DR Congo: Why Many Are Clinging To Hope Ahead Of Dec. 23 Poll
The ominous signs preceding DR Congo much-anticipated December 23 Presidential election are indications change of power is likely to go the way of history, leaving many with little to hope for.
In a few days, Democratic Republic of Congo will hold its highly staked Presidential election. The election is expected to officially halt incumbent President Joseph Kabila’s grip on power. Most discussions on the December 23 election have so far been dominated by the prospects of having President Kabila out of power – a situation caused largely by the biting economic and other challenges grappling with the country under his tenure.
President Kabila has been in power since the assassination of his father in 2001. He was officially elected President in DRC’s first democratic election in 2006 since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. He went ahead to win a controversial election again in 2011, against all the odds.
As if that wasn’t enough, he, to the chagrin of many who voted him to power refused to step down from power when his second term ended in 2016. Elections were expected to hold in November 2016, but the country’s electoral body demanded the election be postponed, citing the widespread insecurity in the country. This led to the postponement of the elections to December 2018.
Whether or not DR Congo’s current shambolic state is as a result of Kabila-led administration’s undoings has been a controversial issue among pundits. However, there seemed to be a consensus of opinion that the country is in dire need of another leader to shore up what has been a foggy future for the country. This, unarguably, could be largely true given what has characterized DR Congo under his tenure, especially his penchant to remain in power, even against the will of the people who had long demanded his exit.
On August 8, the good news that Kabila will not be running for the forthcoming elections was received with excitement, sparking widespread jubilations to people who had waited, soaked to their skins in anticipation.
Mission achieved, many supposed then. But now, it seemed not in its entirety yet. The timeline of events leading to the December 23 poll is if anything to go by, call for more worry than optimism.
The fear of the forthcoming poll becoming violent is leaving many unsettled in the country. Just last week Saturday, the US Department of State revealed it had ordered non-emergency government staff and family members of government employees to leave the country for fear of the election becoming violent.
Until last week, the campaign for Kabila’s successor had been relatively calm. But that narrative has changed now. Many Congolese citizens are increasingly becoming worried Kabila would go to any length to make his anointed candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary President.
Aljazeera reported that a fire in the capital Kinshasa also destroyed thousands of voting machines and ballot boxes early on Thursday morning; which Kabila’s ruling coalition and opposition candidates traded blame for the incident.
The State Department also said in an email advisory to citizens that it had “limited ability to provide emergency services” to US citizens located outside Kinshasa, especially in the east and the central Kasai provinces. The US embassy in Kinshasa closed for a week last month over what it said was a possible threat.
Two diplomats told Reuters news agency the purported threat was related to the arrest of a cell of Tanzanian fighters from a Ugandan armed group.
Britain advised its citizens on Wednesday against traveling to Congo, while the UN human rights chief on Friday called on Congolese authorities to halt violence and inflammatory speech ahead of the election.
At least 18 people have killed in clashes between DR Congo’s army and rebels loyal to a renegade former general in the country’s eastern region, according to military sources, earlier this month.
Historically, DR Congo has not seen a peaceful transfer of power since independence from colonial Belgium in 1960, a dismal history, many feared could repeat itself in the forthcoming election. The events that characterized the 2016 elections- in which security forces killed dozens of protesters in a violent demonstration- are still fresh in the minds of many.
It is difficult to envisage if the country’s position– which looks unstable at moment following recent cracks- could give Kabila a good fight at the polls. Opposition’s consensus candidate Martin Fayulu had earlier accused Kabila and the country’s electoral body of working with each other to swing the election in Shadary’s favor. He had alleged plan by the country’s electoral body to use electronic voting machines in the presidential election was illegal, demanding the use of ballot papers.
A free and fair poll in the country will be determinative of many factors, of which a vibrant opposition force remains a strong component.
And it seemed the opposition is on track with its recent choice of Fayulu, who maintains a high-fanbase in the country.
The 62-year-old was one of the major forces that halted President Kabila’s bid to extend his rule, spearheading demonstrations across the country. His doggedness, to a large extent, shows he remains a major challenger for the country’s next month’s election. Fayulu was arrested several times during opposition demonstrations in Kinshasa and elsewhere, once being struck in the head with a rubber bullet.
Such indefatigable personality, some believed, made him edge out his key contender Felix Tshisekedi, head of the longtime main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party and son of its late founder Etienne Tshisekedi, to emerge the opposition nominee.
Aside from enjoying a huge fan-base, a significant advantage for the opposition at the polls, Fayulu also has the backing of top figures in his camp. He enjoys the support of two heavyweights – former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, who has been barred from standing in the election, and self-exiled ex-provincial governor Moise Katumbi, who says he was prevented from returning to Kinshasa to submit his candidacy.
His foray into the country’s politics kickstarted during a national conference in 1991-1992 that ended the single-party rule of longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in the former Belgian colony. The opposition nominee won his first elective office in 2006 when he was elected to parliament.