By Elvis Katsana
People in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, are impatiently awaiting the return of Jean-Pierre Bemba. The opposition politician has been held by the International Criminal Court since 2010 for allegedly having committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in 2002 and 2003 in the Central African Republic. The ICC will deliver a judgement in the case on 21 March, and this is already causing excitement among his supporters.
Jean-Pierre Bemba originally comes from Kinshasa, where he spent most of his political career, including the period when he was one of the four vice presidents of the country. At the time, he was also the leader of the second biggest opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MRC).
Public opinion in Congo seems to favour his release by the ICC. “We hope he will open the political scene in the country and have an effect on the current rulers”, says Mbala Justin, a 27-year-old street newspaper vendor in Kinshasa.
Does the Congolese press support Bemba?
Several newspaper in the capital are continuing to publish headlines, saying that Bemba will be released, but they don’t give any credible information about this in their articles. “JP Bemba just a step away from a plane taking him back to Kinshasa”, was a headline published by the daily “l’Audience Publique” earlier this month. The newspaper “la Proclamation” headlined “Jean Pierre Bemba finally released!”.
According to reporters at various newspapers and television stations in Kinshasa, no one ever speaks in favour of Bemba even though the government entrapped him because it didn’t want him. “We’ll continue to tell the truth because we are professionals. Bemba deserves impartial coverage, but the public TV station had characterised him as a monster,” says a journalist who seems intent on giving a voice to Bemba supporters.
A political storm
Everything seems to indicate that Bemba can make a political comeback in DRC despite the current political tensions in the country. President Joseph Kabila appears to want to stay in power and is organising a political dialogue that would eventually lead to elections.
Some people believe that Bemba’s return to the political stage would have a major impact on the country’s politics. “Bemba would create a storm. He would shake up Congolese politics. If he’s freed by the ICC, he will bring a new wind to the DRC,” says Caleb Mayeje, a political analyst for civil society in Kinshasa. Mayeje says he would get a lot of support from people who want to take revenge against the current government, which has been stamping out all opposition.
Lead image: Newspaper headlines in Kinshasa (Photo: Elvis Katsana/Justice Hub)