politics

Congolese Opposition Forms Coalition to Challenge Kabila

Updated on
  • Coalition will back Moise Katumbi’s candidacy for president
  • Presidential elections in Congo have been delayed since 2016

Opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo formed a coalition that will back Moise Katumbi’s candidacy for president in elections scheduled for December.

The announcement marks the start of what’s expected to be a series of declarations by candidates seeking to replace President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the central African nation for 17 years and is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term. Congo, Africa’s biggest copper producer and the world’s largest source of cobalt, has never had a peaceful transfer of power since independence almost six decades ago.

Moise Katumbi

Photographer: FISTON MAHAMBA/AFP

“You have chosen me to lead us to the coming elections,” Katumbi told a gathering of supporters in Johannesburg, South Africa. “I call for unity among the opposition because we have to work together, hand in hand, to go toward free and transparent elections.”

Congo was supposed to hold elections in 2016, at the end of Kabila’s second term. Opposition leaders have previously accused Kabila of intentionally delaying the vote in order to retain power and change the constitution to enable him to renew his mandate.

International Support

“We won’t accept another delay of the elections,” Katumbi said. “I’m calling on the international community to push for this election to happen.”

The new electoral alliance that will support Katumbi will be known as Together for Change. The 53-year-old former Kabila ally and governor of Congo’s copper-and cobalt-rich Katanga province first announced his plans to run for president nearly two years ago. Katumbi has lived in self-imposed exile since May 2016, when he traveled to South Africa for medical treatment. In June that year, he was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison on what he says were politically motivated charges.

Katumbi told reporters his return to Congo is “imminent,” without offering a specific date. “I’ll be going back to my country to put down my candidature and start campaigning,” he said. Several deadlines announced by Katumbi for his homecoming have already passed.

Campaign Promises

Among campaign pledges Katumbi offered to his supporters were plans to end armed conflict, particularly in the mineral-rich east of the country, attract greater private investment and build more infrastructure including hydropower dams and roads.

Katumbi’s return may scare Kabila because “he doesn’t have a successor and hasn’t decided who should represent him in the presidential elections,” Delly Sessanga, the secretary general of Together for Change, told Bloomberg after the rally. Katumbi’s “safety isn’t guaranteed if he returns today and this has to be resolved,” Sessanga said.

The main bloc backing Katumbi’s candidacy is the G7, a union of seven parties that broke with Kabila in 2015 over fears the president intended to modify the constitution. Several major groups including the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, the opposition party which performed best in the 2011 election, have yet to pick their candidates or clarify whether they intend to endorse Katumbi’s campaign.

“We would have preferred that the entire opposition backs Moise’s candidature,” Sessanga said. “Unity is preferable, but everyone should be able to express himself how he wants.”

— With assistance by William Clowes

(Updates with comment by Katumbi from paragraph after International Support subheadline.)
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