DRC: Governorship elections were a challenge for Tshisekedi ahead of the 2023 poll

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Monday, 9 May 2022 16:13

DRC’s President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa on 20 February 2022. © Arsene Mpiana/AFP

In April 2019, during the last governorship election, the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC) was feeling very excited and satisfied. After winning a majority in the national assembly and senate, former president Joseph Kabila's coalition secured a large proportion of the posts governing the country's 26 provinces.

Three years seemed like an eternity, and the situation took an unexpected turn. At the end of December 2020, almost all the governors broke their political agreement with the former president and declared that they were joining President Félix Tshisekedi’s fledgling Union Sacrée de la Nation (USN). Richard Muyej, the governor of Luabala, and Zoé Kabila, Joseph Kabila’s younger brother and governor of Tanganyika, were the only people who did not change sides. The provincial members of parliament then dismissed the latter five months later.

However, on Friday 7 May, President Felix Tshisekedi’s supporters won the governorship elections in 11 of the 14 provinces involved in the poll, according to official results from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI).

Among the governors elected are three women: Ritha Bola for the province of Mai-Ndombe (south-west), Isabelle Kalenga in Haut-Lomami and Julie Ngungwa in Tanganyika (south-east). The FCC won a single governorship in Maniema (east).

The second round of elections is to be held on 9 May in the provinces of Central Kongo (south-west) and Tshopo (east) to decide between the two leading candidates, the CENI announced. The former governors of these fourteen provinces were mostly FCC members. The provincial assemblies voted them out, accusing many of them of various misdeeds such as mismanagement of resources and incompetence.

The FCC said it was “not concerned about this election”, and there were no major obstacles standing in the USN’s way except for infighting. So was it a foregone conclusion?

Scattering

The USN may be its own worst enemy.

In early April, Modeste Bahati Lukwebo, president of the senate, published a list of the USN’s candidates. Several party members then disregarded the official instructions, and they submitted their dossiers to the CENI and ran as independent candidates.

“Some are supported and financed by government members, others by members of the President of the republic’s cabinet who want to exert influence in the provinces,” a source within the USN says.

“Christophe Mboso, president of the national assembly, needs to control the ex-Bandundu provinces. Dany Banza, Félix Tshisekedi’s ambassador-at-large, and Guylain Nyembo, the head of state’s chief of staff, want to control the ex-Katanga provinces. And there is even a member of the executive, Crispin Mbadu Panzu, the deputy minister of planning, who is running as an independent candidate in Kongo-Central against a USN candidate,” says another source, who describes a “hypocritical” Union Sacrée, “in which each party plays its card to defend its own interests in the run-up to 2023.”

Thus, four candidates ran in Haut-Uélé, six in Haut-Lomami, eight in Kasaï-Oriental, five in Kasaï-Central and 22 – a record – in Central Kongo.

Towards the presidential elections

This lack of discipline a year and a half before the presidential elections in 2023 raises questions, especially since Tshisekedi has made it clear that he intends to run for a second term. More than a year after its formation, which was obtained thanks to winning over many leaders from Kabila’s FCC, the “Union Sacrée” machine is struggling.

After two years in office, Tshisekedi overturned the majority in both houses of parliament, appointed a new prime minister and put allies at the head of various political, judicial and economic institutions.

However, the governorship elections are also important. Not only will these provincial chiefs play a central role in President Tshisekedi’s vast “145 territories” project, but they will also be essential to mobilising the population in the run-up to the presidential election.

Finally, this election promised to be the first test for Denis Kadima’s team, whose appointment as head of the Ceni was the subject of a real tug of war between the government and opposition.

“Is it not time to face reality? The system has shown its limits and has prevented the development of our provinces,” said a government source, for whom the appointment of governors by parliament members is “a disaster. Corruption is practised in the open, in full view of everyone,” he concludes.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options