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DRC: Tshisekedi can now plot his moves ahead of 2023 polls

By Romain Gras
Posted on Wednesday, 2 June 2021 17:37

Financing of African Economies summit in Paris
President of DRC Felix Tshisekedi in Paris, France May 18, 2021. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

Five months after ending his coalition with former president Joseph Kabila, DRC’s President Felix Tshisekedi has a new government. This should allow him to prepare for the 2023 election as well as make up time lost during the two years of laborious collaboration with his predecessor. Already halfway through his term, this seems like an immense task and time is running out.

Did Tshisekedi really believe that the building could collapse as quickly as it had been erected? In mid-April, the day after the new government was announced, the Union Sacrée, which was the mega-coalition that he had set up four months previously, was having to contend with a lot of disappointed members.

After several weeks of intense negotiations, 56 ministers of Sama Lukonde Kyenge’s proposed government were retained. As expected, many of them were rejected, some of whom had already prepared their acceptance speech. A rebellion was already being organised, led mostly by members of the alliance Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC). This clique of “revolutionaries” was demanding a reorganisation of the government as they felt that they had been shortchanged given the crucial rule they had played in overthrowing Kabila’s government.

Behind the scenes, concern was mounting and Tshisekedi was working to clear the air. “At this stage, if we include the rebels and the opposition, this government has no chance of succeeding,” said a worried heavyweight within the coalition the day after an exchange with the head of state.

Goals for re-election

On 26 April, in an almost packed congress hall, the Parliament voted to confirm this new government by an overwhelming majority. 410 out of the 412 members of parliament were present.

Tshisekedi thus brought an end to a political chapter that had begun seven months earlier after his alliance with Kabila officially ended. For the first time since he was elected president, he has full control over both houses of parliament and is free to push through his agenda.

Tshisekedi will now focus on implementing certain reforms to strengthen his record, financing his ambitious programme and preparing for his re-election in 2023.

One of his top priorities is reforming the DRC’s Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni). In a final meeting with MPs that was meant to defuse the tension before the new government was announced, Tshisekedi reaffirmed his commitment to holding timely elections, saying he wanted to “put an end to the stupid and nasty speculations” about a possible delay in the electoral calendar.

These rumours, which have been spread by some of the President’s supporters, have been a source of tension within the diplomatic community. “He would be the principal loser if he changed the electoral calendar. 2018 has proven this,” says a diplomatic source.

To prevent this issue from escalating out of control, the question of when the next election will be held and how it will be financed will need to be answered quickly. There is also the challenge of finding a replacement for Corneille Nangaa as president of the institution.

While this process has not yet been fully relaunched, the time has come to decide on the best way to reform Ceni. This project is being led by Christophe Lutundula, the current foreign affairs minister. While it does appear on the agenda of this parliamentary session, which is due to end on 15 June, it has been slow to move forward.

$14bn

In addition to preparing for the 2023 elections, Tshisekedi’s other challenge for the next two years will be financing his ambitious programme that was presented to MPs on 26 April. The problem with it as that it contained very few quantified measures.

Kyenge only evaluated the overall cost of the government’s action plan until 2023. The head of government estimated that it would cost $36bn over three years – or $12bn per year. This figure has raised many questions within the Assembly as the budget for the current year is less than $7bn. This figure has already been revised downwards from the previous year to take into account the consequences of the pandemic.

Proposing a collective budget for the current year would help clarify the situation. To achieve his objective, the head of government estimates that $14bn will need to be mobilised by 2023. “We mobilise somewhere between $3.5bn and $4bn of our own resources each year. Anyone who believes that we will be able to get our hands on this kind of money is simply delusional,” says an elected member of the Union Sacrée.

In any case, the new ministers in charge are looking for solutions. In the wake of the installation of the new government, discussions began among Nicolas Kazadi, the new finance minister, Nicolas Kazadi, Tshisekedi’s former ambassador-at-large, and the International Monetary Fund. The objective of these talks was to reach an agreement on a financing of more than $1.5bn over three years. The Congolese side wants to gather enough collateral so that it can apply in early July. No agreement has yet been reached on what kind of reforms will have to be undertaken.

A “blank cheque”

The task, to which is added a delicate security situation, is therefore immense. However, if he wants to move forward at the necessary pace, Tshisekedi will have to maintain control over this volatile majority whose capacity to slow down when unhappy has already been demonstrated.

Satisfying the needs of a heterogeneous coalition like this will not be easy. “Not everyone will fall in line all the time. It is important to remember that yes, Tshisekedi has a majority, but no, he does not have everyone’s support,” says a member of the Union Sacrée.

Can Tshisekedi trust his new allies completely? It is dangerous to assume that all of the parties within the Union Sacrée, who all know that Tshisekedi intends to run again for president in 2023, will support him in his re-election bid. “He would have liked to have the full support of the Union Sacrée’s major leaders when it came time for him to run for president in 2023. But he didn’t get it,” says a member of the Union Sacrée. “We are not naïve, we know that joining the Union Sacrée is not a blank cheque for 2023,” says a person close to the Head of State.

Although some of the Union Sacrée’s heavyweights, such as the Senate president Modeste Bahati Lukwebo, fully support the head of state’s 2023 presidential bid, others are much more vague about where they stand.

Moïse Katumbi, whose new party is actively recruiting new members, is a potential outsider and is keeping a close eye on the future electoral reforms. Jean-Pierre Bemba is yet another major coalition member who is much more secretive about his political ambitions.

He is still hung up on the fact that the Constitutional Court disqualified him from running for president in 2018 due to his conviction for bribing witnesses. Could he be forbidden again from running for the same reason? In this race against time, Tshisekedi will need to strike a clever balance between advancing his agenda and keeping his new allies happy.

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