What Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Re-Entrance Into Politics Means for the DRC Congo

By Our Foreign News Correspondent


  • The political atmosphere in DRC is delicate. People are weary of Kabila’s repressive 17-year-rule.
  • Acquitted of war crimes, Jean-Pierre Bemba seeks to change things in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

African politics never ceases to amaze, and the repercussions of the politicians’ decisions have far reaching effects on the local people. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a country synonymous with instability, and a volatile political environment. Joseph Kabila, the current president, has an iron grip on the presidency, but the re-entrance of Jean-Pierre Bemba will put this under serious threat.

The former warlord has returned to the DRC and has launched his presidential bid, in attempts to dislodge Joseph Kabila from power. He has received some thunderous support, despite a dark past of rape, pillage and murder. He is in the country after 11 years in exile and in prison.

Bemba was acquitted of war crimes in June by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague after being convicted in 2016. He was sentenced to 18 years before the conviction was overturned on appeal. The appeals court ruled that Bemba was not responsible for the crimes committed by his troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) between 2002 and 2003. He wanted to support then CAR’s president Ange-Félix Patassé to repel a coup.

In 2006, Bemba lost the election to Kabila and fled from the Congo after troops loyal to him clashed with the military. The government accused him of treason, and he fled to Belgium. In 2008 he was arrested in Belgium and brought before the ICC to face the war crimes committed by his forces, the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo in CAR.

But he has now returned to the Congo, with a renewed zeal to remove Kabila from power. And, the people are loving him. Upon returning, his supporters were chanting anti-Kabila songs. The Movement for the Liberation of the Congo has been turned from a rebel group to a political party challenging Kabila.

On lodging his bid, Bemba said, “I can confirm that I indeed had a voting card and I filed all the papers, now it is up to the CENI [the national election board] to handle all the applications. For me, I have submitted the entire file, it is in order”.

The political atmosphere in DRC is delicate. People are weary of Kabila’s repressive 17-year-rule. He was supposed to back down in 2016 as per the constitutional terms, but he did not, citing a provision saying he won’t step down unless a successor is named. Elections are due in December and he may contest. Protests to his lengthy stay in power have been met by brute force from the security forces, who shoot and kill.

What this means is that Bemba is a likely game-changer here. Bemba is the strongest opposition candidate right now, and should he unite with other opposition members, chances of removing Kabila are high. DRC has been a place of instability, especially stemming from politics, and Bemba’s re-emergence could spell uncertainty and crisis for DRC.

This however hinges on whether his presidential bid will be declined or approved by the country’s electoral commission. He has to wait a few weeks to know his political fate. The law in the country says that a person has to be in the country for at least year before contesting. Bemba has been away for a decade, and he has another case pending – he bribed witnesses during his war crimes trial.

Peaceful transition of power, which has been alien to DRC for the longest of years, is something that the Congolese really crave for. But can they trust Bemba, a war criminal, for change? Or they are willing to vouch for anyone who stands a chance of removing Kabila from power? But certainly, he is here to shake up politics in DRC.

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