The US administration under President Joe Biden has slapped financial sanctions on Guinea’s former President Alpha Conde and the son of Mali’s ... former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to mark International Anti-Corruption Day on Friday 9 December.
And they hugged each other, as though nothing had happened. Elegant dark suit for one, sky blue checkered suit for the other, they embraced, as if to indicate the last two years were nothing more than a bad dream. During their first official reunion, on Tuesday 28 June, Félix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe spoke for nearly three hours at Kinshasa’s Cité de l’Union Africaine. A sequence both expected and surprising, which signifies the great return to politics of the former chief of staff, acquitted on 23 June.
‘Winning the war’
“We didn’t only talk about the challenges, we talked about how to overcome them,” said Kamerhe at the end of the interview. The two men spoke in particular about eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the president of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) is from and where the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23) rebellion has been stoking conflict in recent weeks.
“We cannot win a war without sorting out the army,” Kamerhe added, commenting on his exchanges with the DRC’s President. “You can’t win a war without having intelligence and security services that work and are proactive.”
Put yourself in the President’s shoes!
Does he hold Tshisekedi responsible – if only in part – for his judicial problems? Kamerhe answered this question indirectly, recounting the council of ministers during which his fate was sealed in early 2020. “That day, I had malaria,” he begins. “The prime minister at the time [Sylvestre Ilunga Ilukamba] said that $77m [for the ‘100 days’ programme] had been paid instead of $7m. Put yourself in the President’s shoes! He jumped out of his chair and immediately called for an audit. But the justice minister [Tunda Ya Kasende] said he was looking into it and would investigate the matter. As I was not afraid, I went to the Matete prosecutor’s office, without knowing that it was the route to Makala prison. And here I am today at the Cité de l’Union Africaine”.
Arrested in April 2020, tried for his role in the mismanagement of funds for the “100 days” programme, Kamerhe was sentenced to 20 years in prison and 10 years of ineligibility for public office. Along with one of his two co-defendants, Lebanese businessman Samih Jammal, he was found guilty of embezzling more than $50m. In June 2021, this sentence was reduced on appeal to 13 years’ imprisonment, a sentence that was overturned by the Cour de Cassation, which allowed for a new trial.
The keyword today is forgiveness.
“This first trial was cynical,” Kamerhe continued. “When I proclaimed my innocence, nobody wanted to believe me. But the President respected the independence of the justice system, and I appreciated that. I knew I was innocent and time has proven me right. The keyword today is forgiveness.”
The UNC boss, who had served as president of the national assembly under former president Joseph Kabila, took advantage of the meeting to reaffirm his loyalty to Tshisekedi. He said he was ready to strengthen their political partnership – the UNC is a member of the Union Sacrée alliance and several of its members are in government.
Does he see himself as prime minister now that Kabila no longer controls the executive? “I see myself as a citizen ready to serve his people,” he said.
Kamerhe is a man with ambitions. According to sources, he has already asked for the restructuring of the Union Sacrée, the heterogeneous and unreliable majority that he hopes to control. Sources also say Tshisekedi has not ruled out putting Kamerhe in charge.
#RDC: Vital Kamerhe a réitéré sa loyauté envers Félix Tshisekedi et se dit prêt à renforcer le partenariat politique qui le lie au Chef se l'Etat à travers leurs partis politiques, UNC et UDPS pic.twitter.com/FTgCizGAjR
— Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala (@StanysBujakera) June 29, 2022
#DRC: Vital Kamerhe reiterated his loyalty to Félix Tshisekedi and said he was ready to strengthen his political partnership with the head of state through their political parties, the UNC and UDPS
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