Congo opposition candidates drop presidential bids to back Katumbi

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Two opposition candidates for Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential election next month said on Monday they would drop out and back another opposition candidate, Moise Katumbi, following a move made by another aspirant last week.

Seth Kikuni and Franck Diongo are the latest opposition candidates to throw their support behind 58-year-old Katumbi, a millionaire businessman and former governor of the copper-rich Katanga region.

Katumbi’s campaign is scheduled to kick off on Monday in the northern city of Kisangani. He has promised to fight graft, create jobs and reform the economy of the world’s largest producer of battery material cobalt and a major copper producer.

Congo’s former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo said he would back Katumbi on Sunday following the recommendations of leading opposition parties.

Representatives of those parties met in South Africa last week to discuss how to protect the Dec. 20 general election from fraud and decide on a potential joint candidate to challenge President Felix Tshisekedi, 60.

A crowded opposition field of 25 candidates is currently enlisted to face Tshisekedi, who is seeking a second term.

They are concerned about the fairness of the vote, alleging irregularities that play in favour of the ruling coalition during voter registration. The electoral commission denies this.

Kikuni said in a statement posted on X that Ponyo’s decision reflected the importance of “transcending our egos” and prioritising the nation’s interests.

Tshisekedi, who began his re-election bid on Sunday, urged voters to give him another mandate to consolidate his achievements after a first term mired by economic hardship and spiralling insecurity.

His main challengers include Katumbi, old rival Martin Fayulu, a 66-year-old former Exxon Mobil executive who came a disputed second in the last 2018 presidential contest, and first-time runner Denis Mukwege, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning gynaecologist. Their campaigns are also set to begin on Monday.

More than 43 million registered voters are eligible to take part in the general election.

(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba, Ange Kasongo and Sonia Rolley; Writing by Sofia Christensen, Editing by William Maclean)