In the aftermath of violent political protests in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa and other major cities this month, Washington has now ordered all family members of government personnel stationed in the country to leave, and has halted most U.S. government travel there.
The move came one day after the Department of Treasury slapped sanctions on Maj. Gen. Gabriel Amisi Kumba and Gen. John Numbi, two officials in Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s inner circle who the U.S. government says have undermined democracy in the large central African nation.
Together, the diplomatic one-two has sparked outrage among Kabila’s allies, who see the sanctions as a personal attack on the president. Critics have accused him of trying to extend his grip on power by refusing to announce a date for presidential elections that initially should have taken place before the end of the year.
In a phone call with Foreign Policy from Kinshasa on Friday, Barnabé Kikaya-bin-Karubi, Kabila’s top diplomatic aide who visited the United States earlier this month to plead with U.S. government officials not to implement the sanctions, said that evacuating family of personnel will damage the country’s economy and could lead to dangerous confusion among Congolese civilians.
“We don’t understand why they are doing it, and we are just asking the U.S. officials to refrain from any action that would create a psychological problem in the heads of the population in the country,” he said. According to Kikaya, sending home personnel’s families implies that “something is about to happen” and will prompt Congolese people “to start guessing” that they are in danger.
The announcement, which was published on the U.S. embassy’s website on Friday, says that individuals began to leave the country on Thursday and that the “potential for civil unrest is high in parts of Kinshasa and other major cities.” But Kikaya insisted in his phone call with FP that he does not “see any tension in the Congo that would justify such an evacuation.”
In an email to FP, a State Department official who declined to be identified said the removal of embassy staff’s families is “a result of the unstable and unpredictable security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
“We have evaluated the situation, taking all factors into account, and have determined, out of an abundance of caution, that ordered[-ing?] departure for Embassy dependents is the most prudent course of action,” he said.
Kikaya also dismissed suggestions that Americans are being sent home out of fear of retaliation after the sanctions were levied on Kabila’s associates.
“We don’t retaliate in a violent manner,” he said. “We consider Americans to be our friends and I don’t see how anybody could react violently towards Americans.”
“The tension is down,” he added. “There’s nothing happening in Congo.”
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