Congo opposition vows to defy Kabila
Humanitarian situation declines as activists risk imprisonment or worse
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