KQ suspends flights to Kinshasa over detention of staff

A Kenya Airways Boeing Dreamliner at the JKIA. Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kenya Airways has suspended flights to the Democratic Republic of Congo in protest over the continued detention of two employees based in Kinshasa. 

The national carrier on Monday said it had resorted to suspending flights to Kinshasa as its operations at the airport were suffering due to lack of adequate support.

KQ had on Friday protested the detention of two staff by Congo’s Military Intelligence Unit over alleged incomplete documentation of what the carrier termed as valuable cargo. The employees have been in detention since April 19 when they were arrested from its airport office in Kinshasa, which the airline said was harassment targeting its business.

“Due to the continued detention of KQ employees by the Military Intelligence Unit in Kinshasa, Kenya Airways (KQ) is unable to support our flights without personnel effectively. As a result, we reached a difficult decision to suspend flights to Kinshasa effective April, 30, 2024 until we can effectively support these flights,” said KQ Chief Executive Officer Allan Kilavuka in a statement. 

Kilavuka said that the continued detention of its employees had made it difficult for KQ to supervise operations in Kinshasa. Other than flights to DR Congo’s capital, KQ also operates flights to Lubumbashi while its subsidiary Jambo Jet flies to Goma.

“(These) include customer service, ground handling, cargo activities and generally ensuring safe, secure, and efficient operations. We also ask that our staff be treated humanely and respectfully during this unlawful detention,” he said. 

The carrier had earlier explained that the staff were arrested due to allegedly missing custom documentation on valuable cargo that was to be transported on a KQ flight on April 12, 2024. The national carrier said it had not taken possession of the cargo, which was still with the logistics handler that was still taking it through the documentation process. 

According to KQ when the two employees were arrested, their phones were seized and had been denied communication. It was only on April 23 that the Kenyan embassy officials and a few KQ staff were allowed to visit them but only for a few minutes.

Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing'oei, last Friday said the Kenyan embassy in Kinshasa was following up on the matter and the government is committed to protecting its citizens abroad.

"Kenya takes great exception to the arrest and detention of its nationals lawfully carrying out commercial activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo by authorities in DRC," he posted on X.

"Our Mission in Kinshasa is engaging actively on the matter. The government reaffirms its commitment to protecting our citizens working abroad.”

Nelson Koech, Chairperson of the National Assembly Defence, Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee also issued a statement asking DRC to immediately release the two Kenyans being held illegally.

“This is a serious infringement of the rights of the two Kenyans and a worrying breach of the diplomatic principles upon which the Kenya-DRC relations are founded,” he said, adding that the Congolese authorities did not have legal grounds to hold the two KQ employees as the national carrier had not taken possession of the cargo.

Koech also protested the arrest of civilians by Military Intelligence.

In the statement, Kilavuka said the airline continued to cooperate with authorities.

“We continue cooperating with the investigating agencies and the relevant Government entities in both DRC and Kenya to ensure this matter is resolved. We ask that the military court's direction that they be released to allow due process to be respected so that our innocent staff can return to their families and everyday lives without harassment,” he said. 

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