Ruto cows comment sparks beef with DRC


Deputy President William Ruto. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

Kenya’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dr George Masafu, was Wednesday on a diplomatic charm offensive to calm tensions triggered by Deputy President William Ruto’s comments, which were seen as disparaging to Kinshasa.

The envoy on Wednesday admitted there have been “negative reactions” to comments by Dr Ruto about his host country’s inability to keep cows.

“Attention has been drawn to the Kenya embassy in Kinshasa, regarding remarks on the DRCs agriculture sector attributed to Mr William Ruto whilst on the political campaign trail in Kenya,” read the envoy’s statement that curiously didn’t address him with the Deputy President title.

“The embassy has informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nairobi on the negative reactions that the comments have triggered among the business community and general populace in the DRC, “ Dr Masafu added.

“The Kenyan embassy wishes to reiterate that the government and the people [of Kenya] share a deep and respectful; historical relationship with the government and the people of DRC. This relationship stretches back to the independence of our respective countries,” he said.

In the viral video, DP Ruto, at a campaign rally in Nyeri on Monday, is heard mocking the Congolese for wearing high waist trousers and not being able to keep cows as an investment.

“We have a market in DR Congo… these people who are singers… These people have a population of about 90 million but they don’t own any cow,” he said, while using the example to pledge to voters that his administration will boost investments in livestock keeping to enable the country sell dairy products and beef to DRC, which is due to enter the East African Community.

He also described the Congolese as “wanavaa long’i kwa tumbo[they wear high-waist trousers]”. Congolese musicians often appear in music videos wearing high waist trousers. Except his comments were generic and people in the DRC were miffed.

On Wednesday, Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga fired at the DP, asking him to apologise for the comments which he said risked hurting “extremely cordial and mutually beneficial relations.”

In April, Mr Odinga observed, DRC and Kenya had signed a General Cooperation Agreement that promotes economic, technical, scientific, and socio-cultural cooperation.

“Ruto’s attacks on the DRC are a manifestation of a reckless lack of vision and foresight; a pathetic failure to see where opportunities abound for Kenya. The DRC is a friend every visionary Kenyan leader would love to keep. The attack by the DP was unwarranted and very short sighted. The DP must own up and apologise to the government and the people of the DRC,” Mr Odinga said in a statement Wednesday evening.

He added: “DRC produces 70 per cent of the world’s cobalt and 50 per cent of the world’s copper. It has enough hydropower to light up the entire Africa when fully exploited. It has 11 major economic corridors that facilitate trade flows in the region.”

One study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) says the DRC has about 90 million hectares of pasture which can sustain 40 million heads of cattle. That is enough to produce 1.5 million tons of beef a year.

“But the country’s immense livestock production potential remains underexploited because of among other challenges, lack of high-quality fodder for livestock,” ILRI says in a report.

On Tuesday, journalists, activists, politicians and ordinary Congolese regretted “an unacceptable lack of respect” on the part of DP Ruto.

Ms Francine Muyumba, a senator and former president of the Pan African Youth Union said: “A candidate running for the highest office needs to be diplomatically [conscious] as Kenya needs to strengthen economic ties in the region [for her growth]. Kenya Airways is now flying in some of our big cities”.