Key opposition forces from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have decided to unite around a new platform known as "Rassemblement", or "Rally", as the Congolese population clamours for free, fair and timely presidential elections. The decision was announced in the early hours of 10 June following a historic opposition meeting in Lake Genval, on the outskirts of Brussels earlier this week.
The gathering in Brussels, known as the "Conclave", was launched by Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), as political leaders eyed a cohesive strategy to oust President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power since 2001.
Kabila's mandate expires later this year and he must step down as president at the end of his second full term, as required to do so by the constitution, but critics accuse him of employing various tactics – including deadly political crackdowns – to tighten his grip on power.
The aim of the new structure "is to realise the struggle of the Congolese people for change and a state of law," the group said. They also warned the president that any attempt to stay in power beyond 19 December will be considered "a constitutional coup d'etat."
Octogenarian Tshisekedi said attendees were convening "as patriots to exchange views on the grave crisis affecting our country," according to AFP. "More than ever, we must be united to get rid of you know who."
Last year, Kabila called for a "national dialogue" ahead of elections, but Tshisekedi attached stringent conditions for any participation from the opposition. They include: respect for the constitution, the release of political prisoners and international monitoring to ensure any agreements are fulfilled.
Concerns over the creation of another platform
Despite the opposition action, some politicians and activists representing civil society cast doubt over the creation of a new structure. "The creation of Front Citoyen 2016 (Citizen Front 2016) was already an attempt to gather not only the opposition but also civil society. In Genval, I have the impression they created a new structure that gathers the opposition, but will it consolidate the Front Citoyen, which was somehow struggling?" UNC MP, Juvenal Munubo Mubi, told IBTimes UK.
"We initially thought the objective of the Brussels talks was to reinforce the Front Citoyen," he added. "Creating new structures or platforms does not solve the problem, we must be satisfied with the existing movements, we must act and maintain pressure on Kinshasa's regime."
Citing the confusion regarding the Brussels agenda, Front Citoyen spokesman Jean-Claude Katende explained the group decided not to take part in the high-level talks. "We knew that many attending Genval [had] agreed in principle with the dialogue mostly under Kabila's conditions, which would lead to a transition. That's why the Front Citoyen felt it could not take part in this meeting."
Despite the Front Citoyen's absence, the movement expressed optimism regarding the talks. "Overall, we are satisfied with the conclusions and resolutions agreed upon by the conclave. However, we want to insist on the fact that the political and social forces that are involved in change in the DRC maintain their commitment," Katende added, speaking to IBTimes UK.
He added that the Front Citoyen is concerned that Kabila's call for national discussion is a ploy for him to stay in power "because he knows that all parties have different visions for a dialogue." Katende continued: "The forces who were in Brussels need to strongly mobilise the population to force Kabila to make concessions before the dialogue."
Who are Front Citoyen?
- Launched on 19 December 2015
- The Front Citoyen has two goals: (1) for elections to be held within the stipulated time frame as per the Congolese constitution and (2) that the terms of the constitution are respected
- #FrontCitoyen2016 is an initiative of the civil movement Filimbi, whose leaders live in exile. The group is supported by a number of leading opposition members, including Moise Katumbi
- The organisation has recently urged police officers to refuse to carry out any illegal orders against demonstrators