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Growing turbulence in DRC’s ruling coalition points to an early divorce

Wednesday November 18 2020
DRC pic

Former DRC President Joseph Kabila (left) congratulates his successor, Felix Tshisekedi, on his inauguration in January 2019. PHOTO | AFP

The rickety coalition that has governed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for 20 months, forged by President Félix Tshisekedi and his predecessor Joseph Kabila, appears to be falling apart.

In 2019, for lack of a parliamentary majority, Tshisekedi chose to share power with his former rival, Kabila, in a coalition of their respective political platforms – the Cape for Change and the Common Front for the Congo. The Cape for Change is led by Tshisekedi and opposition figure Vital Kamerhe.

Rather than put the country on the path of economic and social recovery as intended, this alliance turned out to be a centre of conflict from early on. The alliance partners have fought over the sharing of ministerial posts. They have also clashed over the control of other state agencies, including the judiciary and the national electoral commission.

The tensions have become more pronounced in the last six months, as shown by, for example, the ousting of Jean-Marc Kabund a Kabund, the interim president of Tshisekedi’s party, Union for Democracy and Social Progress, from his post as vice president of the National Assembly. This was at the instigation of Kabila’s platform. The members of the platform in the government have also been refusing to execute orders from Tshisekedi.

In addition, the parliament, which is dominated by Kabila’s platform, has accused Tshisekedi of violating the constitution. He appointed three new judges to the constitutional court in Julyand the Kabila camp considers the appointment to be flawed. They also accuse the president of wanting to control the country’s judicial institutions.

Members of parliament aligned to Kabila have been boycotting initiatives by Tshisekedi, in both the government and parliament. They refused to take part in the swearing-in of the three recently appointed judges.

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Tshisekedi became president 20 months ago. Before then, his political party had been the main opposition party for more than 35 years, to the successive regimes of Mobutu Sese Seko, Laurent Désiré Kabila and his son Joseph Kabila.

As his party didn’t get enough MPs to form a government, he got into a coalition with Kabila’s Common Front for Congo, which had more than the required number of MPs. This enabled him to lead the war-weary, unstable country, promising to rebuild it.

But being a president without a loyal parliament made his position precarious. From early on, the governance of the country was like a vehicle driven by two people at the same time, without any prospect of positive economic outlook.

It didn’t take long for a breakdown to happen.

Major disagreements arose between the coalition partners. They differed over how to share ministerial posts, management of the state-owned companies, diplomacy, the electoral process, appointments of the head of the electoral commission as well as judges of the constitutional court, to mention but a few.

From the onset, many observers dismissed the coalition between Tshisekedi and Kabila as an unholy alliance doomed to fail. The experience of the last 20 months supports the sceptics’ view that the coalition was never sincere about working together for the benefit of the Congolese people.

For Kabila, the motivation seems to be the desire to retain power behind the scenes. His platform used its parliamentary majority to get cabinet positions and other positions in stated-owned companies (such as the national railway of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gécamines, the Congolese commodity trading and mining company).

For Tshisekedi, the main goal appears to have been to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the coalition to destroy the system of cronyism and corruption that had become entrenched under Kabila. He relied on popular support and political gamesmanship to tighten his grip on power.

After endless, futile negotiations with the Kabila camp, Tshisekedi appears to have finally recognised the limits of the coalition government, and has lost patience. In a brief address to the nation on 23 October, he denounced the Kabila camp’s obstructive actions. It was thinly veiled rebuke of his coalition partner. He said: “These disagreements between parties involved in this Agreement are hindering the economic take-off of the country.”

He announced a consultation with social, religious and political leaders with a view to bringing about reforms. His aim is to gain a majority in parliament and establish a new government loyal to him.