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What Does It Take to Buy a Country? Moise Katumbi and His Plan for the DRC

By Brian Smith

The United States should not engage in regime change abroad. The path leads to unknown and often unfortunate ends. While the United States has a checkered past as the world's policeman, attempted regime change is always a blemish. In 2015, Obama administration campaigners including National Field Director Jeremy Bird and top adviser David Axelrod worked on President Obama's behalf to tear down Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu through the "Anyone but Bibi" campaign. And today, former Obama National Security Advisor James Jordan is in cahoots with the Democratic Republic of Congo's oppressive, corrupt and self-exiled opposition candidate Moisé Katumbi. Why would American interests work with opposition candidates if the goal wasn't regime change? And, what does American not know about the path forward that will make this attempt at regime change toxic like all those that came before? Meddling in foreign elections for personal or national gain rather than working with existing governments to grow democracy and democratic institutions is simply un-American. It represents the worst of American imperialism, not the shining city on the hill.

Better relations with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a good idea. DRC could be an important ally in sub-Saharan Africa against the spread of Chinese influence in the developing world. Today, China is in a race against the world to control—through soft power like foreign aid and shows of force like military expansion and island building—natural resources, water, rare earth minerals, land and economic interests. The DRC is the key to sub-Saharan African development. Replete with natural resources, DRC has abundant supplies of copper (wiring), gold (circuit boards), diamonds (countless industrial applications), uranium (energy), and oil. DRC is also home to Inga Falls—the largest waterfall by flow rate (ability to generate sustainable, clean energy for the continent) in the world. By all regards, DRC should be one of the richest nations on the planet.

The self-exiled kleptocrat Moisé Katumbi knows this all too well. As the Governor the mineral-rich Katanga Province, Katumbi gained great material wealth while he engaged in corrupt schemes to avoid taxes, export duties that would help develop the country he pretends to love. But in Katumbi's mind, DRC has always been for sale. More than 40 years ago, the bloody Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko hand-picked the Katumbi family to be part of the ruling class. In his quest to maintain power, Mobutu worked like the Chinese of today—he worked to control strategic assets and industries—and the Katumbi family was in the fisheries and shipping business. After all, food and logistics are both very important everywhere, but more so in the developing world. From there, Moisé Katumbi spent years being educated around the world—learning about $5,000 suits and private jets. He spent time learning from the infamous South African arms dealers David Tokoph and was later embroiled in a money laundering scheme with Zambian arms dealers. Rather than live the life of a patriot and invest in civil society, Moisé Katumbi has chosen the path of self-enrichment at every opportunity. It's no wonder Katumbi believes the DRC is for sale.

But, what does it take to buy a country? Billions? Trillions in foreign aid? International altruism and largesse? No. Today, all it takes is $30,000 a month paid to a high-power Washington lobbying firm by a Delaware shell company that also somehow employs the son of the self-exiled Katumbi. For $30,000 a month, any would-be dictator can hire a former National Security Advisor to open doors, set meetings and convince Washington's opinion elite that regime change rather than diplomacy is the path best travelled. For $30,000 a month, Americans will turn the other way and pretend there is nothing wrong with a person who clearly exhibits a pattern of graft and corruption.

Africa is a challenging continent. Each country has a dark and sad history of Western imperialism and oppression. American optimism for a better future cannot erase the reality of Africa's past. And, American decisionmakers would be wise to take another look before deciding that Moisé Katumbi is our friend or that he cares about anything but his bank account.