VITAL KAMERHE (born on March 4, 1959) is a Congolese politician. Former Speaker of the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and former Minister of Information, he is currently Honorary President of the National Assembly, founder and leader of the UNC party (Union pour la Nation Congolaise) and candidate to the 2011 presidential election in the DRC.
Early life and education
Born in Bukavu, Sud-Kivu, on March 4, 1959, Vital Kamerhe Lwa Kanyiginyi Nkingi is the son of Kamerhe Kanyginyi and Nemberwa Mwa Nkingi. Originally from the Shi community of the Walungu territory, he is married and father of 8 children. He began his primary school in Bukavu and then in Goma. He then continued in the Kasai-Oriental, in Gandajika, where he finishes his primary school. School years 1975-1976 and 1976–1977, he attended the Institut Sadisana (former College St. Francois-Xavier) in Kikwit Sacré-Coeur,Bandundu province. He then moved to Kananga (Kasai-Occidental Province) and finally, after one year, to Mbuji-Mayi where he obtained his State degree in 1980 (Institut Mulemba). This experience led him to learn all four national languages of Congo namely Kikongo, Lingala, Kiswahili and Tshiluba. He also speaks fluent French. From there he completed his studies at the University of Kinshasa, where he received his degree in Economics in 1987 with distinction. There he stayed as teaching assistant.
Kamerhe started his political career in 1984 with the UDPS (Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social). During the democratic transition under Mobutu, he was a member of the Rassemblement des forces Sociales et Federalistes (RSF) of Vincent de Paul Lunda Bululu and was also president of the Jeunesse de l’Union Sacrée de l’opposition Radicale et Alliés (JUSORAL), an opposition youth league. Between 1993 and 1995 he works in several public functions:
* 1993 : Director of the Cabinet of the Ministry of the Environment, Tourism and Directeur de Cabinet au Ministère de l’Environnement, Tourisme et Nature Conservation
* 1994 : Coordinator of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet
* 1994-1995: Director of the Cabinet for the Minister of Higher Education and University, Mushobekwa Kalimba wa Katana, member of Lunda Bululu’s RSF.
There is some controversy over whether he was a member of a Mobutist youth league (Frojemo), led by General Etienne Nzimbi Ngbale Kongo wa Basa, a fact his opponent often use to discredit him.
Under Laurent Kabila, Kamerhe becomes the deputy chief of staff of Etienne-Richard Mbaya, the minister of reconstruction, then:
* From 1997 to 1998 : Director of the Service National (a quasi-military service set up by Laurent Kabila)
* In 1998 : Finance Counselor at the Ministère de la Défense Nationale et Anciens Combattants, with the general Denis Kalume and finally deputy commissioner in charge of MONUC affairs.
Role in the peace process of the Great Lakes region
A founding member of the PPRD party in 2002, Vital Kamerhe was one of the leading figures in the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he was even nicknamed “le Pacificateur”, the “Peacemaker”. As Commissioner General of the Government responsible for monitoring the peace process in the Great Lakes region he is one of the principal negotiators of the 2002 peace deal.In 2003, he is appointed Minister of Press and Information in the transitional government.
Role in the 2006 General Election Campaign
In July 2004, he takes on the leadership of the PPRD and prepares Joseph Kabila’s election campaign, which he receives a lot of credit for. He is elected as parliamentarian in Bukavu with one of the highest scores in the country and on December 29, 2006 he is elected president of the National Assembly.
The following excerpt has been translated from Mr. Kamerhe’s speech at the CSIS (Center For Strategic & International Studies) in Washington, DC:
I would like to first of all thank CSIS for the invitation that I have received. On my invitation, I was asked to speak about the political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and about my candidacy for the presidential election on 2011.
Therefore, that brings me to speak about the current political power, and of course, about facing up the opposition. We will also speak about the attitude of the Congolese opposition regarding the electoral process. The civil society also has gotten some voices. We will also be speaking about the attitude about the international community.
About the actual government: their attitude towards the process, first of all, I will be speaking about the review of the amendment that they want to bring about the constitution – the modification of the electoral law – and of course, the attack on the opposition. The fourth point is on the politicization of the army and the manipulation of the electoral committee.
The review of the constitution surprised a lot of people, about the timing of when it happened, and secondly, how it happened.
Many are questioning why this is happening
in January time frame and at the moment when the electoral process has to begin. It has been said that you don’t change the rules of the game during the competition. However, in our situation, we’ve noticed that the rules have been changed during the competition. Certainly, it’s quite simple. Because at one time, those in power felt that Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was the challenger of Kabila, had 42 percents, for the power, the victory was assured. Many believed that it was over because he was in jail, and Tshisekedi was too old. However, the return of Etienne Tshisekedi back to Kinshasa and the welcome that he received shook up the government in Kinshasa and brought up the attention to the rulers.
Concerning ourselves, the UNC, when we held our conference on January 14 of this year, announcing our decision to leave the PPRD – the presidential party – and at the same time, renouncing to our post at The National Assembly, and announcing our goal of participating at the 2011 presidential election (which followed our successful campaign held at Goma and Bukavu), the government came to the realization that they had to factor in the opposition on the upcoming election.
Thus, the president of Congo decided that the constitution needed to be reviewed, believing that by canceling the second round of the election, the government could have the chance to win the election by facing a non-organized opposition. He therefore asked the National assembly to modify the constitution.
Attack on Opposition
In the media, they started a campaign saying that “Be careful, Kamerhe is not an opposition; we are sending him to come and effectively on behalf of us – the government – to disturb the opposition.” (this is in relation to the fact that Kamerhe has been part of the government, prior to his resignation from the National Assembly).
It did not discourage the opposition since we decided to move ahead on the second stage: reaching out to the United Nation presence in the Congo and taking a position on the matter at hand since we understood that this was a plan to discourage the opposition, therefore, shaking up the international community to come up to their responsibilities. We felt that there were some weaknesses on behalf of the international community. When the government noticed our reaction, they became uncertain about their victory on the upcoming election, thus the modification of the electoral laws. Fortunately, the parliament was in recess, otherwise they would have just changed the constitution within an hour.
Effects of Changing the Constitution
What is the objective? Basically, it was about tailoring the law for the government’s own benefit. First, to get rid of Mr. Tshisekedi, they tried to modify the law, bringing the age limit for presidential candidate down to 70 (Mr. Tshisekedi is over 70 years old). That by itself is an immoral act.
Second, within that same law, the government is planning on adding criteria that could automatically get rid of Mr. Kamerhe. The new law states that any political party that has not been around for over 5 years cannot present a candidate for the presidential election. We can understand that the purpose of the government is to manipulate the pre-electoral laws that are set for this election.
We don’t have to wait and get ourselves into the same situation such as what’s going on in Egypt and Niger. As far as I’m concerned, I believe in prevention. Let’s prevent the current government from destroying what we have successfully built after many discussions and negotiations.
Everybody is following the enrollment process. There has been a reduction of voting posts at some areas without valuable explanation; mainly because they are expecting less positive ballots for the current president in those areas. Vice versa, there has been an increase of voting posts to regions that are favorable to the government in place. Our supporters have to travel long distances – such as 40km further away – in order to register.
Manipulation and Intimidation
The opposition is not benefitting of the same rights as the presidential political party. There are acts of intimidations and vandalisms against us everywhere we go for our campaign. Recently we went to Goma, where we were exposed to shootings on our arrival by the police force.
There is a great politicization of the army, the police, and the security service. Instead of the army defending the nation’s border against infiltrations from the outside forces (such as in the east of the Congo) and the police watching over Congolese people, both groups are there with objectives to organize and carry on detailed plans against the opposition, intimidating and mistreating the population.
There is also the Justice aspect (the law). Candidates are being arrested, judged unfairly and put in prisons for long period of time (referring to Eugene D. and Mukonkole).
What is the opposition doing regarding these situations? First, the opposition has quickly and vigorously reacted regarding the constitution changes by rejecting the changes. We’ve started lobbying about the revision of the laws, especially on the proportions on the electoral aspect. Because what’s happening, just like in Egypt, the current government want to win not just the presidential election, but also occupy all the positions at the National Assembly level. The opposition is going to start working on consolidating our unity. The reason is because we have to get ready for the upcoming battle.
International Community Involvement
Regarding the international community, we were astonished by their lack of reaction. The international community guaranteed, and even countersigned, the agreement we had in Sun City. However, we are grateful for the European Union’s reaction, although a little bit late.
About Kamerhe’s candidacy
As far as my candidacy is concerned, it’s not just a trial. it’s not an act of revenge nor anger. We have a vision for the Congo, for Africa, and for the world. We have a program on hand. We have a system of installing responsible leadership. We have a plan to get off the crisis for not only the east Congo, but also the Great Lakes regions. We are starting first with the diplomatic aspect. Then the political aspect, following with the economical – traceability of all the mineral exploitation in the east of the Congo - and human aspects -we would like to bring back the population that have been chased away due to conflicts. On the justice side, we’re planning on installing a special justice court that will deal especially with those responsible to the wrongful acts of violence, murder, and rape of women in Congo. Our plan also has a sector of development. We are also targeting regional cooperation. Last, but not least, we also have a plan for the military. We will discuss all these and I’m hoping to respond to all of your questions.
I would like to thank everyone that came to attend this speech. Thank you Mrs. Cooke (Director of CSIS Africa Program) for the opportunity.
For more information and the full interview, please visit Roger Muntu’s website www.theM2Show.com for the complete coverage.
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