Congo opposition candidate Katumbi vows more security in militia-plagued east

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Presidential candidate Moise Katumbi has promised residents in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Goma not to abandon them amid spiralling militia violence in the region and to make security a priority if he wins the Dec. 20 vote.

Katumbi addressed hundreds of jubilant supporters at a rally in Goma on Thursday evening as part of his campaign to unseat President Felix Tshisekedi, who is running for a second term in next month’s election.

Security is one of several key issues that will be on voters’ minds when they pick the next leader of Congo, the world’s top cobalt and fifth largest copper producer.

A civil war that ended at the turn of the century has left a myriad of rival armed militia groups fighting over land and resources in Congo’s mineral-rich east.

Fighting, concentrated in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, has intensified in recent years, along with brutal attacks on civilians that have displaced millions.

A violent offensive by the M23 rebel group has stoked concerns. The group staged a major comeback last year, seizing towns and villages as it advanced to the outskirts of Goma.

“We shall tackle that problem once and for all,” Katumbi told the crowd in Goma, where there have been violent protests against a United Nations peacekeeping mission since 2022 spurred partly by complaints that it has failed to protect civilians.

“I have bought a house here in Goma. I shall not stay in a rented house,” said Katumbi, a millionaire businessman who served as governor of copper-rich Katanga province from 2007 to 2015. “I promise not to touch my salary not even a single day until North Kivu and Ituri are liberated.”

Tshisekedi has called for the removal of the U.N. peacekeeping mission as well as of an East African regional force deployed last year, amid accusations that they have been ineffective in tackling the rebels.

Katumbi is one of more than two dozen candidates in the presidential race that also includes leading opposition candidate Martin Fayulu and Nobel Peace Prize-winning gynaecologist Denis Mukwege.

Three contenders have dropped their bids to back Katumbi following discussions among leading opposition parties about uniting behind a potential joint candidate to face Tshisekedi.

(Reporting by Djaffar Al Katanty; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Bate Felix and Gareth Jones)