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What will Kabila do next?

By Christophe Boisbouvier
Posted on Wednesday, 13 March 2019 11:56

Joseph Kabila and Félix Tshisekedi
Joseph Kabila and Félix Tshisekedi January 24, 2019. REUTERS/ Olivia Acland

Congolese president Félix Tshisekedi has already sent out signals to his predecessor Joseph Kabila that he’s nobody’s patsy.

The former oppositionist was inaugurated on 24 January and quickly curried favour with both the military and the people:

  • On 1 February he started receiving all his generals and provincial commanders at the presidential palace. Three days later he visited Tshatshi military camp – the largest in the capital, where Kabila had never been – promising better conditions for soldiers.
  • He blocked public accounts so that outgoing ministers could not abscond with the money.
  • He ordered arrears payments for the striking workers at Transco, getting buses running again.

On 5 February the DRC’s new president declared: “I’ve sent a reassuring message to Joseph Kabila and his friends. We are going to govern the country together by agreeing on a defined programme.”

It wasn’t want Kabila bargained for when he supported the lesser of two evils after his daupin, Emmanuel Ramazoni didn’t get the votes.

Kabila started his counter-offensive in mid-February, tasking Néhemie Mwilanya Wilondja, his former chief of staff, with coordinating the manoeuvre.

  • Kabila’s Front commun pour le Congo (FCC) coalition has 351 out of 500 seats in parliament.
  • The “boss” can use his war chest to persuade FCC MPs not to go over to Tshisekedi’s camp.
  • On 20 February, Kabila assembled the 18 heads of political parties that make up the FCC to Kangakati, his private farm near Kinshasa, and got them all to sign an ‘acte d’engagement’ reaffirming their loyalty to him.

The Kangakati operation was a success. It has produced a clear parliamentary majority, whose spokesman, André-Alain Atundu, told Jeune Afrique: “President Tshisekedi doesn’t need an informer. The majority is clear, and the future prime minister will be from the FCC. It’s constitutional.”

Control of the mines – and the money. There’s a rumour the position will go to Albert Yuma, despite a controversial performance as the head of Gécamines. This suggests the Kabila camp will try to keep control of the mining sector – the country’s most lucrative. “But wait!” says the UDPS cadre. “With the new regime a minister won’t be able to sign a mining contract in secret in his office. Decisions of state will be taken in the Conseil des Ministres, after deliberation.”

There are two players in the game. Without openly saying it, the Kabila camp fears that in a year, when the Constitution allows it, Tshisekedi will dissolve the Assemblée National to put an end to the FCC’s dominance in the chamber. “If Kabila wants to make the law, Tshisekedi will have the weapon of dissolution. And Kabila knows it!” says the UDPS cadre. Until then, both men are looking for a modus vivendi.

Kabila’s real power will be measured through the fate of his friends and enemies:

  • How much longer can he continue to veto the return of exiled politician Moïse Katumbi?
  • Will he be able to prevent the liberation of Eugène Diomi Ndongala, Eddy Kapend, and the 28 others imprisoned without proof for the assassination of his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila?
  • Can he save Kalev Mutond, the former head of intelligence now pushed out and implicated in an arms cache scandal?

There are three options for Kabila going forward:

  • Prime minister (the Putin 2008 scenario), but he won’t want to take the flak for the new government’s failures.
  • President of the Senate: Unlikely, too exposed.
  • Retire to his fiefdoms and nurture the ambitions of his younger brother Zoé, who wants to be governor of Kalemie.

Bottom line: “Kabila will no longer be visible but he will remain in power,” says the former prime minister Samy Badibanga.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique

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