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Opposition Politician’s Murder Shakes Congo

Ensemble Party Spokesman Found Dead Amid Growing Election Tensions

Chérubin Okende, late spokesperson for Ensemble pour la République (Together for the Republic), an opposition party, during a march in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 11, 2023. © 2023 AP Photo/Samy Ntumba Shambuyi

On Thursday morning, an opposition politician was found dead in his car with gunshot wounds in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital city. Chérubin Okende, 61, was a member of parliament and spokesman for the opposition party Ensemble pour la République (Together for the Republic), known as Ensemble.

As the news broke, politicians, foreign diplomats, activists, and ordinary citizens condemned the killing. Within hours, the Congolese government denounced the “assassination” while President Félix Tshisekedi’s office posted on Twitter that the president had “learned with dismay [Okende]’s disappearance in tragic conditions,” adding that authorities had been instructed to open an investigation into the “despicable act.” That night, the government announced an inquiry that would involve “foreign services of friendly countries” to ensure transparency, but provided no details.

Speaking to the media, Ensemble’s leader, Moise Katumbi, considered to be one of Tshisekedi’s main opponents in the presidential elections slated for December, described the killing as a “political assassination” and said that Okende might have “been kidnapped outside the Constitutional Court” the day before his body was found.

A senior Ensemble official told Human Rights Watch that Okende had been expected at the Constitutional Court on Thursday regarding a declaration of assets he had filed after he resigned as minister of transportation in December 2022. The official said that Okende had gone to the court on Wednesday to request a postponement. He had sent his security guard to deliver the request while he waited outside in his car. When the guard returned, according to the party official, Okende and his car had disappeared. The media reported that Okende was missing on Wednesday evening.

The killing comes at a time of heightened political tension in Congo amid concerns that election preparations may be flawed. On May 30, Katumbi’s top adviser, Salomon Kalonda, was arrested and has subsequently been charged with illegal possession of a weapon and undermining state security. Other opposition members have also been targeted.

With less than six months before the general election, the investigation into Okende’s killing should be prompt, impartial, and transparent, and those responsible should be held to account. Anything less risks escalating an already extremely tense situation.

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