DR Congo’s Fayulu embarks on weeks-long US tour ahead of elections

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Tuesday, 13 September 2022 16:30

Congolese opposition leader Martin Fayulu speaks to his supporters during a rally in Kinshasa
Congolese opposition leader Martin Fayulu speaks to his supporters during a rally in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, February 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe

Congolese opposition politician Martin Fayulu heads to North America this week for several weeks of meetings with US officials, diaspora groups and church leaders as he lays the groundwork for an electoral rematch against President Félix Tshisekedi.

Fayulu is expected to make the case before Congress and the Joe Biden administration that Washington must keep a close eye on developments in the strategic central African country as well as help ensure free and fair elections in 2023.

The US is widely seen as having played a key role in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s December 2018 election after endorsing Tshisekedi’s victory despite widespread reports of irregularities, and Fayulu is determined to avoid a repeat of the same next year.

“The major issues” he’s expected to address include “the current domestic situation, the many humanitarian emergencies, economic and political challenges, [as well as] the environment as it pertains to next year’s elections, which he […] views as very critical, […],” says African democracy activist Jeffrey Smith.

Smith is helping to organise the trip as part of his firm Vanguard Africa’s $7,000-a-month contract to manage an “independent free and fair campaign” in the DRC. Vanguard is acting as a subcontractor to Future Pact, which has a $17,500-a-month contract to represent Fayulu through December 2023.

The trip is “standard pre-election jockeying”, says Joseph Szlavik, a rival lobbyist working for Tshisekedi’s government via Scribe Strategies & Advisors.

“Tshisekedi wants to eliminate any questions about the integrity of the last election,” Szlavik says. Meanwhile, Fayulu and his allies are doubling down on arguing that the last election was a “boondoggle” as they build their case for Washington to keep a close watch for any irregularities or efforts to undermine the opposition.

Washington and beyond

Fayulu begins his public appearances with a 15 September conversation at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center that is led by Rama Yade, the French-Senegalese former secretary of foreign affairs human rights and secretary of sports under President Nicolas Sarkozy.

He’s expected to touch on a range of issues plaguing the country, one of Africa’s largest and poorest: From the rapacious mining of critical minerals to regional powers’ support for insurgents in eastern Congo.

The political outreach begins in the week of 19 September. Fayulu is expected to meet with several key policymakers, including lawmakers and staffers on the House and Senate foreign affairs committees and State Department officials, including Acting Director for Central Africa Joe Trimble.

Just last week, the Joe Biden administration announced $13m in additional funding to support “transparent, credible, and inclusive political processes” in the DRC, bringing the total to $23.65m.

[…] additional steps must be taken now to pave the way for free and fair elections in 2023

Congress, in particular, has played a key role in drawing attention to the need for a fair vote. Lawmakers have been intensely lobbied, in particular, by former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican now with white shoe law firm King & Spalding that represents Tshisekedi rival Moise Katumbi, the millionaire businessman and former governor of Katanga province.

“The 2018 elections were neither free nor fair and were marred by the corrupt and undemocratic actions of former President Joseph Kabila who delayed the elections, installed loyalists into critical positions within the electoral commission and judicial system, and oversaw widespread brutality and harassment against pro-democracy protestors and opposition leaders,” the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks of New York and Mike McCaul of Texas, said in a 16 March letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The lawmakers requested that Blinken prioritise the upcoming elections and “mobilise additional resources to support the deployment of international and domestic election observers, strengthen civil society, advance free and independent media, provide technical support to election preparations, and build on nascent efforts to root out corruption”.

“While we recognise steps taken under Kabila’s successor, Félix Tshisekedi, to open political space, address corruption, and reform state institutions, additional steps must be taken now to pave the way for free and fair elections in 2023,” they said. “Local civil society and religious activists have raised concerns about the extent of President Tshisekedi’s commitment to a fair and competitive contest and the composition and leadership of the electoral commission, including the appointment of Denis Kadima as chair.”

Other engagements include a trip to Chicago, Smith said, where Fayulu is expected to meet with the Congolese diaspora and engage with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. There were 61,000 immigrants born in the DRC living in the US in 2019, according to the US Census Bureau.

In addition to seeking media interviews with CNN, Al Jazeera and Voice of America, Smith is also looking to connect Fayulu with Greenpeace Africa and other environmental groups to discuss international financing for the safeguarding of the Congo’s peatlands and rain forest.

The Catholic connection

Another key component of the trip includes outreach to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The Catholic church plays a key role in Congolese politics and called the disputed election for Fayulu back in January 2019.

Fayulu will be “doing some engagements with [church leaders] given their incredibly crucial role in the Congo,” Smith said, “particularly in regards to the upcoming elections and the observation and monitoring of those”.

Since the 2018 election, the US conference has endorsed a white paper, ‘Towards Credible Elections in 2023’, submitted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Congo (CENCO) and the Church of Christ of the Congo (ECC). The document notably calls on the US to provide “financial and logistical support” to organise a “major professional election observation mission, capable of guaranteeing the credibility and transparency of the elections in 2023”.

The two Congolese groups point to several concerning trends, including:

  • Passage of a law that gives the majority governing party six seats on the Independent National Electoral Commission, four to opposition parties and five seats to civil society;
  • The government’s negative response to the Catholic bishops’ roadmap for the 2023 election;
  • The political partisan nature of recent judicial appointments; and
  • Discussion of “Congolité” legislation that would exclude any Congolese from high office if one of their parents wasn’t born in the country — a proposal widely seen as deliberately aimed at barring Katumbi, whose father Nissim Soriano was a Greek Jew who settled in Congo in the 1930s.

The Rev. David Malloy, bishop of Rockford, Illinois, and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, shared the white paper with Blinken in June 2021.

“Our committee supports the CENCO/ECC recommendations outlined in the Joint Advocacy Paper,” Malloy said in a letter to Blinken, “and calls on the United States to help the DRC consolidate a truly democratic and legitimate electoral process free from internal and external manipulation”.

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