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Kabila’s Visit Highlights Tension Over Lubanga Trial

Dear readers – please find below a commentary written by Olivia Bueno at the International Refugee Rights Initiative in consultation with Congolese activists.  The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the International Refugee Rights Initiative or of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

Last week, Congolese President Joseph Kabila arrived in Ituri as part of a tour of the eastern part of the country, which has also touched the Kivus and Katanga. His visit promised a number of development projects for Ituri, but not everyone was impressed. To some, the visit was dismissed as so much campaigning ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) 2011 elections.

Radio Okapi quoted Donatien Kanyinziya, a parliamentarian with the opposition Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo, as saying, “During his visit last week to Ituri, Joseph Kabila did nothing but renew the same promises to Iturians that he made in the 2006 election campaign.”

Kanyinziya was not the only one dissatisfied with the visit. In Bunia, Kabila’s visit formed a rallying point for the Union des Patriotes Congolaises (UPC), the party associated with Thomas Lubanga. Lubanga’s ongoing trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) was at the top of their agenda.

According to Congolese activists, the UPC is calling for the unconditional liberation of Lubanga following the Trial Chamber’s July 15, 2010 ruling to this effect. Although this order was appealed the next day, and the appeals are still being considered in The Hague, the UPC is arguing that the proceedings are unfair and that Lubanga’s rights are being violated. According to Congolese sources, UPC members are calling on the government to take responsibility for addressing these rights violations. They are also calling for the release of members of the movement in jail in Kinshasa for four years without trial.

Kabila must carefully consider how to address these arguments – the UPC remains a powerful political force in Ituri. Their message, calling on the head of state to ensure Lubanga’s release, is also full of political significance. Activists in Ituri have relayed rumors currently circulating that Lubanga will be released before the end of the year – allowing him to participate in the 2011 presidential elections. The contention is providing a boost to Lubanga’s celebratory supporters, a reinforcement of their position that one activist described as “worrying”.

However, if this notion is celebrated in areas that are predominantly Hema (Lubanga’s ethnic group and the source of most of his support base), it is also important to note that there are other consequences in other areas. Some are disappointed and fear that this may exacerbate ongoing conflict. Colleagues report that other communities, in particular those who are considered not indigenous to Ituri, are concerned about the increase in exclusionary ethnic rhetoric. Among the Lendu, of course, Lubanga’s release would be considered an injustice, particularly as two of their leaders, Katanga and Ngudjolo remain in The Hague.

The UPC is also reportedly attempting to mobilize public opinion in Ituri against the court, arguing that the ICC’s engagement has stalled a true reconciliation. On the ground, activists reflect that even if the UPC peacefully submitted its views to Kabila last week, the threat of violence is still present. Many fear that if the UPC’s demands are not met, and Lubanga is not freed, that the UPC may return to war.


  1. Kabila trip to Orientel ,North Kivu and South Kivu was purely a campaign trip to try to test his grip in power which was not welcomed by the ordinary people apart from those corrupt government officials who are enjoying the free money they get like the police officers ,the immigration officers and the military commanders and of course not forgeting the governors .First of all the announcement of suspending illegal mining to ordinary congolese who have been actively involved since child hood has made them unhappy .Kabila who has been taking time to study French and Lingala had to mix the two languages with the Congolese Kiswahili in order to be understood .The former Dar es salaam Swahili boy is now trying to speak as the Congolese so as to be understood .Most of the people he visited do understand Kiswahili more than French which is widely spoken in Kinshasa by the educated people .
    This time around he tried to woodwink the population by promising them a lot but in Ituri of course the darling of the people is still the former war lord Thomas Lubanga who is currently in the Hague .Believe me Lubanga is still a big threat to Kabila as he is still being liked by the ordinary people .Kabila managed to silence another war lord from North Kivu by the names of Mbusa Nyamwisi who by actual fact was supposed to be at the International Criminal Court for recruiting child soldiers especially from the Banande tribe in Beni and Butembo and he was appointed a minister and early this year together with a senior politician Kamitatu when they wanted to quit the coaltion with the ruling party he was silenced by Kabila in what people suspect it was a ploy for him to get money .Kabila tour in Goma for instance never touched on the issue of General Ntanganda arrest who is a free person though he is wanted by the ICC .The journalists in North Kivu who once upon a time used to be vocal and asked tough questions especally those who work for international media like the BBC ,VOA and DW are now in the paying roll of the governor who happens to be from Beni and that is why they are always quite and accompanying the president and only file stories praising the president .But in Ituri it was a different story Kabila saw it all and he is now contemplanting on what to do next after he recieved a mixed reaction from thepepole who are in support of Thomas Lubanga and would not like to hear about Kabila promises .The Iturians who are demanding for a provincal status want Lubanga to be released and participate in next year eletions .Most of the congolese are afraid to challenge Kabila at the moment because of fear of their lives .All his opponents are now in the Hague -Jean Pierre Bemba is a big threat to Kabila and the Kinshasa residents cannot vote for Kabila and now he has also lost support in the so called Swahili speaking dominated areas in Orienteal,North Kivu and South Kivu provinces and its only Maniema where Kabila mother comes from that is where he has support .Katanga people are still doubting Kabila nationality urging that he is from Rwanda .Now with the support of Kagame ,Kabila is trying to test his power and gauge whether he is still popular in eastern DRC .For Kabila to say UN peace keepers should leave DRC is something which was whispered to him by Kagame so as to muzzle the opposition before the elections .Its only time which will tell but Lubanga is still the man of the people and also other war lords who have been locked in and langhuising in Makala prison in Kinshasa like Major General Jerome Kakwavu bukande and Lendu militia leader Njabu are a big threat to Kabila but they have strong following in Ituri .

  2. Dear Olivia Bueno,

    Many things wrong are occurring in Lubanga’s trial. For UPC, the delaying trial, the excessive period of imprisonment, the refusal to disclose the documents and the identity of intermediary such as n° 143, etc. are Lubanga’s rights abuse ?
    It is rightly that UPC called to President Kabila to free Ituri’s leaders i.e. Djokaba Lambi (UPC) and Ndjabu Floribert (President of FNI) and other iturians who have been jailed in Makala Prison of Kinshasa since 2005 without any trial.
    I would like to confirm that UPC will never return to war. We will fight now in DRC’s political scene.

    Dhetchuvi Matchu Jean-Baptiste
    Deputy Secretary General of UPC
    Member of the National Assembly (DRC)

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