In November of 2021, over 3.5 million documents were leaked from a bank in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This so-called “Congo Hold-Up” leak, which included bank statements, emails, contracts, and corporate records, revealed that former Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his inner circle embezzled at least $138 million in public funds between 2013 and 2018. Investigations by media outlets and NGOs exposed a pervasive network of corruption involving the DRC’s Central Bank and national electoral commission, as well as the country’s minerals-for-infrastructure deal with China, a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, and more. In response, the head of the DRC’s Inspectorate General of Finance (IGF) condemned the bank’s role in facilitating the corruption, and the Congolese Minister of Justice announced the opening of an investigation to address the allegations.
Complex corruption schemes such as the one described above are often revealed by whistleblowers. The DRC in particular has a history of whistleblowers exposing corruption, often at great personal risk (for example, here and here). Yet instead of being publicly recognized for their contributions and afforded government protection, these whistleblowers are forced to conceal their identities to avoid retaliation by those they exposed. Their fears are well-founded: The DRC offers little to no legal protection for whistleblowers, and many Congolese whistleblowers have been forced into hiding or exile due to threats, intimidation, assault, and even death sentences. This must change. It is high time for the DRC to pass comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation, and there may be an unusual window of opportunity to do so now.