Congo’s leadership beyond 2016: Is Moí¯se Katumbi’s star on the rise? – By Kris Berwouts and Manya Riche
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. The aim was to present some scenarios based on the pending questions in the years leading to the elections scheduled for 2016.
The confidential study was presented to the international community in Kinshasa at the end of May and to the International Contact Group in early June. A summary of the non-confidential parts of the study was rewritten as an article for African Arguments in July, which was translated into French in September.
The present article is an update based on field research conducted between October 31st and November 16th. Kris receives support from the Pascal Decroos Fund for Investigative Journalism for his field research.
In April it was obvious that the key players of the Congolese regime were very nervous. There was absolutely no indication how President Kabila was weighing up the different options regarding the end of his second (and constitutionally last) mandate. No one within the inner circle had the impression that a successor was ready in the wings.
On the other hand, Kabila himself had not given a signal that he wanted to extend his reign, but there were some initiatives which appeared designed to slow down the electoral process so that he could stay in power beyond the constitutional limit of December 2016.
In the months after, we observed a lot of fascinating kite flying with politicians and other public personalities through the media, personal initiatives or an intentional leak. The idea was to gauge how local and international public opinion would react to the idea of a revision of the present constitution or a referendum on an entirely new one. None of the proposals launched were openly supported by Kabila himself, but it was hard to imagine that those colourful kites were flying against his will.
In June, it looked like the ranks within the majority were closing behind the plan to change the constitution and give Kabila the legal possibility of standing for a third mandate. Big shots within the regime referred to such a scenario. Returning from Canada, the Speaker of Parliament Aubin Minaku declared that everything can be changed, even the constitution. The Minister of Information, Lambert Mende, also became more explicit on the issue.
The pro-revision camp gained confidence and observers expected an apotheosis around the opening of the parliamentary session in mid-September, through the installation of a Government of National Cohesion (announced almost a year earlier after the Concertations Nationales) and a smooth passage of the revision through the parliament. But that didn’t happen.
The failure to form a Government of National Cohesion obviously frustrated the leaders of the Opposition Républicaine, the platform that united the opposition parties which participated in the Concertations Nationales. The members of the platform positioned themselves as loyal partners of the regime and hoped to be taken up by the Government of National Cohesion.
The fact that the leader of the Opposition Républicaine, Kengo wa Dondo, Prime Minister in Mobutu’s Zaire and Speaker of the Senate since 2006, said in his opening speech of the parliamentary session that he was against the revision of the constitution, was a major blow for the pro-revision camp: the loyal opposition put its loyalty on hold.
On top of this, important cracks appeared on the surface of the majority itself. The Mouvement Social pour le Renouveau (MSR), second biggest parliamentary faction within in the majority, also declared itself against the revision of the constitution. The MSR and its president Pierre Lumbi were publicly criticised in a meeting of the majority in Kingakati in early October, but its members received silent applause and the encouragement of other parties and individuals within the majority, including from Kabila’s own PPRD.
Important players in public opinion, such as the Catholic Church and civil society reinforced their earlier positions against attempts to keep Kabila on the throne with a new mandate.
The cards are reshuffled
Six months ago, the speaker of parliament seemed to have the best cards in Kabila’ inner circle – in particular, he had the easiest and most regular access to the president. Together with Prime Minister Matata Ponyo he was the incarnation of the new generation of Congolese politicians which emerged after the 2011 elections.
Unlike Matata, Minaku had a long history as a party member – he had been one of the promising young men around Kabila’s chief advisor Katumba Mwanke, and one of the most loyal soldiers in the ranks of power. He was elected in Bandundu Province, where Kabila’s score was much higher than generally expected. The fact that he is from the west of Congo is very important for a regime, the roots of whose power lie in the east.
Six months on and Minaku has lost much of his aura. As the speaker of parliament he was unable to mobilise the 2/3 majority for a revision of the constitution, as the co-organizer of the Concertations Nationales (together with Kengo) he was unable to form a Government of National Cohesion, and as the secretary general of the Majorité Présidentielle, he couldn’t prevent the open dissidence of one of its most prominent coalition partners. Today, Minaku is no longer in pole position.
In the last few months, Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo has reinforced his position by the simple fact that it turned out to be very difficult to replace him. For many diplomats in Kinshasa, Matata Ponyo, appointed in April 2012, remains Kabila’s best idea since the elections of 2011, and the Prime Minister continues to state on the political scene that he is supported by the international partners because of his macro-economic competence and achievements.
This might be the case, but the same international partners also see him as a technocrat who is only in charge of the issues within his specific technical realm. The other issues (including security) are dealt with directly by the presidency, without any involvement from the PM. Matata Ponyo chairs a council of ministers which almost never meets and there is a total breakdown of communication with key people of the regime such as Minaku, PPRD Secretary General Evariste Boshab, Minister of Information Lambert Mende, Minister of Budget Mkoko Samba and Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda (whose travel expenses are directly covered by the presidency instead of the government).
Matata Ponyo might consider himself to be an ideal “˜Medvedev’ to Kabila’s Putin, but the main reason that he is still in office is that the regime lacks the coherence to install a government of national cohesion.
Redrawing the political landscape
Two things are clear:
- The pro-revision camp has lost its speed and its self-confidence. Right now instructions seem to be not to mention the revision of the constitution in public. This automatically means that the strategic thinking around alternatives has intensified.
- It is very unlikely that the winds of change will come exclusively from the opposition. It remains divided, but is not the only one. This is also the case for the majority. Not only is the anti-revision camp within the majority is gaining more space by the day, there is also an undeniable alienation between the regime and its electoral base.
A considerable portion of public opinion in Kabila’s home province of Katanga does not identify itself with the president anymore (a few days ago, the president of SCODE, Jean-Claude Muyambo, left the majority), and it is very difficult to imagine that North Kivu remains solid ground for the president at a moment that his statue is being demolished by the people of Beni.
We already wrote in February about the capacity of opposition leader Vital Kamerhe to mobilise massive support in his hometown of Bukavu and the entire province of South Kivu. But the three provinces together contain a considerable part of Kabila’s electorate in 2006 and 2011.
An important position was articulated to us by several senior leaders of the Balubakat, Kabila’s own paternal community. Balubakat politicians, who played a role in the Mobutu era, as opposition leaders or in support of the Supreme Guide, draw a parallel between the present situation and Mobutu’s fin de régime. The late president, in his efforts to perpetuate his reign, had lost all sense of realism and was taken hostage by a caste of acolytes who kept him away from the daily aspirations of the people. All Mobutu’s merits were pulverized by the fact that he did not recognize the sign of the times.
These are people who think that Kabila is a great leader, who has already done a lot for the country. He stopped the war and started the reconstruction. He introduced democracy and pluralism and if he leaves office now, he leaves behind a tangible positive balance sheet. He would become a historical figure and at his age, he still has a bright future after his presidency. But if he holds on to power too long, he might end in the same solitude as Mobutu: “we advise him to leave office and to prepare his succession, not because we hate him but because we love him. He is our son.”
We believe that the political landscape might be redrawn and that the drive will come from within the present majority (and even individuals from PPRD) in order to prevent Kabila’s current mandate from being renewed after 2016.
Such a wind of change will eventually go beyond the scheme of majority and opposition as we know it today. Vital Kamerhe can play an important role in this process: he used to work very closely with Kabila and was a personal friend until early 2009, when he was forced to resign as speaker of Parliament after he had formulated an open critique on the government’s decision to step in to a joint military campaign with the Rwandan army on Congolese territory without informing the Parliament.
Although Kamerhe seems to be demonized by the regime and the president himself, he has always remained on speaking terms with some key people, including some of Kabila’s family members.
Three other key personalities:
Moí¯se Katumbi Chapwe
In our research in April we noted down a long list of people who were considered (or who considered themselves) as a potential successor to Kabila. At present, when talking to people in different corners of the political landscape, one name recurs: Moí¯se Katumbi Chapwe, the governor of Katanga since early 2007.
Katumbi is a success story of his own because of the positive changes and new dynamics in his province. He has a good reputation as businessman and manager, and is known to be generous. He has the money and the looks for a great campaign. He is a charismatic personality who cunningly uses his success in football and development to feed into his political ambitions.
But he also has a number of disadvantages: there are some dark shadows hanging over his business past, he might not have a very strong personality as a leader, he is not to be considered as a sophisticated intellectual and he has a lot of adversaries in his own Katanga.
His white Jewish origins would also very likely be used against him. Most of all, he is looked at with some distrust by Kabila and his family members, although recent contacts seemed to have bridged the gap a bit. At the time of writing, he is ending a period of medical care in London, trying to purify his body from the last traces of arsenic poisoning a few years ago.
Katumbi is currently seen as one of the few politicians, perhaps the only one, who is able to mobilize a considerable electorate in the country’s eleven provinces. But, like President Kabila, Governor Katumbi has not yet expressed his intentions for 2016.
A second key personality is Kabila’s advisor on security, Pierre Lumbi. Lumbi is a politician with his roots in civil society. While preparing the 2006 elections, he founded with the help of Kabila’s friend and collaborator Samba Kaputo, the Mouvement Social pours le Renouveau (MSR). The objective was to bring the energy and experience of civil society and the grass root forces together in a political movement loyal to Kabila.
Since the elections of 2006, the MSR has been part of the presidential majority and the government. Today, MSR is the second largest party of the majority in Parliament. MSR is in a coalition with Kabila’s PPRD but has never stopped acting as an autonomous political force. The case of Nzangi Butondo made that very clear.
On August 11th 2013, national MP Nzangi Butondo was arrested after he had said very critical things about Kabila in an interview on a local free radio in Goma. Despite being a national MP of the majority, he spent eight months in jail. Lumbi and the party always defended him. In 2014, the MSR took a very explicit stand against the revision of the constitution. This important crack on the surface of the presidential majority was an significanct step towards the new landscape we mentioned earlier.
Other parties within the majority (such as ARC, AFDC and many others) and even individuals within the PPRD, who haven’t said much on the issue thus far (it being difficult to react to Kabila’s undeclared intentions), might publicly join MSR at a later stage.
Opposition leaders such as Kamerhe, Nzanga Mobutu and people in other provinces might join in, thus breaking open the current frontline between opposition and majority. Worth mentioning is that Pierre Lumbi, despite his party’s “dissidence” seems to have maintained his position as an advisor within presidential circles, something which might be an indication that Kabila is, for the time being, leaving all options open.
The third key personality who might play a decisive role in an alternative scenario is l’abbé Malumalu, who chaired the electoral commission which organised the historical elections of 2006. He received that mandate as a member of civil society. After the elections he was involved in the stabilization in eastern Congo and recently he was the focal point of the government’s delegation in the negotiations in Kampala to solve the M23 crisis.
Over the years, Malumalu shifted from an independent status towards a highly appreciated and loyal key collaborator of Kabila. In 2013 he was appointed president of the CENI and is in charge of organizing the next elections. He is seen by many international observers as one of the very rare people who is technically and in organizational terms capable of chairing the commission and organising the elections.
A lot of people think that Malumalu will blindly execute what Kabila wants, but this is probably not true. He has an international reputation to defend. Based on the 2006 elections, he is widely seen as an authority in electoral matters. He is starting up an international school, Ecole de Formation Electorale en Afrique Centrale (EFEAC) on such things too. It is unlikely that Malumalu will follow Kabila beyond the point where it would harm his credibility and future as an international expert.
Since September 15, the chances of a change in leadership in the Congo are rising and Moí¯se Katumbi, Pierre Lumbi and Apollinaire Malumalu might play an important role. Katumbi might be the only Congolese politician able to organise a successful campaign in the entire country, Lumbi’s party was the first significant political force in the majority to dissociate itself publicly from the pro-revision camp and Malumalu is probably the only Congolese with the technical, political and diplomatic skills to bring about this complex electoral process in an post-conflict country as complicated as Congo in relative autonomy.
Of course, the debate will change overnight the moment that Kabila takes a decision and communicates what he really wants.
The momentum to juggle with the constitution to give Kabila a new mandate seems, at least for the time being, behind us. In our article “˜DRC Elections: Will Kabila stay or go?’ we suggested that, if it turned out to be difficult to change the constitution, the strategy of the regime could be to slow down the process and extend Kabila’s reign beyond 2016 by remaining in his present mandate.
Playing on time could take many forms. Security and lack of finances are among the reasons to be called in for not organizing the elections as scheduled. At this moment, the administrative census has been imposed by law since 2013. The aim of the census is to divide the seats in Parliament among the different electoral circumscriptions based on the inhabitants and not, as before, based on the registered voters.
To do this, Congo recently created the Office Nationale pour l’Identification de la Population (ONIP), led by political heavyweights Adolphe Lumanu Sefu and Genevií¨ve Inagosi Kasongo. A proper census will take time, much time. Two to five years is the estimation.
What does that mean for the elections? There are several options:
- The census is concerned with the division of parliamentary seats between circumscriptions, so it doesn’t apply for the presidential elections which are organised within only one circumscription: the Democratic Republic of Congo. You don’t need the census to elect the president, so in theory you can disconnect the presidential from the legislative elections. Technically, there isn’t a problem with doing that. Politically speaking, it is problematic. If you first elect the president and later the Parliament, there is a risk that between the two elections the opposition will be emptied because a lot of people might renegue and position themselves around the elected president. That would probably not serve the growth of democracy and real pluralism in Congo. But the option exists.
- A second option is simple: the Parliament could opt for transitional measures for the 2013 law and give a mandate to the CENI to organise the elections in 2016 with a division of seats based on the voters and not on the population (as it was before the law). There might be a reasonable delay, but this is not the end of the world. As long as there is a trustworthy process with a credible road map, supported by a majority of the political class, this can be dealt with. The transition period, planned to end in 2005, has also been extended for a year.
- The third option is to postpone the presidential and legislative elections and organise them after the census is completed. This will probably take us way beyond 2016.
It is a question of political will. The decision has to be taken by MPs who might find it comfortable to extend their lucrative mandate for a few extra years. The Parliament will have to take up its responsibilities.
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.