Let Kenya be friends with DR Congo, but not join its looters

Saturday February 9 2019

Felix Tshisekedi

President Uhuru Kenyatta welcomes the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Felix Tshisekedi at State House, Nairobi. PHOTO | PSCU 

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On Thursday, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi left Nairobi after a two-day official visit. Tshisekedi, who was sworn in on January 24, seemed to be on a quick mission to consolidate his presidency. His ascent to power is still being challenged back home in Kinshasa by the opposition coalition’s Martin Fayulu, who the DR Congo’s Catholic Church tally and leaked electoral commission data published by the UK’s Financial Times showed was ahead of the pack.

Before DR Congo’s apex court affirmed Tshisekedi’s election, the African Union had issued a cautionary statement, putting doubt on his win. But all this seems to be water under the bridge, with Tshisekedi having jumped on the earliest opportunity to pay a visit to President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, the latter wearing the twin hats of opposition leader and African Union Special Envoy for Infrastructure.

Uhuru and Raila were some of the first leaders from the continent to congratulate Tshisekedi on his election, both of them being among the handful regional leaders who attended the new president’s swearing-in. One hopes that in their new friendship with Tshisekedi, Uhuru and Raila will make a point of advising him to reach out to the now highly popular Fayulu, who has refused to concede and declined to shake Tshisekedi’s hand, saying the man has blood on his hands. As a result, DR Congo remains a divided country.

By all means, Nairobi seems to have a special place in Tshisekedi’s heart. Late last year, a number of leading Congolese politicians, including former Katanga governor and businessman Moïse Katumbi, former rebel leader Jean Pierre Bemba, Tshisekedi and his electoral opponent Martin Fayulu met in the Belgian capital Brussels, where they agreed to unite and support Fayulu as the joint opposition candidate, against President Joseph Kabila’s handpicked successor Emmanuel Shadary.


It didn’t take long before Tshisekedi — whose supporters felt was more suited to be the opposition’s candidate than the at the time little-known Fayulu — reneged. Tshisekedi retreated to Nairobi, where he emerged with a new election plan, choosing to stand against the united opposition coalition, Lamuka, which means wake up. Armed with that Nairobi plan, Tshisekedi emerged the surprise winner in the polls, with pundits believing he could have entered into a secret deal with President Joseph Kabila, for the latter to facilitate Tshisekedi’s win, and for Tshisekedi to guarantee Kabila’s immunity against investigation and prosecution.

For now, depending on what course of action Fayulu and his supporters decide on, Tshisekedi seems to have firmly sat on the seat of power, and from the look of things — going by his hitting-the-ground-running attitude — he seems ready for business, with Kenya and others.

Aside from murmurs regarding Tshisekedi’s special connections to Nairobi, the fact that he launched his presidential bid from Kenya’s capital and chose Kenya as one of his first destinations barely days upon assuming office sends a clear signal that going forward, the two countries may enjoy closer ties than ever before. This, by all means, is a welcome development. The Pan-African dream of Kwame Nkurumah and his cohort gains traction whenever African states work together.

By all estimates, DR Congo is one of the richest countries in the world, first courtesy of its abundant mineral deposits. This together with its humongous natural forests and the powerful Congo River, which is said to have capacity to produce enough hydroelectric power to supply electricity for the better part of Africa. Yet despite all these resources, DR Congo remains one of the countries with one of the poorest populations, thanks to the continued theft and plunder of the country’s wealth, abetted by its leaders for the most part.


Stealing from the DR Congo is an art that has been perfected over time, starting with King Leopold II, to whom the country was a piece of personal real estate. Then at independence, with the killing of the country’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Emery Lumumba, and ascension to power of Mobutu Sese Seko, who treated the country’s riches like personal property, the haemorrhage didn’t stop. And on and on.

At different times, accusing fingers have been pointed towards the Rwandan, Ugandan and Zimbabwean governments, whose top officials are alleged to have taken advantage of DR Congo’s volatile situation and participated in the illegal harvesting of either minerals or timber through proxies, most times aided by ragtag militias who control swathes of the country. Of course all the three governments have vehemently denied this version of events, but murmurs persist.

As Kenya becomes one of Tshisekedi’s favourites, suspicion will start arising as to the nature of this newfound love affair. It will be advisable for Kenya to be on the right side of history, by not joining those who have milked DR Congo dry. Ours should be an above board, mutually beneficial partnership.