Congo Nobel winner launches presidential bid

Tuesday October 03 2023
Denis Mukwege

Dr Denis Mukwege receiving the Olof Palme Prize 2008 during a ceremony at in Stockholm, Sweden on January 30, 2009. PHOTO | AFP


Popular Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) gynaecologist Denis Mukwege on Monday declared himself a candidate in the presidential election scheduled for December 20, 2023, potentially ending speculation about whether he would enter politics.

But the famous doctor who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, may have made a decision that could now plunge him into the murky world of dirty politics in the DRC, where the dirty win and the rules are rarely followed.

Mukwege was speaking in Kinshasa far from his base in South Kivu where he has operated on hundreds of women raped during the war, helping them with reconstructive surgery.

Note that he had avoided politics altogether.

Read: Congo’s countdown to polls a hot potato

In fact, he was one of the most prominent figures in Congo to play politics without actually joining it. He often mocked the government for its dalliance with foreign missions, including the much-maligned UN peacekeeping mission (Monusco) and more recently, the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF).


To be fair, even DRC President Felix Tshisekedi has criticised Monusco and called for the EACRF to do more to tackle violent rebel groups in eastern Congo.

For Mukwege, those who regard him as a hero have been nagging him to make a bid for the presidency.

On September 16 for example, a group of women publicly called on him to run and handed him a cheque for $100,000 to pay the registration fee to the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni). He promised to get back to them.

"I declare that I am ready to carry out this project, but with you. I therefore accept to be your candidate for the presidency of DRC," said Mukwege, known locally as "women's repairer" for the numerous operations he has performed on women who have been victims of sexual violence in North and South Kivu during the 30-year war.

Mukwege joins the list of candidates who will face Tshisekedi in a winner-take-all first round of voting.

Read: Tshisekedi endorsed to run for DRC presidency

The race also includes opponent Martin Fayulu who lost to Tshisekedi in 2019; former prime minister Matata Ponyo; another former prime minister Adolphe Muzito; and former governor of Katanga Province Moïse Katumbi, who is also president of football club TP Mazembe.

In keeping with tradition, the race is also expected to attract fringe candidates. Tshisekedi has been trying to mobilise grassroots support, as leaders of various factions in the 26 provinces have come out to declare their support for the incumbent.

Mukwege therefore needs to build on his popularity in Kivu to overtake everyone.

“When the people decide to take power, no system can stand in their way,” he said.

Yet, he doesn't even have a political party. His bankable support comes from two sectors: a 'patriotic appeal' born out of civil society, and a political platform, the Alliance des Congolais pour la refondation de la nation (ACRN).

At 68, Mukwege dreams of repairing the DR Congo, just as he is already repairing the bodies of women victims of violence.

However, the Nobel laureate is in for a tough fight.