NEW ERA, BUT NO CHANGE FOR CONGO?

The New European - - Expertise -

It’s no easy task hold­ing an elec­tion in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC). Just ask the coun­try’s elec­toral com­mis­sion, which started 2017 by pub­licly an­nounc­ing that the next gen­eral elec­tion – orig­i­nally sched­uled for 2016 but then post­poned un­til 2018 – might ac­tu­ally not be held un­til well into 2019.

But, come early 2018, it looked like there might be good news on the hori­zon for the be­lea­guered na­tion, the largest sub-sa­ha­ran Africa: a De­cem­ber 23 poll was con­firmed af­ter the in­de­pen­dent elec­toral com­mis­sion fi­nally de­clared it had reg­is­tered enough vot­ers for the bal­lot to go ahead.

The elec­tion is a cru­cial one be­cause it fi­nally marks the end of Joseph Ka­bila’s rule in the DRC. His sec­ond term in of­fice should have ended in 2016 and un­der the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion he can­not stand for a third. Yet the con­sti­tu­tional court granted him a care­taker man­date to re­main in post, be­cause fresh elec­tions to se­lect a suc­ces­sor could not be held, since vi­o­lence in the eastern Ka­sai re­gion had im­peded reg­is­tra­tion of vot­ers.

Op­po­si­tion groups saw it as a ploy by Ka­bila – who has been in power since suc­ceed­ing his fa­ther in 2001 – to ex­tend his time in of­fice and feared the care­taker role would even­tu­ally turn into a third term. Posters which ap­peared on the streets of Kin­shasa early in 2018, nam­ing Ka­bila as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, seemed to con­firm such fears. Yet, in the end, they were not re­alised.

In Au­gust, Ka­bila an­nounced he would not stand in the elec­tion. De­spite this, though, the ma­jor­ity of or­di­nary peo­ple still do not see next month’s vote as an op­por­tu­nity for real change in the coun­try. The main rea­son is the man Ka­bila has en­dorsed as the rul­ing party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date: Em­manuel Ra­mazani Shadary. A party loy­al­ist, he was a vi­tal ally of for­mer pres­i­dent Lau­rent Ka­bila, and is now a close con­fi­dant of his son Joseph. If he wins, he will prob­a­bly toe Ka­bila’s line and it is un­likely much will change in the DRC.

While these ‘cre­den­tials’ might make him at­trac­tive to Ka­bila, Shadary was an odd choice, be­cause he has been sanc­tioned by the EU for his role in crack­ing down on pro­test­ers seek­ing to chal­lenge the cur­rent regime. The mea­sures in­clude a freeze on visas to pre­vent for­eign travel. Shadary has asked the EU to lift the sanc­tions, but it hasn’t done so yet. Nonethe­less, he is now the rul­ing party’s nom­i­nee, as well as the can­di­date for the Com­mon Front for the Congo, a po­lit­i­cal coali­tion that rep­re­sents the pres­i­dent’s al­lies.

The Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo has not had a smooth trans­fer of power since in­de­pen­dence in 1960. Next month, it chooses a new leader. REUBEN LOFFMAN as­sesses what lies ahead for the be­lea­guered coun­try

Soon af­ter his nom­i­na­tion spec­u­la­tion turned to who would op­pose him. At first, busi­ness­man and erst­while gover­nor of the for­mer Katanga province Moise Ka­tumbi was the hot favourite to re­place Ka­bila, de­spite his con­vic­tion for fraud in 2016. But in June 2018, for­mer Con­golese vi­cepres­i­dent Jean-pierre Bemba was re­leased by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court in the Hague hav­ing had most of his con­vic­tions for crimes against hu­man­ity over­turned.

Be­cause of Ka­tumbi’s le­gal prob­lems, which would even­tu­ally bar him from stand­ing, Bemba be­came the new favourite to beat Shadary. In a dra­matic turn, how­ever, the elec­toral com­mis­sion banned Bemba from run­ning be­cause he still had a con­vic­tion for wit­ness tam­per­ing out­stand­ing at the ICC.

With both Bemba and Ka­tumbi out of the run­ning, Félix Tshisekedi took over as the most pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion can­di­date. He is one of the most high-pro­file sons of the late op­po­si­tion leader Eti­enne Tshisekedi, who died in 2017. Af­ter the death of his fa­ther, he took over the pres­i­dency of the Union for Democ­racy and So­cial Progress.

But the main op­po­si­tion lead­ers still had to de­cide if they would unite be­hind a com­mon can­di­date and, if so, if that can­di­date would to be Tshisekedi. So, ear­lier this month, seven op­po­si­tion fig­ures, in­clud­ing Bemba, met in Geneva to thrash out the an­swers to these ques­tions.

Ini­tially, all the del­e­gates agreed to back the can­di­dacy of for­mer oil ex­ec­u­tive and long-time anti-ka­bila ac­tivist Martin Fayulu. But the ac­cord fell apart less than 24 hours af­ter it was signed. Ul­ti­mately, Tshisekedi, and another op­po­si­tion can­di­date Vi­tal Kamerhe pulled out of the coali­tion for a united can­di­date,

EN­THU­SI­ASM: Sup­port­ers of op­po­si­tion pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Martin FayuluFar left, Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila and Em­manuel Ra­mazani Shadary

Pho­tos: Getty Im­ages

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