12 November 2018

Congo-Kinshasa: DRC - Cracks Open After Opposition Unites Behind Martin Fayulu

Photo: S Mwanamilongo/Deutsche Welle
Martin Fayulu

Congolese opposition party UDPS has rejected Martin Fayulu as the main opposition candidate a day after he was picked. Now there are doubts whether the alliance will stand the test of time until the December 23 election.

In 2011, the opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo failed to support one candidate against incumbent President Joseph Kabila. The 47-year-old, who has led the mineral-rich central African nation since 2011, was declared winner following the scrapping of a re-run triggering violent protests. In 2018, the opposition is keen to avoid repeating the same mistake and have placed their hopes on one man: Martin Fayulu.

"The Congolese people need a leader who will go with them to achieve development, to reach prosperity," Martin Fayulu told reporters in Geneva upon his election as the main opposition candidate. "We are committed to reach these goals, so that [DR] Congo can no longer be the laughing stock of the world."

That unity is now in jeopardy after the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) on Monday rejected Fayulu's nomination after supporters of Felix Tshisekedi took to the streets to protest. UDPS has given Tshisekedi a 48-hour deadline to withdraw from the opposition alliance which was formed on Sunday (November 11, 2018) in Geneva.

"UDPS does not perceive Fayulu as being the opportune candidate to compete against the ruling FCC coalition in the December elections because they do not trust his political structures," Ryan Cummings, director of Risk Signal, a politician and security consultancy firm, told DW.

Who is Fayulu and can he turn around Congo's fortunes?

Martin Fayulu hails from the Lingala-speaking people in the western region of DRC. He is a leader of the little known Engagement for Citizenship and Development party. The former oil executive and businessman who was educated in the US and France was among the most outspoken critics of President Joseph Kabila's effort to remain in power after his second term limit ended in December 2016.

Fayulu, who turns 61 on November 21, was often seen in demonstrations in anti-Kabila protests. He was once shot by a rubber bullet and his hotel business in Kinshasa was allegedly shut down in May for a tax audit. It later reopened.

Not all DRC opposition on board

Despite the fact that civil society groups in DRC have welcomed the opposition alliance, Fayulu's appointment is far from being unanimously accepted.

To clinch the nomination, Fayulu defeated key contender Felix Tshisekedi, head of UDPS. Felix is the son of the late Etienne Tshisekedi who founded UDPS in 1982. Analyst Cummings said selecting a consensus opposition candidate in DRC is a huge challenge. "You are bringing a lot of different stakeholders together that represent various ethno political identities and interests," Cummings noted.

"The issue of finding a candidate that is indeed inherently a consensus candidate has been placed higher than selecting an individual who has the best political chances of securing an electoral victory on behalf of the opposition."

Reactions were also discordant from the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) party. Billy Kambale, president of the youth league tweeted: Martin Fayulu is far from being a grassroots candidate. "We will face Fayulu. We'll now know who's at the base. Bunch of traitors," the president of the UNC Youth League said referring to those backing Fayulu.

Contacted by DW, Lambert Mende, spokesperson for the DRC government, did not wish to react to Fayulu's candidature, stating that "the final decision rests with the Congolese people". For Cummings, Fayulu's chances of winning the election largely depends on whether or not the opposition including the UDPS will rally around him until the December polls.

Transitional president?

According to the coalition agreement which has not been made public, should Fayulu win the December 23 election, he will govern for a two-year transition period. The goal is to carry out institutional and electoral reforms that will ensure future elections are transparent, credible, free and fair.

Fayulu has been critical of voting machines bought from South Korea. He claims they could easily be manipulated in favor of Kabila's candidate. When asked about this after his nomination, Fayulu reiterated that they would "work relentlessly to seek the scrapping" of the machines. "The battle continues, we want an election without the voting machines."

The December election has been delayed several times on what many saw as tactics by Kabila to continue clinging on to power. Faced with growing political protests, internal and international pressure, Kabila finally bowed out of the race but later he barred political heavyweights such as Jean Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi from contesting the presidency.

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