*Updated (to include backtracking by communications minister)
For a moment it seemed like president Joseph Kabila was finally going to let go of power in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was all too good to be true.
Kabila will not seek re-election and will instead announce his choice for presidential candidate by July, communications minister Lambert Mende told Voice of America’s French language service. Elections will finally be held in December, he added, sticking to a 2017 compromise.
When local media tried to ask him, Mende backtracked immediately. He did not say that Kabila would not seek re-election, rather that the candidates standing for election would be known by July.
Kabila was meant to step down when his term expired on Nov. 27 2016, but elections were delayed—with the electoral commission citing administrative and financial constraints—and so Kabila simply stayed put.
Kabila continued presence in the presidential palace in Kinshasa triggered protests throughout 2017, with dozens killed. All this time, Kabila has simply avoided addressing the issues tearing his country apart, so Congolese voters may only believe when he—or if—he finally leaves office.
Kabila seems to be sticking to a deal brokered by the Catholic Church though. At his first press conference in five years, the 46-year-old president moved to assure Congolese and the world that he would stick to the agreed election timetable for later this year. Still, he showed little confidence in a multi-party system.
“I note that, on our side, there is a roadmap, and what other people are proposing is nothing, zero, a jump into the void, a leap into the unknown,” he told journalists. He said he wanted the country to have peaceful elections.
“Probably the most important thing is not necessarily the election but what happens after the election,” Kabila said in the two-hour press conference. “Do you have chaos or relative stability in order for the country to go forward?”
Kabila avoided stating outright that he would not stand for a third term. At the same time, he said the violence and death toll his prolonged stay has caused were exaggerated. He also would not give an exact election date punting the question to the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission. But he reiterated: “Elections will go ahead.”
When journalists asked him if he would seeking a third term, Kabila back to his old evasive self.