Thousands of people welcomed Moise Katumbi, a prominent foe of former DR Congo president Joseph Kabila, as he landed at Lubumbashi airport on Monday after three years in self-imposed exile.
The government in Kinshasa meanwhile told people to expect an important announcement regarding the appointment of a prime minister by Kabila’s successor, Felix Tshisekedi.
Katumbi, a wealthy businessman and former governor of Katanga province in the southeast of the country, returned three years to the day after he flew to Belgium.
He was once an ally of Kabila but the pair fell out. Katumbi was given a three-year jail term in absentia for alleged property fraud — an accusation he denied — and was barred from standing in last December’s elections.
He flew home in a private jet to be greeted by supporters, many of them dressed in white, lining the road between the airport and the centre of Lubumbashi, the capital of mineral-rich Haut-Katanga province.
Katumbi has also been an opponent of Tshisekedi, who took power after a disputed presidential poll.
Katumbi has yet to make clear what role he plans to play in an opposition where he backed Martin Fayulu, another wealthy businessman who claims that he was the true winner of the December 30 ballot.
In a tweet, Fayulu said, “It doesn’t matter how long night lasts, daybreak always comes. Welcome home to @MoiseKatumbi.”
Meanwhile, Tshisekedi’s spokesman said an important announcement would be made on national radio and television.
Sworn in on January 24, Tshisekedi has struggled to push ahead with his declared programme of reform. His choice of prime minister is expected to be acceptable to Kabila, who amassed extensive political clout after 18 years in power.
Kabila’s political allies retain the upper hand in parliament, provincial assemblies across the vast and unstable country and the posts of governors.
Katumbi’s return coincided with a visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to Kinshasa, where he was due to have talks with Tshisekedi.