The recent visit to Rwanda by Congolese opposition politician and presidential hopeful Moise Katumbi is likely to further rock the fragile relations between Kigali and Kinshasa, ahead of the December presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mr Katumbi, who is currently in exile, was in Kigali on April 28 and 29 to attend the Mo Ibrahim Foundation forum on governance.
But the businessman and philanthropist says he is not convinced that President Joseph Kabila will organise the December 23 elections or that he will not seek re-election. He however said that he will return home in July to prepare his bid despite arrest warrants awaiting him.
Mr Katumbi’s presence in Rwanda has been met with allegations that he is backed by Kigali in his efforts to unseat President Kabila, with pro-government media in Kinshasa accusing him of “dealing with a neighbour responsible for insecurity in DRC.”
Mr Katumbi however dismissed as baseless, the allegations that he is backed by Kigali.
Mr Katumbi, who was a Governor of Katanga Province, left DRC in May 2016. In June the same year, he was sentenced to three years in prison after he was found guilty of illegally selling property, possessing two nationalities and recruiting mercenaries to destabilise the country.
At the time of fleeing, Mr Katumbi, who owns TP Mazembe football club, had successfully led opposition parties to oppose a planned constitutional amendment which would allow President Kabila to seek another term in office. He fled when threats to his life intensified.
DR Congo elections
In Kigali, Mr Katumbi, addressed hundreds of Congolese living in Rwanda in a town hall meeting, said if President Kabila does not allow elections to take place, the opposition would ask regional and international bodies to intervene.
“We will engage the African Union and the Southern African Development Co-operation to see what can be done. That is why these organisations exist,” said Mr Katumbi.
There have been efforts by the United Nations and SADC countries to talk President Kabila into stepping down and allowing elections to take place but the Congolese leader remains adamant.
He has postponed elections twice, leading to protests by the opposition, resulting in a political impasse. More than 300 people have been killed and thousands more arrested since January 2015.
President Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, completed his constitutional mandate in December 2016. Earlier in September, the country’s electoral authority announced that the elections would be delayed.
Attempts to amend the constitution were met by stiff resistance before President Kabila said that the mineral-rich country did not have money to organise presidential elections.
Mr Katumbi, 53, once a close ally of President Kabila, is now seen as his biggest challenger but the legal charges dealt his presidential ambitions a heavy blow as he ended up in exile.
Rwanda’s State Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of East African Community Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe said that the allegations that Kigali backs Katumbi are baseless because he was a guest of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
“Allegations are false. Katumbi was invited by Mo Ibrahim Fundation. Rwanda was only the venue and didn’t have a say on the invited participants. But if there are negative forces and politicians threatening the security of a neighbouring country, they are not in Rwanda,” Mr Nduhungirehe told The EastAfrican.
During a conversation with the Sudanese-born British billionaire businessman Mo Ibrahim, President Kagame said that it is the Congolese who have a solution to their problems.
“I was going to take issue with the question about Congo, because I am asked many times about Congo; but this time I will not take issue because I will answer it as the chairman of the AU,” President Kagame said amid chuckles, when asked about the way forward in DRC.
President Kagame said that there is a roadmap for a political transition that has been agreed upon by all parties, but concerns remain on whether the government will implement it, pointing out that the AU will be closely observing to see if that roadmap is respected.
The political uncertainty in the country has driven more than 4.5 million people out of their homes and left another five million internally displaced. The SADC has urged President Kabila to peacefully hand over power to avoid throwing the country into yet another conflict.