DRC’s Bemba to return to Europe after filing presidential bid

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Congolese opponent Jean-Pierre Bemba (C), escorted by police officers and bodyguards, leaves the office of the Independent Electoral Commission after applying to be a candidate for next presidential elections of December 23, in Kinshasa, on August 2, 2018.<br />Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba announced August 2, 2018 in Kinshasa that he had applied to be a candidate for the presidential election of December 23, the day after his return to the Democratic Republic of Congo, after ten years spent in the prisons of the ICC. / AFP PHOTO / Junior D. KANNAH

Ex-rebel DR Congo leader Jean-Pierre Bemba will head back to Europe after returning to the African country this week to launch his bid for the presidency in December’s long-delayed elections, a leader of his party said Saturday.

The former DRC vice president arrived in the capital Kinshasa on Wednesday after 11 years abroad — a decade of it behind bars — and on Thursday officially launched his bid to succeed long-serving President Joseph Kabila.

Bemba, 55, then arrived in the town of Gemena in his stronghold in the northwest on Saturday.

“Senator Bemba is coming back tomorrow (Sunday) to Kinshasa and immediately leaves for Brussels,” Jacques Djoli, a leader of Bemba’s MLC party, told AFP.

“His next visit to DRC is scheduled for September to take part in work in the Senate and further electoral activities,” Djoli added.

Bemba was acquitted of war-crimes charges in June by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

Now a senator, he had been in Belgium — the DRC’s former colonial power — since his acquittal.

Another rival of Kabila, opposition leader Moise Katumbi, is attempting to launch his own bid for the presidential election, ahead of the August 8 cut-off date for candidates to submit their applications.

Analysts say Bemba’s return has introduced even more uncertainty into an already volatile election process.

The DRC 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.

On Saturday, a pro-Kabila group said it was making “final adjustments” before it chooses its candidate for the December 23 presidential election.

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