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In boisterous Congo election, a longshot candidate plugs on

December 27, 2018
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In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, presidential candidate Noel Tshiani Muadimvita greets supporters at a campaign rally in Kinshasa, Congo. (AP Photo/Khaled Kazziha)

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — He wants to run Africa’s second-largest country, one of vast mineral wealth, sprawling poverty and vicious fighting that has cost millions of lives. Noel Tshiani Muadiamvita’s chances are slim to none but he’s convinced he’s perfect for the job.

Among 21 candidates vying to succeed President Joseph Kabila in Sunday’s election, Tshiani promotes himself as someone Congo has never had: a truly qualified head of state. Former colonizer Belgium departed without training Congolese to rule. Mobutu Sese Seko, who led for more than three decades, had been an army sergeant major. Laurent Kabila was plucked from exile to unseat him. Joseph Kabila, after his father was assassinated, took power at age 29.

Tshiani, wielding a resume featuring Harvard and the World Bank, speaks in terms of glory.

“Muadiamvita means ‘invincible warrior,’ which means that when you go into a presidential election, my competition is well advised to stay aside,” he said. “At the end of the day, no matter what they do, I will win.”

The odds say otherwise, but big talk is a staple of Congo’s boisterous run-up to the vote.

Kabila is stepping aside after ruling since 2001, and the election has been delayed since late 2016. Now tensions are rising again. The electoral commission on Wednesday delayed the vote in two key areas until months after the new president is inaugurated, meaning more than 1 million votes effectively don’t count.

Amid the noise, the 61-year-old Tshiani remains an unknown for many.

“I know his name, because he wants to become president. But I don’t know him,” said Olivier Bonte as he waited in Kinshasa to catch a bus. Others didn’t even recognize the name.

Tshiani describes himself as a technocrat, and pointedly not a politician. After completing his doctorate in economics in Paris, he went to Harvard for a postdoctoral degree in leadership and management. He worked for a number of commercial banks in New York and spent 28 years at the World Bank.

Now he wants to bring that experience home, and has published a book outlining his economic vision for Congo, “The Force of Change.”

“We must be ashamed of ourselves, and the politicians should be ashamed of themselves, because this is the result of the management style of the country,” Tshiani said, pointing to Congo’s widespread lack of basic services and infrastructure despite staggering mineral wealth. “I believe there is a case to be made for somebody who is not a politician, who is not part of the problem ... for somebody like me to become president of Congo.”

He said he is financing his campaign with his savings. Leading up to the election, he travelled around Kinshasa accompanied by dark-suited bodyguards and an armed police escort, looking the part of a big-time candidate.

But observers said they doubt his chances in a country where connections are everything.

“I know professor Noel Tshiani,” said A.L. Kitenge Lubanda, a political and economic analyst. “He is a brilliant person but he has no (political) machine. His political party is very weak and I don’t think he has any chance to win.”

Rarely smiling in public, Tshiani often seems taken aback by Congo’s vibrant political scene. He addresses a crowd like a professor intent on schooling the people on economic reforms.

He worked a crowd of about 300 people earlier this month, shaking hands as they danced and cheered him on: “Viva Tshiani, Viva!”

After they settled, Tshiani held up his book and explained his vision.

Congo has never had a peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. This election could be the first.

The opposition fears that the vote will be rigged in favor of the ruling party, and that Kabila’s preferred successor, Emanuel Ramazani Shadary, has the state machinery behind him. Kabila, meanwhile, has hinted he might run again in five years’ time.

Tshiani said no, it is time for a change.

“He has spent 17 years in power. He has amassed a lot of wealth. I think it is time for him to just retire and leave Congo in the hands of another leadership, so that we can use the natural resources — not to enrich ourselves, but to develop the country and create good conditions for the people of Congo.”

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