Congolese businessman Katumbi launches his presidential campaign to challenge Tshisekedi

KISANGANI, Congo (AP) — Congolese businessman and opposition leader Moise Katumbi launched his presidential campaign on Monday, five years after the regime in power at the time blocked him from running.

Katumbi’s rally in the city of Kisangani came a day after his two main competitors, President Felix Tshisekedi and opposition figure Martin Fayulu, started their campaigns ahead of the Dec. 20 vote.

Katumbi criticized Tshisekedi’s record in the country’s volatile east, where the army has been battling M23 rebels and other armed groups. Katumbi accused the president of recruiting foreign mercenaries instead of increasing the salaries of military and police, without offering evidence.

“I’m telling you that we’re going to improve the conditions of our soldiers who have to defend our country, aren’t we? We’re going to add a bonus for our soldiers because we have a very strong republican army that has to finish the war,” he told the crowd.

Katumbi, the former governor of Katanga province, also rebuffed Tshisekedi’s insinuations Sunday that unspecified opposition candidates backed Rwanda. The neighboring country has been accused of funding and arming the M23 rebels, which its government denies.

Young people attending Katumbi’s rally said they were eager for change.

“They promised us security, but it hasn’t happened,” said Abdullah Simba. “They promised us jobs, but nothing has come. They promised to build roads, but nothing. They’ve done nothing good; that’s why we’re asking this government to pack its bags and leave.”

Representatives for Congolese opposition candidates including Katumbi met last week in South Africa, where they considered unifying behind a single challenger to Tshisekedi. Several candidates including former Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo have withdrawn and thrown their support behind Katumbi.

But the businessman still faces challenges from Fayulu and Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege, who plans to formally launch his campaign in the coming days. Kasai legislator Delly Sesanga is also running.

In 2018, Katumbi attempted to run for president but was thwarted by President Joseph Kabila’s government, which canceled his Congolese passport while he was out of the country.

Tshisekedi was declared the winner of the 2018 vote when Kabila relinquished power under international pressure after 18 years. Fayulu, who also ran, maintained that he had won and challenged the result but lost.

With the accession of Tshisekedi, Katumbi’s passport was returned to him and he came to Kinshasa from exile in London.

Katumbi’s critics this time question his eligibility for the presidency, alleging his father was not a Congolese citizen. However, a top court last month threw out a lawsuit seeking to block him from running.


Kamale reported from Kinshasa, Congo. Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.