By Brian Smith
Moises Katumbi wants people to think he's a team player. He's so invested in this idea that he literally owns a team. A football team.
Since 1997, Katumbi has been president of Tout Puissant Kazembe, a football club in Lubumbashi, the second-largest city in the country. (Tout Puissant means ‘Almighty'). The team has won the Confederation of African Football (CAF) League five times, and, in 2010, became the first African team to play in in the FIFA World Cup finals—the first team from outside Europe and South America to do so.
Katumbi is considered the main reason for the club's success. Under his reign, players from Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe were recruited, along with local players, to whom he paid a hefty salary. In 2010, the budget for the team was $10 million, triple what it was in 2008. He spent a whopping $35 million to build a stadium, which was finished in 2011. Some TP Kazembe players make as much as $5,000 a week, plus bonuses for winning, a sum only rivaled by Egyptian players.
Fans love it; they trek up to 25 miles to watch important matches on big screens in Lubumbashi. In 2010, to thank them for their support, Katumbi took 100 fans on an all-expenses-paid trip to Abu Dhabi to watch the final match against Inter Milan.
In 2012, Katumbi opened a football school in Katanga, the mineral-rich province where he was governor, to train young Congolese players. As of 2015, 2,000 young men were enrolled in the academy.
In 2012, Katumbi was elected to the scandal-plagued FIFA strategic commission; a year later, he was elected to the Total African Cup of Nations organizing committee, which he is slated to chair until 2017 (CAN is the main international football competition competition in Africa). He has also served on the marketing committee of the (CAF) since 2009.
As Steve Bloomfield, the author of "Africa United: How Football Explains Africa"
told the New York Times, “He sees himself as the continent's answer to the Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich who owns Chelsea of the English Premier League while he worships the style and success of Barcelona.”
“He is essentially an Abramovich-style figure — he has a lot of money, likes football and wants to put it into football,” Bloomfield continued. “He wants to own a winning side. There are political reasons as well. He has broad ambitions for Congo and likes the fact that his side is the best in Africa, representing the continent on a global stage. There are reasons why he wants a successful team.”
Indeed, although Katumbi purports to be a man of the people, his motivations are far deeper.
Katumbi owns mines in the copper-rich province of Katanga, where he was governor. Katanga has been embroiled in country's political upheavals since the country's independence from Belgium in 1960. He lives a lavish lifestyle, showering money on his football club.
“After big wins he'd hold huge parties at his villa, going all night,” Bloomfield told the New York Times.
Before each home game, Katumbi walks around the field, meeting and greeting the club's supporters, the so-called “100 percent.” According to Reuters, in 2015, at the African Champions League triumph over Algeria's USM Alger at Lubumbashi's Kenya stadium, the loudest cheers from 20,000 fans were for Moises Katumbi.
He has also attracted powerful foreign investors to sponsor the $150,00 luxury boxes, including Swiss-based commodities house Glencore and Freeport-McMoRan's Tenue Fulgurate Mining. TP Kazembe's vice president is Malta David Forrest, the chief executive of Belgian mining giant Grouped Forrest International. They like Katumbi because he is lenient on them and their business goals, which also benefit him.
“If I had to choose between politics and my soccer club I would choose soccer,” Katumbi told Bloomfield back in 2010… five years before he quit the ruling party, of which he had been a loyal supporter.
Five years before he announced his candidacy for president.