A political spat is brewing between Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) amid Kenya Airways (KQ, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta) suspending its flights to Kinshasa N'Djili on April 30, accusing the Congolese military of illegally detaining two of its employees, allegedly due to missing customs documents for cargo.

"We are perturbed by this action targeting innocent staff and consider it harassment targeting Kenya Airways' business," said Group Managing Director and CEO Allan Kilavuka.

He said the continued detention of the two employees "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. We also ask that our staff be treated humanely and respectfully during this unlawful detention."

The two staff members were arrested on April 19 at the airline's airport office at Kinshasa N'Djili. They remain held incommunicado by the DRC's military intelligence unit (Detection Militaire des Activities Anti Patrie - DEMIAP). According to Kilavuka, "during their arrest their phones were seized, and all access to them has been denied. On April 23, 2024, the Kenyan embassy officials and a few KQ staff were allowed to visit them, but only for a few minutes."

The missing customs documents were for valuable cargo to be transported on a Kenya Airways flight on April 12 but which was not uplifted or accepted by the carrier due to incomplete documentation. Kilavuka said the employees never possessed the cargo, which was still undergoing clearance procedures when security teams alleged wrongdoing.

On April 25, the DRC Military Court granted a Kenya Airways application for the release of the two employees to allow due process. "Despite the court orders, the military intelligence unit is still holding them incommunicado, yet these are civilians being held in a military intelligence facility," Kilavuka charged.

He underlined that Kenya Airways strictly adheres to international cargo handling standards, as must all of its logistics partners before the airline accepts any cargo.

The airline said it was continuing to cooperate with the investigating agencies and relevant government entities in both Kenya and the DRC to resolve the matter.

ch-aviation has contacted the Kenyan and Congolese ministries of foreign affairs for comment.

The incident comes as Kenya, in collaboration with the World Bank, hosts the high-level International Development Association (IDA) for the African Heads of State and Government Summit on April 28-29 in Nairobi.

The relationship between Kenya and the DRC has been historically cooperative, marked by Kenya's involvement in peacekeeping efforts in the region. However, recent tensions have emerged due to accusations of Kenya's involvement with Congolese opposition figures and rebel groups, leading to strained relations, recalled ambassadors, and regional rifts.