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Tough road to second term for Felix Tshisekedi

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On the eve of the new year, the Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) of Democratic Republic of the Congo declared incumbent Felix Tshisekedi the winner of the disputed December 20 presidential election.

CENI said provisional results showed Tshisekedi won 73.34% of the vote. The Constitutional Court still has to confirm the result but rival candidates rejected it and called for protests.

A second term for Tshisekedi will come with mounting challenges, among them insecurity and a disintegrating economy. He will also have to work on national cohesion and improve regional cooperation.

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At the start of his first controversial first term, Tshisekedi had promised to end the violence in eastern Congo, especially   in the North Kivu province. “I am ready to sacrifice my life so that peace can return,”  he said at the time.

Five years later, the situation has worsened.

Armed groups and millions displaced

Unlike the previous conflicts which involved about 200 armed groups with no political goals, Kinshasa today faces the powerful M23 rebel group.

The group has seized large swathes of territory and is threatening to capture the North Kivu capital, Goma.

Other armed groups are also active in eastern Congo. Attacks on civilians have forced many to seek refuge in camps for the internally displaced.

“Today we have a greater number of the internally displaced people than ever before in the DRC, with nearly 7 million displaced due to the prevailing difficult security situation,” Jason Stearns, director of the New York University based Congolese Research Organization (GEC), told DW.

”It is impossible to think of any sustainable peace solution in the eastern Congo, without consolidating government’s accountability,” Stearns warned.

Tshisekedi, he believes, would need to introduce comprehensive reforms that will make it possible to disarm all the militia groups.

A group of soldiers walking along a sandy path in a tropical area
Congolese and Ugandan soldiers carried out joint military operations against rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in eastern Congo in 2021Image: Alain Uaykani/Xinhua/IMAGO

Yvon Muya, a lecturer at the School of Conflict Studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, believes that Tshisekedi will have to prioritize the deep-rooted insecurity in eastern Congo.

“He will have to give quick answers or at least, show the Congolese that he has a workable strategy to resolve the conflict in the Kivu provinces which has reached the tipping point,” Muya itold DW.

South Kivu borders eastern Congo’s the volatile North Kivu province.

A map showing eastern Congo

Political animosity threatens national unity

The December 20 general election was called in an environment of mistrust between political stakeholders and civil society organizations, including the influential Catholic Church.

Tshisekedi, after breaking with his predecessor Joseph Kabila, consolidated his power by appointing judges to the Constitutional Court and senior army officers. His main opponents had opposed the leadership of CENI, accusing the electoral commission of being set up to hand victory to Tshisekedi.

The month-long election campaign was rife with ethnic hate speech.

Analysts say Tshisekedi will urgently need to find ways to reunite the divided nation.

“President Tshisekedi will be obliged to use conciliatory language in a bid to build trust in the society and make every Congolese feel that they belong to the same nation,” said Muya.

That could prove hard. In addition to political adversaries who are organizing protests, a new political and military alliance has come into play.

The Alliance Fleuve Congo (AFC), was formed by Corneille Nangaa, the former head of CENI who has threatened to oust Tshisekedi at gunpoint.

 

Growing tensions in the region

A second term will see Tshisekedi having to forge a new regional cooperation strategy to overcome the growing rift between Congo and its East African Community (EAC) partners.

A misunderstanding with Rwanda over the responsibilities of the grouping’s troops in the fight against the M23 rebels has led to a friction between Congo and Kenya. There are tensions between Congo and Uganda too.

Solving the security problem in eastern Congo will require stability among EAC member states, accrding to Yvon Muya, the lecturer at the School of Conflict Studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada.

“In any case, if it is necessary to negotiate with the real leaders of the M23, the Congolese government knows that it will have to resume negotiations with Rwanda.”

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Tshisekedi spent much of his first term traveling abroad to cultivate better relations with neighboring countries and attract foreign investors, but without much success. His diplomatic efforts were hampered by numerous corruption scandals involving close associates and senior officials in his government.

‘Rich country, poor citizens’

Tshisekedi once promised to turn Congo into the “Germany of Africa”. But under his administration the value of the Congolese franc has continued to plummet, reducing the quality of life for the majority of citizens.

When the issues of the rising cost of living and unemployment came up during his election rallies, Tshisekedi pledged to create some 6.2 million jobs over the next five years. He also vowed to control inflation, which the World Bank estimates at around 21%.

Israel Mutala, an expert on Congo’s economy, says the mineral rich country’s economic growth should be in the double digits rather than the close on 7% that the World Bank estimated for 2023.

“[Tshisekedi should] also broaden the economy so that it does not depend only on the mining sector, by promoting agriculture and the construction of energy infrastructure and land transport, especially roads and railways,” Mutala told DW.

Social services policy success

Among Tshisekedi’s achievements have been the introduction of free primary education and free primary health care that enables women to give birth free of charge in public hospitals.

But “the people first” slogan of his UDPS party, which was founded with the aim of lifting 20 million Congolese out of extreme poverty, has turned out to be a pipe dream.

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A quarter of Congo’s population faces hunger and food insecurity, and 62% live below the poverty line. Only 15% of citizens have access to electricity, despite the country being home to the Inga Dam, which can generate up to 40,000 megawatts of power, or about a third of the electricity needs of the entire African continent

According to the economist Israel Mutala, in order to succeed economically, Tshisekedi will have to change his diplomatic focus.

”Beyond the diplomacy of war or peace, we need a diplomacy of development that is able to attract many foreign investors. A diplomacy that mobilizes funds from bilateral and international partners to finance structural projects,” Mutala told DW.

Edited by: Benita van Eyssen

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