Will opposition unity in DR Congo deliver victory?

Saturday November 17 2018

DR Congo’s opposition leaders

DR Congo’s opposition leaders unveil their candidate Martin Fayulu (centre) at a press conference in Geneva on November 11, 2018. PHOTO | AFP 

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The picking of the little known Martin Fayulu as the joint opposition candidate in the December 23 presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo could either boost or reduce chances of the opposition, depending on how President Joseph Kabila plays his cards.

Sources who were in Geneva on November 11 when Mr Fayulu was a surprise pick at the expense of Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe, say that fatigue with rulers from the east, fear of being compromised by President Kabila and the need to present a fresh face, were are some of the factors that influenced the result.

The challenge now is whether exiled opposition leader Moise Katumbi of Together for Change coalition and former vice-president, Jean Pierre Bemba, of the Movement de Liberation of Congo (MLC) — who are behind Mr Fayulu — will succeed in mobilising their respective regions to vote for the joint opposition candidate.

According to Jean-Bertrand Ewanga, spokesman for Mr Katumbi’s Together for Change coalition, it was time to try a new region after 23 years of Laurent Désiré Kabila and Joseph Kabila, who were from the east and are again fronting an easterner, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

“The ability of Mr Fayulu to attract support in many regions in DRC is being downplayed. He not only breaks the East-West divide, he has been a man on the ground, personally leading protests against President Kabila’s extended rule at the risk of being shot,” said Mr Ewanga.

However, it has been clear since the negotiations started in South Africa in October that Mr Katumbi and Mr Bemba were not comfortable with Mr Tshisekedi and Mr Kamerhe on grounds that they could easily be compromised by President Kabila.

Both Mr Tshisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress — DRC's oldest and biggest opposition party — and Mr Kamerhe of the Union for the Congolese Nation, withdrew their signatures from the deal 24 hours later citing opposition from their respective strongholds.

Mr Fayulu, the 62-year old Member of Parliament and businessman, hails from Bandundu Province bordering Kinshasa and the heartland of the Bacongo ethnic group.

The former Exxon Mobil manager, who was educated in the US and France has attracted support from other opposition politicians such as Freddy Matungulu and Adolphe Muzito.

But the little known leader of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development party — which critics say is basically an NGO — has a big task to galvanise the opposition support after the exit of Mr Tshisekedi and Mr Kamerhe.

He is going to bank on the support of Mr Katumbi, a former governor of Lubumbashi, who hails from southeast in the Katanga province, and Mr Bemba who hails from Équateur in the north, the former stronghold of the late Mobutu Sese Seko. The region strongly opposed the two Kabilas.

Jean Claude Katende, the chairman of the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights, said that the picking of Mr Fayulu was a realisation of many years of struggle to bring the opposition together, but he has to now reach out to other opposition leaders who support either Mr Tshisekedi or Mr Kamerhe.

But the joint opposition candidate has further complicated issues by promising to boycott elections if the government insists on using new election technology, and has promised to step down after two years if he wins, to conduct free and free elections.

Mr Tshisekedi was banking on his popularity to get the joint ticket considering that the latest opinion polls by the Bureau of Studies, Research, and International Consulting based in Kinshasa, put him in the lead.