Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Lost Land of the Congo’

Former Congolese vice president seeks compensation from ICC

March 11, 2019

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A former vice president of Congo who was acquitted on appeal at the International Criminal Court of crimes in Central African Republic is seeking millions of euros (dollars) in compensation.

Lawyers for Jean-Pierre Bemba released a lengthy written application Monday in which they ask judges at the global court to award Bemba a total of nearly 69 million euros ($77 million). The sum includes compensation for a decade he spent in jail and also covers legal costs and losses to his assets, which were frozen by the court.

Appeals judges last year overturned Bemba’s 2016 convictions as a military commander on two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes for a campaign of murder, rape and pillaging by his troops in Central African Republic from 2002-2003.

Advertisements

Congo’s surprise new leader in 1st peaceful power transfer

January 24, 2019

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as Congo’s president Thursday, marking the country’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium nearly 60 years ago, and immediately announced plans for the release of all political prisoners.

The 55-year-old Tshisekedi succeeds Joseph Kabila, the strongman who governed the largely impoverished and corruption-riddled Central African country for 18 years before stepping down under pressure. “We are committed to building a modern, peaceful, democratic and caring state for every citizen,” the new president said, “a state that will guarantee the happiness of all.”

He called on the troubled nation to engage in a new battle, one for “the well-bring for each citizen of this beautiful country.” Kabila watched from behind mirrored sunglasses as the extraordinary scene of an opposition figure becoming president unfolded. When Kabila left the dais, some in the crowd booed.

Tshisekedi also called for national reconciliation in the wake of the disputed Dec. 30 election. The balloting was marked by allegations of large-scale fraud and suspicions of a backroom deal by Kabila to install Tshisekedi over another opposition candidate who according to leaked electoral data was the real winner.

But many Congolese appeared satisfied just to see Kabila go and relieved to witness a peaceful change of power in a politically repressive country with a history of violent coups. Supporters of Tshisekedi stormed the People’s Palace, which houses the legislature, for a glimpse of the inauguration.

The new president declared that Congo will not be a nation of “division, hate or tribalism” and spoke of “fundamental rights.” He vowed to take on corruption, asserting that $16 billion to $20 billion is lost each year to graft, and rid the country of its dozens of rebel groups. And he surprised observers by announcing his government will free all political prisoners.

It is unclear how many political prisoners are held in Congo “simply because they keep changing — they arrest people in Congo every day for nothing and release some hours later,” said Jean-Mobert Senga, a researcher with Amnesty International. More than 100 were arrested in post-election violence, some arbitrarily, he said.

“I have no reason to doubt” the release will happen, Senga said. “It is in his interest to do what he promised to do. Otherwise, people will quickly lose trust.” The largely untested Tshisekedi has inherited much goodwill from his father, the late opposition icon Etienne Tshisekedi, who pursued the presidency for decades. In his inaugural address, Tshisekedi referred to his father as “president” to wild cheers.

Tshisekedi’s charismatic father had posed such a challenge to Kabila that after he died in Belgium in 2017, Congo’s government did not allow his body to be brought home. His son’s spokesman has said that will be corrected soon.

Many Congolese hope Tshisekedi will bring change after Kabila, who in his final address on Wednesday night urged the country to unite and support the new leader. But Tshisekedi faces the challenge of working with a legislature dominated by members of Kabila’s ruling coalition. That could hurt efforts to bring about dramatic reforms in Congo, a mineral-rich country of more than 80 million people.

“One must transform these words into actions,” said Ben Mpoko, Congo’s ambassador to South Africa and an influential member of Kabila’s ruling coalition. “We have lost much in wars and quarrels. We have no time to lose.”

Few had expected an opposition victory in Congo, where Kabila had hung on for more than two turbulent years of election delays. Declared runner-up Martin Fayulu mounted a court challenge to Tshisekedi’s win, alleging widespread rigging and demanding a recount. The Constitutional Court on Sunday rejected it. Outside court, Fayulu accused Kabila of making a deal with Tshisekedi as it became clear the ruling party’s candidate did poorly at the polls.

Observers have said Fayulu, a businessman outspoken about cleaning up corruption, posed a bigger threat to Kabila and his allies. The new president saluted Fayulu in his speech as a “veritable soldier of the people.”

Just one African head of state, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, was seen at the inauguration after the African Union and others in the international community expressed reservations about the election. The United States and others have said they will work with the new leader but have not offered congratulations.

Congo gained independence in 1960. Its first leader, Patrice Lumumba, was removed in a military coup and assassinated in 1961. Mobutu Sese Seko ruled for more than three decades before he was overthrown in 1997 by rebel leader Laurent Kabila, who was assassinated in 2001. Kabila’s son, Joseph, then took over at age 29.

On Thursday, Congo’s new president caused a few minutes of confusion and worry by pausing during his inauguration speech. It turned out his bulletproof vest had been too tight.

Anna reported from Johannesburg. Associated Press writer Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg contributed.

Congo’s new leader completes 1st peaceful transfer of power

January 24, 2019

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo’s new President Felix Tshisekedi made news as soon as he was sworn into office on Thursday by announcing he would release all political prisoners and by praising his father, the late opposition icon Etienne, calling him “president” to cheers from the crowd.

The 55-year-old Tshisekedi’s inauguration marked the Central African nation’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence nearly 60 years ago. He takes over from Joseph Kabila, who led the country since 2001. Kabila quietly watched from behind his mirrored sunglasses the extraordinary scene of an opposition leader becoming president. When Kabila left the dais, some in the crowd booed.

Tshisekedi appealed for tolerance as questions remained about the disputed Dec. 30 election, calling national reconciliation “one of our priorities.” Congolese largely have accepted his win in the interest of peace.

Despite the concerns, the new leader has inherited much goodwill with the legacy of his father, who pursued the presidency for decades but never achieved the post his son has won. The reference to Etienne Tshisekedi as “president” was a nod to the late opposition leader’s defiant declaration after losing the disputed election in 2011 to Kabila.

Tshisekedi’s father had posed such a charismatic challenge that after he died in Belgium in 2017, Congo’s government did not allow his body to be brought home. His son’s spokesman has said that will be corrected soon.

Supporters of the new president stormed the Palais de la Nation for a glimpse of the inauguration. Just one African head of state, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, was seen at Thursday’s ceremony after the African Union and others in the international community expressed reservations over alleged election fraud. The United States and others this week said they will work with the new leader but did not offer congratulations.

Many Congolese hope that Tshisekedi will bring change after Kabila, who in a final address on Wednesday night urged the country to unite and support the incoming leader. He said he was stepping aside with no regrets.

Tshisekedi now faces the challenge of working with a legislature dominated by members of Kabila’s ruling coalition, likely restricting the chances of dramatic reforms in a country that remains largely impoverished and plagued by dozens of rebel groups.

Few had expected an opposition victory in Congo, where Kabila had hung on for more than two years of turbulent election delays. Declared runner-up Martin Fayulu mounted a court challenge to Tshisekedi’s win, alleging massive rigging and demanding a recount. The Constitutional Court on Sunday rejected it. Outside court, Fayulu accused Kabila of making a backroom deal with Tshisekedi as it became clear the ruling party’s candidate did poorly at the polls.

The new president saluted Fayulu in his speech as a “veritable soldier of the people” and acknowledged the Catholic Church, whose large electoral observer mission found that Fayulu had won. Observers have said Fayulu, an opposition lawmaker and businessman who is outspoken about cleaning up Congo’s sprawling corruption, was seen as a bigger threat to Kabila and his allies.

Few Congolese have taken up Fayulu’s call for peaceful protest, appearing instead to accept Tshisekedi’s win as long as Kabila is on the way out. Congo will not be a nation of “division, hate or tribalism,” the new president declared.

Tshisekedi also vowed to take on widespread corruption, asserting that billions of dollars are lost per year. He called the revenue brought in “the weakest in the world.” Congo has trillions of dollars’ worth of mineral wealth but the country remains badly underdeveloped, to the frustration of the population of its 80 million people.

The new president briefly paused his inauguration speech, surrounded by concerned supporters, before resuming several minutes later and asking the crowd for its understanding. He cited a “small moment of weakness.” A number of people in the crowd earlier had fainted in the heat.

Congo’s neighbors call for vote recount in troubled election

January 14, 2019

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo’s neighbors are calling for a vote recount in the disputed presidential election and suggesting the formation of a government of national unity to avoid possible instability.

The statements by the southern African and Great Lakes regional blocs put new pressure on the government of outgoing President Joseph Kabila to find a peaceful and transparent solution to a growing electoral crisis in one of Africa’s largest and most mineral-rich nations.

The declared presidential runner-up, Martin Fayulu, filed a court challenge over the weekend asking for a recount. He points to figures compiled by the influential Catholic Church’s 40,000 election observers that found he won 61 percent of the vote.

Fayulu accuses Kabila of making a backroom deal to declare as the winner opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, who came in a distant second according to the Catholic Church’s results. Kabila is suspected of making a backroom deal to alter the results in order to protect his vast assets from Fayulu’s anti-corruption efforts. Congo is a major source of the minerals central to smartphones and electric cars worldwide.

Congo’s electoral commission has said Tshisekedi won 38 percent of the vote and Fayulu 34 percent. It later announced that Kabila’s ruling coalition had won a majority in legislative and provincial elections, which would constrain any attempted reforms by Tshisekedi if he takes power.

The disparity in the ruling coalition’s results in the presidential and other elections has raised questions in a vote also troubled by the malfunctioning of voting machines, polling stations that opened hours late and the last-minute decision to bar some 1 million voters in two communities affected by a deadly Ebola outbreak.

The Great Lakes statement issued overnight expressed “deep concern” about the various challenges to the official results, and urged Congolese authorities to be more transparent in the interest of the country’s stability.

It followed a similar statement by the influential Southern African Development Community, which includes regional powers South Africa and Angola and rarely challenges countries’ election results. The statements by African groups may to have more influence with Kabila’s government, which was annoyed by Western pressure over two years of turbulent election delays as many worried that Kabila was seeking a way to stay in power.

Fayulu’s opposition coalition welcomed the new regional stance. “It would be dangerous not to support the democratic process,” he said in a Twitter post. Congo’s 80 million people have been largely peaceful since the Dec. 30 vote but at least a dozen people have been killed in protests. Internet service, cut the day after the vote, remains off.

Associated Press writer Louis Patrick Okamba in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo contributed.

Congo runner-up Fayulu asks court to order election recount

January 12, 2019

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo’s presidential runner-up Martin Fayulu has asked the constitutional court to order a recount in the disputed election, declaring on Saturday that “you can’t manufacture results behind closed doors.”

He could be risking more than the court’s refusal. Congo’s electoral commission president Corneille Nangaa has said there are only two options: The official results are accepted or the vote is annulled — which would keep President Joseph Kabila in power until another election. The Dec. 30 one came after two years of delays.

“They call me the people’s soldier … and I will not let the people down,” Fayulu said. Evidence from witnesses at polling stations across the country is being submitted to the court, which is full of Kabila appointees.

Rifle-carrying members of Kabila’s Republican Guard deployed outside Fayulu’s home and the court earlier Saturday. It was an attempt to stop him from filing, Fayulu said while posting a video of them on Twitter: “The fear remains in their camp.”

Fayulu has accused the declared winner, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, of a backroom deal with Kabila to win power in the mineral-rich nation as the ruling party candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, did poorly.

The opposition coalition for Fayulu, a businessman vocal about cleaning up widespread corruption, has said he won 61 percent of the vote, citing figures compiled by the Catholic Church’s 40,000 election observers across the vast Central African country.

Those figures show Tshieskedi received 18 percent, the coalition said. The church, the rare authority that many Congolese find trustworthy, has urged the electoral commission to release its detailed vote results for public scrutiny. The commission has said Tshisekedi won with 38 percent while Fayulu received 34 percent.

Earlier on Saturday, the commission announced that Kabila’s ruling coalition had won an absolute majority of national assembly seats. That majority, which will choose the prime minister and form the next government, sharply reduces the chances of dramatic reforms under Tshisekedi.

Congolese now face the extraordinary situation of a presidential vote allegedly rigged in favor of the opposition. “This is more than an electoral farce; it’s a tragedy,” the LUCHA activist group tweeted, noting a ruling party majority in provincial elections as well.

This could be Congo’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960, but observers have warned that a court challenge could lead to violence. During the turbulent years of election delays, many Congolese worried that Kabila, in power since his father was assassinated in 2001, was seeking a way to stay in office to protect his sprawling assets.

“Even if Tshisekedi’s presidency survives these court challenges, he will be compromised beyond repair and reliant on Kabila, whose patronage network controls most of the country’s levers of power, including the security forces,” professor Pierre Engelbert, a fellow with at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, wrote on Friday.

Statements on the election by the international community, including African regional blocs, have not congratulated Tshisekedi, with some looking forward to final detailed results and many urging against violence.

Congo’s 80 million people have been largely peaceful since the vote, though the U.N. peacekeeping mission reported at least a dozen deaths in protests in Kwilu province. Authorities also noted demonstrations in Kisangani and Mbandaka cities.

Internet service has been cut off across the country since election day. Tshisekedi, who has been largely quiet since the election, had not been widely considered the leading candidate. Long in the shadow of his charismatic father, the late opposition leader Etienne, he broke away from the opposition’s unity candidate, Fayulu, to stand on his own.

After election results were announced, Tshisekedi said Kabila would be an “important partner” in the transition. Fayulu, who was backed by two popular opposition leaders barred by the government from running, is seen as more of a threat to Kabila’s interests.

The difference between Tshisekedi and Fayulu in official results was some 684,000 votes. One million voters were barred from the election at the last minute, with the electoral commission blaming a deadly Ebola virus outbreak. Elsewhere, observers reported numerous problems including malfunctioning voting machines and polling stations that opened hours late.

The presidential inauguration will be on Jan. 22, the electoral commission said Saturday.

African Union urges Congo to suspend final election results

January 18, 2019

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — The African Union continental body issued a surprise last-minute demand late Thursday for Congo’s government to suspend the announcement of final results of the disputed presidential election, citing “serious doubts.”

Congo’s constitutional court is poised to rule as early as Friday on a challenge filed by the election’s declared runner-up. Martin Fayulu has requested a recount, alleging fraud. Upholding the results could spark violence in a country hoping for its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.

The AU statement said heads of state and government agreed to “urgently dispatch” a high-level delegation to Congo to find “a way out of the post-electoral crisis” in the vast Central African nation rich in the minerals key to smartphones and electric cars around the world.

“This is truly incredible,” tweeted Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University. “Usually, the African Union defers to the subregion … in this case they departed dramatically.”

Congo faces the extraordinary situation of an election allegedly rigged in favor of the opposition. There was no immediate government comment. Fayulu accuses the administration of outgoing President Joseph Kabila of falsifying the results to declare opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi the winner after the ruling party candidate did poorly. Fayulu has cited figures compiled by the influential Catholic Church’s 40,000 election observers that found he won 61 percent of the vote.

Two sets of leaked data show that Fayulu won the election by a landslide, according to an investigation published this week by Radio France International and other media working with the Congo Research Group.

In the first set of data, attributed to Congo’s electoral commission and representing 86 percent of the votes, Fayulu won 59.4 percent while Tshisekedi received 19 percent. The second set of data, from the Catholic Church’s mission, represents 43 percent of the votes. In it, Tshisekedi and ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary each received less than 20 percent.

Fayulu, a lawmaker and businessman who is outspoken about cleaning up Congo’s sprawling corruption, is widely seen as posing more of a threat to Kabila, his allies and the vast wealth they have amassed. Tshisekedi, the son of charismatic opposition leader Etienne who died in 2017, is relatively untested and has said little since the Dec. 30 election.

The AU statement was issued after Congo’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister briefed “a number of heads of state and government” from across the continent on the crisis. It said some of the heads of state would join the AU Commission chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, in the urgent mission to Congo.

Pressure from African nations is seen as having more of an impact on Congo’s government, which was annoyed by Western pressure during more than two years of turbulent election delays. The AU statement reflects serious concern by states about the threat of more unrest in Congo that could spill across borders and destabilize its many neighbors.

But countries have wavered on how to address the crisis. The AU statement came hours after the 16-nation Southern African Development Community backed off its earlier demand for an election recount, instead urging the international community to respect Congo’s sovereignty. It stressed the need for stability in a country where conflicts over the past two decades have killed millions of people.

The AU statement noted that SADC leaders attended the wider continental talks. Congo’s election had been meant to take place in late 2016, and many Congolese worried that Kabila, in power since 2001, was seeking a way to stay in office. Barred from serving three consecutive terms, Kabila already has hinted he might run again in 2023.

Election observers reported multiple problems, including the last-minute barring of some 1 million voters in the east, with the electoral commission blaming a deadly Ebola outbreak. That alone undermines the election’s credibility, some observers said.

All of the election results, not just the presidential ones, have been widely questioned after Kabila’s ruling coalition won a majority in legislative and provincial votes while its presidential candidate finished a distant third.

Congo runner-up claims victory, will file election challenge

January 11, 2019

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo runner-up Martin Fayulu announced on Friday he will file a court challenge to the presidential election results, while his opposition coalition asserted he actually received 61 percent of the vote according to the findings of the influential Catholic Church’s observers.

Fayulu spoke to hundreds of supporters who gathered in the capital, Kinshasa, to denounce what they called “the people’s stolen victory.” A heavy police presence was on hand. A businessman and vocal campaigner against Congo’s widespread corruption, Fayulu accuses outgoing President Joseph Kabila of making a backroom deal with the surprise declared winner, largely untested opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi.

The Catholic Church, the rare authority that many Congolese find trustworthy, has said its 40,000 election observers in all polling stations found a different winner from the official results but it has not given details. Diplomats briefed on the findings say they found Fayulu won easily.

The church’s findings showed Tshisekedi received just 18 percent of the vote, just ahead of ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Fayulu’s coalition asserted. Fayulu urged that Congo’s electoral commission publish detailed results, polling station by polling station, and said he would file his court challenge on Saturday morning. He blew kisses to the crowd.

“Those who have been silly enough to publish false results, we will challenge them,” he said. Congolese face the extraordinary situation of an election allegedly rigged in favor of the opposition after Kabila’s preferred candidate, Shadary, did poorly in the polls.

The electoral commission early Thursday announced that Tshisekedi had won with 38 percent of the vote while Fayulu received 34 percent. “Change cannot be negotiated behind closed doors and power only comes from the ballot, there is no other way,” said Fayulu supporter Jean Otaba, 28. “You can see there is no massive celebration despite the announcement. That’s because it is not the truth.”

This could be Congo’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960, but observers have warned that a court challenge could spin the long-troubled country into chaos. Some Fayulu supporters have worried that the constitutional court could invalidate the results, keeping Kabila in power until a new election.

There are two options, electoral commission president Corneille Nangaa told the U.N. Security Council on Friday: The official results are accepted or the vote is annulled. Congo’s 80 million people have been largely calm, though police said three people were killed in Kikwit city on Thursday as people protested the results. Some students protested in the city of Mbandaka on Friday.

Internet service in Congo, cut off the day after the Dec. 30 vote, has not yet been restored. Careful statements by the international community, including African regional blocs, have not congratulated Tshisekedi, merely taking note of official results and urging peace and stability in a country with little of it. The foreign ministers of France, Belgium and Britain raised concerns. The United States said “we await clarification of questions which have been raised regarding the electoral count.”

Some observers wondered whether the international community would be content with any change of power after pressuring Kabila over two years of election delays. “Imperfect elections which guarantee post-election stability are getting more accepted than credible elections that result in refusal of power transfer and conflict!” Arnold Tsunga, Africa director with the International Commission of Jurists rights group, mused on Twitter.

Tshisekedi had not been widely considered the leading candidate. Long in the shadow of his father, the late opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, he startled Congo last year by breaking away from the opposition’s unity candidate, Fayulu, to stand on his own.

Fayulu, a former Exxon manager and Kinshasa lawmaker, was a vocal activist during the turbulent delay in Congo’s election, insisting it was time for Kabila to go as many feared the president would find a way to stay in office and protect his vast assets obtained from Congo’s staggering mineral wealth.

Fayulu was backed by two popular opposition leaders barred by the government from running. The difference between Tshisekedi and Fayulu in official results was some 684,000 votes. Some observers said the 1 million voters who were barred at the last minute, with the electoral commission blaming a deadly Ebola virus outbreak, could have made the difference. Elsewhere, election observers reported numerous problems including malfunctioning voting machines and polling stations that opened hours late.

Several Congo analysts said it appeared Kabila made a quiet agreement with Tshisekedi, saying Fayulu would have posed more of a threat to his interests and allies and that Tshisekedi was more malleable. Tshisekedi took over as head of Congo’s most prominent opposition party only in early 2018, a year after his father’s death.

After results were announced, Tshisekedi said Kabila would be an “important partner” in the power transition. “Felix Tshisekedi has been compromised,” said Tamuzi Mandar, a local official with Fayulu’s Lamuka coalition. “What is finally revealed is that he is not opposition. His father was, but not him.”

“Felix betrayed the people by licking Kabila’s plate,” said Joel Ituka Kuzembe, 25, who said he spent nine months in prison for participating in the protests that demanded that Kabila step down. Kabila has ruled since 2001 in the Central African nation rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world. He is barred from serving three consecutive terms but has hinted that he could run again in 2023.

“There is a lot of sadness in the country,” said Bob Vonda, 35, a lawyer. “You can see people are not celebrating, apart from a very small part. People feel they have been robbed.”

Associated Press writer Saleh Mwanamilongo in Kinshasa contributed.

Tag Cloud