Kinshasa, DRC, August 23th, 2020. People block the road to slow the police convoy escorting Lamuka opposition party leader Martin Fayulu when he returned to Congo this week after being stuck in the United States for five months due to coronavirus travel restrictions. Thousands of Fayulu’s supporters lined Kinshasa’s streets as the failed presidential candidate returned home and called for reforms and early elections. Fayulu insists the 2018 election was stolen by President Félix Tshisekedi in a deal cut with former leader Joseph Kabila and accused the government of failing to reform the judiciary and electoral commission. © Justin Makangara for Fondation Carmignac
Thousands of people swarmed Kinshasa’s streets as opposition leader Martin Fayulu returned home last weekend from the United States, where he had remained for five months due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
The former Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito also returned with Fayulu and the two politicians rode atop a 4×4 wearing white masks and baseball caps while surrounded by bodyguards in dark suits. Their vehicle proceeded slowly through throngs of cheering supporters carrying flags and wearing T-shirts stencilled with political slogans. Police in riot gear have often dispersed crowds of Fayulu’s supporters with tear gas and truncheons, but this time stood by despite occasional provocations.
Roads from Ndjili airport were so crowded with supporters that it took Fayulu’s convoy five hours to travel the last seven kilometres to Place Sainte-Thérèse, where he held a rally and called for reforms and early elections.
“The country is doing badly, and nothing will change until those chosen by the people are in the institutions”, Fayulu, who leads the opposition Lamuka party, told the crowd. “The misery is palpable, my people are suffering.”
Fayulu insists the 2018 election was stolen by President Félix Tshisekedi in a deal cut with former leader Joseph Kabila and he has accused the government of failing to reform the judiciary and electoral commission. Fayulu claimed he won more than 60 % of the 2018 vote, but the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), and then the Constitutional Court, proclaimed Felix Tshisekedi the winner with 38.5 % of votes and Fayulu second with 34 %. Fayulu accused the CENI of having “fabricated” the results and denounced an “electoral putsch” orchestrated by ex-President Joseph Kabila.
Tshisekedi leads Congo’s coalition government with the political forces of his predecessor Joseph Kabila, but has faced persistent tensions linked to his judicial reform and new appointments to the electoral commission. At least 3 people were killed during protests in Kinshasa and elsewhere in July, an U.N. rights body said, after the nomination of an election commission chief stirred public anger and further tension in the ruling coalition. Despite emergency pandemic restrictions, demonstrators in several cities across the country denounced the endorsement by the National Assembly of a new chairman of the Electoral Commission, Ronsard Malonda, accused by Lamuka supporters of being close to former President Kabila.
“I have come to bring you a message of hope to get out of this crisis situation in which Kabila and Tshisekedi have plunged the country”, Fayulu said in his speech. “Our current agenda is to make reforms and go to early elections. The crisis is there, nothing is going within their coalition where everyone wants to have their constitutional court, everyone wants to have their electoral commission to defraud.”
Fayulu threatened further protests if reforms were not quickly implemented, and offered an ominous warning. “If nothing is done on the road to reforms, in the coming weeks, we will all take up residence at the People’s Palace”, he said. “It will be our home. We are going to settle there. We are going to ask our brothers in the diaspora to contribute so that no one goes short of food during this sit-in.”
“I do not approve of what has just happened in Mali, but I say that at some point the people must take their responsibilities”, Fayulu added, referring to the ousting of Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta by the army.