DRC presidential candidates campaign in the nation's restive east

Friday December 01 2023

Moise Katumbi (C) arrives at a stadium in Goma, one of the largest cities in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, to hold an election rally on November 23, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


Presidential candidates in the Democratic Republic of Congo are campaigning in the nation's conflict-wracked east, holding rallies where the mood is festive — even if the issue of security is never far from the surface.

Moise Katumbi, a wealthy businessman and opposition hopeful was the first to campaign in DRC's eastern conflict-wracked city of Goma, located in North Kivu Province.

Traveling by private jet to Goma, Katumbi criticized attempts by incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi to tackle a two-year rebellion by the M23 movement, which controls vast swathes of territory in the Eastern province.

Read: M23 rebels seize strategic East DRC town

Tshisekedi, who is seeking another five-year term, also headed east, visiting Bunia in neighboring Ituri province on Tuesday accompanied by his wife, Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi.

Violence in Ituri has forced 1.7 million people to flee their villages.


"Trust me again. Give me a second mandate in order to pursue our various projects," he urged during a speech in the city stadium.

"Contenders for the country's highest office should restore security," Zephanie Mayolo, a 33-year-old motorcycle taxi driver in Goma said.

Valery Madianga, an analyst at the Centre for Research in Public Finance and Local Development, said security was "one of the major themes" of the campaign.

Yet, he said, "the debate is not yet gaining momentum," amid an absence of clear governance programs.

Oswald Rubasha, an electoral expert and the coordinator of the NGO Clinique Electorale Congolaise, said in the stump speeches delivered by aspirants "we do not feel the real commitment to put an end to violence," especially since "the candidates’ social projects are not really part of the debate."

Read: Insecurity fears in Eastern DRC ahead of elections

Opposition candidate and Nobel Peace Prize-winning gynecologist Denis Mukwege launched his campaign for president on Sunday in his hometown of Bukavu in South Kivu Province.

Mukwege, who founded the Panzi hospital and foundation in eastern DRC after witnessing the horrific injuries and diseases suffered by rape victims, went on to Butembo and Beni.

Supporters including many women in T-shirts bearing the number 15 — the position assigned to him by the electoral commission — greeted the 68-year-old, who promised to fight corruption and end war and famine.

"I am a candidate for peace ... Together, let's put an end to hunger and vices," Mukwege said in Beni, a stronghold of Allied Democratic Forces militants affiliated to the Islamic State group.

Martin Fayulu, the opposition leader who continues to insist he was unfairly denied victory in 2018's presidential race, started his campaign on Tuesday in Beni. He was accompanied by a musician to lend some extra atmosphere and urged voters to "block the road" to Tshisekedi.

"If you vote (for me), we will provide Beni with a military camp so that Rwanda and Uganda respect us," he said, in a town where residents did not vote five years ago due to an Ebola epidemic.

Read: For ‘unsafe’ East DRC, voting remains a distant dream

Roughly the size of continental western Europe, DRC the is awash with minerals and precious stones, but war, corruption and chronic mismanagement have impacted the nation’s economic growth.

While most of the country has returned to relative stability after two major wars in the 1990s and 2000s, militias and rebel groups roam much of Eastern DRC, which borders Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

For almost 30 years, the cities of Bunia, Bukavu, Butembo, Beni, Oicha and Goma — which span three volatile provinces in the vast Central African nation — have been plagued by unabated violence.

But with the campaign for parliamentary and presidential elections on December 20 now in full swing, crowds come and go between the region's airports and city centers to hear candidates speak in the main squares.

Nearly 44 million people out of a population of around a hundred million are eligible to vote.

The December polls will witness the election of a new president, local councilors and national and provincial lawmakers.