The Congolese big names are scrambling to get on the starting list before October 8.
Félix Tshisekedi, who intends to come back (“by finally being elected and not designated”jokes a close friend of Jean-Pierre Bemba, yet close to the current president), Martin Fayulu, who wants to recover the mandate he claims to have won in 2018 at the polls, Moïse Katumbi, who finally hopes to be qualified for this race the supreme judiciary, and Denis Mukwege, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who dreams of winning the presidency for his entry into politics, all met at the premises of the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni) this week for the submission of their application.
Delly Sesanga, the boss of the Envol party, should also be there, Muzito and Matata Ponyo, two former prime ministers under Joseph Kabila, have already completed this formality.
No surprises in this casting, in which a few second knives were invited capable of raising the 160 million Congolese francs (or approximately 60,000 dollars) necessary for the deposit of the non-refundable deposit.
The last two confirmations
In this list of presidential candidates there remained in fact only two half-surprises: Martin Fayulu and Denis Mukwege. The Common Front for Congo camp of Joseph Kabila has always affirmed that it would not present a candidate, putting forward “the lack of credibility of this vote”according to one of the former president’s lieutenants.
Between Fayulu and Mukwege, the first to decide was the boss of the Lamuka platform. Martin Fayulu, who had nevertheless called on the members of his Ecidé party to boycott the legislative vote organized on the same day as the presidential election, next December 20, suggested for a while that he might not compete if the Ceni did not put set up an international and independent audit of the electoral register which includes all the Congolese who registered for these elections.
Saturday September 30, when announcing his candidacy, Martin Fayulu justified his change of heart by explaining: “having heard the pressing demand of the population, the Lamuka coalition, decided to submit my candidacy for the presidential election of December 2023. As we did not have transparency through the audit of the electoral register, we will have it in the monitoring of the elections ”.
According to him, out of 43.9 million registered voters, there would be “10 million fictitious”. “This time, it will not happen… We refuse to whitewash the fraud (…), we must mobilize to prevent the electoral parody in preparation from happening”he said this Saturday, September 30.
But the former Exxon executive, 68, nevertheless believes that his position has allowed certain progress on the side of the CENI, which while refusing this independent audit of the file, announced, he explains, the publication of the electoral results polling station by polling station.
We will remember that when Félix Tshisekedi’s victory was announced in January 2019, and to this day, no minutes from any polling station have been published by the Independent National Electoral Commission, which only accentuates the doubts about the victory of Félix Tshisekedi.
”Martin Fayulu asked the Ceni to reopen registrations for the legislative elections so that our members can still submit their candidacy,” explains a senior member of his party. “But we have no illusions. Denis Kadima, the boss of the Ceni will not give us this gift.” Martin Fayulu therefore sets out to conquer the supreme office knowing full well that he will have to manage the country, if he is elected, without a single member of his party in the National Assembly.
In reality, Martin Fayulu, officially came second in 2018 with 34.8% of the votes behind Félix Tshisekedi who would have won 38.5%, took the risk of completely disappearing from the political scene if he boycotted this election. His firm position gave him a posture that fit well with his image as an uncompromising man before the campaign. His backpedaling has now earned him some resentment within his party itself, from the deputy candidates who followed his slogan and who feel like they have been betrayed.
Mukwege will be
The last strong contender who left doubts ended the suspense this Monday by announcing his candidacy. In reality, Doctor Denis Mukwege, “the man who repairs women”, had already brushed aside the last questions by announcing, a little over two weeks ago, that he had received and accepted the 100,000 dollars from a popular contribution for his candidacy and his campaign.
By entering the political game, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize enters a new universe. If he retains his aura, “he risks quickly losing most of the sponsors who support his Panzi foundation which helps women victims of sexual abuse in the east of the country”, explains a Congolese businessman. “It’s obviously very risky and that certainly explains part of his doubts,” he continues, while explaining that “even the bodyguards granted to him by MONUSCO will no longer be able to accompany him”.
The candidacy of Denis Mukwege could, on the other hand, shed new international light on this Congolese election which, until now, did not seem to excite the international chancelleries, with many diplomats seeming to accept the chaotic organization of this election. “With Mukwege in the game, it risks disrupting the machine set up by those in power”, explains one of these diplomats. “His candidacy could strengthen the weight of the organizations which are preparing to monitor the conduct of this election. I am thinking of the Catholics who will once again mobilize to be present in all the polling stations. Mukwege will mobilize this international community and will make it aware of this election.”
Like Martin Fayulu, Denis Mukwege is running alone in the presidential election. The man does not have the support of any party, and he has no political experience and does not have the notoriety in his country that he can boast of here. “In Congo, despite the ingenuity of the power in place, there is always an X factor that disrupts everything”, continues a Congolese politician. “Denis Mukwege is this X factor of the 2023 election”.
Katumbi’s show of force
The last two candidates to run for the CENI are the two favorites of this election: Moïse Katumbi and Félix Tshisekedi. The latter, given the lead by certain polls, organized this election by hand, with “his” Ceni and “his” Constitutional Court and a political staff won over to his cause with dollars. He also has all the levers associated with the exercise of power. But the 2018 election showed that this advantage may not be enough. Emmanuel Shadary, the successor to Joseph Kabila, the obvious candidate for the presidency, failed to convince an electorate largely committed to the cause of change.
The Tshisekedi camp promises to do better and trumpets from the rooftops that it has a record to present. The problem is that the current president has locked himself into ethnic power and that the few allies he brought into his government in exchange for their submission are unable to convince their electorate. The high mass of Jean-Pierre Bemba, who became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense during the last reshuffle, demonstrated the rejection of Tshisekedi in the ranks of his party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), which celebrated its 25th anniversary on September 30. The announcement by “chairman” Bemba of his support for Tshisekedi only raised, at most, a few circumstantial applause. Vital Kamerhe, Vice-Prime and Minister of the Economy, and Modeste Bahati, President of the Senate, were not better received when they spoke of their step aside for the benefit of the outgoing president, respectively in North Kivu and South Kivu.
The election is therefore far from being decided in this giant of Central Africa. The last candidate, Moïse Katumbi, brought together tens of thousands of people at each of his stops in the country in recent weeks. He is now expected in Kasaï, Tshisekedi’s land. He should submit his candidacy this Tuesday, October 3. It remains to be seen whether it will be validated. During the previous presidential election, Joseph Kabila’s government sought to discredit the candidate on the basis of a hypothetical Italian passport which would have called into question his Congolese nationality. But the Italian courts ruled, rejecting these accusations. Joseph Kabila ultimately prevented Moïse Katumbi from returning to the country to register. This time, the former governor of Katanga remained in the country and should not be prevented from submitting his candidacy. Will it still be validated? See you in a month to find out the answer. The United States, through Secretary of State Antony Blinken, has made inclusiveness one of the essential points for the credibility of this election. Attempting to eliminate Katumbi from the race could be seen as discrediting the entire electoral process.