DRC Elections: Will Kabila stay or go? And many other questions on the road to 2016 – By Manya Riche and Kris Berwouts
The elections of July and October 2006 marked the end of a particularly dramatic decade in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This included two wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2002) and a complex peace process which culminated in a transitional period with a delicate balancing act required between the different former armed groups. The elections were organised by an independent electoral commission led by the Catholic priest Apollinaire Malumalu, who represented civil society. Joseph Kabila, who succeeded his assassinated father Laurent-Désiré Kabila in January 2001, was sworn in on December 6th 2006 as the first elected President of the Third Republic. The 2006 elections were the first reasonably fair and free multiparty elections since independence.
The elections after these, held in November 2011, took place in completely different conditions at the end of the first legislature, with many irregularities and results that were so contested they brought the country to the edge of implosion.
The 2011 elections should have consolidated a fragile democratic process, but they were organised by a regime which primarily wanted to consolidate its own power. It did that by making use of its complete control over the security forces and the electoral machinery (including the commission, led by Kabila’s counsellor pastor Mulunda Ngoy) against an opposition which was institutionally and strategically fragile and very divided.
The review of the Constitution in January 2011 decreased the opposition’s chances even further. The 2011 elections had no added value in stimulating the emergence of democracy nor the return of political stability.
The second legislature of the Third Republic will end in 2016. According to the Constitution, the country has to have elections before the end of that year and president Kabila cannot stand for a third term.
Prior to the elections, President Kabila has several options:
I. The three main options are: (a) Kabila decides to leave office; (b) he decides to seek a new mandate; and (c) he decides to stay on under his current mandate.
a) Kabila decides to leave office
If Kabila decides to respect the Constitution and step down as president, the regime will have to appoint a successor:
1. The first group of potential candidates is the biological family. The president’s twin sister Jaynet Kabila and brother Zoe Kabila have been MPs since 2011. Jaynet, especially, plays an increasingly important role on the politicial scene and has a good relationship with key players like Malumalu, Minaku and Dan Gertler. First Lady Olive Kabila Lembe also plays an important role, especially through her humanitarian organisation. She has assumed an extravert, slightly populist role in the forefront, this is different to Jaynet, who works more behind the scenes.
2. A second option is to appoint a crown prince within his political family. This would probably be found more acceptable both by the international community and the political elite within the majority.
The process of appointing a crown prince would, of course, be a very complex and painful exercise – there are many individuals with presidential ambitions. It would be an exercise which Kabila would probably be able to initiate and even take the lead in, but it is very unlikely that this is a decision that would be taken by one individual alone. Many variables will have to be taken into account, including regional balances.
Currently, most people in Kabila’s inner circle find that Aubin Minaku has the best access to the President. At this moment, Minaku occupies a very strategic place in Congo’s political universe. He is the speaker of Parliament, Secretary General of the presidential majority and, with Kengo wa Dondo, co-organiser of the Concertations Nationales. He is someone Kabila can rely on and one of the best graduates from the school of teh Presidemnt’s old political fixer, Katumba Mwanke. He is also from the west. Counting against him is the fact that he does not really have a popular base of his own, despite the unpredicted good results of the regime in his home province of Bandundu in 2011. Bandundu was, however, one of the places where the results have been most contested.
Many people, of course, consider themselves to be presidential material, including Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, Secretary General of the PPRD Evariste Boshab and Minister of Communications Lambert Mende. The problem with this scenario is that it will be very hard to identify the ideal candidate with the consent of the majority, keep the ranks closed and incarnate the different antagonistic interest groups which are the pillars of Kabila’s regime.
b) Kabila opts for a new mandate as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo
It is realistic to imagine that at some point Kabila will decide that he prefers to continue his presidency because he believes that his departure would make the country vulnerable. There is an influential group of people within his PPRD who are trying to convince him to stay. For the last few weeks and months there has been a lot of speculation going on which has given way to some fascinating kite flying with politicians and other public personalities through the media, personal initiatives or via an intentional leak, to gauge how local and international public opinion will react. It is unlikely that this has been done without Kabila’s tacit agreement, but so far he has not given open support to these ideas and initiatives.
Again, there are several scenarios to be considered.
i. The president could take the initiative to change Article 220 of the Constitution and alter the number and/or length of the mandates. This would give him the theoretical opportunity to remain president. This option has been suggested several times within the Congolese majority and the group around Kabila. Many observers don’t rule out the possibility that Kabila doesn’t think the time is ripe for such an amendment and that he might consider it at a later point in the current legislature. It cannot be excluded that he will tolerate or even stimulate the kite flying to see if there is a realistic possibility that he can stay in power after 2016. The key question seems to be whether such a scenario would raise enough support within the presidential majority and even within the PPRD.
ii. If it turns out to be unrealistic to change Article 220, it may be possible to obtain an entirely new Constitution. The scenario for this is to consult the Congolese electorate through a referendum. Once the referendum is adopted by the Parliament, the country would start a new transitional period, preparing for a referendum that would lead to the Fourth Republic.
iii. A third possibility is the revision of the electoral mechanism (Article 70 & 71), thus modifying the political system and allowing Kabila to “put the counter back to zero”. He could add two more mandates without changing Article 220 of the Constitution. Changing the direct Presidential elections into indirect elections by the current Parliament would be an operation allowing Kabila to continue for another two terms.
c) Kabila opts to remain in power by slowing down the electoral process
Besides a reform of the Constitution there are other possibilities for Kabila to remain president beyond 2016. He could postpone the elections. Several scenarios are possible:
i. He could do so for credible financial and logistical problems that are facing the electoral process. The organisation of local elections could consume most of the budget for the elections which makes it impossible to organise the Presidential polls on time. This scenario seems to have been fully developed by the president of the electoral commission CENI, Apollinaire Malumalu. The organisation of local elections is the first step in the process and the indirect elections of provincial deputies, governors and senators would also reinforce the PPRD, since it is the only party with national ambitions able to mobilise the 18,000 candidates necessary to cover the entire territory.
ii. A specific strategy is to accelerate the decentralisation process, including the découpage of Congo’s current 11 provinces into the 26 foreseen in the 2005 Constitution. The découpage will redefine the power balances between ethnic groups and economic interests at all levels and will be a source of tensions, competition and possibly violence in different places.
For Malumalu and his team, the 26 provinces are the backbone of their organisational structure. CENI has 26 provincial secretaries. It recently drafted the cartography of the province of Bandundu as a pilot project: 200 staff members have worked 3 months to collect the geographical, sociological and customary data to materialise the découpage. At this speed, it will take 15 months to cover the entire country. Not only will the administrative process be very long, but there is a much potential for conflict too.
iii. Kabila could also invoke security reasons to postpone the elections. As head of state he can easily proclaim the State of Emergency or State of Siege (Article 85) to temporarily postpone the electoral process.
d) Not yet decided
Joseph Kabila has been Congo’s president for more than 13 years. During this period he has grown into the role. Nobody has been able to fill the space that was left around Kabila after Katumba Mwanke’s untimely death. At this moment, Kabila gives issue-based responsibilities to his collaborators (Kalev: M23, Ghonda: the relations with Angola, Ekanga: with China etc) and deals with them bilaterally. He does not have much confidence in his collaborators and ministers and he certainly does not have much personal affinity with people outside his biological family.
Having talked to a lot of people on the Congolese political scene (majority as well as opposition), key players within the international community and people belonging to Kabila’s personal spheres, we are convinced that at this moment: (i) Kabila has not made up his mind what he really wants; (ii) he knows that leaving office is something he will have to seriously consider; (iii) this scenario is not his first choice, he would stay if he could; (iv) but he knows that this will be very difficult, not only because of the various signals given by the international community and Congolese civil society and churches, but most of all because he realises that it will be very difficult for him to leverage the different regional poles of his power again.
The events surrounding the appearance of the self-declared “˜prophet’ Joseph Mukungubila on December 30th 2013 showed how fragile his position in Katanga is, Vital Kamerhe’s trip to Kivu in February 2014 did the same in the east.
Kabila might accept an exit strategy but he will need guarantees: (1) the personal safety of himself and his family; (2) no persecution by Congolese or international justice; (3) no loss of his wealth and property. He would also, undoubtedly, like to keep some influence in the background, maintain his family members (Jaynette and Zoe) on the political map and he might be interested in an international role. He would, however, prefer to continue to live in Congo.
II. The opposition: in search of structure
The political opposition has been very fluid and nearly invisible since the 2011 elections. The main challenger then, Etienne Tshisekedi, isolated himself from the political debate by maintaining his position as self-declared elected president and legitimate head of state.
Since the Concertations Nationales of September and October 2013, the opposition has become more structured.
i: Speaker of the Senate Léon Kengo wa Dondo, co-organiser of the Concertations, founded a coalition of opposition parties under the name “˜Opposition Républicaine’. This coalition is considered by all players and observers of DRC politics as being loyal to the regime. Kengo is representing the coalition in the follow up to the Concertations and in the negotiations on the formation of a government of national cohesion.
ii: A more radical opposition, however, seems to be clustering around Vital Kamerhe, President of UNC and third in the 2011 elections after Kabila and Tshisekedi. Around him is crystalising a group of parties and politicians who remained outside the Concertations, which they considered to be a mere congress of the existing presidential majority. They consider the Opposition Républicaine to be an enlargement of the majority and believe that Kengo and his people will ultimately accept the regime’s strategy for the elections once it has been decided, as long as they can be part of it.
Within the landscape of political opposition, Vital Kamerhe has managed to keep his reputation intact. His faction in parliament remained consistent and some of the new MPs with a civil society background developed into hard-working and competent backbenchers. The harassment of Kamerhe and his colleagues in the east in February is an indication that the regime fears that he might capitalise on its current unpopularity in the region. Kamerhe is seeking to work with politicians as such as Nzanga Mobutu (Equateur), Mbusa Nyamwisi (North Kivu) and Martin Fayulu (Kinshasa) to broaden his political base.
iii. The UDPS has become weakened and divided since the 2011 elections. Most of the elected MPs have taken up their mandate and participated in Parliament even if party leader Tshisekedi forbid them to do so as long as he had not taken up his rightful position as Head of State. The confusion increased with the Concertations when some of the UDPS MPs decided to participate and others decided to stay out. In the meantime the relations between Etienne Tshisekedi and the regime improved with some discrete talks between the old leader and Théodore Mugalu, chief of Kabila’s maison civile.
Since then, the blockade around Tshisekedi’s house has been lifted and several sources confirmed that he has received a number of material benefits, including coverage of his medical costs. A number of insiders on the DRC political scene expect Tshisekedi’s son Félix to take office as vice-Prime Minister in the Government of National Cohesion with the tacit agreement of his father. This is something that will only be confirmed by the publication of the members of a new government. To what extend this will allow UDPS to bring the different factions of the party back into one vision and plan, remains to be seen.
iv. The party of Kabila’s main opponent in 2006 (MLC), Jean-Pierre Bemba, is paralysed by the uncertain future of its leader, still held by the International Criminal Court and awaiting the outcome of his trial. It is difficult to measure, but Bemba seems to have maintained his popularity, by focusing on what a considerable part of public opinion in the west of Congo considers to be his martyrdom as a victim of “˜the system,’ or the various international conspiracies people love to speculate on in the DRC. He would almost certainly immediately take a central position on the political map in case of a release from The Hague and return to Kinshasa.
Bemba’s party remains somewhat adrift though, hesitating between genuine opposition and trying to get on board in the Government of National Cohesion. The MLC remained outside the Opposition Républicaine because it felt that they should have the lead based on their numerical weight (21 deputies in Parliament and 14 in the Senate). The fact that some of their MPs left to join Kengo’s faction does not, however, inspire confidence.
The separation between loyal/ co-opted and radical/ genuine opponants seems to be the main structural dynamic within the opposition, but this will probably not last long. Everything is on hold right now because people are waiting for the government of national cohesion. Since this government will not have room for the current seven Prime Ministers and two hundred other ministers, there will be a lot of disappointed people. Those people might seek to reposition themselves on the political landscape. This is most likely one of the reasons why the formation of this government has taken such a long time.
The credibility of the opposition and its capacity to mobilise would grow considerably if the different parties could reach an agreement on who will be the spokesperson of the opposition, which is an official function, defined by the Congolese Constiution.
III. No Arab spring in Kinshasa
At the time of the social revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011, few people in Congo seemed to follow developments all that closely. The Congolese public was much more focused on the war in Ivory Coast because it felt that, less than a year before the 2011 elections, their country could go in a very similar direction.
It is only now that a lot of our interlocutors referred to the Arab spring. Everybody is aware of the fact that the general public in Congo feels entirely disconnected from the political scene. They see the political caste as people who use politics as a way to create opportunities for their family, their clan, their ethnic group, their region. In this, they hardly distinguish between politicians of the majority and the opposition.
The fact that the population does not believe that its daily living conditions nor their long term perspectives have considerably improved in the Third Republic, continues to breed frustration and anger. Jean-Pierre Bemba managed to channel that anger in 2006, and Tshisekedi did the same in 2011. Since then, the Congolese population seems to have lost its belief in elections as an instrument for change or a way to improve their living conditions.
The political stakeholders acknowledge an explosiveness in the frustrations of the people and they are aware of the fact that they probably have no moral authority over the people nor the capacity to steer any form of uprising. Some people in the radical opposition believe that such an event could take the form of revolts similar to those in the Middle East in 2011, but there are many differences between the two contexts. The Arab spring was mainly carried out by a middle class which hardly exists in the DRC. It is also likely that the army and/ or police would make use of extensive violence in the early stages of such an uprising.
Most of our interlocutors do not exclude the possible that there might be a spontaneous popular outburst of frustration and anger in Kinshasa or elsewhere in Congo. They don’t believe that the trigger for such an event has to come necessarily from the political sphere, although many believe that the announcement of a constitutional review that allowed Kabila to stay in power could have such an effect. It is more likely that the trigger will come from the social realm. There is a considerable risk that any form of popular uprising would quickly degenerate into blind violence, plundering, chaos and anarchy – cause a lot of human, material and institutional damage, and be fairly quickly suppressed by the security forces.
Civil society no longer has the leadership and the capacity to mobilise the population it had two decades ago. At this point, the churches have the highest moral authority to guide and coach the people. Their resistance against a revision of the constitution and a third mandate for Kabila remains one of the regime’s biggest worries.
Civil society has lost its structure during the last decade and many of its leaders have been co-opted into the system. Therefore, civil society has been used by would-be politicians as a springboard to higher levels – they do their best to legitimise the governmental action and wait for an occasion to be part of it. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t civil society organisations working at grass roots level which continue to express a genuine feeling of indignation.
The current potential of the churches (in particular of the Catholic church) to give leadership to the Congolese people is much higher than the potential of civil society. But it too has its limits. Everything that divides Congo divides the churches too – they do not act as a consensual institution which is above Congo’s fissures. But they have an important contribution to make on quality control of democratisation and in the promotion of non-violence.
IV. African ownership over conflicts and elections in Central Africa
An important development throughout 2013 is that African countries and multilateral institutions have been quite eager to play a role in the process of solving the M23 conflict. Or at least preventing it from developing into an open regional war. Not only did they confront the traditional protagonists, they also confronted each other.
The ICGLR worked intensively to keep the conflict within its existing limits, the SADC countries tried to get actively involved (Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania have sent troops for the FIB), the African Union also sought to promote its own visibility and leadership.
This is an interesting development and it is not impossible that the result will be the power balance between and within African regions is reformulated. The way the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement of February 24th 2013 was embedded in Africa contributed greatly to its success. One of the achievements of the agreement is that there is a lot of talking going on between the countries of the region and regional cooperation is no longer a taboo.
– Rwanda and Uganda continue to hold important keys. An important part of M23 is still present and could be supported, equipped, trained etc. to be deployed in eastern Congo at some point, although there is no concrete indication that this will happen any time soon.
– Congo’s allies (Angola, South Africa, Tanzania, Congo-Brazza) are very interested in the elections. Their main concern is not the democratic quality (most of them face similar problems of searching for a balance between credible elections and their dedication to remain in power) but stability at their borders related to their economic interests.
– Even key allies such as Dos Santos or Zuma do not have much personal affinity with Kabila and his regime. They actively maintain contact with key personalities in the Congolese opposition.
– It is important to be aware that South Africa’s involvement is not particularly institutionalised, but more based on president Zuma’s interest
– Many countries in the region are organising elections in the forthcoming years. Some of them face similar issues on a third mandate. Many key political players will observe with great interest how the international community deals with these issues in Burundi, which has its elections in 2015.
V. The PSCF: a diplomatic management document, not an operational plan
The Peace Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement as signed in Addis Ababa on February 24th 2013 continues to be an important reference, but as a diplomatic management tool rather than as an operational mechanism. The follow up has been heavily focused on security, but the thinking beyond the military operation is not as strong as western diplomacies would like it to be. The international dimension of the Agreement is considered to be very successful because it put to an end to the M23 crisis and created a new impulse for intra-African diplomacy and cooperation.
The implementation of the Congolese dimension is much more difficult. Different ambassadors mention certain but slow progress by the government and the ministry of planning, but they refuse to see this slowness only as a signal of bad will and lack of dedication of the government towards the PSCF. The limitations of the current implementation are also imposed by the obvious lack of financial means and by the arduous restoration of state authority.
But Congolese interlocutors involved in the follow up to the national mechanism point out a flagrant lack of political will and disorganisation, linked to a leadership struggle for the control of the mechanism and to a lack of ownership of the issues which are not related to security.
The added value of Mary Robinson’s office towards the overall approach of the international community is situated at two levels: (1) she plays an important niche-role (e.g. investment forum, women’s empowerment,…) and (2) at a highly strategic level, she reinforces key messages.
VI. What role for the international community?
The collaboration between the different special envoys is quite harmonious and this is also true for the different EU members present in Kinshasa. The change of tone and policy of the United States regarding Rwanda has also contributed to a potentially more coherent international accompaniment of the democratisation of the DRC in general and the forthcoming elections in particular. The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Martin Kobler, has begun to structure the international community around the key issues of elections, DDR and SSR.
During his visit to the Independent National Electoral Commission on 21st April, Kobler pledged MONUSCO’s support for the organisation of the upcoming elections, in terms of technical and logistic assistance as well as good offices. As part of the Mission Mandate agreed upon by the UN Security Council, MONUSCO is to provide technical, logistical and financial support to the Electoral Commission in order to ensure a sustainable electoral process during the entire cycle. Kobler’s deputy, Moustapha Soumare, will chair a task force on logistical issues.
It has been suggested that Monusco’s support for the elections be used as a lever to put pressure on the Congolese government, but this strategy would probably be counterproductive since it would give the government a reason to delay the process.
The different diplomatic missions still have to define their policy in light of possible future scenarios. On Sunday May 4th, US Secretary of State John Kerry declared in Kinshasa that the United States is prepared to give Congo $30 million in aid for stability and democracy-building “” but wants President Joseph Kabila to agree to step down at the end of his current term in office. The EU follows a tougher line.
The international community is in a position to accompany an historic moment for Congo. The PSCF has created a new situation in Central Africa, the space for Rwanda and Uganda to intervene in the DRC is much smaller than it has been for nearly two decades. This has created the potential to stabilise eastern Congo, something that has not yet materialised.
Western countries insist a great deal on the holding of elections, but go quite far in accepting non-democratic practices. This behaviour is partially based on looking for a difficult balance between the desire to really contribute to the development of democracy on the one hand, and on the other a concern about not damaging stability that is relative and precarious. The result is often a choice between what is considered the lesser of two evils. The ambiguity of Congo’s Western partners is well understood, both by political players in the region and the local population.
Since 2006, donors have adopted a post-conflict, or stabilisation strategy, epitomised by a mandate that focuses on supporting a government in Kinshasa which has difficulties in accomplishing state rehabilitation and to getting beyond the political logic of patronage, which undermines its attempts to reform. But Congo can’t get back on track if it has a corrupt government. Good governance is the key issue and it will be very difficult to maintain it on the agenda and to consolidate the achievements of the PSCF if the international donor community engages with in an electoral exercise which allows Kabila to stay on beyond 2016.
Many Congolese and international observers of Congolese politics would consider a process which does not lead to a change in leader as a major setback to the peace and democratisation process as it has existed since negotiations at Sun City. Kabila leaving power is still a possibility, even if several people in the presidential camp have launched initiatives to maintain him as President.
We also believe that the international community has the potential to reinforce the quality of democracy in Congo. If we want citizens to continue to believe in elections, we have to ensure that they are credible. It is essential not only to supervise the electoral process, but also to invest in the political awareness of the electorate by supporting the programmes of civic education run by the churches and other independent civil society organisations. We must help to prepare the ground so that local communities adopt and internalise the values and the concepts of democracy. Also, a massive independent observation starting at grass roots level needs to be encouraged.
Most parties in the DRC are relatively young and have not had the time to establish clear and solid structures, which obviously does not facilitate internal democracy. In many cases parties were created around the personality of their historic leader or his heirs. Due to this personalisation, parties are often seen as representing a particular region of the country or a specific group in the population. They lack an ideological profile, a social project or visions that distinguish them clearly from other parties. Investing in the capacity building and institutional reinforcement of political parties seems to us to be a very meaningful contribution to the development of genuine democracy in Congo.
The different political parties and stakeholders in the DRC are the result of more than 50 years of very poor political culture. It is possible to identify politicians with democratic potential in different corners of the landscape. They do not belong to one camp, and they are everywhere a minority. It would be an interesting challenge to identify a format to bring these people together in an attempt to reinforce the development of a more cohesive political leadership in the DRC. Such a programme would decrease the barriers between the political parties and have a positive impact on the quality of political debate and the democratic process in the country.
Manya Riche has worked for many years inside different Congolese institutions on the peace and democratisation processes. This experience has given her great strategic insight on political issues in Congo and Central Africa and personal access to key actors at the highest level. She works now as an independent consultant and is a coordinating member of the Congo Peace Center, a ramification of the Conflict and Development Chair of the Texas A&AM University.
Kris Berwouts has, over the last 25 years, worked for a number of different Belgian and international NGOs focused on building peace, reconciliation, security and democratic processes. Until 2012, he was the Director of EurAc, the network of European NGOs working for advocacy on Central Africa. He now works as an independent expert on Central Africa. He is currently writing a book on the conflicts in eastern Congo to be published in 2015 by ZED Books.
Manya and Kris conducted research for DFID DRC’s Evidence, Analysis and Coordination Programme (EACP), on behalf of Integrity Research and Consultancy, in April and May 2014. This article is the summary of their conclusions.