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DRC: Will Katumbi and President Tshisekedi go their separate ways?

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Friday, 23 July 2021 11:30

Félix Tshisekedi and Moïse Katumbi. Photomontage/ Photos: Vincenzo Pinto/AP/SIPA; JOHANNA DE TESSIERES /COLLECTIF HUMA

Is Moïse Katumbi, who at first was a part of the constructive opposition before forming an alliance with the ruling Union Sacrée alliance, now preparing to join the radical opposition camp?

Within a span of a few weeks, the tone has radically changed within his political party, whose members are now constantly denouncing the ‘methods and practices’ of President Félix Tshisekedi and accusing him of being ‘no different’ from past regimes.

Supporters of the former governor of Katanga have become increasingly abusive on social media. Meanwhile, tension has risen once again following the conviction of Jacky Ndala, youth coordinator of the Ensemble pour la République party. He was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 500,000 Congolese francs ($247) for ‘inciting disobedience of the law’.

His lawyers, who have already announced their intention to appeal, say that the charges cannot hold, especially since “the questioning at the Agence Nationale de Renseignement concerned a proposed law which stated that candidates running in the next presidential election must hold Congolese citizenship.”

“Lighting the fire”

The issue was Ndala’s speech on Noël Tshiani’s controversial bill, which states that only citizens born to a Congolese father and mother will be able to run for the highest office. Katumbi’s camp sees this bill as a direct attempt to prevent their flagbearer from running in the 2023 presidential race, as his father is Greek. “When the signal is given, wherever you are, light the fire near your residence,” said the youth coordinator for Ensemble pour la République. “We have made an appointment to visit the People’s Palace.”

The tensions, already palpable between the two camps, took a new turn after Tshisekedi announced on 29 June that he would be running for a second term in 2023. Since then, leaders of Katumbi’s party have begun to publicly distance themselves from the president, despite the fact that he is the head of the Union Sacrée, the political alliance that their leader joined.

On 8 July, a spark ignited a flame when Nsingi Pululu tabled – on Tshiani’s behalf – the proposed law intended to ‘block’ access to the presidency. This proposal was heavily criticised, notably by Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, who denounced it as an ‘instrument of exclusion and division’.

Pro-Katumbi offensive

Olivier Kamitatu reacted to a tweet by former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, in which he – who is at the heart of an investigation for alleged corruption – claims to have been poisoned. The former’s response clearly expresses the level of distrust between the two camps.

Kamitatu, who is Katumbi’s chief of staff and one of his closest collaborators, wrote that since “poisoning, arbitrary arrests, dungeons and torture, discriminatory and racist laws [exist] against a backdrop of populism, the talk of democracy rings terribly false in DR Congo.” He added that “everything mentioned hints at the end of the rule of law.”

They are afraid, just like those of the Front Commun pour le Congo because they know that if the courts decide to look into the past, we will find skeletons in their closets.

Salomon Idi Kalonda, Katumbi’s main adviser, added to the full-scale attack on Tshisekedi’s governance saying: “Two questions now [arise]. Who benefits from the crime? And who is next on the list?”

“We have become accustomed to hearing people shouting from the rooftops about the advent of the rule of law, while at the same time, maintaining actors who are recycling old recipes from when we were ruled by single parties and lived under absolutism, totalitarianism,” said Dieudonné Bolengetenge, secretary-general of Ensemble pour la République.

Reaction from the opposing side has been just as unfriendly. “I see that Katumbi’s supporters, just like him, are afraid of the emergence of justice. They are afraid of the rule of law,” said Peter Kazadi, who drew a parallel with former president Joseph Kabila’s supporters.

“They are afraid, just like those of the Front Commun pour le Congo,” said the senior official from Tshisekedi’s Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social. “Because they know that if the courts decide to look into the past, we will find skeletons in their closets.”

These words sound like big threats between two parties that are supposed to be members of the presidential majority. It certainly seems like Tshisekedi will have trouble keeping his Union Sacrée united.

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