Democratic Republic Of The Congo: Seeking Support In The Shadow Of Kabila

Democratic Republic Of The Congo: Seeking Support In The Shadow Of Kabila

The collapse of the coalition between President Tshisekedi and Joseph Kabila threatens to create a void in DRC politics. Whilst international actors have been swift to commend Tshisekedi, his own political fortunes now rely on finding allies amongst the very opposition who question his victory in 2018, all the while fending off Kabila’s still-potent influence. 

A Severing Of Ties

In December 2020, President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) formally dissolved the alliance with his former opponent and predecessor, Joseph Kabila. The collapse came after tensions between the two factions of the ruling coalition threatened to paralyse the government. Declaring the appointment of an ‘informateur’ to assist in identifying new allies to support his minority government, President Tshisekedi’s moves to extricate himself from the embrace of Kabila and his Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC) faction will have implications for the DRC and beyond.

How Did It Come to This?

Following the elections in December 2018, and in return for Kabila’s leaving office after eighteen years, President Tshisekedi had been required to consult with his predecessor on matters of import, as well as contend with a Prime Minister chosen by, and a National Assembly dominated by, the FCC. In recent months, the ties which bound the coalition of the Cap pour le Changement (CACH), headed by Tshisekedi and FCC, have unravelled with each side striving to reshape the political landscape to best suit their ends. The FCC-led National Assembly for instance, appointed a new head for the DRC’s Electoral Commission, without Tshisekedi’s approval. The President promptly replied by appointing three new judges to the Constitutional Court, much to the chagrin of his allies. 

These new appointments were designed not only to dilute Kabila’s influence over the Court, but also provide President Tshisekedi with allies in the legislature to combat continued FCC challenges to his programme of policies and reforms. Meanwhile, one of the first steps taken by CACH parliamentarians after the dissolution of the coalition was a vote to remove Jeanine Mabunda, a stalwart ally of Kabila, from her position as President of the National Assembly, decapitating the FCC presence there. 

Internationally, Tshisekedi’s efforts have been met with support. In the aftermath of his political divorce from Kabila, Tshisekedi’s government in Kinshasa was swiftly welcomed back into the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade arrangement from which the DRC had spent a decade ostracised due to the Kabila administration’s human rights record. Meanwhile, during his tour of five African nations, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced the quashing of DRC’s repayments due on a $28 million loan. Instead, a further $17 million in development funds was announced, with $2 million earmarked to support the DRC in its tenure as head of the African Union from April 2021. 

Although this largesse was couched as aiding the Congolese government in combating COVID-19, the timing is significant.The foregoing of the repayments, coupled with direct support for Kinshasa’s, and by extension Tshisekedi’s, leading the AU could be interpreted as a tacit sign of China’s blessing. Yet whilst international actors are voicing their support, the political situation within the DRC leaves the outcome of the power struggle between Tshisekedi, Kabila, and their respective parties anything but settled. 

Political Battle Lines Being Drawn

Currently, of 500 seats in the Congolese National Assembly, the FCC holds 300. The successful ousting of Jeanine Mabunda, which saw 281 MPs vote in favour of her eviction, may suggest supporters for President Tshisekedi can be found, even within the ranks of the FCC. Should the ‘informateur’ fail to procure the allies President Tshisekedi needs to maintain his current mandate to govern however, the Assembly will need to be dissolved and fresh elections held. Either scenario could place President Tshisekedi in a very tenuous position, as his opponents claim that only the pact between Tshisekedi and Kabila permitted the December 2018 election to be stolen from Martin Fayulu, the rightful winner. 

Whether maintaining his minority government, or seeking victory in a new round of assembly elections, Tshisekedi will rely on the combined support of significant leaders of opposition, such as Fayulu, now that he can no longer depend on the FCC. Given the controversy surrounding the December 2018 election, and Fayulu’s long-standing grievances, it is very likely that only a complex compromise will ensure the disparate opposition coalitions rally behind Tshisekedi. 

Simultaneously, Kabila and the FCC are hardly a spent force. Kabila remains a senator for life. Beyond Kinshasa, many of the DRC’s provincial governors are FCC appointees. While President Tshisekedi has sought to encourage the forging of a “sacred union for the nation”, the uncertainty surrounding his political longevity will leave many governors wary of cutting their ties with party and patron. 

Risks Of Future Violence

The worst case scenario could see events similar to those which marred the December 2020 elections in the Central African Republic (CAR). Former President Francois Bozize, barred from contesting the election, was involved in mobilising an alliance of armed groups which assaulted several major cities, requiring the combined efforts of the UN, Russian military advisers, and Rwandan peacekeepers to thwart their efforts. Kabila’s former role as army chief of staff and continued influence in appointing senior military officers during the lifespan of the coalition, along with a rich tapestry of armed groups operating in DRC’s east, provides ample opportunity for armed action against the government, should Kabila decide to contest his shift in political fortunes by force. Conflicts in the DRC habitually become a matter for continental concern, drawing in regional powers like Uganda and Rwanda who have previously cooperated and clashed in the east of the country.

If President Tshisekedi is to capitalise on his new-found independence during the remainder of his first term, then he needs to bolster his support and secure his position quickly. A contested National Assembly, with an FCC majority, will hamper all efforts to address the poverty, violence, and corruption afflicting the DRC. Failure to achieve discernable or tangible progress on promises made during the 2018 election campaign will open the door for Kabila’s return to power in 2023, especially if the opposition remains fractious and divided. Were Kabila to seize power once more, then any diplomatic and political gains made by Tshisekedi will be rendered moot, and DRC may endure another two decades of Kabila rule.

Categories: Africa, Politics

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