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Africa

'DR Congo entering period of political contestation'

A coalition of 16 opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo has nominated Moise Katumbi as their presidential candidate for the November poll. The former governor of Katanga is yet to accept the nomination.

As the Democratic Republic of Congo gears up for elections scheduled for November, opposition parties are strategizing how best to win at the ballot box. Incumbent President Joseph Kabila's second term is coming to an end in December and the constitution bars him from running for another term.

The recent move is a coalition that has handpicked Katanga's former governor, Moise Katumbi (pictured above) to run for the top job. The wealthy businessman has, however, not given any signs whether he intends to be on the ballot paper.

DW spoke to Christoph Vogel, a researcher on the DRC at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

DW: How strong is this new opposition coalition? Does it have what it takes to unseat President Joseph Kabila?

Christoph Vogel: This most recent opposition movement is actually known under its acronym, AR, which means Alternation for the Republic. But this only regroups a number of pretty small opposition parties with some heavyweight politicians that have had very influential positions in the past, for instance former minister and rebel leader Mbusa Nyamwisi and a few other personalities such as former presidential candidates, parliamentarians and so on.

These parties, I think they are 15 or 16 in total, they do not represent a lot of political weight these days. But it's actually the second coalition of opposition parties that has come out speaking in favor of former Katanga governor Katumbi to run in the next presidential elections.

Certainly, there is some momentum of increased support for a possible candidacy of Katumbi, but specifically this most recent coalition doesn't add so much weight to another coalition of parties referred to as the G7 that has been coming up with a similar proposal a few weeks ago.

Katumbi was a former governor in the government of President Joseph Kabila. What change can we expect him to bring to the people of DR Congo?

Katumbi has been the governor of Katanga for quite a few years which is a province that existed until the country implemented its decentralization plan. As Katanga governor, Katumbi was widely praised for leading the province with a very keen sense for business, there were comparatively good situations for all sorts of investments especially in the mining sector. But recently, he left politics and the ruling coalition for the time being. He hasn't declared himself whether or not he intends to run for president.

The electoral commission has said it needs more time to prepare for the elections, which could imply that the polls may not take place in November 2016. Could this postponement trigger violence?

It's completely true that many observers and voices based outside the Congolese political scene seem to be more and more convinced that these elections will happen with at least a few months of delay. However, it's very difficult to speculate about whether this will immediately lead to violence or riots. As we have seen in the past in the Congo, large scale violence on the streets since at least the early 90s has been a very rare phenomenon.

Is the DRC politically mature to hold a peaceful vote?

I think from a western perspective it's a bit complicated to talk about things like whether or not an African country or former colony is politically mature because we [the west] tend to have very paternalistic views on these issues and I don't want to contribute to that. However, what is clear is that the DRC is definitely approaching a period of high political contestation. According to the current constitution, the incumbent President Kabila is not supposed to run again for presidency. Under this situation, we see an increase in political competition, particularly between the government and the opposition, but also to some extent, between opposition parties which have so far not agreed on a joint candidate.

Christoph Vogel is a senior fellow at the Congo Research Group and a researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

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