When Richard Cook of Wallpaper met Joseph Kabila


When Joseph Kabila summoned Wallpaper * to his presidential palace

Richard Cook, Editorial Director of Wallpaper from 1999 to 2016, remembers his meeting with an unlikely fan of our magazine, Joseph Kabila. Cook’s memories are featured in the ’25 Years of Wallpaper * ‘series, published in our October 2021 25th Anniversary issue

I had worked at Financial Time before joining Wallpaper * in 1999, and at FT had become accustomed to good access to presidents and CEOs. But I quickly discovered that Wallpaper * opened doors that even the global business bible struggled to unlock.

I remember once arriving in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, for an architectural story (W * 52). We were told that the charismatic young president of the country, Joseph Kabila, was somewhat of an esthete; that he was aware of our mission and largely in favor of it. However, he had inherited the post after the assassination of his father, Mobutu’s nemesis, Laurent Kabila, and naturally mistrusted foreigners as a result. He was also currently concerned about fierce and brutal fighting in the east of the country.

W * 52

The local Reuters correspondent had waited patiently and unsuccessfully for a hearing for eight months. And all he wanted was to talk about the economy. We sent a copy of the magazine more in hope than in expectation and immediately received a summons to the Presidential Palace to meet him and paint his portrait. He was particularly touched, it seems, by a story we ran about the former vacation home of East German despot Erich Honecker.

Matching the design choices of world leaders can be a narrow niche, but it’s the kind of thing you suspect that only Wallpaper * could quite pull off. The magazine has been doing this and more for 25 wonderful years, and the best you think both of dictatorial design and more are yet to come. §


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