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China launched military complex in DRC but ‘digitalcongo’ gave story no context

China teamed up with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 29, 2024, to launch a bold and elaborate – yet controversial – military project whose coverage most media outlets, intriguingly, gave a wide berth.

Defence minister Jean-Pierre Bemba was in Likasi in northern Katanga, the richest and mineral heartland of DRC. Accompanied by some top officials of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), the burly Bemba laid the foundation stone for the first military manufacturing plant in the country.

In its report, digitalcongo toasted the project as a big achievement for the country. “The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will be equipped with its first military industry in the coming days, according to a statement from the Ministry of [Defence]”, the story said in the intro.

Reporter Ilenda wa Ilenda, writing from Kinshasa, noted that Bemba, who is also a Vice-Prime Minister, launched the “military industrial complex”, adding that digitalcongo had seen the dossier with details on the facility. His story was titled, “Armed forces: the DRC soon to be equipped with a complex [defence] industrial complex.”

“According to the document consulted [nay, say ‘seen’] by digitalcongo.cd, the construction of this military building is part of the implementation of strategic partnership agreements, signed in Beijing in 2023 at the summit level between [President] Félix Tshisekedi and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart,” rendered the English translation of the story from French.

According to reporter Ilenda wa Ilenda, the same document from the Ministry of Defence also spoke of “a partnership agreement between President Tshisekedi and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan when [the latter] visited Kinshasa in 2022.” And what was it about?

“The military industrial complex in Likasi is the result of Chinese and Turkish cooperation. The Chinese side, through the Noringo company, will be responsible for the production of military equipment, while Turkey, through the MKE company, will handle the manufacturing of war munitions”, the publication responded.

It was clear that reporter Ilenda wa Ilenda and the entire editorial team at digitalcongo mishandled the all-important story by failing to answer basic questions and offering context. First, what explains the timing of the construction of this facility when the Kinshasa administration i battling internal conflicts largely fronted by the M23 to the east of the huge country? And why is China keen on having the project in the mineral-rich Katanga? Pray, could this be China’s direct way of supporting DRC’s military so as to protect its mining of high-value minerals, including cobalt and other metals used in the manufacture of smartphones, electric vehicles and other products that use rechargeable batteries?

“One of the biggest deals in the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is also one of the dirtiest,” JR Mailey, director of investigations at The Sentry investigative and policy organization, wrote in “The Backchannel,” a report on China’s mining operations in the DRC. And that, according to adf-magagine.com in its publication of November 22, 2022.

Second, digitalcongo gave no information on the companies from China and Turkey slated to “produce military equipment and manufacture war munitions.” What are those services, in simple terms? Your average-thinking reader would want to know.

Third, what will be the average cost of this military project in Katanga? Is it a loan or a grant? And if it’s a loan, for how long will the DRC government service it/them, and for how long? Using what resources: currency or mineral resources?

Fourth, what’s the implication of the proposed military manufacturing plant on the internal conflict in DRC vis-à-vis regional and global efforts for peace negotiations in the armed conflagration? Does this latest ‘Chinese military boost’ explain President Tshisekedi’s latest disregard for diplomatic resolutions to the conflict, in the hope that China will now manufacture munitions and provide drones right within his reach?

Fifth, there has been a significant movement to this story that digitalcongo – although it’s an online publication – has yet to capture. And it bears all the intrigues surrounding the launched facility, and the combined Chinese and President Tshisekedi’s interests. Look, Defence minister Jean-Pierre Bemba laid the foundation stone for the project during the day, then the President pulled a quick one on him at midnight! He signed the order appointing the 45-Cabinet members of Prime Minister Judith Suminwa in which Jean-Pierre Bemba was moved to take up the same portfolio at the less-lucrative Ministry of Transport and Communications.

It’s worth noting that Bemba is a former rebel leader jailed by the International Criminal Court, accused of murders, rapes and pillaging committed by his Movement for the Liberation of Congo forces in the neighbouring Central African Republic. The ICC acquitted him in 2018. He has always maintained his innocence. He was appointed the defence minister nine months ahead of Congo’s presidential held in December 2023. Analysts say President Tshisekedi used the appointment to help him (Tshisekedi) win votes in DRC’s war-torn northeast, where Bemba’s rebel group was popular in the 1990s and 2000s.

Lesson learnt? Details are the lifeblood of stories. A journalist without details – and is lazy enough as not to seek them – had better ditch the story altogether. As the Congolese would put it in Lingala language, ‘tika nasala boye’ (let it be).

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