The Congo: Kabila And Tshisekedi, A Coalition In Peril
The deal between former President Joseph Kabila and his coalition, Front commun pour le Congo (FCC) and current President Felix Tshisekedi and his Coalition, Cap pour le changement (CACH), has come to a predictable head. The country is in gridlock due to the internecine battles of the two coalition partners. The political blocks of the two prominent figures on Congo’s political scene have repeatedly bumped heads. Since the formation of their coalition, they have been at logger jam, a product of the fraud-riddled 2018 elections.
Many analysts and observers of Congolese politics maintain that the results of Congo’s 2018 elections were fixed and arranged by then-president Joseph Kabila so that the most pliable opposition figure, Felix Tshisekedi, could assume the presidency. The French newspaper Le Monde put it best when it states that Tshisekedi became president through a secret accord with Kabila and a manipulated electoral process. While Tshisekedi would hold the presidency, Kabila and his FCC coalition would control the overwhelming majority of governorships and provincial assemblies, the Parliament’s upper and lower chambers, and ultimately, the Prime Minister’s post. Kabila and his coalition maintain control over the parliament, Prime Minister, key ministries (Finance, Defense, Justice), and parts of the security apparatus.
The factors that brought the crisis to a head revolve around the control of two critical institutions that are fundamental to determining the outcome of the 2023 elections. Both Tshisekedi and Kabila’s camp are vying to dominate the so-called National Independent Electoral Commission (Ceni in French) and the Constitutional Court. The two blocks have clashed over a new president appointment to the Ceni and Tshisekedi’s installation of three new judges on the Constitutional court. Whichever party or coalition controls these two institutions can determine the elections’ outcome, irrespective of how the Congolese people vote. The 2018 elections are a case in point; the electoral commission announced the winners, and The Constitutional court validated the announced winners even though the CENI published no final breakdown of the election results as required by law.
Tshisekedi’s Sacred Union
Kabila and Tshisekedi have met several times over the past two years, presumably to iron out disagreements. Tshisekedi has even cited Kabila as a source of consultation and vowed not to dig into the past to go on a witch hunt against him, and the illicit network he has installed over the past two decades – reportedly one of the conditions of the deal between him and Kabila. However, the latest impasse between the two prominent political figures is different. In a nationwide televised message on the 23rd of October, Tshisekedi issued a call to form a new parliamentary majority, under the emblem of establishing a “sacred union.” Tshisekedi launched a nationwide consultation of social and political forces on the 2nd of November to carve out a new majority, which is a direct challenge for all intents and purposes to Kabila and his FCC coalition. According to Kabila, Tshisekedi’s undertaking also represents a betrayal of their deal. The mobilization of social and political forces under a “sacred union” that Tshisekedi has called for actually happened already in 2018 when the Congolese masses mobilized to force Joseph Kabila to relinquish power by organizing elections. During those elections, the masses again demonstrated their unity by making it impossible for Kabila to name his anointed successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary as the winner. In fact, the people’s aim and purpose was to oust Kabila and his network. It was Tshisekedi who threw Kabila a lifeline by entering into a deal with him that left the bulk of his network and power intact.
The formation of a new majority will be a daunting task, especially considering that Tshisekedi’s coalition only controls 47 of the 500 parliamentary seats. Kabila’s coalition holds 341 seats. The opposition coalition, Lamuka, has 112 seats. At least 251 seats are needed to form a new majority. Therefore, Tshisekedi will have to persuade or “buy off” Kabila’s FCC coalition members to join him and the current opposition to create a new parliamentary majority.
Kabila has responded swiftly by summoning his coalition members to his farm in Kinshasa, ostensibly to ensure that none of them leaves his camp to join Tshisekedi in his efforts to create a new parliamentary majority. He prohibited members of the FCC from participating in the consultations without his authorization. The FCC governors, however, have been allowed to participate. During the meeting with his coalition partners, Kabila lambasted Tshisekedi for going back on the deal. Tshisekedi’s camp has spent the past two years, denying that such an agreement ever existed. Kabila threatened to make the deal public at the appropriate time. Kabila shared with his coalition members that the agreement between him and Tshisekedi was “confidential and signed in front of three heads of state.”
France, U.S. and Regional Players
The United States through its Ambassador, Mike Hammer and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, have fully backed Tshisekedi’s offensive tactics and seem to be well informed of Tshisekedi’s moves. Before Tshisekedi delivered his speech to the nation, Ambassador Hammer tweeted that the president has a “big announcement” to make in his upcoming address. The US Ambassador also made it clear that he did not see a need to entertain Joseph Kabila. Meanwhile, France, for its part, does not want to see Kabila marginalized. France dispatched its top diplomat for Africa, Rémy Maréchaux, head of the French foreign ministry’s Africa and Indian Ocean section, to meet separately with Tshisekedi and Kabila. The Kenyan vice president, Kalonzo Musyoka, also visited Kinshasa to discuss the political impasse with president Tshisekedi and Kabila.
During the consultations, Tshisekedi has engaged a broad cross-section of Congolese leadership: Opposition parties including major figures like Jean Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi; Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Denis Mukwege, former presidential candidates; faith leaders; civil society; youth movements; and many other Congolese leaders. Noticeably absent in his consultations are two key members of the Lamuka Coalition, former Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito, and former presidential candidate, Martin Fayulu, who many believe actually won the 2018 elections. Over the past two years, Fayulu has remained unremitting in his denouncement of Tshisekedi, and the deal he made with Kabila to appropriate the 2018 elections at the expense of the will of the Congolese people.
Kabila stepped up his response to Tshisekedi by launching an international diplomatic offensive. He sent letters to the countries that witnessed the signing of the accord (Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa). In addition, he reached out to neighboring Rwanda, the Southern African Development Community and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Gueterres. Tshisekedi, for his part, has visited both Congo-Brazzaville and Angola personally to discuss the crisis with Denis Sassou Nguesso and João Lourenço, respectively. The impression is, as the United States, they support Tshisekedi. Following his visit to Angola, the DRC and Angola’s Air Force conducted a joint military air exercise over Kinshasa, the DRC capital. The Kabila camp took it as an attempted show of strength and a possible threat, which implied that Tshisekedi was prepared to use force, if necessary, to achieve his objectives. A close advisor to Kabila and his former ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, Kikaya Ben Karubi ridiculed the exercise on his Twitter account. In yet another apparent hard power move, On december 1st, Tshisekedi summoned the heads of the military and police who renewed their pledge of alligiance and fidelity to the president.
The inflammatory rhetoric from both Tshisekedi and Kabila camps warrants serious concerns. Kabila’s FCC has called on Tshisekedi to return to the table to iron matters out. They have repeatedly stated that the resolution to the current crisis can only occur within the agreement and coalition framework. Otherwise, Tshisekedi should opt for cohabitation instead of a coalition government or call for elections at all levels, including the presidency. In a cohabitation scenario, the FCC would run the government independently without sharing ministries with Tshisekedi’s coalition (CACH).
Tshisekedi’s pursuit of a new majority is a long shot and not likely to succeed. The leaders of his political party, The Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), have called on him to dissolve the parliament and organize new elections, but that would be unconstitutional as there is not a crisis between the parliament and the government. Both of which are controlled by Kabila’s FCC coalition. It is only if there is a crisis between the Parliament and the government that the president could step in and dissolve Parliament, not if there is a crisis between the President and Parliament.
Congolese politics is fluid and mostly unpredictable. One cannot rule out Tshisekedi returning to the table with Kabila and continuing with the coalition as contentious as it may be. Cohabitation is also an option but is not likely. Another scenario being floated is that Tshisekedi will return to the coalition with Kabila while demanding additional space for key figures from his recently completed consultations. Tshisekedi’s consultations concluded on the 25th of November. He is expected to give an address to the nation, outlining how he plans to move forward.
The Peoples’ Dire Material Conditions
While the politicians battle for positioning and advantages, the overwhelming majority of Congolese continue to live in abject poverty and deep misery. Seven out of ten Congolese live on less than $2 a day. Less than 2 out of every ten households have access to electricity. It is the third-largest population in the world without access to electricity. According to the World Food Program, conflict and instability combined with COVID-19 have driven 22 million Congolese or a quarter of the population on the verge of starvation. The east of the country continues to suffer widespread instability and lack of security. According to the Kivu Security Tracker, the first 20 months of the Tshisekedi presidency has witnessed 2,127 civilians killed, 1,450 abducted, 938 kidnapped, which is worse than the last 20 months of the Kabila presidency. According to the Human Rights division of the United Nation’s mission in the DRC, the Congolese Army and Police continue to be the main source of human right’s violations.
The Congo’s enormous challenges would already be daunting with legitimate leaders at the helm who reflect the people’s will and act in their interest. However, when you have leadership that lacks legitimacy and is a product of a deal among elite politicians, it exponentially complicates the challenges. It makes it nearly impossible to address the basic needs of the people.
The current crop of leaders’ primary concern is their acquisition and maintenance of power by manipulating weak institutions such as the CENI and the Constitutional court. Unfortunately, delivering services to the people and improving their material conditions are not crucial factors in maintaining their power and privilege.
The social movements and resistance that forced Kabila to hold elections in the first place in 2018 must continue to educate, mobilize and organize the Congolese masses for fundamental and lasting change. The charge and appeal remain the same; the people must rid themselves of opportunistic politicians and produce a leadership that will serve the interests and needs of the sons and daughters of the Congo.
Maurice Carney is the Executive Director of Friends of the Congo.
With contributions by Volunteer Coordinator Bibi Ndala and Intern Achint Das.