Congo op­po­si­tion vows to defy Ka­bila

Hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion de­clines as ac­tivists risk im­pris­on­ment or worse

The Guardian Weekly - - International News - Ja­son Burke

Op­po­si­tion politi­cians and ac­tivists in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo are brac­ing for a fur­ther wave of re­pres­sion as the trou­bled coun­try edges to­wards elec­tions that have been promised by the pres­i­dent, Joseph Ka­bila, later this year.

The DRC has been hit by re­bel­lions and out­breaks of com­mu­nal vi­o­lence in re­cent months, with some ob­servers fear­ing a slide into an­ar­chy, which could desta­bilise much of the re­gion.

Hun­dreds have died and the UN has warned of a dra­matic de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion. More than 4 mil­lion peo­ple are dis­placed and at least 8 mil­lion are in the acute stages of hunger. The coun­try is also fac­ing its dead­li­est cholera out­break in 15 years.

Po­lice and mil­i­tary forces are blamed for wide­spread hu­man rights abuses. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent UN re­port “state agents” car­ried out 1,176 killings last year, but the true toll may well be much higher be­cause se­cu­rity agen­cies and po­lice have been ac­cused of hid­ing ev­i­dence and many wit­nesses have been in­tim­i­dated.

Five mem­bers of the civil so­ci­ety move­ment Lutte pour le Change­ment (Lucha) were re­cently de­tained in the eastern city of Goma, while many more have ex­pe­ri­enced sys­tem­atic ha­rass­ment. Five pro­test­ers and one po­lice of­fi­cer were in­jured when se­cu­rity forces dis­persed a protest last month. Alexis Kanane, a for­mer spokesman of the Lucha in Goma, was shot dead two weeks ago. Cam­paign­ers be­lieve he was as­sas­si­nated.

The rel­a­tives of vic­tims of re­cent shoot­ings and al­leged ab­duc­tions who were con­tacted by the Guardian were un­will­ing to talk af­ter re­ceiv­ing threats. But mem­bers of the DRC’s frag­mented op­po­si­tion as well as civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists said they would con­tinue to protest de­spite the risks. “We are threat­ened ev­ery day. They tell us: ‘Stop what you are do­ing or some­thing bad will hap­pen to you.’ The worse thing is not the threat of prison, it is the fear of not be­ing able to do any­thing to change the sit­u­a­tion,” said Gloire Wahzavalere, a 20-year-old Lucha ac­tivist in Goma.

Ka­bila, who took power in 2001 af­ter his fa­ther was as­sas­si­nated, ig­nored the end of his sec­ond fiveyear term in 2016. Aides have said the 46-year-old will not stand again at polls sched­uled for De­cem­ber.

“This is not a king­dom … it is a demo­cratic repub­lic,” Lam­bert Mende, the in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter, told the Guardian in Fe­bru­ary. Last Fri­day the gov­ern­ment boy­cotted a donor con­fer­ence in Geneva, ac­cus­ing aid agen­cies of ex­ag­ger­at­ing the ex­tent of the coun­try’s cri­sis.

Many be­lieve Ka­bila will try to hold on to power by chang­ing the con­sti­tu­tion, out­right fraud, en­sur­ing a close ally wins polls or ma­nip­u­lat­ing the elec­toral sys­tem to en­sure op­po­si­tion par­ties are marginalised.

Op­po­si­tion ac­tivists say there is “a new con­scious­ness among the Con­golese”. Chris­tian Ba­dosa, an of­fi­cial from the Com­mit­ment for Cit­i­zen­ship and De­vel­op­ment party, said: “There is a pop­u­lar anger [Ka­bila] can­not re­sist. Ev­ery­one wants a change.”

Ba­dosa said he had been at­tacked four times by un­known thugs in Goma and re­peat­edly de­tained. “I’ve spent a lot of time in safe­houses. They are ready to do any­thing to si­lence us but we are used to their threats. We’re go­ing to keep up the pres­sure.”

The lack of unity among the op­po­si­tion par­ties may al­low Ka­bila to pur­sue an ef­fec­tive pol­icy of di­vide and rule, an­a­lysts say, and there is still some sup­port for the pres­i­dent.

“We have seen some huge achieve­ments in re­cent years: hos­pi­tals, clin­ics, schools. But you have to be re­al­is­tic. Look at where we were com­ing from! Since in­de­pen­dence, this coun­try was ef­fec­tively de­stroyed,” said Sylvestre Nkuba Ka­hombo, a Goma MP with the pres­i­dent’s party.

The most pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion fig­ure ap­pears to be Moïse Ka­tumbi, the for­mer gover­nor of Katanga prov­ince.

Ka­tumbi, who was forced to leave DRC af­ter be­ing charged with fraud in 2016, launched his run for the pres­i­dency from South Africa last month. The mul­ti­mil­lion­aire busi­ness­man says the charges against him are fab­ri­cated.

Op­po­si­tion fig­ure Moïse Ka­tumbi launched his cam­paign to be pres­i­dent from South Africa last month

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