DRC : RIAO and PHC Bury the Hatchet for the Sake of Communities, Decide to Collaborate After Years of Strife

In an exclusive interview granted to Kilalopress on Monday, June 10, 2024, in Kinshasa, Mr. Jean François Mombia, Chairman of the Board of the Réseau d’Information et d’Appui aux ONG nationales (RIAO-RDC), unveils the backstage of a historic reconciliation with the Plantation Huilerie du Congo PHC. This initiative, facilitated by the presidential intervention of the Democratic Republic of Congo, raises significant stakes for the palm oil sector and underscores the importance of constructive dialogue in conflict resolution.

Franck Zongwe Lukama – Right off the bat, we saw you shaking hands with Mrs. Monique Gieskes as the head of PHC. What does this gesture symbolize for you?

Jean Francois Mombia – Greetings, Mr. Franck Zongwe. Shaking hands with Mrs. Monique Gieskes signifies recognizing her as a full-fledged person, just like myself. It’s neither a coup nor a blasphemous act to greet a representative of PHC. In all things, I believe it’s necessary to go through this step. The principle is simple: anything done for me without me is done against me, for all intents and purposes. As whistleblowers, we have received complaints from communities since 2012 and 2013. Ultimately, we decided that as whistleblowers, we must do our job, and that’s it. I must emphasize that it wouldn’t be hell to greet Mrs. Giskies or a representative of the majority shareholders only when in 2019, I had three meetings with Mr. Kalaa Pinga himself, a Congolese shareholder of the same company.

Franck Zongwe Lukama – Why does RIAO seem to be adopting a more conciliatory approach towards PHC today, despite its past denunciations of Feronia and its harmful practices to local communities?

Jean Francois Mombia – As I mentioned, everything we do is aimed at respecting human rights and the rights of workers and communities. We denounced the social injustices suffered by communities, who already have rights, or by landowners. We’re not seeking to shut down PHC but to ensure these rights are respected. We act as a human rights organization that supports communities, not as a political opposition party against PHC.

Franck Zongwe Lukama – Have there been compromises or external pressures that influenced this change in tone towards PHC?

Jean Francois Mombia – There hasn’t been a change in tone as such. We have clear objectives: respect for human rights, workers’ rights, and community rights. We want decent wages for workers and safe working conditions. Our goal is not to shut down PHC but to ensure these rights are respected.

Franck Zongwe Lukama – On April 30, 2024, we covered a demonstration by your organization, RIAO, which took place on the boulevard in Kinshasa during a board meeting gathering PHC investors from around the world. What is the current status of your efforts following the complaint filed in Cologne?

Jean Francois Mombia – Mediation did not succeed. We initiated and published a letter denouncing the failure of mediation, which we also submitted to the presidency of the Republic. Following this, we were invited by the office of the head of state to discuss the situation. Since then, we have had several meetings with Mrs. Monique Gieskes, where she has expressed a willingness to collaborate with us to resolve these issues. We have agreed to extend our hand on the condition that it serves the interests of the communities.

Franck Zongwe Lukama – How can the recent developments after filing the complaint in Cologne be interpreted as a victory for RIAO? Is it evidence of the effectiveness of your actions or simply an opportunistic response from PHC to improve its public image?

Jean Francois Mombia – Recent developments show an openness on the part of PHC to collaborate with us to address the issues. We have seen progress, such as the construction of schools and the rehabilitation of hospitals for communities. There has been a positive change in their attitude, and we are ready to collaborate in the interests of the communities.

Franck Zongwe Lukama – With PHC, what are the major resolutions agreed upon during these consultations facilitated by the presidency?

Jean Francois Mombia – We raised several issues, including the release of prisoners and the return of land to communities. We also discussed the opening of the Lukutu river port. There have been promises from both sides, and we hope this will result in concrete actions in favor of the communities.

Franck Zongwe Lukama – Mr. Jean Francois, I remind you that you are the chairman of the board of the Réseau d’Information et d’Appui aux ONG nationales (RIAO-RDC). Kilalopress thanks you for this interview.

Jean Francois Mombia – Thank you, Mr. Franck Zongwe Lukama. I would also like to thank Kilalopress for its support of RIAO’s actions.

By the editorial staff

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