Thursday, February 09, 2017

Congolese Scholar And Activist Pays Hommage to Etienne Tshisekedi

Click here to listen to the interview with Georges Nzongola Ntalaja!

Q:    Hello Dr. Nzongola.  Thank you for giving us the time to speak a bit about Étienne Tshisekedi who just passed away this February 1, 2017.  He was considered the father of the democracy movement in the Congo. I would like to know a bit more about who Étienne Tshisekedi was, what are your personal thoughts and personal sentiments about his passing?
A:    Well, I’ve known Mr. Tshisekedi for a long time and had personal contact with him since 1987 when he came to the United States at the invitation of the Rainbow Lobby and I worked for him as a diplomatic adviser when he was elected Prime Minister at the National Conference in 1992.  Until October 1993, I was working for him.  I have a great deal of respect for him and I consider him very fair.  It’s a great loss for the country, especially at a time when we were hopeful that he might help us get rid of the Kabila regime according to the agreement they reached on December 31 of last year.  So, I think that it is a great loss for the country.

Q:    What should people get to know about Étienne Tshisekedi and what was his impact on Congo’s political landscape?
A:    He has had a huge impact.  He is basically the most important leader we’ve had in the country since Patrice Lumumba, a person who although he started his political career working with Mobutu, but since 1980, he broke with Mobutu and started fighting for the restoration of multiparty democracy in the Congo. 

He was a man of principles, totally different from most of our politicians in the Congo who were opportunists who were looking for political posts and money, all of this didn’t matter to Tshisekedi.  His main concern was to make sure that the country was run according to the rule of law. 

He was the first Congolese to earn a doctorate degree in law at the Lovanium University, now the University of Kinshasa, in 1961.   He has been very, very much a law-abiding person, very, very committed to the rule of law and democratic processes.  As you can see, we have seen the mourners gathered outside of his son's house in Kinshasa two days ago showed that people really adored him.  People looked at him as, not only as a father figure, but as a leader.

In the 1990s, when we were fighting against Mobutu at the National Conference, he was called Moses and people saw him as the Moses who was going to deliver them from the Pharaoh who was oppressing and basically mistreating the people of the Congo.  So, he was a man of great stature, widely acclaimed by the people. We also saw during the electoral campaign of 2011, everywhere you went, in all corners of the country, he was received by massive crowds of people welcoming him and really giving him their support.

Q:    It’s definitely a great loss.  It’s news that came to all of us as a shock, but we want also to think about what his legacy will be.  What do you think should be his legacy to be remembered, not just for the Congo, but for the entire African continent?
A:    Well I think he’s a man of strong principles, one of which is nonviolence, a commitment to non-violence struggles for democracy.  He never advocated violence and he wanted people to demonstrate peacefully, not to resort to looting or anything of that nature and to be able express their views for freedom and democracy and social progress.  His legacy is of a man who spent about 36 years fighting for democracy and freedom - a man who wanted people to take responsibility for their own future, for their own country.  Some of his slogans were people first, le peuple d'abord, in French and also that the people should take responsibility for their own future, for their own country.  He is a person who has very, very important democratic principles.  He was not a saint, but a person who tried his best to live an upright life.  He is not known for any corruption throughout all his political career beginning in 1960 until his dying days.  He is a person of great moral and political principles.

Q:    With his passing, it is quite clear that there will be a huge political vacuum in the opposition.
A:    Yes.

Q:    What do you think the application of his death will be for the UDPS, for the opposition as well as the accord that you mentioned earlier done on December 31?

A:    Yes, well UDPS is a bit disorganized, mostly because of Tshisekedi’s long illness and long absences from the Congo and also the fact that, given the fact the party has not been able to put together a very stable administration and a financial mechanism for raising money and paying its functionaries.  You’ve had, as a result, the regime has been able to bribe some of the UDPS officers into deserting Tshisekedi and going out to form their own parties or something like that.  At present, we have two very strong leaders at the UDPS; Jean-Marc Kabunda, the Secretary General and Valentin Mubake, the political advisor.  It seems that these are two people who can claim leadership of the party. Kabunda is actually the acting president according to UDPS statutes.  The Secretary General, he can act for up to 30 days in absence of the president and hopefully, the party will organize the Congress to choose the new leadership.  Given the lack of funding, I don’t really know where they would be able to do that. 

Valentin Mbake has been on the side of Tshisekedi for years.  I remember I met him in 1991, the first time I returned home after being in exile and I have had tremendous respect for him. He is a man of great integrity.  He is a trained engineer who has an independent financial business because he gets a lot of consulting with international organizations in foreign countries.  He is not a person who can be tempted to accept bribes from the regime, so he has been very, very good advisor to Tshisekedi, so I’m hoping the two of them and Felix Tshisekedi, his son, would be able to work together, to keep the party together and try to reorganize it in such a way that they can function as a regular party and not something that belongs to a family or as some press refer to it as a Kasaian (region of Congo where Tshisekedi comes from) party.  The UDPS is not a party of one group or one province, it’s a party of the entire country.  It has branches all over the country and certainly can claim to be the first and most important political party in the Congo.  I just hope that it does not disintegrate.

As for the Rassemblement (coalition of opposition parties that Tshisekedi headed), according to the organization right now, Pierre Lumbia is the acting president, but unfortunately he is the former security advisor to Kabila and belongs to the G7 group of former Kabila allies who deserted him a year ago to form this grouping which supports Moise Katumbi, the former governor of the province of Katanga and presidential candidate of the next elections, so I’m not sure to what extent he can be trusted.  He will have to live up to the ideals that Tshisekedi defended, but my hope is that the Rassemblement, a large grouping of different groups including the Dynamique led by Fayulu and others, but they will be able to find a way to elect a new president who can be a person of integrity and a person who can defend the rule of law and democracy.

As for the December 31, 2016 accord, I am a bit pessimistic because my thinking is that Mr. Kabila has, for a long time, been hoping for this day to see Tshisekedi disappear from the scene so that he could stay in power as long as he wants because Tshisekedi was the only person who scared him. Certainly there are two others, Moise Katumbi whom he has now forced into exile and Diomi Ndongola whom he is keeping in jail unjustly, but I think that the accord does not have much chance if the opposition is split, if there is division of the opposition, there is no chance of this accord succeeding.  This is my hope, that the opposition should use Tshisekedi’s passing away as an opportunity to unite and to stick together and put the country ahead of personal ambitions.

Q:    With the uncertain immediate political future of the country, what do you think in general, this is my question to you, that the Congolese youth should be doing right now given a figure, a political figure, a well-respected political figure such as Étienne Tshisekedi has died, has gone and that his legacy is at risk, the future of the Congo is uncertain?  What would you recommend that the Congolese youth today do to transform the country moving forward?
A:    They should continue to put pressure on the political leaders, especially the Rassemblement to live up to the Genval agreement in Brussels in terms of moving forward and put pressure on them to defend the rule of law and to make sure that Kabila does not go beyond the one additional year which has been granted to him. 

Now some people claim that with Tshisekedi’s disappearance, nothing will happen, but we should remember, in January 2015 there were three days; January 19, 20 and 21 where Kinshasa and some other towns in the country were in uproar because young people were demonstrating against Kabila’s attempt to stay in power longer by passing through parliament a law that would require that the census be taken before national elections.  Since the experts have indicated that the census in a country like the Congo is huge; three times Nigeria, five times France, the whole of U.S. east of the Mississippi River and without roads, weak infrastructure, the census could take up to three to five years, Kabila was simply trying to find a way to cling onto power for a bit longer. 

I think that that demonstration of youth power in 2015 where so many were killed, we don’t even know how many were killed.  The UN said about 40 to 50, but then we discovered in Kinshasa mass graves of over 400 bodies and we don’t even know where those came from.  I think that the youth of the Congo, especially through LUCHA, FILIMBI and other youth organizations should continue the struggle for democracy and struggle for better lives for our people and certainly they will find in people like Valentin Mubaki of UDPS, Martin Fayulu of the Dynamique and other leaders that can work to continue the struggle.

Q:    As we bring this interview to a close, do you have any final remarks around your time with Tshisekedi, any anecdotes that you would like to share with our listeners?
A:    Well, Tshisekedi was a very interesting person.  I remember the last time I saw him, which was September, 2014.  I went to see him.  He basically wanted to know about mutual friends, people we know, people like Nancy Ross of the Rainbow Coalition in the  United States and so on and I looked at my watch, we had talked for about an hour and said, “Mr. President, I don’t want to take up a lot of your time.”  He said, “Sit down!”  He said, “I’m not finished talking with you.  I want to hear more about what’s going on. We talked again for another one hour and we wound up spending two hours.  He can be a very charming person.

He is also a person who was able to lose his temper, mostly when things were not to his liking, but he was a person who was very fair.  He treated people very, very fairly.  He was not in any way divisive.  He was not a person who tended to have prejudice about people.  He treated everyone equally and had respect for people no matter what station of life they came from.  He was a very, very great leader and one who leaves, I think, a very good example for our country.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

We Too

 "We, Too"
by Langston Hughes

Oh, Congo brother
 With your tribal marks,
 We, too, emerge
 From ageless darks.
 We, too, emit
 A frightening cry
 From body scarred,
 Soul that won't die.
 We encarnadine the sky.
 We, who have no
 Tribal marks to bear,
 Bear in our souls
 The great welts there
 That years have cut
 Through skin and lashed
 Through bone
 In silent cry,
 In unheard moan -
 We, too,
 Congo brother,
 Rise with you.


Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Martyrs Day: Telema With Congolese Youth

January 4th is a seminal day in Congo’s history, which serves as a national holiday. On January 4, 1959, ordinary Congolese stood in defiance of Belgian colonialism demanding independence. Congolese in Kinshasa unleashed a spontaneous uprising out of frustration with the repressive Belgian colonial regime. In his critically acclaimed work "Congo: From Leopold to Kabila," Dr Georges Nzongola Ntalaja said the march on January 4, 1959 "sounded the death knell of Belgian Colonialism in the Congo." The unifying chant of the marchers was "Indépendance Immediate" or "Independence Now" in English. The uprising represented the radicalization of the struggle for independence. It frightened not only the Belgian authorities but also the Congolese elites know as évolués.

Nine days later on January 13, 1959 both the King of Belgium and the Belgium government announced that in due time Belgium would grant Congo full independence. In the conscience of the nation, the day represents the historic point of departure for the independence of the Congo from Belgian colonialism.

The courageous stance by that generation of Congolese served as a key catalyst for Congo’s independence in 1960. Since the 1960s Congolese have celebrated and commemorated that generation’s actions and named the day “la journée des martyrs de l’indépendance,” or in English, independence Martyrs Day. Without a doubt, Congolese of that era made enormous sacrifices for freedom and independence.

Congolese continue to make tremendous sacrifice for total independence and liberation from tyranny. The youth have been at the forefront of this fight. During the past couple years, Congolese youth have paid the dearest price in confronting the tyrannical regime of president Joseph Kabila. The Kabila regime aims to remain in power in spite of the Constitution that says he should have stepped down on December 19, 2016. The regime has killed, maimed, jailed and driven into exile young Congolese who have stood up to his regime. During demonstrations on September 19 and 20, 2016, the regime killed 50, injured 107 and jailed 406. Again on December 20, 2016, the regime killed 34, injured dozens and jailed hundreds. In spite of the agreement struck between the political class and the Kabila regime, the youth continue to stand firm in demanding the departure of Kabila and the respect of the will of the overwhelming majority of Congolese.

Courageous Congolese continue to make enormous sacrifices for a better future for the sons and daughters of the Congo? Under the banner of the #Telema movement, youth have risen to resist tyranny, defend the country's constitution and advance the nascent democratic gains. The global community should stand in support and solidarity with the people of the Congo as they pursue peace, justice and human dignity.

Join the global movement in support of a peaceful and just Congo by visiting Telema.org!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Global and Inclusive Political Agreement

The main elements of the Global and Inclusive Political Agreement

1. Joseph Kabila will remain President until the inauguration of a new President
2. Presidential, legislative and provincial elections will be held in December 2017
3. The current Parliament will remain in place as is.
4. A government of national unity will be established.
5. Prime Minister post goes to the opposition.
6. Kabila's majority cannot call for a referendum
7. Kabila's majority cannot revise the Constitution
8. Étienne Tshisekedi will manage A National Transition Council or Follow-up Committee to monitor the implementation of the agreement
9. Kabila's presidential majority will retain full management of provincial governments
10. The cases of Moises Katumbi and Jean-Claude Muyambo will be managed by the CENCO
11. The Catholic Bishops will write to the head of state to ask for a pardon in favor of Diomi Ndongala.
12. Both opposition and majority will take part in the reorganization of the National Independent Electoral Commission
13. Select individuals (Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi, Roger Lumbala, Floribert Anzuluni) who are in exile can return to the country without being pursued by the state

Sunday, July 10, 2016

UN Resolution 2277 and Congo's Political Impasse

On March 30, 2016, The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2277 (2016) under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. The resolution addressed a wide range of issues regarding the relationship between the UN and the Congolese government, particularly as it relates to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or MONUSCO. The resolution renewed the mandate of  the UN peace keeping mission in the Congo. However, the political section of the resolution has taken center stage in the increasing political and constitutional crisis unfolding in the DRC. Both the government and the opposition have hinged the vaunted dialogue on the political elements of the resolution. Both sides have latched on to elements of the resolution that serves them. Find below the articles of the resolution that addresses the political situation in the DRC:

Political Situation
“7.   Calls on the Government of the DRC and its national partners, including the CENI, to ensure a transparent and credible electoral process, in fulfilment of their primary responsibility to create propitious conditions for the forthcoming elections, including prioritization of those conditions necessary for the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for November 2016 in accordance with the Constitution;

“8.   Urges the Government as well as all relevant parties to ensure an environment conducive to a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely electoral process, in accordance with the Congolese Constitution, which includes free and constructive political debate, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of assembly, equitable access to media including State media, safety and freedom of movement for all candidates, as well as for election observers and witnesses, journalists, human rights defenders and actors from civil society including women;

“9.   Calls for the publication of a revised comprehensive electoral calendar for the full electoral cycle by the CENI and calls on the Government of the DRC to put swiftly in place an adequate electoral budget and an electoral code of conduct, and conduct without delay a credible update of the electoral register, to ensure the successful and timely holding of elections, in particular presidential and legislative elections on November 2016, in accordance with the Constitution, while respecting the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, and further calls upon all stakeholders, to engage into an open and inclusive political dialogue over the holding of presidential elections, in accordance with the Constitution;

“10.  Underlines the importance of ‎credible dialogue to ensure peaceful and credible presidential and legislative elections, in line with the Constitution, expresses support for the decision taken by the AU to undertake consultations on this dialogue, urges all national stakeholders to extend cooperation to the AU in this regard, and requests the Secretary-General to provide political support to these efforts consistent with this resolution, including through his good offices;

Source: http://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12307.doc.htm

Click here for other resolutions from the UN, African Union, US, UK, African Union and others.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Commemorating the March for Peace

On today, February 16, 2016, Congolese commemorated the seminal "Peaceful March of Christians," with a shut down of cities (Ville Morte in French) throughout the country in protest of President Joseph Kabila's attempt to remain in power in contravention to the Congo's constitution. The Democratic Republic of Congo's constitution allows the President to serve only two five-year terms. Kabila served his first term from 2006 - 2011 and his second five-year term, which began in 2011 ends on December 19, 2016. However, President Kabila has repeatedly demonstrated through his actions and the words and actions of his surrogates that he aims to remain in power in spite of the dictates of the constitution. In response, the Congolese people have organized to assure that Kabila respects the constitution. Civil society and opposition forces issued a call for a "Ville Morte" and requested that people remain at home and abstain from commercial and other normal activities. By and large the Congolese population in several key cities throughout the country responded to the call and stayed home, especially in the nation's capital leaving the streets deserted for most of the day. The people have certainly sent a message to regime that they want the country's constitution respected and are willing to engage in civil disobedience if necessary to hold Kabila and his government accountable to the law of the land.



On February 16, 1992, Congolese Christians responded to a call by the Catholic Church to protest peacefully and demand the reopening of the Sovereign National Conference (Conference National Souveraine - CNS in French). The conference was a democratic forum composed of delegates who represented all layers of the society in the Congo (Zaire at the time) from members of civil society, political parties, the military, the diaspora, as well as the president himself (Mobutu Se Seko). This conference was tasked with interrogating the country’s history and finding a way to deal with the multidimensional national crisis (political, economic, social, cultural, and moral) that the country was facing in 1990.

On January 19, 1992, then-Mobutu-appointed prime minister Nguza Karl-I-Bond announced the suspension of the Sovereign National Conference on radio and television. This decision to suspend the CNS angered many Congolese who had high hopes that this democratic process would help the country extricate itself from dictatorial rule. The Catholic Church, which at the time distanced itself from Mobutu's regime and became more vocal about Mobutu's human rights abuse, made a call to all Christians and civil society groups for a massive demonstration to reopen the Sovereign National Conference. Thousands of marchers from all backgrounds converged on the Tata Raphaël stadium. Police and soldiers opened fire on the marchers before they could reach their destination, killing more than forty people. This incident, which caused international outcry as news began to enter the western world, forced the government to reinstate the CNS in April 1991 and served as a pivotal point in Congo's struggle toward democratization.

In his book "The History of the Congo," Dr Didier Gondola revisits this important date and give us the reason why Christians in the Congo took to the streets. He says: "In early 1992, Mobutu decided to disband the Sovereign National Conference (Conference Nationale Souveraine - CNS), an assembly whose main task was to create a new constitution and organize democratic elections. In response to this decision, strong opposition mounted among Kinshasa's independent churches. On February 16, 1992, thousands of church members took their grievances to the streets of the capital in what was dubbed by its organizers as the "March of Hope" (Marche de l'Espoir). Marchers held banners demanding the reopening of the CNS, and they chanted songs against violence and dictatorship. The peaceful march ended in a bloodbath when the army intervened and gunned down dozens of demonstrators. The March of Hope has since been held up as a major turning point in the relations between the church and state. It was also an event that precipitated the end of Mobutu's regime."

Monday, January 04, 2016

Martyrs Day: Congolese Youth Stand Up #Telema

January 4th is a seminal day in Congo’s history, which serves as a national holiday. On January 4, 1959, ordinary Congolese stood in defiance of Belgian colonialism demanding independence. Congolese in Kinshasa unleashed a spontaneous uprising out of frustration with the repressive Belgian colonial regime. In his critically acclaimed work "Congo: From Leopold to Kabila," Dr Georges Nzongola Ntalaja said the march on January 4, 1959 "sounded the death knell of Belgian Colonialism in the Congo." The unifying chant of the marchers was "Indépendance Immediate" or "Independence Now" in English. The uprising represented the radicalization of the struggle for independence. It frightened not only the Belgian authorities but also the Congolese elites know as évolués.

Nine days later on January 13, 1959 both the King of Belgium and the Belgium government announced that in due time Belgium would grant Congo full independence. In the conscience of the nation, the day represents the historic point of departure for the independence of the Congo from Belgian colonialism.

The courageous stance by that generation of Congolese served as a key catalyst for Congo’s independence in 1960. Since the 1960s Congolese have celebrated and commemorated that generation’s actions and named the day “la journée des martyrs de l’indépendance,” or in English, independence Martyrs Day. Without a doubt, Congolese of that era made enormous sacrifices for freedom and independence.

Congolese continue to make tremendous sacrifice for total independence and liberation from tyranny. The youth have been at the forefront of this fight. During 2015, Congolese youth paid the dearest price in confronting the tyrannical regime of president Joseph Kabila. The Kabila regime is seeking to remain in power against the will of the Congolese people and has demonstrated its willingness to kill, jail, disappear and suppress those who have called for the country's constitution to be respected. Below are some of the most egregious examples of the repressive actions of the Kabila regime against the youth of the Congo in 2015:

DRC: Deadly Crack Down on Protests
Human Rights Watch

Congo's Telema Protests
The Guardian

FILIMBI Youth Arrested by DRC Government
BBC News

Congolese Rapper and Musician Radek Supreme Arrested by Kabila Regime
Friends of the Congo

Youth Activist, Jean Marie Kalonji Kidnapped by Kabila Regime
Radio France International

Courageous Congolese continue to make enormous sacrifices for a better future for the sons and daughters of the Congo? Under the banner of the #Telema movement, youth have risen to resist tyranny, defend the country's constitution and advance the nascent democratic gains. The global community should stand in support and solidarity with the people of the Congo as they pursue peace, justice and human dignity.

Join the global movement in support of a peaceful and just Congo by visiting Telema.org!