Congolese Nobel laureate Mukwege launches presidential bid

A file photo taken on January 30, 2009, of Doctor Denis Mukwege receiving the Olof Palme Prize 2008, during a ceremony at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm. 

What you need to know:

  • Mukwege was speaking in Kinshasa, far from his base in South Kiv
  • The presidential election is scheduled for December 20, 2023

Popular Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege on Monday declared himself a candidate in the presidential election scheduled for December 20, 2023, potentially ending speculation about whether he would enter politics.

But the famous doctor, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, may have made a decision that could now plunge him into the murky world of dirty politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the dirty win and the rules are rarely followed.

Mukwege was speaking in Kinshasa, far from his base in South Kivu, from where he has operated on hundreds of women raped during the war, helping them with reconstructive surgery.

Not that he had avoided politics altogether. In fact, he was one of the most prominent figures in Congo to play politics without actually joining it. He often mocked the government for its dalliance with foreign missions, including the much-maligned UN peacekeeping mission (Monusco) and, more recently, the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF). To be fair, even DRC President Felix Tshisekedi has criticised Monusco and called for the EACRF to do more to tackle violent rebel groups in eastern Congo.

For Mukwege, those who regard him as a hero have been nagging him to make a bid for the presidency.

On September 16, for example, a group of women publicly called on him to run and handed him a cheque for $100,000 to pay the registration fee to the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). He promised to get back to them.

"I declare that I am ready to carry out this project, but with you. I, therefore, accept to be your candidate for the presidency of the Democratic Republic of the Congo," said the man known locally as "the women's repairer" for the numerous operations he has performed on women who have been victims of sexual violence in North and South Kivu during the 30-year war.

Far from international fame, however, Mukwege joins the list of candidates who will face Tshisekedi in a winner-take-all first round of voting.

The race also includes opponent Martin Fayulu, who lost to Tshisekedi in 2019; former prime minister Matata Ponyo; another former prime minister, Adolphe Muzito; and former governor of Katanga province Moïse Katumbi, who is also president of football club TP Mazembe.

In keeping with tradition, the race is also expected to attract fringe candidates. Tshisekedi has been trying to mobilise grassroots support, as leaders of various factions in the 26 provinces have come out to declare their support for the incumbent.

Mukwege, therefore, needs to build on his popularity in Kivu to overtake everyone.

“When the people decide to take power, no system can stand in their way,” he said.

Yet he doesn't even have a political party. His bankable support comes from two sectors: a 'patriotic appeal' born out of civil society, and a political platform, the ACRN (Alliance des Congolais pour la refondation de la nation).

At 68, he dreams of repairing the DR Congo, just as he is already repairing the bodies of women victims of violence. But the Nobel laureate is in for a tough fight.