The opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF), destabilised by the mass exodus of its militants, most of whom have become the target of separatist militias, is divided over its participation in the local elections of 9 February.
DRC, Martin Fayulu: ‘The Kabila system is still in place’
Martin Fayulu, the Lamuka coalition's candidate in the past elections, continues to claim victory in the 30 December poll and defends a hard line against the new head of state, at the risk of dividing his own side.
On his business cards, Martin Fayulu has a leopard’s head, the emblem of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), followed by this: “President-elect”. It’s how he has introduced himself in recent weeks in Paris, at the Quai d’Orsay, then in Brussels, at the ministry of foreign affairs, as part of a tour that will take him to the United States.
Three months after the contested presidential election that crowned Félix Tshisekedi, Fayulu continues to claim victory, both at home and abroad. The campaigning has taken its physical toll on the 62 year old, who paid a visit to Jeune Afrique‘s offices on 20 March.
“I was elected with 62.11% of the vote, and everyone knows it,” he continues to insist.
Seeking international support
Central Africa has a fair number of opponents hoping for power. There is Jean Ping in Gabon, Maurice Kamto in Cameroon, and even the father of his opponent, Étienne Tshisekedi, after the 2011 elections. Whatever the legitimacy of their claims, the strategy did not work for them.
Fayulu says he is fully aware of these precedents. “But the current situation is totally different,” he says. “We have evidence that comes directly from the servers of the Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI) and the rigorous observation of the Conférence Episcopale du Congo (Cenco). And in the other cases, no country had ever named them as winners. France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian did with me. People should not underestimate this stance.”
“A secret agreement with Kabila”
However, there is a difference that Fayulu does not mention: in the DRC, a member of the opposition has been proclaimed president.
And this transfer of power, even though partial, creates the possibility of change – even if former president Joseph Kabila’s party retains a very large majority in parliament. In Kinshasa, people are waiting to see whether the new head of state will succeed in being his own man.
Fayulu has made up his mind on this subject. “Félix Tshisekedi has betrayed the people and will pay a high price. He signed a secret agreement with Kabila. Tshisekedi will make minor concessions at times to give hope to the population, but Kabila’s system is still in place.”
For the time being, however, France and the United States are betting on Tshisekedi’s ability to gradually edge Kabila out.
- This enrages the fiery Fayulu. “The international community says ‘We did not see any street demonstrations when the results were announced’. But it knows full well that Joseph Kabila was still in charge and that any demonstration would have been repressed. It wanted a bloodbath? I find that unfortunate.”
Ducks not in a row
Within the opposition, Fayulu’s hard line is not fully accepted. To date, Moïse Katumbi has thus far refused to clearly condemn Tshisekedi’s rise. The entourage of the former governor of Katanga wonders if the new Congolese head of state may succeed in winning enough public opinion to establish himself. And, perhaps, allow Katumbi to return to politics.
Fayulu agrees about this: his breakthrough during the presidential election owes much to the support of the Lamuka (Wake Up) coalition, which includes, in addition to Katumbi, Jean-Pierre Bemba, Freddy Matungulu and Adolphe Muzito. “The Congolese people wanted a common candidate to get rid of the Kabila system. My peers chose me. So I benefited from Lamuka’s anointing,” he admits. “But if my popularity were only circumstantial, my recent tour of the country would have been a failure. Now I have gathered even larger crowds than during the campaign! The Congolese people said to themselves, ‘I care about this candidate because he represents an idea.’”
What role for Fayulu?
Katumbi and Bemba, the two heavyweights of the new opposition, may not be on the same wavelength. Since Lamuka is to become a political party, the future distribution of posts will provide some answers. But the coalition meeting in Brussels, from 21 to 23 March, has already been very instructive. After heated debates, its leaders stopped condemning the ‘power-sharing agreement’ between Tshisekedi and Kabila and stopped demanding the recount of votes, contrary to Fayulu’s wishes. “It had become impossible to achieve,” he admits. “The official reports from the polling stations have most certainly disappeared.”
“Meetings and discussions with the government in power can help us find a compromise,” he continues. What form would it take? Fayulu rejects that idea that he or his close allies might join the government. “If it’s an appointment by Tshisekedi, no. That would be a betrayal. I am president-elect and I remain so. And as Pierre Lumbi [his campaign manager] said: ‘You don’t shake a dirty hand.’”
In some diplomatic circles, a new institution is being imagined that would be tailor-made to enable Fayulu to play a supervisory role.
But he has something else in mind: he wants new elections to be held, after a transition period during which power would be shared. A hard ask: the Congolese people already waited seven years for the last presidential election.
Whatever the formula, there is little chance that Tshisekedi will agree to a compromise unless he is forced to do so. At this stage – and this is one of the few issues on which there is consensus within Lamuka – only significant street pressure could impose it on him.
Fayulu has, it is true, the profile to lead such a movement. In the absence of Katumbi and Bemba, who now believe that the conditions are not right for their return, he is the only major figure able to guide the crowd. Already in September 2016, Fayulu had demonstrated in front of assembled police officers. The events resulted in a spectacular bruise on his face and earned him the nickname of ‘the people’s soldier’.
But, at the time, mobilisation was flourishing on a high-octane fuel: exasperation at Kabila’s desire to remain in power, despite the expiry of his last term in office. Nothing in common, therefore, with the situation of the new president. Fayulu’s future will depend largely on the success or failure of his rival.
This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.