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TSHISEKEDI’S MATRIX OF PLUNDERING KATANGA: How The President, His Mother, Brothers (Thierry & Christian Tshisekedi) Son (Anthony Tshisekedi) & Fifi Masuka Are Feasting On Lualaba Minerals

The names of several members of President Félix Tshisekedi’s family keep quietly cropping up in connection with artisanal mining in Lualaba. Some of the sites invaded by artisanal miners last year are owned by Kazakhstan’s Eurasian Resources Group.

On the phone from one of his regular haunts, Dubai or Johannesburg, “Monsieur Coco” was getting into his stride. “I’m going to have you whipped, you fool,” he shouted, in a volley of insults and threats aimed at the boss of a mining subcontractor, who was taken aback by the violent outburst. “If you don’t stop, you’re going to have to leave the city, you’re going to have to leave Katanga”.

Coco Muya doesn’t take kindly to being told “no” in business and has his own distinct way of making that known. That telephone call, a recording of which was obtained by Africa Intelligence, would attest as much.

The businessman, who hails from President Félix Tshisekedi’s home province, Kasai Oriental, describes himself as a long-standing supporter of the head of state’s party, the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS). He is best known as the first vice president of the Kasai football club, Sa Majesté Sanga Balende, based in Mbuji Mayi.

In Lualaba, one of the four provinces created by the splitting up of Greater Katanga in 2015, Coco Muya has no known background in the mining sector.

But he is considered to be in charge of the artisanal miners – some 40,000 “creuseurs” [diggers] that he claims are subsumed under the Sokomisumo cooperative – who invaded Boss Mining’s Menda Central copper and cobalt concession (permit 467) last year.

A subsidiary of the Luxembourg-based Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), in which the Kazakh government has a 40% stake, Boss Mining had its operations suspended last May by Mines Minister Antoinette Nsamba. She accused the company of failing to meet its environmental obligations and to have caused the “loss of human life” at the site. It so happens that the man on the receiving end of Muya’s phone call was Christian Bahati, owner of one of Boss Mining’s subcontractors, Kivu Metals Corp (KMC).

SELF-STYLED ‘MINIATURE TSHISEKEDI’

On the call, Muya claimed to be acting on behalf of the ruling UDPS party and its radical activists – or “fighters” as they call themselves. “Us fighters,” he told Bahati, “we’ve decided that this mine is for us.” “I fought alongside Etienne Tshisekedi [ed. note: the current president’s father and a historic opposition figure] for 20 years,” Muya went on. “Watch out, you’re talking to a miniature Tshisekedi.”

Since the first waves of artisanal miners started arriving in mid-2023, Boss Mining and its subcontractors – notably MSL, a company run by a Russian named Sergey Steshenko – have been trying to assert their rights to the site.

Further complicating matters is the fact that the miners’ intrusions have been accompanied by the repeated presence of soldiers from the Forces Armées dela République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC)’s 22nd Military Region as well as members of the Garde Républicaine (GR), despite the general staff banning them from entering mining concessions.

Alerted to the situation, ERG’s CEO, German national Benedikt Sobotka, made several attempts to intervene with President Tshisekedi, who appeared uncomfortable by the idea that members of his family had potentially been involved.

The subject came up in late 2023 during a defence council meeting chaired by the head of state, that GR chief, Major General Ephraim Kabi Kiriza, was asked to attend. During the meeting, Tshisekedi ordered the eviction of the soldiers, and more specifically the members of the GR, who were occupying ERG’s concessions.

While those instructions were initially followed, in late January soldiers returned to Menda, where Boss Mining operates, and to Mashitu, a site belonging to Comide, another ERG subsidiary active in Lualaba.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

ERG is concerned that Boss Mining’s permits will not be renewed next April, but that’s far from the only problem the group is facing. Its other concessions, held by its Congolese subsidiaries Comide and Swanmines, have also fallen prey to artisanal miners protected by FARDC soldiers. The situation is such
that it is now impossible for the group’s employees to enter certain sites for fear of being threatened or assaulted.

This hold-up has very real financial consequences for ERG. According to various estimates, Boss Mining is incurring losses of income of between $2m and $3m a month. That represents a relatively small dip in earnings for the subsidiary, whose permits were in the process of getting back up and running. Swanmines, meanwhile, is haemorrhaging money, with losses of between $250m and $300m last year. In parallel, ERG also has to contend with legal proceedings that it brought before two arbitration courts in Paris and Geneva,
in a bid to preserve ownership of one of Swanmines’ permits (number 591).

State-owned company Gécamines had sought to recover it before the commercial court in Lubumbashi, although later withdrew its request in favour of arbitration. Gécamines claims ERG had never sufficiently developed the permit (AI, 06/04/23). The Congolese side, which was demanding $50m in compensation, has since upped the ante. It is now asking for $300m.

MAMA FIFI PROSPERS

If the situation has become so delicate for ERG, it’s also due to the alleged involvement of key figures from the Congolese government. First and foremost is Lualaba’s current governor, Fifi Masuka Saini, who was appointed head of the province in 2021 thanks to the decisive support of President Tshisekedi and First Lady Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi.

“Maman Fifi,” as she is affectionately known by her supporters, ousted Richard Muyej, a figure from Joseph Kabila’s former regime, following a major political crisis in 2021. Very close to Dany Banza, Tshisekedi’s representative in Katanga who has a deep understanding of the local political ecosystem, she has since then consolidated her power by getting rid of her predecessor’s loyal supporters one by one.

Now ruling the roost alone in Lualaba, Maman Fifi has a long history in the mining sector, where she prospered with her Coopérative Minière pour le Bien-Etre des Exploitants Artisanaux du Katanga (Comibakat).

That cooperative has continued to operate since she became governor, but she maintains that it is now being run by her “children and cousins” (AI, 28/07/23).

However, Africa Intelligence was able to establish that Comibakat operates on the Menda Central site, where Boss Mining’s operations were suspended. A document signed on 3 October 2023 by the Lualaba provincial mining division attests to this. It refers to the transportation of 40 tonnes of copper, on behalf of Comibakat, from the Menda quarry to Chinese company MKM’s processing site in Kolwezi.

Contacted by Africa Intelligence, Fifi Masuka did not respond to our requests for comment. According to several sources, Comibakat goes by other names, notably Sokomisumo, to keep its on-site activities as discreet as possible. This is the very same name that Coco Muya uses to operate on the concession – with the support of several Lebanese nationals, including a certain “Wissam” and a certain “Mussam” – which suggests that he is acting indirectly on behalf of the governor. Also contacted by Africa Intelligence, Muya could not be reached for comment.

NIGHTCLUB AND GUEST HOUSE

Although Fifi Masuka claims to have distanced herself from Comibakat’s management, her business dealings have flourished since her 2021 appointment as provincial governor. She is believed to own a series of properties on a recently tarmacked avenue protected by sentry boxes in Kolwezi, as well as in Lubumbashi. In the provincial capital of Haut-Katanga, the governor owns the Insomnia nightclub, which opened late last year and is managed by Mass Investment Group.

One of her sons, Jeffrey Masuka Saini, runs an impressive guest house on Avenue Mama Yemo. He also serves as cabinet director to Lualaba’s provincial economy minister. Another of her children, Kevin Masuka, is believed to have taken over the exploitation of several artisanal mining sites – notably those based around the Tilwezembe mine – which were previously managed by Yves Muyej, the son of the former governor.

LOYALTY AND DEFERENCE

In return for her gubernatorial appointment, which she looks almost certain to keep in the upcoming election this year, “Maman Fifi” has demonstrated unwavering loyalty and deference to President Tshisekedi. So much so that when the head of state paid tribute to her at a public ceremony in August 2023, she broke down in tears. His support has helped her find a relative balance between the interests of her province, her own and those of the presidential clan. Her loyalty is precious for Félix Tshisekedi who is all too aware of Lualaba’s importance for the Congolese economy, as well as the country’s tricky political balancing act. This was all the more true in the run-up to the elections in late December 2023, when the president sought to contain any potential flare-ups in Katanga. He strove both to curb the influence of his main opponent, former provincial governor Moïse Katumbi, while also trying to quash the networks of his predecessor, Kabila. Tensions between Kasaians (who hail from the president’s home province) and Katangese remain particularly acute.

Masuka’s appointment as provincial governor, as well as her business dealings in the mining industry, have nevertheless stirred up discontent among local civil society. In a memorandum dated August 2023, several organisations expressed concern about an artisanal sector “taken hostage by a few powerful members of the regime, including the presidential family, the UDPS and, in Lualaba’s case, the governor’s family”.

Criticisms of the Tshisekedi clan’s involvement are frequent, but until now have never been properly substantiated. However, it crops up in the background of a number of Lualaba-based affairs.

MAMAN MARTHE (TSHISEKEDI’S MOTHER)

Several of our sources claim Coco Muya acts as a front to the business dealings of Thierry Tshisekedi, the president’s younger brother. However, the businessman denied such claims in a phone call with the Kivu Metals Corp boss, telling him to “not involve the presidential family” in the affair. Yet a report drawn up by ERG last June during a raid by the FARDC inspectorate general at Swanmine’s Kalukundi site also refers to Coco Muya’s involvement. The document, revealed by Africa Intelligence (AI, 28/07/23), details on-site interviews in which Coco Muya is described as coordinator of the artisanal miners, and Thierry Tshisekedi as activities supervisor. “Maman Marthe,” the president’s mother, is depicted as the artisanal mining operation’s ultimate beneficiary.

Another indication that members of the presidential family have interests in Lualaba are their frequent comings and goings. It is not uncommon to see Thierry and Christian Tshisekedi – the president’s other brother – at the Kolwezi Lodge or the Moon Palace hotel, two chic establishments in the provincial capital.

One of the president’s sons, Anthony Tshisekedi, also makes regular trips to Kolwezi from Lubumbashi, where he was appointed by his father to the board of Sicomines – a joint venture between Gécamines and Chinese partners. While President Tshisekedi and his wife rarely travel outside Kinshasa, they were seduced by their new presidential palace in Kolwezi – a project that dates back to Richard Muyej’s governorship, but that was completed under Fifi Masuka.

According to one of the couple’s evening visitors, the first lady was particularly taken by the abundant marble adorning the building’s interior.

CREDIT: AFRICAN INTELLIGENCE

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