Nobel Laureate Mukwege Declares Candidacy for President of DR Congo

Harare — Denis Mukwege, the gynaecologist and Nobel laureate who has won renown for campaigning against gender-based violence, declared on Monday that he would run for president in elections scheduled for December, news agencies report.

Agence France-Presse reports that Mukwege explained his bid by declaring that “Our country is doing badly… We cannot wait to act. Tomorrow is already too late.” Reuters reports that at his announcement in Kinshasa, he offered strong criticism of the current government but “little in the way of specific policy proposals.”

Last December, Mukwege was one of three prominent Congolese who accused President Felix Tshisekedi of pushing the country towards breakup by bringing in outside nations to tackle its security crisis in the east. Mukwege and Yazidi activist Nadia Murad shared the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their work to stop the use of sexual abuse as a weapon of war. At the Nobel ceremony, he called for sanctions against leaders who tolerate sexual violence.

Mukwege established the Panzi Hospital and Foundation in Bukavu in the eastern DRC in 1999, during the devastating Second Congo War. Even though that conflict came to an end, the region is still plagued by militia violence. The hospital specializes in treating victims of sexual assault, and Mukwege recently said that the war on women’s bodies has continued apace and even spread to include children.

As a result of local conflicts that erupted in the 1990s and 2000s, dozens of militias have been wreaking havoc in eastern DR Congo. One of them is the M23 group, which since beginning operations in late 2021 has taken large areas of territory.

On September 16, Mukwege announced that a U.S. $100,000 down payment for a presidential campaign had been raised by his supporters.

Despite having enormous quantities of minerals like copper, cobalt, and gold, the DRC is one of the world’s poorest nations and is rife with corruption. The doctor has advocated for an international court to hear cases involving crimes in the eastern DRC during his numerous lecture tours overseas.

In the election scheduled for 20 December, Mukwege will compete against incumbent Felix Tshisekedi, who currently has held the office since 2018.

It is unclear how Mukwege will fare. Despite his international fame, he is a political outsider with a narrow support base. reports AFP. Along with Augustin Matata and Adolphe Muzito, two former prime ministers of Tshisekedi’s predecessor Joseph Kabila, Martin Fayulu, who unsuccessfully sought office in 2018, is another opposition candidate. Business tycoon Moise Katumbi is also expected to announce a bid.

The cutoff date for candidates to run is October 8. The presidential election, which will take place concurrently with a parliamentary vote, will only have one round. The political opposition is fragmented and relatively weak going into the presidential election, barring new political alliances formed before the poll.

The ongoing political instability and armed conflicts in the country have devastated food production and distribution systems. Displacement of people, destruction of infrastructure, and disruption of agricultural activities have led to widespread food shortages and increased vulnerability to hunger, with 1.5 million people in emergency levels of food insecurity, according to Peter Musoko, country director for the World Food Programme.

At the United Nations, Tshisekedi has said that he has requested his government to move quickly to ensure that the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country begins at the end of the year. He was speaking in the UN General Assembly in New York.

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