Nobel Peace Prize winner to run in DRC presidential election

Denis Mukwege looks to political role in conflict-torn and exploited Democratic Republic of the Congo

Congolese gynaecologist and Nobel laureate Denis Mukwege has announced that he will run for president in his central African country’s December elections.

“My only motivation is to save and develop our country,” he said, in a speech quoted by Reuters news agency. “What I am going to do is the continuation of my action and my commitment over the last 40 years in the service of my people.”

The 68 year old won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Yazidi activist Nadia Murad for their work combating the use of sexual violence in conflict and advocating for survivors.

The Nobel Prize website describes Mr Mukwege – the founder of Panzi Hospital and Foundation – as “the world’s leading specialist in the treatment of wartime sexual violence”, with him and his team treating more than 50,000 victims.


The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – which gained independence from Belgium in 1960 – has a population of about 102 million people. It is Africa’s second-largest country by land mass and its fourth most populated.

While the country is home to an abundance of minerals and natural wealth, it is also badly affected by conflict and international exploitation. In the east, dozens of armed groups fight for power and control, leading to millions of deaths over the last three decades.

“I have hope but hope doesn’t mean that change will come with those elections. We can have an election but we stay with the same system,” celebrated Congolese land rights activist and lawyer Olivier Bahemuke Ndoole told The Irish Times earlier this year. He said the exploitation of the DRC’s resources was putting his country “on its knees”.

“The international community has a big responsibility for what happened in DRC and what is still happening in DRC,” he added.

Mr Mukwege has been living under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers, as a result of death threats and what he believes was an attempt on his life.

The new president looks likely to oversee the withdrawal of Monusco, the UN peacekeeping force.

Monusco has almost 18,000 personnel in the DRC, but a backlash against it has been growing from civilians who say that its forces fail to keep them safe. Dozens of people were killed in August during anti-UN protests in Goma in eastern DRC.

Current president Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo said in September that he would like the mission to leave the DRC by the end of this year, bringing forward its planned withdrawal from late 2024.

Meanwhile, conflict continues. Last week, UN special representative Bintou Keita told the Security Council in New York that more than six million people are displaced in the DRC’s Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa