Congo Tshisekedi fights poll fraud allegations with ‘spirit of openness’ | Reuters


© Reuters. PHOTO: Felix Tshisekedi, leader of Congo’s main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party and presidential candidate, speaks to Reuters during an interview after an election rally in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo,

By Ange Kasongo

KINSHASA (Reuters) – When Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner of yet another disputed election on Sunday, he pledged to become a leader for all of its 100 million people.

However, accusations of electoral fraud and political repression by opposition leaders are likely to cloud his second term as much as his first. His main rivals rejected Sunday’s result before it was announced and called for a repeat.

Speaking to supporters at his campaign headquarters in the capital Kinshasa, Tshisekedi appealed for unity.

“During this second term, I will govern with a spirit of openness,” Tshisekedi told a cheering crowd, adding that he would focus on job creation, security and a more diversified and competitive economy.

The result sets the stage for a tense political standoff with the potential for the kind of violence that followed disputed polls in 2018, 2011 and 2006.

There could also be international ramifications. Congo is the world’s leading supplier of cobalt, which is used to make batteries for electric vehicles and mobile phones, and its third largest producer.

Tshisekedi, 60, the son of longtime opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, inherited his father’s considerable support after his death in 2017 after years in the shadows.

Vote counts by the Congolese Roman Catholic Church, which had a 40,000-member team of observers, reviewed by Reuters at the time, showed a second opposition candidate, Martin Fayula, as the winner in 2018.

Fayulu suspected that Tshisekedi had struck a deal with outgoing President Joseph Kabila, who was barred from running for term. Fayulu denounced the result as a “constitutional coup”, which both Tshisekedi and Kabila rejected.

With Kabila’s help, Tshisekedi was able to gain much-needed support in parliament and security institutions in his first years in office. But the alliance quickly fell apart as he moved to strengthen his hand by placing supporters in key positions.

‘SHAM ELECTIONS’

As Tshisekedi launched his re-election campaign, he told supporters he needed more time to consolidate gains and deliver on promises to roll back decades of authoritarian rule, root out corruption, rebuild the economy, tackle inequality and tackle the long-running security crisis in the US. East of the Congo.

“In just two years we were able to do all these actions you saw, but we can do better,” Tshisekedi told a packed stadium in Kinshasa on November 19, adding that his first two years in office were limited by a power-sharing agreement with Kabila.

But critics said Tshisekedi had failed and accused him of suppressing dissent, as his predecessors had done.

A group of nine rival presidential candidates, including Fayulu and opposition leader Moise Katumbi, on Sunday asked their supporters to take to the streets to protest what they called “fake elections”.

While economic growth has soared under Tshisekedi’s watch, driven largely by demand for key minerals, little of the proceeds have reached the roughly 62% of Congolese who live on less than a dollar a day.

The cost of living soared as the Congolese franc depreciated, with annual inflation exceeding 30% in December, according to the country’s statistics office.

Although Tshisekedi declared a state of siege in two eastern provinces in May 2021 and increased defense spending, his administration has struggled to contain the numerous armed groups behind attacks that have killed thousands and displaced nearly 7 million in the east.

In a worrying development, Corneille Nangaa, the leader of a new alliance that includes rebels and political groups in eastern Congo, has rejected the election and vowed to “march to Kinshasa” on Sunday.