On a sweltering Sunday afternoon in Goma, one of the largest and most troubled cities in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chantal Faida emerged beaming from the tin-roofed office of the National Elections Commission. It was May 2015, and she had just registered as a candidate in Congo’s upcoming provincial elections (originally scheduled for October 2015 but later postponed) to contest the seat of Goma, the capital of North Kivu.
“Today we write the first chapter of a new beginning in our province’s history,” Faida said, standing in front of a pool of reporters. “It would be my great honor to represent you, to be your voice for hope.” Cameras flashed and reporters jostled for a sound bite, pushing their microphones impossibly close to her mouth as she spoke. Faida is a polished public speaker, somehow making her announcement sound like a victory speech even though her campaign had only just begun.
Beside her, Faida’s supporters stood waving the azure flag of her party, the Alliance for Development and the Republic, an opposition movement that formed in 2011 several months before the last elections. Each supporter carried a glossy calendar printed with the campaign slogan, “Chantal Faida: The Voice of Hope,” distributing copies to a growing gaggle of onlookers.
Faida is an unusual aspiring Congolese politician. She is not part of the wealthy, powerful elite, as many candidates for political office tend to be. “I came here today on the back of a moto, and I’ll go back home on one, too,” she said, emphasizing her working-class roots.
At just 27, Faida has lived through natural disasters and wars. She survived the First and Second Congo Wars, which began in the late 1990s and stretched into the early 2000s. In 2002, when she was only 13, Mt. Nyiragongo erupted and sent lava flowing into Goma, where it destroyed more than 15 percent of the city. Still, Faida graduated from high school with top grades and went on to study economics at one