A false narrative has been carefully crafted that Martin Fayulu should have won the presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) because he was the leading candidate in the opinion polls before the elections. And that Felix Tshisekedi is the surprise winner because he was not expected to win based on the same polls.
This narrative is outright dishonest. Let’s examine the facts. 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.
On December 29, just one day before the elections, an opinion poll appeared that catapulted Fayulu from eight per cent to 47 per cent. That is the only opinion poll that ever put him above eight per cent. It’s the "miracle" opinion poll!
Until December 29, Tshisekedi had consistently led in every opinion poll in 2018. In addition, he is the leader of the largest opposition party in the DRC, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), a party with vast political infrastructure across the country.
The sin of Tshisekedi, at least in the eyes of his political detractors, lies in his consistent and public refusal to boycott the 2018 elections. To Tshisekedi, the elections would mark the moment of liberation for Congo. On this, he and Fayulu stood on opposite sides. Fayulu campaigned vigorously that the elections must be boycotted if voting machines were used. He called them "the cheating machines". Tshisekedi and his party, the UDPS, transparently maintained that they would participate in the elections with or without the voting machines.
At a key opposition meeting in Geneva in November 2018, where opposition leaders gathered to choose a sole opposition candidate, Tshisekedi was the prohibitive favourite. Everyone expected him to emerge as the sole opposition leader. At that time, Fayulu was not known internationally or domestically outside Kinshasa, where he was a well-known political activist.
To everyone’s great surprise, Fayulu was selected in Geneva over Tshisekedi. When the news broke in the DRC, there were spontaneous riots across the country. Even though Tshisekedi had graciously accepted his colleagues’ surprise verdict in Geneva, his political base in Congo revolted and demanded that he withdraws from the Geneva Accord. Tshisekedi withdrew and on November 23 formed a political alliance in Nairobi, Kenya (the "Nairobi Accord") with Vital Kamerhe, the second most popular opposition presidential candidate. When the joint team returned to Kinshasa on December 15, to launch their campaign, they were welcomed by over a million people — a scene replayed across the country throughout the presidential campaign.
But in Geneva on November 10, the issue was the question of the voting machines. Had Tshisekedi agreed to boycott the elections if the voting machines were used, he would have emerged in Geneva as the sole opposition leader. But he refused on principle to make such a compromise, knowing full well that he would have to dishonour it or be forced to boycott the elections.
The Geneva Accord marked the rise of Fayulu as a major opposition figure. It also marked the rise of a very strange media narrative that has persisted: That Fayulu, and not Tshisekedi, was the popular opposition leader. Hence the recurring and the carefully orchestrated reference to the "surprised" victory. It’s difficult to determine where fiction ends and where reality begins.
The writer is special envoy of Felix Tshisekedi