Kabila slams foreign ‘blackmail’ ahead of DRC vote

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Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila, who last week ended speculation by signalling he would not seek re-election, on Friday warned outsiders against using “blackmail’ in DRC’s politics.

He had faced mounting Western pressure not to seek a third term after clinging to power when his second and supposedly final stint in office ended in 2016.

“What we have rejected over these past two years is any kind of imposition, or any kind of blackmail as far as the electoral process is concerned,” Kabila said in a speech to the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

“We will continue to be steadfast and be very much alert on this particular issue as we prepare for the upcoming elections by the end of this year,” Kabila said. He gave no further details.

Kabila hit a two-term limit at the end of 2016 but stayed in power, invoking a caretaker clause in the constitution to remain in office.

In recent months, he kept the international community guessing as to whether he would try to run again.

But on August 8, he put an end to the speculation.

He designated a former interior minister and the head of his PPRD party, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, as the ruling bloc’s candidate in the December 23 elections.

Britain, France and the United States had been urging Kabila to state clearly that he would not seek another term, fearing an eruption of violence if he did not step aside.

On August 6 – two days before the deadline for filing election bids – the Financial Times reported the United States was ready to impose further sanctions on the DRC to “squeeze” Kabila’s family and “his finances.”

Analyst say Kabila’s move has eased tensions in the DRC but the volatile country remains gripped by uncertainty. Suspicions run deep that Kabila, by picking a loyalist, wants to wield influence behind the throne.

Last year, he rejected mediation efforts by SADC which had appointed former Namibian president Hifikepunye Pohamba as a peace envoy.

Bidding farewell to fellow leaders, Kabila, 47, described his long rule as “a journey and a mission to reunify the country”.

“A journey that ultimately led us to the first elections in 2006 and later in 2011,” he said.

He took over the vast mineral rich country following the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila but his leadership has been stained by a reputation for corruption and stoking conflict.

Namibian President Hage Geingob, who is hosting the SADC summit in Windhoek, thanked Kabila “for having carried out the groundwork for elections to take place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as scheduled in December 2018”.

Leaders of the 15-member SADC bloc are meeting for a two-day summit to discuss regional issues which are expected to include Zimbabwe’s post-election bloodshed. The meeting concludes on Saturday.