Issues shaping DR Congo presidential election campaigns as opposition battle President Tshisekedi

December 20, 2023 will mark yet another chance for the about 100m Congolese to witness a democratic process where a President, representatives in the National Assembly, provincial assemblies and leaders of the local territories are elected.

While one candidate, Augustin Matata Ponyo, former Prime Minister, has withdrawn from the race to join forces with businessman and former Katanga Province Governor, Moise Katumbi, the total number of candidates competing for the top job is 25.

President Tshisekedi who is seeking a second and final term as per the Democratic Republic of Congo constitution is asking the 45m voters to allow him consolidate the achievements of his administration.

Tshisekedi, while launching his campaign on November 19, at Martyrs’ Stadium in Kinshasa, told the about 80,000 cheering supporters that his administration had achieved a lot including the roll out of free education.

“The others will come and start from scratch. It is better to consolidate what we have started,” he said as quoted by DW.

Unlike in 2018 when the opposition started the campaigns with a coalition called LAMUKA that fronted Martin Fayulu as their joint candidate, similar arrangements with a meeting in Pretoria, South Africa is yet to yield fruits. Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe pulled out of LAMUKA with the former going on to win the election whose results have been refuted by official second runner-up Fayulu.

In the Pretoria meeting, reports say the suggested coalition would decide between Katumbi and Fayulu who would lead the new coalition.

Matata after withdrawing from the Presidential race has been instrumental in the efforts to field a joint candidate against Tshisekedi and while speaking Pretoria, he was quoted as saying; “urgency dictates a single opposition candidate,”

Tshisekedi looks to be ahead of the opposition by galvanizing the current Parliamentary coalition called Sacred Union of the Nation. He is the candidate for that coalition that boasts of 391 members of the National Assembly and has a membership of about 24 political parties including; Union for Democracy and Social Progress; the Union for the Congolese Nation; the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo; the Unified Lumumbist Party, and the Alliance of the Democratic Forces of Congo.

Fayulu on the other hand has continued to discredit the efforts of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) accusing it of exaggerating the number of voters on the national register. Many thought he could keep his word on not running in an election organized by CENI which he accused of being pro-Tshisekedi but he registered his candidature early October.

While launching his campaigns in the town of Bandundu in southwestern Congo, Fayulu talked about the need to unite a country that has not experienced a decade without any civil war since independence.

“It’s time to build a great Congo, a strong Congo, a prosperous Congo. It is time to unite the north, south, east, west and center of the country. Now is the time to restore (Congo) to its rightful place in Africa and the world,” he is quoted by international media.

The issue of the fighting in the eastern part of the DRC is among the key pointers in the opposition candidates campaign against Tshisekedi. Some feel that he has failed to deal with the different armed groups out rightly with part of the area now being pacified by the East African Community standby force.

The M23 group that formed during the later years of Joseph Kabila’s reign has still emerged in the early years of Tshisekedi and his failure to wipe them out has given the opposition a chance to tell the people of the east that the regime is not for them.

The battle

As much as there are now 25 candidates in the race, less than 10 including the incumbent are in a league of their own fighting for the seat.

Tshisekedi

The 60 year-old has been credited for improving the international relations between DRC and other countries and has made several foreign trips. He also promised to improve the lives of the Congolese, to fight corruption and to do everything to bring peace to the east of the country. He did not achieve his objectives, recognizing that much remains to be done, but he is the favourite against an opposition which, barring any twists and turns, presents itself divided in the single-round election.

Katumbi

The 58 year-old, is a wealthy businessman, boss of the renowned Lubumbashi (south-east) football club TP Mazembe and former governor (2007-2015) of the mining province of Katanga, the economic heart of the country, where he was born. His father was Italian, which made him a prime target for the heralds of “Congolity”, whose leader also tried to have his candidacy invalidated.

Leader of the “Together for the Republic” party, he highlights his business successes and his record in Katanga, with construction of roads, schools and development of agriculture, to assert that he will know how to manage the country.

Fayulu

At 67 years, Fayulu is looked at as the candidate who may come closer to Tshisekedi in an election that needs to be decided by simple majority. He is the leader of the Commitment to Citizenship and Development party. This former executive of an oil major wants his revenge. For five years, his supporters have referred to him as “the president-elect”, since according to them the victory was stolen from him in the 2018 election.

Denis Mukwege

Mukwege, 68, gynecologist, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2018 for his work with raped women, is a long-time critic of power and continues to demand justice for the victims of armed violence in his country.

“The man who repairs women”, a nickname inherited from a documentary dedicated to him, has no political basis and was slow to launch. He finally announced on October 2 that he would be a candidate, denouncing “the corrupt and predatory practices” which keep the majority of Congolese in poverty. Son of a Pentecostal pastor, he is originally from South Kivu (east), where he runs a hospital.

Adolphe Muzito

Muzito, 66, is a former Prime Minister (2008-2012) of Joseph Kabila, also a former Minister of Budget and ex-inspector of Finance, leader of the “Nouvel Elan” party, former ally of Martin Fayulu in the Lamuka coalition.

Delly Sesanga

Sesanga, 53, lawyer, deputy for Luiza (Kasaï central) and leader of the Envol party (Together of volunteers for the development of the DRC), supported the candidacy of Félix Tshisekedi in 2018, of whom he became a virulent critic, denouncing “his inability to restore the country” and his “broken promises”.

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