Katumbi says he wants to travel back to the Democratic Republic of Congo as soon as possible and accompany the body of deceased veteran opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi which remains in Belgium.
“It’s for them to put pressure for the agreement, not to have instability in the Congo because it’s going to bring instability in plenty [of] countries,” said Katumbi, in reference to the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) bloc which includes neighbouring countries such as Angola, Rwanda and Uganda.
Katumbi has been in exile since May last year when he was sentenced in absentia to 36 months in prison for illegally selling a property in Lubumbashi. The Congolese authorities also issued an arrest warrant for him on separate charges of hiring mercenaries.
“My place is not in Europe, my place is in my country in the Congo,” Katumbi said during an interview on Thursday in Paris. “I want these issues first to get resolved because there are bogus charges against me, fake charges. I wanted to go back with the body of President Étienne Tshisekedi which is still in Europe at the moment,” he said.
Tshisekedi passed away in Belgium at the start of February. However, his body has not yet been repatriated and there have been arguments over his burial site. The 84-year-old veteran opposition leader had led his Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) since 1980 making it the first organised opposition platform.
“It’s sad for me as Congolese because President Kabila is blocking the body of Étienne Tshisekedi,” said Katumbi of the delays to the burial. “The family and the people of Congo want a decent place. They’re asking just for a place, they’re not asking for money, they’re not asking for anything, just a place to bury him properly.”
Tshisekedi’s son Felix has been named as successor to his father taking over leadership of the Rassemblement, an opposition coalition which includes the UDPS. Felix Tshisekedi is also expected to become prime minister in place of his father as had been previously agreed in a deal between the government and opposition.
Katumbi, who is also a member of the Rassemblement, said he considers Felix Tshisekedi “a friend”, somebody who’s “got potential and he’s going really to defend the people of Congo”. He also dismissed suggestions that not everybody was happy with the selection of Felix as leader.
“All the Rassemblement is happy about Felix,” said Katumbi. “The Rassemblement is strong, the platform remains still strong.”
However, the political agreement between the government and opposition, which is intended to bring about delayed elections, has still not been implemented. Katumbi wants to see the opposition impose a deadline.
“The Rassemblement is going to give a deadline to say, ‘Mr president, enough is enough,’” he said. “We need to organise the elections which President Kabila doesn’t want to hear about,” Katumbi added.
Kabila’s mandate ended in December. The political agreement is supposed to pave the way for a transitional government headed by Kabila with elections later in 2017.