KABILA PLAYS THE MEDVEDEV OPTION
The date set for the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s long-delayed presidential elections, 23 December 2018, is swiftly approaching. The elections, if they are held, will mark two years since President Joseph Kabila’s constitutional mandate expired in December 2016.
At the time, Kabila managed to extend his rule by simply declining to organize elections. This worked for a time; however, following increasing unrest and widespread demonstrations resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people, the President and opposition parties on 31 December 2017 signed the so-called Saint Sylvester Agreement, committing to hold elections a year hence.
Now, international and domestic forces have combined to levy immense pressure on Kabila, who is term-limited out, to hold true to his word and allow the country to vote on his successor. However, while he cannot delay elections any further without causing explosive unrest, Kabila has no intention of relinquishing the executive reigns his family has held since 1997, and through which they have built a massive and enormously profitable business organization.
In order to maintain control of the family’s revenue streams, as well as to avoid investigation and potential prosecution of his numerous criminal and economic violations, President Kabila is attempting to mimic the power-swapping dance demonstrated by Russian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev between 2008 and 2012. In 2008, President Putin, barred from a third term by the Russian constitution, stepped aside to enable Medvedev’s election to the presidency, under the agreement that he, Putin, would be appointed Medvedev’s Prime Minister. While the premiership is typically subservient to the presidency, it was largely assumed that Putin remained the de facto Russian leader throughout this period.
In order to achieve this Kabila has hand-picked his successor, Ramazany Shadary.
There was surprise in Kinshasa when Kabila announced Shadary as his successor, but he is now seen as the right man in the right place at the right time for Kabila.
Shadary, from a small Maniema tribe, is very devoted to Kabila. He used to be a member of Etienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) before crossing over and becoming Minister of Internal Affairs. He is targeted by international sanctions for his role in the bloody 2016 repression of demonstrations. He is the operational boss of the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) and has direct links to professional elements of the army.
Shadary belongs to a very small tribe (Kabambari) which means he has no tribal constituency. In addition, he is a relative of Mama Sifa , Kabila’s powerful mother, and she is the one who sponsored him and “sold” him to her son. He remains loyal to her , even more than to the son. Therefore Kabila runs quite a low risk of betrayal.
Kabila appears ready for an election of sorts. He has signed all the decrees securing formal arrangements for the election, while doing nothing that would make a credible election possible, such as updating the electoral roster, printing electoral documentation, or remapping electoral districts.
He has also, via the Congolese CENI (electoral commission) invalidated the candidacies of six presidential candidates including Jean Pierre Bemba.
The elimination of Bemba will not go without consequences . The only opposition candidate remaining who has a chance is Felix Tshisekedi . But rigging will take care of him . Nevertheless it is interesting that Kabila does not trust his own rigging . He needs to sweep the playing field before the competition takes place because he does not even trust his rigging capacity.
Moïse Katumbi, the wealthy businessman and former Governor of the Katanga Province who is facing trumped up legal charges, has also been eliminated as a potential contender.
Felix Tshisekedi is running the successor campaign to the long-term opposition of his father Etienne Tshisekedi, a central figure of the opposition since 1982 and Secretary General of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) from its creation until his death in February 2018. The younger Tshisekedi is the cleanest of all possible candidates because, as the son of the most notable opponent to the dictatorship of first Mobutu and then Kabila, he never had any chance to participate in any activity that would have been illegal. He is also well-educated and reliable.
Tshisekedi has weathered recent upheavals steadfastly, including Katumbi’s marginalization and Jean-Pierre Bemba’s release from imprisonment by the ICC.
Bemba is now free from the secondary accusations that were still lingering in the wake of his unexpected release from detention by the International Criminal Court. His party, the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), which has held steadfastly in support of its hero and founder for the past ten years, held a congress last week and on 13 July chose Bemba as its presidential candidate. He completed his registration as a candidate by the early August deadline.
Now the real game begins. In a free and fair election, Jean-Pierre Bemba would win with a large plurality. Bemba fought first Mobutu and then Laurent-Désiré Kabila for six years. He was chosen in the peace negotiations in the early 2000s as Vice President. When he tried to position himself for the presidential race in 2008, Joseph Kabila tried to kill him.
He has the necessary personality to appeal to many voters of various tribes. He is a northerner, from the region that was Mobutu’s tribal base, and his coming back would mean revenge for the Bangala, an ethnic group that has faced discrimination for the last twenty years. Furthermore, his ten years in jail have given him the aura of a martyr, which he encourages with demagoguery and overconfident self-promotion.
But he is also prudent and has had to pay dearly for his miscalculation back in 2006 when he opposed Kabila and sought to return to violence. There is no love lost between him and Kabila but there is mutual prudence, like two cats circling in an open space, as ready to fight as to make a deal. It is unlikely that Bemba would accept to be a puppet of Kabila for several reasons: He has too much charisma and too long a history of intense rivalry with Kabila. His supporters would hate it and he would lose backing, and the degree of international hostility to such a deal would be hard to handle.
Kabila does not want war, but he recognizes that it is a distinct possibility and has recently taken measures to ensure he wins if a war takes place.
The first step was an organizational reform of the High Command. The two key changes were the following: Brigadier General Didier Etumba was removed from the position of Chief of Staff, which he had occupied since November 2008, and promoted to special military advisor to the President. He was replaced by Brigadier General Célestin Mbala Musense. Then, General John Numbi, suspended since 2010 after he was accused of murdering civil society leader Floribert Chebeya, was reinstated and made Inspector General of the Armed Forces (FARDC). Numbi is a Muluba, like Kabila, and a well-known killer. Additionally, seven other generals were forcibly retired and four were promoted to important staff positions.
There are multiple focuses for revolt – even in Kinshasa’s neighborhoods – and widespread unrest is probable.
The army is in poor shape. But possible insurgents are even less capable of waging an armed struggle. The army’s main job, in case violence erupts, will be to crush urban insurgencies. As long as there is no foreign intervention, by Rwanda or, more likely, Angola, the FARDC can hold the ground.
In the face of this, the potential of Kabila being overthrown by a popular uprising is practically nil. The place is too big , too disorganized , without ideology , with too many brands and types of opponents. But with a worsening humanitarian crisis, and even an ebola outbreak in dense population areas, collapse of order is possible in several of the most critical areas – in Kasaï, in North Katanga, in the two Kivus amd in Province Orientale.
This raises the possibility a Rwanda-backed invasion in the East that will purport to reestablish order for the government’s benefit but will in fact directly collect the dividends.
Kagame used to control a majority of the mining interests in the Kivus (especially North Kivu). He used proxies (Laurent Nkunda , Bosco Ntaganda) to lead his forces in the DRC. When the international community intervened, he dropped them and created a political/armed movement called M23 (2012) that triggered a larger reaction from MONUSCO which put together a special military force (still deployed in Beni) that pushed M23 back into Uganda where Museveni isolated them and choked them in the spring 2013.
Since then Kagame has laid off eastern Congo. Recently, after a series of meetings by Kabila’s faithful men in Kigali (mostly military and security , not technicians or politicians), some kind of an agreement was reached. About a month later Kagame began recruiting his men for “Intore”. Our interpretation is that Kabila got support for his operation from Kagame and allowed him political (and perhaps military) space in the Kivus as a reward. They also made decisions on what to do in Burundi, probably a discreet support for Nkurunziza .
All three governments are aligned in their disdain for term limits , but with very different types of attitude from the international community , ranging from full support in the case of Rwanda to open condemnation for the DRC by way of mute toleration for Bujumbura. This to show that the Congo crisis will probably impact all the Great Lakes area, including all the way into Uganda which is now at daggers drawn with Rwanda.
Kabila addressed the nation and said that the election will take place on 23 December, that “it is a matter of sovereignty” and that “our commitment to respect the constitution remains unequivocal.” However, there is very little likelihood that a “clean” election will be possible.
Kabila went on to say that the DRC itself will pay for the election and that he is not asking for any money from anybody. This too, is likely the truth, although the announcement has less to do with symbolic self-sufficiency and more with a willingness, even eagerness, to conduct elections within a technologically ill equipped electoral infrastructure, susceptible to manipulation. The opportunities for rigging include poor voting lists, no control or observation in over 50% of polling stations and no security in the transport of ballot boxes in a country with over one million square kilometers of poor roads.