DRC: Moïse Ka­tumbi and race for the pres­i­dency

The African - - POLITICS LOCAL - BY KRIS BERWOUTS

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?

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