Shops, banks, restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen on July 22 while public transport resumed and large gatherings are now permitted. Schools and universities will now be allowed to reopen on August 3, and airports, ports, borders and places of worship on August 15, Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi announced in a televised speech on July 21.
Congo has recorded 8,720 infections including 201 deaths and Tshisekedi warned that people still needed to take precautions such as wearing masks and washing hands.
I spent time with some residents of Goma over the past weeks as they shared with me how the pandemic was affecting their lives. While the population has struggled to cope economically, Congolese authorities have also come under fire for cracking down on peaceful critics, journalists, and political party members while using pandemic state of emergency measures as a pretext to curb political protests.
“The administration of President Felix Tshisekedi in the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken a serious downturn in respect for human rights in 2020”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published this week. “Dozens of people who have criticized government policies, including on social media, have faced intimidation and threats, beatings, arrests, and, in some cases, prosecution.”
The HRW report listed a series of violent incidents by security forces, including the killing of protestors denouncing the nomination of an election commission chief accused of rigging past elections in favour of former President Joseph Kabila. Attacks on journalists and peaceful critics are an “assault on democracy,” HRW said, and called on Tshisekedi to “stop resorting to his predecessor’s tools of repression”.