Elections in the DRC: in Goma, Félix Tshisekedi promises that “not much is missing to defeat” the M23 rebels

Security requires, the suspense surrounding his arrival was maintained until the last minutes preceding his arrival

Elections in the DRC: in Goma, Félix Tshisekedi promises that “not much is missing to defeat” the M23 rebels

Security requires, the suspense surrounding his arrival was maintained until the last minutes preceding his arrival. It was finally Sunday, December 10, at nightfall, that Félix Tshisekedi, accompanied by his wife and escorted by a squad of Republican Guards and police officers, broke through the crowd gathered at the Afia stadium in Goma to deliver his speech as a candidate for his re-election on December 20 as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The sports arena, where some waited for hours in the storm, had been decorated with flags. The supporters wore caps and white t-shirts. No other candidate has so far deployed such means to campaign in the capital of the North Kivu province. Several days before the arrival of the Head of State in the east of the country, cyclists had already started to tow giant posters on wheels into the city and young people distributed leaflets bearing the image of "Fatshi Béton", a nickname given to the head of state by his supporters in reference to the roads built since he came to power in 2019.

Solidity is also the character that Félix Tshisekedi tries to assert against the March 23 Movement (M23), whose fighters virtually surround the city. “Goma is the symbol of resilience and resistance in the face of foreign invasion. The city will not fall and it is important that the president goes through it,” the Congolese presidency said, while Rwanda's support for the rebel group was confirmed by expert reports from the UN Security Council. United Nations.

“End barbaric terrorism”

The Goma stage comes at a crucial moment. Since taking up arms again at the end of 2021, the M23 insurgents have administered part of North Kivu. In certain localities, located in the territory of Rutshuru, Masisi and Nyiragongo, general elections – presidential, legislative, provincial and part of the municipal – will not be able to be held. These areas are controlled by rebels and residents have not been able to receive their voter cards. Despite this exclusion, the province remains second in number of potential voters with just over 3 million people called to the polls.

For now, the vox populi expresses itself differently: “Paul Kagame, kufa kufa! [die, die],” the crowd chanted in Swahili a few minutes into the presidential speech. Described for a time as “brother” by Félix Tshisekedi, the Rwandan president has become enemy number one. “The M23 was brought in by its leader Paul Kagame. We will put an end to the barbaric terrorism which has bereaved our people for decades,” the Congolese head of state now promises to the assembly. Two days earlier in Bukavu, the capital of the South Kivu province, he did not hesitate to compare his Rwandan counterpart to Adolf Hitler.

An about-face, considering his last visit to Goma in June 2021, around six months before the return of the M23 and ten years after their defeat during the previous insurrection in 2012. The two presidents then appeared side by side in a press conference and had signed three commercial agreements. “We have wasted so many years of living, looking at each other like china dogs, living in tension and in a war situation, but also sharing hatred, now enough is enough! », declared Mr. Tshisekedi. Two years later, the construction of a new relationship between Kinshasa and Kigali has stalled.

“Get more involved”

“There is not much missing to definitively defeat this adversary,” assures the Congolese president. However, violent fighting continues between M23 rebels and pro-government troops, particularly in recent days at Mushaki in Masisi territory, causing a new humanitarian disaster.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 570,000 people have been forced to flee their homes over the past two months and have joined the already overcrowded displacement camps on the outskirts of Goma. Since the beginning of October, the M23 has been gaining ground and is now advancing on positions left free by soldiers from the Community of East African States (EAC), despite the alliance of the Congolese army with local armed groups. grouped under the name “Wazalendo”.

Fighters – sometimes accused of rape or war crimes, notably by the UN – who will be hired as “army reservists”, promises Félix Tshisekedi during the rally: “I need young people, men and women , courageous, loving their country to fill the ranks of our army. » If 40,000 have already responded to the call, the presidential candidate believes that his fellow citizens must “be more involved”. Patient Bahati, a resident of Goma, insists that peace “is our number one wish. Then, we would like collaboration, particularly economic, with our neighbor, because the Rwandan population is not behind the actions of its president.”