Police in the Democratic Republic of Congo have deployed at the main road to Zambia, after opposition politician Moise Katumbi declared he would attempt to return to his Lubumbashi base using that route.
Katumbi, who was expected to return from self-imposed exile in Belgium, is hoping to make it back home in time to submit his application for December’s presidential elections. The deadline is August 8.
Katumbi has been living in Belgium since May 2016 after falling out with President Joseph Kabila.
As you can see, we are waiting for the president (Katumbi), but those in power do not want him to be there.
Change of plan
He had planned to fly by private jet from Johannesburg to Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga province, but the city’s mayor said Thursday that Katumbi would be refused entry.
The public prosecutor’s office added that Katumbi had been charged with “harming the state’s domestic and external security” and would be immediately arrested if he returned.
Katumbi’s spokesman Olivier Kamitatu said “authorisation to fly over and land had been refused by Kinshasa”.
“We will take off in the direction of (Zambian city) Ndola to take the road to Lubumbashi,” Kamitatu tweeted.
Katumbi told AFP later that he had arrived in Ndola at around 0900 GMT and was heading to the border post of Kasumbalesa. The drive to the frontier takes more than six hours, according to local sources.
At least two police checkpoints were set up to screen access to Lubumbashi’s airport on Friday and the main road to Zambia had been blocked by a truck, an AFP journalist said.
“As you can see, we are waiting for the president (Katumbi), but those in power do not want him to be there,” said Katumbi’s brother Abraham Soriano.
The former governor of the mineral-rich southern province of Katanga had once been close to Kabila before the two had a falling-out.
Katumbi, 53, already faced potential arrest after being handed a three-year jail term in absentia in June 2016 in a case of alleged property fraud.
He has also been accused of hiring mercenaries and for possessing an Italian passport, Congolese law does not allow dual nationality. He denies the charges in both of those cases.
Another rival of Kabila, former warlord and ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, 55, returned home this week. He officially launched his bid for the presidency on Thursday.
Stalemate over Kabila
The Democratic Republic of Congo has never known a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence in 1960 — and some experts fear that the December 23 elections may trigger a bloody conflict.
Kabila, 47, has been at the helm since 2001, presiding over a vast mineral-rich country with a reputation for corruption, inequality and unrest.
He was scheduled to stand down at the end of 2016 after his second elected term, technically the last permitted under the constitution.
Kabila has refused to spell out whether he will seek a new term in the vote. Candidates must submit their applications by August 8 and physically be in the country to do so.Kabila trails opponents in latest opinion poll ahead of December elections