Violent clashes broke out on Tuesday in Lubumbashi, in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo, during a campaign visit by Martin Fayulu, the opposition candidate in the presidential election scheduled for December 23. Two people in the crowd were killed, according to a human rights NGO.

Less than two weeks ahead of the poll, violence has marked the presidential election campaign in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fayulu, backed by the opposition coalition Lamuka, visited Lubumbashi, in the south of the country, for a campaign rally. But before he even arrived, police tried to prevent activists from gathering at the airport, and then forced the candidate’s motorcade to change itinerary.

At Lubumbashi’s Cité des jeunes, a vocational training centre where the rally was to take place, police fired shots to disperse hundreds of people who had come to see the opposition candidate. A provisional death toll given by the Congolese Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ), a human rights NGO, said the shots killed two of Fayulu’s supporters.


The Congolese police said that 11 police officers and two civilians were injured.

“They wanted to prevent a large group from forming”

Michel Koyakpa, a member of the delegation accompanying the candidate to Lubumbashi, filmed several videos broadcast live on Facebook from the candidate’s car, on the way from the airport to the city. They show the use of water cannons and tear gas by security forces on the motorcade and the surrounding crowd.

 

Leaving the airport, we were met with a large police presence including vans and water cannons. When we got past them and arrived in the city centre, police started using tear gas on the crowd, as well as water cannons. They wanted to disperse the young people [Editor’s note, who were following the motorcade on foot, or in communal taxis] to prevent a large group from forming. People then started to disperse in all directions.

 

“Having been hit by water cannon, the candidate had to hide inside his vehicle”

Fidèle Bwirhonde, journalist, blogger and member of the network of Congolese bloggers Habari RDC, was present in the motorcade in another car.
 

I waited all morning at the airport for the candidate to arrive, which he did at 12:50 pm. The rally was due to take place at the Tout Puissant Mazembe stadium but there was a last-minute change. So it was eventually announced for a pitch in the Cité des jeunes, a vocational training centre for disadvantaged youth situated in the south of the city.

I also saw police fire tear gas and use water cannons on the crowd. I too got hit by the water, and the dye stained my shirt.

 
Blue colouring in the water cannons
 
Screen grab of a video posted on Michel Koyakpa’s Facebook page.


Spraying protesters with coloured water allows police to identify them once the crowd has dispersed and also deters demonstrators who might not want to get their skin or clothes stained. This method has been used across the world, says Foreign Policy. Blue dye has been used in Egypt and Argentina; pink dye has been used in Uganda, and green dye has been used by the Israeli army against Palestinians.  

According to a protester interviewed by France 24 Observers, the dyed water used in Lubumbashi left lasting stains on his car and his clothes, but not his skin. “When the water hits you, it tickles, it itches and it stings, but I didn’t get any rashes,” he said.

Contacted by telephone, the Congolese national police spokesman did not wish to say why this dye was added to the water.

 

The candidate was standing up in the open-top car, and was waving to the crowd. With the tear gas, he had to constantly hold a handkerchief in front of his nose and mouth. At one point, he was hit by water and was forced to take refuge inside the vehicle.

When the motorcade headed for the Cité des jeunes, it was met with a police barricade. It tried to make a detour but once again came face-to-face with the security forces. At that point, the delegation decided to cancel everything and to take cover in the home of Gabriel Kyungu, the Lamuka coalition’s coordinator for the region.


 
Deaths in the Cité des jeunes 
 

Our Observers said that later, at the Cité des jeunes, where the candidate’s supporters had gathered, police erected a barrier to prevent the public from attending the rally. According to our Observers, the police also dismantled the podium, the sound equipment and then fired live rounds into the crowd.

“The police opened fire on protesters”

Jean K. (not his real name), who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, was present at the clashes between activists and police.

 
At about 4 pm, the police dispersed the crowd several times using tear gas. Then they fired in the air with guns, and finally opened fire on protesters. When those supporters were shot, the crowd rose up and burned a police vehicle. The police then took flight and the protesters set fire to an office belonging to the insurance company SONAS.

 These incidents were confirmed by a journalist working for the website Actualite.cd, who added that two schools and another office building were also burned.

Screen grab of a video posted on Twitter showing a wounded protester.

“A demonstrator took two bullets to the chest. He didn’t survive.”

Martin B. (not his real name), a journalist who also wished to remain anonymous, said he saw police shoot at protesters from up close.

 
At about 4 pm, I saw police fire on protesters. I helped evacuate one of them to the Bakandja health centre nearby. He had two bullet wounds in the chest. He didn’t survive. The second victim died right away. As far as I can recall, the police fired less than ten times. I also remember hearing the sound of automatic gunfire, but that may have been when they fired in the air to disperse protesters.


Lambert Mende, Minister for Communications and government spokesman, did not respond to questions.

The campaign for the DR Congo presidency has been marked by an atmosphere of defiance, as the country prepares to elect a successor to Joseph Kabila, whose second and final term ended almost two years ago. Martin Fayulu, backed by the Lamuka opposition coalition – among whose members are the former governor of Katanga Moïse Katumbu and the former rebel chief Jean-Pierre Bemba – has denounced the election conditions and questioned the impartiality of the institutions tasked with organising the elections.

Violence has dogged the opposition candidate’s campaign. On Sunday, there was a clash between Fayulu's supporters and those of Kabila's hand-picked successor, Ramazani Shadary, in Kindu in the east of the country. On Tuesday morning, during a rally in Kalemie, police once again tried to disperse the crowd.

 

Article written by Liselotte Mas (@liselottemas) and Pierre Hamdi (@PierreHamdi).