There was much speculation ahead of Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s speech Thursday before the parliament, as the international community waited to hear whether the defiant leader who has since 2016 refused to leave office plans to seek an unconstitutional third term.
Claudel Lubaya, a member of the National Assembly with the African Democratic Union, told local journalists that Kabila’s address was a chance for him to announce an honorable exit and “leave by the front door.” Instead, Kabila gave no indication at all about his plans to stand in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s long-delayed election, despite the fact that the deadline for candidates closes August 8.
That left Lubaya – and countless others – frustrated with the man who instead, Lubaya said, “made the egocentric choice of sacrificing the entire nation for personal survival.”
Kabila spoke of his passion for the nation and vowed to respect the constitution and the Congolese democracy ahead of the December 23 election, but words about his high-minded ideals fell short for the political opposition. “If Kabila respected the Constitution, the elections would already be organized,” the UDA said in its statement.
International observers immediately noted Kabila’s emphasis on sovereignty, as the president flatly said the DR Congo has nothing to learn from other nations, apparently directing his ire toward those Western nations with a history of interfering in Congolese affairs. Ida Sawyer, the deputy director for Human Rights Watch in Africa, responded swiftly with a call for increased international pressure.
Kabila also stressed the importance of legal eligibility for the elections, which some analysts viewed as a message to Moïse Katumbi, the exiled “Together for Change” coalition candidate whose citizenship has been challenged and who faces arrest should he return. Katumbi has said he will come back to Kinshasa in time to file his candidacy before the August deadline, but he faces new charges of harming domestic security as well as a three-year sentence for fraud handed down in absentia.
Further complicating the DR Congo elections is the candidacy of former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, who announced Friday that he is the choice of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) party. His decision followed an International Criminal Court acquittal on war crimes charges in Brussels, where he remains.
Image: Congolese Presidency file