THE rejection of the presidential election result by the main opposition candidates adds a new dimension to the crises plaguing the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
It is also an addition to the woes charactersing Africa’s southern bloc that is experiencing a surge of disputed polls.
Moise Katumbi of the biggest challenger, the Ensemble pour la République (EPR or Together for the Republic) party, has disputed the re-election of President Felix Tshisekedi on the grounds of “massive fraud and treachery.”
Martin Fayulu of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development party has also rejected the outcome.
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), Tshisekedi secured an overwhelming 73,34 percent of the vote. Katumbi was second at 18,08 percent while Martin Fayulu got 5,33 percent.
Some opposition candidates, including Katumbi, had called for the cancellation of the poll held in late December, citing ill-preparedness of CENI.
In recent days, the electoral commission appeared to justify such concerns when it reported cases of fraud, corruption, manipulation of voting machines and vandalism of electoral equipment.
Some of the violations were blamed on the Union for Democracy and Social Progress.
“From the above, we would like to remind the CENI that its investigations cannot replace the creation of an independent and joint commission as recommended by the CENCO-ECC MOE,” Katumbi said.
CENCO is the National Episcopal Conference of Congo and ECC IS the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC). It had an observer mission (MOE) comprising the largest delegation for the poll. It noted irregularities that would mar the credibility of the poll.
“Obviously, this entire electoral process must be suspended, pending the creation of an independent and joint commission and the end of its investigations,” Katumbi said.
Following the admissions by the CENI, Katumbi reiterated calls for the resignation of Denis Kadima, the head of the electoral commission.
“His resignation is not negotiated for, more than anyone else, he has mismanaged the electoral process, which ended up being nothing but a sham of elections,” Katumbi added.
He pleaded with the international community not to recognise Tshisekedi following the “massive fraud and the treachery.”
There were reports this week Katumbi’s EPR party reported he was under house arrest amid a presence of heavily armed soldiers in armoured vehicles surrounding his house in the province of Upper Katanga in the south.
Provincial governor, Jacques Kyabula Katwe, condemned the incident and ordered the withdrawal of the security personnel. Katumbi is a former governor of Katanga.
Fayulu said, “The fraud planned and executed by CENI is so blatant and gross that the Republic is today betrayed.”
He said Kadima and CENI had humiliated the Congolese people and systematically violated the constitution and the electoral law.
“They must be arrested because no one can confiscate the right of the Congolese people to sovereignly choose their leaders following free, democratic, transparent and credible elections,” said Fayulu.
Elections are estimated to have cost US$1,3 billion from the public treasury.
While Tshisekedi was favourite for re-election, critics find the winning margin too wide to believe considering his ratings had fallen, according to some pre-election opinion polls.
No previous incumbent in the DRC has ever secured more than 48 percent of the vote, even with allegations of widespread fraud.
In the previous election in 2018, he won 38,56 percent of the vote. Fayulu, who some including the church believe was the rightful winner, had 34,8 percent. Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari had 23,83 percent.
Barred by the government of then President Joseph Kabila from entering the country, the exiled Katumbi endorsed Fayulu.
In 2021, the National Assembly introduced a bill that would restrict the presidency to Congolese nationals with two Congolese parents. This would make Katumbi ineligible to run in 2023 as Katumbi’s father is of Greek origin.
Last July, EPR spokesperson, Cherubin Okende Senga, was shot dead by unidentified assailants but the killing was said to be politically motivated as he had resigned months earlier from his position as Minister of Transport.
Katumbi called for an international investigation.
Political tensions remain elevated in DRC, where security experts are warning unrest remain possible nationwide through January.
“Increased security will likely persist in the coming days, notably in main urban centers, such as Goma, Kinshasa, and Lubumbashi, and along key thoroughfares and near government buildings,” said an expert in Kinshasa, the capital.
He said significant incidents of violence, clashes with security forces, opposing rival activists, and other forms of politically-related violence may occur.
“Officials may impose enhanced restrictive measures, such as temporary curfews, exit/entry restrictions, and internet/phone service shutdowns to prevent violence or in the event of significant unrest.”
Outside the country, opposition activists also demand that the elections be declared null and void following new allegations of rigging.
The aggrieved Congolese want the regional power-house South Africa, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) grouping, European Union (EU) and other international community members to intervene.
Formerly a stable region, SADC is now synonymous with disputed elections. Oppositions in Madagascar, Mozambique (local government elections) and Zimbabwe have inundated the bloc have in recent months appealed for the grouping to intervene but rarely does SADC interfere in domestic matters of member countries.
In 2024, SADC member states- Botswana, Comoros, Mauritius, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa will go to the polls.
Activist Berenger Mwange, said, “While I have no doubt the elections were rigged (in DRC), my only concern is that the international community, including the SADC have rushed to endorse them.”
More Congolese who spoke to CAJ News Africa rejected the poll outcome, citing intimidation, harassment and physical assault on voters before, during and after the December 20 polls.
Clementine Kishimba: “I strongly suspect the just ended elections were rigged by the Tshisekedi regime.”
“We witnessed a woman being beaten, abused while threats, intimidation and violence were meted against opposition activists,” claimed Kishimba.
Gédéon Milolo believes Katumbi was the rightful winner.
“How president Katumbi lost, I have no clue but I’m convinced he won the just ended election. Imagine all his rallies were full to capacity, so, how did he lose, if I may ask,” Milolo said.
More than 40 million people out of the 100 million inhabitants of the resources-rich but poverty-stricken country were registered to vote for president, national and regional lawmakers and municipal councillors.
Mike Ambwa, dismissed opposition claims that the elections were rigged.
“Many Congolese travelled from abroad, including South Africa to come and vote. If they were not free and fair, EU members would not have congratulated Tshisekedi.”
Julio Ningi expressed concern that citizens in the eastern DRC did not vote.
Rebel forces are running riot in that part of the country, rendering an electoral exercise difficult.
“The eastern DRC has millions of people, who were denied the right to vote by the civil war. They would have loved to cast their ballots,” Ningi said.
Paul Nantulya, of the African Centre for Security Studies, said, “The chaotic elections failed to break the country’s long legacy of fraudulent polls and plunged the government into a fresh crisis of legitimacy.”
JEAN KASSONGO in Kinshasa, DRC
– CAJ News