JEAN KASSONGO in Kinshasa, DRC
KINSHASA – AFTER months keeping his country guessing and lurching from one crisis to another, it has been confirmed Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) president, Joseph Kabila, would not be standing for re-election when his nation holds elections at the end of the year.
The decision by the strongman, who has been in power for 17 years, is anticipated to pave way for reforms to and eventually enable the troubled Central African country secure peace and stability.
DRC has been in the throes of strife after Kabila failed to organize elections in November 2016, at the end of his second and last term, in accordance with the Congolese constitution.
The government's inability to hold polls on time provoked protests across the country. Security forces, seen as loyal to the former army general, heavily repressed the protests.
In 2015, at least 42 civilians, mostly university students in the capital Kinshasa, were killed during clashes with police, amid indications elections would not be held in the following year, thus allowing the president to remain in power until a national census could be conducted.
It was not clear when the census would be held but the exercise was projected to take several years.
Hundreds of protesters were detained in the subsequent demonstrations sweeping through Africa’s second-biggest country by size. This coincided with militia groups opposed to Kabila’s continued stay in power running
At the end of 2016, the Catholic Church negotiated an agreement between the ruling coalition and the main opposition leaders, which gave thegovernment a year to put in place measures for a free and fair election.
Measures include the reopening of critical media outlets, release detainees on political grounds and allow exiled opposition leaders to return home.
Confirmation Kabila would not stand for election has thus come as a huge sigh of relief for the human rights community.
“This will delight many Congolese,” said Jean-Mobert Senga, Amnesty International's DRC researcher.
The human rights advocate, however, noted more must be done to address an entrenched culture of violations by government.
Government thus must demonstrate its commitment to ensuring an environment where citizens could freely exercise their human rights throughout the
electoral cycle, by officially lifting the ban on peaceful protest, Senga added.
Kabila’s exit has also raised hopes government would release detained critics and promote media freedom.
“Finally, government must take concrete measures to hold those responsible for human rights violations to account, including the military, police and high-ranking intelligence officers,” Senga said.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has also welcomed the imminent exit of Kabila, with the bloc’s chairman, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, commending his DRC counterpart of honouring his pledge to respect the constitution.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the African Union Commission, welcomed he step taken by Kabila.
“In doing so, President Kabila has made a gesture of high political value in the best interests of his country,” Mahamat said.
United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, António Guterres, reiterated the world body’s readiness to continue working with DRC to prepare the ground for free, fair and credible elections leading to a peaceful transfer of power.
Meanwhile, Ramazani Shadary, former Minister of the Interior, will be the candidate of the ruling party.
Information Minister Lambert Mende, confirmed Shadary (57) was selected following consultations within the ruling People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD)
and the coalition Common Front for Congo (FCC).
He is set to come up against over 20 other presidential hopefuls.
The most prominent are Felix Tshisekedi, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Vital Kamerhe, who are believed to be considering lining up behind a single candidate.
Tshisekedi (55) leads the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, the oldest and largest opposition party. He is the son of longstanding opposition leader, Etienne, who died last year.
Former warlord Bemba (55) marks a return to politics after the International Criminal Court in The Hague recently acquitted him of war crimes.
Kamerhe, former Minister of Press and Information, leads the Union for the Congolese Nation. He lost the 2011 poll, only gaining over 7 percent of the vote, coming third behind Tshisekedi (32,33 percent) and Kabila (48,95
Another hopeful, businessman Moise Katumbi, exiled in Belgium since his fallout with Kabila, has failed to file his papers following indications he has been blocked from entering the country.
– CAJ News