President Félix Tshisekedi and businessman Moïse Katumbi face off in tight Congo elections | International

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of Africa’s most populous countries, in the central region, with more than 100 million inhabitants and scene of one of its longest conflicts in the northeast of its territory, is organizing elections this Wednesday. generals with a very close duel between Félix Tshisekedi, president since 2019, and his main rival, Moïse Katumbi, successful businessman and former governor of the rich province of Katanga. Other candidates, like Martin Fayulu and Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2018, aspire to surprise. Insecurity led by militias and armed groups, logistical challenges and the risk of post-election violence threaten elections with 44 million voters.

After having embodied the first peaceful alternation in the history of the DRC in 2019, Tshisekedi is running for re-election with a balance full of shadows and lights. To its credit, the country’s economic growth, despite such a complex international context, and its desire, expressed through multiple gestures and measures, to stabilize the Great Lakes region, hit for decades by the violence of dozens of armed groups. . In this sense, Tshisekedi has launched a fierce denunciation campaign against his neighbor Rwanda, which he accuses of financing the M23, one of the main rebel groups. Millions of Congolese follow him in this enterprise.

“On the 20th, I need your votes to continue the fight for the liberation of our country,” Tshisekedi assured a passionate crowd during his rally in Goma, capital of the unstable province of North Kivu. “I promise you this fight will continue and we will get rid of these M23 terrorists.” Dressed in a white shirt and a cap with the number 20 clearly visible (the number his voters must mark on the ballot), the outgoing president directly designated Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, as the leader of the said group . “We will put an end to their reign of barbarity and terrorism which has bereaved the Congolese people for decades,” he added.

However, even though this is his 2018 election promise, the conflict is far from over. The intervention of an international force from regional countries proved to be an insufficient effort to achieve the desired peace. For its part, economic growth has failed to lift 60% of Congolese people out of the extreme poverty in which they live, according to the World Bank, mainly due to the government’s inability to encourage employment. One of the main issues remains corruption, which Tshisekedi promised to fight with all his might, but which continues to generate scandal after scandal in a country overflowing with precious natural resources, including coltan, cobalt and copper. The exploitation of these raw materials is one of the causes of the conflict in the east of the republic, as well as violations of workers’ human rights.

All these arguments are part of the strength of Tshisekedi’s main rival in these elections, the charismatic businessman Moïse Katumbi. “I came to change the country, I came to liberate it,” he declared during one of his last electoral rallies. The candidate founded his immense fortune in the mining sector; He gained popularity as president of the Tout-Puissant Mazembe football club and made the leap into state politics promoting infrastructure, education and economic growth as governor of Katanga province . After suffering a prison sentence and exile and despite the multiple dark episodes that punctuate his past, Katumbi has invested enormous resources and efforts to become president of Congo in 2024. This possibility has become more real since four candidates from the opposition decided to withdraw and lend their support.

The two other candidates expected to play an important role in these elections are the eternal candidate Martin Fayulu, a former oil company executive who during the 2018 elections was on the verge of snatching victory from Tshisekedi, and the gynecologist Denis Mukwege, Nobel Prize winner. Peace Laureate also in 2018 for her work at the head of a center for caring for raped women and young girls. An eternal critic of power and endowed with enormous international prestige, the doctor is bursting with force into the political life of the country, even if his detractors believe that his lack of support in the main political centers, such as Kinshasa or Kisangani, could be a hindrance to his candidacy.

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But this Wednesday’s elections are not only presidential, with more than twenty candidates, but also legislative, provincial and municipal. All this represents a veritable logistical and operational nightmare for a country with a complex geography, strewn with violence and instability and chaotic transport infrastructure. The tension that accompanied the electoral campaign, dotted with violent incidents between some sides, does not bode well, especially given the difficulties experienced by the entire process. Tens of thousands of citizens have not yet received their electoral card, essential to go to the polls, or the one they received, manufactured by a South Korean company, is of poor quality. Furthermore, the electoral lists themselves were published late and poorly, generating enormous unrest.

However, the main challenge was the deployment of electoral materials throughout the country. A few days before the election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni) asked the United Nations mission, Monusco, and its neighbor Angola, to provide air support to transport the ballot boxes and documents. in the most remote provinces. In the eastern regions, where violence reigns, there is doubt about failed elections where hundreds of thousands of people cannot even go to the polling stations. All this raises fears that the loss of candidates or parties will call into question the legitimacy of the process as a whole and that these doubts will lead to post-election violence.

However, the Government and the Ceni have decided to maintain, against all expectations, this Wednesday as the date of the elections, the provisional results of which cannot be delayed beyond December 31. Tension is at its peak both in the capital and in the province of Katanga, where citizens could call the elections into question, all aggravated by the existence of security forces too accustomed to violently repressing any expression of citizen protest.

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