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Spotlight on a Congolese Diplomat Set to Leave Washington

After serving at the Congolese embassy in Washington since 2003 as a diplomat, Yves Bashonga is moving on to greener pastures. He has been assigned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s diplomatic office in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Since first arriving in Washington, his primary mission has been to improve relations between the Central African country and the United States. Mr. Bashonga’s specific responsibilities included meeting with U.S. government officials and entrepreneurs and assisting the Congolese diaspora community. In addition, he has worked closely with the U.S. State Department on U.S.-DRC affairs. Mr. Bashonga was also the point of contact for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In addition, during his long tenure in Washington, he took every opportunity to interact with think tanks, civil society groups, journalists, and scholars across the nation’s capital and around the country to promote constructive dialogue about the DRC in particular, and Africa in general. “It was my pleasure to exchange ideas and opinions and to have friendly debates with these highly educated and experienced experts,” Mr. Bashonga told me.

Mr. Bashonga has routinely traveled across the country to assist the Congolese diaspora with a myriad of services, such as obtaining passports and helping them receive legal advice. Mr. Bashonga also helped the diaspora community vote when the DRC held elections by closely working with CENI, the country’s electoral commission. “I helped leaders of the Congolese diaspora connect with CENI so that eligible Congolese citizens can vote in the U.S.,” Mr. Bashonga remarked.

Promoting his country’s interests, liaising with U.S. officials, partner governments, and international institutions like the World Bank, and aiding Congolese citizens, meant that Mr. Bashonga had to become an expert in networking and cultural diplomacy.

“Washington is a special city. Countries, organizations, companies, research centers, and universities from across the entire world are represented here. Everyone has an opinion and values knowledge. To be an effective diplomat, you need to understand that this city is unique,” he remarked, looking back at a 20-year diplomatic mission.

Mr. Bashonga attended the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, and the National Defense University to solidify his knowledge of African issues. The Africa Center is a forum “for research, academic programs, and the exchange of ideas with the aim of enhancing citizen security by strengthening the effectiveness and accountability of African institutions.” At the National Defense University, Mr. Bashonga learned about Africa’s security sector, security management issues, and the continent’s defense and security challenges.

Thanks to his friendship with a professor at George Washington University, Mr. Bashonga regularly gave presentations to students at GWU and the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. Regular topics that he touched on included U.S.-DRC relations, U.S.-Africa relations, the status of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and security and economic issues across Africa.

“Education is something vital to me. Therefore, it was a pleasure and an honor to help educate young university students and naval cadets about the opportunities and challenges my homeland faces,” he remarked.

During his long stint in Washington, Mr. Bashonga has worked for two Congolese presidents: Joseph Kabila and Félix Tshisekedi, the country’s current president. While in Washington, he worked during four different U.S. president’s: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and now Joe Biden. He regularly assisted Congolese delegations visiting Washington to meet with U.S. officials. For example, he was the point of contact during the visits of President Tshisekedi, senior officials, including judges from the Constitutional Court, and Mr. Jules Aligente, the head of the DRC’s anti-corruption agency.

As he prepares to depart Washington, Mr. Bashonga is focused on helping Congolese diplomats that recently arrived in Washington. In his final weeks stationed in Washington, he has given presentations to his young colleagues about the work culture in Washington so they will quickly adapt to life in Washington. “I explained to them that, during their time in Washington, they must continue to promote Tshisekedi’s vision for the DRC. [Tshisekedi] wants to combat corruption and injustice and promote integration among Congolese. As diplomats, we must inform our U.S. partners and friends about these goals.”

When Mr. Bashonga arrives in Argentina, his main task will be strengthening relations between Buenos Aires and Kinshasa. In particular, Mr. Bashonga hopes to improve agricultural and food supply relations with Buenos Aires. Argentina has developed industries, and the DRC would greatly benefit from investors and trade partners. He also aims to improve awareness of the region among his compatriots. Given his interest in education, Mr. Bashonga is particularly interested in increasing educational partnerships.

He hopes to open the door to a new era of DRC-Argentina relations, specifically convincing Buenos Aires to open an embassy in Kinshasa. “We have much to learn from our fellow Argentines,” said Mr. Bashonga. “During my time in Washington, I worked hard to open the door to Congo for U.S. partners and friends; I wish to do the same in Argentina.”

To prepare for his upcoming assignment in South America, in 2022, Mr. Bashonga attended the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, where he obtained a certificate in Western Hemisphere affairs. He was the only African in the program. “I loved my time at the Perry Center; I met with military officers and diplomatic officials from several Latin American countries,” he noted. “I have met Latin American military officers before via the UN peace mission in MONUSCO, so it was a pleasure to meet more of them.”

Mr. Bashonga’s desire to continuously learn meant he regularly attended academic institutions and other high-level conferences relating to international relations, defense, trade, and diplomatic issues.

Moreover, his passion and long-term objective is to help his country’s education system. Specifically, as a senior diplomat, he wants to help the next generation of Congolese diplomats. “I want the future members of the DRC diplomatic corps to have the best education possible, as this will help them promote our nation’s interests and objectives.”

While working as a diplomat, Mr. Bashonga has been an educator. He spent several years as a professor at Simon Kimbangu University in Bukavu, in the Eastern DRC. He taught Legislation Law, Diplomatic English, and International Commerce.

Mr. Bashonga’s long-term goal is to improve the education system of his country. “A more robust education system and better-educated youth will help my homeland’s economic development.” His interest in improving DRC’s educational system is related to his family, as he comes from a family of educators. His uncles were well-known because “they were schoolteachers around Bukavu because they wanted to share their knowledge with other Congolese.”

Sadly, in 1985, one of his uncles passed away, while the other left education and started working with an international NGO. Mr. Bashonga explained that “I did not want to let the family name die, so when I arrived in Washington as a diplomat, I decided to continue my education with the goal that one day I would return to my home country to help my country’s education system.”

Mr. Bashonga is a Doctoral student. He started his advanced studies at Morgan State University, where he stayed for two years. Attending an HBCU was very meaningful for Mr. Bashonga. “Being at Morgan State allowed me to connect and interact with the African American community,” he remarked. Afterward, Mr. Bashonga chose to transfer to Aspen University to continue his advanced studies to focus on education in leadership and learning, specializing in organizational leadership.

Mr. Bashonga strongly believes that the DRC’s higher-education system must be reformed and improved. “For the DRC to move forward, our young Congolese men and women need to receive a better, more complete higher education.”

He holds a Master’s degree in Education and Management from Strayer University. Among his other educational accolades, Mr. Bashonga earned a Certificate of Multitrack Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation from the University of Maryland’s Center for International Development & Conflict Management, and a Certificate on Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities from Concordia University, Canada. He has also taken courses at Georgetown University.

Mr. Yves Bashonga was the Chair of the SADC diplomatic officials in Washington, from 2022 until his departure. He is a standing member of organizations, including the American Education Research Association and the Consular Corps College.