Congo Opposition Leader Says Talks Must Lead to Vote in 2016

  • Katumbi plans to return to Congo later this month for talks
  • Kabila ‘must leave’ office when mandate expires, he says

Opposition leader and presidential aspirant Moise Katumbi will return to the Democratic Republic of Congo before the end of the month to participate in political talks that he said must lead to elections this year.

A vote should take place before President Joseph Kabila’s second and final presidential mandate ends on Dec. 20, Katumbi said in an interview Wednesday.

“After the date, no one will recognize the Kabila government,” he said by phone from Washington. “He must leave with his head high.”

Congo, Africa’s largest copper producer and the world’s biggest source of cobalt, has never had a democratic transfer of power. Presidential elections are scheduled for November, but preparations have yet to start. The national electoral body has said it may need as long as 16 months to complete a voter-registration process before the polls.

The Constitutional Court ruled in May that the president can remain in office if the vote is delayed. Kabila’s supporters want to use talks to reach a political consensus on him staying in power.

Third Term

Opposition leaders, including Katumbi, say that Kabila has intentionally stalled preparations for the vote in order to hold on to power. The 45-year-old president has ruled Congo since 2001, but is prevented by the constitution from running for a third five-year term.

“There will be no transition,” Kabila’s chief diplomatic adviser, Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, said Tuesday. “Kabila will continue to govern the country until there is a newly elected president.”

Katumbi, the powerful former governor of Katanga province, was previously a close ally of Kabila, but left the ruling party in September and is now seen as one of the president’s biggest challengers. As governor, he oversaw an economic revival in Katanga, increasing copper production from 8,000 metric tons in 2006, to more than 1 million tons in 2014, building roads and increasing investment in agriculture.

As president he said he would attack corruption, develop infrastructure and agriculture and increase public salaries. “Katanga was a pilot program,” he said.

Family Wealth

Critics say he has used his political office to bolster his family’s wealth, but Katumbi insists he has nothing to hide.

In June, while receiving medical treatment in Europe, he was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison for an alleged illegal property transaction. He also faces separate charges of illegally recruiting security personnel. Katumbi said both are false allegations intended to block his candidacy for the presidency and damage his reputation.

Opposition leader and presidential runner-up Etienne Tshisekedi has also said he will return to Congo this month for the first time in three years, suggesting that the long-awaited political talks may eventually take place.

The United Nations said July 10 that Katumbi and Tshisekedi have agreed to join talks facilitated by the African Union and an international group of experts if Kabila’s government is willing to meet other conditions, including the release of political prisoners.

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