Vital Kamerhe throws down the glove

Vital Kamerhe, the former president of the national assembly, has come out with a statement condemning Floribert Chebeya’s death. That in itself was not unusual, but the tone was certainly remarkable, as well as some of the other points he made. Is Kamerhe trying to make a comeback? Even launch a presidential campaign?

He said that “his disappearance is a hard hit for the nascent Congolese democracy, as it aims to annihilate any dissenting voice and prevent the birth and reinforcement of civil society.” But then he goes on to say that there have been many similar assassinations of late, and the government has not been able to establish the culprits and motives “in a clear way.” He cites:

  • Msgr Kataliko, Msgr Munzihirwa and Msgr Mbogha
  • Sister Denise of the Murhese seminary
  • Mr. Mpozi, leader from South Kivu
  • Pascal Kabungulu, head of Heritiers de la Justice
  • Provincial MP Daniel Botheti from Kinshasa
  • The journalists Franck Ngyke, Serge Maheshe, Didace Namijimbo, Bapwa Mwama, Koko Chirhambiza
  • Faustin Kagaheshe, head of the Kiliba sugar factory

He also asks President Kabila, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary celebrations next week, to released political prisoners, including Gabriel Mokia, Pasteur Kutino and Martin Mukonkole. All of them are opponents of President Kabila, but none was ostensible arrested for their opposition (critics suggest the charges against them were false or trumped up.)

He then compares the lack of inquiry into the above assassinations to the massacre of students in Lubumbashi by Mobutu’s security services in 1990, an incident which helped galvanize international opinion against Mobutu.

Fighting words, indeed. And this from a man who had been relatively quiet since he had been fired from his position as head of the national assembly in January 2009, after he had criticized the Rwandan Umoja Wetu operations. He had subsequently tried to create a dissident faction within Kabila’s presidential AMP coalition, but failed and then spent much of his time traveling to Canada, South Africa and teaching at the university in Kinshasa. People in Kinshasa are asking: Is this frontal attack on Kabila an indication that Kamerhe may still have presidential ambitions for next year? As Kabila’s confidence erodes, such statement by former allies much bite. This statement was more directly critical of the president than anything I have previously seen him say in public.

The reaction was swift. The inimitable Minister of Information Lambert Mende struck back yesterday, breaking an uncharacteristic period of silence (he had been in Morocco attending a conference).

Mende made some valid points. The deaths of Archbishops Munzihirwa, Kataliko an Mbogha had nothing to do with Joseph Kabila – the first was killed by Rwandan soldiers in 1996, the latter two died due to heart attacks (although there will always be speculation…). Mende also correctly points out that Kamerhe is asking on the one hand for Kabila to respect the independence of the judiciary and on the other for him to intervene to pardon political prisoners.

But, then Mende lays into Kamerhe in his trademark flowery prose: “Eager to add weight to the arguments of those who obstinately want to lynch President Kabila and his government…”, “…he demands no more or less that for his country to renounce its sovereignty…inscribing itself at the highest level in a scheme of delegitimation of its own institutions.”

Sounds better in French.

So the swords have been drawn. Let’s see if Kamerhe will pursue his critique of Kabila.