The exiled opposition leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Moise Katumbi, has begged President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also the chairperson of SADC, to intervene in the ongoing political crisis in his country so it can have free and fair elections.
In an exclusive interview with Times Select, Katumbi, who is in self-imposed exile in Belgium since May 2016 after falling out with President Joseph Kabila, has asked Ramaphosa “to save the people of Congo from the dungeons of hell”.
“Kabila doesn’t want me to return home so I can fill in my nomination form to be an official presidential candidate. The situation in my country is escalating, opposition leaders and supporters are jailed on trumped-up charges, and I believe president Ramaphosa can be our saviour.
“Kabila has called for elections in December this year but we are not allowed to campaign freely as his militia is busy intimidating supporters. Once there is peace in Congo, the whole region would be peaceful. Its internal politics is affecting growth and stability in the region,” he said.
Once there is peace in Congo, the whole region would be peaceful. My country is the second largest country and its internal politics is affecting growth and stability in the region.
The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution in March this year calling on Kabila’s government to “immediately implement the confidence-building measures in full”.
These include “putting an end to restriction of the political space in the DRC, in particular arbitrary arrests and detention of members of the political opposition and of civil society, as well as restriction of fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of the press and the right of a peaceful assembly.”
The wealthy businessman, who also owns one of the richest soccer teams in Africa, TP Mazembe, four-time African champions, claims he is being targeted because of his “overwhelming popularity with the masses”.
He says he was arrested on “trumped-up charges”. He went into self-imposed exile while he was out on bail.
Katumbi was tried in absentia last month with six other people, including a US national, by the Supreme Court of Justice in the DRC. Some of the charges included “harming state security”.
He has been accused of recruiting and arming mercenaries but Katumbi said the US national is not a mercenary – merely a security advisor whom he appointed after his state bodyguards were withdrawn.
“I couldn’t have my security carrying sticks while those who want me dead are armed to the teeth.”
The 53-year-old former governor of Katanga, a mineral-rich region in the DRC, denies all the charges against him, saying they are part of a campaign to prevent him from running for president.
“I am willing to stand for a fair trial but I can’t subject myself to a kangaroo court.”
Last month, 50 members of parliament in the DRC wrote a scathing letter to Kabila claiming that Katumbi’s trial was “nothing but a shame for the highest authority of the state, which you embody”.
The letter added: “Hatred for political adversaries, personal ambition or thirst for power cannot authorise judicial harassment against a citizen. It is difficult to believe in the sincerity of your declarations about holding off democratic elections in our country as long as you have not put an end to all the fake scandals concocted against Moise Katumbi.”
Hatred for political adversaries, personal ambition or thirst for power cannot authorise judicial harassment against a citizen.
Kabila became the president of DRC in 2001 after his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated. His term of office ended on December 31 2016 but he has remained in power until the new president is to be elected.
“I am coming to South Africa in a few weeks’ time to plead with President Ramaphosa to come to the rescue of the people of Congo. I would beg him to save the people of Congo from the dungeons of hell.”
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khuselo Diko, on Friday said she was “not able to speculate about a meeting that has not been requested”.
Diko said South Africa has helped the people of Congo over the years to bring peace and stability in the region.
“As far back as 1997, South Africa has been assisting the DRC to deal with political and security challenges. Over the years the South African government contributed to the Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development programme in the DRC. This included the training of public servants, police and the army,” she said.
Diko added that South Africa, as a member of SADC, “continues to support the DRC in her effort to consolidate peace, security and stability. In this regard, South Africa with her regional sister countries, supports the current political transition in the DRC, including the country’s preparations for the 23 December 2018 elections.”
Kabila has continued to keep his country guessing over his political plans five months ahead of the crucial elections.
In a state-of-the-nation speech on Thursday that had sparked intense speculation of an announcement, Kabila vowed to stand by the December 23 date for the poll, and “unequivocally respect the constitution”.
But, in a long speech enumerating his government’s policies, Kabila did not spell out whether he would seek a new term in office.
The opposition reacted angrily to the speech. “It’s what the Congolese people have come to expect from someone who thinks he’s an eternal monarch,” said opposition lawmaker Claudel Andre Lubaya.
A spokesperson for prominent opposition party the Union for Democracy and Progress said a “muscular reaction”, without elaborating.
Ida Sawyer, Human Rights Watch’s director for Central Africa, said: “Increased pressure is urgently needed to convince (Kabila) to change direction.”
Sawyer left the DRC in 2016 after working in the country for a decade when Kinshasa revoked her visa, apparently over the HRW’s frequent criticism of the rights situation.
Some experts fear the vast, troubled country, which has experienced two major wars in 22 years, could spiral into a bloodbath if the election is postponed or deemed to be fraudulent.
The window for registering presidential bids runs from July 25 to August 8.
A few hours before the speech, the grassroots pro-democracy movement Lucha wrote on its Twitter account that, if Kabila declared his candidacy, “let us all rise up immediately to force him out, as we should have done long ago”.
And if Kabila chooses not to seek another term, “let us continue to demand real elections, which are impossible with him and his CENI (the national election board) in control”, it said.