DRC electoral campaign marred by violence, lack of transparency

By Melissa Chemam with RFI
DEC 3, 2023 LISTEN

Tensions are running high as the Democratic Republic of Congo prepares to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on 20 December. Concerns over transparency and recurrent violence have observers worried about the vote and its aftermath.

The campaign in the central African nation of about 100 million people officially kicked off on 19 November, just a month before the polls.

Opposition parties and civil society groups have been saying for months that the country simply isn't ready, but the president in power, Felix Tshisekedi, wants the election to go ahead.

Now the European Union has said that its team of election observers cannot observe the polls because of security concerns.

Forty EU observers were supposed to travel to DRC but they are "currently unable to deploy in the country for security reasons", a spokesperson for the mission said this week, which "makes the necessary long-term observation impossible".

As a result the EU decided on Wednesday to cancel its plan to send election observers to provinces across the DRC. It is still considering sending monitors to observe the vote from the capital, the EU's diplomatic service said in a statement.

'Perilous conditions'

Insecurity is one of the main challenges for both the campaign and the polls.

The think tank International Crisis Group said the new electoral cycle was beginning in "perilous conditions". 

In a report published on 30 October, it cited ongoing fighting in the east of the country and accusations by the opposition that the National Independent Electoral Commission (Ceni), is biased in favour of Tshisekedi's ruling party.

"To mitigate these risks, the government should make sure all parties can campaign free of intimidation and unwarranted restrictions. It should ensure the Ceni, which itself must pay its staff and fight against the extortion of voters," the group wrote.

"Outside actors, notably African and Western powers, should encourage politicians to compromise, call out abuses, continue to support domestic poll observers and prepare for mediation in case it is needed."

But a month before the polls, these criteria don't seem to be met.

Fears of repression

The DRC saw its first peaceful transition of power since independence following general elections in December 2018, despite widespread reports of vote rigging.

The vote saw Tshisekedi named president – even though one of his opponents, Martin Fayulu, claimed and continues to claim victory.

Tshisekedi has since taken steps to consolidate his authority and to diminish the influence of his predecessor, Joseph Kabila.

"Tshisekedi has inherited a system of violent kleptocracy and risks repeating his predecessors' errors," the International Crisis Group warned. "There are already signs he may be taking a more repressive turn."

Trésor Kibangula, a Congolese political analyst at the DRC think tank Ebuteli, told RFI that the country has been a dangerous path since the last election.

"Some demonstrations have been recently forbidden, politicians have been arrested, so of course some political actors are afraid," Kibangula said. 

Campaign-trail violence

An opposition party official was killed in eastern DRC on Tuesday during clashes between rival political groups.

The clashes erupted when presidential challenger Moïse Katumbi's motorcade was making its way through Kindu, the regional capital of the eastern Maniema province.

Witnesses said Katumbi supporters clashed with backers of the ruling Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the party of the president.

The unrest killed Dido Kasingi, a lawyer and father of six who was the president of the youth chapter of Katumbi's party, Together for the Republic, a party spokesperson told reporters in Kinshasa.

The spokesperson, Herve Diakiese, accused the governor of Maniema of instigating the unrest.

"The assailants set on the motorcade from inside the residence of governor Idrissa Mangala," he said, saying it amounted to "an obvious premeditated attack".

Back in July, former minister Chérubin Okende, a member of the opposition in parliament, was found dead in his car, his murder raising fears for the possibility of democratic elections in December. 

Eastern conflict

The DRC is in the grip of a decades-long conflict with armed rebel groups in its resource-rich east, where UN peacekeepers and East African Community troops are deployed.

President Tshisekedi has ordered both international and regional forces to leave the country in December, saying they had failed to end the fighting.

Meanwhile the conflict in the east and other areas has left more than a million citizens without voter registration cards, according to the International Crisis Group. 

Rich in minerals and forestry and the second largest country in Africa after Algeria, DRC remains impoverished because of illegal mining, corruption, bad governance, lack of infrastructure and investment, and recurrent conflicts.