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

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Congo's Opposition Faces Internal Discord

Last month, a number of opposition leaders were invited to dinner at an ambassador's residence in Kinshasa. According to one of the people present, Etienne Tshisekedi, the veteran opposition leader, was asked by a diplomat what his party's position would be if the president stayed in office after December 6, 2011, when his constitutional mandate expires. This has been an important question of late, as several NGOs - including the International Crisis Group and ASADHO - have pushed for the election date to be pushed back to allow for a better organization of elections. The main opposition parties have stuck to their guns, insisting that the constitution be respected.

According to the witness, Tshisekedi answered the diplomat brazenly: If Kabila's term runs out, there will have to be a government of national unity. He implied that the opposition would have to be represented in equal measure as the current regime.

Tshisekedi has since denied having said this, but opposition has been ratcheting up the pressure on Kabila, insisting on November 28, 2011 as the election date.

Etienne Tshisekedi

This obstinacy is just one example of the poor tactics displayed by the opposition in recent months. It is true that the opposition face serious harassment and a lack of funds, and the incumbent is using his access to state media and security services to campaign. But in a country where Kabila is probably significantly less popular than in 2006, when he won 58% of the vote, the opposition will also have themselves to blame if, as is expected, Kabila is voted in for another five years in office.

Tshisekedi's notorious stubbornness is one reason for this. President Kabila's party changed the constitution earlier this year to get rid of the run-off election for the presidency. This reform was intended to divide the opposition, making it easier for Kabila to win re-election, even if with only 20% or 25% of the vote. In this context, Tshisekedi's insistence that he is the unique opposition candidate has been unproductive. Almost since he returned triumphantly to Kinshasa last December, the veteran opposition leader has been proclaiming that he will run for the presidency regardless of what the other opposition candidates think. More recently, he has also proclaimed himself as the undisputed leader of the opposition. In this interview with Colette Braeckman, when asked if he is the unique opposition candidate, he answered:
But yes, of course, that is obvious. I count on being the only candidate and even now there are more than ten opposition candidates who have signed up to my candidacy through the coalition Dynamique Tshisekedi President. We are really on the right path. 
Jean-Pierre Bemba
But none of the ten candidates he mentioned have much weight (nor are they all registered presidential candidates). The best known among them are Diomi Ndongala, Roger Lumbala and Frank Diongo - none of whom have much popular support. (Diomi got 0,51% of the vote in 2006 and Lumbala 0,45%).

More importantly, neither of the other main opposition parties, Vital Kamehre's UNC or Jean-Pierre Bemba's MLC, has endorsed Tshisekedi for president. In fact, Tshiskedi has been dismissive of Kamerhe - in a recent interview on RFI, he suggested that he wasn't sure if Kamerhe was really a member of the opposition, saying that even in his native South Kivu Kamerhe was associated with Kabila. Kamerhe, for his part, is said to have been furious when he visited Tshiskedi at his house and was made to wait for an hour in the waiting room.

Vital Kamerhe
But the two other parties have troubles of their own. Jean-Pierre Bemba, who won 42% of the vote in 2006, is still languishing in an ICC jail cell in the The Hague. Nonetheless, he has insisted that he will be coming home and standing for elections. This seems highly unlikely given how long it takes for the ICC to reach a verdict (Lubanga's trial is over two years old now, Bemba's trial is only seven months old). In the meantime, his party is being riven by internal dissent. Several months ago, the acting head of the party Francois Mwamba led an internal faction that seemed to be trying to shake free Bemba's control over the party, either to name a different candidate for elections or to make an alliance with Kabila's party.

Mwamba was quickly ousted by Thomas Luhaka, who has now been named by the founding members of the party (backed by Bemba) as Secretary-General. Mwamba, however, has sued for justice in court, and the ruling in now scheduled for August. In the meantime, the party - which has also seen the prominent defections of Delly Sesanga (who has endorsed Tshisekedi) and José Makila (who is courting the government) - has done little in terms of preparing the grassroots for elections. D-Day for the MLC will come soon, as Bemba has to register to vote before the Kinshasa registration comes to an end in just a few weeks (the MLC is pushing for the registration centers to stay open until August). If he does not register to vote, he cannot run for the presidency.

Vital Kamerhe has probably faced the most repression of all the opposition candidates. One of the leaders of the women's wing of the party was assassinated in South Kivu; the culprit and motive of the murder are still unknown. Several of his party leaders in Maniema and South Kivu have been detained or harassed, and when he showed up to campaign in Goma and Bukavu, the local security forces prevented him from holding his speeches as planned. Although Kamerhe has national stature and made many friends across party and ethnic lines during his tenure as president of the national assembly, he has done little popular mobilization outside of the Kivus since he first announced his candidacy. He has been most adamant in getting the opposition to unite and is reported to be ready to endorse another candidate under the right circumstances (e.g. that he would get the nod for prime minister if their coalition wins sufficient seats in parliament).

In sum, harassment is certainly a problem for the opposition. But the stubbornness of figures like Tshisekedi and Bemba and their reluctance to build a genuine opposition coalition could prove to be just as formidable. We will have to wait and see whether they are able to overcome their egos and join up. We also need to see what the political figures who do have an electoral base decide to do - figures such as Ne Muanda Nsemi (Bas Congo), Mbusa Nyamwisi (North Kivu) and Nzanga Mobutu (Equateur) have not to my knowledge made official endorsements.


Rich said...

Jason -

Interesting piece as usual thanks. Just to add something about the mood in some Congolese inner circles. Tshisekedi is touring Europe and currently the USA with the hope to raise some money and lobby Western governments to put pressure on J. Kabila for fair elections (whatever that means) he was recently in London where the St Pancras train station was completely and utterly inundated by his fans from the Congolese diaspora here. The crowd took to the arrival of St Pancras train station and overwhelmed the security when chanting, “Ya Tshitshi zongisa ye na Rwanda… “ Translating as “Please, Ya Tshisekedi send him back to Rwanda…” he gave a press conference in London where he focussed more on criticising the Mobutu regime. He complained about the elections and how the government was, according to him, planning massive fraud etc…in the USA he received a very warm welcome from his fans based there. Yesterday he was supposed to hold a press conference in DC at Howard University but he never show up! His representative said he could not make it because he was retained somewhere for a very important, secret, political meeting. He did give a message over the phone to apologise etc… there were almost one hundred people attending some driving from long distance some are suspecting his health but his representatives said not attending was all to do with another commitment than his health. (I saw him in London at St Pancras and I can confirm that he did not look very healthy to me. He was walking very slowly and seems to be limping a bit). Some in DC are questioning why he did not attend they say it is a lack of respect because if he had other commitments, they should come second as he as a Congolese had to give priority to Congolese people from whom any power he wants will have to come from rather than any other important American figures as alleged by his representatives.

To be continued...

Rich said...

On the other side, he has hinted some divisive messages in his interview with Collette when he said, 10 provinces out of 11 are ready for change…and that only in Katanga I can compete with J Kabila. If elected I think Katanga will be his nightmare because the secession feelings are still very much there. The anti Rwanda (tutsi) rhetoric he seems to be flirting with to please the Congolese diaspora crowd will one day backfire. As a responsible political figure he should make clear that he does not condole any discourse against a particular ethnic group or country.

Recently Olive Kabila toured the Equateur province; she went as far as the village of Yakoma where the rich cousin of Mobutu and ex boss of Zaire security services, Seti Yale now lives. Some criticised Tshisekedi saying he is touring Europe with his wife when Olive and her husband are gaining ground in the country.

Kamerhe seems very popular amongst students in Kinshasa and the great Kivu the problem is that he has not had enough time to implement his movement. He was recently touring Europe and Canada, unlike Tshisekedi, Kamerhe was booed and his meetings stormed by a mob and protesters from the diaspora.

There is no doubt that Tshisekedi will be elected president on the internet by the Congolese diaspora but on the ground things will be more about alliances and local leaders. To me, Equateur and Bandundu will be the swing provinces. Equateur, whoever manages to get the services of two out of (Makila, Baende and Zanga) will have a strong chance to win the province. Bandundu, Gizenga and his PALU remains the main force but people like Olivier Kamitatu can help to top up the votes and win the province.

It also seems like J Kabila is not in the mood of splashing cash in compromising alliances. He wants to be free from alliances like the one he made in 2006 since he felt he had tied hands and could not bully the government as he would have wanted but I cannot see him realising decent results (enough to cheat with) if he does not ally with a powerful figure in Equateur or Bandundu.

Anyway, it still early days, let’s wait and see…

I have some links to various videos of Tshisekedi in Europe or Olive in Equateur should you need them!

Sorry not well structured did not have the time to edit the text!

Affaire à suivre…

Jason Stearns said...

Rich - Thanks for the info, as always. I will suggest that the readers look at your comments, as well.

Anonymous said...

You are refering to the scores of an election (2006) which was not free nor fare....

This is an important element you are not considering and it falses all your analyse.

You are wrong in considering Kamhere as a real member of opposition. His role is perturbing the unity of opposition to let Kabila wins. That is why he is paying until now by Kanambe also now as "Kabila".

See your copy again...

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