DRC: After 20 years, why was Safricom expelled?

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Thursday, 23 September 2021 17:17

After dominating the market for twenty years, Safricom and Hassan Mourad have been expelled from the DRC, after a power struggle unravelled the company's power within the country.

Lebanese entrepreneur Hassan Mourad had to leave the DRC, after a power struggle with the governor of the capital, leading back to President Félix Tshisekedi and his security advisor, François Beya.

Hassan Mourad, the director-general of the African Society of Commerce (Safricom), was expelled from the Congolese territory on 20 September by the Directorate General of Migration (DGM). He boarded Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 840 at 1:40 pm. He had been living in the DRC for almost 40 years and held a permanent settlement visa.

His lawyers have called into question Charles-Hubert Kitenge Hemedi, the director of the cabinet, and Roland Kashwantale, director-general of the DGM, (who did not respond to our request for comment), and have denounced an illegal expulsion. They claimed that their client, with whom they had not been able to contact before his departure, had not been notified of any valid reason for expulsion and that he had left “without any personal effects”.

The angry governor

To unravel this ordeal, we have to go back to November 2019. The governor of Kinshasa, Gentiny Ngobila, decided to terminate the contract which tied the city to Safricom since 2005. The company was responsible for developing, maintaining and managing a portion of the central market for 20  years. The agreement also included the construction of one hundred residential shops and the necessary equipment to facilitate traffic.

However, it seems that Ngobila is not satisfied with the state of the central market and by extension, he believes Hassan Mourad has not fulfilled his part of the agreement.

Safricom’s defence, composed of Mr Raphaël Kibuka and Mr Romain Battajon (lawyers from Kinshasa/Matete and Brussels), have argued that this contract was terminated “without notice or compensation”. The company then filed a petition for interim relief before the Court of Appeal, which ruled in its favour. The city of Kinshasa then appealed to the Council of State, which ruled that its appeal was inadmissible in 2020.

The governor has refused to comply with these judicial decisions and the various ministerial orders demanding that Safricom be restored to its rights. He has issued an order for the demolition of the installations built by Safricom.

Tshisekedi’s intervention

In March 2021, Félix Tshisekedi intervened in the case. After a visit to the central market, the head of state decided to put an end to activities in the area managed by Hassan Mourad, asking the latter to carry out other projects in the country.

On August 2021, the Lebanese businessman’s lawyers, who made an initial estimate of their client’s loss at $20m, went on the offensive again. They wrote to the governor to again denounce the breach of contract, which they considered abusive, and the destruction of the buildings that he had ordered. They proposed that he organise a dialogue to try to find a solution. If he does not respond within a fortnight, they intend to request arbitration.

“The President of the Republic, who was informed of the facts, personally visited the central market to see for himself the state of the market, which he found in an unparalleled state of dilapidation. A market managed for nearly 18 years by your client,” said Freddy Bonzeke, the town hall lawyer, on 3 September. Believing that Hassan Mourad had jumped the gun by “bringing the matter before the courts and the country’s authorities”, he informed them that “an amicable settlement is no longer on the agenda”.

Beya stalls

Along with this affair, property belonging to Hassan Mourad presented as an “ordinary concession” of Safricom was besieged by a police unit. On 14 September, François Beya, Tshisekedi’s security advisor, personally intervened to stop this intervention.

In a letter addressed to the commander of the National Intervention Legion, and seen by us, he wrote that “information confirmed by several services reports the presence of police officers of the National Intervention Legion in the ordinary concession of the Safricom company in the commune of Kasa-Vubu, to obstruct the execution of the decision of the Council of State (a decision that rehabilitates Safricom in its rights) and ministerial decrees”.

He said he was reminded that “the mission of this specialised unit of the PNC (Congolese National Police) cannot replace that of the provincial police station of the PNC in Kinshasa, whose GMI (Mobile Intervention Group) elements are required, following the relevant regulations, to secure this concession”.

He added: “The presence military intelligence elements of military intelligence under the leadership of Captain Emmanuel Muzungu Bukasa is disturbing the instructions issued [sic]. I urge you to immediately withdraw the aforementioned captain and his entourage.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options