KINSHASA - DR Congo's Denis Mukwege, a surgical gynaecologist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, announced on Monday that he will stand for president in elections planned for December.
Speaking to a packed auditorium in the central African nation's capital Kinshasa, the doctor told reporters he wanted to save a country riven by insecurity and poor leadership.
"Our country is doing badly," said Mukwege, 68. "We cannot wait to act.
"Tomorrow is already too late."
Mukwege was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 alongside Yazidi activist Nadia Murad for efforts to end sexual violence as a weapon of war.
The pioneering doctor founded the Panzi hospital and foundation in conflict-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after witnessing the horrific injuries and diseases suffered by rape victims.
Dozens of militias have ravaged eastern DRC for years, a legacy of regional wars that flared during the 1990s and 2000s.
One such militia, the M23, has captured swathes of territory since launching an offensive in late 2021.
Alongside his medical work, Mukwege has earned a reputation as a strident government critic in his native country and built-up a loyal following among the DRC's intellectual class.
His announcement of a presidential bid follows months of speculation that he harboured political ambitions.
On September 16, Mukwege declared that his supporters had donated the $100,000 deposit needed to launch a run for the presidency.
"When the people decides to take power, no system can oppose it," he said at the time, without explicitly declaring a bid.
In the crowd of supporters in Kinshasa on Monday, Francois Risasi, 56, said the doctor was "the cream of our society".
"He represents the silent majority that works but sees no results, because of a conglomerate of adventurers that share the riches of the country between themselves," he added.
The DRC is riddled with corruption and is one of the poorest countries in the world despite its vast reserves of minerals such as copper, cobalt and gold.
- Opposition disarray -
Mukwege's speech in Kinshasa was broadcast live to two halls in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, where his announcement drew rapturous applause.
Nabintu Aristide, a 57-year-old mother of five, told AFP in the city that Mukwege's candidacy was "the beginning of the end of the suffering we've endured for years".
Bukavu is the home of his Panzi hospital, which has specialised in treating survivors of sexual violence since opening in 1999 amid the ravages of the Second Congo War.
Although that conflict is over, militia violence continues, and Mukwege recently said the war on women's bodies has continued apace -- and even extended to children.
The doctor, during his many lecture tours abroad, has called for an international tribunal to judge crimes in eastern DRC.
In the election scheduled for December 20, Mukwege will face off against incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi, who came to power after an election in 2018.
How Mukwege will fare remains unclear. Despite his international prominence, he is a political newcomer without a broad base of support.
Other declared opposition candidates include Martin Fayulu, who ran unsuccessfully in 2018, and two ex-prime ministers of Tshisekedi's predecessor Joseph Kabila -- Augustin Matata and Adolphe Muzito.
Business magnate Moise Katumbi is also expected to announce a bid.
The deadline for candidates to enter the race is October 8.
The presidential election, which is due to be held alongside a parliamentary vote, will be a single-round poll.
Barring new political alliances forged ahead of the vote, the political opposition is heading into the presidential election fractured and relatively weak.