembers her son’s dispositions:
“Still very little, he already had the temperament of a chief, he dreamed to be a military man, to lead an army.”
Sifa smiles broadly when she remembers and recalls how the boy used to line up a small motorcade, made up of tiny cars to make a military convoy; but at the same times, specifying and stressing that his father was opposed to the idea of his son embarking on a career involving arms. Joseph soon assisted his father who was drawing up a plan for re-launching the struggle in Congo:
“Preparations commenced and were well under way in the beginning of the 1990s and intensified in 1994 and in 1995. Joseph was beside his father when the operations began in 1996. We had reflected and drawn lessons from the mistakes that were made in the beginning of the struggle. They did not go to search for the Mzee. He was always there: it was since Lumumba’s assassination that we fought [Mobutu’s] dictatorship…”
On 17th May 1997, Sifa was still in Tanzania with the youngest children when rebel troops entered Kinshasa. A month later, she discreetly arrived in the capital.
“The Mzee never wanted any intrusion into his private life.”
She confirmed though that during the first war, in 1996-1997, Joseph was fighting beside James Kabarebe, the Rwandan general who was leading the operations. Did Joseph inform his father of what was going on in the frontline?
“I suppose so, but I know that the Mzee was very angry when he was told that atrocities and massacres committed by his allies were taking place. We, our struggle was not that, our concept of liberation was not vengeance…”
What values did she and her husband teach their children? Here, Maman Sifa speaks at stretch:
“We taught them patriotic love and respect for the family. WE tried to give them a code of conduct, and also taught them lessons of modesty and humility. We taught them to live in peace with their neighbours. We tried to form our children in a way that they might combat injustice.
“Joseph in his own way and in his own manner and with is own methods, has attempted to pursue his father’s endeavour, works and legacy. He has always had a strong character. He thinks before he acts and was never a turbulent child… Calm, he did not speak much. If he was angry, he did not show it. I taught him to be polite, never insolent: that is our culture…”
Sifa, mother and wife, exhales some bitterness, nevertheless:
“Ah! Congolese… When I think that the Mzee sacrificed his life for them and they killed him… Every time I rethink about his death, my heart turns red again…”
She does not deny the pain she feels in the face of a negative campaign targeting Joseph:
“He is my son, in the same right as his sister Jaynet and others. But now, they brand him a “Rwandan”. All this hearts. It really hearts, but all I can say is that he is my son alright… How can they say that I came from Rwanda when have lived with the Mzee for 32 years?”
“HE IS IN GOD’S HANDS”
Maman Sifa refuses to evoke the threats that hang over
“He is in the Lord’s hands. I pray God to protect him, to let him accomplish his destiny…”
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