Presidential elections scheduled for November 2016 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) can still take place on time, a leading opposition figure has told IBTimes UK in an exclusive interview. Responding to Joseph Kabila's perceived attempts by many to subvert democracy by unconstitutionally clinching a third term in office, Moise Katumbi, the former governor of the powerful Katanga province said he is "totally supporting" the UK's position that elections can and should happen this year.
Earlier this week a timetable purportedly prepared by the country's electoral commission (CENI) emerged on social media and estimated that voters would face a minimum delay of 13 months and 10 days before they can head to the polls. Kabila's administration in Kinshasa claims that postponing elections is necessary in order to update the voter rolls. According to the CENI chart, a full revision of the register could take 16 months and one day.
Congolese electorate backs the UK's official position on elections
"I disagree with the CENI people," Katumbi said. "I'm totally supporting the special envoy from the United Kingdom. There is no reason to have elections after 13 months". Earlier this month, Danae Dholakia, the UK's Special Envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region told IBTimes UK that it is still "technically possible" for voters to head to the polls without delay.
Like a number of opposition figures, Katumbi did not dispute the need to update the electoral register, but said that it can be achieved in a "maximum" of six months with logistical assistance from the UN. "In 2011 [when Kabila won a disputed second term in office] you didn't have the same problem," said Katumbi. "Why are you going to have this problem today? Ninety-nine percent of the Congolese people are supporting what the special envoy said.
"If you ask the Congolese people, they want elections to have a strong economy, to have a strong country," he added. Dismissing the timeframe mooted by CENI, Katumbi said: "Technology is improving. If it was 1855 I suppose it can wait for 14 months or 13 months. You are not in 1855, you are now in 2016."
CENI president Corneille Nangaa said that some $200m (£139.4m, CDF185.5bn) has been designated to fund the updating of voter rolls. "The constitutional timeline... depends on certain prior actions," he told reporters yesterday (28 January). "The priority right now is the revision of the voter list."
Attempts to delay the elections were also blasted by Christian Democratic Party (PDC) leader Jose Endundo. "The goal is to prolong as much as possible," he told Reuters.
Message to Obama and the international community
In 2009, US President Barack Obama delivered a landmark proclamation to the Ghanaian parliament. "The West has often approached Africa as a patron or a source of resources rather than a partner," the president said.
"Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions", Obama added. "As for America and the West, our commitment must be measured by more than just the dollars we spend.
"But the true sign of success is not whether we are a source of perpetual aid that helps people scrape by. It's whether we are partners in building the capacity for transformational change," the leader of the free world declared.
Now is the time for Obama and the rest of the world to make good on its promises. "We have to have a strong administration, not a strongman," Katumbi said, adding that he fully agreed with the US leader.
"It was really a wake-up call which President Obama said. What is important is [that] President Obama helps Congo have elections at the right time."
IBTimes UK contacted the DRC embassy in London to comment on the democratic delay, but did not receive a response at the time of publishing.