By Brian Smith
Before resigning from the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) on September 29, 2015, Moise Katumbi, the former Governor of Katanga and a longtime member of the PPRD, was a loyal supporter of President Kabila. He supported him in the 2006 presidential election and again in 2011. He was known as Kabila's right hand man and confidante.
So, what changed? How was it that in January 2016—a mere eleven months before elections were to take place--Katumbi announced that he was now a member of the opposition party, Citizen Front 2016? In his public address, he even went so far as to say that the purpose of Citizen Front was first to “insist on the provincial elections of 2016 and the 2016 presidential elections by respecting the [set] constitutional deadlines and have the electoral calendar [implemented], as soon as possible.”
He also hired a top US law firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, to lobby for US support for timely elections.
This is an excellent sound byte, but it is just that: Words to appease that he does not really believe. Indeed, as Bernard Katompa, President of the Génération Déterminée Movement, notes, if Katumbi is so pro-democracy, why was he such a latecomer calling for national elections? Perhaps the cause is more personal than noble. It seems unlikely that Katumbi suddenly had a change of heart. Katumbi has always done what is best for Katumbi.
According to a March 2007 WikiLeaks report, Katumbi has made several remarks indicating conflicts of interest.
A case in point: He repeatedly praised Nikanor, a London AIM-listed copper/cobalt mining company in the DRC. A few days later, a $30-million-dollar construction deal was reported between Nikanor and Mining Company Katanga, the company Katumbi co-founded. Kitumbi said he stepped down from MCK once he became governor of Katanga. He put his wife, Carine, in charge.
Until 2001, Katumbi was very close with then-Zambian president Frederick Chiluba—so close that Katumbi ran businesses out of the country. Let's be clear: The men are not just friends, they are brothers-in-law through marriage (their wives are sisters).
Levy Mwanawasa, Chiluba's successor, claimed that Katumbi and his brother, Raphael Soriano (aka Katebe Katoto), had embezzled state funds. Mwanawasa accused Katumbi of stealing seven million dollars for undelivered supplies out of Zambia, and froze Katumbi's assets. He accused him of “plundering national resources” along with Chiluba. This was an accurate accusation: During Chiluba's reign, the Zambian government lost more than twenty million dollars on an arms deal that Katumbi and Soriano failed to deliver. Mwanawasa also put Katumbi on a ‘wanted' list; warrants were issued for his arrest, and his property was confiscated.
Rather than face the music, Katumbi fled the country.
After Mwanawasa's death in August, 2008, his successor, Rupiah Banda, dropped the charges against Katumbi. He also returned some of Katumbi's property, along with a trunk full of emeralds worth more than $214,000 dollars.
There was good reason to do so. According to a February, 2015 report, Rupiah Banda, his son Henry, current Zambian president Edgar Lungu and Katumbi negotiated a multi-million dollar arms deal to supply the various military units in Zambia as middlemen. Henry Banda had started negotiations as early as 2010, and they were slated to conclude in 2011, when Banda expected to be re-elected. Part of the proceeds were to go towards Lungu's 2016 campaign.
But Michael Sata won instead, and canceled the deal. Sata and Katumbi, needless to say, did not get along.
With Lungu in office, the deal was back on. Katumbi and Henry Banda bought military equipment for the Zambia Army, Zambia Air Force, Zambia National Service, and Zambia Police.
What could be the reason for Katumbi and Lungu's close relationship? The only explanation that Katumbi and Lungu, who has been compared to Zimbabwe despot Robert Mugabe, are trying to plunge DRC into chaos and destabilize the Congo. That way, Katumbi will have more power, and more wealth, for himself, which is exactly how he likes it.