DRC: Moïse Katumbi and race for the presidency
Moïse Katumbi has had an eventful and emotional few days since he declared his intention to run for president. On 4 May, the former governor of Katanga announced his candidacy on Twitter, and the next day found his house surrounded by police.
Katumbi’s arrest seemed imminent, but eventually the police left their positions under pressure from MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The presidential elections for which Katumbi intends to run are scheduled for 27 November, but it is doubtful whether they will actually take place. At this point, not many people believe that credible elections can be organised within the constitutional delays.
There are several reasons for this, but the most important is that the government has systematically withheld the funds needed by the electoral commission to organise the various phases of the process. This could be seen as a symptom of the government’s lack of ownership over its own elections, but it is actually closer to a boycott.
Over the last couple of years, the government has attempted several times to create the conditions to prolong the reign of President Joseph Kabila beyond the stipulated constitutional limit.
In September 2014, for instance, Speaker of the National Assembly Aubin Minaku tried but proved unable to change the constitution. Then, in January 2015, the government again tried but failed to pass a new electoral law that would have delayed the elections by several years.
The only strategy that has worked so far is le glissement (‘slippage’) – that is to say, delaying the elections due to the government’s position that it is not possible financially or technically to organise them in time. Remaining in power by simply not organising elections. Crystalising or cracking? It has become clear since around 2014, however, that Kabila has had difficulties in maintaining the superficial unity among the informal networks and interest groups that make up his regime. And particularly since September 2015, Kabila’s Majorité Présidentielle has been in a state of disarray.
That month, seven senior political figures – known as the G7 – were expelled from the ruling coalition after calling on the president not to cling onto power. Then, shortly after, the influential Katumbi announced his resignation from the ruling PPRD party. Meanwhile, antiKabila sentiment continued to grow in Katanga and Kabila’s relationships within his inner circle of power remained poor.
By the end of 2015, the possibility of this growing opposition managing to work together in a solid constellation was looking hopeful. And different rapprochements between Kabila’s opponents crystalised in midDecember with the creation of the Front Citoyen 2016.
Nevertheless, the opposition is frequently targeted by the regime and subject to attempts to fragment the parties from within.
Amongst the opposition, Moïse Katumbi has increasingly been seen as the best placed challenger to Kabila since around 2014. As governor of Katanga from 2008 until 2015, when the province was dissolved, he was seen as successful and popular; he has built an economic empire as a businessman; and his looks, communication skills and money contribute to his ability to mobilise large crowds in what was formerly Katanga and beyond.
However, not everything is in his favour. It is not obvious that the Congolese electorate will want a third consecutive president whose roots are in Katanga; Katumbi’s wealth and the way he acquired it make him vulnerable to allegations and potential court cases; and the business community in the town of Lubumbashi not only complains that he is greedy but claims he used his political mandate to expand his economic empire.
Furthermore, Katumbi is still somewhat of an outsider when it comes to national politics. He has yet to prove he has the political skills and nerves of steel necessary to set up and lead the broad coalition it would take to really challenge Kabila (or his crown prince if he were to appoint one).
As it stands then, both the current regime and opposition fail to fullyconvince. Important politicians have left the ruling majority, others are suspected to be preparing their departures, while many of those who remain are competing with each other with impressive zeal.
The hardliners of the regime perhaps have the advantage currently, which is palpable in its public statements, in the media and in the growing repression of opposition leaders, dissidents and other critics, including in civil society and the press.
The opposition meanwhile still has to show it can make a difference and come forward with a coherent political constellation, centred around in a single candidacy. In December 2015, the Front Citoyen 2016 was established as a broad coalition for the respect of the Constitution, but for now the main merit of the group is the fact that it exists.
Could this be the DRC’s next president?