President Kabila's leading rival, Moise Katumbi, is fighting back allegations that he hired foreign mercenaries to destabilize the country. A political analyst thinks the allegations are meant to serve as a warning.
The 51-year-old former governor of Katanga was an ally of President Joseph Kabila for nearly a decade, but he quit the ruling party in November 2015 over the president's plans to split several provinces, including Katanga.
Katanga, now split into four provinces, is the mineral-rich region which generates at least a half of the country's revenues.
Katumbi, a billionaire of mixed descent, is famous in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), particularly in Lubumbashi, a home to the prestigious Tout- Puissant Mazembe football club. The mogul owns the three – time winner of the African Champions League. On Monday (09.05.2016), while appearing in court, Katumbi was cheered by hundreds of supporters, including football fans, shouting anti-government slogans as he entered the court room.
The politician is accused to have recruited foreign mercenaries including Americans and South Africans to destabilize Kinshasa government, the charges he denies. Katumbi said on twitter that those accusations are unfounded, saying his opponents were "simply looking to harm him" and that he would never take up arms to secure power.
The accusations came a day after he confirmed he would accept an opposition coalition's nomination as its presidential candidate.
Jason Stearns, a political expert on DRC, believes that the allegations against Katumbi are far fetched. "This could be a message to Katumbi that he should watch out," Stearns told DW.
The US based rights group, Human Rights Watch, said at least 27 associates of Moise Katumbi, have been arrested along with other opposition party members since late April 2016. The alleged arrests occurred between April 22 and May 7 in and around the southern city of Lubumbashi, where Katumbi is based.
How famous is Katumbi?
A coalition of 16 opposition parties in DRC nominated Moise Katumbi as their presidential candidate for the upcoming presidential poll. The recent opposition movement is known under its acronym, AR, which means Alternation for the Republic. According to a political analyst on DRC, Christoph Vogel, AR is made up of small opposition parties with some heavy weight 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. This he says makes AR strong to give President Kabilaa ride in the presidential race.
But, Jason Stearns, knows Katumbi as a populist person. "He is somebody known to spread money around to seduce people. This has given him very broad popularity," Stearns told DW. However, the expert has expressed doubt over the popularity of Katumbi outside Katanga region, saying - the opposition politician has spent a large part of his life outside the Congo. "He is not well known in the west of the country. He has rarely made appearances in Kinshasa and he allegedly doesn't speak very good Lingala," Stearns said.
Several Congolese have been expressing their frustrations regarding the prosecution of Katumbi,on tweeter. One of his fans sarcastically "thanked" the Congolese president Joseph Kabila for indirectly promoting Moise Katumbi.
Is Kabila stepping down or staying?
DRC authorities are under pressure from the international community to hold the presidential poll as planned in November 2016, before Kabila's second-term expires in December.
He has yet to announce clearly his plans, but contrary to the constitution which only allows a two-term limit, some of his party members have asked him to run again - a proposal that has solicited protests across DRC. Kabila is in a difficult position now, says Stearns. "He received a lot of fierce resistance from various sectors, so he retreated from that option. I think the default option for him is to pray for time,"
President Joseph Kabila has been in power for 15 years. He has shown no sign of preparing to leave office; despite him calling for a "national dialogue" to allow for a peaceful vote. Opponents viewed the demands as a trap, which could allow his supporters to put off polls for two to four years until they can organize "credible" elections.