Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The peregrinations of Congo's politicians

For the past two weeks, the fate of the Congolese opposition has been played out abroad.

First, there was the trip to Addis Ababa, where the African Union asked Congolese political parties to agree on a code of conduct for elections and to campaign peacefully. This came just days after UDPS and PPRD followers clashed in Kinshasa. The meeting in Addis did not produce any visible outcomes - the UDPS is still the only major opposition party to refuse to sign the code of conduct, while UDPS followers continue to clash with the police in Kinshasa. Le Potentiel, Kinshasa's biggest daily, dismissed the initiative as "a distraction."

Then, Tshisekedi - the Sphinx of Limete, as he is called - traveled to Brussels, first to meet with Jean-Pierre Bemba at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. According to the Congolese press, as well as MLC members, Bemba refrained from backing the UDPS leader, preferring to just say that he would "back the joint candidate of the opposition," and urging the various opposition parties to find such a man.

Then, Tshisekedi went to meet with Kengo wa Dondo - who has just announced his own coalition that is backing him as "their joint candidate for the presidency." According to people close to Kengo, Tshisekedi gave him a document outlining his main policy plans, then urged him to sign up. Kengo is allegedly not happy with this way of proceeding. "You don't just hand someone your plan and tell him sign up - that's no way of negotiating," one of his associate told Congo Siasa.

Next stop: Washington, DC, where Vital Kamerhe, Mbusa Nyamwisi and Etienne Tshisekedi were all supposed to converge over the past several days. However, Tshisekedi missed meeting with Kamerhe due to a trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he met with the large Congolese community. He did, however, reportedly send the same policy document to Kamerhe and urge him to sign up, as well. Kamerhe, predictably, demurred.

Of course, all of these meetings abroad have fueled speculation in Kinshasa about Belgian and American positioning during the elections. 

Despite these tensions within the opposition, something does seem to be afoot. For some time now, the main parties have been converging on Tshisekedi as the main candidate. However, the main stumbling block was his's reluctance to dole out specific positions before the elections - he told the other parties that the main spoils - prime minister, speaker of parliament, president of the senate - would depend on how each party fared in the polls. The other parties - UNC (Kamerhe), UFC (Kengo) and the MLC - insisted on knowing what they would get out of such an alliance.

Now, however, a plan is emerging that might solve that broker a compromise. While details are still fluid - and nothing is certain - under the terms of the deal, Kengo and the MLC would back Tshisekedi for the presidency if he promises that the UDPS would not claim the prime ministry or speaker of the national assembly. Instead, those positions would go to the other two largest opposition constituencies in parliament. That, of course, assumes that the opposition gains a majority in the national assembly.

It is not clear if Kamerhe, who has the most sway in the East of all the opposition parties, is involved in these negotiations. But it would be difficult for him to hold out alone if both Kengo and the MLC join forces with the UDPS.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jason-

By "back", do they actually mean "withdraw"? There is no point to these machinations, or the logic of this deal, if it doesn't mean this basic exchange.

The leverage of the other candidates vis a vis Tshi is staying on the ballot. Thus, if this potential deal is to have any material effect on its underlying premise, backing him must mean withdrawing from the ballot in exchange for a "joint program" and UDPS demurring on the Prime Minister and Speaker portfolio's.


It isn't clear in your post if this is what you/they mean. So, from the info you have, it would be good to clarify- which I recognize will be challenging given the fluid nature of these negotiations.

One can have hope that a deal will be struck. But given the lopsided nature of Congo's political system- an overwhelmingly strong Executive and weak Assembly/Supreme Court- it is not likely. This system doesn't produce a political class that can trust one another (among other symptoms) and it is this singular lack of trust that has bedeviled the Congo from the earliest days of its independence and contributed to its instability.

In many respects, if a breakthrough occurs it would upend the Congo's political system up to this point.

- Mel

Jason Stearns said...

@ Mel - I assume that they would indeed withdraw from the race, although this would be a problem for the printing of the ballot paper, which I believe has already begun. In 2006 Mbusa Nyamwisi did this, backing Kabila but leaving his face on the ballot, which led several thousand people to throw their votes away.

Rich said...

I am having all sort of problems with the way the potential deal is being cooked.

The opposition was quite happy to splash around 450 000 $ (9 * 50 000$) to register as a candidate to the presidentil election and they are happy to let that money just go... Why on earth wouldn't they agree before? Yes the change in the law flirted with illegality but the opposition was happy to carry on but never had time to strike a deal...

Now, they are asking the opposition not to worry about the presidential elections because Tshisekedi wants to and must be president before he retires and the others (Kamerhe, Kengo Mbemba etc...) will fight to control the parliament right? How does this work? Why has udps registered candidates for the parliament if they want the others to get the chance to control the house? They have not agreed on a joint manifesto what program will they be presenting to the parliament?...

I don't know but as far as I am concerned I will not trust tshisekedi to play it fair with the others. All he wants is to become president and besides that he wouldn't care less about what happens to Kamerhe, Bemba or indeed Kengo.

All I can remember from tshisekedi's political acareer is that the man is very versatile and egocentric. His never ending frights/friendships with Mobutu can teach us a lesson or two... (that's just my opinion)

Watch this space in case you have any doubt...

Jean-marie said...

CHISEKEDI and his UDPS have always been dictatorial and they don't believe in power shearing .most his advisers and UDPS representatives all around the word come from his tribe and they have continued to treat other member's from different regions as intruders or KABILA 's spys with such a history I don't think the UDPS can respect any agreement they enter with ather opposition partys if CHISEKEDI is chosen to lead a unified opposition and this will make it hard for peoples in mostly the Eastern Congo to throw their behind CHICHI Even if his endorsed by KAMERHE because the UDPS has been absent in Eastern Congo sins the mid 1980s and it's leader CHISEKEDI is viewed as too close to the very hated RWANDA backed RCD GOMA .

Anonymous said...

Jason,

When will you stop making up story or just lying again congolese. thsisekedi did not meet with Kamerhe in DC because Kamerhe did not show up, He(kamerhe) had a rendez vous in state department with Clarson. Thsisekedi spend all day in DC hoping to hear from Kamerhe. Thsisekedi promise to meet Kamerhe in Congo after everybody urged him to do so. including his family.

Rich said...

Here are images of Mubaka in Bukavu. Mubake is currently scouting the east for tshisekedi's imminent visit. However, the images are showing him taking a real swipe at Kamerhe (Kamerhe asked a signed confirmation that he will be 1er Minister before he can abandon his presidential ambitions on tshisekedi's favour) Mubake says things like, he has managed to assemble more people in that stadium than Kamerhe and that Kamerhe paid people to come to his meeting in Bukavu...

Very denigrating language from Mubake and the udps against Kamerhe on his own so called backyard... I wonder how this kind of language will help for a possible coallition of the opposition...

(get some Swahili translation and enjoy)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbTT-EK3-Zw&feature=player_embedded

Affair a suivre...

Jason Stearns said...

@Anonymous (last) - You are right insofar as the version I published here comes from Kamerhe's camp. I didn't question it at the time, as I didn't see why they would lie. However, now Tshisekedi's people have published a different version of events (http://www.congoindependant.com/article.php?articleid=6862) stating that Kamerhe stood Tshisekedi up in Washington, DC. As for your less-than-constructive language, I will take a pass.

@Rich - I watched the video, which has been making the round in Congolese circles. Pretty nasty stuff. But remember that Mubake is trying to get elected as an MP in Bukavu and Kamerhe's people are his #1 competitors, so his stance toward the UNC is all the more radical than people in the UDPS seeking to get the presidency. This will be a problem - the attitude of presidential and MP candidates within the same party toward possible opposition coalitions can be very different.

Rich said...

Jason -

Thanks for your contribution, you are right many udps people I spoke to seem to take the same view as yours saying, for instance, that Valentin Mubake has his style and he can be very direct and nasty and that may not be the udps' official line.

I would like to point to something that I'm sure I've already said here, just as bad as the power can be in the DRC, so is the opposition because they are all taking members and the political culture from the same sample. Just as unpredictable people in power can be, so can be those now in opposition.

Language between Kamerhe and udps has often been very bitter. Remember Felix Tshisekedi took it almost personal the fact that Kamerhe said that thos who want the opposition title can keep it I am interested in power and not in being an eternal opponent. Felix used some pretty colourful language to reply to Kamerhe's attacks. In this kind of context, my feeling is that it will take something really big to reconcile these positions. I may be wrong but I feel there is already so much ego in the air that may not help. The other problem with tshisekedi is that he sometimes can be very populist and if his followers are not keen with having Kamerhe on the ticket I am not sure how this will help to bridge the gap! Did you know that some of thisekedi's followers see Kamerhe a a foreigner from Burundi or rwanda?

To me, for populist reasons tshisekedi has allowed his followers to base some of their convictions on so many myths that can hurt him in the future. He lets his followers sing that J. Kabila is a rwandan, himself referred to kabila as a rwandan who should go back to rwanda once he is in power etc... I don't know but I think this kind of populism can back fire since some people may end up feeling alienated or you will struggle to win the moderate due to the use of an extremist language...

I do share some of these worries with udps people and most of them argree with me but the problem is that tshisekedi can be very very stubborn...

Anyway, I am just glad that there is already such a big difference in the debate between 2006 and 2011 I am hopeful that after at least 5 elections things will grow up a bit more and we will start to see proper ideological debates style LEFT RIGHT etc...

Rich

Rich said...

I still hope the opposition can get to some kind of agreement on a unique candidate. However, things on the ground are not encouraging...
Here is what Kamerhe said, during an interview with Congo News.

Talking about the missed appointment with tshisekedi in the US, Kamerhe also said,

"un autre élément qui a fait que je puisse retarder mon arrivée à Washington, c'était de vouloir d'abord comprendre ce qui s'est passé à Goma, Uvira, Bukavu avec la descente sur le terrain du conseiller politique du président Tshisekedi, monsieur Mubake. Je n'ai pas compris que le président Tshisekedi m'invite pour signer un accord avec lui, pendant qu'il envoie au même moment son conseiller pour m'insulter d'abord à Goma, puis à Bukavu et s'en prendre à mon parti comme si nous étions détenteur du pouvoir."...

"la population du Sud-Kivu attend comme un messie Monsieur Tshisekedi. Et pas Kamerhe".

People are talking about fraud but no one is actually talking about the need to put out a strong campaign. J Kabila and the PPRD seem years ahead in terms of campaigning whilst tshisekedi is not even in the country.

It is sad to see people taking the Congolese opposition like an example of good governance. Most of these so called opponents are just as bad as, if not worse than, the people in power. The other thing is tshisekedi thinks he can win the elections even if he doesn't work hard to help his chances of winning them.

Kabila has been endorsed by almost all Congolese musicians and comedians. We all know how Congolese love their music and their comedy these artists have changed the whole campaign dynamic. it is difficult to see in the country any big name supporting tshisekedi or any other of the opposition candidates...

I'm not a pessimist but I believe the people who are called to offer an alternative in Congo should be challenged and lobbied to work just hard rather than playing the victim card and hope power can just fall into their hands...

Rich

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