GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — The city of Goma came to a standstill this week as its residents awaited the arrival of the incumbent President Joseph Kabila and one of the main opposition figures and presidential hopeful, Etienne Tshisekedi. As part of the electoral campaign, officially launched on October 28, the two contenders traveled to the provincial capital of North Kivu to stir up popular support for the upcoming elections on November 28.
A crowd of upwards of 100,000 people gathered in downtown Goma to listen to the president speak. President Kabila asked for “100 percent” of votes in order to be able to implement his countrywide five-point development plan in the East as well. He blamed the continued conflict on the lack of development in the region but promised to deliver if elected again. The five challenges he set out to tackle over the last five years in office—the dilapidated national road infrastructure, the lack of universal access to healthcare and education, safe housing for all, reliable delivery of water and electricity, and the creation of jobs— continue in a miserable state all over the country, a reality that Enough field researcher Fidel Bafilemba reflected on recently in a field dispatch. Kabila blamed the current state of affairs on the people who ruled the country for 40 years before him, claiming that, “It will not even take 20 years to rebuild the country.” In less than two weeks the Congolese people have the chance to evaluate such statements when they go to the polls.
When Tshisekedi addressed the large crowd an hour earlier and just a few blocks away, he also focused on the lack of development. He boldly told a gathering of around 50,000 people that he would provide free education from elementary school through university and free medication to elderly people within only five months of being in office. He promised to restore peace and reform the security sector, but he did not provide any specifics on process or implementation. Tshisekedi surprised the audience with his announcement that he would kick out Rwandans and their sympathizers, insinuating that the categorization included the incumbent president. As provocative was his appeal for his followers to go and kill those responsible for the recent kidnapping of the famous Hunde singer, Fabrice Masumbuko Mupfiritsa.
Tshisekedi has already shocked voters and observers of Congo’s elections with his recent threats to set imprisoned partisans free by force. So far, the resort to force has been rhetorical only; whether words will be turned into action is yet to be seen.
Enough had the chance to speak with Tshisekedi and his advisors in Goma and asked specifically about these threats. They claimed to not have any other intention than to continue to resist what they called “state oppression” in a pacifist way. Defending oneself from repression and claiming one’s rights to have a free and fair election is more than legitimate, they said, chalking up the campaign’s provocative language to this aim.
As Tshisekedi apparently grows more confident that the elections will turn out in his favor, the violent overtones of his campaign rhetoric seem to be an attempt to counter government repression with a more resolute tone. He recently proclaimed himself president of Congo, arguing that the leader of the majority should rule in a democracy. Tshisekedi and his advisors told Enough that the outcome of the elections will only officially confirm what the Congolese population has already decided, namely to make Tshisekedi the new head of state.
His proclamation together with calls to resort to violence has raised concerns of what will happen after the announcement of the election results on December 6, especially if Tshisekedi is not elected president. Tshisekedi and his advisors claim that they would also respect a negative election outcome, while continuing to resist oppression non-violently until political change turns in their favor. However, despite the campaign’s assurances, it is a disturbing sign that Tshisekedi’s party, the UDPS, has yet to sign the electoral code of conduct as tensions rise in this final stage before voting begins.
Fidel Bafilemba contributed to this post.