DRC expats rally against Kabila
On 1 October 2010 Armand Tungulu, a young Congolese activist, died in mysterious circumstances while being detained by the presidential guard after throwing rocks at Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s cortège. The official cause of death was suicide, but most believe that he was killed by government security services.
Since then, Tungulu has become a symbol for the many things that are wrong with the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Kabila government. A group of activists from the Congolese community in Johannesburg has given his name to the small park in Yeoville where it has been gathering informally since the start of the Congolese electoral period. This week hundreds of people, from doctors and mining engineers to car guards, are staging a vigil while they wait for the official proclamation of the presidential election results.
On Tuesday night Rockey Street, Yeoville’s main thoroughfare, was teeming, popular Congolese music was blaring and formal meetings were being held in the many video shops, hair salons and bars that line the street. The only subject: the contested presidential election, the results of which were due that night. People felt the Congolese population was finding its voice for the first time in many decades. There was frequent mention of the political revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year.
As the Ceni published interim results this week, which indicate that Kabila has a significant lead over his main opponent, Etienne Tshisekedi, the influential Catholic Church, which deployed 30 000 election observers, demanded that the commission publish the election reports from each polling station so that the results could be cross-checked.
Back in Yeoville there is little doubt about how people feel about Kabila and the elections.
“Kabila must go, we don’t want Kabila,” was a popular refrain among the thronging crowds in Tungulu Park. People blame him and his government for their misery and for the fact that they have had to leave their country to seek a life elsewhere. “We don’t want to live here, we want to go home, but we can’t. There are no jobs there; nothing,” said Mathy, one of the few women in the crowd.
Cardboard buttons, banners and car stickers express support for Tshisekedi, while Kabila fares rather worse. At Kin-Malebo, a popular bar, the bulletin board is covered with photoshopped pictures of Kabila in an orange Guantanamo Bay jumpsuit and, in another picture, of him clearly looking like Satan.
Among Kabila’s many sins is the accusation that he is not really Congolese—there is a persistent rumour, now 10 years old, that his mother is Rwandan; that his government is corrupt and he and his ministers steal; that he is selling off Congo’s mineral riches for nothing; and, now, that he has stolen the election. The anger among the Congolese is felt towards Kabila first and foremost, but also towards an international community they believe is facilitating Kabila’s fraud to further its own interests.
Suspicion of key players such as the United States and France goes back to the years of the Cold War, when Mobutu Sese Seko’s corrupt regime destroyed the country and the West turned a blind eye. More recently, South Africa has also become a target of this distrust.
Blanchard Kimwena, who runs an internet café in Johannesburg, said: “South Africa should be sending a strong message of democracy to Africa, but look at its foreign policy. Côte d’Ivoire [where South Africa supported Laurent Gbagbo, who clung to power in spite of losing the election] really disappointed us. They are just signing accords with Kabila and making business deals.”
The Congolese rumour mill, always active, is now in overdrive. As we sit at Kin-Malebo and wait for Congolese state television to announce the results, people are on and off the phone with those in the country, sending and receiving SMSes alleging all sorts of conspiracies.
The discovery that Congolese election ballots were floating around South Africa before the election—they were printed in South Africa—has entrenched the sense that South Africa is backing a Kabila victory. Several people allege that South Africa helped Kabila fly many thousands of ballots already marked in his favour into Congo while the elections were taking place. This helped fuel the election protest this week outside Luthuli House.
Claude Kabemba, an independent Congolese political analyst based in South Africa, argued that the impression that South Africa has benefited from its relationship with Congo is misplaced.
“Those who support Etienne Tshisekedi believe that South Africa has played a role in supporting Kabila. This is an emotional manifestation or a lack of understanding of foreign policy and the role that South Africa has played since [the 2002 Congolese peace talks at] Sun City.
“If individuals in Congo connive with individuals in South Africa, then this is not on the head of the South African government,” Kabemba said, referring to an oil concession granted to South African President Jacob Zuma’s nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, and Michael Hulley, Zuma’s lawyer. “South Africa is the biggest loser in the Congolese mining sector. The Chinese have done well.”
When the announcement finally comes at 10.30pm it does not give the results, it delays the announcement for another 48 hours.
One man turns to me and says: “I hear Zuma is already on his way to Kinshasa.”