In a virtual media briefing with African journalists on 28 November, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country will send ships ... with wheat at zero cost to recipient African states to alleviate the acute food crisis. Is this an effort by Kyiv to encourage more support against Russia?
Around 3 am on 10 January 2019, the electoral commission chairman announced the final results of the presidential election. But in a sense, the long hours of waiting truly began Wednesday 9 January, at dawn.
On that 9 January, I didn’t change my usual routine: I started off by doing some sport. At one time I used to walk along the river, a stone’s throw from the Faden House hotel, which at the time had been transformed into a sort of Lamuka coalition headquarters. Because the situation was so tense, I was advised to stay inside the property. I did laps around the perimeter of that wall for an hour every day.
The election had taken place on 30 December 2018 and we were waiting for the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) to announce the results. I was a bit tired: during the campaign, I had lost seven or eight kilos and, in the photos, you can see that my face was very marked. But, honestly, I wasn’t stressed. I was confident. The whole city was buzzing with rumours. People feared manipulation and vote tampering.
‘The African Union walked away’
But I was confident that the process would go well. The vote had gone well, we had unofficial results announcing our victory right away. We knew that the CENCO (National Episcopal Conference of Congo) and the ECC (Protestant Church) had placed thousands of observers [in the polling stations], and several signals were positive. In fact, since the Geneva agreement [on a common opposition candidate], I was sure we would win.
The results were known by 9 am on 31 December. On 1 January, a priest who had the figures from CENCO proposed a meeting with Vital Kamerhe to reunite the Lamuka coalition but, at the appointed time, Vital didn’t show.
On 3 January, I had a meeting with CENI President Corneille Nangaa, Félix Tshisekedi, former Malian president Dioncounda Traoré, and the head of the African Union (AU) electoral mission, and observers from several sub-regional missions. Traoré had told Nangaa that he knew who had won and that, if the results announced were not the right ones, he would speak out – he never did, and I never understood why the AU backed down.
Treated with special deference
On 4 January, I spoke to Leïla Zerrougui, the head of the UN mission. She was very kind and offered to arrange a meeting with the outgoing president, Joseph Kabila, which I accepted. On the 6th, I crossed the river to Brazzaville because I was told that President Denis Sassou Nguesso wanted to see me and my opponents Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary and Félix Tshisekedi. The meeting went very well. In the afternoon, the French ambassador invited me to his residence. It is something that cannot be explained but can be felt: I was treated with special deference, like a future president. It was going well.
Then the rumours started again. We were told that the authorities were tampering with the results and, in the end, the meeting with Zerrougui and Kabila never took place, without anyone telling me why.
A long wait
On the afternoon of 9 January, the situation became even tenser. I was at Faden House, which I had not left all day. I was in my office with Ève Bazaïba of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Mouvement de libération du Congo (MLC), Pierre Lumbi, the secretary general of Moïse Katumbi’s Ensemble pour la République, and Jean-Claude Mwalimu, my chief of staff.
We learned that the press had been summoned to the CENI. It was a sign that the time for the declaration of results was approaching. We waited and waited… Television in the background, we nibbled, we talked, it was a long wait.
In the middle of the night, around 1 am, Corneille Nangaa of CENI appeared on television, finally! I remember that I was sitting behind my desk, the victory speech I had prepared next to me. But then, surprise! Instead of announcing the results of the presidential elections, he started by announcing the results of the provincial elections, which was quite abnormal. I told myself that something was wrong. I knew it was double or nothing. But I was calm, really. I’m a football nut and I can get hysterical when my team loses…or wins. But when the chips are down, I’m always very calm.
Finally, at around 3 am, it was time to talk about the presidential election. Corneille Nangaa announced Félix Tshisekedi’s victory. We were stunned. We were expecting my name or that of Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Kabila’s candidate, in the event of cheating, but not that. It was a cold shower. There was dead silence in the office. Ève was the first to break it after a long pause, saying that we had to continue the fight.
I went downstairs to improvise a speech that I had not prepared in any way, and then I went to find my wife and go to bed in my flat at Faden House. At dawn, I went to my church to pray to God.
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