Resource-rich Congo goes to polls, with Tshisekedi the front runner

20th December 2023 By: Bloomberg

Resource-rich Congo goes to polls, with Tshisekedi the front runner

Photo by: Bloomberg

Polls opened in resource-rich Democratic Republic of Congo as the nation’s citizens vote to choose their leaders for the fourth time since the end of decades of dictatorship and war.

Incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi is the front runner, according to an independent poll released on Tuesday. He’s followed by businessman and football-club owner Moise Katumbi and ex-oil executive Martin Fayulu, the runner-up in the 2018 vote, which was marred by accusations of fraud.

“If these elections, too, are not deemed to be credible, it will severely impact the faith and trust the Congolese people have in the electoral process and democracy in general,” said Jason Stearns, founder of the Congo Research Group at New York University.

The election is a billion-dollar logistical nightmare, and diplomats expect the electoral commission will need to extend voting for a few days in remote parts of the country that’s about the size of Western Europe. Almost 44 million people have registered to vote for more than 100,000 candidates for national, provincial and local office.

At a polling station in Kinshasa on Wednesday, Fayulu told reporters that the vote was “chaos” and that he had reports that many polls around the country didn’t have all the equipment they needed to operate.

“The Congolese people want, and we want, all seventy-one-thousand-something polling stations, each of them has to open and receive voters so they can vote,” Fayulu said in English and then added, in French, “if not, we will not accept the results of these elections.”

About 1.5 million citizens won’t be able to cast ballots at all because of violence in three territories in eastern and western Congo. Multiple conflicts in Congo’s east have displaced almost 7 million people, a key campaign issue.

Nonetheless, the pre-election period was “generally improved and inclusive, which permitted candidates to campaign freely, despite a few incidents here and there,” electoral observers from Congo’s Catholic and Protestant churches told reporters in the capital, Kinshasa, on Tuesday.

Whoever wins will control Africa’s second-biggest country by landmass, rich in natural resources. Congo is a major producer of copper, tin ore, gold and cobalt, an ingredient in many EV batteries. It’s also home to the world’s second-biggest tropical forest, the largest tropical peatlands and powerful rivers that could provide hydropower energy for much of the continent.

The new president will have to deal with tensions with neighbouring Rwanda over the instability in the east and a desperately poor population of 100 million.

“Our country has suffered for nearly thirty years the effects of war and rebellions as well as a general impunity for the actors responsible for this chaos,” fifty-eight civil society organizations said in a letter on the eve of the elections that called for an end to political violence, hate-speech and tribalism. “This must stop.”

The Carter Center and the Southern African Development Community will also monitor the vote. Observer missions from the EU and the East African Community were cancelled after they couldn’t agree on terms with the Congolese government.