That means there could now be three major opposition campaigns in the Dec. 23 vote, splitting the anti-government ballot and bolstering ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary’s prospects of winning. Congo, the world’s main source of cobalt and Africa’s biggest copper producer, hasn’t had a peaceful or democratic transfer of power since it gained independence in 1960.
Moise Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba, who’ve both been barred from running, said they’ll maintain their support for Martin Fayulu. The two were among seven signatories of an accord Sunday that named Fayulu as the sole opposition candidate. Felix Tshisekedi, head of the biggest anti-government party, and Vital Kamerhe, who came third in a presidential vote in 2011, reneged on the deal the following day.
“I can never withdraw my signature,” Katumbi said in a phone interview Wednesday, as he urged Tshisekedi and Kamerhe to reverse their decisions. “We ask our friends in the national interest and for the love of our country to come back to their senses and join us again.”
Katumbi, a former ally of outgoing President Joseph Kabila and governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province, lives in exile and was prevented from returning home to register his candidacy. Bemba, acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court in June, was disqualified by Congo’s electoral commission because of a second witness-tampering conviction.
The day before Fayulu was nominated by majority vote, the seven leaders signed letters saying they “would put an end” to their political careers if they backtracked on the agreement, according to copies of the accord published by the Geneva-based Kofi Annan Foundation, which facilitated the three days of talks.
“Jean-Pierre Bemba signed this agreement and he supports this agreement 100 percent,” Fidele Babala, deputy secretary-general of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, Bemba’s political party, said by phone. “We will do all in our power and capacity to carry Fayulu towards a democratic changeover of power.”
Freddy Matungulu, a participant in the Swiss negotiations and registered presidential candidate, also said he’ll “continue standing by the Geneva agreement.”
Fayulu, 61, finished fourth with 8 percent in an opinion poll published last month by New York University’s Congo Research Group. Tshisekedi topped the survey with 36 percent, while Kamerhe and Shadary were second and third respectively with 17 percent and 16 percent.
An alliance with Katumbi and Bemba will be crucial to Fayulu’s chances of doing well in the election. They scored highest alongside Tshisekedi in an earlier poll published in July — before their exclusion from the election.
Companies including Glencore Plc, Randgold Resources Ltd. and China Molybdenum Co. operate in Congo. Under Kabila, the government has said it plans to declare cobalt, of which Congo accounts for two thirds of global output, a strategic metal so that it can impose a royalty of 10 percent on production. Other royalties have already been raised this year and new taxes introduced, while a 10-year contract-stability clause was cancelled.
Cobalt is a key ingredient in the rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles. Congo is also a source of coltan used in mobile phones as well as gold and oil.