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Demonstrators in Kinshasa burn tyres
Image: Reuters/N'Kengo

'Dialogue key for a peaceful election in DRC'

Isaac Mugabi
July 29, 2016

Opposition groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo plan to hold protests in the capital, Kinshasa, on Sunday against President Joseph Kabila's plans to extend his rule beyond his two-term limit that ends in December.


Sunday's planned protests follow the recent return of a key opposition figure, Etienne Tshisekedi, from Belgium on Wednesday, where he had been getting medical treatment for the last two years. An immensely popular figure, the 83-year-old Tshisekedi emerged as a leading opposition figure in the 1980s when he became a critic of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

In the last presidential election in 2011, Tshisekedi came in second to Joseph Kabila but contended he was denied victory by massive fraud. DW spoke to Jenerali Ulimwengu, a commentator on social and political issues in the Great Lakes region.

DW: What role is Tshisekedi going to play in the upcoming election, given his advanced age?

Jenerali Ulimwengu: Definitely Etienne Tshisekedi is quite old, but that doesn't disqualify him from being a political leader. He is a traditional and historical opposition leader in Zaire and Congo. Tshisekedi is also revered by many people in DRC. He has a certain mystique about him that people look for in political leaders and that doesn't really wash off with age. Sometimes people become even more messianic when they grow old, they become like an oracle to those who believe in their political leadership skills. We see people like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe still going strong; we have seen Bernie Sanders in the United States, who, despite his advanced age, appeals to very young American voters. So he can still play a role; because if you remove Tshisekedi from the equation, really DRC doesn't have any credible leader to challenge Kabila. So Tshisekedi may have that unifying force for the opposition in DRC.

Etienne Tshisekedi , DRC's main opposition leader
Tshisekedi will challenge Kabila's ambitions to remain in powerImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/P Photo/J. Bompengo

The African Union has named former Togolese Prime Minister Edem Kodjo as facilitator for a national dialogue. Do you think this dialogue will prevent the country from violence that is common during elections?

I don't necessarily think that Edem Kodjo will be waving a magic wand. He is a very intelligent man with experience working for the Organization of African Unity. He is also a brilliant scholar and a visionary. I read one of his books "Et demain L'Afrique" it is a very inspirational book. So he can provide a kind of catalyst for the people in DRC to come together around a conference table. But that will depend really on the dynamics of the political class in Kinshasa, whether they are willing to come together and negotiate something that is going to be very difficult for anyone to be able to unite all the Congolese.

Congo is a vast country with a horrible history, really, and it requires statesmen and stateswomen to come together and try to hammer out some agreement. But it goes beyond an election; it goes beyond trying to stop Joseph Kabila from extending his rule in Congo. It is about trying to make a nation out of a vast country that has never really been a nation throughout history. It's been a territory where everybody has come to plunder and take out resources but has never really become a nation that you can call a nation in a proper meaning of a nation.

For the first time DRC's opposition is united with one goal and that is to remove President Joseph Kabila from power. Can this be achieved?

That is achievable but it will only be a temporary and very short term kind of measure. The problem is not removing Joseph Kabila or one person, and the solution does not lie only in Tshisekedi or in [another prominent opposition figure] Moise Katumbi . The problem lies in trying to hammer out a nation out of diverse country that has a scary governance history that has never been together, that has never really had a government in Kinshasa that controls the whole of Kasai region. It's a very divided country; everybody both internally and externally think that it's a place where you go and plunder and carry out the wealth. So it is beyond one person. It is beyond Kabila, Tshisekedi and Katumbi.

The government says there are logistical and budgetary constraints making it unrealistic to hold elections. Could this be another ploy for Kabila to remain in power?

I don't know the intimate mathematics that he is playing on, but it would be disingenuous to come to the very end of your term and then bring up an excuse of lack of resources and so forth. I know there are logistical and financial problems but this should have been foreseen four or five years ago. I think it's just another gimmick for Kabila to try to extend his rule of DRC and that doesn't augur too well for the country as a whole. I hope they can find a way of getting out of this impasse.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is a social commentator on the Great Lakes region

Interview: Isaac Mugabi

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