Country FilesCentralDemocratic Republic of Congo - DRC Country Profile 2015: Presidential wait-and-see


Posted on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 09:00

Democratic Republic of Congo - DRC Country Profile 2015: Presidential wait-and-see

By The Africa Report

altPresident Joseph Kabila celebrates his 14th anniversary as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on 26 January 2015.

Kabila is already the second-longest-serving president of the post-independence period, while first place remains with Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled from 1965 to 1997. The constitution says that Kabila must step down in 2016, but he has not said what he plans to do.

The mining sector and agriculture are growing but are not vastly improving livelihoods. It is not clear that Kabila has decided on any one course of action for 2016.

In part, this is because he has never publicly said what he thinks about the matter, in line with a general reluctance to do much public speaking or to be specific about his intentions when he does so.

Neither has Kabila taken any action that would indicate clearly what his strategy for 2016 and beyond might be. Instead, the new government he promised in October 2013 remains unformed.

Second-guessing Kabila

In the meantime, there have been a succession of public utterances by senior members of Kabila's Majorité Présidentielle (MP) alliance, presumably in the hope that they speak Kabila's mind, arguing in favour of constitutional revision but without spelling out that this should be to allow a third term.

Congolese opposition parties fervently oppose constitutional revision, and their view is shared by Russ Feingold, the US government's special representative to the Great Lakes.

In order to protect their privilege, those in Kabila's inner circle want him to stay in power beyond 2016. Members of the group include Kabila's sister Jaynet and brother Zoé.

Gécamines chairman Albert Yuma is influential as are national assembly president Aubin Minaku and Evariste Boshab, the secretary general of Kabila's Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et la Démocratie.

Moïse Katumbi, governor of Katanga Province, is a potential successor and would be likely to protect Kabila's interests if the latter steps down. Kabila appears to be pursuing a wait-and-see strategy into 2015.

altPresumably, at some point during the year he will announce a new prime minister and a new government will be formed, which will provide clues about his thinking.

The current talk is that prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo will keep his position and that disgruntled leaders of the MP will be brought into cabinet to shore up their loyalty. Kabila has surprised before when it comes to picking prime ministers and may do so again.

Meanwhile, the lethargic electoral commission is set to begin organising a census and/or local elections. The high cost and daunting logistical challenges involved are clear, and the government will swiftly turn to the UN mission and donors for help.

Donor decisions

If donors refuse, the process will likely stall. Alternatively, donors might say that they will help but only if Kabila respects the two-term limit.

If that happens, everything might also be delayed, at least for as long as it takes for the government to persuade donors that there is not enough time to respect the 2016 time line and that a managed transition that is running late will be better than unmanaged chaos.

If donors opt to pay for the census or local elections without conditions, which is unlikely, Kabila can ensure that it all takes as long as possible. The big unknown during 2015 is what ordinary Congolese people will make of all this.

In the absence of reliable opinion polls and because of the well-reported serious deficiencies in the official polling data from the previous election in 2011, no one can really say for sure.

A useful indicator during the year, however, will be the level of militia activity around the country. Congolese militia traditionally behave like mushrooms, springing up in fertile spots when conditions are ripe and disappearing when the ripeness subsides.

For at least two years now, northern Katanga Province has been one of those spots, particularly around Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto, where an estimated 500,000 people have been displaced. There are no signs that this will abate during 2015.

Big industrial mining companies in southern Katanga worry about this, but will only really start to sweat if the militias make significant inroads closer to their operations.

In the east, the Rwandan government appears dissuaded for now from lending its military might to assist a Congolese militia. The result is an uneasy calm in much, though by no means all, the Kivus, which should hold for as long as Rwanda's President Paul Kagame wants it to.

In 2015 the Congolese military and UN troops will continue their operations in North Kivu Province against the Ugandan rebel group calling itself the Allied Democratic Forces. It remains unclear how much effort the armed forces will devote to operations against the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR).

Previous military efforts against the FDLR resulted in the militia melting away into forests, where it was nearly impossible to pursue them. Any lack of commitment will be seized on by Kigali, and possibly used as the rationale for further intervention.

Mining growth

Congolese economic growth looks impressive on paper, but few Congolese directly benefit from this, since it is almost exclusively driven by rising output from industrial copper and cobalt mines in Katanga.

There is some direct benefit from this growth in the form of rising incomes for mining company employees and improvements in infrastructure paid for by mining companies.

But because the manufacturing and service industries that once benefited from rising mining output have long since disappeared from Katanga, the multiplier effect is much more limited. The sector is set for another bumper year in 2015, as the impact of private investment over the past decade continues to kick in.

Analysts predict production of 923,000tn of copper in 2014, rising to 950,000tn in 2015.

Companies continue to complain that they would be producing much more if there was more electricity available. There appears little prospect of anything better than marginal improvement in electricity production during 2015. The Inga III Dam is supposed to move forward in 2015.

Tiger Resources is promising big new investment in the Kipoi copper mine, and Randgold is set to ramp up output at Kibali in 2015. Kabila has promised to boost agricultural production, and investment in new commercial ventures has indeed been rising, including in new agricultural zones.

altStatistics for agricultural output are too unreliable to set much store by, and a better guide will be whether the proportion of foodstuffs grown domestically and sold in cities like Kinshasa and Lubumbashi starts to rise and whether prices begin to come down.

So far, this has not noticeably happened, though consumer price inflation averaged only 2.4% during 2014, according to the International Monetary Fund, which expects it to rise to 4.1% during 2015.

The mobile phone penetration rate in the country is estimated at only 44%, suggesting there is still plenty of room for growth in the sector.

However, mobile telephone service providers are unconvinced that the Congolese they have yet to reach have much money to spend and have noticeably slowed down their efforts to roll out infrastructure across the country.

Instead, competition for existing customers will continue to intensify among the networks.

That should keep phone calls inexpensive, but will mean lower profits for the service providers, which will probably further slow infrastructure deployment.

The opposition prepares for 2016 

These are challenging times for opposition parties, which are facing the government's plans for constitutional revision and talk that President Joseph Kabila could stay on beyond 2016. 

Etienne Tshisekedi, who insists
he was the rightful winner of the 2011 elections, turned 82 on 14 December and is increasingly bedevilled by health problems. 

He has shown no sign of being prepared to relinquish the reins of his Union pour
 la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS). 

None of his ambitious lieutenants have challenged him openly either. Behind the scenes, groups are fighting attempts by Tshisekedi's son Félix to organise a family succession. 

Vital Kamerhe, 53, was once president of the national assembly and now heads the opposition Union pour la Nation Congolais (UNC). 

He is seeking to establish himself as the only credible opposition leader, not only to the Congolese people but also to sceptical foreign donors. 

The authorities have taken to banning UNC rallies and beating up Kamerhe's supporters when they defy the bans, which is earning Kamerhe kudos as a serious oppositionist and helped counter claims that he is in league with Kabila. 

It is unlikely that the UDPS and UNC will present a single candidate in 2016, but they have been working together to criticise the electoral commission.

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