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DRC: ‘I do social politics’ says Olive Lembe Kabila, influential wife of former president

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Friday, 23 April 2021 22:55, updated on Monday, 26 April 2021 14:51

Olive Lembe Di Sita Kabila, Joseph Kabila’s wife, on 27 September 2007. FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS/BELGA/MAXPPP

For a long time, DRC’s former president Joseph Kabila's wife was careful to remain in the shadows.

Today, Olive Lembe Kabila is very active on social media and swears that she does not want to enter politics or overshadow the new first lady, Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi.

Here are 10 things to know about Olive Lembe Kabila.

An extended family

Olive Lembe Di Sita Kabila was born on 29 July 1975 in Kailo, a small town in Maniema, in eastern DRC. She is the daughter of Barnabé Sita Kinsumbu and Léonie Kasembe Okomba. However, she was not raised by her biological father (who had gone back to Kinshasa), but rather a Belgian man named Adam Camille, who worked for the Société Minière du Kivu, in Sominki. Young Olive was surrounded by a large mixed family growing up, which included two brothers (Coco and Niwel) and two sisters (Nono and Dina) on her father’s side as well as two brothers (Thierry and Jean-Paul) and a sister (Stéphanie) on her mother’s side.

Mausoleum

Kabila did not really know her biological father, who died in Kinshasa only a few years after leaving Maniema. However, in the 2000s, she reconnected with her father’s family, with whom she has a good relationship. In keeping with Mayombe customs, she had her father’s remains transferred from the Kinsuka cemetery in Kinshasa to Boma, in central DRC. She also had a mausoleum erected in his honour.

Self-taught

She was still a child when her stepfather was transferred to North Kivu. Kabila, her brothers and sister were enrolled in school there. A few years later in Goma, she obtained a diploma in general pedagogy, but her family couldn’t afford to send her to university. At the start of the 1990s, she began trading in agricultural products – mainly maize and beans.

Meeting Joseph

Her business flourished and she sent goods to Kinshasa. She knew that supplying the army would guarantee her a very comfortable income, and so she met with several officers. One day in 1997, she met Joseph Kabila, whose father had just overthrown Marshal Mobutu and come into power. At the time, Joseph was the commander of the ground forces. From their union, two children were born: Sifa (in 2001) and Laurent-Désiré (in 2008).

Marriage

She is as Catholic as he is Protestant. Their wedding – which took place in 2006 in Kinshasa, five years into Joseph Kabila’s presidential term – took the form of a large ecumenical ceremony and was held in their presidential residence in the Gombe district. A priest, Cardinal Frédéric Etsou Nzabi Bamungwabi, and a pastor, Marini Bodo, officiated the ceremony together. The bride and groom also received Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo’s blessing.

Even today, their relatives and friends say that the couple lead a “rather quiet” life. “You can often find Joseph in the kitchen, preparing a meal,” they say. Kabila maintains good relations with her husband’s family, including Jaynet, his twin sister, and Zoé, his brother who became governor of Tanganyika Province.

Neither PPRD nor FCC

Although Kabila plays the role of shadow adviser to her husband, she is neither a member of the Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et la Démocratie (PPRD) nor of the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC), Joseph Kabila’s political platform. However, in 2018 she did publicly support the candidacy of Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, her husband’s preferred successor who, like her, is originally from Maniema.

Moderate

She is used to playing the role of moderator. Even as DRC’s President Félix Tshisekedi and his allies do everything in their power to marginalise her husband politically, she publicly insists that it is Tshisekedi, and not her husband, who is the one in charge.

Does she do this in order to prove that she is politically neutral and has good relationships with everyone? On 8 July 2020, she visited the family of Vital Kamerhe, the head of state’s former chief of staff who was sentenced a few weeks earlier to 20 years in prison for corruption. Then in September, she took the time to exchange a few words with Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Mouvement de Libération du Congo, and his wife when they came to pay their respects to Antoinette Sassou’s younger sister at the Notre-Dame du Congo Cathedral.

Ambitious?

When people ask Kabila if she intends to enter politics, she replies by saying: “I do social politics, not political politics.” She says she has no desire to pick a fight with Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi, the new first lady who is also very active on social media and to whom she is often compared. “I have no intention of usurping a status that is no longer mine,” she said publicly last September, anxious not to let it be said that she is intentionally overshadowing the head of state’s wife. “Stop calling me first lady,” she later said to her aides. “Call me instead ‘rural first lady.’”

Translation: #DRC: To those who still call her “First Lady”, Olive Lembe Kabila reminds them that her “status has changed.” “I have no intention of usurping a status that is no longer mine,” said the wife of Joseph Kabila in regards to the status of Felix Tshisekedi’s wife on Sunday.

Initiative Plus

This is the name of her non-governmental organisation, launched just after her marriage. Through it, Kabila devotes herself to charitable programmes in the fields of education, health and agriculture. She is currently involved in building schools and hospitals, distributing school kits and helping women farmers. These activities have earned her the nickname of “maman wa roho” (woman of the heart, in Kiswahili).

Our Lady of Peace

As a testimony to her faith, she launched the construction of the new cathedral of the Goma diocese in 2014. The old one had been partially destroyed by a lava flow during the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in 2002. This new building is expected to seat more than 3,000 people, and Kabila dreams of making it one of the largest cathedrals in Africa.

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