Skip to main content Skip to footer
< Back to Resources

Who will win the presidential elections? A long, rough guess

Disclaimer: The figures below are rough estimates, and there has been no reliable polling. The inclinations of the Congolese population are very difficult to divine – this exercise is not so much a prognosis, but a guidelines to possible trends in voting across the provinces. 

I should also point out that abstention rates will probably vary (and will be incredibly important) – turnout is likely to be higher in the Kasais than in the Kivus, for example. That will affect the vote. I have slightly adjusted the final spread to reflect this, although I do not provide turnout estimates here.

Finally, these figures assume that there is no rigging at the polling stations or in the electoral commission.

Who will win the 2011 presidential election in the Congo? Uncertainty has shrouded the run-up to the vote – there have been no reliable polls, a lot of hyperbole by all of the candidates, and many analysts seem to think that Kabila will have a easy time of it now that he only has to win a plurality of votes.

The elections will be a more local affair this time, as some of the cleavages (anti-RCD vs. anti-Kabila; East vs. West) that determined the 2006 elections will no longer apply. While in many areas discontent with the regime (and general anti-Kabila sentiment) will sway popular opinion, elsewhere local politics will trump, as each parties tries to stitch together an alliance of influential local leaders, such as priests, singers, parliamentarians and civil society leaders. In many other places, people will want to vote for change, but will not be sure whether any of the opposition candidates can provide.

Here’s a look province-by-province how the vote might pan out:

Kinshasa (3,2 million voters):

Kinshasa is the hub of the opposition, a city bursting at the seams with disaffection with the government and a desire for change. In 2006, Kabila only got 14% here in the first round, but was still able to garner 32% in the second round. This is a bastion for Tshisekedi’s UDPS party, and many other opposition politicians have strong mobilization networks here, as well.

Nonetheless, the current president can count on the support of some members of the Pende community from Bandundu (see above) due to Antoine Gizenga’s support, and the ruling party has stitched together strong patronage networks in the town, whose beneficiaries will not want to see him go. Last but not least, some of the many infrastructure project the president promised are being realized, including a large hospital (Hopital du Cinquantenaire) and the reconstruction of the Boulevard 30 Juin and 20 Novembre. Also, the UDPS opposition has not been able to mobilize more than several thousand demonstrators, with several notable exceptions. This has led some to the fatalistic conclusion that Kabila will win no matter what.

Joseph Kabila: Kabila is very unpopular here, but, as everywhere in the world, political opinions depend first and foremost on your social circles, and Kabila has a lot of people on the payroll in the capital, which could matter. He will also, of course, benefit from cash handouts and the manipulation of the media, factors that are easier to control in a large city. Projection: 5%-20%.

Vital Kamerhe: He may attract some of the intellectuals and youths in town, people who dislike Kabila but are uneasy about Tshisekedi. He has been working very hard in the poor cités of Kinshasa, but there are few signs that he has gained much ground. Projection: 5%-10%.

Etienne Tshisekedi: This is his town – he has shown over the past year that he can mobilize tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of people here. In addition to his strong support among the youth, many opposition parties have endorsed him that have a good following in town (although this is not nearly as important as “Ya TshiTshi” himself). This include Martin Fayulu, Diomi Ndongala, Franck Diongo and Steve Mbikayi. However, the veteran opposition leader is reportedly tired and sick, which will limit his campiagning. Projection: 55%-80%.

Bas-Congo (1,5 million voters):

Bas-Congo was won overwhelmingly by Jean-Pierre Bemba in 2006 with 36% in the first round and 74% in the second. There have been some modest infrastructure projects in the province since then, including repairs on the Route Nationale #1 (Matadi-Kinshasa), other repairs to roads and bridges, as well as the construction of several schools and health centers. Will this, however, be enough to overcome the distrust toward the central government? The Ne-Kongo community is fiercely proud and has generally been dismissive of the current regime. The brutal suppression of the (often irredentist)  Bundu dia Kongo political-spiritual movement in 2002, 2007 and 2008 in Bas-Congo, which resulted in over a hundred death, is still vivid in the Kongolese memory. One will also often hear complaints about how Bas-Congo provides the most customs revenues, as well as the most electricity of all provinces, but receives precious little of public spending.

Joseph Kabila: Has the advantage of having built a network of patronage in the provinces that includes employees at port in Matadi, the airbase in Kitona and the Inga dam (to what extent these beneficiaries of largesse will vote for him is not clear). His allies in the provinces include Antoine Ghonda (itinerant ambassador), Luzolo Bambi (minister of justice), Yerodia Ndombasi (senator, former minister of foreign affairs), and Simon Mbatshi (current governor of Bas-Congo). Many of these people are unpopular, but can still pull some strings. In addition, Kabila has the support of the official head of the Kimbanguist church, which is very strong in the province. Projection: 10%-30% of the vote.

Vital Kamerhe: Has received the key endorsement of Ne Muanda Nsemi, the head of the Bundu dia Kongo/Bundu dia Mayala movement. He visited Bas-Congo recently and, speaking partly in Kikongo, was warmly received by much of the population. Projection: 20%-40%.

Etienne Tshisekedi: The UDPS has had strong local chapters in Bas-Congo since Mobutu’s days, and Tshisekedi is likely to get some default votes from those who don’t trust Kabila and see Kamerhe as too close to the current president. In addition, Tshisekedi has the endorsement of Jean Claude Vuemba (head of the MPCR party), Diomi Ndongala (Démocratie chrétienne) and Marie-Therese Nlandu (who won 25% in Luozi territory in the 2006 presidential campaign). However, at the current pace, it is not clear whether he will be able to visit the province. Projection: 40%-65%

Léon Kengo wa Dondo: Has a relatively strong local party structure, as well as the support of Gilbert Kiakwama, a popular MP from Mbanza-Ngungu territory. Projection: 5%-10%

Bandundu (3,5 million voters):

Bandundu is a peculiar province, where one man and his party have enormous influence: Antoine Gizenga and the PALU party. According to sources from Bandundu, Gizenga, who was an ally of Patrice Lumumba and a key figure in the rebellion after is murder in 1961, will be able to transfer a substantial number of votes from his Pende community to Kabila. The Pende are the majority in the center and south of the province, including in the largest town of Kikwit.

In 2006, Gizenga won 80% of the votes in Bandundu in the first round. With his support, Kabila increased his share from 3% in the first round to 40% in the second round.

Joseph Kabila: The Route Nationale N1 is being repaired (financed by the African Development Bank and the World Bank), which for Bandundu has meant a drastic improvement in the 525km road connecting its largest city Kikwit with Kinshasa. In addition, the Loange bridge has been repaired, making travel between Kikwit and the Kasaian town of Tshikapa possible again. This has lowered food prices and made travel much easier. In addition, a hydroelectric dam is being built at Kakobola, which should help bring electricity to many in the province.

Besides Gizenga, Kabila can also count on leaders from other communities, such as Kin-Key Mulumba from Masimanimba, Mboso Nkodia from Kenge, and Olivier Kamitatu from Bulungu. Also, he recently named a new head of his Majorité présidentielle coalition, Aubin Minaku, who is from Idiofa. Projection: 25%-40%.

Vital Kamerhe: Kamerhe spent over two years in Bandundu province growing up (1975-1977), and he speaks fluent Lingala and Kikongo, which many in the province understand. His recent visit to Kikwit was marred by violence as his followers clashed with Kabila supporters, but he also received messages of support from local chiefs of the Yaka community. He is likely to pick up the votes of those who are dissatisfied with Kabila but do not like Tshisekedi (see below). Projection: 10%-20%.

Etienne Tshisekedi: There is a longstanding rivalry between Tshisekedi and Gizenga, which will have a negative impact on UDPS leaders’ chances among the older generation of the Pende community. Tshisekedi was a minister in several governments – including that of Mobutu – that opposed the rebellion led by Gizenga. In addition, much of the local trade is being run by Luba traders from Kasai, which has rankled those native to the province. This could count against Tshisekedi.

While Tshisekedi has also lost the support of some of the UDPS stalwarts from the province (Mboso Nkodia, Jacques Matanda), he has the endorsement of politicians like Thérèse Pakasa. He is likely to pick of the votes of those who dislike Kabila and think that Kamerhe is too close to the current president. Projection: 30%-40%.

Equateur (3,9 million votes):

This province will be interesting to watch. It voted overwhelmingly for Jean-Pierre Bemba in 2006 – 97% of the population here voted for him in the second round. But the leader of the MLC is locked up in The Hague – will his votes transfer easily to Tshisekedi, the long-standing rival of Mobutu Sese Seko, who still has many fans here? Or has Kabila been able to infiltrate the province through a network of alliances with local leaders?

Joseph Kabila: There has been little infrastructure development here over the past five years, many boat accidents and fighting in Dongo that displaced many tens of thousands. So Kabila will have a hard time standing on his record. He can, however, count on some votes due to his alliances – José Endundo, his environment minister, will get some votes in Mbandaka; other allies include Henri Lokondo and Mokolo wa Mpombo. Other former Mobutists may also provide support – on a recent trip to the province, Kabila’s wife Olive stayed in houses provided by Seti Yale (former national security advisor) at every stop. Projection: 5%-25%.

Vital Kamerhe: To my knowledge, this is one part of the country where Vital has not spent much time, nor does he have many allies from here. The big exception is the secretary-general of Kamerhe’s UNC party, Jean-Bertrand Ewanga, who is also the former governor of Equateur. Projection: 5%-15%.

Etienne Tshisekedi: For me, his popularity in Equateur is a question mark, given the nostalgia in some circles for Mobutu’s days. Nonetheless, many will see him as the most reliable opposition candidate. His chief of staff Albert Moleka also has support here, as do his allies Ingele Ifoto and Lisanga Bonganga. Projection: 20-40%.

Others: This is a province where we can expect other presidential candidates to do well. Léon Kengo wa Dondo, Mobutu’s former prime minister, may pick up a fair share of votes here (he has the endorsement of former governor José Makila), as will Nzanga Mobutu, the former Maréchal’s son. I expect these dark horse candidates to win 20%-40% here. There are, however, rumors that Kengo could back Tshisekedi at the last minute, and Jean-Pierre Bemba might still throw his considerable weight behind someone.

Kasai-Occidental (2,6 million votes):

The Kasais are, of course, known as Tshisekedi’s heartland. This is true to a large extent, and he will do well among the Luba (his father’s community) and Lulua (his mother’s community) populations. The Kasais, however, contain other communities that often have strained relations with the Luba due to historical differences and political favoritism. These communities have been arduously courted by Kabila – in Kasai-Occidental, they include the Tshokwe, Pende, and Kuba.

In 2006, Kabila ended up winning 23% of the vote here in the second round. We need to wary of these numbers, however, as voter turnout in 2006 was extremely low here (45% as compared with over 80% in most of the East) due to the UDPS boycott.

Joseph Kabila: The population has benefited from some modest infrastructure projects that have helped link parts of the province to Bandundu and Kinshasa. Kabila will use local allies to garner support, as well, in particular the speaker of the national assembly Evariste Boshab (from Mweka), minister of energy Gilbert Tshiongo (Dimbelenge) and head of migration service Francois Beya. Projection: 10%-25%.

Vital Kamerhe: Kamerhe spent some time in the Kasai provinces growing up, and speaks some Tshiluba, but many Luba still remember an unfortunate speech he gave when he was minister of information for Joseph Kabila – when asked why there were so few Luba in government, he reportedly answered: “The Luba – what importance do they have? (‘Les Luba c’est quoi?’)” I have not sourced this, but several Luba I have spoken with remember this. Nonetheless, Kamerhe has the support of the former governor of Kasai Occidental, Claudel Lubaya. Projection: 5%-15%.

Etienne Tshisekedi: Tshisekedi was born in Kananga, the capital of the province, and his mother his from the Lulua sub-tribe of the Luba that populates a large part of the province. In addition, he has the support of Delly Sesanga, a popular MP from Luiza. Projection: 65%-85%.

Kasai-Oriental (2,6 million votes):

Much of the same factors apply here as they do for Kasai-Occidental. Tshisekedi will be extremely popular among the Luba, but will probably fail to get the majority of votes in some other communities, including the Songye and Tetela groups in the north of the province. Kabila won 32% of the vote here in 2006, including over 80% in the territories of Lomela, Lodja and Katako-Kombe. However, the same caveat about turnout applies here: only 40% of registered voters showed up to vote here in 2006. This time, many enthusiastic first-time voters will turn out to vote, largely for Tshisekedi.

Joseph Kabila: Discontent against Kabila has been exacerbated by the decline of the state diamond company MIBA, which is based in the capital Mbuji-Mayi. There has also been a lack of infrastructure projects here, as well conflicts of land and local power. Kabila will try to gain the favor of the minoriy Tetela and Songye communities through his many prominent allies from the province: minister of information Lambert Mende (Lodja) , former minister of foreign affairs She Okitundu, popular MP Christophe Lutundula (Katako-Kombe), former head of MIBA Jonas Mukamba, minister of interior Adolphe Lumano (Kabinda), and minister of regional cooperation Raymond Tshibanda (Lomela). Projection: 10%-30%.

Vital Kamerhe: Again, he does not have many prominent allies here he can count on. Projection: 5%-10%.

Etienne Tshisekedi: His family is from Kabeya-Kamwanga, in the heart of the province, and he has a deeply loyal following here. His reputation is nothing less than that of a messiah among certain parts of the Luba community. He can also count on support from allies such as Roger Lumbala and Christian Badibangi. Projection: 65-85%.

Others: Several other presidential candidates are from the Kasais, including Oscar Kashala, who will will several percent at least here.

Province Orientale (3,8 million votes):

This province is difficult to predict, as it stretches from lowland rainforest to the highlands of Ituri and the savannahs of Haut-Uele. Kabila won big in 2006, with 70% in the first round and 79% in the second. The province is to a majority Swahili-phone, and almost half of the province’s votes lie in the Ituri district. The sparsely-populated north has been the victim of LRA attacks over the past years, which will probably count against President Kabila. The electorate in the West of the province has a lot on common with Equateur (including the Lingala language), and voted for Bemba and Nzanga Mobutu in 2006.

There have been a few infrastructure projects that Kabila has taken credit for – repairs to the dirt road between Kisangani and Banalia, the urban road network in Kisangani, and the road from Beni to Kisangani. In addition, the security situation in Ituri, while still tenuous, is much better than during the war.

Joseph Kabila: He can count on the strong presence of his political party, as well as allies such as Monsignor Marini Bodho (Head of the Church of Christ in the Congo, from Ituri); John Tibasima (former head of Okimo mine, former RCD-K-ML rebel, Ituri); and Governor Médard Autsai. However, few of these people are actually very popular. Discontent with the pace of reform has been contagious, and this is one of the harder provinces to call – it has not suffered as much from conflict as the Kivus, but it has also not benefited much from development, and people want change. It may be more of a question of the strength of his candidates than the incumbent’s prowess. Projection: 35%-60%.

Vital Kamerhe: Kamerhe has apparently been able to gain the endorsement of Thomas Lubanga’s UPC party (why Lubanga himself is in prison in The Hague), although Tshisekedi contests this. Kamerhe is also seen as an easterner, which might help, but otherwise he is not well rooted in the province. Projection: 15%-30%.

Etienne Tshisekedi: The UDPS used to have a strong mobilization potential in Kisangani, but it is not clear to what extent they have maintained this over the years. They have not, in any case, been able to mobilize large numbers of people in the streets over the past months like in Lubumbashi, Mbuji-Mayi and Kinshasa. He can count on the help of people like Matthieu Badjoko, the Dynamique Tshisekedi Président (DTP) campaign manager for Kisangani, and perhaps on Thomas Lubanga’s UPC. Projection: 20%-40%.

Katanga (4,6 million votes):

This is Joseph Kabila’s home province, and he won 93% of the votes here in the second round of 2006 elections. However, the province is far from homogenous – Kabila will stand to do well in the north, where he is from (or where his father is from, to be more precise, he has rarely been there). He will have a much harder time in the south, where tensions have been rising between the large immigrant Luba-Kasai population, which sympathizes with Tshisekedi and deeply distrusts firebrand Kabila loyalists like Kyungu wa Kumwanza. In addition, there are parts of the larger Lunda population along the border with Angola that feels marginalized – it is out of the population that a fringe has been advocating secession and rebellion.

Joseph Kabila: I can’t name the many dozen stalwarts of the regime from the province. But Governor Moise Katumbi, perhaps the most popular politician in the province, has fully backed Kabila, as has Katumbi’s bitter rival Jean-Claude Muyambo, who leads the Bemba community organization (he’s a southerner). Defense minister Charles Mwando Simba and éminence grise of the regime Katumba Mwanke are also from the east of the province (Pweto and Moba) and will be influential in their constituencies. Projection: 55%-80%.

Vital Kamerhe: Unless I am mistaken, I don’t think that Kamerhe stands much of a chance in the province outside of urban intellectuals looking for the third option (and those may also choose Kashala). Projection: 5%-15%.

Etienne Tshisekedi: There is a large Luba population in Lubumbashi, Kolwezi and Likasi. A full 25% of Lubumbashi votes for Jean-Pierre Bemba in 2006, for example. Projection: 10%-25%.

Maniema (0,9 million votes):

This sparsely populated province voted solidly for Kabila in 2006 and is likely to do so again this time around. Kabila’s mother is from the province, and other parties – especially Vital Kamerhe’s UNC – have had a hard time campaigning. Parts of the province have been hit by conflict, especially along the border with South Kivu in the southeast, but not as badly as the other Kivu provinces. Infrastructure projects have largely not materialized, other than a few bridges that have been built

Joseph Kabila: Should win big here, with the help of his mother and others from Maniema, including Alexis Thamwbe Mwamba (foreign minister), Kikaya bin Karubi (ambassador to United Kingdom) and General Gabriel Amisi, commander of land forces. The latter figure has been particularly influential, financing a popular soccer team in Kindu and getting involved in various businesses. Projection: 60%-80%.

Vital Kamerhe: Kamerhe is an easterner and aims at capitalizing on the lack of development in the province. He has a relatively active local party structure, but his activists have been frustrated by the security services. Projection: 15%-30%.

Etienne Tshisekedi: Tshisekedi does not have much presence here and is likely to win many votes. Projection: 5%-10%.

South Kivu (2 million votes):

This province has turned against Joseph Kabila since 2006, but the president still retains many powerful allies here. However, having won the last election on his reputation as a peacemaker and bulwark against Rwanda, the province has seen five years of continuous conflict and, more recently, a rise in prominence of Kinyarwandan-speakers in the army. The province has also not seen much in terms of infrastructure development, although the have finally finished a nice road from the airport to Bukavu, while the good dirt road (N4) from Bukavu to Kitutu is apparently still fairly good.

In any case, he will certainly not get the 98% of votes he got last time, but he does stand to hold his ground in some areas in the interior. 

Joseph Kabila: This is probably the province where his effort to gain local allies has been most explicit – he has retained the support of the powerful customary chiefs of Ngweshe, Kalehe, Kabare, Luhwindja, Idjwi South/North, as well as some of the less powerful local chiefs from the lowlands areas of Shabunda, Uvira and Fizi. In a place like Luhwindja, where the Banro gold mining company has been employing people and improving infrastructure, he is likely to win a lot of votes, whereas cities like Bukavu and Uvira will be more difficult to win over. Soldiers in the army – of which there are many thousand deployed here – have also reportedly been campaigning for him. Projection: 30%-50%.

Vital Kamerhe: This is his home turf, but that may not be in his favor throughout the province. He stands to do well in his native Bukavu and Walungu, where his Shi community predominates. Tensions between the Rega and Shi population, however, will dent his success in Mwenga territory, where Kabila loyalists like Ambroise Bulambo are popular. Projection: 40%-60%.

Etienne Tshisekedi: The veteran opposition leader made an opportunistic alliance with Rwandan-backed RCD rebels during the peace deal negotiations. Many still remember that in the province and dislike him for this reason. South Kivu has never been very favorable to the UDPS, but Tshisekedi has been using people like Elias Mulungula (Mwenga) and Valentin Mubake (Bukavu/Shabunda) to campaign for him. There are also rumors that the locally popular Yakutumba rebels in Fizi territory are backing the UDPS. Projection: 5%-10%.

North Kivu (3 million votes):

This province has many internal divisions, which will be reflected in the vote. Based the north of the territory, the Nande community make up almost half of the population here, and they are a very homogenous block. This time, however, their leaders are split, with Venant Tshipasa and Apollinaire Malu Malu backing Kabila and Mbusa Nyamwisi running for Tshisekedi (and himself?). But popularity for Kabila has faded in this part of the territory, as security has deteriorated in the towns of Beni and Butembo and the economy has suffered, as well.

In the south of the province, the CNDP political party and soldiers have been overtly campaigning for Kabila, especially in Masisi territory. Kabila is therefore likely to win votes in the Tutsi community (although perhaps not in urban areas), as well as in the Hutu community, where customary chiefs have backed him, as well. Other, less numerous communities like the Hunde, Nyanga and Tembo are less likely to vote for him.

2006 results: 78% first round, 96% second round for Kabila.

Joseph Kabila: In addition to the above, he has received the backing of Jean-Luc Mutokambali, Sekimonyo wa Magango, Eugene Serufuli, Mwene Songa and Mwami Ndeze (Hutu community); the Rwakabuba family, CNDP and Edouard Mwangachuchu (Tutsi community); the implicit support of Abbé Malu Malu and Archbishop Sikuli (Nande community). Like in South Kivu, soldiers in the national army have been campaigning for Kabila’s re-election, as well. Projection: 30%-56%.

Vital Kamerhe: He is also an easterner, and during his trips to Goma he has been greeted by large crowds. The capital of the province has a large Shi population (up to a quarter of the town), which helps Kamerhe here. He does not have big-name allies in the province, however. Projection: 30%-40%.

Etienne Tshisekedi: He has made some inroads into the Nande with Mbusa Nyamwisi’s support, but is otherwise not very well known here. Projection: 10%-25%.

If you take these projections and weight them by the population of the provinces, you can conclude that it will be a close race between Kabila and Tshisekedi. Turnout will be crucial, as will the extent to which disaffection with the current government will translate into votes for opposition candidates. A last-minute endorsement by Bemba and coalitions among opposition candidates could also sway the vote.

Share this