By Gwladys Fouche
OSLO (Reuters) – Presidential elections in Democratic Republic of Congo this month could lead to conflict if they are not free, fair and peaceful and indications show that they will not be, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Denis Mukwege said on Monday.
The elections on Dec. 23 will mark Congo’s first democratic transfer of power and end President Joseph Kabila’s rule that began in 2001 after the assassination of his father.
Mukwege will jointly receive the 2018 prize in Oslo for his work as a doctor who helps victims of sexual violence in the eastern Congo city of Bukavu. He has performed surgery on scores of women after they were raped by armed men and has campaigned to highlight their plight.
Nadia Murad, a Yazidi rights activist and survivor of sexual slavery by Islamic State, will also receive the prize.
“What I have seen as I was leaving my country did not reassure me,” Mukwege told Reuters, hours before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in front of King Harald.
“There is very little electoral preparation and a lot of military preparation. I am very worried that these elections will not be free, fair, credible and peaceful and that if there are massive frauds …. supporters (from losing candidates) will not accept them.”
He said election authorities were struggling to meet deadlines ahead of the vote and that violence was worsening in the eastern borderlands with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.
“These … elements suggest to me that oppression is being prepared, at the very minimum, and it could be that a war against its own people is being prepared,” he said.
Kabila was due to step down in 2016 at the end of his constitutional mandate. But the election to replace him was repeatedly delayed, igniting protests in which dozens were killed.
Kabila told Reuters on Sunday preparations for the election were proceeding smoothly and he wanted it to be “as close to perfection” as possible.
He also said he planned to stay in politics when he steps down after elections and did not rule out running again for president in 2023. Critics say he could rule from behind the scenes if his candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, wins.
Mukwege said Kabila had the right as every Congolese citizen to run for president in 2023 but he hoped voters would remember Kabila’s “broken promises”.
“None of the elements needed to install a real democracy have been made during his time in power,” he said.
A war in which some 5 million people died, most from hunger and disease, ended in 2003, but violence is still a problem and militias target civilians.
Mukwege called for pressure on manufacturers that use cobalt and coltan that Congo produces to control their supply chains to prevent child and slave labour.
He also called for pressure on Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda to pacify armed groups that fight in eastern Congo.
He also called on “serious mining players” to push the government to pacify the country’s east so they can mine and do so ethically.
It was not possible to reach a spokesman for the government.
(Additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini in Kinshasa; Editing by Aaron Ross and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)