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Moise Katumbi is one of the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) most powerful men and viewed by many as a symbol for change in a country two-thirds the size of Western Europe, but with fewer paved roads than Luxembourg. The former governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province (which is roughly the size of Spain), owner of highly successful football club and current African champions, TP Mazembe and a politician with unrivalled popularity is intent on democratic progress in a country which has never experienced a peaceful transition of power.
He was formerly part of the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) and once a supporter of current president, Joseph Kabila, but resigned in September 2015 over the incumbent's attempts to unconstitutionally hold on to power. Explaining his decision to quit the PPRD in 2015, he said: "As we enter the final stretch of the President of the Republic's last constitutional mandate, facts show that for the last year, everything seems to have been done to bypass the constitution, with delays, vagueness and illegibility of the electoral cycle and a strategy of shift of the election dates."
Kabila shot to power in 2001 at the age of 30 following the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila. He went on to win disputed elections in 2006 and 2011 and is bound to hold presidential elections in November 2016 and hand over power in December, when his mandate expires. Current signs indicate that he is seeking to prolong his rule into a third term, joining the ranks of Yoweri Museveni – Uganda's president of 30 years and Denis Nguesso, his counterpart in neighbouring Republic of the Congo who has been in power since 1997.
Now a prominent opposition figure, Katumbi has not said that he will stand for the presidency and is focusing his efforts on free and fair elections in the DRC, followed by the country's first peaceful transition of power. But such is his popularity and conviction that the DRC can be the "engine of sub-Saharan Africa" that his ascension to power is viewed as an inevitability, if he were to run for the country's top job. IBTimes UK spoke to the politician on his hopes and aspirations for a country often referred to as a geological miracle. Here are the top takeaways:
1. Look at Nigeria as an example of progress
In 2015 Nigeria was heralded for holding elections that were generally praised and former president Goodluck Jonathan paved the way for a peaceful transition of power following his defeat to incumbent Muhammadu Buhari. Despite being the country's first sitting president to be defeated in an election, Jonathan kept his word to step down.
Pointing to Abuja as an example to aspire to, Katumbi said: "Nigeria has over 180 million people. They respected the [electoral] calendar" without delaying elections by 13 months or more. DRC's electoral commission (CENI) has said that presidential elections face a minimum 13-month delay in order to update the voter register.
2. Nationwide vaccinations only take one month so a 13-month election delay is incomprehensible
There is no doubting the challenges involved in organising elections in a country as vast as the DRC, but with equally poor infrastructure and this was acknowledged as a challenge by the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). But this does not justify the subversion of the Congolese people's right to democracy and a government with a clear mandate – especially when a challenge is foreseeable.
"When they do vaccinations in Congo, let's say for polio or other diseases, to cover all the places in Congo they do it in one month," Katumbi said. "They don't do the vaccination in 13 months." He added that the process of updating the voter rolls can be completed within a six-month time period. Opposition parties say the move to include seven million new voters would take a maximum of seven months.
3. UK's assistance to facilitate democracy is welcome
The UK spends £1m ($1.4m) a day, or $500m (£348.6m) a year in the DRC "in order to support the development of the country, in order to support democracy and the rule of law", Danae Dholakia, the FCO's Special Envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region said earlier in January.
Welcoming support from Britain, Katumbi said: "The UK is a good partner for the DRC. I think they should continue helping our country to have elections in 2016 and to have a democratic strand in our country. The government needs to help us in the process with other European countries. The international community should help Congo, because Congo is different to other countries."
The DRC has been perpetually ravaged by the international community. This stretches back to the brutal reign of Belgian King Leopold II, who exploited the country as a private venture and murdered and maimed systematically to get rubber and ivory, to the US and Belgian state-sponsored assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the country's first legally elected prime minister and hero of independence. Earlier in January, an Amnesty International report blasted international tech giants for failing to "provide details of specific investigations and checks that they have undertaken to identify and address child labour in their cobalt supply chains."
4. Congolese people should be the masters of their own destiny
"The country doesn't belong to politicians, it belongs to the Congolese people," Katumbi proclaimed, warning of possible instability if elections are deferred. He added that some 40% of the DRC's budget comes from donor countries and expressed concerns that further turbulence could result in reduced international assistance.
In February, a coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups known as Le Front Citoyen 2016 (Citizen Front 2016) will hold a series of rallies to protest Kabila's grip on power. Katumbi called for peaceful demonstrations, telling the citizens that it should not descend into anarchy and appealed to the government to let protests go ahead without a repeat of the deadly crackdown in January 2015 which saw police kill at least 42 protesters.
5. Kabila has an opportunity to play a role in democratic progress
"The hope for Congo today is to live in peace, to have a new president and a former president for the first time" said Katumbi. "I think President Kabila is going to become a big president [and is] going to be respected all over the world. This is a chance for Congo to write a new story", he added.
But this all depends on whether the incumbent steps down from office and follows the Nigerian example of paving the way for the first ever peaceful and democratic transition of power in a country with near-limitless potential.