Life after power: Joseph Kabila, the gentleman farmer

Joseph Kabila
Former Congolese President Joseph Kabila

Joseph Kabila is not leaving politics behind. From his immense estate of Kingakati, the former Congolese head of state is pulling the strings.

For motorists in Kinshasa, Lumumba Boulevard is a nightmare. Construction has obstructed this artery, linking the city centre of the Congolese capital to its airport, for several months. In the long run, it should make traffic flow more smoothly, but for the time being, passengers are trapped for hours at a time.

On May 29, a special convoy made its way along the road in the middle of the day, carrying two containers with four African elephants. They were heading to Kingakati farm, owned by former President Joseph Kabila.

In this estate, located 50km east of the city, the former head of state built a large, second home while he was still in power. He had trees planted, and streetlights erected. A group of eight buildings are set on a plateau, overlooking the valley of the N’Sele River. In recent years, Kabila has been in the habit of bringing employees together to discuss strategy.

But, since leaving the presidency in January, he has made it his main residence. On March 4, he received his successor, Felix Tshisekedi. Now as leader of the parliamentary majority, Kabila continues to bring together the political leaders who have remained loyal to him, and there are many of them: on 1 May, it was the provincial governors of the Common Front for Congo (FCC) who were invited to attend; on 22 June, it was the turn of the senators of this coalition. But few have been able to enter his private apartments.

Private Noah’s Ark

Kabila’s home occupies only a small part of a much larger area. The N’Sele Valley Park is 10,000 hectares of green nature, cut off from the hustle and bustle of the capital, and surrounded by a 32km fence. There are antelopes, zebras, wildebeests, crocodiles, giraffes, buffaloes, and a 4-metre python. A dozen rhinos graze in a private enclosure. White and brown lions also have their own space. And, since May 29, a herd of elephants roam the area.

In this private Noah’s Ark, only the two emblems of the DR Congo are missing: the leopard, too difficult to keep in captivity, and the okapi, endemic to the DR Congo and protected by an American organization, the Okapi Conservation Project.

But that hasn’t hurt its appeal. Since its public opening in June 2018, six months before Kabila left the presidency, the park has become a major attraction in Kinshasa. Every weekend, some 1,700 visitors flock to this island for safaris, at a cost of 50,000 Congolese francs (€27).

Kabila discovered this Garden of Eden almost twenty years ago after becoming president following the assassination of his father, Laurent-Désiré. At the age of 29, Kabila had grown up between the maquis rebellion in South Kivu and Tanzania, where some of the continent’s most beautiful wildlife reserves were already located. He never felt too comfortable in Kinshasa – an anarchic capital of more than 10 million people – until he fell on this valley, where a peaceful river meanders.

Quickly, he installed a few prefabricated structures on one of the banks. “It was in these buildings that we prepared the negotiations for the Sun City agreements in 2002,” recalls Barnabé Kikaya bin Karubi, a close friend of Kabila since he took power. At this place, where the N’Sele river draws an “S”, the barracks has been replaced by a restaurant with a swimming pool.