In an interview broadcast Sunday evening on Radio Lisanga TV, a station close to the opposition, Etienne Tshisekedi stirred controversy and radicalized the tone of the election campaign when he declared himself president of Congo today.
I have transcribed and translated what I could hear of the interview in the below clip. Speaking from South Africa, where he has reportedly been since the beginning of the election campaign 10 days ago, he denied that the Congolese government had refused his plane a landing permission, thereby contradicting his own party spokesman.
He went on to say that President Kabila had no support, that only his wife is still with him. Most controversially, he self-proclaimed himself president of the Congo, starting today, because, he said, the majority of the people was with him.
In another part of the interview that I haven't yet heard myself, he is reported to have said: "I call on supporters (combattants) everywhere in the country to go to the prisons, to break down the doors and to liberate my supporters." He continued: "I'm giving a 48-hour deadline for all opposition prisoners to be released. Past that deadline, I will ask the population to attack prisons and free them, and as president, I'm ordering prison guards not to resist."
He was apparently referring to his supporters who had been arrested during recent demonstrations. This prompted the government to shut down the TV station, which belongs to the opposition MP and former rebel leader Roger Lumbala.
The UDPS confirmed that the interview was authentic.
Later, on the BBC Swahili service, I heard a UDPS representative explaining the interview, saying that, "It is normal for a candidate to boast like this."Roger Lumbala himself argued that Tshisekedi was referring to Kabila's slogan "With Rais [Kabila's nickname]...100 percent certain," saying that it was he and not Kabila who was sure to win.
This interview has already caused controversy on the Internet and in the streets of Kinshasa.
Tshisekedi has been criticized for spending a third of the short election month abroad seeking funds and transport in South Africa, while his competitors campaign at home. It may be that this absence and the lack of funds prompted him to radicalize his message and to openly seek confrontation. Will his supporters take to the streets tomorrow? Will the government take further legal action against the UDPS or RLTV?
Here is the speech:
"Those who say that Kabila prevented my plane from landing do not understand the situation. Kabila no longer represents anyone, but his wife. People like Boshab [president of the national assembly] and Mende [minister of information], who started elsewhere and talk with both sides of the mouth, say one thing during the day and another at night, have now abandoned him. He is alone with his wife, as you can see. So I say we need not wait for the elections. In a democracy, power rests with the popular majority. Since the majority of the Congolese people is with Tshisekedi and trusts Tshisekedi, from now on, I am the Head of State. Regarding the elections, my message is simple as I have said. Starting today, it’s the Congolese people who are the authority of the country. It’s Tshisekedi Etienne, no one else. If Mr. Ngoy Mulunda does not listen to what we are saying, he will be weeping in his native language come December 6 [the date election results are announced]."
Jason K. Stearn, an expert on the Democratic Republic of Congo, blogs at Congo Siasa and is author of the book "Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa."