Recent meeting between the country’s former and newly elected presidents reveals bitter truth to Congolese citizens
Nearly two months after elections were held in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the country is reeling in shock after discovering that it was merely what observers describe as a cosmetic regime change.
Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the longest-existing opposition party, the Union for Democratic and Social Progress, was controversially announced the winner of the election, defeating another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, and the then ruling party candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
Although the immediate former president, Joseph Kabila, paved the way for Tshisekedi to take over in a disputed victory, indications are that he was the biggest winner and retains considerable political clout in the state apparatus.
Word has it that Kabila, who governed the DRC for 18 years, is scheming to retain power through a constitutional amendment that observers fear might potentially plunge the war-torn country into chaos.
Kabila is constitutionally eligible to contest the 2023 election as president because the country’s Constitution allows former presidents to seek office after a break from a mandated two consecutive terms.
The DRC’s bitter lesson with constitutional amendment cost the lives of more that 300 people the last time manoeuvres were attempted to give Kabila an illegal third term.
It flopped, but Kabila, according to experts, has not stopped fighting for a life presidency.
So Tshisekedi, an ally of Vital Kamerhe, a long-time Kabila associate and now director of Cabinet, is a compromise that would allow the former president to engineer his comeback. Some suggest this could happen even before the 2023 election, “mafia” style.
Kabila’s political party could also elect him prime minister as they hold the majority in Parliament.
A meeting between Kabila and Tshisekedi held at the presidential palace last Sunday confirmed earlier suggestions that the latter’s victory was a negotiated passage to power, carefully crafted to deceive residents and the international community.
Kabila, for all his shortcomings, played a smart game to the detriment of the opposition. By paving the way for Tshisekedi to take over, he demonstrated to the outside world that he allowed a smooth transition of power for the first time in the DRC’s history. That also calmed the nerves of the Congolese people, who were happy that an opposition leader had “won” and taken over the leadership mantle.
In Tshisekedi and Kamerhe, Kabila found the perfect partnership to successfully execute his operation, observers believe.
Kabila is, by virtue of serving as DRC president, a life member of the Congolese Parliament. His party defers to him as the moral authority. And in Parliament he’ll head the Common Front for Congo coalition.
His party might have “lost” the presidency after its candidate finished a miserable distant third but, suspiciously, it also somehow produced a record number of seats in Parliament.
Provisional results show that Kabila and his party have a healthy legislative majority. They collected 337 seats compared with Tshisekedi’s 32 from a total of 485.
This means the prime minister, potentially Kabila himself, will be appointed from the party with the majority in Parliament, according to the Constitution.
Information emerging that Kabila and Tshisekedi met to strike a deal has left many Congolese livid. Such alleged machinations only confirm their fears – Kabila is still firmly in charge.
Plans to organise elections in three areas – Beni, Butembo and Yumbi – that were excluded from last December’s poll have faded.
The three areas, estimated to have more than a million voters, are considered Fayulu strongholds.
Delayed elections in these areas will have no significance for the presidential election, because voters will elect only their provincial and national parliamentary representatives.
Meanwhile, in addition to the governing deal, Kabila and Tshisekedi are exploring avenues to secure indefinite immunity of the former.
This would ensure Kabila dodges any form of prosecution for alleged crimes during his 18-year tenure.
Officials in the Congolese government familiar with details of the deal say a motion to amend the Constitution will be presented to Parliament, where it most certainly will be endorsed by the majority leaning towards Kabila.
The deal will result in future presidents being elected through Parliament, a potential recipe for anarchy in the world’s largest copper- and cobalt-producing country.
To strengthen this plan, Kabila and Tshisekedi are seeking the help of international partners, with Kenya, Tanzania and Egypt already warming to the scheme.
South Africa, one of the DRC’s major stakeholders, is demanding thorough details of the agreement and its implications for the Congolese people.
They are also baffled by the silence of the regional grouping, the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
“The problem with SADC leaders is that most of them have personal business interests – ranging from mining to fishing – in the DRC, so the plight and welfare of the Congolese people do not matter as much as those business interests,” said Kalonji Mutamba, a Kinshasa-based civil rights activist.
“Thousands of people have died in the DRC since 2016 and mass graves have been discovered in places like Goma, but have you ever heard the SADC talk about anything other than endorsing last December’s sham election?”
US-based Congolese political activist Mac Lushimba, who has started a campaign on the petition site Change.org to secure prosecution of those the UN has linked to the massacre of Congolese in the past 20 years, said there was little hope under the current arrangement as long as Kabila was lurking in the shadows.
“Joseph Kabila is still a factor because he hasn’t relinquished power yet. He’s still in control of the army, the central bank, the secret services, the ministry of home affairs and the ministry of foreign affairs,” he said.
The amount of power Kabila yields makes Tshisekedi a “mockery” of a leader. “The marriage between Kabila and Tshisekedi is based on interests. Tshisekedi didn’t win the December 30 2018 presidential election. He signed a deal with Kabila that will protect Kabila’s family and wealth; he will work with Kabila as a partner to protect him, his family and other allies so that they can’t be prosecuted for the mass killings they committed in the DRC.”
Lushimba urged the Congolese people to continue fighting for the restoration of credible leadership transformation. “This is not the time to give up. It’s the time to remain vigilant and overcome the electoral fraud that recently took place in the DRC. We must advocate democracy, peace, and free and fair elections as a precondition for any kind of cooperation.
“Congolese people are not happy. What is happening is sad and might lead to further instability.”
Lushimba has since launched a call for Congolese people and others across the globe to petition the International Criminal Court to take an interest in the massacre of millions and the alleged rape, torture and injuries of thousands across the vast African nation in the past 20 years.