Campaigns for general elections on December 20 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were launched across the country this weekend.
But they are taking place against a backdrop of community conflicts in several provinces.
60-year-old incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi, who came to power in 2018 following a disputed election, is seeking re-election. On Sunday, he officially launched his campaign at the Martyrs Stadium, where he was cheered on by 80,000 supporters, despite steady rain.
Tshisekedi praised the achievements of his government, stressing that his free education policy had been a success, although “our brothers in the FCC [the opposition’s Common Front for Congo] told me that I would not succeed.”
He called on supporters to give him a second term to consolidate his achievements: “The others will come and start from scratch. It is better to consolidate what we have started.”
A new coalition for Tshisekedi
A power sharing agreement with his predecessor Joseph Kabila’s FCC, allowed Tshisekedi to be sworn in as president in 2019. This weekend he complained that the agreement had hampered his government’s performance for the first two years of his presidency, before it broke down at the end of 2020.
For the 2023 election, the incumbent president formed a new coalition called Sacred Union of the Nation.
Esther Mampuya, an activist for Tshisekedi’s new political platform, attended the launch of his campaign in the capital, Kinshasa.
“All we want is a second term to show what he is capable of doing for this country. He can make changes that people think are impossible [to make],” she told DW.
A total of 26 candidates are running for the presidency, including some high-profile candidates like Martin Fayulu, a 66-year-old former Exxon Mobil executive.
Opposition seeks united front
Fayulu, who came second in the 2018 election, disputed its outcome at the time, claiming he had been robbed of victory.
On Sunday he launched his campaign in Bandundu, around 400km (249 miles) northeast of the capital.
Surgical gynecologist Denis Mukwege, who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against sexual violence as a weapon of war, is running for the first time.
One of the president’s most serious rivals is Moïse Katumbi, who launched his campaign today in the city of Kisangani, in Tshopo.
Katumbi, a millionaire businessman and former governor of the copper-rich Katanga region, is supported by former Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, who withdrew from the race.
Representatives of the main opposition parties last week started talks in Pretoria, South Africa, to decide on a potential joint candidate to challenge Tshisekedi.
“Urgency dictates a single opposition candidate,” Matata said in Pretoria, accusing the Congolese government of preparing “massive electoral fraud”.
Candidate Martin Fayulu told the Reuters news agency that “the question of a joint candidacy will certainly be discussed in due course.” But he stressed that the main concern in South Africa had been to agree to ground rules for holding peaceful elections.
The threat of insecurity
The east of the country has been racked by fighting for three decades. The conflict flared up again recently, after the M23 group, allegedly supported by Rwanda, occupied much of North Kivu province.
There are concerns that the campaigns could be hampered by this and other conflicts in several parts of the country.
“The conflicts were accentuated by him [Tshisekedi] when he descended into tribalism,” José, a resident of Lubumbashi who did not want to give his last name, told DW. He was referring to violence between the community of Kasai, from which Tshisekedi hails, and that of his rival Moise Katumbi, in Katanga. José accused the president of fomenting strife.
“We want these conflicts to end, and for there to be jobs and peace in this country,” Mutampwa, another resident of Lubumbashi, told DW.
An election beset by difficulties
A recent report from the global think tank International Crisis Group (ICC) says there are several factors putting the upcoming elections at risk.
“Political tensions are rising. Preparations for the polls have included controversies and missed opportunities for improvement,” the report reads. The ICC points out the “considerable logistical and political challenges” for the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni). It accused the commission and the government of making little effort to guarantee transparent elections.
“The government must keep its security forces in check in order to allow for all parties to campaign,” ICC wrote, adding that party leaders should avoid inflammatory language and call on their supporters to not use violence during protests.
More than 43 million registered voters are eligible to take part in the general elections.
According to the Ceni, a record 25,832 candidates will run in the legislative elections. 44,110 candidates will also run for provincial, and 31,234 for municipal, councils.
Edited by: Cristina Krippahl