Where Did DRC’s Runner-Up Martin Fayulu Get His Miraculous Votes?

By Pinky Khoabane

FORMER oil tycoon and runner-up in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) December 2018 elections, Martin Fayulu, now contesting the results, was never popular. Although he became a full-time politician in 2006 and an MP, the former Exxon-Mobil executive, is mostly known as a businessman and his critics doubted he would advance the interests of the poor if he won. His fame miraculously came in the weeks leading-up to the elections. An opinion poll in October 2018 placed him in third place at 8% and by December, he had leap-frogged to top spot with 44% support in an opinion poll conducted days before the elections. That was a surprise.

Another surprise was what the Western media described as “little known Fayulu” being announced as the opposition candidate over “better known politicians” Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe.

Tshisikedi leads the largest opposition party in the DRC and dominated opinion polls until shortly before the elections. And yet, he becomes the “surprise” when he’s declared the winner.

Martin Fayulu

AFTER the kleptocracy, human rights abuses and persistent bloody conflicts under former presidents Mobutu Sese Seko (1965 – 1997) and Laurent Kabila (1997 – 2001), and the incumbent President Joseph Kabila (2001 – 2018) who for three years hung onto power without a mandate, the Congolese people finally went to the polls on 30 December 2018 after another last minute postponement.

Having cast their vote for a president of their choice in what is the first peaceful democratic election since independence in 1960, there were more delays in releasing the results. In the early hours of January 10, Felix Tshisekedi, the leader of the largest opposition party in the Congo, the Union of Democracy and Social Progress was declared the winner with 38.57% of the vote.

Felix is the son of long-time opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who was the thorn in the side of Sese Seko and the Kabilas and had led the opposition coalition during negotiations with Joseph Kabila when he refused to hand-over power in 2016. Upon Etienne’s death in 2017, which further plunged the country into uncertainty, the opposition coalition named Felix, his successor.

Martin Fayulu, the runner-up, with 34.8% of the vote, has contested the legitimacy of the election claiming that Tshisekedi made a backroom deal with Kabila. France and the Western media have come out in his support as the candidate who was most likely to win the election based on opinion polls. Congo’s influential Catholic Church has also said the results don’t match those counted by its observers. Belgium, which has stolen the riches of Congo and treated the Africans in the most barbaric, has questioned the outcome of the election.

Fayulu himself claims his support is at 61%.

But how could a man whose popularity was below 8% for a period of almost two years suddenly win the hearts and minds of his people a few weeks before the elections?

A Bloomberg article published in November says: “An opinion poll published last month by New York University’s Congo Research Group placed Fayulu fourth with 8 percent support. Tshisekedi topped the survey with 36 percent, while Kamerhe and Kabila’s anointed successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary were second and third respectively with 17 percent and 16 percent”. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-12/former-exxon-manager-leads-congo-opposition-s-bid-for-presidency

An opinion piece in the Daily Nation questions Western media’s assertion that Fayulu was the favourite candidate to win: “Until December 29, 2018, just one day before the DRC presidential elections, Fayulu had never been above eight per cent in any opinion poll conducted over the last two years in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And he represents a political party, the Engagement for Citizenship and Development party, that has only one representative in the legislature: Fayulu himself. His party has no political infrastructure in the DRC”.

The author further accuses Western media of promoting a narrative of Fayulu being the “likely winner” and Tshisekedi being the “surprise winner”. He says it is “false” and manufactured to suggest the latter rigged the elections.

Even though Western media found Tshisekedi a “surprise winner”, they describe  the announcement of “little known” Fayulu as the opposition candidate over “better known politicians” as a surprise.

Bloomberg in the article whose link is attached above says: “The Democratic Republic of Congo’s main opposition leaders chose Martin Fayulu as their candidate for next month’s presidential election.

“The opposition had been expected to select from two better-known politicians: Felix Tshisekedi, head of the biggest opposition party, or Vital Kamerhe, who finished third in the last vote in 2011”.

Several articles say Fayulu was in obscurity and was thrust into the limelight at the Geneva meeting at which he was surprisingly chosen as the unity candidate over Tshisekedi.

The surprise of Fayulu being named the unity candidate was too much for some supporters of opposition parties and they took to the streets of Kinshasa in angry protests.

The said meeting in Geneva was sponsored by France and Belgium and was convened so that opposition leaders could elect a joint candidate who would lead the opposition in the elections. Among them were former warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba and former Katanga governor Moise Katumbi. They were both disqualified from participating in the presidential race. Bemba had a war-crimes conviction overturned in June last year but was excluded because the International Criminal Court (ICC) found him guilty of bribing witnesses. He has appealed that conviction. Katumbi’s candidacy was denied because he had been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since 2016.

A source who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the trouble between the opposition leaders started at this meeting. Felix Tshisekedi had alway been the unity candidate, succeeding his father after his death.

Part of the agreement was that they would boycott the elections if Kabila used electronic machines. Tshisekedi having signed this agreement, returned to the DRC with information of the agreement and his supporters rejected it, the insider says. He pulled out of the agreement as a result.

On 28 December 2018, two days before the elections, Fayulu had gone from third in October to take top spot in an election poll, according to Africanews. “The latest election poll by a New York-based research group showed Fayulu leapfrogging from third place in October to the top spot with 44 percent support. He was ahead of the former frontrunner, Tshisekedi, on 23 percent, and the ruling party’s Shadary on 18 percent”. http://www.africanews.com/2018/12/28/fayulu-to-win-drc-presidential-election-new-opinion-poll/

Long Road To Election 2018

It’s been a long road for the DRC since the opposition coalition came together in 2016 in an attempt to force Kabila out of office after he had tried every trick in the book to stay in power. They had chosen Tshisekedi as their leader and under the aegis of the powerful Catholic Church, had signed agreements with Kabila’s government which he reneged on.

An agreement signed in December 2016 was meant to pave the way for elections before the end of 2017.

A roadmap to elections was agreed upon by which a transitional government would be put in place with the prime minister being from the opposition ranks and that Kabila would not seek a third term. In return, the opposition coalition parties agreed that Kabila could remain in power until a successor was chosen.

Kabila reneged on the agreement and when the 2017 deadline came, the electoral commission of that country said elections couldn’t be held then. A rolling campaign of strikes and disobedience campaigns by the opposition followed. By New Year’s Eve, another deal brokered by the Catholic Church was put on the cards but the accord was delayed by Tshisikedi’s death

In a country so accustomed to violence, peace seems elusive and already there have been reports of pro-Fayulu protests in Bemba’s stronghold.

Will Fayulu’s challenge of the election results shatter the hopes of so many Congolese who so want and deserve peace and prosperity following years of instability and conflict first,under colonial rule and then the African dictators?

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