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Big topics that will define election

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Picture: AFP – Supporters of Moise Katumbi, one of the main opponents of President Félix Tshisekedi, attend his election rally in a stadium in Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, this week. The DRC launched a month-long election campaign last Sunday, with 23 candidates running for president amid a tense political climate and relentless fighting in the east. About 44 million registered voters, out of a population of almost 100 million, are set to elect a president on December 20.

By Reuters Staff

Six opposition candidates in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s December 20 presidential election asked the country’s Constitutional Court this week to compel the electoral commission to publish the final voters roll, warning of potential irregularities and fraud.

The candidates, including a leading opposition candidate Martin Fayulu and Nobel Peace Prize-winning gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, who is running for the first time, alleged intentional irregularities by the commission that questions the reliability of the electoral roll.

A spokesperson for the DRC’s national electoral commission, known as Ceni, declined to comment.

The head of the electoral commission had previously rejected the accusations. He said in an interview last month that the commission would ensure that the election is free and fair.

The electoral commission has come under increased scrutiny from opposition parties, the influential Roman Catholic Church in Congo, and international partners such as the US, that have all raised concerns over its handling of the voter registration process, and the publication of the roll.

The US last week asked the Ceni in a statement to ensure that the final voter registration lists are accessible without delay. The six candidates said in a joint statement on Thursday that publishing the voters roll as stipulated by the law would allow enough time to fix any issues and enable voters to know where they’ll vote.

Fayulu, who came second in the disputed 2018 presidential election which he claimed to have won, said the current electoral roll was unreliable. “We do not know how many voters the final electoral roll contains,” Fayulu said, adding that the opacity over the registration process was intentional in order to favour President Félix Tshisekedi’s ruling coalition.

Picture: Phando Jikelo / African News Agency (ANA) / Taken on February 7, 2023 – Democratic Republic of Congo President Félix Thsisekedi addresses delegates at the annual Invest in Africa Mining Indaba in Cape Town. Opposition candidates in the DRC’s December 20 presidential election say the opacity over the registration process is intended to favour Tshisekedi’s ruling coalition.

The commission had said previously that more than 43.9 million voters are registered for the election in a provisional roll.

Here are the key topics that are on the voters’ minds.

Economy

Congo’s economy grew 8.5 percent last year, one of the fastest in sub-Saharan Africa, driven by stronger mining output, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Tshisekedi successfully negotiated a $1.5 billion (about R28bn) programme with the IMF in July 2021, the first since the IMF broke ties with Kinshasa in 2012 under Tshisekedi’s predecessor, Joseph Kabila.

But despite its wealth of copper, cobalt and other resources, little is passed down to ordinary Congolese. The poverty rate sits at 62 percent, 178th out of 182 on the 2020 Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index. The cost of living has increased, and the country relies heavily on imports of basic food stuffs.

The depreciation of the Congolese franc has pushed up inflation, which surged to over 23 percent year-on-year in July, according to the IMF. More than 26 million people require humanitarian assistance, in part because of rampant insecurity, data from the UN’s International Organisation for Migration show.

Mining

Congo is the world’s top producer of cobalt, used in electric vehicle batteries, and the fifth largest copper producer.

Tshisekedi’s government has moved to renegotiate the terms of the 2008 infrastructure-for-minerals deal with Chinese investors, known as the “deal of the century” for its favourable conditions to China. Under the agreement, China promised to pay $6bn to build roads and other infrastructure in exchange for access to mineral rights worth $93bn.

Tshisekedi has sought to rein in China’s 70 percent share of Congo’s mining sector by re-negotiating that and other contracts. Although a deal has been reached with China’s CMOC group mineral producers, talks are ongoing over a tentative deal regarding their Sicomines joint venture.

Risk-averse companies that had previously avoided Congo’s mining sector due to instability are taking a second look as new opportunities to tap into its minerals.

Security

Fighting between myriad rival armed groups over land and resources, and brutal attacks on civilians, have intensified in eastern Congo in recent years. Groups such as Islamic State-affiliated Allied Democratic Forces, the Co-operative for the Development of the Congo group, which claims to defend the interests of Lendu farmers, and M23 rebels in North Kivu region, carry out regular assaults.

Nearly 7 million people are displaced in the DRC as of June, the International Organisation for Migration said, up 17 percent from October 2022.

Tshisekedi has called for the removal of a UN peacekeeping mission in the east, which has become unpopular for not better protecting civilians.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC said this week that it had signed a withdrawal plan for its troops, without offering details about a timeline.

In a statement, the peacekeeping mission, known as Monusco, said it had “co-signed a note on the accelerated, gradual, orderly and responsible withdrawal” from the country. The note contains a plan and timeline for the withdrawal, but the peacekeeping mission offered few details beyond saying that it will be implemented in three phases.

Monusco is one of the world’s largest and costliest UN peacekeeping missions, with an annual budget of around $1bn. Peacekeepers have been present in the DRC since 1999 but militia violence has continued to plague the east of the country.

Corruption

Tshisekedi came to power promising to eliminate the rampant corruption of the Kabila regime, but anti-graft measures have fallen short, critics say.

Some steps have been taken, but scandals have dogged the administration.

Last year, a report by the government’s public finances watchdog found that more than $400 million in tax advances and loans that state mining company Gecamines said it paid to the national treasury were missing.

No one has been held to account. “Corruption constitutes a severe challenge at every level of Congolese society and the state apparatus,” Bovcon risk analysts said.

Tshisekedi’s main challengers, Martin Fayulu, Moise Katumbi and Denis Mukwege, have focused their campaign messages on rebuilding and strengthening Congo’s weak institutions to tackle its various problems. – Reuters