DRC: Keeping a low profile, Vital Kamerhe savours his freedom

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Monday, 27 June 2022 12:26

Vital Kamerhe in front of UDPS headquarters, 2018. ©Stefan Kleinowitz/ZUMA/REA

Acquitted on Thursday 23 June, Félix Tshisekedi’s former chief of staff is celebrating his newfound freedom while keeping a low profile. He is now waiting to meet the president.

Celebrate your acquittal, turn the page and look to the future. On Thursday evening, Vital Kamerhe was enjoying his newfound freedom surrounded by family – his wife, his children, his mother – as well as friends and collaborators, at one of his residences in the posh neighbourhood La Gombe.

‘It’s huge’

A few hours earlier, Tshisekedi’s ex-chief of staff had been acquitted by the Kinshasa/Gombe Court of Appeals at the end of a second appeal trial, which began on 2 June. Although provisionally released for medical reasons, Vital Kamerhe had been sentenced in the first instance in June 2020 to twenty years of prison and ten years of political ineligibility, for embezzlement and corruption in the management of funds intended for the “hundred days” programme. This sentence was then reduced during the first appeal to thirteen years of imprisonment, then simply cancelled by the Court of Cassation last April. “What has just happened is enormous,” said a source close to Kamerhe. “We went from 20, then 13, and now zero”.

Installed in a comfortable lounge, dressed in a simple tracksuit, face partly hidden by the beginning of a grey beard, the boss of the Union pour la nation congolaise – UNC – (Union for the Congolese Nation) party knows he has made a comeback. Hugs, laughter, flutes of champagne… he struggled to contain his emotion for all the visitors embracing and congratulating him.

Having been burned, Kamerhe wants to control his image from now on

Present at the celebrations are UNC ministers – Aimé Sakombi Molendo (land affairs), Eustache Muhanzi Mubembe (entrepreneurship and SMEs), Amato Bayubasire (justice) – but also the former holder of the health portfolio and member of the Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social – UDPS – (Union for Democracy and Social Progress, the presidential party), Eteni Longondo. They have all remained loyal to him over the past two years, but nevertheless were asked to leave their phones at the entrance. Having been burned, the ex-prisoner wants to control his image from now on.

‘Thank God for this outcome’

“A whole family has been relieved, freed from shame and [this] burden,” says a member of the Kamerhe clan. When it sentenced “le dircab” [directeur du cabinet, chief of staff], the court also ordered the confiscation of the property and assets of his wife, Hamida Chatur, and his daughter-in-law Soraya Mpiana. “All suspicions against Daniel Massaro [Kamerhe’s cousin] have also been dismissed,” said one of his lawyers. And Billy Kambale, UNC secretary-general, can barely contain his delight, offering  “thanks to God for this outcome”.

For now, Kamerhe has said he wants to keep a low profile. He has refused to comment on his acquittal and is waiting to meet Tshisekedi in the coming days. In a 2021 interview with Jeune Afrique, the president said he was convinced that his former chief of staff still had a role to play. “There is not a shadow of discord between Vital and me,” he even said at the time.

What role will he play?

In two years, many things have changed and Kamerhe is making his comeback in a completely reshuffled political landscape. Joseph Kabila no longer holds the executive and many of his loyalists have joined the ranks of the new majority, and baptised the “sacred union”. What role can the UNC boss, well established in the east, play a year and a half before the next presidential election, in which Tshisekedi has already declared himself a candidate? “For the moment we must rule out the idea of [Kamerhe] being prime minister, but maybe he could be the coordinator of the sacred union,” says a source close to the president. “Kamerhe knows how to give value to a post”.

Will the Tshisekedi-Kamerhe pairing, which appeared a few months before the 2018 elections, be back? “There is of course the judicial aspect,” says a presidential source. “But in order for them to arrive at an acquittal, Tshisekedi had to give his consent. [It was a result of] long political negotiations. The president is interested in Kamerhe’s support in 2023”. Kambale adds, “Kamerhe has a role to play, especially in these troubled times in the East. His experience in the management of armed conflict is essential to finding a way out of the crisis”.

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