It was a huge surprise. Instead of President Joseph Kabila's chosen candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, it was Felix Tshisekedi who was declared the winner of the presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during the early hours of Thursday. Immediately there were joyful reactions and talk of the first peaceful change of power in the country's history. That would have been so nice!
Unfortunately a big question mark still surrounds such optimistic talk. Like the sword of Damocles, the threat of violence still hangs over the Congolese people. It is not just the other major opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, who is casting doubt on the results. The country's mighty Catholic Bishops Conference (CENCO) announced on Thursday that reports from its own 40,000 electoral observers did not match the official results of the electoral commission. The Catholic Church has great influence in the Congo. This makes it all the more important that the bishops also called for restraint and emphasized that only constitutional means should be used to protest the election results.
After three election deferrals, Congo remains chaotic and one can feel sorry for its people. Whom should they trust? Most have been suspicious of Kabila for a long time and were happy to get rid of him. But Felix Tshisekedi does not enjoy the same level of trust as his father, Etienne. Martin Fayulu was seen as the best alternative for voters, even though he is supported by former militia leader Jean-Pierre Bemba and the former governor of the resource-rich Katanga province, Moise Katumbi. In the past, both men showed few scruples in asserting their own interests. Their support for Fayulu is not altruistic, that much is clear.
It is this same Martin Fayulu who, in the eyes of the Catholic bishops, was robbed of victory. This is rumored to be the result of a deal between Kabila and Tshisekedi. Such claims have been doing the rounds ever since the opposition agreed on a joint candidate, but then Tshisekedi and his ally, political veteran Vital Kamerhe, pulled out of the agreement and announced that Tshisekedi would run alone.
It is quite possible that there was such a deal. Kabila must have realized that his candidate, Shadary, had no chance of being accepted, either by the electorate or internationally. The European Union imposed sanctions on him following the violent ending of protests and the population regarded him as an extension of the hated regime.
Kabila needed a plan B if he was to maintain influence in DRC and also use his last chance to go down in history as an African president who voluntarily relinquished power. That plan may well have involved Tshisekedi, the son who wanted to pay a final tribute to his father, who had tried in vain to become president. The son who wants to see his father finally laid to rest in Kinshasa after lying for two years in a morgue in Belgium because of delaying tactics by the Kabila regime.
Further indications of a deal between Kabila and Tshisekedi are the surprisingly swift acceptance of defeat by Shadary and the ruling party. There are also Tshisekedi's compliments for Kabila as a partner in the process of democratic change, although Kabila had so often humiliated his father, before and after his death. And last but not least, as one ally of Tshisekedi told DW: "We had no weapons with which to chase Kabila away. We had to talk with him."
Longing for peace
It is no wonder that, with so much chaos and lack of transparency, voter turnout was only around 40 percent. The Congolese are fed up with politics. We can only wish that the battle over who won will not claim more lives and that peace will return at last to a country in which militias have roamed unpunished for decades.
This seems to be what is paramount for most Congolese. If the new president brings peace, then they will accept him, even if they did not vote for him. They hope that their lives will finally become simpler, without war, violence or fear. And without Kabila.
For outsiders, it is hard to accept that this hope could become reality as the result of a deal and vote rigging.