Activists and members of citizen coalitions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have reiterated their commitment to their struggle to remove incumbent President Joseph Kabila from power, in the face of growing brutal government repression across the mineral-rich nation.
On 10 February, a coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups called for a day of 'villes-mortes' (dead cities, or general strike) throughout the whole of the DRC on 16 February, which they hope will help increase public awareness on the dangers that the country is facing and ask for the incumbent president to step down.
Although President Joseph Kabila is bound by the constitution to step down in December 2016 as he has served two consecutive terms since 2001, opposition groups have accused him of trying to postpone the November 2016 election and amend term limits. Since January 2015, opposition parties have called for mass protests against changes to the nation's Constitution that would enable Kabila to extend his rule.
Congolese ready for 'revolution'
Jean Bwenge, a young activist of the group 'LUCHA' (Lutte pour le changement or struggle for change) told IBTimes UK from Goma: "Congolese are not scared of the repression. The level of revolt, of engagement of the majority of Congolese for a peaceful political changeover is very strong. The threat of violence will not push us back."
"There will be sacrifices but they will sacrifices necessary to consolidate our democracy, and to obtain a political changeover in the constitutional deadlines in the next few months. We hope there will be as few (sacrifices) as possible."
In an exclusive interview, Bwenge outlined LUCHA and other citizen coalitions's strategy to gradually increase the pressure, from 'villes-mortes' to popular insurrection. After the 'villes mortes' planned for 16 and 18 February (which is the 10th anniversary of the declaration of the current constitution), LUCHA will call for civil disobedience and 'marches' (street demonstrations) to take place around mid-March.
"If the regime remains as stubborn, however, we'll have no choice but to call for a popular insurrection," Bwenge said, pointing to a plan "to take over the institutions and force out of power these people who cling on."
However, Bwenge warned against a political recuperation of a coup d'etat that would harmful to the struggle: "If it happens, however, at least we would have had the merit of blocking the violation of our Constitution and we'll be able to continue our fight to restore democracy, but there would have to be a transitional government that is the product of a popular uprising."
Armed forces 'fraternisation campaign'
While Bwenge agrees it is difficult to forecast whether Kabila will continue to use strong-arm tactics – such as ruthless repression of protests in January 2015 and waves of arbitrary imprisonments since March – he believes it is likely he will continue on this momentum.
"That's because he may think that violence is the only way to impose his law," Bwenge said, adding that, within the armed forces, a growing number of people are also desperate for change.
The campaign consists in calling all Congolese to salute military and police officers when they walk past, tell them they share the same problems and dream for democracy and freedom, and symbolically offer them a flower or small gift.
"The message is: 'When people will exercise their rights, don't shoot at them, because what they is demanding is also for you. You are us, we are you. You should not support a man or a regime because, sooner or later, he will have to leave'," Bwenge explained. "We also remind them that if they participate in the violence, they will have to pay a high price".
While the campaign is seen as stagnating today, Lucha says it is prioritising contact with influential officers or magistrates, for instance. "For the moment, the feedback we have received from them is positive: many understand the necessity for change", Bwenge said.
"You can't think that every soldier or every policeman, who works and lives in miserable conditions, is happy and will durably support this regime. Some of them are with us, and a large part are as revolted as ordinary Congolese people".