'loyal man'

DRC/Chérubin Okende death: The man who chose Katumbi over Tshisekedi

By Socrate Nsimba

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Posted on July 14, 2023 08:36

Former Transport Minister Chérubin Okende, a close associate of Moïse Katumbi, was found dead, his body riddled with bullets, on Thursday July 13 in Kinshasa.

In DRC, the former minister and spokesperson for the opposition party of Moïse Katumbi, was found dead on 13 July in Kinshasa.

The circumstances surrounding his murder remain shrouded in mystery. We take a look back at the journey of this former trade union leader turned politician.

It’s 2019 and Kinshasa has just emerged from electoral fever. Chérubin Okende is making rounds at the constitutional court. Along with a few opposition deputies, this close ally of Moïse Katumbi has come to contest the annulment of his election as a national deputy for the city of Kinshasa following the December 2018 polls.

His perseverance was not in vain. After several days of protest, the constitutional court would eventually affirm his victory, acknowledging an error on their part in the process.

Okende thus returned to the Palace of the People. He had served as deputy within the transition Parliament (2003-2006) and then from 2006-2011, then found his way back to the assembly after years without a prominent political role. Ironically, it was in front of the constitutional court, which had reinstated his rights, where the deputy, found dead on Thursday 13 July, was last seen.

Weapon found in the vehicle

Judge Sylvain Lumu had invited Okende there so he could provide additional information regarding his wealth declaration as a former minister of transport and communication channels.

He was expected on 13 July, but appeared at the location on the afternoon of 12 July, according to his relatives. He then sent his bodyguard to deliver a letter requesting the meeting to be postponed to Friday, 14 July. It was only upon leaving the building that his colleague noticed the deputy had disappeared. According to our information, Okende’s bodyguard was heard at the military auditorium on 13 July.

Okende, who was found dead in his vehicle, was transferred to the morgue later in the morning. The constitutional court, during a press conference, stated that a weapon had been found inside the vehicle. The air conditioning was still running, and Okende, his shirt covered in blood, was seated in the driver’s seat.

Faithful to Katumbi

Okende had been a minister within the first government of Sama Lukonde Kyenge. During this time, the minister had been heavily involved in the Air Congo project, a new airline whose project launch he had announced in October 2021, but which did not come to fruition.

He was one of six ministers in the government from the political family of Katumbi before the reshuffle on 24 March. When Moïse Katumbi distanced himself from Tshisekedi, whom he had joined at the end of 2020 to isolate Joseph Kabila, some ministers – including Okende – chose to leave the government to support the candidacy of the former governor of Katanga in the next presidential election.

In contrast, Christophe Lutundula and Muhindo Nzangi, the ministers of foreign affairs and education, respectively, chose to stay by President Tshisekedi’s side.

Within Together for the Republic, Katumbi’s party, which he had joined, renouncing his own group, the Social Front of Independent Republicans, Okende served as spokesperson. Known for his sobriety, this lawyer by training began his professional life as a trade union leader.

He was general secretary of the Autonomous Union of Workers of the current Congolese Control Office (OCC) between 1992 and 2005 and also held the position of national president of the General Confederation of Autonomous Union (CGSA). He balanced these responsibilities with a commitment within civil society. It was, in fact, his position as vice-president of the Civil Society of Congo (Socico) that enabled him to participate in the Inter-Congolese dialogue of Sun City, which earned him a seat within the transition Parliament.

“Political assassination”

The announcement of his death has triggered immense emotion and numerous reactions within the Congolese political class.

Present in Abidjan for the General Assembly of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Katumbi denounced the “political assassination” of a “good, very peaceful and very loyal” man. “He carried the voice of the party, they want to silence us,” the former governor of Katanga told us, before announcing his intention to return to Kinshasa as soon as possible.

The presidency, on the other hand, has communicated that Tshisekedi was “dismayed by the tragic circumstances” of Chérubin Okende’s disappearance. The head of state has “urged Justice to shed all light on this case in order to punish the perpetrators of this ignoble act”.

Jean-Marc Chataigner, EU ambassador to DRC, expressed his “dismay” and called for “full light to be shed on this horrific crime and for those responsible to be brought to justice”. The US embassy in DRC also condemned the “brutal murder” of the spokesperson for Together for the Republic. “We urge Congolese authorities to expedite the promised investigation into this heinous act,” the American diplomatic services said.

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