NEW ERA, BUT NO CHANGE FOR CONGO?
It’s no easy task holding an election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Just ask the country’s electoral commission, which started 2017 by publicly announcing that the next general election – originally scheduled for 2016 but then postponed until 2018 – might actually not be held until well into 2019.
But, come early 2018, it looked like there might be good news on the horizon for the beleaguered nation, the largest sub-saharan Africa: a December 23 poll was confirmed after the independent electoral commission finally declared it had registered enough voters for the ballot to go ahead.
The election is a crucial one because it finally marks the end of Joseph Kabila’s rule in the DRC. His second term in office should have ended in 2016 and under the country’s constitution he cannot stand for a third. Yet the constitutional court granted him a caretaker mandate to remain in post, because fresh elections to select a successor could not be held, since violence in the eastern Kasai region had impeded registration of voters.
Opposition groups saw it as a ploy by Kabila – who has been in power since succeeding his father in 2001 – to extend his time in office and feared the caretaker role would eventually turn into a third term. Posters which appeared on the streets of Kinshasa early in 2018, naming Kabila as a presidential candidate, seemed to confirm such fears. Yet, in the end, they were not realised.
In August, Kabila announced he would not stand in the election. Despite this, though, the majority of ordinary people still do not see next month’s vote as an opportunity for real change in the country. The main reason is the man Kabila has endorsed as the ruling party’s presidential candidate: Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. A party loyalist, he was a vital ally of former president Laurent Kabila, and is now a close confidant of his son Joseph. If he wins, he will probably toe Kabila’s line and it is unlikely much will change in the DRC.
While these ‘credentials’ might make him attractive to Kabila, Shadary was an odd choice, because he has been sanctioned by the EU for his role in cracking down on protesters seeking to challenge the current regime. The measures include a freeze on visas to prevent foreign travel. Shadary has asked the EU to lift the sanctions, but it hasn’t done so yet. Nonetheless, he is now the ruling party’s nominee, as well as the candidate for the Common Front for the Congo, a political coalition that represents the president’s allies.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has not had a smooth transfer of power since independence in 1960. Next month, it chooses a new leader. REUBEN LOFFMAN assesses what lies ahead for the beleaguered country
Soon after his nomination speculation turned to who would oppose him. At first, businessman and erstwhile governor of the former Katanga province Moise Katumbi was the hot favourite to replace Kabila, despite his conviction for fraud in 2016. But in June 2018, former Congolese vicepresident Jean-pierre Bemba was released by the International Criminal Court in the Hague having had most of his convictions for crimes against humanity overturned.
Because of Katumbi’s legal problems, which would eventually bar him from standing, Bemba became the new favourite to beat Shadary. In a dramatic turn, however, the electoral commission banned Bemba from running because he still had a conviction for witness tampering outstanding at the ICC.
With both Bemba and Katumbi out of the running, Félix Tshisekedi took over as the most popular opposition candidate. He is one of the most high-profile sons of the late opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who died in 2017. After the death of his father, he took over the presidency of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress.
But the main opposition leaders still had to decide if they would unite behind a common candidate and, if so, if that candidate would to be Tshisekedi. So, earlier this month, seven opposition figures, including Bemba, met in Geneva to thrash out the answers to these questions.
Initially, all the delegates agreed to back the candidacy of former oil executive and long-time anti-kabila activist Martin Fayulu. But the accord fell apart less than 24 hours after it was signed. Ultimately, Tshisekedi, and another opposition candidate Vital Kamerhe pulled out of the coalition for a united candidate,
ENTHUSIASM: Supporters of opposition presidential candidate Martin FayuluFar left, President Joseph Kabila and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary