Political tensions continue to mount in the Democratic Republic of Congo, few months to the much-anticipated elections.
DR Congo is expected to go to polls in November, before the leadership of the current President Joseph Kabila expires in December.
But a recent court ruling by the Constitutional Court indicates that President Kabila could remain in a caretaker capacity beyond the expiry of his second term since he took office in 2001, after his father’s assassination. The opposition leaders called for protests against the ruling.
This came after President Kabila’s plans in January 2015, where he wanted to change the constitution to allow him to extend his mandate failed, but caused chaos which left about 40 people dead.
It is five months to elections in DR Congo, and the president is yet to declare his plans.
Intimidating the opposition
Although the President has not announced his plans, recent activities and decisions sell out his thoughts about elections and his stand on democracy.
Days after the court ruled that he could remain in power longer than anticipated, a disgruntled population decided to protest the move. The government banned such protests which dissident groups such as Citizens’ Front defied and instead called for nationwide protests.
They were joined by two other opposition groups—Dynamic and G7— who also called for protests in the capital Kinshasa and elsewhere.
But what is more disheartening, is the swift change of events after Moise Katumbi, a key opposition leader in the country, announced he would run in November’s presidential election.
Immediately after his announcement, the 51-year old owner of Tout-Puissant Mazembe football club, was hit with an investigation into claims he hired mercenaries as part of a plot against the state. Charges of undermining the state security, attract death penalty in the country.
Now, it is not known when the presidential hopeful, who many people opposing the government thought would carry high their mantle, will return to the country.
Katumbi left the country on May 20, supposedly for treatment in South Africa. His departure came a day after he was charged with “threatening the internal and external security of the state”.
The opposition leader who was injured in clashes between police and thousands of his supporters in Lubumbashi on May 13, flew to South Africa to seek medical attention for “respiratory problems” after being teargassed.
A week after treatment in South Africa, Katumbi left for London for what one of his team members called a “rest”. Prior to flying out to London, Katumbi’s treatment in South Africa was marked with constant transfers between hospitals in Johannesburg for security reasons.
In his Europe visit, the leader who calls the allegations against him “grotesque lies” is expected to attend political meetings.
Once further medical examinations are carried out on him, Katumbi will return to the country to prove his innocence.
Meanwhile, back at home, his supporters are disillusioned.
“We are disappointed,” said Sangwa Masikini, 30, who lives in the poor Lubumbashi neighborhood of Kenya, where anti-Kabila sentiment runs high. “It’s like a good football match being interrupted before the final whistle.”
Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, a young mechanic wondered: “Who will rescue us from their grip?” He was criticizing the security forces’ heavy deployment in the district.
A recent report by Amnesty International details how armed groups continue to terrorize residents by committing abuses against civilians in the east of the country. In addition to unlawful killing, the groups also carry out atrocious activities like pillages, kidnappings, rape and sexual slavery.
Security forces that are supposed to maintain peace and order, have also been accused of using summary executions, death threats and arbitrary arrests against the opposition, media and civil society since the start of the year and ahead of key elections, according to a United Nations report.
With the country going to electoral period, the UN called on the Congolese officials, to ensure that “all citizens, independently of their political opinions, can fully participate in an open and democratic debate, and that civil society activists, media workers, and political opponents are able to carry out their activities without fear.” The organization also urged the government to ensure accountability for the very serious human rights violations of the 143 human right cases of abuse documented in the report.
With the election commission having said that updating the voter rolls might take up to 16 months, citizens in DR Congo can only hope that come November, they will go to polls to elect a leader who will guide them in reconstructing their country.
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