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, November 12, 2011

Tshisekedi in South Africa: What happened?

Before arriving in Kisangani on Thursday evening, opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi spent much of the first two weeks of the election campaign in South Africa. What was he up to?

According to the man himself, he was seeking political and financial support from the ruling ANC and businessmen. He reportedly met at least once with Gwede Mantashe, the Secretary-General of the ANC, and by Thursday could boast that he had been able to rent a DC-3, a small passenger jet and a helicopter. These assets are key, given the dearth of commercial jets in the Congo (the UDPS says the government is hogging commercial air assets, others say there this is just due to the lack of aircraft since Hewa Bora's license was suspended in July this year, leaving only CAA flying domestically).

This has set off speculation in domestic and diplomatic circles that Tshisekedi has received support from President Jacob Zuma's government. Some also point to the fact that the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) is fielding more election observers than the EU, the AU and Carter Center, and the head of this mission is Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, wife of Charles Nqakula, who is a close adviser to President Zuma and his envoy to Sudan and Zimbabwe (and previously Burundi).

But it's not so simple. After all, the same day Tshisekedi flew to Kisangani, South African authorities announced that a new deal would be signed today (November 12) on the Grand Inga hydroelectric dam between their national electricity provider Eskom and the Congolese electricity company, which could provide up to 40,000 MW of electricity, the largest such dam in the world. But this is merely an MoU, which may lead to a formal agreement in six months, and negotiations have been ongoing since 2004 on similar projects. Despite the tentative nature of the agreement, President Zuma will be in Lubumbashi today to officially sign the MoU.

Was it merely a coincidence that Tshisekedi was in South Africa just before the deal was signed with Kabila? If Zuma did provide support to the opposition, how can this be squared with a trip that will  be interpreted as an endorsement of Kabila's candidacy?

Some analysts I spoke with suggested that the South Africans were using Tshisekedi as leverage to squeeze a deal out of the Congolese (even though the Congolese could always renege, as they have in the past). Others say that Tshisekedi was really in South Africa for medical treatment (speculation about his health never abates), and his aircraft were not provided by Pretoria after all.

Relations between Presidents Zuma and Kabila have been through many twists and turns. Some of the powerbrokers around Kabila, in particular Katumba Mwanke, were reportedly closer to the Thabo Mbeki wing of the ANC during his leadership struggle against Jacob Zuma in 2009, and were viewed with some suspicion when Zuma won this struggle.

Shortly afterwards, however, news broke that two hitherto unknown companies in the British Virgin Islands, Caprikat and Foxwhelp, had obtained oil blocks in the Congo previously held by Irish company Tullow. Who was listed as the representatives of the two companies? None other than Khulubuse Zuma, the president's nephew, and Michael Hulley, the president's lawyer (who was promoted this week to be his official legal counsel). Possibly also involved - albeit indirectly - was Tokyo Sekwale, a prominent ANC businessman and minister.

Were these oil blocks peace offerings by Kabila to the South Africans? It isn't clear, but one of the other companies that lost out in this deal was Divine Inspiration, which allegedly had links to the Mbeki-faction of the ANC.

South Africa is a key partner for the Congolese government. It is the largest economy in the region and the base for many of the mining companies operating in the Congo.

So who are they backing? I couldn't say, and obviously some of this is speculation. But it wouldn't be too bizarre if they were backing more than one horse. Angola (Pretoria biggest competitor in the region) allegedly made a similar move earlier this year, when they provided some support to Vital Kamerhe (or strategically leaked information in this regard). Shortly afterwards, the Congolese government announced that they would hold off on pursuing their claims to offshore oil blocks - that are currently being managed by Angola - until 2014.


Rich said...

Friday 11 November 2011 Kisangani, Etienne Tshisekedi said this, quote,

"Je donne un ultimatum de 48 heures au gouvernement (du président Joseph) Kabila, pour libérer tous nos combattants en prison à Mbuji Mayi, Lubumbashi et à Kinshasa. Sinon, je demande à la base à Kinshasa (...) de se mobiliser et d'aller casser la prison de Makala (à Kinshasa) afin de libérer de force nos combattants arrêtés arbitrairement", a-t-il déclaré lors d'un meeting à Kisangani (nord-est), devant environ 5.000 personnes, a constaté un correspondant de l'AFP.

"Vous avez un pouvoir réel dans ce pays car la voix du peuple c'est la voix de Dieu. S'il arrivait que l'un de vous soit victime de tracasseries inutiles de la part d'un policier, d'un militaire ou de quelqu'un du PPRD (Parti du peuple pour la reconstruction et la démocratie, au pouvoir), mobilisez-vous et prenez-les et terrorisez-les. Même s'ils fuient dans leur camp, il faut les poursuivre",


Anand said...

@Rich - Now Tshisekedi has issued a second 48 hour ultimatum? So now it's really like a 96 hour ultimatum with some days of rest inbetween? And am I translating this correctly, "...the voice of the people is the voice of God." And (paraphrasing) if you get harassed by cops then go terrorize them. Hmmm...just hmmm...

@Jason - Country size notwithstanding, this reminds me of how Palestine is used as a political football for almost everyone in the region. Sounds like Congo is similarly used by surrounding governments, though for different reasons. In both cases, the needs and interests of the population are neglected.

Anonymous said...

Given Eskom’s extraordinary problems and the growth baby that is the EAC, I think this is all self-interest on Pretoria’s part. None of the region’s growing economies, to say the least of SA’s, have the generating capacity to meet the very ambitious goals of Nairobi, Bujumbura, Kampala, Dar, and above all Kigali. The Westcor project likely failed because, at the time, each power simply couldn't’t figure out who would get what- much like the Nile water problem.

In this move, Pretoria is clearly seeking leverage with the EAC nations by moving towards a deal and, I’m sure we will see at deal time, likely taking a piece of SNEL given Kinshasa intentions to privatize it. A good friend who works on Wall Street told me a few months back that Goldman Sachs (surprise surprise) has held several talks with Eskom on getting Grand Inga up and running. And we all know what Wall Street wants, Wall Street gets.

It is ofcourse likely this is Kabila seeking to gain his own leverage given the increasingly tense relations with Luanda, a likely move to also pressure the Chinese to get busy on the infrastructure for minerals deal, and his own domestic problems. But as history has shown, the Congolese are very bad at playing one nation off the other for any sustained duration. And what’s important is the powers in the region know this and thus can’t really trust the cliche in Kinshasa- hence Luanda’s embrace of Vital, Abuja’s with Kashala, and Pretoria’s with Tshtshi.

I’d bet, however, that this is all self-interest on Zuma’s part. Eskom’s erratic energy delivery and SA’s generally marginal role in an increasingly booming EAC essentially means jobs for SA’s increasingly restless young are not materializing and, as a result, are encouraging the rise of folks like Malema and drift from the black middle class to the DA.

All this being said, Tshtshi was smart to go after the SA $$$. Every Congolese politician needs a wealthy patron and the threat of Malema clearly signalled to Etienne now was the time to strike.

I doubt SA’s will deliver in a matter that will please UDPS partisans but, overall, its a smart move. Etienne may not pull it off this 28th, but it is very likely his party will have plenty of seats in the Assembly. Given this, one can imagine a scenario whereby the UPDP zero in on resource contracts as a means of shaming Kabila and, ofcourse, steering them towards their new SA friends.

@Anand- Actually, I’d invert the Palestinian analogy and remove the Congolese. Most folks in the region see the Hutu/Tutsi problem- in Rwanda mostly given Burundi’s challenge is mostly being worked out given the affirmative action policies- as their “Palestinians question”. If this is not solved in Rwanda it could engulf the whole region in war.

Anonymous said...

Seems like their is trouble today at barracks in Kinshasa. Alex Engwete is tweeting this:

@alexengwete:Intense gunfire breaks out at Kinshasa N'Dolo military barrack where Tshisekedi militants attempted to storm military jail

@alexengwete: Intense shoutout at Kinshasa N'Dolo military barracks. Riot cops deployed citywide.

Alex is a great blogger, lives in DC, but is on the ground in Kinshasa now.

Stay safe Alex!!

- Mel

Rich said...

Anand -

Your translation is 100% correct and to me, Hmmmm ... just hmmmm is more than 100% correct too...

The problem with the messianist attitude of come Congolese leaders is that it is almost impossible to even advise the paternal figure of the party or political entity because they 'apparently' are or know better than anyone on this planet...

Affaire a suivre


Rich said...

Jason -

More and more reports are coming out to say south Africa authorities expelled e. tshisekedi after his recent ultimatums made against the DRC government...

Here is an audio report from BBC Afrique, listen from min:02:40...


Rich said...

And from min: 06:54...

Anand said...

@Anon - Thanks for the interesting perspective and take on Zuma's motivations.

@Mel - Not just in Kinshasa; AFP reported a clash in Katanga soon after Tshisekedi's speech, where six people got stabbed. I fully concur with your admonition for everyone on this board or on other blogs, who are in Congo, to put safety first.

@Rich - Yes, that type of cult of personality or megalomaniacal leadership does make for a volatile situation when the wrong things are said.

Not to get emotional, but I am feeling very much on edge. Concerned for specific people and for Congo in general. And feeling particularly helpless about it all right now. Here's hoping things don't get worse.

Anonymous said...

I entirely agree with the Anon 1's analogy (and Frank's elaboration) and think its fairly simplistic to imply making it is equally simplistic or insensitive. I have known quite a few desperate Congolese artists who engaged in equally desperate means to make it thus it really isn't useful to anyone to excuse this behavior. In many ways this reflects the moral hazard that typifies Congolese society but do we really want to excuse that? More to the point, I believe a more cultural relevant interpretation of this Lingala phrase lies in Frank's basic point. Namely, that its pretty ridiculous to assume that a music star is going to suitably sway the vote of a person. The Congolese, at all strata, are perfectly aware of the corruption of their ruling elites and the patronage networks, the alluring power of these networks, and the status it conveys to those who work them.

In this context, these musicians, as Anon 1 is suggesting, are like moths to a flame.

- Mel

Anonymous said...

this article is 100% speculation and shows no understanding of what is happening.

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