Journalists sat down in Washington D.C. waiting for President Felix Tshisekedi to show up. Then this happened| By Simon Ateba Updated for 2021

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Updated: February 28, 2021


I have covered a few Presidents in my exciting journalism career, and sometimes, their schedules did change in a flash. That is exactly what happened on Saturday morning in Washington D.C.

President Felix Tshisekedi’s seat remained empty as journalists waited for him to brief them on Saturday morning April 6, 2019. Photo: Simon Ateba

Congo’s new President Felix Tshisekedi who arrived Washington D.C. on Wednesday April 3 on his first official foreign trip since he was sworn in late January had confirmed he was meeting with a select group of journalists on Saturday, including a crew from TODAY NEWS AFRICA, Africa’s leading newspaper in the American capital.

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The meeting would be for 9 a.m. and journalists would have to be seated by 8.45 a.m., a confirmation mail sent to TODAY NEWS AFRICA said.

President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo arrives the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington DC on Wednesday April 3, 2019. Photo: Emmanuel Ikodor, TODAY NEWS AFRICA

Everything went as planned. Most journalists left their houses or hotel rooms at 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning and headed to Washington D.C., hoping to receive key answers from the new President.

Most of them got there on time. The microphones were set. The cameras, still and moving, were well positioned. There were journalists from various countries, some spoke English, while others spoke French.

All eyes were now on the door, waiting to see the new leader, who replaced President Joseph Kabila last January, address an international media after back to back meetings with American officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs Tibor Nagy.

President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo arrives the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington DC on Wednesday April 3, 2019. Photo: Emmanuel Ikodor, TODAY NEWS AFRICA

It was now six minutes after 9 o’clock and the President was nowhere to be seen. A few more minutes passed by.

Then, an official informed the press that the President would not be able to meet with them at 9 a.m. but later in the day at 2 p.m. because something urgent had just come up. In politics, things can be unpredictable and they certainly were on Saturday.

With his new schedule, the official explained, the President had a choice – to spend only 15 minutes with the press at 9 a.m. or 45 minutes later at 2 p.m.

Journalists insisted that 15 minutes now would be better than 45 minutes later. The official went back to the President and journalists began to wait again.

Several minutes came and went. In the end, another official came and explained that it was not the President’s fault, he would be rushing to the World Bank for an urgent meeting, especially with the Ebola crisis in Eastern Congo at the moment.

The official said the President had apologized and would meet with journalists at 3 p.m., not 2 p.m. as early announced.

He would be able to grant some one-on-one interviews to some international media, including TODAY NEWS AFRICA.

To “compensate” for the 6-hour wait, the presidency offered to pay for breakfast for all the journalists in attendance.

Presidents’ schedules do change, however, today’s change came on a Saturday when most people rest and at the dying minute, when it almost appeared as though the briefing would soon start.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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