Kenya Airways suspends Kinshasa flights over detained employees

National carrier Kenya Airways has suspended its flights to Kinshasa citing continued detention of its crew by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government over a controversial consignment of bank notes.

In an update Monday, the airline said the suspension will take effect from today, pointing out difficulties in supervision and support of its operations in Kinshasa.

“Due to the continued detention of KQ employees by the Military Intelligence Unit in Kinshasa, Kenya Airways 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’s Managing Director Allan Kilavuka in the notice.

“The continued detention of our employees has made it difficult for us to supervise our operations in Kinshasa, which include customer service, ground handling, cargo activities, and generally ensuring safe, secure, and efficient operations,” he added.

The move by KQ is set to benefit other airlines servicing the Nairobi-Kinshasa route, including Ethiopian Airlines, Precision Air, ASKY Airlines, and South African Airways.

Last week, Mr Kilavuka said two of the airline’s staff were arrested and detained on April 19, over alleged missing customs documentation on valuable cargo which was to be shipped on a KQ flight on April 12.

The cargo in question, however, was not uplifted by the carrier or accepted by them due to incomplete documentation.

According to the MD, military officers in Kinshasa took the two employees to the military side of the air wing to record statements but they were held incommunicado until April 23 when the embassy officials and KQ team were allowed to visit them.

Though DRC officials are yet to comment on the matter, sources told The EastAfrican newspaper that the case is about transportation of $8million that was seized before being loaded on the KQ plane.

According to a local newspaper, a commercial bank attempted to export the money “clandestinely without the knowledge of security services”.

The bank cited by Congolese media, TMB Bank, refuted the allegations saying, “an operation to export bank notes in foreign currencies, which moreover, is a common practice of commercial banks and therefore does not constitute an offence as insinuated by certain journalists who, unfortunately and for reasons of their own, refrained from investigating the various departments involved in such as operation.”

“Our bank has complied with all the formalities required for this operation, which is not the first of its kind and is inherent to the operation of banks, particularly for notes unfit for circulation, either because of their condition or because of their series,” TMB Bank further said.

The recent developments refocus the spotlight on intermittent diplomatic tiffs between the two countries.

In December last year DRC recalled its ambassador to Nairobi after summoning the Kenyan envoy in Kinshasa in protest against the creation of a new coalition of Congolese rebels in Nairobi.

At the heart of the conflict was the creation of a new coalition of rebel leaders that was announced in Nairobi by the former president of the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni), Corneille Nangaa.

Kinshasa reacted swiftly by recalling its envoy John Nyakeru.

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