Youth movement has lit up social media with rallying call to maintain a united front in the run-up to highly anticipated elections
Young opposition supporters at a rally in Goma,
Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He’s been imprisoned for nearly 10 months, but Fred Bauma’s optimism hasn’t waned. “I don’t know if I’ll be released tomorrow, or the day after or any time soon. I like to think that I’ll eventually be released,” said the 25-year-old activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as the case against him continues to stall.
His crime? Taking part in a pro-democracy event in March last year, in which he and other activists launched a youth movement to boost the involvement of young people in the highly anticipated upcoming elections.
But government officials raided the event and arrested Bauma on terrorism charges, accusing him of attempting to destabilise the country. He was eventually taken to Makala prison, which is nearly 1,000 miles from his family’s home in eastern DRC.
Speaking in a new documentary about the growing youth movement and his imprisonment, Bauma says he hopes that peaceful engagement in the democratic process will help spur change. He considers his time in prison a temporary setback.
“The good thing about being young is, even when we get knocked down, we find the courage to keep getting back up,” he said.
Though Bauma’s case has garnered international attention, he is just one of the many figures rallying the DRC’s youth activism movement.
As the November election slowly approaches, hundreds have been reportedly beaten, arrested and killed for the same charges Bauma faces.
Last November, Amnesty International released a 50-page report on the government’s crackdown on activists, as well as politicians and others speaking out against President Joseph Kabila’s proposed third term in office.
The report noted in particular that the country’s “justice system has been compromised for political purposes to crush dissent”.
Most recently, youth leader Jean-Marie Kalonji was seized and forced into a truck on the afternoon of 15 December by members of the DRC’s intelligence agency, and has been detained since.
But despite the mounting repression, youth groups scattered throughout the DRC are looking to unify their movements.
With 60% of the country’s population younger than 30, young activists have struck a chord with their disenfranchised peers.
“We represent the silenced, the vast majority of Congolese people who don’t have a voice,” said Ben Kabamba, who has been in hiding since his involvement in the event at which Bauma was arrested.
“The movement is much larger than us, the entire population is part of this movement that absolutely wants to see change in Congo,” he added.
Young people have come out in force against proposals that could prolong Kabila’s final term, highlighted by the January 2015 protests in which police opened fire and killed at least 42.
The president is yet to publicly dispel rumours that he is vying to remain in office past the constitutional two-term limit.
Although the countdown to elections has begun, disagreements within the political elite, a lack of funds and a chaotic electoral calendar are all fuelling uncertainty that the election will happen on time – if at all.
Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, who specialises in African politics at the University of North Carolina, said: “[Kabila has] been looking for every possible way to stay in power.”
The hashtag #Telema, which is native Lingala for “stand up”, has become a rallying cry on social media, calling for a united front against Kabila’s government.
“The Congolese youth has shown that once it rises, people will follow and those in power are afraid,” said Vital Kamerhe, one of many opposition figures looking to replace Kabila.
Sarah M Kazadi
The Guardian UK