DR Congo’s presidential candidates crisscross conflict-torn eastFri, 01 Dec 2023 10:16:42 GMT

Candidates have hit the campaign trail in the DR Congo’s conflict-wracked east ahead of elections, holding rallies where the mood is festive — even if the issue of security is never far from the surface.Roughly the size of continental western Europe, the Democratic Republic of Congo is awash with minerals and precious stones, but war, corruption and chronic mismanagement mean little of the wealth trickles down.While most of the country has returned to relative stability after two major wars in the 1990s and 2000s, militias and rebel groups roam much of eastern DRC, which borders Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. For almost 30 years, the cities of Bunia, Bukavu, Butembo, Beni, Oicha and Goma — which span three volatile provinces in the vast central African nation — have been plagued by unabated violence.But with the campaign for parliamentary and presidential elections on December 20 now in full swing, crowds come and go between the region’s airports and city centres to hear candidates speak in the main squares.Nearly 44 million people out of a population of around a hundred million are eligible to vote. As well as a new president, they are electing national and provincial lawmakers and local councillors.Wealthy businessman and opposition hopeful Moise Katumbi — one of 23 running for president — was the first to go to Goma, the main city in North Kivu province.Residents expect contenders for the country’s highest office to “restore security”, Zephanie Mayolo, a 33-year-old motorcycle taxi driver, told AFP, as Katumbi arrived late last week.- Security -Valery Madianga, analyst at the Centre for Research in Public Finance and Local Development, told AFP that security was “one of the major themes” of the campaign.Yet, he said, “the debate is not yet gaining momentum”, amid an absence of clear governance programmes.Travelling by private jet, Katumbi criticises incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi’s attempts to tackle a two-year rebellion by the M23 movement, which controls vast swathes of territory in North Kivu.Tshisekedi, who is out to secure another five-year term, also headed east, visiting Bunia in neighbouring Ituri province on Tuesday accompanied by his wife, Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi.”Trust me again. Give me a second mandate in order to pursue our various projects,” he urged during a speech in the city stadium.Violence in Ituri has forced 1.7 million people to flee their villages.- ‘Candidate for peace’ -Nobel Peace Prize-winning gynaecologist Denis Mukwege launched his campaign for president on Sunday in his hometown of Bukavu in South Kivu province.Mukwege, who founded the Panzi hospital and foundation in eastern DRC after witnessing the horrific injuries and diseases suffered by rape victims, went on to Butembo and Beni.Supporters including many women in T-shirts bearing the number 15 — the position assigned to him by the electoral commission — greeted the 68-year-old, who promised to fight corruption and end war and famine.”I am a candidate for peace… Together, let’s put an end to hunger and vices,” Mukwege said in Beni, a stronghold of Allied Democratic Forces militants affiliated to the Islamic State group.Tensions have been underscored by the death on Tuesday of a member of Katumbi’s party in clashes with supporters of Tshisekedi’s party.Martin Fayulu, who continues to insist he was unfairly denied victory in 2018’s presidential race, is again on the campaign trail.He, too, was in Beni on Tuesday, accompanied by a musician to lend some extra atmosphere, and urged voters to “block the road” to Tshisekedi.”If you vote (for me), we will provide Beni with a military camp so that Rwanda and Uganda respect us,” he said, in a town where residents did not vote five years ago due to an Ebola epidemic.But electoral expert Oswald Rubasha, coordinator of the NGO Clinique Electorale Congolaise, said that in the stump speeches “we do not feel the real commitment to put an end to violence”, especially since “the candidates’ social projects are not really part of the debate”.