The former governor of Katanga was in one of the stands, just like he always is, but his mind was probably elsewhere.
In the plane that had taken him to South Africa a few hours earlier, Katumbi had learned that members of parliament were going to vote on the composition of the new Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI). The plenary session, which was initially scheduled for the day of the match, ended up taking place the following day, after the majority made some final attempts at negotiation. It already seemed clear that the arm wrestling that had started several weeks ago would take a new turn.
Time to break up
By the end of a turbulent session, members of parliament had ratified, by a show of hands, Denis Kadima’s appointment to the CENI’s presidency. Twelve other figures from the majority and civil society were appointed to the commission’s board.
Since the beginning of the discussions, Katumbi has criticised what he describes as a “non-transparent” process that threatens the credibility of the next elections, in which he might decide to run. He has been faced with this stalemate since August and has refused to send his own representatives to participate in the bureau. He told Jeune Afrique in an interview back in August that this issue was a “deal-breaker” and insisted that “the president and other members of the CENI’s appointments [should] be consensual and in accordance with the law.”
Although the members of parliaments’ decision to ratify the new bureau has put an end to several weeks of deadlock, it has also raised an important question: is it time for Katumbi and President Félix Tshisekedi to go their separate ways?
Formalising the divorce
As soon as the plenary was announced, the two parliamentary groups of Ensemble pour la République, MS-G7 and AMK et Alliés (70 members of parliament in total), declared that they would be re-evaluating their membership of Tshisekedi’s Union Sacrée alliance. Tshisekedi and his allies former the coalition in order to weak the position for former president Joseph Kabila’s supporters.
“The principles and values on which the Union Sacrée was founded are betrayed every day for the benefit of the interests of a few individuals, to the detriment of justice and the well-being of the Congolese people,” their statement says.
[…] the divorce is already consummated. We are now just discussing how to make it official.”
Katumbi, who returned to the DRC the day after the plenary, sent a letter to the head of state on 18 October. In this letter, he reiterated the reasons why he had joined the Union Sacrée and called on Tshisekedi not to approve the CENI members’ appointment. “No one today can believe that you would endorse the partisan work of a contested joint commission at the risk of casting a veil of suspicion over the CENI,” the leader of Ensemble pour la République wrote.
His tone may be measured, but Katumbi has in fact already launched consultations within his camp to prepare for an eventual departure. “The damage has already been done, and we must now respond in a thoughtful and effective manner,” says one of his close associates, who adds that “the divorce is already consummated. We are now just discussing how to make it official.”
According to the head of state’s entourage, this weariness is mutual. “We have already reached the point of no return with Katumbi,” says a member of Tshisekedi’s inner circle. This same source also states that the Congolese President intends to back the CENI’s new members.
The Katumbi camp is particularly frustrated by the fact that the positions within the electoral commission have not been shared equitably. The Union Sacrée’s second major political force, Ensemble pour la République, believes it did not get its fair share during the negotiations.
Katanga’s former governor was hoping for the position of rapporteur within the CENI’s bureau, but after discussions led by Christophe Mboso, president of the national assembly, Jean-Marc Kabund, head of the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS), and prime minister Sama Lukonde, the post was finally given to Patricia Nseya, a member of the presidential party.
“Kabund offered Ensemble the post of deputy rapporteur, adding that the UDPS would make concessions on how it allocates other posts, notably the heads of public enterprises,” says a source who was involved in the talks.
Two meetings were held last week before the plenary, at the Hotel du Fleuve Congo, but each side refused to budge. “The discussions never led to a compromise, neither on how posts would be allocated nor on which people would be appointed,” says Dieudonné Bolengetenge, Ensemble pour la République’s secretary-general, who denounces the fact that some party members were “poached”. She is referring to Paul Muhindo – a member of the RCD KML that is part of the Ensemble grouping – who became the CENI’s deputy rapporteur.
Will Katumbi take the plunge, as he pledged to do when he described the CENI issue as a “deal-breaker?” Given that five of his party members are serving in the government, some of whom hold key portfolios such as foreign affairs and transport, he is aware that not everyone in his party will follow him.
“He already experienced this during the [Joseph] Kabila era,” says an aide. According to the same source, “advanced contacts” have been established with various opposition currents, including Martin Fayulu’s camp. Several members of Katumbi’s entourage say they are ready to break with the Union Sacrée, but this could have a real political cost.
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