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DRC: The strategy of Félix Tshisekedi

Dr. Roger-Claude Liwanga
By Dr. Roger-Claude Liwanga

Fellow on Human Trafficking and Forced Labor with the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University

Posted on Tuesday, 17 December 2019 11:10

President Félix Tshisekedi at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 26 September 2019.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) President Felix Tshisekedi’s alliance with his political rival may seem irrational to many observers, but it serves a purpose. The new president is maintaining his relationship with former president Joseph Kabila's Common Front for Congo (FCC), to ensure he can deliver on his campaign promises.

In the early ‘90’s, Indian economist Kaushik Basu introduced a new ‘game theory’ problem called “the traveller’s dilemma”. Today, it could help to explain the developments in the DRC, following Tshisekedi’s election.

According to Basu, two strangers buy identical antique objects before boarding a plane. During the flight, the objects are damaged and the travelers ask for compensation. The airline manager tells each of them to write down the value of their item in secret.

The manager says if both strangers choose the same number, he will consider it the true value and reimburse them in full. However, if they choose different amounts, the manager will assume that the lower price is correct.

READ: Former president Kabila stages theatrical bike parade

In this situation, the manager pays a bonus to the ‘honest’ passenger who chooses a lower amount while  imposing a penalty on the ‘dishonest’ passenger.

The traveler’s dilemma presents an illogical or irrational choice: the passenger who asks for less compensation will derive a greater benefit.

Tensions in the coalition

What does all this have to do with Congolese politics?

When Tshisekedi came to power in January 2019, he formed a new coalition government with his rivals from the FCC coalition.

Tensions remain high between the two groups. In early November, Kabila’s supporters destroyed the opposition’s posters, and vice versa.

Why does Tshisekedi fail to question his shaky alliance with the man he once described as “dictatorial”? What does the current president stand to gain?

The new head of state is acting like one of Basu’s travellers but, instead of money, Tshisekedi is asking for power.

Eleven months have passed since the DRC elections but the president’s power is unstable. Tshisekedi’s critics question the ‘real value’ of his presidency and his alliance.

But Tshisekedi, like Basu’s ‘honest’ traveller, does not overbid. He has refused to launch a probe into the regime’s former leaders , even though it could benefit him.

While at first glance, Tshisekedi appears to be making an irrational choice, he actually stands to benefit from an alliance with his rivals.

Félix Tshisekedi delays

The best option for Tshisekedi is to delay and promote de-escalation while maintaining a relationship with Kabila.

By choosing to ally himself with his predecessor, he is also demonstrating a certain rationality. Tshisekedi needs a political partner with a parliamentary majority to fulfil his campaign promises.

Tshisekedi also knows that he needs a good track record if he wants to be re-elected in 2023.

Tshisekedi can also exert his influence outside the alliance. He’s able to make changes to the top leadership structure of the army and security services, both of which support the former president.

He could also try to win a majority in parliament by calling for early parliamentary elections next year.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique

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