Tens of thousands of candidates, including the 26 candidates running for the highest office, officially launched a month-long election campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday, in a tense political climate and against the backdrop of armed conflict in the east.
Opposition heavyweights did not hesitate to motivate their bases, while President Félix Tshisekedi, who is seeking a second term in office, held a series of inaugurations as his team trumpeted his achievements in a wide range of fields.
Félix Tshisekedi himself saw things through from day one, with a meeting at the Martyrs’ stadium in Kinshasa, while one of his main challengers, Martin Fayulu, harangued the crowds in a neighbouring province.
On December 20th, some 44 million registered voters out of a population of around 100 million will be called upon to elect their president, as well as choosing from over 100 thousand candidates for the legislative provincial and municipal elections.
A record, according to the Electoral Commission, which is determined to organize the elections on time, despite logistical difficulties in the country of 2.3 million squared km with very limited infrastructure.
“There is a political agenda that wants elections to be held on time, but there are doubts about technical capacity,” notes Trésor Kibangula, a political analyst at the Ebuteli research institute.
Sylvain Lesoye, a priest interviewed in a commune on the outskirts of Kinshasa, believes that “from an organizational point of view, the Céni does not inspire confidence”, referring in particular to the poor quality of voters’ cards, whose inscriptions and photos have faded.
“Wasting my time”
“The Céni knows that this is a challenge it must take up; its credibility is at stake,” says political scientist Jean-Luc Kong. “What’s frightening is the crisis in the east,” he says.
Violence by armed groups has been going on for almost 30 years in the region, which is experiencing a peak in crisis with the return to the scene of a former rebellion (the M23), supported by neighboring Rwanda, which has seized large swathes of North Kivu.
Because of the conflict, two territories in the province will not be able to vote normally, but if the provincial capital, Goma, were to fall itself, the whole process would be compromised.
The M23 “will not take Goma”, asserts Félix Tshisekedi, who had made the return of peace a priority, while also pledging to improve the daily lives of the Congolese people, diversify the economy, build roads and public buildings, and respect freedom of the press and expression.
The overall picture is mixed, according to analysts, and catastrophic according to the opposition, which paints a gloomy picture of the situation and immediately cries organized fraud.
In addition to Martin Fayulu, who claims victory was stolen from him in 2018, the main opposition candidates are Moïse Katumbi, former governor of the Katanga mining region, Dr Denis Mukwege, winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of raped women, and two former prime ministers.
Representatives of five of them met this week in South Africa to discuss the possibility of a joint candidacy against the incumbent president, who is the favourite, especially in a single-round election.
A coalition was formed, and a common program adopted, but only by the emissaries of four candidates, as the Fayulu camp did not sign up to the project.
Voters are divided on the value of voting.
Eunice, 20, a geography student, will be voting for the first time and says she is “happy” to do so for the candidate of her choice, whom she expects to “improve living conditions”.
As for Ezekiel, another 24-year-old student in business computing, he’s disillusioned. There will be “fraud, just like in 2018”, he says. Besides, “I’m not going to waste my time at the voting centre”.