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Cows & high waists: Jobless Kenyans should speak Lingala, dance to Congolese music

A kilo of meat in Kenya is Sh400 or thereabouts depending on which side of Uhuru Highway the butchery is But in DRC the same goes for Sh1, 600. Are you thinking what I am thinking?

Sartorial elegance: The Bakongo might take loans in the millions not to buy cars, apartments, 40x 80 plots touching tarmac or shares. They pride in spotting original designer wear not herding cows in their high waist trousers.

By Shifa Mwihaki

Feature writer/Essayist

There are endless job opportunities and money to be made but only if you are a foot loose adventurer who can learn to speak Lingala, and  dance to Congolese rhumba.

It also helps if you speak French hata kama you don’t know much beyond saying bonjour. But it will be fine, come to think of it. Kiswahili is also a national language in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)-the country where Kenyan profiteers, prophets and prostitutes will make a fortune in the near future.

See, the DRC has formally applied for admission to the East African Community and will thus join Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. Somali tried pulling that move, can you imagine? It was told to take a hike to the sea.

For aggressive Kenyans seeking to improve their lot, the DRC will be the real deal. For starters, the Kenya shilling is 16 times stronger than the DRC Franc. One thousand Kenya shillings is Sh16, 000 in Kinshasa, its capital city, where you can eat Africa’s best fried tilapia, sip Simba, Skol, Primus or Tembo beers while listening to what the Congolese call muziki na biso, Franco’s songs like Ngungi and Odongo, Mario and Mamou.

A kilo of meat in Kenya is Sh400 or thereabouts depending on which side of Uhuru Highway your butchery is. But in DRC the same goes for Sh1, 600. Are you thinking what I am thinking? Let us go on.

One cabbage in DRC costs Sh300, but the same goes for Sh50 in Soko Mjinga along the Naivasha-Nairobi highway. Are you thinking what I am thinking? Not yet?

Kanda Ruto Man: Deputy President William Ruto kicked off a diplomatic storm when he mouthed that the DRC only has “high waist wearing musicians and not a single cow” and Kenyans can make a killing selling dairy products there.

One cabbage in Kenya, the size of the ball Daring Club Motema Pembe used in beating Gor Mahia 2-0 during the Confederation Cup in Kinshasa in November last year, costs Sh300. In Kenya, the same is Sh50 in Soko Mjinga along the Naivasha-Nairobi highway. Are you thinking what I am thinking?

The bulk of the timber you see being sold in yards in Nairobi is sourced from the DRC. The Congolese love fashion they even have a movement called La Sapeur, short for the Society of Ambience Makers and Elegant People. It was popularized by the late musician Papa Wemba in the 1970s and exists to date. The Sapeurs live for their fashion. It is not uncommon for a civil servant to take a Sh5 million bank loan in tranches and not buy a car, land, shares or a house, but the latest Brioni suits, laced Weston shoes.

The late reclusive billionaire Wilfred Murugi founded Mastermind Tobacco in 1988. He was an engineer with BAT. He saw smoking opportunities and made money on the back of selling cigarettes on the bonnet of his old Range Rover in DRC, then called Zaire. He was dealing in dollars. The profits were eye watering.

Now some Kenyans are already taking positions in the DRC as you and I spend our weekends watching the English Premier League or laying eggs in traffic, reading WhatsApp posts.

One pair of original Weston shoes costs around Sh40, 000…are you thinking what I am thinking?

Coffee with Koffi: Kenyans connect to the DRC through artists like Koffi Olomide who has performed here many times. The ground will soon shift from music to merchants.

When Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore died on the night of Sunday, July 1, this year, former presidential hopeful Peter Kenneth, a member of his Boy’s Club was in the DRC.

Kenneth did not even unpack inside his hotel room in Kinshasa. Bob was being cremated the following day. Kenneth had to take the next flight to Nairobi.  What was he doing in Africa’s richest country, but with the poorest people? the world’s leading producer of cobalt (a component in rechargeable batteries of electric cars) and Africa’s number one source of copper?

Well, Peter Kenneth has significant interests in Mayfair bank and Mayfair Insurance with footprints in Kenya, Malawi and Zambia. He was in the DRC for the opportunities about to be unleashed when it becomes part of the East African Community. Peter Kenneth was taking positions for his insurance concern.  

Then there is Deputy President William Ruto who visited the country in September 2018 and is said to have embarked on large-scale leasing of land in DRC-a country five times the size of Kenya. It has the world’s second longest river with a capacity to hydro-power the entire continent. Its vast fertile, virgin soils can make it the world’s largest agricultural producer.

The DRC has over 1000 different minerals besides being a major producer of gold, diamonds, uranium, coltan and even oil.    

When President Uhuru spends too much time and energy on something, just know there are business interests for the Kenyatta family

Kinshasa makambo: The DRC despite being resource-rich has been screwed by politicians but the peaceful handover of power after the 2018 elections might change things, kwa ground.

Forget Ebola and rebels. Peaceful elections saw opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi taking over from President Joseph Kabila in 2018. It was the first bloodless handover of power since its independence from the Belgians in 1960. If it becomes politically solid, the plunder might be halved, guns of war silenced somewhat.

President Uhuru Kenyatta knows that and has not been left behind. During his Inaugural Speech for his second term in 2017, he outlined part of his foreign policy as including the opening of Kenya’s borders for citizens from other African countries to come visit, work, study, own land and property, marry, settle and name their children Jean-Pierre Yampanya, Moreno Batamba Omondi.

Part of being included in the East African Community include; good governance and regional integration. The DRC has to agree to free movement of people and goods.

When President Uhuru spends too much time and energy on something, just know there are business interests for the Kenyatta family. He has also taken positions. The over 80 million Congolese will provide a ready market for businesses where the Kenyattas have interests: Brookside Dairies, Beta Healthcare and Chartis/AIG Insurance. There are also interests in minerals and aviation. Remember the cost of meat in DRC? President Uhuru has a cattle ranch in Nakuru County!

DRC is not landlocked but still depends on Kenya’s port of Mombasa and Dar in TZ. The side on which the Congo River joins the Atlantic Ocean is too rough for ships and shipping. Seen how Uhuru is weeding out stuff at the port of Mombasa? The SGR has to reach Kisumu? Hasn’t Jubilee pumped Sh3 billion to revamp the Kisumu port? Didn’t his family acquire huge land holdings previously held by the Delamere family in Naivasha-home of the Dry Port?

Goods will need maritime logistics in Mombasa before being transported via the SGR to the Naivasha Dry Port and onward to Kisumu port from where Lake Victoria will come in handy enroute to DRC. There is dough to be made in the pipeline of logistics and warehousing.

Besides being four times the size of Kenya, a largely underdevelopment behemoth: roads, houses, malls to be constructed. Tenders! Are you thinking what I am thinking?    

The money made in the DRC will need banks.

Kenya’s Equity will own the second largest bank in the DRC

Not a penny more, not a penny less: Equity Group CEO James Mwangi (smiling) after buying a controlling stake in the Commercial Bank of Congo from the family of George Forrest (not smiling) for Sh 10.7 billion.

Kenya’s Equity Bank saw the need and moved there in 2015 after buying ProCredit Bank, now the Equity Bank of Congo. Just recently it bought a controlling stake in the Commercial Bank of Congo from majority shareholder George Forrest’s family for Sh10.7 billion. Equity intends to merge the two and create the second largest bank in the DRC -source of its mega profits surpassing its subsidiary in Uganda.  

The DRC will thus be admitted to the East African Community. Voting for its admission was slotted for this November during the Head of States Summit in Arusha. It was postponed to 2020 as Burundi was missing in action.

 Raila, Mr Baba Man himself, has made trips there as the African Union envoy for infrastructure.  President Tshisekedi has come to Kenya as part of lobbying. The late Johnny Magufuli, the former president of TZ, promised to back the bid. In Rwanda, strongman Paul Kagame in whose country any Kenyan can visit with a national ID card, is the current chair of the East African Community. He has been pushing for the admission of DRC as part of his legacy.

So, yes, DRC will be a game changer in geopolitics, business, a playground for the carpetbaggers and money merchants… the reason to start polishing on Lingala, dance moves for Kofi Olomide’s songs like Papa Ngwasuma and Loi.

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