After Jean-Pierre Bemba’s condemnation by the International Criminal Court, last March, the ex-governor of Katanga is emerging as the opposition candidate for the November 2016 presidential race.
The guilty verdict issued on the last 21 March by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Jean-Pierre Bemba is a turning point in the DRC’s political life. The condemnation of the former Congolese vice-president for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his militia in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003, has removed for a long time this important political player. Indeed, the colossus scored nearly 42 percent of the vote at the second round of the 2006 presidential election, with a clear win in six of the eleven provinces of the country.
But Bemba’s condemnation brought little relief to President Joseph Kabila who finds himself in front of another powerful challenger. Indeed, only nine days after the ICC’s verdict, the G7 which groups the leaders of the presidential majority who defected to the opposition asked the former governor of Katanga, Moïse Katumbi Chapwe, to stand as its candidate for the next presidential election, which is scheduled by the constitution in November 2016. As a result, the charismatic Katumbi who became popular as governor and as chairman of the prestigious TP Mazembe football club of Lubumbashi which was crowned Africa Champion in November 2015, is emerging now as the first candidate of the opposition. At the beginning of April, Katumbi who congratulated the G7 for their offer, was using to momentum to gather more supports among the Congolese diaspora abroad and from other prominent leaders such as the veteran chairman of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) whom he met in Brussels, during a tour which included stops in Paris and London. The purpose is to choose a single candidate for the opposition, but it’s everyone guess that it should be Katumbi.
These news came as blow for Kabila since Katumbi has been for more than a decade a political ally whose popularity played in favour of the President. But now, Katumbi is inflexible. He is adamant that the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections take according to the constitutional schedule. In an interview with SouthWorld, Katumbi, says he hopes that Kabila will not listen to his “bad advisors” who are trying, in order to remain in office as long as possible, to postpone the electoral agenda, under a number of pretexts, including the lack of budget resources. This was the strategy of Joseph Kabila’s supporters, after the failure of previous attempts to amend the constitution in order to allow Kabila to run for a third mandate. But this strategy seems also doomed to fail because the constitution foresees that the President of the Senate, Leon Kengo wa Dondo, and not the outgoing President, becomes interim President after the expiration of Kabila’s mandate on the next 19 December, if a transition is needed, for example if it has not been possible to organise the election in due course. Moise Katumbi’s strong point is that the UN Security Council in its 30 March 2016 resolution shared his view by urging the Congolese government “to ensure the successful and timely holding of elections, in particular presidential and legislative elections on November 2016, in accordance with the Constitution”.
As a shrewd politician, Katumbi gives Kabila the benefit of the doubt, concerning the latter’s will to respect the constitution, taking note that the President has not yet taken an official stand over this matter. The ex-governor also states that if Kabila allows the electoral process to happen in accordance to the constitution, he will be reminded as a great President. In order to reassure Kabila, Moise Katumbi says the President is not his enemy and that “there is a life after the Presidency”. Accordingly, Kabila may continue to do his businesses and even be consulted by the new President, pursues Katumbi who claims that even in the Presidential Majority, 90 percent of Kabila’s supporters think he should step down, in order to preserve the chances of his party, even if they dare not voice such opinion publicly.
At the same time, Katumbi is aware that he has been systematically targeted by the rulers for a long time. In 2007, the landing gear of his private jet was sabotaged on the Kinshasa airport. He has also survived an attempted arsenic poisoning in 2011. Last January, in Lubumbashi, his jeep was hit by a minibus whose driver managed to escape in a car which was following Katumbi’s jeep. “There is no doubt that the state apparatus is involved” tells SouthWorld Katumbi. After the Lubumbashi incident, the state security, the Agence nationale de renseignement (ANR), refused to allow a medical aircraft to land and pick him up to transport him to a South Africa, where he had to be treated for a vertebral column injury. And the former governor had no option to travel 300 km by road to the Zambian town of Ndola, with a surgical collar, before being able to take a flight to South Africa.
The regime is using all sort of tricks to silence the popular Katumbi. Radio and TV networks which broadcasted interviews of the ex-governor have been closed. When he goes to church, policemen, military and ANR agents surround the building and make sure people cannot approach him. “By end March, military came to my farm. I hope they didn’t hide weapons there, because that’s the kind of trick which is used in my country to accuse political opponents. I also hope they won’t set up a fake militia to pretend I’m having one. But I shall never take arms. I want to go to the elections in a democratic way ». But the challenge is not an easy one. There also intimidations against Katumbi’s family. Last March, individual in plain clothes went to the Lubumbashi French School to take pictures of his children, of their class rooms and of the jeep which transports them. “This is total gangsterism !”, shouts an indignant Katumbi. At the same time, he is not really surprised since several G7 leaders such as the former speaker of the Katanguese Parliament Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza or Pierre Lumbi, a former adviser of Kabila are not either allow to organise any demonstration. But Katumbi is determined. “We won’t allow doomsday prophets to go on flouting the rule of law in our country !” warns Katumbi who is also busy preparing the future. During consultations with other politicians which he holds abroad, he is discussing of a common programme for the forthcoming elections with other politicians. The improvement of the living conditions of the people is the number one priority. “Today, Congo is like an elephant on its knees”, says Katumbi who wants to “give hope to the people to get a decent salary, sent the children at school, develop a social security system and continue to build infrastructures, especially in the area of energy”. Yet, the ex-governor must still be able to campaign.