This article titled “Congo’s splintered opposition vows to defy repression and return to streets” was written by Jason Burke in Goma, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th April 2018 09.30 Asia/Kolkata
Opposition politicians and activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo have pledged to defy repression and step up their protests as the troubled country edges towards elections that have been promised by the president, Joseph Kabila, later this year.
The DRC has been hit by a series of rebellions and outbreaks of communal violence in recent months, with some observers raising concerns of a slide into anarchy which could destabilise much of the region.
The UN has warned of a dramatic deterioration in the humanitarian situation. More than 4 million people are displaced and at least 8 million are in the acute stages of hunger. Thousands have died. A donor conference on 13 April was boycotted by the DRC and raised less than half of the $1.7bn sought by the UN.
Police and national military forces are blamed for widespread human rights abuses. About 50 people have already been killed in protests this year According to a recent UN report “state agents” carried out 1,176 killings last year, but the true toll may be much higher. Security agencies are accused of hiding evidence of further wrongdoing and many witnesses have been intimidated.
Five members of the civil society movement Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA) were recently detained in the eastern city of Goma, while many more have experienced systematic harassment. Five protesters and one police officer were injured when security forces dispersed a protest last month. Alexis Kanane, a former spokesman of the LUCHA in Goma, was shot dead last month. Campaigners believe he was assassinated.
LUCHA is now planning a new wave of street protests before the end of April.
The relatives of victims of recent shootings and alleged abductions contacted by the Guardian were unwilling to talk after receiving threats. But members of the DRC’s fragmented opposition as well as civil society activists said they would continue to protest despite the risk of imprisonment or injury.
“We are threatened every day. They tell us: ‘Stop what you are doing or something bad will happen to you.’ The worse thing is not the threat of prison, it is the fear of not being able to act to change the situation,” said Gloire Wahzavalere, a 20-year-old LUCHA activist in Goma.
Kabila, who took power in 2001 after his father was assassinated, ignored the end of his second five year term in 2016. Aides have said the 46-year-old will not stand again at polls scheduled for December.
“This is not a kingdom … it is a democratic republic,” Lambert Mende, the information minister, told the Guardian in February
Many believe Kabila will try to maintain his grip on power, by changing the constitution, outright fraud, ensuring a close ally wins polls or manipulating the electoral system to ensure opposition parties are marginalised.
Opposition activists say there is “a new consciousness among the Congolese”.
Christian Badosa, an official from the Commitment for Citizenship and Development party (ECiDé), said: “There is a popular anger [Kabila] cannot resist. Everyone wants a change.”
Badosa said he had been attacked four times by unknown thugs in Goma and repeatedly detained. “I’ve spent a lot of time in safehouses. They are ready to do anything to silence us but we are used to their threats. We’re going to keep up the pressure.”
The lack of unity among the DRC’s multitude of opposition parties may allow Kabila to pursue an effective policy of divide and rule, analysts say, and there is still some support for the president.
“We have seen some huge achievements in recent years: hospitals, clinics, schools. But you have to be realistic. Look at where we were coming from! Since independence, this country was effectively destroyed,” said Sylvestre Nkuba Kahombo, a Goma MP with the president’s party.
The most popular opposition figure appears to be Moïse Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga province.
Katumbi, who was forced to leave DRC after being charged with fraud in 2016, launched his run for the presidecy from South Africa last month. The multimillionaire businessman says the charges against him are trumped up.
“He’s the one we want to see. He knows how to get things done. In Katanga there was lots of development when he was in power and that’s what we want to see everywhere,” said Alphonse Bahati, a traditional chief in Nyabiondo, a remote hill town 45 miles west of Goma.
Officials say that “no fraud will be accepted” but point to the logistical difficulties of organising the poll in a vast country with limited infrastructure and 46 million registered voters.
“We are four times bigger than France, without roads. That’s going to pose some enormous challenges,” said Julien Paluko, the governor of North Kivu province and a Kabila loyalist.
A key point of contention is the use of new electronic voting machines, which many believe will facilitate fraud but which officials say are essential to cut costs and ease logistics. The international community led by the US are insisting on paper ballots.
The 2006 election led to violent clashes. In 2011, the poll was marred by allegations of systematic fraud.
Wahzavalere, the young LUCHA activist in Goma, is defiant.
“It’s risky to demonstrate given the response of the security agencies. Every time we try to rise up, they beat us down. But that just shows us why we have to keep going at any price,” he said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010