DRC: Will the opposition speak with one voice?  “It will be difficult, 2023 is not 2018”

DRC: Will the opposition speak with one voice? “It will be difficult, 2023 is not 2018”

Five opposition leaders entered into negotiations in South Africa on Monday.

Less than forty days before going to the polls in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the presidential and national and provincial legislative elections.

A vote which is far from being certain, given the challenges which still face the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni), the gigantic dimensions of the country and the glaring lack of infrastructure.

To try to meet the requirements of the constitutional calendar, the boss of the Ceni, Denis Kadima Kazadi, rented two planes in Kenya and acquired a fleet of small boats in order to dispatch the thousands of voting machines throughout the country. “Everything is too late, explains an opposition MP who underlines: “the impact of weather contingencies. It is the rainy season, any travel is complicated in certain areas of the country. It’s like this every year, the Ceni had to anticipate it,” he continues.

No matter, those in power continue to insist that the polls will be held on December 20 at all costs. “Remember the prophecy of Denis Kadima when he announced to you (in Brussels during a seminar on elections in the DRC, organized in December 2022 by the Egmont Institute, Editor’s note) that the elections would not be perfect and that we should not want to have it both ways, to use these words,” recalls a political expert present that day. “This is going to be the dirtiest election in history. We must expect that half of the offices will not even be open,” announces an opponent, close to former President Joseph Kabila who mentions the latest press release from the observation mission of Catholics and Protestants published this Monday, November 13 which notes that “3,706 polling stations were duplicated 2,3 or even 4 times”. The same Kabilist also mentions the meeting this Monday within the framework of consultation between the CENI and the representatives of the presidential candidates. “A new demonstration of Denis Kadima’s forcing against all odds to organize impossible elections which will generate so much frustration that we must fear the worst the day after the election.

DRCongo: The Tshisekedi – Katumbi match can begin

Meet in Pretoria

It is in this context of strong political tensions which continue to grow in a country undermined by a real war in Kivu, ethnic violence on several fronts throughout the territory, that five presidential candidates are standing. speak in South Africa. From this Monday, the first lieutenants of Katumbi, Fayulu, Mukwege, Sesanga and Matata are gathered in Pretoria, at the invitation of a South African NGO already active five years ago, in Geneva, in the same exercise of designating a common candidate. At the time, it was Martin Fayulu who won. “Being nominated at this stage is not enough to win elections”explains Luc Malembe, one of Martin Fayulu’s spokespersons who insists “we must win national elections and, above all, ensure that voters’ votes really count”.

“We are aware of the population’s expectation for a joint candidacy,” continues Jean-Pierre Muongo, Delly Sesanga’s campaign director. “Our objective is to identify the broad outlines of a common program which should allow us to build this opposition front in 48 hours. It’s short but the majority of negotiators are not novices. We can get there if everyone plays the game.”

Determination is present in the HQs contacted but everyone knows that the task will be difficult. “Before talking about a common candidate, the CENI must clear up the questions surrounding the electoral register,” we resume in the Fayulu camp. The “single” opposition candidate for 2018 is far from unanimous in Pretoria. His registration for the presidential election at the last minute, after having asked the members of his party not to participate in the legislative elections, questioned several participants in this meeting. “This is strange behavior to say the least.”assures someone close to Matata, who points out “the weakness of this candidate who will therefore not have anyone elected to the National Assembly.”Denis Mukwege also left alone,” continues another lieutenant.

Hervé Diakiese, the spokesperson for Ensemble pour la République, the party for Moïse Katumbi, insisted at the beginning of last week on his candidate’s desire to put himself at the service of the country. “Which does not mean that Katumbi will agree to step aside for the benefit of another candidate”explains someone close to Fayulu.

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“A common candidate is possible”explains a member of the Sesanga team, “will it be common to the five who meet in Pretoria? It’s far from won”. The Geneva scenario, where a candidate is supported by all the actors present before two candidates (Tshisekedi and Kamerhe) renounce their commitment the next day, is on everyone’s minds. “This confusion did not prevent Fayulu from winning the vote and Tshisekedi from becoming President of the Republic. The Kabila clan was unable to stay in power. Tshisekedi must be aware that he is showing his last card and that the mobilization and control of the state apparatus are no longer sufficient in the face of the determination of the people and the technological means that can be put in place to control the file .”

“2018 is not 2023”

“Disappointment with the regime in place pushes us to find a way of understanding”, explains someone close to Sesanga. “Those who do not play the game will be singled out by the population”.

Yet, despite these statements; doubt is clearly in order. “2023 is not 2018, explains Professor Bob Kabamba, political scientist at the University of Liège. “Five years ago the heavyweights Bemba and Katumbi were on the sidelines. They were the external engines of conciliation. This year, there is no longer a similar profile. The five candidates who find themselves in Pretoria have incurred costs for this candidacy and do not necessarily want to give up their place. The other big question concerns the elections themselves. Doubt remains about the holding of the vote despite the reassuring words of the president of the Ceni. Some candidates know that they will not make the grade, but they want to exist and monetize their support if the elections are delayed and everyone has to come to the negotiating table.”

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The Denis Mukwege question

The figure of Denis Mukwege, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is at the heart of the questions. “Man has an oversized ego,” explains a Congolese businessman who knows him “for many years. His Nobel Prize didn’t help matters. He will never step down in favor of another candidate.” “He entered the race to be president, political calculations are not for him,” adds another businessman from the east of the country, who continues: “His Western friends praise him to the skies, but at home, he sorely lacks support and popularity”.

Katumbi and the bad experience of 2018

Moïse Katumbi is also among the candidates who have already injected a lot of money into the campaign. “But he could take a step aside if he is convinced,” explains a Western diplomat. “But he will have to be convinced. We must not forget that between 2016 and 2018, it was he who financially supported the Congolese opposition. When Tshisekedi came to power, he quickly forgot this past. Katumbi has invested a lot of money and today sees the Tshisekedi clan cutting corners for him even at his home in Lubumbashi. In this context, it is difficult to see candidate No. 3 withdrawing”continues the diplomat.

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Félix Tshisekedi knows that Moïse Katumbi is his most dangerous opponent. He ticks all the boxes to be the No. 1 outsider since the Constitutional Court validated his candidacy: he is very popular inside and outside the country, he has a real party, the financial means and he has displayed his determination. “It is very possible to leave Pretoria without a 5-party agreement but with, despite everything, a candidate who would emerge stronger and who could bring together other candidates who are not in Pretoria. Katumbi is the most likely to succeed in this bet,” concludes the diplomat.