Date: Friday, 21 December 2018
Expectations of electoral chaos, fraud and intimidation lead many to conclude that Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, one of President Joseph Kabila's ultra-loyalists, will be declared the winner after the voters of Congo-Kinshasa go to the polls two days before Christmas. On 19 December, the governor of Kinshasa, André Kimbuta, suspended campaigning in the capital, ostensibly for security reasons. A rally for opposition candidate Martin Fayulu scheduled for that afternoon was cancelled as armed police blocked his return to Kinshasa and fired tear gas at hundreds of his supporters. These events are fuelling rumours that the electoral commission may postpone polling day at the very last moment.
Shadary, a former interior minister and head of Kabila's Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et la Démocratie (PPRD), was handpicked by the President after he finally bowed to domestic and continental pressure not to seek a constitution-defying third term (AC Vol 59 No 16, Kabila names his dauphin). The candidate of the ruling coalition, the Front commun pour le Congo (FCC), was quickly out of the traps when campaigning began on 22 November and will have visited each of the country's 26 provinces by election day.
Shadary can count on provincial governors, senior ministers, local oligarchs and regime moneymen such as Albert Yuma, the boss of state mining company Gécamines, and Moïse Ekanga, who oversees multibillion-dollar credit lines from China. Two Congolese tycoons told Africa Confidential that they were named as members of the FCC campaign finance team without being asked. They did not protest so as to avoid undue attention. The machinery of state has brazenly been put at the service of Kabila's dauphin while accusations are rife of public resources being funnelled to the campaign and government employees being forced to attend their meetings.
Congo-K's fractured opposition got off to a hesitant start. All seemed well on 12 November when seven leaders gathered in Geneva, including heavyweights Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi, who have been barred from pursuing their own presidential aspirations, and announced they had united behind Martin Fayulu, a courageous political fighter who was nearly killed by the police two years ago (AC Vol 59 No 23, Militias flex their muscles). A day later, Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe pulled out of the pact, citing the furious reactions back home of the parties they lead – the Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social (UDPS), the largest opposition party which was founded in the early 1980s by Tshisekedi's father, and the Union pour la nation congolaise (UNC), another major political player (AC Vol 58 No 11, Kabila thriving on chaos).
Kamerhe subsequently struck a deal with Tshisekedi to withdraw his candidacy and serve as prime minister if their ticket wins. They hope the former's popularity in eastern Congo-K will combine with the latter's strength in Kinshasa and the central Kasaï region. Fayulu doesn't have a comparable national profile but retains the support of Katumbi and Bemba who are the dominant forces in much of southeastern and northern Congo-K respectively. While more than 20 people registered as presidential candidates, only Shadary, Fayulu and Tshisekedi are contenders. All three have busily toured the towns of the vast country and drawn huge crowds.
The FCC describes their two rivals as neo-colonial stooges and never misses an opportunity to point out that Fayulu's alliance was sealed in Switzerland and Tshisekedi's in Kenya. The former receives especially sharp insults because Katumbi is in exile in Belgium, the former coloniser, and the campaign supports the European Union's sanctions against Kabila officials, including Shadary.
The first two weeks of the month-long campaign were mostly free of violence aside from clashes between partisans of Tshisekedi and the FCC-backing provincial governor Alphonse Ngoyi Kasanji in the UDPS's Kasaï heartlands (AC Vol 58 No 15, Losing control in Kasaï). Kamerhe also accused Fayulu's supporters of pelting him and Tshisekedi with stones in Beni. The relative calm receded on 11 December when security forces broke up a Fayulu event in Lubumbashi, shooting dead three men and injuring many more. The following day they killed another person when the candidate moved on to Kalemie. Police shot a teenager dead in Mbuji Mayi on 13 December as the town awaited Tshisekedi's arrival.
The government has exerted more effort obstructing Fayulu than Tshisekedi, who has been largely left alone. Other than the dispersed rallies, Fayulu's plane was prevented from landing in Kindu, Shadary's home turf, and Kolwezi, a mining city run by Richard Muyej, a powerful Kabila ally, meaning he was unable to campaign there.
Full of promises
The FCC candidate's charm offensive has included promising the population of Isiro that he will personally lobby for the canonisation of a venerated local nun. He also surprised Gbadolite, the hometown of Mobutu Sese Seko, by holding a minute's silence to the memory of the long-serving dictator who was ousted by Kabila's father in 1997. Tshisekedi told Mbuji Mayi, the home of the state diamond mining company, Société Minière de Bakwanga (MIBA), that he would rescue the firm from bankruptcy and re-establish it as the region's economic engine.
Deep pocketed or well-connected parliamentary candidates have been boosting their chances by distributing largesse. Modeste Bahati, the planning minister, paid electricity bills for three months for 300 households in his Bukavu fief and donated cash to rehabilitate a road (AC Vol 53 No 11, A government of few talents). Papy Pungu, the president of the PPRD youth league standing for election in Kinshasa, persuaded the state electricity utility to restore the power supply and personally handed over the new equipment to the local community.
Calculations based on political survival have motivated some last-minute changes of heart. Delly Sessanga and Claudel Lubaya, senior members of Katumbi's Ensemble coalition, and therefore supposed to promote a Fayulu victory, urged their communities to vote for Tshisekedi as both men are fighting for re-election in areas which will overwhelmingly turn out for the UDPS man. Tryphon Kinkiey, a Mobutuist minister who became one of Kabila's most sycophantic and verbose disciples, has also hitched his wagon to Tshisekedi. Initially sceptical of his fickle reputation, the UDPS welcomed Kinkiey on the grounds that he comes from Bandundu, Fayulu's home region, and may divert votes their way.
Crispin Mbindule, a national deputy for Kamerhe's UNC, appeared alongside Fayulu in his hometown of Butembo inspite of his boss's union with Tshisekedi. Tharcisse Matadiwamba, one of Congo-K's best known lawyers and a senior pro-regime parliamentarian, encouraged his constituents in Bandundu to back the local boy rather than Shadary. One Member of Parliament told AC he had shifted his allegiance from Katumbi to Tshisekedi to the FCC 'because Shadary will win'.
The FCC has far superior financial and logistical resources to the other campaigns but its benefits are largely reserved for Shadary and – after him – the PPRD's roster. One candidate for a mid-sized party in the coalition told AC he had received only $500 from a central fund and was financing the rest himself. A PPRD source said that even those fighting for parliamentary seats for the presidential party were struggling to access campaign cash.
Many doubts remain about how polling day itself will unfold. The United Nations has expressed alarm that armed groups have been threatening supporters of political parties, especially from the FCC, in eastern Congo-K where more than 100 militias operate. Candidates in hotspots such as Beni live in fear of being attacked and killed while electioneering.
A special reticence is reserved for the Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI, the electoral commission) which is widely derided as either biased towards Kabila or powerless to resist the regime's schemes. Its decision to use 75,000 touchscreen voting machines imported from South Korea is a source of particular suspicion and anger. While Tshisekedi has changed tack and accepted the plan, Fayulu continued to rage against the tablets and command his supporters not to vote with the 'cheating machines' before acquiescing to them at the last minute.
The European Union and the Carter Center, whose observers published highly critical assessments of the 2011 election, have not been invited back, while the Southern African Development Community and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie will deploy limited missions. The bulk of the observation work will be conducted by about 70,000 hastily trained Congolese working for either the Catholic Church or a coalition of NGOs known as Symocel. An insider told AC he was pessimistic because they lack the means to have observers in every polling office to monitor dirty tricks. He cited a loophole in the revised electoral law which permits an individual to help unlimited numbers of voters cast their ballots, fuelling fears that the FCC will co-opt local leaders such as customary chiefs in remote areas who will assist their whole communities to choose Shadary and other ruling coalition candidates.
CENI's president, Corneille Nangaa, has repeatedly promised that a manual count of the ballots printed by the machines will take precedence over the data stored internally, but doubts persist and, in any case, there are misgivings about how results will be transmitted from polling stations to the capital.
Adding to the atmosphere of mistrust, a CENI warehouse in Kinshasa burned to the ground in the early hours of 12 December. Nangaa told reporters that 8,000 machines and materials for 19 of the city's 24 communes were destroyed but reserve stock will be recalled from the provinces and the elections will go ahead as planned. The blaze sparked a chain of accusations after Henri Mova Sakanyi, the interior minister, and Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, a senior Kabila adviser, immediately labelled it arson. Shortly after, the FCC began pointing the finger at Fayulu and prominent supporters such as Olivier Kamitatu for their 'extremism' and inciting the population to violently reject the voting machines. They allege that Fayulu's campaign is more interested in sowing chaos than winning an election. Fayulu's and Tshisekedi's camps say the government started the fire to hamper elections in Kinshasa, an opposition stronghold, or postpone the polls.
If elections are free and fair, few doubt that Fayulu and Tshisekedi would comfortably defeat Shadary, who is unrepentant about intending to continue Kabila's 17-year legacy in a country where most people live in grinding poverty, millions are displaced by conflict, and corruption corrodes public life at all levels. Similarly, should the polls go ahead on 23 December, most Congolese are resigned to seeing CENI name Shadary the victor and the constitutional court discarding the inevitable legal challenges. Kabila's protégé will then take the oath of office in mid-January.
A win for the FCC will not bring an end to the Kabila era even if a different man holds the keys to the Palais de la Nation. Officials have already said the president will continue to head the PPRD and FCC and in a series of rare interviews with the Anglophone international media the usually taciturn head of state repeatedly refused to rule out a return, à la Putin, at the next election in 2023. Kabila's brother Zoe and sister Jaynet, both members of parliament and seeking re-election, are prominent members of Shadary's team and the former has been conspicuous on the campaign trail alongside the candidate.
Introducing Shadary at a rally in Kisangani, the president's wife Marie Olive Lembe placed a hand on his head and blessed him as he dutifully awaited the end of her prayer. The symbolism of the benediction, which was circulated widely on social media, demonstrates who will be calling the shots in Congo-K next year.
Yet Kabila may also choose to consider the experience of his long-ruling neighbour José Eduardo dos Santos, who carefully picked Joao Lourenço to succeed him after extensive and meticulous deliberation, only to find his legacy and network torn to shreds within months.