DRC: Embattled Dan Gertler tries communication blitz
The communications operation led by Dan Gertler, an Israeli billionaire businessman very active in the DRC, has every chance of turning against him if the alliance between Felix Tshisekedi and Joseph Kabila comes to an end.
“This surprising and awkward video message ultimately did more harm than good for Dan Gertler.” This is how Jean-Claude Mputu, from the citizen platform Le Congo N’est Pas à Vendre (CNPAV), interpreted the communications operation conducted a month ago by the Israeli entrepreneur Gertler. And he is not alone.
Usually extremely discreet, the controversial businessman, close to former President Joseph Kabila, surprised everyone in mid-November by inviting journalists to a press conference in Kinshasa. In the end, instead of a face-to-face meeting, the participants in this unprecedented event had to make do with a pre-recorded video in English in which Gertler grandly announced that for him the time had come to “share with his Congolese brothers” the fruits of his investment and work in the extractive sector in the DRC.
He however didn’t provide any details – which are as of yet still unknown nearly a month later – of the modus operandi that he presented as a historic social justice operation.
Gaining Congolese favour
Gertler has been accused by his many detractors – including the economic transparency organisations Africa Panel Progress and Global Witness – of having used his presidential connections since the early 2000s to obtain low-cost mining permits, which he in turn resold at market prices. Through this practice he has been able to reap no less than $1.36 billion in undue profits according to these two organisations. As a result, Gertler has been under US sanctions since December 2018.
In spite of all his attempts to have Washington lift its measures against him, notably via former diplomats sympathetic to his cause, they were maintained. All his assets and bank accounts in the US remain seized. He is still prohibited from using the US dollar, and US citizens are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with him.
Despite the businessman trying through his communication actions to attract the favours of Congolese business leaders and politicians, the political and economic situation in the DRC is clearly less favourable to him now than in the past when Kabila reigned unchallenged. Although he would like to diversify his activities geographically beyond concentrating in mines and oil between Kasai and Lake Albert, he’s unable to do so because of restrictions imposed on him by the US.
As a result, it will be much more complicated for him to keep his assets and successful contracts linked to the copper, cobalt, diamond and oil industries, held via some fifty companies registered in tax havens and quantified by Global Witness since 2013.
The team formed between Félix Tshisekedi and his predecessor has been struggling in recent weeks. So much so that their pact of non-aggression in the mining sector, a remnant of the former regime and administered by Albert Yuma Mulimbi – who was faithful to Kabila – could be called into question. Even though Yuma remained chairman of the board of Gécamines, Sama Lukonde, who was close to the new president, became its general manager.
It was at the latter’s request that several contracts were made public, in particular that of the 2017 transfer by Gécamines to Gertler of its rights to collect royalties owed to the DRC from the Metalkol project, which was carried out near Kolwezi by the Kazakh ERG. According to the citizen platform CNPAV, the famous inauthentic press conference in November was precisely intended to divert attention at the time of the revelations of this new monopolisation of Congolese wealth.
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“In Kolwezi, Lubumbashi or Kinshasa, my interlocutors of all political stripes, even in pro-Kabila circles, wondered why Dan had come out with this, bringing attention to himself and stirring up accusations from the working classes, instead of continuing to establish discreet but solid links with the country’s ruling classes as he has always done,” says political scientist and activist Mputu.
The CNPAV platform, which held a video conference on this subject on December 7, now wants to put maximum pressure on President Tshisekedi and his entourage to release Gertler.
Communication campaign with a conspiratorial tone
“The new president spoke only once about the Israeli businessman, saying only that he did not see why he would prevent him from doing business in the DRC. In today’s politically sensitive environment, the president must understand that he could use popular resentment against Gertler to mark a shift from the old regime. This means, for example, allowing the Inspection générale des Finances (IGF) to examine the contracts signed with the Israeli contractor, and allowing an internal audit of Gécamines on the transactions carried out with him, ignoring Yuma’s opposition on this subject”, argues Mputu.
This is not the first time Gertler has attempted to reach out to the Congolese in recent months. At the beginning of July, the businessman, based in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, had launched a conspiratorial laced communication campaign on social networks, as well as a lawsuit in France against the NGOs.
A series of short videos in French had been made describing Global Witness and the Platform for the Protection of Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) as criminal organisations. They were accused of being foreign agents linked to George Soros and the UAE, attempting to, through their accusations against Gertler, destabilise the DRC by preventing or curbing investment in the mining sector.
Subsequently, his French lawyer, Eric Moutet, gave interviews with local media organisations in Kinshasa promoting Gertler’s point of view. Much of the public support garnered from this Internet and media campaign has been largely mitigated, having been relayed essentially only in pro-Kabilia circles of the web.