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DRC: Jean Bamanisa Saïdi, Kisangani’s loved governor

By Gregory Mthembu-Salter in Kisangani
Posted on Thursday, 20 November 2014 15:13

It is a saturday morning in Kisangani, the sweltering riverside capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) oriental Province, and governor Jean Bamanisa Saïdi is in a hurry.

We are very unhappy that we have to export via Kinshasa. Very unhappy

His first stop is a Belgian-owned gold trading house. Bamanisa alights at the gate, dressed in a blue shirt and linen jacket, topped with a Panama hat.

After asking rapid-fire questions, Bamanisa learns that once the trading house has bought gold, government officials analyse and certify it.

They then send the gold to Kinshasa, where it is analysed and certified again. Only then can the gold be exported.

Irritated, the governor says the procedures are sluggish. “Why must so many officials be involved,” he asks, “when one or two would do?”

Bamanisa and his audience know the answer but do not say it. Usually, state officials demand payment to authorise valuable exports like gold.

Bamanisa turns to the requirement to send gold to Kinshasa. “We want everything to happen here in Kisangani,” he says.

“We are very unhappy that we have to export via Kinshasa. Very unhappy.”

After leaving, Bamanisa pauses to inspect road works and a bridge undergoing long-overdue repairs.

In the evening, the national TV news shows a clip of Bamanisa calling for Orientale’s gold exports to leave from Kisangani, just as he had hoped.

Bamanisa was born in Kisangani in 1964, the son of Alex Barlovatz, a Yugoslav doctor, and Violette Nyakato, from the province’s Ituri region.

Barlovatz emigrated in the 1930s and for decades ran a popular general practice in Kisangani that thrived despite all the conflict that has wracked the city since independence.

According to a businessman who knows the family well: “Everyone knew Barlovatz. He delivered half the town’s babies!”

Bamanisa went to university in Kisangani and afterwards headed to Kinshasa to go into business.

In 1987 he formed BAJE, which specialises in building maintenance, and later subsidiary PETRO BAJE, which distributes petroleum products.

Bamanisa entered politics in the early 2000s, and in 2006 was elected a member of the national assembly for Kisangani.

He loosely aligned himself with President Joseph Kabila, but is married to Caroline Bemba, the sister of opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Caroline is a parliamentarian for Jean-Pierre’s political party, and he is on trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

Unsurprisingly, Bamanisa was not Kabila’s first choice for governor in 2012. But provincial assembly members did not back Kabila’s choice and Bamanisa won by 48 votes to 45.

He is liked in Kisangani, where many compare him to Katanga’s governor Moïse Katumbi.

They are both mixed-race and the two have loudly denounced the parasitic relationship between Kinshasa and the provinces.

Another likeness is that they are both businessmen whose companies have remained active during their tenure as governor.

In 2013 Bamanisa’s Barnet Group signed an agreement with South Africa’s PPC to build a $230m cement factory in Orientale.

While Katanga is the country’s richest province, Orientale is only rich in potential.

Bamanisa’s mission is to bring prosperity to a province that is rich in natural resources.

During his two years in office, his efforts have paid off and Kisangani looks better than it has in years.

But Orientale is about 500,000km2 and nearly all of its infrastructure and state services are in need of vast improvements. ●

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