The staging is rehearsed before each of its meetings. But in this city on the edge of war, the procession had, more than elsewhere, symbolic value. Opponent Moise Katumbi was, on Thursday, November 23, the first to campaign in Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the object of all attention and all fear, as the presidential election on December 20.

For an hour, the former governor of Katanga, the rich southern mining province, and “number 3” candidate on the electoral lists, walked the road from Goma airport to the Afya stadium in the city center from the capital of North Kivu. The immensity of the DRC forces candidates to campaign in private jets, so a walkabout allows them to harangue the public and show a little proximity to voters.

“Show them VAR! »

To play on the popular fiber, the multimillionaire businessman has a trump card: the Tout Puissant Mazembe, the famous Lubumbashi football club, five times African champion, of which he is the boss and which allows him to take the football metaphor onto the political field.

“When I say VAR (video assistance to refereeing), you answer video,” he asks his supporters. This is not a question of arbitration errors but of pointing out the record of outgoing President Félix Thisekedi, candidate for a second term, and his government. “When they come, show them the VAR to show them their failure,” he says, surrounded by former Prime Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon and MP Franck Diongo, as well as entrepreneur Seth Kikuni, 3 candidates who ran for office. rallied to his cause. In Goma, as throughout North Kivu, the reasons for expressing discontent are legion.

“I came to listen to what he has to say, it will give me an idea of ​​who I will vote for,” explains Djibril Songo, a Gomatracien. Until the arrival of Moïse Katumbi, the countryside was rather timid in the city. Only the poster pasters had plastered roundabouts, billboards or public buildings with the effigy of their champion. A handful of candidates for national and provincial deputy had also held meetings like Muhindo Nzangi, the current minister of higher and university education, on the opening day of the campaign on November 19.

Breakthrough of the M23 rebels

This gloom in Goma was all the more surprising as this strategic city in the far east of the country occupies a central place in the speeches of the 23 candidates still in the running. Second electoral basin behind the capital, Kinshasa, North Kivu has been destabilized for almost thirty years by the presence of local or foreign armed groups. There are currently around a hundred active in the region.

Since the beginning of October, the March 23 Movement (M23) rebellion has once again threatened Goma. On Wednesday, November 22, the locality of Mweso, in the territory of Masisi, passed into the hands of the insurgents, further isolating the capital of North Kivu. The two axes which connect the city to the north of the province are now controlled by the rebels.

Until now, neither the purchase of new military equipment including combat drones, nor the sending of new recruits to the front nor the opportunistic alliance with militias federated under the name Wazalendo (or patriots), allowed the Congolese army to reverse the trend.

A special fund for the East

“Some have accused me of not condemning the aggression of the M23 and Rwanda. But who did it first? It’s me. I also condemned the interference of Uganda and Burundi”, swears Moise Katumbi during his meeting, while some of his detractors also accuse him of not being a “true Congolese”, due to his origin Greek of his father. MP Noël Tshiani has been campaigning since July 2021 for the adoption of a law on “Congolity”, aimed at prohibiting access to the supreme office to all those who were not born to a Congolese father and mother.

This finds a deadly echo in the east of the DRC where xenophobic speeches have multiplied since the return of the M23, accused of being an instrument of Rwanda to destabilize its big neighbor. In Goma, the leader of the “Together for Change” coalition simply promised an end to the conflict and an improvement in the daily lives of residents. “From the first month of my mandate, I will create a special fund for North Kivu and Ituri of 5 billion US dollars,” assures the opponent. “What I want above all is the return of peace. Since I was born, it’s been war here,” one of his supporters simply implores.