On Lumumba Day, January 17, 2016, the statue of Patrice Lumumba in Kinshasa was guarded by Congolese security forces blocking anyone who wanted to pay respects to Congo's independence hero. Non-violent youth activists live in constant fear of being jailed or worse as their country slips ever deeper into Orwellian terror.
A year ago on January 19, 2015, Congolese youth descended into the streets in response to an appeal from opposition figures to defend the country's constitution and nascent democracy. The matter at hand was president Joseph Kabila's latest attempt to legitimize extension of the December 19, 2016 term limit. The Kabila regime tried to muscle through an electoral law requiring a census before presidential and legislative elections. Analysts argued that a census would take several years, pushing the elections well beyond 2016.
When the youth flooded the streets for successive days in what came to be known as the #Telema uprising (Telema means Rise Up in Lingala, a Congolese language), the Congolese senate withdrew the law and the people claimed victory. The victory came at a cost, however; dozens were killed, scores injured and hundreds arrested including notable human rights activists like Christopher Ngoyi who is still in prison.
Since the January 2015 uprising, the Kabila regime has unleashed a systematic onslaught on Congolese youth. The regime has killed, injured, disappeared, jailed and driven into exile the youth, and can rightly be characterized as a regime that devours its own children.
Emblematic of this onslaught are these high profile cases:
• Fred Bauma (member of La Lucha) & Yves Makwambala (web developer) – arrested on March 15, 2015 and still in prison.
• Radek Supreme (Congolese hip hop artist) – arrested on May 19, 2015 and released 210 days later for medical reasons.
• Juvin Kombi and Pascal Byumanine (members of La Lucha) – arrested on November 30, 2015 with 7 other individuals in Goma and remain in jail.
• Jean Marie Kalonji (Congolese youth leader of Quatrième Voix – The Fourth Voice) - arrested on December 15, 2015 and remains in the clutches of the Congo's security services.
The Kabila regime has created a climate of fear where both the regime and the people are gripped by dread and paranoia. In its desperation, the regime reveals its weakness and illegitimacy. A strong representative state would not need to invest in security forces, surveillance, and harass advocates who voice a contrary position to policies initiated by the government. Non-violent youth activists live in constant fear of being jailed or worse as their country slips ever deeper into Orwellian terror.
One year later, the regime is still desperately trying to legitimize its stay in power in contravention of the country's constitution. The rationale du jour is the so-called inclusive dialogue. In several speeches since November 28, 2015, President Kabila has argued that the path to elections is through a national inclusive dialogue. A substantial segment of civil society and political opposition have rejected the dialogue as a stalling tactic.
On Lumumba Day, January 17, 2016, the statue of Lumumba in Kinshasa was guarded by Congolese security forces blocking anyone who wanted to pay respect to Congo's independence hero. Even as faith leaders and opposition politicians attempted to commemorate the lives lost in the January 2015 demonstrations on January 19, 2016, the government clamped down by deploying security forces to shutdown meeting sites and arrest dozens of would-be participants.
Unable to rule by consent, the Kabila regime has doubled down on rule by force, which as any observer of history knows, is untenable. It is only a matter of time before the people cast off a repressive regime and reassert basic human rights.
As sons and daughters of Patrice Lumumba striving to realize his ideals of a free and liberated Congo, we are confident that our stand for peace, justice and democracy will prevail in spite of the continued onslaught by the Kabila regime and its backers in the international community.
* Kambale Musavuli, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo and one of the leading political and cultural Congolese voices, is a social entrepreneur and an international human rights advocate. He serves as the National Spokesperson for the Friends of the Congo, a group that raises global consciousness about the situation in the Congo and provides support to local institutions in the Congo.
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