The High Court in Gombe, Kinshasa, has found Vital Kamerhe, former chief of staff to President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, guilty of embezzlement and sentenced him to twenty years in prison. His co-accused, Lebanese real estate developer Jammal Samih, got the same sentence. They were accused of diverting money meant for President Tshisekedi’s 100 Days Program to fake companies, including about US$50 million earmarked for public housing.
Kamerhe had been in charge of overseeing 100 Days Program, an ambitious infrastructure project with an allocated budget of just under US$500 million.
The proceedings have been the subject of much political debate in the DRC, as Kamerhe is also the leader of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation political party, a member of Tshisekedi’s Cap pour le Changement (CACH) coalition. Kamerhe may have taken the fall for the botched rollout of the 100 Days Program, but in truth this case was also about Tshisekedi and his desire to set himself apart from his predecessor, former president Joseph Kabila. Many accuse Kabila of striking a deal with Tshisekedi ahead of the 2018 presidential election in order to remain an influential force in the next government.
There was justifiable concern over the awarding of contracts to cronies
Acknowledging the Congolese people’s desire for recognizable and immediate change from past governance, Tshisekedi launched the 100 Days Program on March 2, 2019, even though the DRC did not have an elected parliament yet. The legality and legitimacy of the project were suspect from the outset, which may have passed unremarked had it proven successful. Justifiable concern over the awarding of contracts to cronies and poor judgment in the allocation of funds continued to hamper the initiative.
Officially, “l’affaire Kamerhe” may be over, but as a political omen it is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.