25 06 14 AfricanArguments – rDRC Elections: Will Kabila stay or go? And many other questions on the road to 2016

The elections
of July  and October 2006 marked the end of a particularly dramatic decade in
the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This included two wars (1996-1997 and
1998-2002) and a complex peace process which culminated in a transitional period
with a delicate balancing act required between the different former armed
groups. The elections were organised by an independent electoral commission led
by the Catholic priest Apollinaire Malumalu, who represented civil society.
Joseph Kabila, who succeeded his assassinated father Laurent-Désiré Kabila in
January 2001, was sworn in on December 6th 2006 as the first elected President
of the Third Republic. The 2006 elections were the first reasonably fair and
free multiparty elections since independence.

The elections
after these, held in November 2011, took place in completely different
conditions at the end of the first legislature, with many irregularities and
results that were so contested they brought the country to the edge of

The 2011
elections should have consolidated a fragile democratic process, but they were
organised by a regime which primarily wanted to consolidate its own power. It
did that by making use of its complete control over the security forces and the
electoral machinery (including the commission, led by Kabila’s counsellor pastor
Mulunda Ngoy) against an opposition which was institutionally and strategically
fragile and very divided.

The review of
the Constitution in January 2011 decreased the opposition’s chances even
further. The 2011 elections had no added value in stimulating the emergence of
democracy nor the return of political stability.

The second
legislature of the Third Republic will end in 2016. According to the
Constitution, the country has to have elections before the end of that year and
president Kabila cannot stand for a third term.

Prior to the
elections, President Kabila has several options:

The three main options are: (a) Kabila decides to leave office; (b) he decides
to seek a new mandate; and (c) he decides to stay on under his current

Kabila decides to leave office

Kabila decides to respect the Constitution and step down as president, the
regime will have to appoint a successor:

The first group of potential candidates is the biological family. The
president’s twin sister Jaynet Kabila and brother Zoe Kabila have been MPs since
2011. Jaynet, especially, plays an increasingly important role on the politicial
scene and has a good relationship with key players like Malumalu, Minaku and Dan
Gertler.  First Lady Olive Kabila Lembe also plays an important role, especially
through her humanitarian organisation. She has assumed an extravert, slightly
populist role in the forefront, this is different to Jaynet, who works more
behind the scenes.

A second option is to appoint a crown prince within his political family. This
would probably be found more acceptable both by the international community and
the political elite within the majority.

The process
of appointing a crown prince would, of course, be a very complex and painful
exercise – there are many individuals with presidential ambitions. It would be
an exercise which Kabila would probably be able to initiate and even take the
lead in, but it is very unlikely that this is a decision that would be taken by
one individual alone. Many variables will have to be taken into account,
including regional balances.

most people in Kabila’s inner circle find that Aubin Minaku has the best access
to the President. At this moment, Minaku occupies a very strategic place in
Congo’s political universe. He is the speaker of Parliament, Secretary General
of the presidential majority and, with Kengo wa Dondo, co-organiser of the
Concertations Nationales. He is someone Kabila can rely on and one of the
best graduates from the school of teh Presidemnt’s old political fixer, Katumba
Mwanke. He is also from the west.  Counting against him is the fact that he does
not really have a popular base of his own, despite the unpredicted good results
of the regime in his home province of Bandundu in 2011. Bandundu was, however,
one of the places where the results have been most

Many people,
of course, consider themselves to be presidential material, including Prime
Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, Secretary General of the PPRD Evariste Boshab
and Minister of Communications Lambert Mende. The problem with this scenario is
that it will be very hard to identify the ideal candidate with the consent of
the majority, keep the ranks closed and incarnate the different antagonistic
interest groups which are the pillars of Kabila’s regime.

Kabila opts for a new mandate as president of the Democratic Republic of

is realistic to imagine that at some point Kabila will decide that he prefers to
continue his presidency because he believes that his departure would make the
country vulnerable. There is an influential group of people within his PPRD who
are trying to convince him to stay. For the last few weeks and months there has
been a lot of speculation going on which has given way to some fascinating kite
flying with politicians and other public personalities through the media,
personal initiatives or via an intentional leak, to gauge how local and
international public opinion will react. It is unlikely that this has been done
without Kabila’s tacit agreement, but so far he has not given open support to
these ideas and initiatives.

Again, there
are several scenarios to be considered.

The president could take the initiative to change Article 220 of the
Constitution and alter the number and/or length of the mandates. This would give
him the theoretical opportunity to remain president. This option has been
suggested several times within the Congolese majority and the group around
Kabila. Many observers don’t rule out the possibility that Kabila doesn’t think
the time is ripe for such an amendment and that he might consider it at a later
point in the current legislature. It cannot be excluded that he will tolerate or
even stimulate the kite flying to see if there is a realistic possibility that
he can stay in power after 2016. The key question seems to be whether  such a
scenario would raise enough support within the presidential majority and even
within the PPRD.

ii. If it
turns out to be unrealistic to change Article 220, it may be possible to obtain
an entirely new Constitution. The scenario for this is to consult the Congolese
electorate through a referendum. Once the referendum is adopted by the
Parliament, the country would start a new transitional period, preparing for a
referendum that would lead to the Fourth Republic.

iii. A third
possibility is the revision of the electoral mechanism (Article 70 & 71),
thus modifying the political system and allowing Kabila to “put the counter back
to zero”. He could add two more mandates without changing Article 220 of the
Constitution. Changing the direct Presidential elections into indirect elections
by the current Parliament would be an operation allowing Kabila to continue for
another two terms.

Kabila opts to remain in power by slowing down the electoral

Besides a
reform of the Constitution there are other possibilities for Kabila to remain
president beyond 2016. He could postpone the elections. Several scenarios are

He could do so for credible financial and logistical problems that are facing
the electoral process. The organisation of local elections could consume most of
the budget for the elections which makes it impossible to organise the
Presidential polls on time. This scenario seems to have been fully developed by
the president of the electoral commission CENI, Apollinaire Malumalu. The
organisation of local elections is the first step in the process and the
indirect elections of provincial deputies, governors and senators would also
reinforce the PPRD, since it is the only party with national ambitions able to
mobilise the 18,000 candidates necessary to cover the entire

ii. A
specific strategy is to accelerate the decentralisation process, including the
découpage of Congo’s current 11 provinces into the 26 foreseen in the 2005
Constitution. The découpage will redefine the power balances between ethnic
groups and economic interests at all levels and will be a source of tensions,
competition and possibly violence in different places.

For Malumalu
and his team, the 26 provinces are the backbone of their organisational
structure. CENI has 26 provincial secretaries. It recently drafted the
cartography of the province of Bandundu as a pilot project: 200 staff members
have worked 3 months to collect the geographical, sociological and customary
data to materialise the découpage. At this speed, it will take 15 months to
cover the entire country. Not only will the administrative process be very long,
but there is a much potential for conflict too.

iii. Kabila
could also invoke security reasons to postpone the elections. As head of state
he can easily proclaim the State of Emergency or State of Siege (Article 85) to
temporarily postpone the electoral process.

Not yet decided

Joseph Kabila
has been Congo’s president for more than 13 years. During this period he has
grown into the role. Nobody has been able to fill the space that was left around
Kabila after Katumba Mwanke’s untimely death. At this moment, Kabila gives
issue-based responsibilities to his collaborators (Kalev: M23, Ghonda: the
relations with Angola, Ekanga: with China etc) and deals with them bilaterally.
He does not have much confidence in his collaborators and ministers and he
certainly does not have much personal affinity with people outside his
biological family.

Having talked
to a lot of people on the Congolese political scene (majority as well as
opposition), key players within the international community and people belonging
to Kabila’s personal spheres, we are convinced that at this moment: (i) Kabila
has not made up his mind what he really wants; (ii) he knows that leaving office
is something he will have to seriously consider; (iii) this scenario is not his
first choice, he would stay if he could; (iv) but he knows that this will be
very difficult, not only because of the various signals given by the
international community and Congolese civil society and churches, but most of
all because he realises that it will be very difficult for him to leverage the
different regional poles of his power again.

The events
surrounding the appearance of the self-declared ‘prophet’ Joseph
on December 30th 2013 showed how fragile his position in
Katanga is, Vital Kamerhe’s trip to Kivu in February 2014
did the same in the east.

Kabila might
accept an exit strategy but he will need guarantees: (1) the personal safety of
himself and his family; (2) no persecution by Congolese or international
justice; (3) no loss of his wealth and property. He would also, undoubtedly,
 like to keep some influence in the background, maintain his family members
(Jaynette and Zoe) on the political map and he might be interested in an
international role. He would, however, prefer to continue to live in

The opposition: in search of structure

The political
opposition has been very fluid and nearly invisible since the 2011 elections.
The main challenger then, Etienne Tshisekedi, isolated himself from the
political debate by maintaining his position as self-declared elected president
and legitimate head of state.

Since the
Concertations Nationales of September and October 2013, the opposition
has become more structured.

Speaker of the Senate Léon Kengo wa Dondo, co-organiser of the
Concertations, founded a coalition of opposition parties under the name
‘Opposition Républicaine’. This coalition is considered by all players and
observers of DRC politics as being loyal to the regime. Kengo is representing
the coalition in the follow up to the Concertations and in the
negotiations on the formation of a  government of national

ii: A more
radical opposition, however, seems to be clustering around Vital Kamerhe,
President of UNC and third in the 2011 elections after Kabila and Tshisekedi.
Around him is crystalising a group of parties and politicians who remained
outside the Concertations, which they considered to be a mere congress of
the existing presidential majority. They consider the Opposition Républicaine to
be an enlargement of the majority and believe that Kengo and his people will
ultimately accept the regime’s strategy for the elections once it has been
decided, as long as they can be part of it.

Within the
landscape of political opposition, Vital Kamerhe has managed to keep his
reputation intact. His faction in parliament remained consistent and some of the
new MPs with a civil society background developed into hard-working and
competent backbenchers. The harassment of Kamerhe and his colleagues in the
east  in February is an indication that the regime fears that he might
capitalise on its current unpopularity in the region. Kamerhe is seeking to work
with politicians as such as Nzanga Mobutu (Equateur), Mbusa Nyamwisi (North
Kivu) and Martin Fayulu (Kinshasa) to broaden his political

iii. The UDPS
has become weakened and divided since the 2011 elections. Most of the elected
MPs have taken up their mandate and participated in Parliament even if party
leader Tshisekedi forbid them to do so as long as he had not taken up his
rightful position as Head of State. The confusion increased with the
Concertations when some of the UDPS MPs decided to participate and others
decided to stay out. In the meantime the relations between Etienne Tshisekedi
and the regime improved with some discrete talks between the old leader and
Théodore Mugalu, chief of Kabila’s maison civile.

Since then,
the blockade around Tshisekedi’s house has been lifted and several sources
confirmed that he has received a number of material benefits, including coverage
of his medical costs. A number of insiders on the DRC political scene expect
Tshisekedi’s son Félix to take office as vice-Prime Minister in the Government
of National Cohesion with the tacit agreement of his father. This is something
that will only be confirmed by the publication of the members of a new
government. To what extend this will allow UDPS to bring the different factions
of the party back into one vision and plan, remains to be

iv. The party
of Kabila’s main opponent in 2006 (MLC), Jean-Pierre Bemba, is paralysed by the
uncertain future of its leader, still held by the International Criminal Court
and awaiting the outcome of his trial. It is difficult to measure, but Bemba
seems to have maintained his popularity, by focusing on what a considerable part
of public opinion in the west of Congo considers to be his martyrdom as a victim
of ‘the system,’ or the various international conspiracies people love to
speculate on in the DRC. He would almost certainly immediately take a central
position on the political map in case of a release from The Hague and return to

Bemba’s party
remains somewhat adrift though, hesitating between genuine opposition and trying
to get on board in the Government of National Cohesion. The MLC remained outside
the Opposition Républicaine because it felt that they should have the lead based
on their numerical weight (21 deputies in Parliament and 14 in the Senate). The
fact that some of their MPs left to join Kengo’s faction does not, however,
inspire confidence.

separation between loyal/ co-opted and radical/ genuine opponants seems to be
the main structural dynamic within the opposition, but this will probably not
last long. Everything is on hold right now because people are waiting for the
government of national cohesion. Since this government will not have room for
the current seven Prime Ministers and two hundred other ministers, there will be
a lot of disappointed people. Those people might seek to reposition themselves
on the political landscape. This is most likely one of the reasons why the
formation of this government has taken such a long time.

credibility of the opposition and its capacity to mobilise would grow
considerably if the different parties could reach an agreement on who will be
the spokesperson of the opposition, which is an official function, defined by
the Congolese Constiution.

No Arab spring in Kinshasa

the time of the social revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011, few
people in Congo seemed to follow developments all that closely. The Congolese
public was much more focused on the war in Ivory Coast because it felt that,
less than a year before the 2011 elections, their country could go in a very
similar direction.

is only now that a lot of our interlocutors referred to the Arab spring.
Everybody is aware of the fact that the general public in Congo feels entirely
disconnected from the political scene. They see the political caste as people
who use politics as a way to create opportunities for their family, their clan,
their ethnic group, their region. In this, they hardly distinguish between
politicians of the majority and the opposition.

The fact that
the population does not believe that its daily living conditions nor their long
term perspectives have considerably improved in the Third Republic, continues to
breed frustration and anger. Jean-Pierre Bemba managed to channel that anger in
2006, and Tshisekedi did the same in 2011. Since then, the Congolese population
seems to have lost its belief in elections as an instrument for change or a way
to improve their living conditions.

The political
stakeholders acknowledge an explosiveness in the  frustrations of the people and
they are aware of the fact that they probably have no moral authority over the
people nor the capacity to steer any form of uprising. Some people in the
radical opposition believe that such an event could take the form of revolts
similar to those in the Middle East in 2011, but there are many differences
between the two contexts. The Arab spring was mainly carried out by a middle
class which hardly exists in the DRC. It is also likely that the army and/ or
police would make use of extensive violence in the early stages of such an

Most of our
interlocutors do not exclude the possible that there  might be a spontaneous
popular outburst of frustration and anger in Kinshasa or elsewhere in Congo.
They don’t believe that the trigger for such an event has to come necessarily
from the political sphere, although many believe that the announcement of a
constitutional review that allowed Kabila to stay in power could have such an
effect. It is more likely that the trigger will come from the social realm.
There is a considerable risk that any form of popular uprising would quickly
degenerate into blind violence, plundering, chaos and anarchy – cause a lot of
human, material and institutional damage, and be fairly quickly suppressed by
the security forces.

Civil society
no longer has the leadership and the capacity to mobilise the population it had
two decades ago. At this point, the churches have the highest moral authority to
guide and coach the people. Their resistance against a revision of the
constitution and a third mandate for Kabila remains one of the regime’s biggest

Civil society
has lost its structure during the last decade and many of its leaders have been
co-opted into the system. Therefore, civil society has been used by would-be
politicians as a springboard to higher levels – they do their best to legitimise
the governmental action and wait for an occasion to be part of it. But that
doesn’t mean that there aren’t civil society organisations working at grass
roots level which continue to express a genuine feeling of

The current
potential of the churches (in particular of the Catholic church) to give
leadership to the Congolese people is much higher than the potential of civil
society. But it too has its limits. Everything that divides Congo divides the
churches too – they do not act as a consensual institution which is above
Congo’s fissures. But they have an important contribution to make on quality
control of democratisation and in the promotion of

African ownership over conflicts and elections in Central

important development throughout 2013 is that African countries and multilateral
institutions have been quite eager to play a role in the process of solving the
M23 conflict. Or at least preventing it from developing into an open regional
war. Not only did they confront the traditional protagonists, they also
confronted each other.

worked intensively to keep the conflict within its existing limits, the SADC
countries tried to get actively involved (Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania have
sent troops for the FIB), the African Union also sought to promote its own
visibility and leadership.

This is an
interesting development and it is not impossible that the result will be the
power balance between and within African regions is reformulated. The way the
Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement of February 24th 2013 was
embedded in Africa contributed greatly to its success. One of the achievements
of the agreement is that there is a lot of talking going on between the
countries of the region and regional cooperation is no longer a

Rwanda and Uganda continue to hold important keys. An important part of M23 is
still present and could be supported, equipped, trained etc. to be deployed in
eastern Congo at some point, although there is no concrete indication that this
will happen any time soon.

Congo’s allies (Angola, South Africa, Tanzania, Congo-Brazza) are very
interested in the elections. Their main concern is not the democratic quality
(most of them face similar problems of searching for a balance between credible
elections and their dedication to remain in power) but stability at their
borders related to their economic interests.

Even key allies such as Dos Santos or Zuma do not have much personal affinity
with Kabila and his regime. They actively maintain contact with key
personalities in the Congolese opposition.

It is important to be aware that South Africa’s involvement is not particularly
institutionalised, but more based on president Zuma’s

              Many countries in the region are organising elections in the
forthcoming years. Some of them face similar issues on a third mandate. Many key
political players will observe with great interest how the international
community deals with these issues in Burundi, which has its elections in

The PSCF: a  diplomatic management document, not an operational plan

The Peace
Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement as signed in Addis Ababa on
February 24th 2013 continues to be an important reference, but as a diplomatic
management tool rather than as an operational mechanism. The follow up has been
heavily focused on security, but the thinking beyond the military operation is
not as strong as western diplomacies would like it to be. The international
dimension of the Agreement is considered to be very successful because it put to
an end to the M23 crisis and created a new impulse for intra-African diplomacy
and cooperation.

implementation of the Congolese dimension is much more difficult. Different
ambassadors mention certain but slow progress by the government and the ministry
of planning, but they refuse to see this slowness only as a signal of bad will
and lack of dedication  of the government towards the PSCF. The limitations of
the current implementation are also imposed by the obvious lack of financial
means and by the arduous restoration of state authority.

But Congolese
interlocutors involved in the follow up to the national mechanism point out a
flagrant lack of political will and disorganisation, linked to a leadership
struggle for the control of the mechanism and to a lack of ownership of the
issues which are not related to security.

The added
value of Mary Robinson’s office towards the overall approach of the
international community is situated at two levels: (1) she plays an important
niche-role (e.g. investment forum, women’s empowerment,…) and (2) at a highly
strategic level, she reinforces key messages.

What role for the international community?

collaboration between the different special envoys is quite harmonious and this
is also true for the  different EU members present in Kinshasa. The change of
tone and policy of the United States regarding Rwanda has also contributed to a
potentially more coherent international accompaniment   of the democratisation
of the DRC in general and the forthcoming elections in particular. The Special
Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Democratic
Republic of Congo, Martin Kobler, has begun to structure the international
community around the key issues of elections, DDR and SSR.

During his
visit to the Independent National Electoral Commission  on 21st April, Kobler
pledged MONUSCO’s support for the organisation of the upcoming elections, in
terms of technical and logistic assistance as well as good offices. As part of
the Mission Mandate agreed upon by the UN Security Council, MONUSCO is to
provide technical, logistical and financial support to the Electoral Commission
in order to ensure a sustainable electoral process during the entire cycle.
Kobler’s deputy, Moustapha Soumare, will chair a task force on logistical

has been suggested that Monusco’s support for the elections be used as a lever
to put pressure on the Congolese government, but this strategy would probably be
counterproductive since it would give the government  a reason to delay the

The different
diplomatic missions still have to define their policy in light of possible
future scenarios. On Sunday May 4th, US Secretary of State John Kerry declared
in Kinshasa  that the United States is prepared to give Congo $30 million in aid
for stability and democracy-building — but wants President Joseph Kabila to
agree to step down at the end of his current term in office. The EU follows a
tougher line.

international community is in a position to accompany an historic moment for
Congo. The PSCF has created a new situation in Central Africa, the space for
Rwanda and Uganda to intervene in the DRC is much smaller than it has been for
nearly two decades. This has created the potential to stabilise eastern Congo,
something that has not yet materialised.

countries insist a great deal on the holding of elections, but go quite far in
accepting non-democratic practices. This behaviour is partially based on looking
for a difficult balance between the desire to really contribute to the
development of democracy on the one hand, and on the other a concern about not
damaging stability that is relative and precarious. The result is often a choice
between what is considered the lesser of two evils.  The ambiguity of Congo’s
Western partners is well understood, both by political players in the region and
the local population.

Since 2006,
donors have adopted a post-conflict, or stabilisation strategy, epitomised by a
mandate that focuses on supporting a government in Kinshasa which has
difficulties in accomplishing state rehabilitation and to getting beyond the
political logic of patronage, which undermines its attempts to reform. But Congo
can’t get back on track if it has a corrupt government. Good governance is the
key issue and it will be very difficult to maintain it on the agenda and to
consolidate the achievements of the PSCF if the international donor community
engages with in an electoral exercise which allows Kabila to stay on beyond

Congolese and international observers of Congolese politics would consider a
process which does not lead to a change in leader as a major setback to the
peace and democratisation process as it has existed since negotiations at Sun
City. Kabila leaving power is still a possibility, even if several people in the
presidential camp have launched initiatives to maintain him as

also believe that the international community has the potential to reinforce the
quality of democracy in Congo. If we want citizens to continue to believe in
elections, we have to ensure that they are credible. It is essential not only to
supervise the electoral process, but also to invest in the political awareness
of the electorate by supporting the programmes of civic education run by the
churches and other independent civil society organisations. We must help to
prepare the ground so that local communities adopt and internalise the values
and the concepts of democracy. Also, a massive independent observation starting
at grass roots level needs to be encouraged.

Most parties
in the DRC are relatively young and have not had the time to establish clear and
solid structures, which obviously does not facilitate internal democracy. In
many cases parties were created around the personality of their historic leader
or his heirs. Due to this personalisation, parties are often seen as
representing a particular region of the country or a specific group in the
population. They lack an ideological profile, a social project or visions that
distinguish them clearly from other parties. Investing in the capacity building
and institutional reinforcement of political parties seems to us to be a very
meaningful contribution to the development of genuine democracy in

The different
political parties and stakeholders in the DRC are the result of more than 50
years of very poor political culture. It is possible to identify politicians
with democratic potential in different corners of the landscape. They do not
belong to one camp, and they are everywhere a minority.   It would be an
interesting challenge to identify a format to bring these people together in an
attempt to reinforce the development of a more cohesive political leadership in
the DRC. Such a programme would decrease the barriers between the political
parties and have a positive impact on the quality of political debate and the
democratic process in the country.

Manya Riche
has worked for many years inside different Congolese institutions on the peace
and democratisation processes. This experience has given her great strategic
insight on political issues in Congo and Central Africa and personal access to
 key actors at the highest level. She works now as an independent consultant and
is a coordinating member of the Congo Peace Center, a ramification of the
Conflict and Development Chair of  the Texas A&AM  University.

Kris Berwouts
has, over the last 25 years, worked for a number of different Belgian and
international NGOs focused on building peace, reconciliation, security and
democratic processes. Until 2012, he was the Director of EurAc, the network of
European NGOs working for advocacy on Central Africa. He now works as an
independent expert on Central Africa. He is currently writing a book on the
conflicts in eastern Congo to be published in 2015 by ZED Books.

Manya and
Kris conducted research for DFID DRC’s Evidence, Analysis and Coordination
Programme (EACP), on behalf of Integrity Research and Consultancy, in April and
May 2014. This article is the summary of their conclusions.


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