Congo's Katumbi to Return Home When Vote Certain to Go Ahead

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic Republic of Congo presidential hopeful Moise Katumbi said he’ll return from exile once he’s convinced long-delayed presidential elections are going to take place.

The 53-year-old former governor of Congo’s copper-rich Katanga province would be the likeliest candidate to replace President Joseph Kabila if he’s allowed to compete in elections scheduled for December, according to a poll published last month.

Congo's Katumbi to Return Home When Vote Certain to Go Ahead

“The election time isn’t clear yet,” Katumbi said in an interview at a conference in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. “When it becomes clear, I will definitely go back.”

Congo, which hasn’t had a peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960, was supposed to hold elections in November 2016. The electoral commission postponed the vote, citing financial and logistical constraints. Opposition leaders have long accused Kabila, head of state since 2001, of delaying the vote in order to retain power and change the constitution.

“Our constitution is very clear,” Katumbi said. “He has no right to run.”

Protesters Killed

Security forces have killed more than 300 people in nationwide anti-government protests since January 2015 in the run up to and following the end of Kabila’s second mandate, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Elections are now scheduled for Dec. 23. Last week, a spokesman for Kabila’s ruling coalition said “no other solution is possible” than elections happening this year.

Katumbi has been in self-imposed exiled since May 2016, soon after he split with Kabila and announced an intention to succeed his former ally. A month later he was convicted in absentia for illegally selling a property, while two other investigations remain open -- including allegations he violated Congo’s ban on dual citizenship. Katumbi denies the allegations and says the “fake, bogus” actions are politically motivated.

“I will file my candidacy like any other candidate, there is no Plan B,” Katumbi said. Those aspiring to the presidency must submit their applications between July 25 and Aug. 8, according to the current schedule.

Source of Instability

Kabila’s insistence on holding onto power is destabilizing Africa’s biggest copper producer, Katumbi said. He appealed to the Southern African Development Community, a 15-nation regional bloc, to keep encouraging the president to “leave power peacefully.”

Recent surges in intercommunal conflicts in eastern and central Congo have forced millions to flee, caused widespread hunger and stirred echoes of its 1998-2003 war. More than 5 million people have been driven from their homes -- about 4.5 million internally displaced and the rest to neighboring countries -- and 2.4 million more may be uprooted this year, according to the United Nations.

“Congo isn’t about one man,” Katumbi said. “If President Kabila leaves power, the country will have stability. He is the one causing problems at the moment.”

Katumbi, who ran Congo’s mining heartland of Katanga for eight years until September 2015, criticized legislation signed by Kabila in March, which is set to raise royalties and introduce new taxes for major investors such as Glencore Plc and China Molybdenum Co.

“President Kabila is supposed to wait for a legitimate government,” Katumbi said. “He cannot impose these kinds of tax laws.”

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