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Wearing a hat and a polo shirt displaying Joseph Kabila’s name and maintaining a serious, proud expression, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary made it clear he was back in the game. On 22 October, the ill-fated candidate of the last presidential elections and permanent secretary of the Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et la Démocratie (PPRD) had come to Lubumbashi, in the heart of the wealthy Haut-Katanga province, to chair a 48-hour mini-convention. Its agenda is two-pronged: to prepare the way for Kabila’s return to politics via a large gathering, the date of which is yet to be set, and also to look ahead to the 2023 presidential elections.
Shadary was surrounded by PPRD’s most powerful members, including Néhémie Mwilanya, the influential coordinator of the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC); former minister Henri Mova Sakanyi; Jeannine Mabunda, president of the DRC’s National Assembly; and Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba.
Usually discreet, Shadary relished this opportunity. The mini-convention looked rather like a group therapy session, but if you read between the lines of his flattering speech, the former heir apparent was seizing the occasion to reaffirm his leadership within the PPRD and position himself as the president’s second-in-command.
“Like a head of state”
“The meeting allowed us to assess the electoral process and get to the bottom of the truth. Everyone was able to say what they had on their minds. An election can only be won if we come together. If we can’t unite, we lose”, summarised Adam Chalwe, the PPRD’s national secretary. Prior to the Lubumbashi convention, Shadary had already led several party meetings.
“His status has changed since Kabila made him his heir apparent. He’s no longer just the party’s permanent secretary. It’s as though the head of state’s stand-in has become the head of state,” a senior official commented. “The party’s victory in the legislative elections has worked like a cure [after the crushing upset in the presidential elections],” said André-Alain Atundu, the former spokesperson of the Alliance pour la Majorité Présidentielle (AMP), now part of the FCC.
Over the course of 2019, and despite a number of public comments, Shadary was not very forthcoming about how the electoral process was conducted. And yet, it is clear that the December 2018 debacle has left a number of consequences in its wake. “Given that the army, like all other government departments, was run by the FCC, Shadary was convinced that the situation was under control. Maybe he didn’t understand the level of pressure Kabila was under,” commented one of Shadary’s close associates.
The same Shadary who declared victory after dropping his ballot into the box hadn’t taken in the situation. “Shadary and Corneille Nangaa, the president of the electoral commission, no longer get on well. They don’t talk to each other anymore,” reveals a close friend of the two men. In Shadary’s eyes, Félix Tshisekedi stole his place and Nangaa deliberately refused to declare him president of the DRC. “He thinks that Nangaa was afraid of the reaction of the UDPS [Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social],” adds another member of Kabila’s camp.
The art of the rebound
On 24 January, the man who attended Tshisekedi’s inauguration ceremony (alongside Vital Kamerhe) and was applauded by UDPS militants embodied the failure of Kabila’s camp. Shadary appeared to be on the verge of another dry spell, the kind he had experienced early on in his political career. But the former heir apparent has mastered the art of the rebound.
Originally from Kabambare – like Mama Sifa, the former head of state’s mother – in Maniema province (eastern DRC), he is close to the Kabila family. One of his friends even went as far as introducing the former Lubumbashi University student as the president’s “distant cousin” (a close friend who nevertheless took a long time to nab a plum position).
Kabila has continued to trust him because he knows that Shadary isn’t solely responsible for the defeat”
An active member of the late Étienne Tshisekedi’s UDPS party, at a time when the country was known as Zaire and ruled by Mobutu, Shadary joined forces with Laurent-Désiré Kabila upon the creation of the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo (AFDL).
When this movement, backed by the Rwandan army, took control of his home province in 1997, Shadary was elected as its governor, receiving Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s blessing. The new rebellion that broke out a few months later forced him to move to Kinshasa, where he struggled to find his place. It was not until 2001, when Joseph Kabila rose to power and the PPRD, in which Shadary was a participant, was formed that he began to come into view.
An essential cog in the machine
After a long period of invisibility, Shadary began to climb the parliamentary ladder. He became head of the PPRD and then joined the government as deputy prime minister and minister of the interior in 2016, just a few months before Kabila’s final term was supposed to end. It demonstrated Kabila’s trust in him during an extremely tense period. In spite of his linear career path and solid local network, he was far from being the favourite to succeed Kabila. Appointed at the last minute, this hardline Kabila supporter came up against internal strife from certain disappointed barons from the majority who had ambitions of becoming Kabila’s successor.
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A giant with feet of clay
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“Kabila has continued to trust him because he knows that Shadary isn’t solely responsible for the defeat,” a PPRD member confided. Shadary continues to be an essential cog in the Kabila machine. He has maintained a direct link with Kabila, in the same way that Kabila Néhémie Mwilanya has – another Swahili speaker. He was one of six FCC negotiators tasked with allocating positions within the executive branch and, to this day, plays a key role in the make-up of the Ilunkamba administration.
He also laid claim to the post of prime minister for his own political family. “He had veto power when the administration was being formed and had each PPRD minister sign loyalty agreements,” adds a Kabila party senior official.
Prior to the election, the question – arguably a naive one – remained whether or not he would be able to break away from the president’s authority if he came into power. After his defeat, he turned his close relationship into an advantage that would allow him to maintain his influence, granting himself a plum position among other powerful PPRD members, including Aubin Minaku, former president of the National Assembly, and Matata Ponyo Mapon, a former prime minister who is also from Maniema province. “He has just about everyone under his thumb, he’s the one who gives orders,” says a senior official.
He wants to serve as a dam in the face of Tshisekedi’s rise to power”
Although the FCC has allied itself with the UDPS, the former heir apparent still sees Félix Tshisekedi as his rival. “People have said that he’s looking for a government post. But how could he be a minister in his opponent’s administration?” observes Adam Chalwe. At the end of October, in Lubumbashi, Shadary, who still refers to Kabila as “the DRC’s strongman”, wasn’t afraid of expressing his dislike of Tshisekedi when he openly announced the PPRD’s ambitions for 2023: “Our goal is to win the elections at every level. We are a political party and we have a plan. The person bothered by this doesn’t understand the definition of a political party,” he wrote in an op-ed.
Is this a concerted strategy or a lone-wolf statement? In any event, Shadary’s comments have brought about a new wave of tension between the PPRD and the UPDS. Could this disrupt the future of the coalition? Each camp maintains that Tshisekedi and Kabila – to whom Shadary prefers to give credit for the new president’s reforms, such as free basic education – still value this marriage of convenience.
“Shadary is the embodiment of the FCC’s hardline wing. He wants to serve as a dam in the face of Tshisekedi’s rise to power,” one source comments. “But with Kabila, everything can change. Also, the former president should have waited a bit before returning to politics,” adds an official close to Kabila, implying that if Shadary is not careful he could be replaced as permanent secretary. For now, the president continues to trust him. However, after successfully surviving the murky waters of the Kabila regime for nearly 18 years, he knows enough to be wary of counter-currents.
This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.
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