Profile: Moise Katumbi, the Opposition Leader giving DR Congo President Joseph Kabila Sleepless Nights

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Moïse Katumbi Chapwe, the new thorn in the foot of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila is a high profile politician and businessman.

He has been described by The Economist as “probably the second most powerful man in the country after, Joseph Kabila“. Jeune Afrique named him “African of the Year” in 2015

Katumbi was the Governor of the Katanga Province, located in the southern part of the DRC, from 2007 to September 2015. By then he was a member of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) until September 2015. PPRD is a party formed by Congolese Kabila.

He was born on December 28, 1964 to a Congolese mother and a GreekItalian father, Nissim Soriano.

Sources say that Katumbi’s father, a Sephardic Jew, fled Rhodes Island in 1938 with his two sisters after the introduction by the Italian fascist regime of the discriminatory Racial Laws (Rhodes was ruled by Italy since 1912).

Sariano would later settle in Katanga, a province of the Congo, which was a Belgian colony at the time.

Katumbi’s mother was of Kazembe royalty who would later get engaged to the ‘white man’ especially at a time when racial divisions in Belgium Congo were at the apex. But being the daughter of Mwata Kazembe XIV, a royal family at the time, the development wasn’t a surprising one.

After the marriage, family adopted the name Katumbi from a great grandfather on his mother’s side.

Katumbi grew up in the village of Kashobwe near Lake Mweru near the border of Zambia. His father was involved in the fishing trade.

He studied at the Kiwele school of Lubumbashi and the Kapolowe mission. He is married to Carine Katumbi. His older half-brother is Raphael Katebe Katoto, a businessman and retired politician who was a member of RCD-Goma and led a political party that opposed Congolese president Joseph Kabila in 2006.

Katumbi’s career began in the fishing industry when he was 13. He sold salted and fresh fish to the state-owned mining company Gécamines.

In 1987, he created the holding company Etablissement Katumbi to aggregate all of his business activities including mining, transportation, and food processing.

Katumbi founded MCK (Mining Company Katanga) in 1997, which specialized in mining and logistics and subcontracted for mining companies in the region, including Gécamines. By 2015, the company had grown to 1900 employees and was a leading mining company in the country. French company Necotrans bought MCK in November 2015 for an undisclosed amount.

Around 2000, during the Second Congo War, Katumbi moved to Zambia, where he had business ties in transportation. He returned to the DRC in 2003 by invitation from President Kabila, who urged Katumbi to help fix the mining industry in Katanga.

Political Career

In 2006, Katumbi was elected as a deputy in the National Assembly. He was elected as the first democratically-elected Governor of the Katanga Province in January 2007, receiving 94 votes out of 102.

Katumbi’s governance has been credited with bringing economic revival to the province through developing infrastructure, encouraging foreign investment with tax breaks and reduced government procedures, and targeting corruption.

Through Katumbi’s efforts as governor, local taxes increased from $80 million in 2007 to more than $3 billion in 2014. Annual revenues increased from 100 million in 2007 to 1.5 billion by 2013.

Shortly after he took office as governor, Katumbi implemented an export ban for raw minerals, including cobalt, forcing major mining companies to either build processing plants in the province or pay a tax on the exported concentrate. Under Katumbi, copper production increased from 8,000 metric tons in 2006 to more than 1 million tons in 2014.

Along with mining, Katumbi focused on expanding other areas of the province’s economy including the service industry, energy and agriculture. He offered both free farmland and tax breaks for farmers to encourage food production. Reliance on imported food decreased 68% between 2006 and 2011. In 2014, the amount of food grown locally had tripled.

The accomplishments of his administration included improving travel and commerce through the building or rebuilding more than 1,500 kilometers (approximately 30%) of roads and the increase in other infrastructure, including bridges, hospitals and schools.

Access to clean water rose from 3% to 67% between 2007 and 2013. Additionally, within 6 years, the number of children attending school increased from 400,000 in 2007 to 3 million in 2014. The number of girls enrolled in school tripled.

Worker-focused initiatives included encouraging local mining companies to invest in growing crops for their employees and the banning of “unnecessary dismissal of employees”.

In 2006 and 2011, Katumbi supported Joseph Kabila‘s campaigns to run for President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, Katumbi publicly distanced himself from Kabila in 2015.

Katumbi has been outspoken about his belief that President Kabila should follow the country’s constitution and step down as president in 2016.

In January 2016, Katumbi joined other high-profile Congolese figures in a coalition dubbed “Front Citoyen 2016”. The entity aims to protect the constitution and ensure that the 2016 presidential elections take place.

He is against Katanga secession from Congo, which is supported by a section of the province’s population.

Football

Since 1997, Katumbi has been the president of the football team TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi. The team has won the CAF Champions League title five times, including 2009, 2010, and 2015, and became the first African team to play in the FIFA Club World Cup finals in 2010.

Katumbi has invested heavily in the team and been credited by the media and public as one of the reasons for the club’s success. Under his tenure, the team has recruited players from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ghana, and Zambia, and retained local players by paying the highest wages for players in Africa.

Katumbi invested $35 million in building the team a stadium which was completed in 2011.

Katumbi began a football academy in 2012 as a social program to engage and train young Congolese people in the province of Katanga. In 2015, 2,000 young men were enrolled in the academy.

In 2012, Katumbi was elected to the FIFA strategic commission. In 2013, he was elected to the Africa Cup of Nations organizing committee, which he is slated to chair until 2017. He has also served on the marketing committee of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) since 2009.