The president of a football club that has won Africa’s Champions League five times. The former governor of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) wealthiest region. An ex-ally of controversial DRC President Joseph Kabila.
Moise Katumbi holds a multitude of roles within one of Africa’s largest and most complicated countries. Now, he is hoping to add DRC President to his list of titles.
Described as Congo’s “most popular man,” Katumbi served as a close ally of Kabila for eight years between 2007 and 2015 as the governor of Katanga province, a region in southeastern DRC that is rich in minerals including cobalt and copper, as well as diamonds. Katumbi was a popular governor in Katanga—a region the size of Spain—rebuilding around 30 percent of the province’s roads and increasing access to running water exponentially among the population. Come September 2015, however, Katumbi announced he was resigning his position and leaving Kabila’s party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy, accusing the president of attempting to delay the 2016 elections.
Since then, Katumbi has been vociferous in his calls for Kabila to honor the constitution and step down at the end of his second five-year mandate in November. The DRC president has actually been in power since 2001, taking over after his father Laurent Kabila was assassinated. While Kabila has not publicly confirmed he will attempt to run again or amend the constitution, Congolese opposition activists have seen signs of what they term glissement, or the “slippage” of election dates as the president prepares to launch a third-term bid. In January, DRC’s electoral commission said it would take at least 13 months to update voter lists, pushing the elections back from their scheduled date. Katumbi has rejected the proposed delay, co-founding an opposition coalition called the Citizen Front that has demanded elections proceed as scheduled.
Much of Katumbi’s popularity is derived from his position as chairman of TP Mazembe, a Congolese football club that is one of Africa’s most successful teams ever. As well as winning a slew of national titles and the African Champions League, the club became the first from outside of Europe or South America to reach the FIFA Club World Cup Final in 2010, where they were ultimately defeated by Italian giants Inter Milan.
Should he ultimately succeed in his challenge to Kabila, however, DRC would not be getting a president without controversy. Katumbi has had to consistently deny accusations that he misused his position in Katanga to benefit his club—specifically, that a mining company made tax-deductible “voluntary social payments” totaling almost $2 million to the football club.
On Wednesday, the Congolese government also initiated an investigation into Katumbi’s alleged recruitment of mercenaries in his private bodyguard. Congolese Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba announced that the government had “documented evidence” of former U.S. soldiers being employed by Katumbi, and the allegations follow the arrest of four relatives of Katumbi in Lubumbashi in April. Katumbi decried the allegations as “low manoeuvres” that would not deter him from his candidacy. “I will be the rule of law’s candidate,” he tweeted on Wednesday.
Over the coming months, Katumbi intends to try and attract further support from other opposition parties in DRC, including the Union for Democracy and Social Progress led by Etienne Tshisekedi, who came second to Kabila at the last election in 2011. Katumbi will be hoping that, as the elections approach, his proficiency in the sporting arena will translate into an effective presidential campaign.