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Exiled opposition leader Katumbi announces return to DR Congo

media Moïse Katumbi lors de son entretien exclusif avec RFI et France24, le 6 mai 2019. RFI/Pierre René-Worms

The Congolese businessman and politician Moise Katumbi has announced he will return to the Democratic Republic of Congo on 20 May, following three years of self-imposed exile.

Speaking exclusively to RFI and France 24, Katumbi said his main objective is “to console families who have lost relatives in recent violence in the southern city of Lubumbashi.”

But as a former governor of the mineral-rich southern Katanga province and a prominent opposition figure, analysts expect Katumbi to enter back into the political fray.

Katumbi fled DRC on 20 May 2016 after criminal charges relating to the alleged hiring of foreign mercenaries were laid against him. He crossed the border into Namibia and travelled on to Brussels.

Sentenced in absentia

The 52 year-old businessman and politician was then sentenced in absentia to three years in prison. He attempted to return to DRC and launch his presidential campaign on 3 August 2018. Katumbi and his entourage were prevented from crossing DRC’s southern border with Zambia.

Katumbi was later banned from running in the presidential elections held in January. He backed opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, and remained openly opposed to the then president Joseph Kabila running for another term.

“He will have to choose between President Felix Tshisekedi and Martin Fayulu,” political analyst Albert Moleka told RFI.

Tshisekedi was named president following controversial elections in January. The result was contested by Fayulu, the candidate for the Lamuka opposition coalition backed by Katumbi.

Olive branch

Tshisekedi has already offered Katumbi an olive branch in the form of travel documents that were delivered to him in Brussels by an emissary in March. Earlier this month Congolese prosecutors have dropped an investigation into allegations opposition leader Moise Katumbi hired mercenaries.

The DRC that Katumbi fled three years ago has changed significantly. Katanga Province that he once governed is no more – it has been split into four separate provinces, one of which is now governed by Zoé Kabila, son of the former president.

“Katumbi will have to come up with a strategy of how to regain influence in the four different provinces of Katanga,” Moleka told RFI.

The control of Katanga’s vast mineral wealth underpins the insecurity that has dogged the region for decades. Violence broke out in the region ahead of Tshisekedi’s first visit to the region since becoming president.

The one thing that unites Katanga is its football team, Tout Puissant Mazembe. Katumbi owns the team. But the Katangans love of football may not be strong enough to ensure Katumbi is welcomed back into the political fold of his home region.

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