A top aide to Democratic Republic of Congo president, Felix Tshisekedi, has been arrested and detained on allegations of misappropriating public funds.
Vital Kamerhe, the chief of staff and a coalition partner to Tshisekedi was picked up on Wednesday, questioned and subsequently detained by police in the capital Kinshasa. The president’s spokesman, Kasongo Mwema, told the media: “The president does not comment on the decisions of the justice system.”
Police were forced to use tear gas to disperse Kamerhe faithful who had gathered at the public prosecutor’s office. The action was to enforce a ban on public gathering of more than 20 persons as a containment measure related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Reports indicate that in his hometown of Bukavu, located in eastern Congo, protests were held outside his party headquarters as hundreds of young people burned tyres and blocked roads.
Kamerhe’s arrest is seen by anti-corruption campaigners as a vindication of reports about corruption in high places within the government. But for President Tshisekedi, who took power in January 2019 campaigning to root out corruption, the development is a blow to his efforts.
The police chief of the capital, Kinshasa, confirmed to Reuters that the embattled official was driven by police to the Makala prison where he is being held. Sylvano Kasongo did not disclose what specific charges Kamerhe faced.Kamerhe has, however, denied all allegations of impropriety.
Kamerhe’s Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) party announced a coalition in Nairobi with the then main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) led by Tshisekedi. The CACH coalition won the December 2018 polls and Tshisekedi was sworn in.
One of the first appointments after taking office was announcing Kamerhe as chief of staff even though many had expected him to be named Prime Minister. The leader of government position was handed to Illunga Ilunkamba, a trusted political hand, months after Tshisekedi took office.
Analysts say the arrest could further weaken the coalition under whose terms Tshisekedi is expected to back a UNC candidate when next elections are held.
Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University says internal politicking from day one showed that the coalition was heading for breakup: “The coalition was important ahead of the elections, but ever since he was inaugurated, there have been people around Tshisekedi pushing him to get rid of Vital,” Stearns said.