A presidential aspiration thousands of miles away

March 2, 2006, midnight | By Isaac Arnsdorf | 15 years, 3 months ago

Student's stepdad seeks Congolese presidency with the hope of unifying the war-torn country

When most Blair seniors consider where they could be in a year, they wonder which college they will attend. But Andrea Mvemba wonders if next year she could be the first daughter of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mvemba's stepfather, Georges Alula, is running for president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), formerly called Zaire. Still mourning more than 3 million deaths from a five-year civil war, the central African nation of 60 million has been plagued by economic and political unrest since Belgian colonialism ended abruptly in 1960.

Now, the Congo's transitional government, established in 2003 by an internationally backed treaty, will expire with the nation's first multiparty elections in 40 years. Promising to unite the country, bolster the economy and end corruption, Alula joins the ranks of more than 15 other presidential hopefuls halfway across the world.

Born in the DRC and orphaned at age 13, Alula was educated in Belgium and moved to Silver Spring when he married Mvemba's mother five years ago, according to Mvemba. Alula's presidential bid was inspired by a visit to his homeland in July 2003, when he saw multitudes of young, homeless children who were arrested for violating an 8 p.m. curfew but had no families to claim them. "I prayed [to the] Lord that somebody has to do something," he writes in an e-mail.

Unpunished massacres, rapes and pillaging also plague the Congo, and humanitarian efforts have long been obstructed, according to Human Rights Watch. Victims of disease and starvation accompany the casualties of war.

Through prayer, Alula discovered what he believes to be his duty to serve the Congo. "I had the impression that God was telling me, `Why don't you do something for your country yourself? You have the skill and background it requires,'" he says. "I understood that I was the one my country needed."

Mvemba affirms her stepfather's dedication to his campaign. "He genuinely wants to save the Congo," she says.

Before she recognized the earnestness of Alula's presidential bid, Mvemba thought it was a joke. But when she realized he was serious, her reaction was fear.

In many African countries, she says, armed opposition and violent rebel factions imperil all government figures. In the DRC, every regime since independence in 1960 has ended in bloodshed, and the last president was assassinated.

But Alula is convinced that working to improve the lives of the Congolese people will keep him from harm. "The best security for a president is to work hard to change people's lives," he says. "When people are satisfied with your work in areas like healthcare, education and other life issues, you will have the security that you deserve instead of using guns."

Alula shares his stance on these issues with his political party, the Congolese Unity Movement (abbreviated to "Unic" in French), which he founded in February 2004. Independent of the political parties involved in the Congolese transitional government, Unic promotes unity and integrity and has a concrete plan of action, according to its web site. "Instead of presenting a glossary of good intent, our political program is based on a scheduled and detailed plan of development that we will implement once elected," Alula says.

Alula's new party lacks the recognition and prominence of better-established parties, but a well-run campaign can change that, says Serge Tshalama, press secretary at the Congolese embassy in Washington. Although current President Joseph Kabila has the advantage of incumbency, Tshalama says the race is "still wide-open," and it is too early to name a frontrunner.

Should Alula win, he would have to move to the Congo. But Mvemba plans to attend an American college regardless of the election results, and she hopes to stay low-profile. "I don't want to be a celebrity," she says. "I just want to be a regular person in college."

She says her stepfather's election would have a much bigger impact on her baby brother, who would grow up in the Congo as the president's son.

Although she hopes to retain some normalcy in her life, Mvemba is not indifferent to the enormity of her stepfather's endeavor. "I hope that he reaches his dream and is safe and cautious along the way," she says.

Isaac Arnsdorf. <span style='display: none;'>Isaac Arnsdorf is a perfectionistic grammar nerd with no sense of humor. According to co-editor Allie O'Hora, "he enjoys listening to rhythmless, atonal 'music' and reading the encyclopedia." He sleeps with the Manifesto under his pillow.</span> More »

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